Springtime is for the birds

Spring has officially arrived to our Minnesota home:crabapple

Yeah, I know according to the calendar Spring has been here awhile, but it’s only really felt like Spring for the past week or so. And it’s not that a flowering crabapple is an official start, but it sounds good to me.

Speaking of trees, we had to remove a maple that was too close to the house. The tree man did the deed last week. Underneath the maple were a whole lotta hostas.

hostas

With the maple gone, so was the shade for the hostas. I transplanted them to our far more shady backyard.

Wanna know how many I transplanted? Sixty-five! Crazy, right?

But they sure look nice in my pretty little woodland corner, so it was worth it.backyard hostas As I worked, the neighborhood birds entertained me. (You knew birds had to come into the conversation eventually, right?)

The chickadees were being their typical adorable selves, ‘natch, and our downy woodpecker is ever the charmer.

 

By the way, all the bird photos you’ll be seeing here have been shamelessly pilfered from the site WhatBird.com.

Please don’t tell.

Have you ever been to that site? Their search feature is pretty cool. By giving them beak size, approximate body size, primary & secondary colors, or any other features you might notice, they will give you a pretty good guess as to what the bird is. Or at least a list of birds that you can narrow down yourself.

That’s how I found out who our newest visitor to the bird feeder is: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose breasted grosbeak

And the bird that was with him was his mate, though I never would have guessed it.

Rose breasted grosbeak female

Another site I use is allaboutbirds.org. It’s a great spot for learning cool facts, such as while the Grosbeak won’t be winning any awards for their nest-building – “so flimsy you can sometimes see the eggs from underneath” – their song has been described as “a Robin who’s had opera training.”

I haven’t seen a lot of this couple. (Too busy with their voice lessons, I assume.) Mostly it’s Chickadees and my Downy Woodpecker. Oh — and the Goldfinches! Let’s not forget them.gold finchHe might be tiny, but I sure wouldn’t want to be alone in a room with him. Just look into those eyes! He means business.

Speaking of little birds – I witnessed a bunch of sparrows taking on a crow!

 

Here’s how it happened: Our neighbor has this platform feeder where he puts fruit, nuts, cracked corn, etc. So here I am plugging another hosta in the ground — think it was number 54 — when I hear a crow making an awful racket. Cawing away something awful. I look over to see what’s pissing him off.

There he is in a tree near the feeder, flapping his wings and bobbing his head in a threatening manner. I follow his gaze and there they were, a group of sparrows.

Sparrows!

Every time that crow tried to wing on over to the feeder, the sparrows dive bombed him! They swooped down all together, right at that old crow.

Whoosh!

How do you suppose sparrows work together like that? Do they draw up a battle plan ahead of time?

Gosh, I wonder if they have a squad leader?  “Sparrow One to Sparrow Two, come in from the right… Sparrow Four, wait for my call… steady… steady….move, move, move!”

Sparrows got moxie.

Oh, and here’s the best part: As I’m watching this battle raging, along comes a blue jay who just flew in and took whatever was on the feeder.

Which just goes to show: there’s no sense in fighting. The Blue Jay will win, every time.blue jay

I know a lot of people don’t like Blue Jays, but you gotta admit, with that sassy crest and stylish coloring? They cut a fine figure.

Some positive characteristics I’ve learned about jays: They mate for life, are very good parents, are highly intelligent and can make mincemeat of wasp nests in no time flat.

Oh, and here’s an interesting tidbit from the site:

The Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived by pigments, but is the result of light refraction due to the internal structure of the feathers; if a Blue Jay feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed.

This is indeed true. I once found a pretty Blue Jay feather while walking Dog and brought it inside where she promptly decided to eat it. When she spit it out, it was no longer blue.

It was also covered in dog spit so I didn’t take a picture. Sorry.

And that wraps up our bird discussion for today. In review, please remember: even the most ordinary birds can be interesting if you just give them a chance.

Also, don’t mess with sparrows.

The Secretary and the Worm: A True Story in One Act

Get this guys: when I was driving home from church the wind was blowing really hard and making the snow swirl and dance on top of the road. It looked a little hazy and super cool, like you were about to have a dream sequence.

And if we’re really lucky, it’ll be the one where Gilligan thinks he’s a vampire.

