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Barnstorming (without an airplane)

7 Jan

I love a good barn. The older the better. So I asked someone I know if he’d be willing to let me explore and photograph his lovely, old specimen of barnishness. Happily, he said yes, and even though the hunters didn’t appreciate that I had taken over “their” space, I spent a good half hour or so exploring the lovely old weathered barn where once cows and sheep and horses (and at least one homeless man) lived. Now it’s home to barn swallows and mice and dust motes.

And the ghosts of chickens past.

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Squirrel Mafia

26 Nov

Me: “There’s a squirrel in the birch tree right there.”

My husband: “It better run for its life.”

Me: “I bet it doesn’t know.”

My husband: “It will find out soon enough.”

Me: (A little guiltily) “I noticed all those black walnuts on the ground beneath the trees the other day and got to worrying about the squirrels. If they’re drawn by the scent.”

My husband: “But not enough to pick them up.”

Me: “What?”

My husband: “You didn’t worry enough to pick them up.”

Me: “Oh. No. Too much work.”

Black walnuts, anyone?

Black walnuts, anyone?

My husband: “You’d think that they’d spread the word. Avoid the place.”

Me: “They can’t spread the word. They’re all dead.”

My husband: “Don’t blame me.”

Me: “No. It’s the squirrel mafia.”

My husband: “Totally.”

Me: (Still watching the doomed squirrel.) “Poor guy.”

My husband: “I’m not too bothered by it, actually.”

Me: (Shouting) “RUN AWAY, LITTLE SQUIRREL! RUN AWAY!”

My husband: “He won’t.”

Me: “I know. I know.”

My husband: “Dead as a door nail.”

Me: “Deader. Doornails never were alive.”

My husband: “Remember the little paw?”

Me: “Lying on top of the dumpster. Like a mute warning.”

My husband: “Squirrels beware.”

Me: “It really was gross.”

My husband: “That’s the mafia for you. Probably a few of their victims are swimming with the fishes at the bottom of the stream.”

Me: “Swimming with the beavers, you mean. We don’t have any fishes in our stream.”

My husband: “Cement boots.”

Me: “Electrocuted, actually.”

My husband: “True. Brutally shocked at the top of the light pole.”

Me: “Fallen to the ground below. All stiff…”

My husband: “Next time the power goes out mysteriously in the middle of the day – no storm, no warning – you’ll know why.”

Me: “Yes. The squirrel mafia will have struck again.”

My husband: (Joining me at the window) “How many times has it happened?”

Me: “Twice. But there was that other squirrel – the one that did a weird dance in the middle of the road and was found dead in the yard the next day.”

My husband: “Yeah. Forgot about that one. I thought you thought it was rabies that time.”

Me: “Mafia-induced rabies, probably.”

We stood there, watching the innocent squirrel run down the tree trunk and head south.

My husband: “Looks like he’s heading into Iowa.”

Me: “Good thing. The mafia is less powerful there.”

My husband: “He’ll be back. All those nuts…just calling to him…”

Me: (Shouting and banging on the glass) “GOOD LUCK LITTLE SQUIRREL! AND DON’T COME BACK!!! Never, ever come back…”

My husband: “Squirrels aren’t known for their wisdom.”

Me: “Maybe I should put up warning signs.”

My husband: “Maybe you should just pick up the walnuts.”

The End

PS – Though the conversation may not have gone exactly like this, the details of the squirrel mafia are entirely true. It’s a bizarre fact that squirrels who come to our property die. And we don’t have anything to do with it. Any relation to actual events was completely on purpose. No animals were injured in the making of this post.

Bare walnut trees.

Bare walnut trees.

Life in My Neighborhood

12 Nov

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Of the five states and two countries I’ve lived in throughout my life, only one location has been deprived of noticeable seasonal changes, and I’m thankful I only lived there long enough to learn to sit up and eat solid foods. I’m sure that people living in Miami, as I did when I was born, get used to recognizing the seasons by what decorations are up in the stores, but I would miss the more obvious signs terribly if forced to give them up.

I would miss digging sweaters out of the depths of my closet, searching for matching snow boots, and wearing scarves as more than just accessories.

After the harvest.

After the harvest.

Here in southwest Minnesota the seasons can come in with a bang. I guess, if I had my druthers, I’d rather have the calmer, less brutal seasonal changes of Oregon or Washington than the IN YOUR FACE seasonal changes around here, but there is no denying that I get a lot of pleasure from watching the seasons through the palate of the farmer’s fields.

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In spring I love the daily changes in the fields, the minute corn and soybean plants beginning to poke their leaves above the soil, turning the brown earth into mint-green fields of promise. I adore spring, and all the more so since living through the Minnesota winters.

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But I also love watching the progress of harvest every autumn. I love seeing the combines sweeping back and forth across the fields. I especially love watching them at night when their headlights rise like the sun above the gentle folds and ridges of the countryside. Living as I do out in the country, it makes for an interesting time in the neighborhood – as opposed to the usual excitement of pheasants and feral cats.

