Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas In Review

Christmas time is chock full of tradition in my family. Below is a sampling of the sweet, comical, and sometimes bizarre:

THE CUT-OUT COOKIES
One man's snowman is another's canvas for corn-rows and creative red-hot placement. To the frustration of everyone, I average about seven to eight cookies per hour.

THE 'SHARED GIFT'
Every Christmas, Gramma gives my sister and I a new game as a shared gift. However, until this year, there was no practical way to share the gifts. No one ever said anything to Gramma, it was a present after all, but Carebear and I always exchanged the customary raising of the eyebrows with every unwrapping. Needless to say, without the burden of traveling by carry-on bag only, Carebear claimed sole ownership of the loot! And can you believe, she still complains about the time I stole some of her DVDs and took them with me to NY...sounds pretty generous to me.

THE COMPETITIVE PUZZLE STOCKING STUFFER
Note: Packer Snuggie!
Mom's new tradition the past couple of years is to pit me, my sister and my sister's husband against eachother in a timed puzzle competition. This year I fell into last place during both rounds. I don't remember the entire event, I know it didn't begin until 11:30pm or so, and I do remember having my first cocktail around 4:30PM... At one point, after both Carrie and Brett had finished their puzzles [and after Mom snapped their victorious winner, and runner-up, photos; fingers raised indicating position earned] I let out an exasperated, "This isn't fair! This puzzle doesn't even fit together!" I'm pretty sure, around that point in the evening, my family started referring to me as 'drunk santa.'

HATS ON DOGS
Jack was not having it. And of course, when we gave second dibs to Cody, he wasn't having that either.

DELICIOUS HAM
Probably my most favorite food in the whole entire world. I ate at least a half-pound of shavings before the prayer of Grace. In a new tradition: I carve the ham! Very very exciting in my world.

DOG DESTROYS SOMETHING

GRASSHOPPERS
Customary holiday beverage since before the pre-teen years. I tried introducing a couple new ice cream drinks in the past, but let's just say: disaster. Ice cream doesn't make everything taste good, and on more occasions than not: amaretto kind of sucks.

FAMILY PHOTO

Three instead of five is what happens when folks get married: two have to leave the party before family photo time to attend other parties. Or in their marital bliss, they float upwards.

THE 'FUNNY' CALENDAR STOCKING STUFFER
Joy, I got 'Go-Girl.' Now actually envious of Party Animals.

All my best to you and your families. Hope you all shared many laughs.
'till New Years...

Snow Experience

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wisconsin's Advantage, #1

Your car can double as a refrigerator.

Scene:

Friday night, 5:40PM, running out the side door into the garage with hopes that my car would be ready to drive after only three minutes to warm-up. When I'm due somewhere at a certain time, I like to plan it so that I arrive right on time. Considering it only takes 40 minutes to get into Appleton, and dress rehearsal didn't being until 6:30PM, I was golden. Except, at 5:35PM, my tummy whined for an Eaton's sandwich; so I called-in an order for pick-up. I was pushing the clock, but decided I'd feel less bad showing up late with a full stomach than sitting through a four hour rehearsal with thoughts of mayonnaise and white bread dancing in my head.

I zoomed into town and pulled into Eaton's parking lot a little too quick, but there were two other cars about to turn in before me and there was no way I'd let them get ahead of me in line, senior citizens or not. I was pulling off my seat-belt before I finished the full turn into the stall. I made an a-line straight up to the counter for my just-toasted sub, neatly packed in a brown paper bag. I gave the girl at the counter a twenty, and while she was making my change, I began making plans as to how best to eat the sandwich while driving. I decided my two biggest obstacles to avoid were: causing an accident and squeezing mayo onto my black wool coat.

I'm not very good at multi-tasking behind the wheel, which is probably to the benefit of drivers everywhere. However, I kept the sandwich within reach on my lap [resting in the torn open paper bag] the entire ride and managed a few monster bites after returning to the non-passing lane with cruise-control set. The healthy looking sandwich was barely touched when I had to put it down to run yet again, but it didn't really make a hell of a difference, because at 10:35PM, the sandwich was still perfectly in tact and the bread still had chew.

I was so pleasantly surprised! I even called MK on my drive home to revel in the delight.

And that, in my opinion, gives validation to the temperature.

And maybe you just had to be there!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wanting To Be Great

I woke up feeling very inspired today to be great. Conveniently, this feeling came on my day off from work, so I have a moment to reflect before I get busy with this and that.

I have finally completed my audition and application process for school. I passed a prepared vocal audition for private studio work on Wednesday and the Praxis I yesterday. Both exams were weighing heavily on my mind and spirit the past couple of weeks, so when all was done: a huge sigh of relief was ushered, and a little 'happy jig' was performed for the secretary in the testing center. [Note: The secretary instigated the dance.]

Then I drove myself home, after a butterburger at Culvers [gosh darn they are like crack], and froze in a feeling of: I have nothing to do. [Imagine the kinds of sentiments expressed by empty-nesters and the newly retired.] After a half hour of pulse counting, I went to the piano. What I wanted to do, or what seemed customary in these kinds of situations, is celebrate with the company of good friends. Unfortunately my location isn't very accommodating.

Thank God for the telephone. I had a most inspiring conversation with a friend last night. Someone going through some similar challenges, but who, also like me, is making lemonade with all those darn lemons. I've not yet said 'Thank You' to all of you who read this blog, and have faith in me, and I apologize for it. Your support gives me courage and confidence. And for you, I want to be great.

There is a really cold winter ahead of me. But I'm pretty good at keeping myself busy, and I have plenty of playing to do before the semester starts, including a complete revival of running scales in thirds, sixths, octaves, and twelfths; also with: broken scales, arpeggios, full chords and finally running octaves. The mechanics of my playing should improve greatly by the end of the semester, which will help me tackle some of the bigger pieces I'd like to be playing. And I will also be spending a bit of time relearning the foundations of theory and harmonization.

It's hard to imagine in what ways my life will change once I become full-on music master, but I'm sure I will have plenty to blog about.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Moments of Mediocrity

We were hit with the first big storm of the season Tuesday evening; eight to ten inches of snow and winds above 30 mph, which created obstacle course drifts on the road.

Every now and again I find it really difficult to sleep through the night. Tuesday happened to be one of those nights. Wide awake in bed at 3AM, I decided to roll out into standing position, walk over to my east-facing window and open the shade to catch a moment of the storm. 0 to 100, I wrapped my quilted housecoat around my pajamas, layered on hat, leather work gloves and my rain boots, and headed outside to shovel.

It was quite bright outside for 3AM. I swear there is an allusion of the moon seeming larger here and the reflection of the light on the white snow had more effect than tens of those dippy nite-lites parents pollute their hallways and bathrooms with.

I thought my work would be a huge help and surprise to my dad the following morning. He leaves the house around 6:30AM for work. But it turned out he didn't even notice. Oh the pangs of disappointment. Apparently, unless absolutely necessary, don't bother clearing the snow until the storm has stopped. Winds can shift directions and all of your neatly piled work can blow back upon you. This is also a very real observation to note when snow-blowing. It's not that much fun when you can only yell at yourself.