Gilligan

But I’m not here to talk about Gilligan’s Island or the weather. Instead, I’m going to tell you about something that happened right before I left my old job at the school. It was a small incident and normally I’d never remember it, but this time my memory was razor sharp, and …

Okay, fine, I didn’t remember it. Fact is, I was cleaning through my closet and going through my stack of notebooks.

I have a serious notebook problem. Problem being, I keep losing them so I wind up buying new ones. So all these notebooks are half-filled or in some cases, two or three pages filled. It’s pathetic.

In any case, it was in one of these notebooks that I found this conversation I had with a teacher.

First, some background: the teacher and I, we have a history. He had a pathological need to be liked, and I didn’t like him.

I should have been more patient with the guy and I think I could have been, had he not been so damn annoying. Every morning he’d walk through the front office — most teachers don’t, you need to understand that. If their class was in the main building, they might, but even then they usually entered by a side door as it was closer to the parking lot.

This guy didn’t work in the main building; his class was in the “D” building, just outside. So coming through the front office didn’t make sense. Unless, of course, you wanted to go to the break room and see if anyone brought in donuts or muffins or homemade cookies.

After scarfing down several, he’d then make the rounds and say, “Hey good buddy,” to every secretary in the office. After they responded, he say, “Have a good one.”

If you didn’t respond — and this is the key point here — if you didn’t respond, he’s back up and repeat it. And he’d keep this up until he got your attention. Even if you were on the phone, you had to wave or acknowledge him in some manner.

You had to greet him. You had to.

secretaryHe’d also come to the front office at the beginning of lunch and during his prep period. Sometimes during passing periods too. And every time he’d check out the break room.

One time someone bought two pizzas for the front office staff. They wrote on the boxes in big bold letters, “FOR THE FRONT OFFICE.”

Not five minutes after the pizza was put in the break room, he was seen leaving with not one, not two, but three slices. When one of the attendance clerks pointed out to him what was written, he claimed he thought it said “From the front office.”

Yeah. That makes total sense.

worm

Anyway, before you say “Oh, those poor teachers. They don’t make enough and he’s forced to be a worm,” that would be a no. This guy was the wormiest of the worms. He was a Super Worm.

He was also a bit of a dope, and that’s where this exchange comes from. I enjoyed it so much, I shared it with every co-worker I could find.

Fortunately I also wrote it down because my memory is crap.

Scene: Break room of a large suburban high school. I’m sitting at the table eating my lunch, no doubt a homemade tomato/basil soup with freshly grated Parmesan. Just then, Worm arrives to fill his water bottle. (Oh! There’s a story with the Worm and the water cooler too! Damn, I don’t have time to go into it. We’ll save it for another time.)

Enter Worm

Worm: (facing water cooler) Have a good life in Iowa.

Me: (doesn’t say anything; I thought he was talking to the water cooler)

Worm: (turns to face me) I said have a good life in Iowa.

Me: What?

Worm: Aren’t you moving to Iowa?

Me: No.

Worm: I thought you were moving to Iowa.

Me: No. Minnesota.

Worm: Oh, right right right. Minnesota.

Me: Yeah.

Worm: (thinking hard) That’s where Lincoln was from, right?

Me: No. You’re thinking of Illinois.

Worm: Right right right, Illinois… oh, I know, the Packers!

Me: No. Packers are Wisconsin.

Worm: Right right right, Wisconsin… (snaps fingers) Cheese!

Me: Wisconsin.

Worm: Right right right…. You know, I didn’t study geography.

Me: Neither did I.

Worm: Don’t worry, I’ll get it. Before you leave, I’ll get it. I’m not giving up!

Me: *pleasegiveup*

For the record, he never got it.

 

 

Beating the brrr

Most of our readers know we live in Minnesota and most of our readers – being the savvy, intelligent people they are – were aware our temps recently hit record lows (-59° wind chill). Hence, our deepest apologies if our hiatus caused you any worries.

Rest assured. We are alive.

In answer to your question as to how we managed it, we did so in the same way we handled Phoenix when it hit a record high (122°). We skipped town.

The week of the dreadful cold, we were in Denver for Hey You’s funeral.  And then our two day trip became a full week because for some reason airlines weren’t anxious to fly back to Minneapolis. Meaning I spent a full week sans laptop.

Yeah, yeah, I know I should have packed it. But it was only supposed to be two days and going through TSA is stressful enough for me. I don’t need to add a laptop to the mix.

