My 41st birthday started off about like any other Sunday. I got up before Pappa Bear. I walked down to the lake to take in my required “10 minutes of looking at something relaxing,” as recommended by my alternative health care provider as a remedy for depleting my adrenal glands so badly during my 3 months working on the road. Sitting still for ten minutes with nothing to do is no small feat, I must tell you. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with the crazy gerbil-like commotion that goes on in my head whenever there is nothing else to distract me. Yesterday there was large fish splashing about in the weeds. That distracted me for a minute or two. Then I found several cuticles that needed picking. Until I remembered I was supposed to be looking at nature, not my fingernails. Somehow I managed to make it through the entire ten minutes. Whew. After that superhuman feat was out of the way, I decided to tackle mowing the front lawn. It was super humid and very warm. Pefect. Not. But the jungle waits for no one, especially at this time of the year when dandelions outnumber blades of grass about 3:1. I actually don’t mind mowing the lawn, usually. Except on my birthday. Except when it’s hot and humid. Except when I have to back the car out of the garage before I can move the lawnmower. Except when I have to move all the garden hoses down the driveway a ways before I can back the car out. Except when I have to fill the gas tank of the mower and the gasoline container is so full I spill all over the parts inside the mower and I wonder if the whole thing will explode when I fire it up. But somehow I overcame all of these obstacles and was soon on my way huffing around the yard. Did I mention this mower is push-only, the wheels do not rotate at all on their own? I just told myself it was a good remedy for the cheesecake I was about to consume for breakfast. About 4 hours later, or maybe 25 minutes, I put the mower away and wiped the sweat off my brow. Did I ever tell you that I don’t sweat? Much? My body would rather keel over and pass out from heat stroke than break a sweat. It must’ve been some kind of Scandinavian survival technique that is no longer relevant now that I no longer live in Norway like my ancient ancestors. When I got back in the house, Pappa Bear was up, wondering what I was doing moving cars around. “Did you mow?” he asked incredulously. “Yep.” “The whole yard???” “Well, no.” Somehow having to qualify my achievement took some of the pride out of the fact that I had mowed the entire front yard before he had gotten out of bed. On my birthday. Sweating profusely. But he soon made it up to me by taking out his handmade-gourmet-cheesecake, hand decorated with two colors of homemade icing! You just can’t beat a husband who makes gourmet cheesecake for your birthday. Well you could beat him but then he probably would stop making cheesecakes. Please excuse the “bithday” misspelling. Something neither of us noticed until later in the day when my sister commented on my Facebook picture of the cake. PB was just starting to make the frosting when I went to bed at 10:30pm. He wouldn’t tell me how long he stayed up, but being this was his first attempt hand-decorating anything, and he had worked on this cake all day and half the night, I’m not holding it against him. Labor of love, that cheesecake. My cheesecake this year was a lemony creamery scrumptious concoction, flavored with an Italian liquor called, get this – Caravella Limoncello. Please say this with me, folks. I promise it will make you smile. And it tastes as good as it sounds. In fact I’m having a Limoncello Sprint cocktail right now. Yum. My new favorite summer drink. If you ever need a really fancy cheesecake, PB’s your man. If you ever need anything else, get in line. PB’s also MY man. After a breakfast of bithday cheesecake, we headed into town to our favorite brunch place, Meredee's Bistro, for more breakfast. If you ever go there for breakfast, get the “All you can eat” breakfast. It’s not on the menu, but they do still serve it. They bring you out platters of the following – and you can get more of anything you want: Buttermilk pancakes, English muffins, sausage, bacon, eggs, hash-browns, and biscuits & gravy. For about $10/person. And very nice waitstaff as well. We took some of the extras with us, since we couldn’t lick the platters clean this time. This would come in very handy around 5:30pm when we were wandering around Red Wing suddenly hungry again. Yup, this brunch will stick with you for 7 hours! When we got home after brunch, we decided it would be the right time to buzz PB’s head. He was long overdue for a haircut. His hair was at least an inch long. I mean really – Hippie anyone? I don’t mean to scare anyone, but this process involves the dog shaver, an extension cord, a dining room chair, a naked man and a blonde. And a vacuum. I’ll let you fill in the rest. And I’ll spare you the photo, which PB wouldn’t even consider letting me take. To Be Continued…
