Fall’s first day

A single crimson leaf stared at me last week while I was doing yoga on the patio, looming as it were. Oh, the grass is summer green and most of the leaves, too, but this one staked out its territory in a showy way.

It’s the Autumn Equinox today when the sun is exactly over the Earth’s equator as it moves from north to south. The first day of autumn is welcomed by some, but more me it only signals a slow slog into darkness and cold.

Autumn has some bright spots, though. Like the colorful leaves.

There’s soup and apples and big buttery squash. Football and the World Series. Crisp mornings and temperate evenings. Cozy sweaters and cute boots.

Here’s to autumn.

Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall …

~ Adelaide Crapsey

Keeping summer in my pocket for later

The subject of savoring summer has gotten me by, blogwise, for a whole season, so I’m not going to let it go easily.

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the last days of summer. Here’s how I spent them.

September 2: Play hopscotch.

My granddaughter and I played a game of hopscotch.

September 6:Wear shorts and sandals.

Though I accomplished this feat many days, my Beloved captured this image of me in shorts (you’ll have to trust me on the sandals) as we waited for our brunch at a lakeside bar, overlooking Lily Lake.

September 7: Watch (or listen to) a baseball game.

I was pleased to discover how easy it was to listen to the Twins on Sirius XM on my television (bluetooth is a modern luxury). The Twins won.

September 7: Attend a backyard barbecue.

With the baseball game playing in the background, I enjoyed a backyard barbecue of my own making on Labor Day. My parents were paying us a visit, so my Beloved grilled bratwurst on the grill. It was pleasant until the hornets took over. Later, my mother observed that it was appropriate; it wouldn’t be a picnic without an insect intrusion.

I considered Labor Day to be the day this summer to “take a day off.” I didn’t do anything but make coleslaw (and evade hornets). No official picture, but I crossed that and a number of other items off my list without a pic: Walk through rain puddles, read a book outdoors, sunbathe, chase a monarch butterfly, and pay attention to crickets. Documentation or no, I didn’t do everything I set out to do to savor summer. But I did a lot of things, including some activities I never would have accomplished without making the list (arrange a bouquet, buy meat from the source, enjoy sunflowers, to name a few). In this pandemic season, I managed to savor some of the best things about summer.

By Minnesota Transplant’s calendar, summer is kaput, but technically, it’s still summer until September 22.

Summer has currency.

“Summer is, in so many ways, a state of mind that we can carry within us as we head into the darker days ahead.”

So say California Psychics in my Capricorn Daily Focus.

I enjoyed corn on the cob yesterday. I did yoga on my puddle-bedecked patio this morning. I ate green tomatoes for breakfast. I picked a bushel of fresh tomatoes from my garden this afternoon. So even though I believe in my heart that it’s autumn, I’m still savoring summer so I can carry these sunshine-filled moments with me into the darker days ahead.

One week left in the summer countdown

For some kids, summer ended the day before school started, whether school was in-person or virtual. For some folks, today marks the end of summer, it being the last day of August. And for some sticklers, summer officially ends September 21, the day before the autumnal equinox.

But if you’ve been paying attention to Minnesota Transplant at all this year, you know we’re got a single precious week of summer left. The season ends when the sun sets on Labor Day next Monday.

I won’t accomplish everything on my Savor Summer list, thanks to COVID-19. No county fair in its right mind is occurring this year, for example, and I missed whatever parades might have had to guts to, well, parade. And I haven’t found a stock car race to attend.

But sometimes, we must make fun where we find it.

June 10: Visit a sculpture garden.

Like in my parents’ driveway, where I admired Mom’s sculpture garden. She likes finding pretty glassware at garage sales and gluing the pieces together. A row of found-object sculptures line the asphalt.

June 27: Eat a hotdog (preferably a Chicago dog).

Do you know what makes a hotdog a Chicago dog? The wiener is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices and pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Nay, lassie, no ketchup. I savored a Chicago dog at the iconic Richmond Dog N Suds Drive In restaurant, only open April through September (suds refers to the root beer, not alcoholic beer). Around since 1963, this is a great destination in the age of social distancing because you can dine in your car, served by car hops. (The ice cream is yummy, too.)

June 24: Admire lilies.

I’ve already admired lilies once in my own yard, but these beauties outside a local business mesmerized me.

July 28: Watch the sun rise.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I woke up early enough to catch the sunrise after spending a night in the hospital with my Beloved (he endured an elective surgery, and yes, it was a success and he’s on the mend).

August 8: Eat a fresh tomato.

The tomatoes in my Beloved’s garden have been prolific this year. One of the varieties is a heritage cherry tomato with a lovely verigated green and red skin.