So there I was with just my phone, checking my emails but only halfheartedly because if you’re going to get stuck in a city, Denver is one of the better places to do it. They got some mighty fine restaurants and many of them reasonably priced.

omelet with salad on top
Breakfast at The Early Bird Cafe (who ever thought to put arugula and roasted hatch chili on top of an omelet? It’s genius!)

In any case, all this is to say that once home, my inbox was cluttered beyond reason. No matter how much I tried, I could not gain the upper hand. Something had to be done.

But first, a word about the cold.

You gotta be wondering about it, yeah? How this Arizona gal is holding up? Is she filled with remorse, wondering what in God’s name she was thinking moving to such a place?

pine trees covered in snow with mailboxes in front
Pine trees at their finest

Even if you’re not wondering, I feel I must say something to my naysayers on Facebook. Those who, when I posted pictures of the first snowfall back in October with a caption that read, “It’s soooo pretty!!!” (or something to that effect), responded with a snarky and most predictable, “Tell us what you think of it in February!”

It’s now February. It’s still pretty.

bare trees in deep snow
View from my backyard. The Mississippi is back there somewhere.

Personally, I don’t see the point of complaining about weather. Back in Phoenix there were those who got upset about the heat. Some of them even seemed angry about it. Now where’s the sense in that?

Ducks at a frozen pond
The park near our home, right before the severe cold hit. I assume the ducks have left by now, though you never know with ducks. They probably have a cottage nearby.

It was about a year ago when we realized a move to Minnesota might be a possibility. Naturally, I did some research. Using search terms such as, “Winter tips” and “Surviving brutal cold” and “How do Norwegians stand it?!”

Christmas decorations in snow
Christmas lasts longer in these parts.

I learned there’s a Scandinavian saying,

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

With this in mind, I bought a Queen-size quilt with arms:

quilted down coat with fur-lined hood

Maybe you won’t find it on the cover of Vogue, but it’s rated at -50 “in moderate activity.” So far the coldest I’ve been in was a wind chill of -31°. Dog needed a walk and I couldn’t talk her out of it.

I’m here to report that Dog can do her job amazingly fast when she’s properly motivated. Also, L.L. Bean doesn’t lie. That coat is damn warm.

I learned something else from the Scandinavians: the key is not to endure winter, but to enjoy it.

Get outside when you can, appreciate the glistening snow and brisk air, wear comfy sweaters and curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.

Find the beauty in a red shed covered in snow.

Red shed covered in snow

After all, winter won’t last forever. It may seem like it, but eventually Spring will come.

So no worries about this Arizona gal. She’s handling winter like a champ.

Her inbox on the other hand…

Okay, so on Saturday I set a timer and whipped through Gmail’s Promotions folder and Personal folder in two half-hour sessions. I was on a roll! Then I hit the Social folder and it all came to a screeching halt.

That’s where all the bloggers I follow wind up, and Lordy they are a productive lot. Initially I thought I’d delete all the old posts and only read the most current, but after deleting a few I got to thinking. Is it their fault I got behind?

So then I thought, oh I’ll just read them fast and click “like” without commenting, but… well, that felt wrong too. Instead, I decided to throw caution to the wind and read every single one of them and comment too. (I’m reckless like that.)

As of now, I’ve 28 left to read. Which doesn’t sound bad but the day is young. There’ll probably be 14 new posts by dinnertime. Meaning the cold might not be bad, but the emails might do me in.

But hey, I’m not complaining. I’ll just brew a cup of tea, curl up by the fireplace with my laptop and read its soft, blue screen.

fireplace

Living in Minnesota ain’t so bad at all. 😉

Praying for Snow

A few days ago we had our first real, honest-to-goodness snowstorm. It’s Dog’s first and she’s not sure what to make of it.

A change of scenery

I, on the other hand, love it.

I also love the gray skies and the way my phone claimed it was -4° when I woke up yesterday.

Screenshot_20181113-053944

Mind over matter, folks. Mind over matter.

I’ve always loved snow so this desert gal is glad to be back in it. The -4 and dropping?

Hey, I can handle it. As long as I have my LL Bean boots and down coat, I’ve got this.

boots ll bean

I’m pretty sure our neighbors think we’re crazy. Moving from Phoenix, AZ to central Minnesota was the first clue, but when a grown woman tromps around in the snow and giggles?

Yeah, she’s a nut-job.

But then I’ve always been a little crazy when it comes to snow. Like, for instance, the time when I prayed for it.