The combined couple of hours of shoveling [I went back out Wednesday afternoon to clear the pile of snow left at the bottom of the driveway skirt, courtesy of the city] was an excellent workout for the two small muscles encasing the 'chicken bone' perimeter of my spine. I didn't know these muscles existed before yesterday. I can't wait to see how sexy my back will look in a tank top after three months of element pumping.

Also in some pain, is the 'ole left hamstring. I haven't had any pain in this region since I pathetically tried to join my previous college's track team, without any previous running experience*. I can only assume my quick-hurry-shuffle-because-it-is-so-freaking-cold-out is to blame, and my lack of wanting to drink water, or any beverage of, or cooler than, room temperature [except this delicious Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown, which I am holding in a mittened hand].

I am working through the discomfort by working more and by wearing the Man's Mall favorite: flannel hat. The hat is not a favorite of my sister, nor my mom or really anyone female. They liken me to an Elmer Fudd type character. I dig it though and I don't plan to quit designing my burly outer costuming just yet. 'Man's Mall, I shall return. Army Surplus, we rendezvous next week.' Documentation forthcoming.

*For your enjoyment, a historical review of my early writing career as a columnist for The Royal Purple, the student newspaper at the previously mentioned college. And of course I took the position without any previous writing experience [save a few C-graded papers from my high school's junior year lit class; probably on the topic of Steinbeck, with the stylistic charm of poor penmanship and strong critical analysis built upon 'I don't understand what I'm supposed to be writing about.'] As you will come to notice, I always jump head first.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Last Time It Worked...

...I posted about wanting something, and I got it.


It's not greed, when you are student poor.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Big White Bird

Way way back in July, I anticipated the likely results of a full-out battle between Rob Halford and my neighbors, the miniature ponies. Today, I challenge the likes of the local music community.

I am currently singing second-alto in a local community choir. 70 folks, mostly white or lacking on top, color the choir. A few recent Lawrence University grads, and myself, help even the inevitable tremolo that comes with age. Don't get me wrong, this isn't some glorified church choir, we are conducted by the Director of Choral Studies at Lawrence University and receive endowments, which far surpassed my estimation.

We perform three concerts each season. And it seems we host a guest artist each concert as well. We were joined by a Salvation Army staff band last October [image below] and will be joined by a deaf choir [Glee, anyone?] this December. Our choir has an executive committee that picks each concert's theme a year in advance. Not being a member of the committee, I don't know how we came about deciding upon this season's guest artists. Considering past themes, which have included: "Gypsy Spring, a celebration of Gypsy music," "All Creatures Great & Small, the music of animals" and "It's All About Sports, a Packers game set to famous choral pieces," I don't think the likes and dislikes of the refined music community are necessarily taken into account.

I'm a speck of tan in there.

An estimation of score card ratings and comments from audience members of both concerts:

Gregg (Male, 49, Business Professional)
Band: 9 "When that one old lady got up to play that solo, I didn't expect much, but, "Wow" she did really good. I liked the uniforms."
Deaf Choir: 6 "I forgot my glasses at home so I couldn't really see what they were doing with their hands."

Lorraine (Female, 78, Retired)
Band: 10 "I love that kind of music. Carl and I, before he passed, used to see the band concerts at the high school. You know, Carl used to play trumpet in the old army band. Him and the guys used to play at the church bazaars. Before my legs got bad I used to dance and dance. We had so much fun."
Deaf Choir: 10 "You all sounded like angels. I am praying for those deaf kids tonight. You know, I think Fran might have a deaf granddaughter."

Brad (Male, 23, Undecided)
Band: 8 "I liked the drums."
Deaf Choir: N/A "Deaf? [pause] Shit. That sucks."

Renee (Female, 54, Assistant)
Band: 7 "I enjoyed the energy the band brought to the concert, but if they hadn't played, couldn't the concert have ended earlier? Two hours is too long for me."
Deaf Choir: 10 "I am an open and accepting person, unlike most people around here. You know what I mean."

The deaf choir better get to practicing if they hope to get Brad's attention. And I better, too; we will be performing 11 songs in just under a few weeks time. Not sure I will be able to continue on for the spring concert, because of my NINETEEN CREDIT semester ahead, so if anyone wants to purchase my elegant floor-length rayon grandmother-of-the-bride dress and sheer 'flowy' dress jacket for $200 (yes, that is the going USED price), please drop a comment.

Your witchy ringmaster demonstrating the 'flowyness' of the dress jacket.

In other choir news, I was accepted into the university's chamber choir this morning. Costume swap? May I please show that I have a figure? Very few straight young men go to choir concerts, enough said.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dale

Dale has been retired six years. But he quit drinking 25 years ago, and quit smoking cigarettes in the early 70s. Illicit drugs? Try over 100 years ago.

For fun, Dale climbs trees.

"The hardest tree to climb is a Spruce. You have to climb on the outside of the tree, because it's so prickly."

"My favorite trees to climb [pause] are the Sugar Maple and Burr Oak. There are a bunch of Burr Oak trees in this area."

I had to ask Dale how to spell Burr Oak, because I thought he was going on about Baroque trees; my fumble didn't even elicit a smile.

LESSON TO GROUND WALKERS:

1) Burr [more commonly spelled Bur] Oak trees are some of the most massive and slow growing of the Oak trees, and can live for huuunnndreds of years. They grow solo, hans solo, away from forrest canopy. The tree pictured below is rooted 300 feet from my parent's house, not sure if it's a Burr Oak, but I envision zebras and gazelles trading afternoon gossip beneath its huge swell of cool shade.


2) Sugar Maples: from which both pancake-syrup and bowling alley pins are born!

3) Have you ever climbed a tree? It's kinda freaky. I used to climb as a kid, but then freeze at the top, "Daaaad! Help! I can't get down!" Last month, I had to climb about five different trees. I was helping my dad clear the sight lines from his various deer stands. [If he didn't have a clear shot of me in the tree from a particular opening in the field, he wouldn't have a clear shot of a deer while seated in the stand. Trees grow between hunting seasons, duh, so we had a lot of work to do. With rope, we tied mini-saws to long branches to trim other living branches hanging twenty feet above our heads. I was pretty slow at task; I had to stop every few minutes to bend over at the waste and let my arms hang and rest. So Dad had me mostly climb and hug, for deer life. "Whoooaa, Nellie!"]

Dad shot his first buck (bow and arrow) last weekend, and hopes to fill the freezer after opening gun weekend, which is this weekend. When the area men go Up North to hunt, the ladies hit the bars [and the strip clubs, so I hear].

I've got plans to hit two local dives this weekend: Houge's and Acee Deucee. I've invited some of the ladies from work. Age doesn't impede on the party round these parts. I'm sure to get an earful of bizarro stories including: "woods" "that one time" "wasted" "cousin" "field" "pregnant" and so on... Can't wait!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Becoming the 'Older, Non-Traditional' Student

I pulled through for you guys. I actually accomplished the previously posted goals regarding applying for school, auditioning, etc... And as of 9AM this morning, I became the newest member in the UWO piano squad.

