Wednesday, June 17, 2009

beloved Sekini So, it’s happening. I’m slowly going stir-crazy. The canopy of the thick woods which surround the beautiful home we’re living in near Lindstrom have leafed out completely, obliterating much of the day’s sunshine and light, and much of my good mood and optimism. I have the pleasure and pain of working out of an office in my home. My husband’s long commute and lately, long working hours have left me alone for a good 10-14 hours/day. Sounds like paradise, right? What’s the problem? Most people only dream of the hours of undistracted time that face me every day. “Why, if that were me,” (the voice in my head perks up, which, for some unknown reason, has a high, lilting southern accent,) “I would finish up those chores that can never get done when the kids and spouse are around, complicating the schedule. I would start a new hobby, or several! I would exercise every day! I would cook meals from scratch, sew my own clothes, start a business, watch TiVo for hours on hours uninterrupted!” Yes – you probably would. The first day. Maybe even the first week. And then, heading into that second week, Monday morning around 8am when you hear the garage door close and you watch your husband’s vehicle pull out of the driveway on his way to work, knowing you will likely not have a verbal dialogue with another human being for at least 13 hours from this moment, you start to feel just a wee little bit depressed. Yes, I have my work ahead of me, more than I can get done in the 10-hour day at my computer. I am thankful the phone does not ring off the hook like at my last job. But some days, I wish it would ring at least once in awhile. In my job, I’m lucky if I get to hear a human voice on the phone once a week, during our weekly status calls. Many weeks the call gets bypassed in lieu of putting out more important fires. Sometimes I can go weeks on end without talking to anyone from my company’s home base in Austin, TX. And last year, I went 14 straight months without seeing anyone in the business – not a coworker, not a boss, not a client or a prospect. Nobody but my own small family, day after day after week after month through the longest, coldest, darkest MN winter I can remember. Self-acclaimed introvert that I am, even that was too much “alone time” for this chick. Thank goodness I have the farm just 5 miles down the road to visit. Regular chats with Betty at Spirit Song Alpacas definitely keep me saner. Even scooping up the dung piles is enjoyable when you can do it with a friend. And the alpacas, well, they certainly help my sanity. I have found it nearly impossible to be sad or lonely or angry or depressed around those critters. I absolutely love being around them. But sometimes I can’t get to the farm. And sometimes the green cave of leafy jungle surrounding the house gets just a little bit too oppressive to stay home. When my calls to Austin go unanswered and I am about to lose it if I don’t have some kind of human interaction, then it’s time to head into town. So around 6:00pm tonight, I jump onto my 25-year-old Sekini 10-speed (or should I say 5-speed, since I only use one of the chainwheels) and head down the driveway. I realize as I reach the cul-de-sac that I forgot my camera in the house. Yesterday I forgot my camera when I headed into town to the bank. I was driving along a frontage road near a pond and passed two Canada Goose families with their goslings, right by the roadside, well within camera range, fuzzy yellow backs taunting my empty camera hand. Not about to make that mistake again, I backtrack to the house to retrieve it. I am not disappointed. About half a mile from my house I pass an elk farm. There is one bull elk in the front pasture, who rarely comes close enough to the front fence to even attempt a photo. But as luck would have it tonight, he’s standing near the fence line, the evening sun backlighting the velvet on his antlers. He is so beautiful he takes my breath away. I try not to disturb him as I approach the fence, stopping only long enough to snap a couple of pictures and walk quietly away again. bull elk Soon I am happily making my way through the town of Lindstrom, looking for the Lions Park. I may not know anyone out here tonight, but by gosh, even being in a crowd of people who are not actually interacting with me has a charm of its own. Especially when the crowd is happily ensconced in folding camp chairs, enjoying the Taste of Lindstrom event (munching on local cuisine from Lindstrom food vendors) and eagerly awaiting the start of the Wed. night Harmony in the Park concert, a special treat tonight featuring the Elvis Experience, a performance by Elvis look-alike (and sound-alike!) Steve Marcio. Centennial Bandstand 1894-1994 I wander the grounds awhile, snapping photos (is it still called “snapping” when it’s a digital camera?) and enjoying the antics of small children and dogs, young people and old, all milling around staking out the best seats to watch the show, which hasn’t started yet. I cross the covered bridge and locate a park bench which seems to offer a decent view, and since I did not pack along my own camp chair, a nice spot to rest a bit after all of the biking. The introductory music begins and then Steve/Elvis comes to the stage as the crowd claps and hoots.
Click below for a 50-second video of Elvis performing “It’s Now or Never.”