I was an innocent preteen, back when there were such things, and we were headed to South Dakota in early October to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. We usually visited them in June or July, on account of school, but I was a good student and my teachers gave me plenty of work to keep me occupied for the entire 10-day trip. (I finished it in two.)

When my parents announced the trip, I was beyond thrilled. For the first time in my life, I might see snow!

Okay, let’s back up. I’d seen snow before, but I’d never been in it. Never felt it upon my face. In the winter Dad might drive us a couple hours north of Phoenix, point out the window and say, “Look guys, there’s snow.” That was about it.

Twelve years old and never built a snowman.

But now, in South Dakota, in early October? Will it snow?

“It’s too early for that,” Dad said.

Mom agreed. “It never snows this early.”

Never? Never ever?

“Well, it’s highly unlikely.”

So there’s a possibility?

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

Too late.

But I wasn’t leaving it all to chance. Every night, I made my requests known unto the Lord.

Please, oh please, oh pleeeease, let it snow! I don’t need a lot, just enough for a snowman. That’s all. All I want is to feel it on my face and build a snowman. That’s it. Please?!

Every night, over and over. (I was a strange 12-year-old.)

We left Phoenix on October 2. Two days later we were at a motel in Nebraska, right at the border to South Dakota. It was morning, our last day of travel, maybe three hours from my grandparent’s house. Dad took our luggage to the car.

He walked back in. “It’s snowing,” he said. Not happily.

What?!”

I zoomed past him.

“Christi, get your shoes on!”

“Prayer works!” I cried.

Alleluia and praise be!
This is the snow that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

My South Dakota relatives were not amused. It was one thing to deal with an early snowfall, but to find out your young relation had prayed for it? Hoo-boy, that didn’t sit well.

Even so, two of my uncles and one cousin aided me in my quest for a snowman. Despite everyone’s belief there wasn’t enough snow.

O ye of little faith. I knew better.

I had prayed for “just enough” snow and that’s what we had. Along with a lovely coating of leaves for rustic charm.

Uncle Bobby loaned his hat, Uncle Richard fashioned a pipe from a stick, Cousin Sheila found some fallen apples for the eyes and nose.

Me with snowman

My first snowman.

You know, it’s funny. As much as I love this picture and the flood of memories it gives me, I don’t really believe it was divine intervention that created that snowstorm.

Had it happened today, my dad would have checked his weather app before we left Phoenix and would have known all about the storm. And he probably would have stopped off at a gas station to buy his silly daughter gloves because she forgot to pack them.

Don’t get me wrong — I believe in prayer and I pray daily.

Well, mostly daily. Sometimes I forget. (Hey, I’m human.)

I think far too often we confuse God with Santa Claus:

If I’m a good girl and I pray really hard, God will give me what I want.”

Sorry. Doesn’t work like that.

I read something recently that said prayer is about making yourself open to a relationship with God.

Which, when you think about it, is a whole lot more scary and probably why I “forget” to do it.

Like I said, I’m human.

In any case, that’s my take on the situation. Maybe you have different views and that’s okay. There’s room enough for all here.

But right now there’s a layer of snow in my backyard with more to come, that’s for sure. And while I have no plans of building any snowmen, I remember a time when I did. With complete confidence it was God who made it possible.

And who knows? Maybe that 12-year-old girl had it right.

I mean, just look at the joy on her face.

me with snowman up close

Are you going to tell her otherwise?

On Apple Trees, Cake, and Planning Ahead for Panic Attacks

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have an apple tree.

Here, look upon my apple tree:

Apple tree 1

Beautiful, is it not?

Better yet, it provides a marvelous view from my kitchen sink.

Here, look upon the view from my kitchen sink:

kitchen window mn

The window screen makes it a little fuzzy, but you get the idea. It’s a damn fine view.

For comparison sake, here was the view from my former kitchen sink:

Kitchen window az

You’re probably wondering why I bothered taking a picture of a brick wall.

About three months ago, give or take a day, I got a wee bit concerned about our move from Arizona to Minnesota.

I started thinking that at some future point — say, in February when it’s 30 below here and 70 in Phoenix — I’ll think to myself, “HOLY FREAKIN’ COW, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”

So in preparation for that event, I took pictures of all the things in our Phoenix home that drove me nuts. Hence, the picture of a brick wall.

(Just curious, what’s that say about a person who plans ahead for panic attacks?)

I also have shots of my kids’ rooms (cleaning is not their strong suit), our “music room” (it was more a catch-all room), and – my personal favorite — a stack of dirty dishes one of my kids left by the empty sink.