Three weeks ago, I submitted an application to the school online in one two-hour sitting, personal and professional statements included. The audition process into the music department has been the beast. I have been practicing the same two piano pieces over and over and over again every day since my October 5th post, and relearning scales. My bruised fingers and sore wrists have healed, thankfully; however, my parents are still bored with the repertoire. My Dad keeps requesting 'honky tonk'; he purchased a harmonica this past June at Main Drag in Williamsburg. He was playing a bit this summer, but hasn't had the same enthusiasm since we hosted a surprise birthday party in September, wherein the short familials gunked up the factory with their wet sticky mouths.

I am technically enrolled as a transfer student, since the credits I earned while completing a piano minor in 2003 are helping to shorten the expected graduation timeline for my second bachelors degree. I am enrolled as a music major, but will receive a degree in education. I hope to fulfill all the zany expectations of frazzle-dazzle music lady: bright clothes, world music collection, and all!

The drills begin now. I need to relearn a few techniques on the piano before the semester officially begins and I need to complete the Praxis I exam -- required by the Department of Public Instruction for admission to teacher preparation programs. I took a sample Praxis exam online last Saturday night, it is similar to the SAT. [In another year, once admitted into the College of Education, I have to take the Praxis II exam.] In a way, I'm pleased to know there are required general education exams, in addition to the licensure application -- I hope the extra work would weed out anyone on-the-fence. But at the same time, what a bother. Each exam costs nearly $200 to take and each requires surveillance at an approved testing center.

Boring.

Back to frazzle-dazzle: I have enrolled in slew of random music lab classes. It is a requirement to learn how to play all instruments. I begin with woodwinds and percussion next semester. I promise to somehow video-record myself attempting to make music out of a reed-instrument. In years past, on numerous occasions, I tried to make sound out of my sister's clarinet, just a single note; always unsuccessful. I don't see why things will be any different now. But at least I'll have a small moment to shine with the sticks, unless I need to hit more than one drum at a time.

But the #1 most awesome headline from the past week:

Parents surprise me by offering to put $ towards my tuition! Said $ will be pulled from my no-future Wedding Fund. How bittersweet. Especially coming from a gal who DVRs The Nanny on Nick at Nite, twice daily.

I meet with my piano professor again next month to discuss future repertoire and ways to convince myself to purchase more Henle editions. Note: repertoire will include chamber accompaniments! You have no idea how happy this makes me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ray

I'd like to introduce you to Ray, an elderly neighbor of mine. Over time, I hope to introduce you to several extraordinary people I come into contact with.

The short bios will contain fact, but also extrapolations from my imagination. See, I met Ray for only ten minutes in a waiting room, but he totally changed my day last week Wednesday.

I'd guess Ray is about eighty years old, twice married and twice widowed. The latter is a pretty big guess, you might think, but I have such a strange gumption about it. The ladies at work say he's an amateur poet. He definitely has a sprightly romanticism about him, definitely not something you expect from someone his age. Or from a portly man with yellowing overgrown finger nails and a small closet of dirtied shop clothes. He was probably the kind of husband that needed constant reminders from his wife to button his shirt collar or comb his hair. And I'm guessing those women never minded it a bit; might have been the root of the attraction.

The first thing Ray said to me was, "Did you watch that animal show on TV this morning? There was a porcupine riding a skateboard." He was seated about ten feet from me but with a clear line of fire. I had been reading something or another, so so deep in thought, which at that point skidded to a halt. My cartoon bubble at that moment could have read: "Uhhmm. Is he making a joke? Wait. Crap. What was I working on?"

But Ray kept going, "And there was a squirrel that they had on those little skis on the water, he was really good. One time they had a goat climb a ladder. You ever watch that show? It's on in the mornings."

I am a very gullible person, always have been. I like to think anything is possible. But I've been made fun of enough at this point in my life, that I now typically look around for public response (when in company) before issuing any comment. There were two men within earshot, but neither would look above their own two feet. So I had to assume there was a television show.

"I worked all morning today, and most mornings, so I'm afraid I don't know the show you are talking about. Do you know the name of it? I don't have cable." I replied slowly and unevenly.

"They had a porcupine riding a skateboard this morning," he kept going. His eyes never left mine, not sure he even blinked.

Ugh. I just about lost my shit. I don't think knowing that I had just won $10,000 would have elicited more reaction. I hit 10 in one second, like a strongman at a carnival. I thought this old guy was fucking with me, it was so bizarre, but he was dead serious; he just wanted to talk about animals doing silly tricks. I was still looking about the room at the other guys in the waiting area, while I half-gasped half-giggled out loud in exasperation. Neither would meet my request for affirmation. Without, I had to wonder: did something stop, did I stop?

There were other animals and different tricks, but I can't remember them now. My mind was stuck on how or why anyone would train a porcupine.

So, maybe you are not sold still on the charm of Ray. But try reading this post again keeping his delivery in mind. Not a 'How are you?' was uttered, we just jumped straight into his morning funnies on the TV. He was just so wonderfully curious to find out if I had shared in his moment. Or he just wanted to make me laugh. If his motive was the latter, he might have had three wives!

What a man.

The ladies at work said he has come into the office bearing gifts of baked goods in the past. Or maybe he'll return with a poem for me, apparently that's happened, too.

Hope you are having a wonderful night, Ray. And tomorrow I hope you get to watch two dogs in costume dance a waltz together. That would be lovely.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Stompin' & Apple Pickin'


current foliage

"Someone tramped mud, big pieces of mud, all over in the kitchen," scolded my sister. The perp was me. My previously categorized lawn mowin' shoes were dirtying the clean beige floors of my gramma's condo with logo-embossed chunks of dried mud. The mud I must have picked up in the pumpkin patches we stomped through earlier in the day

My sister left work early last Friday to join Gramma and I on our 45 minute drive around lake Winnebago (no bridge over) to The Little Farmer. Apple picking season is nearly over here, except for the Russett variety, which ripen through early November. But we found enough low-hanging McIntosh and Cortland apples to meet our needs. We each filled one ten pound bag with a mixture of the two varities, which were hard for us to differentiate at first, so Gramma just started eating them to try and use taste to identify. Suuuurrreee.

short row of mcintosh trees

Gramma, having lived through The Great Depression, tucked a few apples in her coat pockets. (It's common to use TGD as a means to explain every stingy habit exhibited from the older folks on my mom's side of the family.) They were apples that when placed in (on top) of her ten pound bag, managed to stay put. But you see, I was pulling all of the fruit behind me in a Red Flyer Wagon, which was a' bumpin' all over the place, spilling and bruising the "they will fit" apples. So while it may sound like Gramma was erring on the side of greed - I mean, we did stop twice to make sure you couldn't see the apples bulging out of her Columbia ski coat (she even tried to fit an apple in the front pocket of her white-washed blue jeans) - it was practical, for a person responsible for making pies for my family year round.

gramma and carebear (with wagon)

Pies, muffins, tarts, cookies, breads - you name it, we imagined making all of those warm treats in the three hours we fought the cold while at the farm. But the truth is: one stinkin' apple meets the fruit quantity demands of most deserts. Case in point: last night Carebear came over for an apple bake-off with three recipes in-hand. We succeeded in baking a double batch of apple strudel muffins (add 1/2 tsp lemon zest to strudel mix, toss diced apple with 1 tsp fresh lemon juice before mixing with batter) and spiced glazed apple cookies, all without denting our respective stashes.