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
…continued… After a busy morning of mowing AND cutting hair AND vacuuming AND sweating AND eating Bithday Cheesecake, all on my birthday, I decided we better get out of the house fast, or I might just start cleaning the cat boxes. Pappa Bear stepped in and rescued me from this horrible fate. Thanks, PB. We had a vague plan to head down Scenic 95 to Hastings, then 61 to Red Wing, stop at the Round Barn Farm B&B for a quick look, then head back north along 52 to try and spot a farm PB had seen on his way down to WI recently. So we bundled into the Honda with our raingear, umbrella and cooler (the cooler had nothing but ice in it, in hopes of grocery shopping later in the day, and brunch leftovers) and headed out scenic Hwy 8 to 95 and south, towards Afton. Our first stop was in Marie on St. Croix at Crabtree’s Garden Gate and Funkie Gardens. For the garden lover, which I happen to be, Crabtree’s is a garden playground for grownups. They have garden gifts, garden decorations, garden furniture and every possible garden token and accoutrement you could ever wish for. And then some. They also had free samples of wine from a box. I already liked this place. But the wine was a definite clincher. Funkie Gardens is next door to Crabtree. They just opened and they have a very nice variety of perennials. And really comfy Adirondack chairs out front. Park me under the sprinkler and I’ll be set for the day. Please bring me the box of wine. A little further on, we arrived in Afton but decided to forgo stopping at the art/craft fair and continue on down the road. Not much further we came across a sign, ‘Barn Sale.’ Well as you know from this post, I happen to love love love barns. And what could be better than a sale in a barn? Maybe a barn for sale? We had to find out. So we dropped off of St. Croix Trail onto River Road South for 1.7 miles until we found a cluster of cars by the road and figured this had to be the place. There were several people selling goods from this property. We were drawn to a wooden trunk with a curved wood top, the corners edged in metal, a beautiful piece. The price tag read TEN DOLLARS. I thought I had misread the price, until the woman selling it walked over and gave us the spiel about the trunk and why it was ONLY TEN DOLLARS. Apparently she had accidentally left it on the porch after moving some furniture around. Apparently it had gotten rained on. Apparently it needed refinishing. I wasn’t sure it would even fit in the back seat of our Honda, but I was willing to try. Apparently. It didn’t fit into the back seat. But it DID fit into the front passenger seat. And half of the back seat. Yes, that’s where I was sitting prior to this little Barn Sale Side Trip. My new spot was behind Kelly’s seat. So I asked him when we left the sale, “Should we head back home now? Being that the entire passenger seat and half of the back seat are now being taken up by a huge trunk?” Kelly looked at me like I had just asked him if he wore women’s underwear. “Nooo… I was thinking we’d just continue on down the road a bit.” Oh, OK. Guess that means I’ll be crammed into the back seat behind him, helping him with all left-hand turns, since he can’t see past the trunk, and I’ll be getting a bit nauseous as I check my Facebook B-D greetings from the back seat of a moving car. To be continued…
…continued… After a busy morning of mowing AND cutting hair AND vacuuming AND sweating AND eating bithday cheesecake AND eating brunch AND barn sales, all on my birthday, I was ready for a relaxing ride from Afton to Red Wing. In the back seat of the car, since the front seat was being taken up by aforementioned trunk. Our plan was to head down Scenic 95 to Hastings, then 61 to Red Wing, stop at the Round Barn Farm B&B for a quick look, then back north along 52 to try and spot a farm Pappa Bear had seen on his way down to WI recently. We made it to the Round Barn Farm B&B without incident, or accident, incredible considering Kelly’s view was completely obstructed by a very large trunk. We met the inn keepers – Robin & Elaine, lovely people. Elaine gave us an impromptu tour of the house and five guest rooms. The house is an 1860 design but was built in 2002 using many re-purposed and recycled materials. It was delightful from bottom to top. We