After a few songs it’s time to head back home again. There are still things to do when I get back to the house. Critters to feed, bread to mix up and start to rising, clothes to take off the drying racks (ok, so maybe I still do a few things from scratch here and there), pictures to download onto my computer, a blog story to start fleshing out. Lion head fountain in Lions Park The bike speeds along nearly effortlessly on the short ride home. I notice the sun streaking through the clouds, and enjoy the cool wind on my face and the perfect temperature. There are no bugs even. The elk have all retreated to the back fence line of their respective pastures, far beyond the reach of my small telephoto lens. The fields and fences rush by and in a blink, I am turning back onto my street and passing up the long leafy, canopied driveway to my house. sunset on Hwy 20 The light is softly filtering through the trees behind the house; the sun is close to setting now. The frogs chirrup from the nearby swamps, a sound that will come through the open windows of my bedroom tonight, lulling me to sleep. And I, for a few hours tonight anyway, am no longer a caged tiger in this beautiful lush green jungle. I am just a Country Gal, the restlessness from earlier today spent along the roadside as the miles flew by, buoyed by memories of the elk and the sunshine, of crowds, songs and laughter. I am home again, and I am at peace.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Welcome! Last weekend, after two days of business meetings in Duluth, I took the opportunity to drive up the North Shore (of Lake Superior, or what one postcard now dubs the “North Coast”) and visit my folks for the weekend. On Saturday my folks suggested a visit to the Finland Heritage Site, located about 3 miles from Finland, MN on Cty. Rd. 6. In addition to several preserved buildings from the early 1900’s including a Visitor Center housed in the first forestry building in Finland from 1927, there is a brand new museum that is still in process of being finished, which will have story boards depicting the lives of early Finnish settlers covering events up to the present multi-ethnic community. Of special note – the saw blade sign on the visitor center belonged to my great-grandfather Axel Enerson. It was passed to my grandfather Archie and then to my mother Ellen. My parents donated it to the historical society, where my father is the treasurer. Great grandpa Axel's saw blade The heritage site resides on what used to be the 40-acre homestead of John Petaja, who was referred to as “John Pine” by the locals, a Finnish immigrant who settled the acreage at the early age of 20 and lived his entire adult life as a bachelor on this site. There are several interesting stories about John, which were relayed to us by the caretaker of the site, Judy Reinke. John Pine's homestead cabin One thing she pointed out to us was the sliding panel on the wall behind his cook stove, which she slid aside to reveal the place where John used to hide his liquor bottles. There is a story about the mailman finding john along side the road one day, and, thinking he was injured or possibly deceased, stopped to check on him only to find he was asleep in the grass. John reportedly said upon waking that hauling the water from the spring on the other side of the road tired him out, and he was merely taking a nap. We think perhaps the liquor bottles had something to do with it. Another interesting story about John was he used to report to his neighbors that when the “time came” for his death, he would never be found. And one day in is 80’s, he disappeared without a trace. Oddly enough, his breakfast was found on his kitchen table, the door cracked open for his cats, and his pension check still sitting, uncashed, on the table as well. Park Hill School In addition to John’s restored cabin, the site also houses the Park Hill School, a one-room school house that replaced an even smaller 1-room school, called the Lindstrom school (ironic because I live just outside of Lindstrom, MN, several hours to the south). Park Hill School was closed in 1928, but has been well preserved. Several small desks line up single file in the classroom. In the corner rests the heating stove. Big windows let in the light and make the one room seem much bigger than it really is. In the small room with a sign on the door declaring “Women Teachers,” there is a handmade loom that was owned by Esther Hakkarainen and reportedly bought in the 1930’s for $30. thru the looking glass After touring the school we passed by the Alex Rousku Sauna, circa 1920, and then wandered among a collection of antique farm implements, and I asked my father about the uses of several of them. Both my parents grew up on farms, and I never tire of asking them how this item or that tool where used. dump rake We also hiked the nature trail, although part of it was still closed down due to the massive number of downed trees caused by the April 8 ice storm, the damage from which is still evident all the way from my folks’ property near Silver Bay, on up the shore nearly to Tofte, and inland to Finland. John Pine's Pines After our short hike it was time to leave the heritage site. As I gazed one last time down the straight rows of planted pines, perhaps the only witnesses remaining as to what really happened to John Pine, the wind blew softly among them and I could almost hear them say, “When the people are all gone, we will still remember. We are here.” Siunausta - Blessings!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

For several years now Kelly and I have been making some rather unusual New Year’s resolutions. Instead of joining the gym, vowing to lose 10 pounds, get in shape (round is a shape, isn’t it?), we have decided each year to focus on one area of our life where we can reduce our environmental impact, in big and small ways.