The question is, will looking at a picture of dirty dishes ease the pain of moving away from my kids?

Um… yeah. It has. (I’m a monster.)

Anyway, back to the apples. I’ve no idea what kind they are except they are wonderful for baking. (Score!) Also, I’ve come to a better understanding of why commercial growers use chemicals. Up close and personal, my apples are not pretty.

Tell me, would you pay good money for these apples?

applesNeither would I. Yet they’re delicious in your morning oatmeal with a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.

So far I’ve made a couple pies, muffins, several bowls of oatmeal, and a wonderful cake that I will share with you in a moment.

(*gasp* She’s actually sharing a recipe?!)

This weekend I plan on picking the entire tree; I believe it’s time and the bugs have had enough of a feast. I foresee a batch of applesauce and apple butter in my future.

But first, cake!

This cooler weather (54° this morning) put me in the mood for baking. I scoured my cookbooks for recipes using apples and found no less than five for cake, all a tad different. I took what I liked best from each (more apples and spices here, less oil and eggs there, ooh a glaze!) and came up with this one. It turned out marvelous and it works either as a coffee cake or a dessert.

By the way, the town in which I now live has the best coffee. Really! It’s a downtown shop called Reality Roasters. Their beans might cost a little more, but dang, they’re worth it.

Just the thing for this cake. ☕

Apple Cake with Butterscotch Glaze

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Apple cake

This is a rich tasting cake but without a lot of oil and eggs; Perfect for a cool autumn morning with a cup of coffee or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups diced apples, unpeeled (about 5 or 6 baking apples)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda*
  • Granola or rolled oats for topping (I used Full Circle’s oats & honey granola)
  • Glaze (see below)

Mix together sugar, oil, eggs and apples. In separate bowl mix together flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. Add to the apple mixture, stir well and pour into a greased 13 x 9″ baking pan. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of granola or rolled oats. Bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Prepare glaze while cake cools.

Butterscotch Glaze: In small saucepan over medium heat, stir together 2 Tablespoons butter, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-n-half. Bring to a boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Let cool slightly and drizzle on top of cake.

Can serve warm or cooled. 🍂

*I know it sounds like a lot, but the two teaspoons of baking soda is correct. 🙂

 

No Worries: The Kids Are Alright

Our kids came for a visit this last weekend.

It’s their first visit since we moved here, the first they saw our new place, the first time they’ve been in Minnesota.

Before they arrived, I told Husband how strange it felt. It was like I wanted to show off the place, impress them a little. He agreed.

We wanted them to understand why we abandoned them in Arizona.

Driving away

Now let’s be clear, we knew we didn’t really abandon them. They are in their early 20s, old enough to be on their own. They have jobs, they have an apartment, they have family and friends nearby.

And yet

Why do these images persist? My daughter is at an intersection with a cardboard sign: “Hungry, Motherless, Please Help”

Angry robin 1Son is on a street downtown, playing his keyboard. He’s got a hat in front of him and he’s singing…

When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when.
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.

We parents love riding that old guilt train, don’t we? If there isn’t enough to feel guilty about, we’ll make something up to fill the void. (One mother told me she felt guilty her daughter had to wear glasses. If she had eaten better when she was pregnant, maybe her daughter’s vision would be better.)

So it was good for us to see they were doing fine. Somehow for these last six weeks, they managed to keep themselves fed, clothed and sheltered.

Amazing.

They liked our new house, agreed the area was pretty. They seemed to enjoy Minnesota but thought our evenings were a little cold (HA HA, wimpy Arizonans!).

Still, I wondered what they thought of our moving. Did they understand? Did they think we were nuts?

It was a short trip as they had to get back for work, but before we dropped them off at the airport, we walked around Mall of America. We discovered it is one FREAKIN’ big mall. It has its own amusement park, for cryin’ out loud.

Husband and Son went on Ghost Blasters, Daughter and I did our roller coaster thing.

At some point (it may have been on the plunge down), a thought occurred to me: Our kids aren’t thinking about us.

Do you remember back when you were young and out on your own? When we’re trying to figure out the whole adult thing and find our way in the cold, cruel world? The one thing we weren’t doing at the time was sitting around wondering what our parents were up to. We had our own concerns and our parents didn’t enter into it.

Which is how it should be. Right?

They left the nest and are doing their thing, and now mama and papa bird have to figure out their thing.