must stay there soon. Very soon. We did not get to tour the 1914 Dammon Round Barn, which is a special tour reserved for guests. I love this round barn. I could live in this barn. We’ll be back. But being that we were not scheduled to stay there that night, we said our thank-you’s and good-bye’s and headed back up the road to Red Wing. As we were passing through town, Kelly remembered that he has been searching for a high quality pair of work shoes. Red Wing just happens to have a little shoe store on Main Street. You may have heard of it. They’ve been in business for about, oh, 150 years or so. You may not have heard that they also have the world's largest boot, a size 638 ½ D. The human that fits this would stand 12 stories tall. Paul Bunyan perhaps? Not Pappa Bear, that’s for sure. They also have a “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” sale in the outlet room in the basement. Which means Kelly got two pairs of work shoes and I got a pair of kick a** motorcycle boots. They also have an ultra-cool industrial design bathroom. If you stop here, even if you don’t have to “go,” you must check out the bathroom. There are even tools encased in the counter top. Please excuse the Capri jeans. I promise never to wear them with these boots again. But man oh man do these boots make me feel tough. They even make my muscles look bigger. And they’ll go GREAT with the new motorcycle jacket PB got me for my birthday. After shopping for shoes we headed across the street to this small but delightful park. And here is where the leftovers from breakfast/brunch come into play. We realized suddenly that it was 5:30pm and we were hungry, not having eaten since 10:30am. Nothing like cold English muffins and sausage to satiate ones’ appetite after shopping for boots. And throwing pennies in the fountain to satiate our appetite for dreams and wishes. There were also these adorable kid statues all over the park. Can you tell which one is real and which one isn’t? Oh, the boots gave it away, eh? After our little rest & refreshment in the park, there was still one more thing on our list of sightseeing to-do’s – try to find the farm that had caught PB’s eye on a recent excursion. So we crossed over from Redwing on Hwy 19 towards Cannon Falls, and then north on Hwy 52. Highway 19 is absolutely lovely between Red Wing and Cannon Falls, with rolling hills and beautiful farms. Alas, we did not find the farm he remembered on the stretch of Hwy 52 that we traveled today. Which means it was further south than Cannon falls. But I know we will be back again. To stay at the Round Barn Farm, and drive the back country roads looking for barns and farms that we might someday call our own. Tonight as I write these words from the comfort of home and my screen porch, watching the cats go nuts for the June beetles fluttering against the screens, watching PB go nuts with his spray bottle of Castille Soap & water spraying the June beetles through the screens, hearing the frogs chorus in the swamp and loons calling in the distance, more lemon cheesecake in my belly and Caravella Limoncello in my glass, I can’t imagine a more delightful way to spend my 41st birthday. Thanks for sharing it with me, and here’s to another great 41 years ahead! Cheers! Victoria
Friday, May 21, 2010
The week I returned from 3 months of working in CO, it was rainy, cold and dreary all week. Already depressed from having to leave my team and new friends in Denver, it was a bit too much for this soul to bear. So I did what anyone with a laptop and a Mifi broadband card and a case of the blues would do – I forced myself to change out of my 5-day jammies and got out of the house on Friday, driving all the way over to the MN Landscape Arboretum to work that day. I love being able to work from anywhere there is a Verizon & AT&T signal, don’t you? Oh, you don’t get to do that? I’m sorry. But back to my sad story. I picked a table in the corner of the dining room and set up my “office”: See my Mifi card hanging out next to my water bottle? Yep, I admit, after years of being anti-gadget, I have to confess I have a bit of a love affair with this little piece of technology. Let me give you one example of its great powers. Recently Pappa Bear and I found ourselves on a long drive to Madison, WI in preparation for the Great Midwestern Alpaca Festival . (Yes, that was Alpaca, not Apple). If you’ve never been to an alpaca festival, you really must check one out. You may have to wait until fall though, babies are being born all over the place right now, so the shows are on a break through the summer. And if you’ve never seen an alpaca baby… well, my God, how can you still be