kid goats Last year we switched out all of the light bulbs in our rental unit and the duplex we own, for CFL’s. We also traded in our 2005 Hyundai Tucson SUV for a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, trading in 21mpg for 45mpg. We bring our own bags for shopping, bring our own “to-go” containers to restaurants, our own water and coffee mugs on the road, and recycle everything we possibly can. So this year, when we looked at our lifestyle and once more said, “What can we do?” we decided to focus on food. chickens We have long been patrons of whole foods grocery stores, seeking them out wherever we have lived. We try as much as possible to secure organic options, not just in produce but also our grains, pasta, sauces, spices, snacks, etc. But we felt we could go even further, when we found out that those luscious organic tomatoes have probably traveled 1500 miles or more to reach the grocery store shelves. So, we decided to educate ourselves on where our food comes from. baby bunny Even more disturbing than the distance most foods travel to reach our stores, and our plates, was learning that, according to this information from Sustainable Table, every week 330 family farmers are being forced out of business and leave their land. “The dramatic expansion of industrial agriculture (or factory farming) has made it increasingly difficult for small family farmers in the US to stay in business. Instead, the food industry has become dominated by a handful of giant corporations which benefit from government policies that favor large-scale production.” hog heaven So, we started checking the addresses on packaged foods before we put them into our grocery cart. And labels on the produce shelves. I was saddened to see onions from Peru (yes, as in South America!) on the shelves of a local grocery store last summer when I knew there were fresh, locally grown onions down the street at the local farmers’ market. frisky steers We moved to this area too late last summer to join a CSA, or community sponsored agriculture program, where you purchase shares up front from a local farmer in return for fresh produce all summer long, but we vowed to select one for 2009. A local alpaca breeder, Peggy from Sunrise River Alpacas tipped us off to a local CSA called Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm. We visited their blog and decided they would be a great local option for us. We are close enough to run over and pick up the food order each week, attend their festivals and workshops, even volunteer on the farm. And, they have a fun farm name. lambs Last weekend, we attended their annual spring festival and blessing of the fields. We enjoyed meeting Gigi and Robin, who own and run the farm, who are both delightfully engaging, along with many of their summer interns and many other share members. We wandered the grounds and saw a wide variety of livestock – bunnies, chickens, turkeys, goats & kids, sheep & lambs, two steer, some young pigs, and about a dozen ducks. We feasted on brick oven pizzas, created by Dustin, intern and chef extraordinaire. brick oven pizza - yum! During a short ceremony, we blessed the fields (whose names span the alphabet from A-I, starting with Abundance and ending with Integrity), the bees who will work tirelessly this year to pollinate the crops, and all of the animals. We also prayed for more rain. The fields are so dry that the top layers of newly planted fields are literally blowing away. After all of the wandering around, chatting, eating and meeting people and animals, the afternoon was gone and it was time to head back home again. I am very glad we visited. I have found a great peace in knowing exactly who is growing the food I will soon be eating, and exactly where it is coming from and how it is being grown. I look forward to learning how to use what is in the box each week in creative ways, whether long-time favorites or new and unfamiliar varieties, building our meals around them. I also look forward to learning how to can and dehydrate some of it, to enjoy throughout the fall and long MN winter ahead. seedlings getting ready for the fields If this all sounds too intimidating, don’t fret – it’s easy to get started eating locally. Use your fingers to find local, sustainable foods. Here are some sites to get you going: Resident of MN? Check out the MN Grown directory, maintained by the MN Dept. of Agriculture. Using this directory we located fresh locally made gourmet cheeses and buffalo meat at Eichten’s Hidden Acres, locally grown and bottled, award-winning wines at Winehaven Winery and Vineyard, grass fed beef and pork raised with no chemicals or antibiotics from Hidden Stream Farm (they ship our bacon directly to us), and even our popcorn is now MN grown, from Clem’s Homegrown Popcorn (also mailed to us). The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of thousands of family farms, restaurants, and other outlets for fresh, locally grown food. Its listings include farmers’ markets, CSA programs, and even vegetarian eateries. If finding healthy grass-fed meats, dairy and other edibles is on your agenda, check out Eat Wild, whose site also includes information on the benefits of raising animals on pasture (for example, did you know that grass-fed meats are lower in fat and calories than grain-fed, and can actually lower your LDL cholesterol levels?). Don't feel like you have to make radical changes to make an impact. Start small. Visit your local farmers' market. Try one meal made from local ingredients and taste the freshness difference. Before you know it, you'll be hooked like we are. Who grew your food? Eat locally grown food, support global sustainability, enjoy your food, and smile.

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