So yeah. The kids are all right.

Jury’s still out on the parents, though. 😉

Feeling at Home at Bev’s Place

First, an update from last Friday’s post: The chocolate cake was a hit. (Was there any doubt?)

Second, as to our haphazard posting: If I ever get back on a regular writing schedule, it will be a miracle. (Hang tight, folks. We’ll get there eventually.)

Third, as to our housing situation: We signed the papers on Monday; it’s officially ours. (Yippee!)

mid-century home

I don’t know how well you can see her, but in front of the house by the two small shrubs we have a metal lawn decoration of a girl holding a flower pot.

She came with us from Phoenix. My kids were in grade school when we found her in a thrift shop, so we’ve had her quite some time. Over the years she took on a fine reddish-brown patina. As you can see, she fits right in with our Minnesota home.

I wonder how long before that’s true for me? When will this truly feel like our home?

At times it feels like we’re staying in a vacation rental, mostly when we walk to the river or stroll along the nearby golf course.

Other times it feels like we’re staying in the home of an elderly relative.

(There was a time when the sight of arm rails and assists would have bothered me. But after having undergone a couple difficult surgeries, I look at them now and think, “What a great idea!”)

Husband and I seem to have a knack for buying the homes of old ladies. Our first was in Nebraska from a woman named Willametta (great name, don’t you think?). The second was Eva’s home in Phoenix.

And now it’s Beverly’s home. Or Bev, as the neighbors say.

As I said last week, we know a few things about her. She collected recipes, enjoyed reading, worked at a school, enjoyed her sunroom and yard.

I found this picture posted on an online tribute to her (she passed away in March):

Beverly on porch

One of the many comments posted: “What a kind and classy lady.”

She does look rather classy, don’t you think?

Jerry, our new neighbor, said she had funny little sayings she’d repeat, perfect for whatever you were talking about. Jerry’s wife, Patricia, said no one could tell a story better than Bev.

“She’d make you laugh so hard you’d cry!”

I wish I could have met her. I’m certain we’d be friends.

Look what I found in the backyard, next to her cute little shed:

Peace

I have a hunch — just a hunch, mind you — that a grandchild painted it and gave it to her.

Walking through the home, it’s easy to feel the love and care that went into it. For over 50 years this was their home. Children were raised here, meals served, laughter shared and tears shed.

Someone asked me if I can feel her here. Meaning Beverly.

I don’t put much stock into the idea of ghosts, but I know others do so usually I say, “Well, she didn’t die here, you know. She died in a nursing home.” Thinking that will explain my lack of haunts.

It doesn’t of course. They point out “her spirit will inhabit the place she loved most.”

Now were it me? Were I a ghost?

Seems to me I’d travel. See the world. Hang out in Paris for a bit. Head over to Venice for a ride in a gondola. Spend some time in Egypt studying the pyramids… But like I said, maybe that’s just me.

Now should Bev drop by, maybe to check on things? I’ll show her how the Peace Rock is in its place and I’m doing my best to keep the yard and flowers looking nice.

I might also ask her a few questions.

Like, what did she put in the odd little space by the dining room table? Why are there seven outlets in the small sunroom, but only two in each bedroom? And why the five small nails under one of the bedroom windows?

But mostly: what the heck is the plastic hook above the basement light switch for?

light switch

Was it a key? A key to what?!

Augh, I may never know. If any of you have a guess, I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, in case you’re curious, here’s the nitty-gritty on making Bev’s chocolate cake mentioned last week:

Bev’s Rocky Road Cake

Ingredients:

  • One package Devil’s Food Cake mix
  • 4 cups mini-marshmallows
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts or peanuts
  • 1 jar hot fudge topping

Mix the cake according to package directions except replace the water with coffee (this is optional; you don’t really taste the coffee, but it adds a nice depth to the flavor). Spread into a greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove from oven and immediately top with mini-marshmallows and sprinkle with nuts. Heat the hot fudge topping in the microwave according to directions on jar, drizzle over the top of the cake. Let cool completely before serving.

Enjoy!

chocolate cake

Thanks, Bev!

My Clever Cat Earns Her Keep

Merricat knows how to open cabinets.

She’s quite good at it. She paws at the bottom corner, careful not to scratch the finish (she’s very considerate that way). As soon as the door opens just a bit, she sticks her paw in and pulls.

It’s marvelous really, how clever she is.