I hope everyone is ready for apple literally all year round. Which makes me wonder, who are these people that buy the large 20 pound apple bags (Ms. Ly), and what the heck do they do with it all? Perennial frozen applesauce? Deer bait? (BB gun targets? That could be fun...) I suppose in times before local grocery stores had connections with growers in South America, you needed to harvest and store your seasonal foods to last until the following year; but this is just ridiculous. I actually eat an apple a day, and a banana, and plain yogurt with homemade granola etc etc But Mom already has a five pound bag in the fridge. Ho hum. I'll be setting up the assembly line in the kitchen shortly to prep the apples for the large storage freezer in the basement.

If only there was a way to store/preserve the pumpkin I prematurely carved so that it would last through the holiday. What can I say, other than: knives, guts, guarantee to meet expectations of worst halloween interpretation ever - I was carve-happy. My 'art' is currently sitting out on the front porch next to a terra cotta planter (filled with fall mums) three times its size. I think the dog's wagging tail, which he whips to and fro as he waits by the front door to be let in, is the extent of the recognition it's getting right now. I think I'll bring it indoors tonight and light it on the fireplace skirt. Maybe the light from the candle's flame will attract the hornets that keep finding a way into the house; perhaps negate the necessity to eat and write with a flyswatter in-hand.

My pumpkin is considered a 'size two.' When we first arrived at the farm, after a confusing detour marked not by proper state highway signs, but by low-to-the-ground red wooden markers cut in the shape of apples, we were greeted by a large barn-wood sign explaining the process of picking and payment. I read a few sentences, before grabbing the red wagon and going on my merry way, relating to following pumpkin markers to the pumpkin patch and apple markers to the orchards; as well as, explaining that the cost of the pumpkin is based on the size of the gourd, not the weight. Scattered across the grounds were sheets of plywood, painted orange, featuring four punched-out pumpkin-shaped holes used by customers to identify the size/cost of their purchase. Size two pumpkins cost $4.90 each.

Everything was pretty straight forward, except the markers that were supposedly leading you to either patch or orchard. The color of paint used on the wood was neither a true orange or red and therefore led me way off target, to what I'm assuming was a private patch, because no one else was picking near us, and after second inspection upon leaving the farm, I noticed that I had been following the wrong markers.

me (excuse bad hair), gramma and carebear (with pumpkins)

The patches were just fields of uneven muddy ground, snaking vines and gourds of oranges and greens. [see photo below] I can't say how many patches there were in total on the grounds, but from what I could see, there was one near the entrance by the lawn-parking lot, two small pre-picked lots near the petting farm (no, I did not pet any goats) and my secret patch by the McIntosh and Cortland apple orchards. It was like my own personal one-stop shop picking experience, well it would have been, had I purchased my apple picking bag before hunting for the pumpkin. I didn't read that darn sign. But it was for the best, because having to go into the 'shop' (to buy the bags) is a treat in and of itself; it doubles as a bakery.


After spending twenty minutes looking for pumpkins, we walked back towards the parking lot to the front shop to inquire about the apples. With the purchase of our picking bags, we enjoyed homemade carmel covered apples with bits of nuts and heath bar, and confirmed the time to return for freshly baked apple muffins. Both were very satisfying, although it would have been a better dining experience had there been tables available indoors. It was a tad too chilly to be motionless outdoors. But all the families, some bundled up more than others, enjoyed their treats just the same. Outside, we were privy to watch a farm cat attack a couple aimless peacocks. I tried to take some photos with my cell phone, but I guess my stealth creep had a reverse effect on the animals.

We drove > we arrived > we picked > we ate > we picked > we ate > we paid > we left. I think we've all had enough of the farm, so let's move on.

We drove to Gramma's for chili after we packed the back of my wagon with our goods. The sun was beginning to set and folks were just getting out of the work for the weekend. We drove mostly in silence listening to a CD of Chopin's Nocturnes. I can't say anyone in my family enjoys listening to classical music as much as I do, but no one complains when I play it, which is really nice. Not like when I play KISS-FM on my mom's car sirius/xm player. Mom and I were stopped at a drive-through ATM the other day and 'Birthday Sex' came on, it was a moment.

After chili, coffee and sweets (we always end every meal with a sweet), Carebear and I attacked the pumpkins. Carebear had printed some carving design templates from the local newspaper's website; I just winged it. Pictures below:


I kind of intended to go with two dinosaurs fighting at first, but everyone kept commenting that my dino looked like a wolf (???) and I ran out of space (only so much room on the front) so I just let it be. I added a half moon to give my mouth-agape monster a purpose. I dig it. Next year I need to get a few carving tools; smaller and sharper knives. Carebear won't be laughing then! Yeah right; remember what I wrote above about meeting expectations? Always.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Recipe: Mexican Eggs

I made the eggs below last Sunday while video-chatting with Marykate. I positioned my laptop to give her a clear view of my prep and stove work while I pretended to be filming an amateur's local cable cooking show. I only wish I could have shared the deliciousness with her when I finished. Enjoy food with your friends! Perhaps a fun, cheap and quick recipe (like the one below) will fit the bill.

Becca's Mexican Eggs
Serves 3

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large japaleño pepper, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 12 oz can black beans, rinsed
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 lime, cut into wedges

1) In medium saucepan, sauté onion in 1 tbsp oil on medium-high heat until onion is nearly browned (about 5 minutes).
2) Add jalapeño, garlic, cumin and pinch of salt. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
3) Add beans and water. Simmer on medium-low heat for 5-8 minutes till water nearly evaporates.
4) While beans are cooking, heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in fry pan on medium-high heat. When pan is hot (about one minute), add three eggs. (Adding the eggs to a hot pan will keep the egg-white from running.) When the egg-white begins to turn from opaque to solid white, gently flip the egg over and cook for 15-30 seconds, pressing with spatula around the yolk (not on, you will break the yolk) to cook thoroughly. Do not overcook, yolk needs to be runny.
5) Divide beans evenly amongst three plates (about 1/2 cup per plate) and top with one over-easy egg. Dress with cilantro, cheese and lime.

I apologize if step four insults your intelligence or experience, but it is crucial to keep true to an over-easy egg. The subtlety of cooking an egg challenges me several times a week, but I find the simple instructions above always deliver a warm bursting yolk.

And never forget: cheese goes with everything.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Real Life Update

I haven't been contributing to this blog as frequently as I had planned. I apologize to those of you who check back often hoping for some kind of update only to find Gramma's youtube video. It still cracks me up, but I'm partial.

When I first arrived home, every little thing I saw, heard or experienced felt wild and new. I was constantly inspired to document the rockwellian cacophony.