alive? Anyway. There we were tooling down Hwy 53 in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly we remembered we had a very important task to accomplish – that very day, before business hours were over. We needed to send a signed copy of the selling contract to our realtor to list and sell our house in Duluth. How on earth would we accomplish this? We would not arrive in Madison until 5:00 or 6:00pm, past office hours. Pay attention now, this is where it gets good. We booted up a laptop and attached the Mifi, waiting for a signal. Wallah – signal found, e-mail and internet now accessible. THEN I pulled out my Fujitsu ScanSnap S300 scanner and hooked it up to the laptop and the inverter we just happen to keep under the seat of the car, for a power source. We scanned all the copies of the contract to a PDF, saved it on the laptop, and e-mailed it to my realtor. All while driving 55mph down the highway!!! I’d have snapped a picture, but it took two hands to scan, one hand to hold the laptop, and two hands to drive, and, well, we were out of hands at that point. Wait, that’s five hands. You’ll just have to trust me and picture the scene in your head. While you’re at it, please picture me in a Fiskar Sunset Hybrid Convertible. Cherry metallic red. What? We were really in a white Honda Civic Hybrid? We’re just fantasizing here, folks. Back to the Arboretum. Outside of my new “office” windows, the sun shone (Gasp! What is that thing?!) and flowers bloomed. My spirits lifted the minute I set foot on the grounds. As I sat at my table in Chaska, watching the people come and go out of the dining room, I was answering e-mails, helping folks across the country, connected to servers in Hibbing, MN; Austin, TX and Denver, CO. Could this be for real? I pinched myself just to make sure. Note to self: Next time don’t pinch so hard. It was so lovely sitting there working from my remote office, I hardly noticed the screaming three-year-old disrupting the entire dining room as he attempted to shove his sister out of her chair. His mother had the same red rosy cheeks as he did, I think not for the same reason however. But soon his tantrum was averted with sugar and carbohydrates, and all was well in the world again. After the end of my lovely work day which felt more like I had been hanging out soaking up good energy all day than actually working, I took a long walk around the grounds. The arboretum covers 1,047 acres now, so I certainly didn’t get to see it all. Or even most of it. But I did get to tour the lilac gardens, the oldest display on the arboretum grounds, which boasts 26 species, 123 cultivars and 179 specimens. Puts my measly little 100-year old lilac hedge in Duluth to shame, I tell you what. Lavender, dark purple, white, the blooms were as endless as the unhappy cries of a toddler in a tantrum.
“I spy… a painter in the lilacs!”After the lilacs I took a stroll through the Japanese garden, called “Seisui Tei,” or Garden of Pure Water. This is a peaceful place, with shady nooks and waterfalls and a koi pond. I didn’t make a note of the species, but this tree was absolutely lovely, with delicate pink flowers framing every slender curving branch. Everywhere I walked, beautiful flowering trees and bulbs and spring flowers filled me up with sunshine and well-being. I am including this picture for no other reason that I find it intensely amusing. Spring is, after all, a time for, well, you know, fertility. Birds do it. Bees do it. Asian Lady Beatles do it. I must say I was impressed with their ability to walk around upside-down during the process. They never stopped moving as I attempted to zoom in on them. Either she was very camera-shy, or very hungry. Not sure which. But my overall favorite-ist-of-all moment came accidentally, when I was out behind the building in the bulb garden. A group of school children were visiting and came wandering into my field of view just as I was snapping pictures. I absolutely died when I saw this little girl coming into my view finder at just the right moment to capture her, completely un-posed and unaware. Her curls, her uniform, her bouquet of dandelions carried behind her back... it was almost enough to make me want to conceive another child. Then I remembered my twenty-year-old and snapped back to reality. The day at the arboretum was exactly what my soul yearned for, exactly what my senses craved. I left there that day, facing a long drive home fighting traffic most of the way, with a peacefulness I had not felt since before leaving for CO. If you ever have the chance to visit this sacred and beautiful place, I urge you to do so. Your soul will thank you. And so will your camera.