August 16: Make gazpacho.

With the tomato bounty, I made cold tomato soup (my version is always topped with a couple of shrimp) and served it with chicken salad.

August 18: Listen to children playing outside.

When school is in session, this playground is overrun with screaming children. This picture lacks to giggles I enjoyed through our hedge when a couple of kids stopped by what has become a bit of a ghost town in the pandemic.

August 22: Watch the sun set.

A weekend at the lake isn’t complete without a sunset. We spent a couple of days in the Wisconsin Dells where I captured this image of the sun setting on the marina.

August 27: Take a twilight walk.

An evening meeting at the church nearby (the one I attend, not the one I live in) gave me the opportunity to enjoy the moon rising over the neighbor’s house.

August 29: Enjoy sunflowers.

One of the best things I did this summer was to visit a sunflower farm. I didn’t even know this was a thing, but thanks to Facebook and Instagram, it is. I cut an enormous bouquet to adorn the table for my anniversary with my Beloved, and my husband’s uncle brought his camera along and captured some great pictures. It was a glorious sunshine-filled day, and I’m going to bask in the glow for ages.

Anne Lamott novel reveals story in ephemera

I found Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe at a library book sale of one sort or another, and I snatched it up because her Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is one of my all-time favorites, one of those books that has survived many edits of my personal library. Lamott is a hilarious, provocative writer who hides bits of wisdom in everyday circumstances. She succeeds in Blue Shoe.

In Bird by Bird, she writes, “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in the story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen.”

Blue ShoeThat pretty much sums up the plot of Blue Shoe. There’s a lot of character in it, and eventually, something happens. You might learn more than you care to about the weather or the children’s games or the scent of urine in an old folks home, but you’ll also laugh about a trip to a grocery store and cry about a pet’s demise.

I prefer nonfiction to fiction probably because I’m a journalist. I like true stories. Blue Shoe reads a lot like nonfiction in that is tells the story of what could be a real life: A woman recovering from divorce misses her father and decides to track down the man he was.

Let’s just say, he was a bit creepy.

But life is like that. Messy shit happens. And lonely daughters sometimes find out their heroes have feet of clay.

The title comes from a blue rubber tchotchke that the main character finds left behind by her father in his old van. It should be thrown away, but she carries it with her as a thing of value, a totem, a security blanket. It turns out this piece of clutter truly is imbued with meaning.

I find the meaning people give to seeming junk to be endlessly fascinating, so Blue Shoe rings true for me. Why do people keep grandma’s coleslaw dish or the pressed penny from a carnival or an old T-shirt they’ll never fit into again? Because there’s a story in it. You might appreciate the story Lamott reveals in the Blue Shoe.

Grazing my way through summer

Digging deep into the Netflix queue, my Beloved and I stumbled on No Tomorrow, a dramedy about a straitjacketed warehouse worker who is introduced to all kinds of crazy new experiences by an end-of-days crackpot with a bucket list. His list reminded me a little of my own Summer 2020 bucket list. Only crackpots keep lists? Maybe so. I’ve crossed about half the things off the 108-item list, so I’m on track, even if it’s a crazy track.

2020.06.24 ice cream cone

June 24: Eat an ice cream cone.

Cattle & Cream is sweet little market in Cherry Valley, Illinois, near where my mother-in-law resides. The store includes a butcher shop and an ice cream shop, thus the clever name, a vivid reminder that ribeye and fudge ripple come from the same animal. The three of us enjoyed pistachio nut, chocolate and coconut almond bliss ice cream cones. These were single scoops! What a value!

2020.06.25 coconut

June 25: Use coconut sunscreen

Speaking of coconut, I crossed an item off the Scents of Summer section of my list when my Beloved and I went boating, and I dug this bottle out the cuddy. Smelled just like summer.

2020.06.25 ponytail

June 25: Wear a ponytail and baseball cap.

On the same boat outing, I kept my hair out of my eyes with a summery hairstyle.

2020.06.27

June 27: Go to a sidewalk sale.

One might think a sidewalk sale would be hard to find in a pandemic, but I believe they are probably safer to shop than an indoor venue. I found a salad spinner at the Pampered Chef vendor at this parking lot bazaar.

2020.07.12 yard sale

June 27: Shop a garage sale.

2020.07.12 tulipsA few weeks later, I found another outdoor shopping opportunity at a yard sale down the street. It was advertised as a “pre-estate sale,” and the tables were stacked with everything, from gym clothes to headboards. I found several bunches of artificial flowers I couldn’t live without, including these beautiful white tulips that found a home in a new vase on my sofa table. When I mentioned my find to my mother-in-law, she tipped me off to an artificial flower cleaner. (Who knew such a thing existed? My mother-in-law, like my Beloved, is a Virgo, and Virgos know.)