It's not that the new smell has disappeared completely, but I'm more of a local at this point, not so much a visitor. I work a job, drive a wagon (that I own!), I'm a regular at Gramma's game nights, I repeat the recipes I discovered earlier this summer etc etc

And the new crazies (people, places, things) I encounter, don't seem as crazy. My expectations have changed. Also, now that I'm not just on summer va-ca, running through green fields with Cody hopping alongside, I'm trudging through the adult planning stages again.

I'm happy to write that I'm still receiving a ton of support from family, friends and new acquantainces to continue my music studies. I plan to audition with the state university by the end of the month for a second bachelors in Music Education, with an emphasis in General and Choral Music. I am choosing entry into the dept with piano as my instrument, over voice. Singing comes naturally to me, and I need the kick in the butt to get to the level I know I'll be happy at, on the piano. I already completed a piano minor, so I'm hoping I can whip through the degree in less than two years.

I have full support from the local public school districts to student teach in their systems, so I just need to actually memorize a couple piano audition pieces (a chopin prelude and bach fugue, me thinks) and get the paperwork sorted. I've been stalling a bit. My fabulous 'business' career was heading into decent money and an Associate Director title. Now I'll be back in school, not even a graduate degree program, when I turn 30, and taking a job for a mighty piddly salary. I left NY because those kinds of things started to become too important to me, but it's not like POOF! you leave and all the filth rinses off the next day in the shower. I'm getting there, but unfortunately it's a struggle.

So...I'll hopefully be enrolled full time next January, but I might still be living with my folks for a while. Gramma would love for me to stay with her. She lives in a condo only a mile from where I'm staying now. Grampa has been in a home for almost three years with advanced Alzheimers; she gets lonely. And for some reason, as has been previously posted, me and senior crowd get along famously. Gramma and I already hang out half the week: Cary Grant Appreciation Night, Scrabble, Culvers (best fast food ever), Saturday afternoon mass (to be posted on soon, 'Polka Part Two') etc etc So maybe I'll vacation with her from time-to-time, to keep it fresh at home. Hahaha. I sound incredibly boring. I still dance and act silly, promise.

In the meantime, the family friend I currently work for has offered to keep me on part-time while I'm in school, and I will be taking on my first piano student soon! I joined a professional choir (to be posted on soon, 'Big White Bird') which takes up a hell of a lot of time - wow - it's nuts. I'm learning 14 songs, and I'm singing second alto, which is all harmony, for a Fall concert in three weeks. I have to sell tickets for that, crap.

See, it's like NORMAL PEOPLE stuff here now. Another example: I went to the local fabric store yesterday and bought a bunch of fun prints to use in my first QUILT! No shit. I'm going to learn how to quilt, a smaller quilt, with applique (abstract sailboats), for a friend's baby. My mom just died and is hoping to make it to Heaven.

I'm going to an Apple Orchard slash Pumpkin Patch this coming weekend with Gramma. I can't wait to carve a pumpkin for the front porch, which no one will see because we live in the country, but whatevs. I'll take a photo for you. And I'll comment on more fun topical stuff soon. As for now, I have to run; the Packers are playing the Vikings. And I'm wearing a Rodgers' jersey. It's my mom's. There was a Packer theme at work today, so I wore the polyester nightgown over my scrubs. Some kind of comedy every day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In my dreams, I wear sports bras [and other humorous goings-on]

When is the last time you sat down with your friends or family and played a board game, the whole way through? If you could play any game now, which would it be?

Typically, Pictionary is my go-to game. Everyone is either playing together, or participating with head shakes or foot stomps in-between 'all plays.' No one in my family is an artist (even if they were, there isn't time for much 'art' in five seconds), which makes for many laughs (opposing team) and groans (home-team). I collect the crème de la crème sketches for the 'Hall of Shame' mural, hung magnetically on the cabin's fridge door.

However, the diamond in the rough, is the game of charades. I encourage you to enjoy the video clip below. It comes from my home, to yours.




Monday, September 14, 2009

Announcement: Part-time work found. More tired.

"Good morning, this is Rebecca calling from Dr. ___'s office to confirm ___'s appointment tomorrow, ___day, at _:__(am/pm). See you then. Thanks."

I now work about thirty hours between Monday 8AM and Thursday 1PM for a family friend and local optometrist. I believe the office folk refer to me as the 'front desk girl.' I make the phone call above every day I work. I also answer the phones, greet patients when they enter the office, initiate the processing of insurance claims and help with the general 'flow' of the day.

Blah blah blah. Who cares.

It's not so much about what I do, but rather, what goes on in (and sometimes out) of the office.

All of the employees (optical technicians) are women. I guess that is pretty common in the medical support fields? I worked a front desk job at a VA clinic during a long ago college summer; the support positions were also staffed solely with women.

All of the ladies I work with now, except one [married] twenty-something, are middle-aged mamas. And they've all worked together for over several years, most over fifteen. It's a small office but a healthy practice; it can feel a tad claustrophobic during the rush hours [before and after work/school]. Nothing I'm not used to though, after living-in and eating-out-in NYC.

Everyone is on their feet all day. The ladies like to wear cross trainers to preserve their tootsies. The hot new shoe that everyone is into, is the exposed shox. Guess what? I, too, own a pair of black/hot pink/cool blue exposed shox clown shoes, which I bought in NY almost a year ago, so I guess "styles" these days are translating within one year, instead of three. Yay for us!!

[I used to work near Times Square. One day, before my aerobics class (taught by this guy) at NYSC, I ran into the Foot Locker on 8th Ave. All the seventeen year olds working the floor told me how cool the shoes looked on. I kind-of believed them. What did I know about trainers? Well, I guess everyone in Brooklyn knew a heck of a lot more, because boy, did I get a lot of business on the city tennis courts. Come on, like your ugly sauconies really need comparing. You'll all be happy to know that my tennies have since retired and are now designated for dog-walkin and lawn-mowin. OK?]

There really isn't so much of a thing called 'break' at work, except for lunch. However, the proverbial water-hole [three-inches deep with kringles, donuts, cookies, candies etc] is always booming, regardless of the schedule. Today, for instance, I had to twist and turn between eight bodies anchored in conversation just to get to the doctor's charts for the day. When I'm sitting up-front I can still hear the ladies chit-chatting about about so and so's kid's dance troop and how they are up in arms with their school's cheerleading squad, how last Sunday's sermon failed again, and so on. If the 'private' conversation turns too personal, or to the patients as the subject, I try humming or talking to myself to try and mask the specifics from the folks in the waiting room, who are pretty much welcome to eavesdrop at will.

Everyone is super quirky, which is cool. And everyone tells me how great I'm doing everyday, which is also really sweet. They treat me like a daughter, and boy, would they like to set me up with their sons, except I'm not really close to anyone's age (or a lot of other things). But apparently that isn't too much of an issue for one, who last month paired me up with her 21 year old son for the upcoming Christmas party. Oh boy.

You know, I think it goes without saying: talking about work sometimes makes you feel like yer still at work. And I just got done with a ten and a half hour shift. So...I'll leave you with this: tomorrow I start dressing in uniforms. Scrubs, styled a la theme from Star Trek. Use your imaginations.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Berry Pickin'

'Blackberry, oh blackberry, where art thou be?'
'In troves of plenty, just beyond yonder tree.
Hanging from vines, in threes, fours and fives,
take care not to injure, there be thorns in disguise.'