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I thought I’d leave you today with a few photos of harvest in SW Minnesota. Some of these shots are from this year, and some from previous autumns. This is life in my neighborhood.

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A few years ago Boo was given in a ride in a combine as they harvested corn.  She was thrilled!

A few years ago Boo was given in a ride in a combine as they harvested corn. She was thrilled!

The view from inside the cab as we dumped corn from the combine into the gravity wagon.

The view from inside the cab as we dumped corn from the combine into the gravity wagon.

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Literally the view from my window...

Literally the view from my window…

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An Afternoon On the Farm!

15 Oct

It wasn’t hard to say, “Of course!” when my husband’s cousin asked if I’d be able to arrange a visit to some animals when she and her husband and two boys were coming to town the next weekend.

“Cows or pigs or chickens,” she said. “The boys would love to see any of them.”

The farm girl with her kitty...and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell.  By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell - which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

The farm girl with her kitty…and the city boy plugging his nose at the smell. By the time we were done he had long since ceased to notice the smell – which, I must add, was NOT AT ALL bad!

Well, when visiting in Southwest Minnesota, any of those are pretty easy to arrange. Without a moment’s hesitation, the first person I thought of was my friend, Rita.

Rita did not grow up in SW MN, but her husband, Joe, did and, in fact, I taught his younger sister way back when she was in high school. I didn’t teach him – I’m not THAT old. :-)

I got to know Rita when I joined the local MOPS group – Mothers of Preschoolers. Sadly, I don’t have a preschooler any longer, but thankfully I’m still in touch with Rita. My life would definitely be a lonelier place without her in it.

I love the tongue!

I love the tongue!

Rita began blogging in February of this past year. Her blog, So She Married a Farmer, is a great picture of rural farming life in this day and age. Rita knew what she was getting into when she married her farmer – she grew up on a farm and majored in something cow-related at the University of Minnesota – in fact, that’s how she met Joe.

Rita loves the heifers that they keep on their farm. And when I say “loves them”, I mean really, really cares about them. She cares about them as animals, and she cares about their product – both their babies and their milk. She is a great advocate for the dairy industry.

The neighbor's sheep.

The neighbor’s sheep.

Rita and Joe get the heifers when they’re first-time pregnant moms. They keep them at their farm until they’re almost ready to give birth. (They receive them just shortly after they are identified as pregnant.) Then when they’re ready to give birth they go elsewhere and then when they’re ready to be regular dairy cows they go over to Joe and his dad’s dairy farm. It’s a complicated business, but Rita and Joe know it inside and out.

We spent a wonderful couple of hours at Rita and Joe’s farm, accompanied by their smiley daughter. THANK YOU, Rita, for our lovely afternoon on the farm!!

I asked Rita if I could include this photo - this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain.  It's too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

I asked Rita if I could include this photo – this is Joe on the farm visiting the cows in the rain. It’s too wet to combine today, so the cows get a little more attention.

The pink stripes indicate that she's newly pregnant.  Glad I didn't have to go through that when I was expecting!

The pink stripes indicate that she’s newly pregnant. Glad I didn’t have to go through that when I was expecting!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road.  We visited over there, too!

These chickens actually reside at the farm across the road. We visited over there, too!

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

He so badly wanted to gather the eggs.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

I had forgotten that a stump can be so much fun.

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

As a youngest child, I can relate to wanting to do what my older sibling is doing!

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We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

We ended our day out at a local pumpkin patch.

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"The Swan."

“The Swan.”

My Summer, in Photos…

8 Oct

Ok, so I still have many photos from both Orcas Island as well as from Duluth, Minnesota to post, but today you’re getting more of a grab bag. A few pictures from around home. A few from a weekend spent swimming with the fishes in Rochester, MN. A few that show the season. Enjoy!

Sunset from our back yard.

Sunset from our back yard.

We're still burning piles of dead trees from the ice storm in April.  It's been a huge process.

We’re still burning piles of dead trees from the ice storm in April. It’s been a huge process.

Two sisters enjoying the rain.

Two sisters enjoying the rain.

There was a barn fire not too far from us.  We stood in our yard and took a few photos.

There was a barn fire not too far from us. We stood in our yard and took a few photos.

The fire trucks were rushing past our house.

The fire trucks were rushing past our house.

Fun in the sun.

Fun in the sun.

I've spent many an evening sorting through old Martha Stewart magazines, dating from 1997.  Yes, I literally hurt my back moving the things.

I’ve spent many an evening sorting through old Martha Stewart magazines, dating from 1997. Yes, I literally hurt my back moving the things.