2020.07.12.farm

July 12: Visit a farm.

I crossed two things off my list when we stopped at Lester’s Bison Farm, only 20 minutes north of our house. Boasting a buffalo herd established in 1973, the farm peddles bison meat in every form plus chicken, pheasant and pork raised at nearby farms.

2020.07.12 meat from source

July 12: Buy meat from the source.

We walked out with two big bags of meat, allowing us the opportunity to eat local: better for us, better for the community, better for the environment. Though I tend to eschew grass-fed beef, the bison steak we enjoyed a few days later was absolutely delicious.

2020.07.22 iced coffee

July 22: Drink an iced coffee.

On the opposite extreme, I enjoyed a drink composed of international coffee beans from a global conglomerate one afternoon this past week. It was absolutely delicious, too.

2020.07.23 cucumber salad

July 23: Make cucumber salad.

When the box of produce this week from my Community Supported Agriculture farm included a sprig of dill, I sliced up a half dozen cucumbers from the garden to make a batch of quick pickled cucumber, a summery treat.

2020.07.25 berry cobbler

July 25: Make berry cobbler.

I whipped up a batch of triple-berry crisp for some special guests. Technically, because this has less flour, more oatmeal and no baking soda, it’s considered a crisp, but it was yummy in any case. Nothing helps endure a pandemic more than comfort food. Here’s to it!

Finding summer sweetness at home

A summer like no other, this summer is. Even in March, when the world went on lock-down and non-essential retail stores shuttered and Major League Baseball x-nayed spring training, I never imagined we would still be talking in July about sheltering in place and avoiding indoor restaurants and baseball games without stadium crowds.

Yet here we are. COVID-19 changes everything.

But I’m still trying to linger on summer’s joys no matter what happens in the world. Soon the nights will come earlier and the trees will lose their leaves. Gotta be mindful of the present moment because that’s all we have. Recently, I’ve been crossing things off my Summer 2020 list that I can enjoy within the safety of my own space.

2020.06.21 convertible

June 21: Ride in a convertible (or open the sun roof).

On a trip to Starbucks one morning when we discovered we were out of coffee beans (oh, the problems in the First World), I opened the sunroof in the car and shook off the a.m. cobwebs in the summer breeze. By using the drive-through, I avoided the trip into the great unknown of unwashed humanity but still enjoyed the great outdoors.

2020.07.07 run

July 7: Go for a run (even a short one).

On another glorious morning, I donned a beloved pair of Asics and a hat with a Nike message (and other appropriate garb) and ran around my little village. I used to run five miles at a time on the regular, but I more or less gave it up a couple of years ago when my poor feet couldn’t take the pounding anymore. Still, I jogged a mile and a half before I had to walk, so I’m still going to count myself among the folks who call themselves runners.

2020.07.09 basil

July 9: Eat fresh basil.

My Beloved’s garden has been (and will continue to be) a source of deliciousness. Even through we are committed to staying home, we have been eating like gourmands. I whipped up some kale-basil pesto (with walnuts instead of pine nuts), and I used it to top a freshly grilled mozzarella cheeseburger. Yum.

2020.07.11 green tomatoes

July 11: Make fried green tomatoes.

A few days later, the not-ready yet but plump looking tomatoes in the garden beckoned to me and persuaded me to turn them into fried green tomatoes to accompany bacon and eggs at brunch.

2020.07.18 peaches

July 18: Eat a fresh peach.

While we’re dining well at home, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “imperfect” peach I got on sale at a nearby farm market. It tasted perfect to me! Juicy like only a fresh peach can be. I threw in a few raspberries and some cinnamon-dusted plain yogurt, and boom, breakfast.

2020.07.16 rabbit far

July 16: Watch rabbits play.

My yard continues to be a source of merriment, to me when I’m doing yoga on the patio and definitely to the family of rabbits whom I believe have a nest beneath our cargo trailer. Watching rabbits play was not on my original list, but since baby bunnies are a spring thing, teenaged bunnies are a summer one. I witnessed a trio of brothers (I’m guessing on the gender) chase each other around my yard when I was in savasana pose (yes, one is supposed to close one’s eyes in this restful pose, but the rabbits caught my eye nonetheless). Can you see him?

2020.07.16 rabbit close

See him now?