Last weekend, while Up North, I happened upon a vine of ripe blackberries. I didn't notice the bounty till after it lay at my feet; I had mangled the bush the berries grew from with hedge clippers in an attempt to widen the driveway.

[Our cabin is seated a quarter-mile from the road up a steep and winding self-made path, many times in between visits to the cabin the shouldering bushes and trees grow into the path. My Dad is a realist: 'I own a truck, so I drive it like a truck.' Most other folks that come up to the cabin brake their vehicles to about 1 mph while driving up the way, lest one of the low hanging branches should scrape their car. Leave your sissy car parked in the apron of the driveway, you ain't in the city no more.]

I had been trimming our property loop and the driveway for about thirty minutes, and was just about finished with my work when I made the discovery. It came as a surprise; I hadn't found edible berries on our property in over ten years. When my parents bought the place in the 80s, there were raspberry and blackberry bushes aplenty, but for some reason they now grow fewer and further between. Or maybe we just don't spend as much time up there and fail to realize the harvest.

I plucked the berries off the vine and held them in my hand, the dark purple juice staining my palms, while I forged into the thick brush to scout for more vines. To my delight, I spotted one after another. I ran to the cabin for a container to hold the berries, then ran back to do some serious picking.


Being a week removed from the event and not wanting to sound overzealous, it is difficult for me to recount the spiritual effect this moment produced. To just be within a limitless space of life and beauty is enough to make you stop with awe and appreciation; however, to also find an offering of life [sustenance] by chance, was just too cool for words. The rips, tears and scrapes of the thorns on my clothes and skin went by mostly unnoticed, but next time I go foraging I will wear gloves.

I picked and picked under a mid-day's sun. Total contentment.


I ended up filling a quart-sized container with berries, plus some. I rinsed the berries and then set them aside in a colander to dry. I wasn't quite sure what to do with them just yet. They are not the sweetest berries and they are more seeds than anything else, so I didn't foresee much interest in just snacking on them. A few, sure, but not the whole lot in a couple of days.


I decided to bake, but had no resources to do so at the cabin. A cabin seems like an appropriate place to do some baking, but since my family is rarely there, they don't see a need to keep much around except condiments and a few canned goods for emergencies. We make up for the lack of baking with a fair share of grilling. That said, we do make fudge every winter; my dad's favorite. We throw the pan of batter outside in the snowbank to thicken. And we also bake a cake every year for my mom's birthday. But that is usually of the box variety and only requires oil (or applesauce) and a couple eggs. [Dad takes her out for her annual 'walk' while the appointed baker rushes to bake and frost before they return.]

Back home I found a recipe for a blackberry tart and again rinsed and dried the berries, but this time with paper-towels in my salad spinner (helps prevent bruising). The tart was easy enough but I ended up with a bunch of leftover berries, which I decided to break down (with help from my food-processor and strainer) and cook for a coulis. The straining was really slow and messy, I need to find a better way to do this; any suggestions?

I overbaked the tart a bit (picture below), but it was necessary because I put too many berries in, which added a lot of moisture. I added lemon zest for flavor, which saved the tart in my opinion, but I think in the future I will continue baking with other berries I enjoy more!


The straining and cooking of the leftover 3 cups of berries yielded a small amount of coulis. [In the picture below, I placed the coulis next to a smallish cantaloupe for proportion.] This was pretty excellent, but I think next time I will add a little more sugar [I used the same amount I would with other, sweeter, berries] and perhaps a melon liqueur, which was recommended in a recipe I found.



Thinking of going Up North next weekend to look for the berries that weren't quite ripe enough to pick the last. I'd like to try making a jam. If you have any tips, feel free to comment.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Winnebago Archers

New York came to Wisconsin, so we had to do it up big Midwest Style for sure.

Dad invited Yvette and I to join him as guests at his private Winnebago Archery Club for Tuesday league night. We quickly and graciously accepted.

I had taken the long bow out for a little practice the week prior. [Must have been around the time of Junior High since I last shot. 'Round here, archery is a short Spring or Summer gym requirement. Public school students also have to learn how to polka during the indoor months.] I shot at one of the targets pitched permanently 'in the back.' I hit the target for the most part, but ended up losing one of the arrows in the brush. My parents have an eight acre property, less than half is manicured, and the wild grass, alfalfa and flowers grow several feet high. After ten arrows or so, I retired for the evening, the bow was awkward and it was a little rough on my fingers. Oh boo.

Though not as bad as when I took one of my Dad's compound bows out to practice a couple weeks later. The bow was strung with about 40-50 pounds of pressure and twice I snapped the soft inside of my left arm, which produced a lovely purple welt immediately. [You cannot legally bow-hunt in WI with less than 30 pounds; you probably wouldn't be able to get a kill shot. Do you know your state's limit? Texas doesn't have one, which some consider unethical. You really only get one chance to kill with bow and arrow, unless you are as quick with your arrow as Legolas, so you need near-perfect visibility (I don't think my dad will venture beyond 30 yards in a tree-stand) and accuracy.]

Anyways, in-between these two events, I went to an archery club with no motive other than to trail behind my dad and our family friend, Russ, while they shot, and drink beers at the club house. I figured it would be a pretty spot-on representation of WI for Yvette as well.

Dad, Yvette and I shared the front bench seat of the F150 and jammed out to the local classic rock station, 93.5 WOZZ-FM, on our way to the club. Yvette and I had just returned from cruising downtown Oshkosh, so we had to quickly change into clothes better suited for the woods. i.e. long sleeves. [I have only found three ticks this summer, but one was a deer tick, which I believe is my first. When I was in girl scouts, I would go to summer camp. One of their tricky ploys to deprogram the innate 'ew!' girl reaction to bugs, was to award prizes to girls who found the most ticks. One night I woke up to a tick tip-tapping around in my ear. I was psyched. It was like my tenth tick that week or so.]

When we got to the club, I actually felt a nervous tightening in my stomach. I felt like a 'fake' and I was afraid our novelty appearance wouldn't be appreciated by the regulars. Hunting is super male centric. Yvette and I were the only women on the grounds. The first guy we saw had been hanging around the parking lot fiddling with something or another. He just stared at us. My dad didn't say 'Hi' to him, so I didn't either.

Dad and Russ did a super short warm-up practice at the targets pictured below. Then we went to the club house for beer. Yes, you totally drink and fire weapons in Wisconsin. There were coolers set-up all over the property for easier convenience. Yvette wound up buying a bunch of club merchandise: t-shirts, can cozies, mugs and hats; the most 'Big Al' has sold all year. He commented that the books would probably look off this month. However, it was the purchase that lightened the air, so to speak. 'We were cool.'


After finishing beer 1 and opening beer 2, we set off to shoot the first 14 out of the 28 targets. The set-up reminded me of a golf course: each target was positioned at the end of a cleared path, there were markers dug into the ground indicating where to stand and shoot, and each next target was accessible by walking the path of the previous.