“I love spring everywhere, but if I could choose I would greet it in a garden.” Ruth Stout Blessings – Victoria
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Shug: “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” This quote came to mind as I surveyed our backyard this weekend, which desperately needed to be mowed. A carpet of purple covered nearly 2/3 of the open space. Kelly was amused, “What is it?” he asked me. I recognized it as one of the flowers identified in my Wildflowers of MN book by Stan Tekiela, but it had been years since I had looked up this particular diminutive wildflower. So I dug out my little book and flipped through it. It just so happened to be on the second page, in the blue/purple section. Ground Ivy, a member of the mint family. Square stems, leaves that smell like mint when torn or crushed. Spreads by rooting from the leaf nodes. Its leaves were once used to ferment beer. It is known to be an aggressive spreader, like many members of the mint family. I do not remember seeing so much of it in the backyard before. Then again, I have never left the back yard un-mowed this late in the season, either. Kelly had managed to get the front lawn mowed while I was stationed in CO for three months, for which I was grateful, since that was the green space that is open to public scrutiny. Nobody can see our backyard, surrounded by woods so thick even the next door neighbor can’t see through the foliage once the leaves are out. It’s possible most of the green that passed for grass in previous years had also been the ivy, but kept mowed, it had not had a chance flower. I thought the purple backyard was delightful. Bumblebees buzzed around in it. Tiny toads and frogs hopped through it. After I mowed the front lawn and had handed the mower off to Kelly to do the back, I asked him if he would mind mowing around the patch of ivy, at least until it had finished flowering. It was just too delightful to mow down. Kelly agreed. And so, we have a large spot of purple still gracing our back yard today. To many, it would be considered a patch of weeds worthy of a dousing with an herbicide. To us, it is delightful. And I think, God must be delighted, too. What colors are you noticing today? Cheers – Victoria
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I love barns. All kinds of barns.
So, what’s with the barn-love? I grew up in the woods, on the shores of a very big lake. No barns in sight. No barns within seventy miles. Rugged shoreline and forests, that was my childhood playground.
But there’s just something about a barn. Maybe it’s in my blood. My parents both grew up on farms. My mom’s parents were still living on their homesteaded 160 acres when my grandpa died. They no longer had any animals in the barn though.
My cousins down the road a-ways, they had dairy cows. Still do in fact. And a hayloft full of fresh hay.
Don’t you just love the smell of a hayloft full of fresh hay?
And kittens. Kittens just go with haylofts like stink on manure, don’t they?
We would spend hours in that hayloft, me and my sisters and our cousins. Chasing down the wild kittens who hid between the hay bales. Jumping from one stack of bales to another. Getting a lot of hay stuck in our clothes, up our nose, in our ears.
Loving every second.
My cousins, now, they were in the know. They grew up on the farm and knew everything about how things ran on the farm. They could drive a tractor. They knew how the milking machines ran. They knew how to catch the piglets when they escaped their pen. They had manure on their boots and dirt under their nails.
I was simultaneously awed and a little bit jealous. Except for the manure. But we loved it there.
Maybe that helped form a seed for my future barn-loving fetish. Or maybe it was just my farming ancestors. Whatever it was, the love of barns lay rather dormant in me for a good many years.
I casually started noticing barns within the last few years. On our cross-country drives to my grandmother's house (she no longer lived on their homestead though), or driving across southern or western MN, or on our way out to WY.
A barn would come into view, and I would suddenly latch onto it with my eyes, which moments before had been gazing unseeing across the wide open spaces of fields and pastures. And no matter what kind of a barn it was, it would hold my gaze the entire time until it disappeared past my window.
Sometimes I would point them out to Papa Bear. Sometimes he would point them out to me.
Eventually we started talking about them as if they were already ours. “Look at that barn, isn’t that hayloft door great?” became, “when we build our barn, wouldn’t we love a hayloft door like that?”
But no barn catches my attention like a round barn. Isn't this one a beauty? She graces the Palouse near Pullman, WA. I drool over this barn. I could live in this barn. Me and the alpacas. And Papa Bear. And the kitty nommers.
Photo from here.Unfortunately, there are not very many of these barns around anymore. (no pun intended… well, maybe a little…)
Photo from here.
Which makes them even more delightful to stumble upon. Like this blue one that Papa Bear and I came across while looking for two other barns we had seen in the Lindstrom area before, while just driving around.
I love just driving around, looking for barns, don’t you?
We took it as a good sign, this blue barn. We had been thinking about moving to the area. To be closer to our alpaca. We had been driving back and forth from Burnsville to Lindstrom, every weekend, to visit her.
That’s 75 miles, one way. Times two. Every weekend. For months. Seven months to be exact.
So we moved from Burnsville to Lindstrom. Because the round blue barn gave us the sign. And because our alpaca was there. Waiting for us.
Well, maybe not waiting for us, but she was there. And we needed to be closer. To her, and to the country, and to this round blue barn.
And so here we are. At home, in the country, dreaming of barns.
What building says “home” to you? I’d love to hear all about it.