My son's day - if not his year - was made in the ferry line on the 4th of July when we saw this Delorean pull to a stop two lanes over from us.  Everyone and their dog started taking photos.  The lovely couple had come from a 4th of July parade where they show the car, all decked out like in Back to the Future.  My son got to sit in it and even pull the door closed.  He was in heaven.

My son’s day – if not his year – was made in the ferry line on the 4th of July when we saw this Delorean pull to a stop two lanes over from us. Everyone and their dog started taking photos. The lovely couple had come from a 4th of July parade where they show the car, all decked out like in Back to the Future. My son got to sit in it and even pull the door closed. He was in heaven.

The crops have gone from this...

The crops have gone from this…

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...to this...

…to this…

...to this.

…to this.

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Meep tried so hard to catch a fish with her hands.  She got pretty close!

Meep tried so hard to catch a fish with her hands. She got pretty close!

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish these are, I'd appreciate it!

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish these are, I’d appreciate it!


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Tomato Bowling

10 Sep

A couple of years ago, round about this time of year, my daughter Meep came to me and said, “Mom! Look at this perfect bowling pin!”

She was holding a tomato. A yellow pear tomato. And she was right – it did look like a perfect bowling pin.

And so, what was the next logical step for a family to do but go tomato bowling?

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Canning My Own Tomatoes…Again

29 Aug

Full disclosure: I wrote (and posted) this two years ago…but thought of it last night and felt called to re-post since many of you didn’t see it back then! This is tomato season – and I’ll blog more about that on Tuesday – but for now, enjoy this “throwback” post. It’s one of my favorites.

This is how I can tomatoes: with words. In past years I have canned them with jars. Lovely, shining, wide-mouth Mason jars, topped with golden rings and flowery caps. I have waited in nervous expectation for them to seal, for them to justify my time and energy and sweat. And, almost always, I have been rewarded with a “ping” of success. Ah, sweet music to a canner’s ears.

But not anymore. Well, maybe someday again, but not for now. Nor, I’m sure, for a long time to come. Canning is a HUGE job. No, it’s not difficult, per say, but it’s messy, hot, and sticky…times a thousand. Every surface of my kitchen would need wiping down after I canned tomatoes. And I needed a shower. Badly. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, I loved having MY tomatoes on the shelf all winter long, lending the taste of summer to my spaghetti sauce. I LOVED that. But not enough to do it anymore.

Who knew such beauty could come from a lowly whiskey barrel?

For one thing, I’d have to have a garden. Or at least a whole lot more tomatoes than I have now in my four whiskey-barrels. And to have a garden I’d need a fence. And to have a fence I’d need time and energy and commitment to this lifestyle called gardening in order to justify the expense of the fence and the fertilizer (perhaps Rita over at SoSheMarriedAFarmer could give me some cow poop for free?). But most of all, the sheer loss of writing time while out weeding, watering and harvesting keeps my fingernails clean and my thumb less than green. Yes, I have a lot of excuses.

But seriously, writing – and figuring out this writing life – is captivating/controlling/fulfilling me right now. I cannot do everything…and so gardening is out. If only we had more TIME. Time to clean, play, parent, garden, write, sleep, eat, work, drive, can, read, volunteer, befriend a lonely orphan…the list goes on. Canning is definitely out.

How is it that some people seem to have time to do all of that and then some? I am not one of those people. There are too many books calling to be read. Too many sentences begging to be edited. Too many blogs to check out. This is my life right now, and I’m okay with that.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked canning. Other than the mess. I liked feeling a communion with my mother, my Scottish grandmother. I liked feeling like I was contributing. Liked feeling like a homemaker, a provider. Like I was Ma Ingalls. After all, Walnut Grove is only a couple of hours from here; maybe there’s something in the air in these parts, some tomato-laden scent that calls a person with the voice of those pioneer women, enticing them jar-wards. Just call me Caroline.


Yeah, dream on, Self. I never was more than a one-hit wonder in the canning world. I never canned anything other than tomatoes – oh, and a few kinds of jam, come to think of it. I did write a poem about canned beans once. It was the only poem I wrote that my college poetry professor ever liked. I got into his class because he thought I was related to someone…only I wasn’t. There aren’t a lot of poets out there with the last name of “Wendt” and it turns out that Ingrid Wendt was a known Eugene-area poet of the time. All these English profs and secretaries in the department kept asking me if she was my mother – it was very confusing at first – but turned out to be to my benefit, so thanks, Ingrid, if you ever read this!

Anyway, I’ll see if I can find that poem just for giggles. I know I still have it somewhere in the depths of my box of college memorabilia. I wrote it during Music Appreciation class one afternoon – shhh – don’t tell my kids I wasn’t paying attention to the teacher.

So, yes, sadly, (but to the joy of anti-botulism fans everywhere) the only beans I ever canned were in my poem. And the only tomatoes these days are in words, too. The jam is long gone, the jars mostly broken. But the words remain. Perhaps that’s the best kind of canning, after all.

At least for me.

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