The actual targets were cardboard cutouts of various wildgame in the area. Each cutout had a 'bulls eye' drawn over the animal's heart to indicate where to aim. Remember that Yvette and I had no intention of shooting, so we didn't arrive with bows. Big Al gave us kiddie bows and 'found' arrows. They couldn't have given more than 25 lbs of pressure, and one we didn't realize was broken until half way through the course. I started out strong and ended weak, Yvette advanced through-out. Our only goal was to 'get cardboard.' Screw aiming. Dad and Russ had sights. I couldn't figure out if I was supposed to close my right or left eye to focus. (see photo below, really poor form.) The harder I tried to make sense of it, the worse I shot. Needless to say I lost another arrow.


Thank God for the coolers. The course was short, each path's distance was no more than 15 yards, but the woods were thick and the mosquitos were hungry. The beer helped numb their presence. I went High Life all the way. Miller = Wisconsin. And it is still the best 'cheap light' beer in my humble opinion. It's even satisfying warm.

Dad and Russ were super patient with us. I think they were just impressed that we tagged along. I found out we were their first female guests. Neither my mom, nor Russ' wife, had an interest. So strange to me. Things can get pretty old-fashioned around here and people do not like to try new things.

After we finished the short loop, we went back to the club house for another round. Yvette and I snapped the photo below, which was taken in front of a mural by the women's (doe's) bathroom.


I had a really excellent time hanging with the guys. Hunters appreciate the quiet (they sit alone all day, still as the tree they sit in, for fun) and nature; my kind of folk. True, as the shirt below can testify, there was a definite air of testosterone, but most guys around here are mild-mannered country boys, rather than of the southern good 'ole boy mentality. I'd like to go back to the club; you can guest twice before membership is required. But, hunting season is around the corner and that means the cold will be coming as well. However, Dad is pretty hell bent on procuring at least one hunter out of the family, so we'll see. I keep telling him I'd like to start with small game (rifle), but he doesn't have any interest. This family loves their venison chops on the grill.

[PHOTO: the man to the left MAY have a goatee, but i do believe the playing cards were in practice, rather than illustration. regarding the man to the right, not sure why the hunter featured on his shirt is wearing a face mask. now that is just over-the-top.]

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF YVETTE

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

[Defined] Useless Tidbit #1

This is what women in these parts dub the 'Man's Mall.'

Not to be confused with Menards, which is a little more on the 'commercial' end of home and garden improvement megastores.

Fleet Farm sells everything.

One's shoppping cart might include:

1) stable door
2) animal feed for Roger the rooster to Henry (pronounced on-ri) the horse
3) clothes (flannels for $14, the same kind you can buy in soho for $179)
4) generic Fleet Farm branded food, in bulk (nuts, dried fruits, candy...think trail mix)
5) fun expensive machines to play with in the yard
6) wood
7) rifles (and ammunition)
8) fishing poles
9) hunting action figure dolls (see below)
10) camouflaged duck tape (my dad bought immediately without need)
11) full sized kayaks
EVERYTHING.

Since you don't have a Fleet Farm near you, you can buy this sweetie, Bow Hunter Ann, for your own sweetie here.

However if you can get to a Fleet Farm, I suggest you try to. Everyone that works on the floor has to wear blaze orange, it's like Halloween (or gun season, for all you in the know) year round.

Last week I purchased wrapping paper there that featured a deer-themed print (smiling bucks, antlers floating around on their own, broadhead carbon arrows, trees) for only $1.99. I'm going to wrap all upcoming presents in it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preparing for the Cold

Come November folks will begin assembling emergency kits for their vehicles, non-perishables for home kitchen cabinets (the kind you donate to food drives, not necessarily out of generosity, but for admission to some local function), loads of antifreeze for their various fluids, be it in a car or home -- all in an effort to sustain when immobilized.

I've started early, with the only goal being to prevent boredom. I'm not planning to parade around downtown donning a snowsuit and I am totally unacquainted with snowmobiles. I don't own a 4x4 vehicle, or any vehicle at all actually, and I don't plan to purchase one anytime soon, so I do expect a lot of downtime indoors December through April.

Language

My gramma met her best friend, Nellie, over fifty years ago. They owned large wood-paneled victorian homes two doors down from each other on Twelfth St, one block from my family's church, St Vincent's, and half-a-block from our favorite chocolatier, Oaks. My gramma migrated to Oshkosh from Little Rock to marry my grampa, and Nellie came all the way from Belgium to marry Ralph. As was typical in most '40s romance films, those darn men in uniform swoop into town and BLAM! you are married and with child.

I meet with Nellie on Mondays and Thursdays for two hours. The first half of our session is a french lesson and the second is reimbursement: company. Yesterday I also brought along oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies, which I baked last night, for her. I was confident at age ten that I wanted to learn the French language. At that time schoolteachers were advising Spanish, as it was estimated that the US Hispanic population would be growing. Not that I could have been bothered with practicality at that age anyways, or now, really. I was in love with Gay Paris, or at least everything I saw in my favorite Hollywood classics.

I dropped my french class in high school. It is rare that I quit a project, but I was falling behind from missing classes and I had no one to practice the language with at home. It'd be cool if the schools offered free or discounted classes to parents unacquainted with their child's studies, so that they could provide more encouragement and involvement at home. Like the Head Start literacy program, which provides texts and reading guides aimed at both children and parents.

So here I am, almost 29, and without any actual use for the language, but still deeply in love with an idea.

Music

I'm still playing piano a bit, but not as much as I feel I should. I think the problem is stemming from stiff wrists (I need to get my butt in to see a chiropractor, pronto) and boredom with repertoire. A friend gave me the last addition to my library for my birthday last year, a compendium of Chopin's Mazurkas, the Henle edition pictured left [the best, in my opinion]. Before that, I had browsed Patelson once with a friend I have now lost touch with. I purchased the sheet music to Rachmaninoff's Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano. My friend played the upright bass classically and offered to transpose the cello score for his instrument, but that never happened, and since I never enlisted a cellist either, I can only putz around [but also play with a lot more freedom than I could have otherwise]. I put this book on my Birthday Wish List, hoping for inspiration. I need to get Henle's edition of Chopin's Nocturnes and Waltzes as well--I eat that kind of stuff right up. Listless melodies for a melancholy soul.

Once I find some kind of part-time work, which will lend some residential stability, I plan to advertise my services as a piano instructor. I prefaced this in a previous blog entry. I cannot ignore the coincidence of encouragement I have received in the last month to pursue this lifelong passion. I always thought I'd end up teaching in my later years, perhaps as a mother or grandmother. I took a pedagogy class in college [I graduated with a music minor] and did some private teaching to daughters of family friends during my summers off. It was so cool to see kids light up at the touch of sound, so proud of their creation. To most it was more a forum for open expression of all kinds, not just musical. The girls would confide in me secrets of every sort. So I suppose 'mentor of appreciation' would be a better title for my previous services.