But her real talent – the one I’ve yet to capture on video – is how she opens kitchen drawers.

Now I confess, for the first few weeks we lived in this house I had no idea it was the cat opening the drawers. I thought it was Husband, who for some reason – looking for a screwdriver in the utensil drawer, perhaps? – would open two or three drawers in his quest and then leave. Not closing said drawers. Every day, multiple times a day.

I meant to ask him why. “What are you looking for?” I’d say. “Shall I show you how they close?”

Then one day I walked into the room and saw Merricat in action, exonerating Husband.

You see, what she does is stand or, depending on the height, leap up and land her front paws on the upper part of the drawer. At the same time she pushes her back paws against the cabinet below, creating a momentum that – along with the smooth working mechanism of the hardware – slides the drawer open. With Merricat swinging along.

Merricat on drawer

I marvel at my cat’s ingenuity. Truly, she is a marvel.

She is also a superior bug and vermin hunter. So when she began showing an inordinate amount of interest in one particular drawer, when she continually crawled behind it and made rustling, scratching sounds, I confess, my courage failed me. While I was curious as to what was happening in the deepest bowels of my kitchen cabinets, I decided I wasn’t curious enough.

Then our belongings finally caught up with us. I was laying Contact paper on the shelves and drawers; Merricat came to help, as she so often does. When I pulled out that drawer, she leaped in, crawled behind it, and turned to me with her big green eyes.

As if to say, “Trust me. You’ll want to see this.”

Gathering up my strength – and finding my flashlight – I pulled the drawer all the way out and looked where Merricat was sitting. On top of a pile of papers.
Old newspaper clippings, note cards, appliance manuals, an opened economy sized pack of batteries, and a cassette tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits.

Recipes in cabinet

The expiration date on the batteries was 2005. Most of the newspaper clippings were earlier than that.

The part that thrilled me most? All of the newspaper clippings and note cards were recipes.

The previous owner collected recipes!

We’ve learned a few things about the owner while living here. Her son told us she’d been widowed for over 40 years, raised her three children by herself, and in her last few years, in declining health, spent nearly every day in her sun room.

From the number of built-in bookshelves, we can assume she enjoyed reading. Safe to say she was a fan of show tunes, possibly theater in general. She was organized enough to keep appliance manuals, but wasn’t always able to find them.

She had a habit of losing batteries. (I can see her now: “I know I bought batteries — where on earth could they be?”)

Also, she was a school secretary. (Those of you who have been following along know that was my previous job.)

It’s kismet!

And if all that wasn’t enough, we now learn she collected recipes and put them in this drawer. The drawer Merricat found so interesting.

Thank you, Merricat. The pooping incident has been forgiven.

Merricat and Freckles

I’m sure you’re wondering what sort of recipes they are, right? After careful study and reflection, I would say they all lean heavily toward “what-should-I-bring-to-this-week’s-potluck” fare.

Which shouldn’t surprise any of us, right?

Oddly enough — or perhaps not, given your understanding of Minnesota culture — there’s a potluck at my church this Sunday.

what to bring… what to bring…

Say, how about you help me decide? There are two here that look promising.

Two recipes

One is a Canned Corn Casserole, which normally I wouldn’t find interesting but it has an option of using fresh corn instead of canned. I’m not sure if the local farmer’s market will have corn yet, but it’s possible.

The other possibility is Rocky Road Cake. To its credit, it’s a chocolate cake with marshmallows, nuts and chocolate fudge sauce. The downside is that it uses a cake mix and normally I never buy those because I’m a food snob. And yet! The recipe has this intriguing notion of using coffee rather than water when blending it. Doesn’t that sound fascinating?

(I need to get out more.)

In any case, we have these two contenders for my first Minnesota potluck. Shall I make a side dish or a dessert?

Choose your selection carefully. My future as a Minnesotan may depend upon it.

Okay, not really. But please help me out anyway. I’m terribly indecisive about these things, and for some reason Merricat is showing little interest in the whole affair.

Merricat drawer

On Moving, New Homes, and a Harrowing Incident Involving Cat Poop

We made it.

From our home of 17 years in Arizona to our new place in Minnesota, our move is complete.

Currently we’re residing in the house we’re in the process of buying. The owners agreed to let us rent until closing, keeping us from having to move a second time (my gratitude knows no bounds). And I’ve so much to tell you, I don’t know where to begin.

So to release my crowded thoughts and frozen fingers, I’ll start with the view from our sunroom, which we have designated my writing room…

Sunroom

I HAVE A WRITING ROOM!!!

A-hem

And now for a brief recap of our trip here. Picture us in a car with one 13-year old arthritic dog and one very anxious cat.

Shall we begin?

Last Day in Phoenix

The city decided to turn off our water a day early. We were nearly done loading the car, but I hadn’t cleaned the house yet. (Yes, I know I’m under no legal obligation to leave the house clean. Even so. I clean.)

Fortunately I had two packs of Scrubbing Bubbles Flushable Wipes. Which I couldn’t flush, but whatever. They got the job done.flushable wipes

You’ve not lived until you’ve mopped an entire kitchen floor with bathroom cleaning wipes.
Use this information carefully.

First Stop, Flagstaff

We purchase “calming treats” for Merricat and stopped in a park for me to take a call. After three treats (the last one I shoved down her throat), they took affect and Merricat became… well, not a happy traveler but a more compliant one.

Merricat drugged

Fast Forward to Nebraska

Now why would someone fast forward to Nebraska?

If you’ve ever traveled through Nebraska, you’ll know it’s flat and boring and nothing ever happens there. And that’s where you’re wrong.

The eastern portion of the state (perhaps others, I don’t know) is quite lovely. With rolling hills and charming farmhouses.

Nebraska hills

Not a place you expect a crisis to occur, but occur it did.

I’m telling you, until you’re trapped in a Toyota Corolla with a pet cat who just pooped, you don’t know the meaning of panic. Quick as a flash, Husband pulls over, doors are opened, fresh air sucked in… soiled pillow removed.

As an indication of our love for humanity and all creation, I want you to know we did not leave the soiled pillow by the side of the road.

Per Husband’s suggestion (he nixed my idea of burning it), we sealed it in a plastic bag and threw it in the first trash can we came across.

Back in car, Dog looking out window, Cat acting like nothing happened.

Merricat and Freckles

Stupid cat.

Minnesota at Last

The next day we arrive to our new home in Little Falls, Minnesota.

The listing agent for our house, Donny, is there to give us keys. He tells us about a band concert in the park that evening. They do it once a year; we happened to arrive on the right day.

The park is walking distance from our house (truthfully, most things are walking distance from our house) and the band, all local, was quite good. For some reason we expected something along the lines of an old-time Sousa band, instead we heard selections from Van Morrison, Chicago, and Steely Dan.

Rock the park

The park – Maple Island Park – is lovely. The Mississippi flows through it (the slogan for Little Falls is Where the Mississippi Pauses) and there are walkways and bike paths throughout.

By one of the bridges we came across a young girl trying her darnedest to catch a duckling.

“Last year my uncle caught me one,” she said.

I asked her if it was all grown up now.

“No. It died. That’s why I want another.”

Duck photo

Don’t worry, she didn’t catch one.

Days 1 Through 7

We beat our moving “pods” here. Meaning we’re without belongings, but worse yet, without internet. We buy an air mattress at Wal-Mart and a table and chairs at a thrift store. A neighbor (Jerry) offers his truck to haul the table. Another neighbor (Buddy) mows the lawn for us.

We get our internet fix at the library and coffee shops and occasionally by using our phones as hotspots. Husband orders cable & internet. Router and Modem are on their way.

Day 8

Two of our three pods arrive. Several church members come to help us unload.

Unpacking

Afterward we gather our chairs on the front lawn and have pizza.

We slept on a real bed for the first time it over a week. It was glorious. Still no internet. That bites.

Day 9

The third pod arrives. This one contains Husband’s motorcycle and both our bicycles, all in perfect condition.

Packing cube

Still no internet. I’m bereft.

Day 10, Arrival of Modem and Router

Remember the scene in the movie 2001, when the ape people stare at the monolith in awe and wonder?

2001

That should give you an idea of what Husband and I looked like when we saw the soft light emanating from the router.

Now, one would think that since I was without internet for a whopping 10 days, I should have accomplished a lot.

Like, maybe, I don’t know… unpack things?

Sadly, no. From the looks of this place, you’d think I sat around and stared into space the whole time.

Well, no. Not into space. Just my backyard.

Backyard

From my writing room.

I’VE GOT A WRITING ROOM!

A-hem.

PS: The call I took in Flagstaff was a job interview for a position at the hospital near our new home (you guessed it, within walking distance). I start on Monday.