It's my experience that the Piano Adventures series is the preferred curriculum for children, just fyi, for you future mommies and daddies. In case you'd like to teach yourself, I've had success teaching adults with the Alfred's series. I'd like to take on five students or so as a test trial. I need time to add [write my own] supplemental theory, history, appreciation and composition lesson plans. No way in heck I'd feel OK introducing the instrument and method without the whole kit and kaboodle. It infuriates me that so many folks out there are allowed to teach without; what a detriment to the children. Hopefully there are some, not turned off all together by the practice, who seek out more information as teenagers and adults.

Literature

If I haven't given myself enough exercise in sitting, I have been compiling a book list for lazy mornings. Other than writing for this blog, I haven't spent much time immobile; I'm always running outside or around the house to do this and that. I have assumed the role of 'maid' here, and least we forget that a woman's work is never done. I have a fantastic list of 18th C. Gothic Literature to pull from. I stumbled upon Melmoth the Wanderer last year, and, wow, it is probably one of the three best surprises in all of art I have experienced. I just started The Monk but have to interrupt for Russell Brand's recent memoir, My Booky Wook, which I'm reading for my two-person online book club.

Stop

I almost just continued on with pursuits equally interesting and worthy, but face it, that could get overwhelming. I could pile on the world and still find more things that seem urgent to explore. I'm bookmarking this page btw, for the days when I'm in a sour mood and have 'nothing to do.' Maybe you will too. I encourage you to check out recordings of the music I listed, and the books, above.

This is what's going on in Oshkosh, in my little part.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Take a Walk, with Me

Last Friday Cody and I ditched out on a bleak weekend forecast for a three-day getaway 'Up North.' We woke to an alarm to get an early start and did the rounds 1) food 2) dog food 3) beer etc... with impressive grace and fluidity while juggling over-easy eggs and the 'proofing' of the house.

The day prior, my temp employers dropped the hint that there wasn't enough work to do, at least for pay. I hadn't made a single plan yet for the weekend, so when they pushed me to decide what I'd do with an extra free day, I gave a goofy face. But they badgered on, maybe because they felt too uncomfortable to let it quiet; to some, like them, the opportunity to work is their only means to survive. I probably should adapt to that mentality soon; running on memories of decent paychecks doesn't get you far. So I threw out the idea of going Up North to ease their worries; I'd enjoy the time off.

Yes, 'Up North' is a proper noun here. It's a common a reference as going Home, to Menards or Fleet Farm, or to Work. It's similar to how folks in the UP refer to Camp. Game hunting, especially white-tail deer, is huge in Wisconsin and most families have owned acres of land for hunting purposes for generations. Because of the climate you need elevation and shelter [from the snow and frozen ground] to keep warm, so you build a 'second home;' blue-collars, too. During hunting season it is not uncommon to see a train of camouflaged men (and some women) driving North on 41 to their respective cabins or shacks every weekend, leaving behind wives and children to make do without. It's just as common to see deer corpses peeking out from the sometimes too small confines of a pick-up truck on Sundays.

I think my Dad imagined our cabin to be more of a hunting retreat when he purchased the lot in the late-80s, but he soon found there was little game on the 20 acres to hunt. So instead, the four of us, Mom, Dad, Carrie and Me, weekended together Up North with board games [played on the dining table pictured, which my Dad built as a gift to my Mom for her 30th bday] in lieu of compound bows and marshmallows for jerky.

We used to go up three out of the four weekends every month, but as Carrie and I got older we wanted to spend more time with friends and less with 'the family.' [Always looking for something more, eh? Glad I've come to my senses now, not after it's too late to enjoy their company.] The past few years, the cabin is lucky to see us once every season. Other family members will go up and enjoy the wide open space; you can be as loud as you want to be, no one around to complain. But with the main traffic coming from visitors, some of the minor repairs have fallen to the wayside. I set out for the cabin this past weekend on a mission to restore my favorite piece of Wisconsin.

Cody was less than pleased by the work I had set out to do; he just wanted to play. In between refinishing the exterior window trims, shampooing the entire floor-plan of carpet, gardening and other general duties, Cody and I would walk the path my Dad sickled around the property. While I was working he would sit nearby and watch, which did get a little annoying at times, because it had an awesome guilt affect. [Cody pictured, waiting for me to finish weeding]

There is one important rule to abide at the cabin: no stickin' TV. Seems obvious, right? You'd be surprised... I find the experience of just being within walls that breath satisfying. I can sit for hours and stare up at the canopies of trees, the ripple of chatter among the leaves, the heartbreaking contrast in line and color against the heavens and so on. I think I could possibly lose my mind if I never breaked from the absorbing tractor beam of elemental life. Like old folks in their wheelchairs seated by a window overlooking a peaceful garden. Empty filler.

I woke up Saturday morning, after ten wonderful hours of rest, with a smile on my face. Cody was already awake and stirring next to the bed, 'Wake up! Wake up! Let's play! I'm hungry!' I turned onto my side so that my hand would reach him below the level of the mattres. My gaze was directed out the West facing window and I spied a woodpecker doing his spazmatic dance on a tree not twenty feet away. It was so cool, made me laugh. The force of this little guy's pecking almost disjointed him from the tree trunk, his little body was all a jiggle and jerk.

There is a radio positioned above the kitchen cabinets that is permanently tuned to 93.5 WOZZ, all classic rock all the time. There is never a time when the radio isn't on, except overnight, which might come off a little strange considering the supposed break from 'city' life and noise. However, the sweet sounds of Zep and Skynard are their own frequency, one with the gods. Since I was alone I changed the channel to the local NPR broadcast for breakfast; even I wasn't ready to rock quite yet. I like to futz with crossword puzzles while I'm eating, although I'm finding that I greet them with increasing labor as the week progresses. It seems to me that the paper increases the level of puzzle difficulty throughout the week. Mondays' puzzles are my favorite, 'I'm a genius!'

I surprised myself Sunday morning by waking up and getting the move on out the door. I could have stayed the day and relaxed, but my body woke up in third gear. I had had my share of hard work, my hands and wrists were sore from scraping the paint off the window frames and my allergies were still bugging me despite the carpet cleaning. I was also in need of some serious sudsing. There is a small shower stall in the bathroom, but it's hard to get a proper wash with limited hot water and immediate contact with 'the elements' following the shower. While I was weeding I came into contact with far too many insects and arachnids for my liking. Some of them ambushed me by hiding in the leaves, when I grabbed a handful to remove from the flowerbeds, miniature paintballs were fired into my palm. Paintballs of a gooey sort, yellow and brown in colors. I tried to wipe the mess off on the grass, but it's wild grass Up North, not manicured, there is more earth showing than green, so I ended up adding a layer of mud to the mix. So I tried spitting on my hand and using a leaf as a scraping instrument, nil. It just IS up there, no fighting it.

I rewarded myself for a good job done by stopping at Dairy Queen in Shawno on the way home. I was ready to order the standby [Butterfinger Blizzard] but was convinced by the monthly special advertisement to side with the Girl Scout Thin Mint Blizzard. I'd stick with the Butterfinger unless you can convince the pimple faced teens to skip the mint syrup and double the cookie!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Small Photos for Short Time

Private Bowl Party in Chilton












with Dad













and BFFs


Cute Kids Everywhere











Chloe (Indiana)



State Parks










with Gramma and Mom













Me, Being Me