This family is a little bit of redemption for me. Two years ago, there was a baby bunny massacre on my watch when we moved our RV into the driveway of the house we were renting at the time. The nest there was revealed, and baby bunnies hopped away in every direction. With gloved hands, I scrambled around to reassemble the nest, but a few hours later, I saw a satisfied-looking cat sitting beneath the camper. Not a good end for those baby bunnies. I felt terrible. But rabbits being rabbits, another family found refuge in our yard, and now they’re hopping around, probably planning their own families.

2020.07.19 lilies

July 19: Admire lilies.

Admiring lilies wasn’t on my original list either, but I think I missed the peony season (I had hoped to celebrate the scents of summer by smelling a peony) so I needed an alternative. Suddenly, all the ditches around here are sporting the lovely orange lilies, and then this morning, I rediscovered the turk’s hat lilies in the garden on the side of the my house that were originally planted by the church ladies who volunteered here when my house was a church. These dramatic blossoms make an appearance every summer.

2020.07.18 Zoom Family Reunion

July 18: Attend a family reunion.

When you can’t go to the party, bring the party to you! We observed the Kulland family reunion this year on Zoom. I missed my cousin’s wife’s stellar homemade Chex Mix, but we caught up on some family news virtually from the comforts and security of our homes.

2020.07.19 sheets

July 19: Hang sheets on a clothesline.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to cross this one off my list since we don’t have a clothesline at our house. But I talked my Beloved into making one between two of our pine trees, and I hung our sheets on it this morning. I haven’t yet inhaled the scent only fresh air can imbue on sheets, but I can’t wait to go to bed tonight. “Clean sheets night” is my favorite night of the week, and it’s going to be even better tonight!

If we’re going to be stuck at home, we might as well appreciate the simple pleasures.

Book about Texas is best appreciated for the journey, not the destination

I invested in God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State when it came out 2018 in hardcover because I intuited that I might settle in Texas at some point. I thought I ought to learn something about the state.

undefinedLawrence Wright’s book certainly taught me something, that Texas is a state of contradictions. It’s big and it’s intimate. It’s conservative and it’s liberal. It’s rich and it’s poor. Its people value ancient natural resources and space-age technology, religion and themselves, independence but also community. Whatever you might want in lifestyle or geography, you can probably find in Texas.

According to the acknowledgments, the book came to be when Wright’s editor at The New Yorker asked him to “explain Texas,” exactly what a transplant needs. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Wright covers a lot of ground in this story, a little bit memoir and a lot of history and politics. He is clearly left-leaning, but his book paints a balanced picture of a state known for both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush.

The writing, as you would expect from such an esteemed correspondent, is lovely, but not in love with itself. Here’s how Wright describes Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger:

It has a big hole near the bridge, worn through by Willie’s pinky and ring fingers. Pick marks have scored the face paper thin. The entire instrument feels sheer, the frets worn down to nearly nothing. It’s been signed many times—Leon Russell used a pocketknife—but the signatures are fading into the patina. If you saw this guitar at a garage sale, you would walk on by.

Wright is a keen observer who understands what makes Texas distinctive in so many ways. He devotes whole chapters to the state’s unique politics (“The Cradle of Presidents” and “Sausage Makers”), music (“The City of the Violet Crown”) and geography the defines it (“Borderlands”). Ever been to Buc-ee’s? “It is the largest convenience store in the world—a category of achievement that only Texas would aspire to,” he writes, and then describes in the sort of detail an extraterrestrial visitor would appreciate and understand.

If I have a problem with this book, it’s that it lacks a narrative, or at least one I could follow. This is a book about place, not person. I began reading it in late 2018 and it wasn’t absorbing enough to keep my attention. It wasn’t until I bought property in Texas that I returned to it and finally finished it. It’s good in pieces, just not compelling as a whole. But whether you aspire to be a Texan or not, it’s a good little piece about a mighty big state.

Summer in the heart of the porcupine

Leave it to a Minnesota Transplant to savor even the prickly bits of summer. It’s a precious resource, this season, so one has to relish in every part.

Like swatting a mosquito. I did that for the first time Thursday morning when I was yoga-ing on the patio in the thick morning air. Missed him. And didn’t get a picture. (From my 108 Precious Days of Summer list, July 9: Slap a mosquito.)

2020.06.25

June 25: Watch ants at work.

Summer is the season for insects, though. You won’t find anything but spiders in the dark corners of unused rooms in wintertime, but in summer, whoo-boy, the bugs are in paradise, and so are entomologists. Me? I’m not much of an insect lover. I’d prefer they leave me alone. The flyswatter and I get real familiar in summertime. But I spent a few moments while in a down-dog pose on the patio watching the ants work. We’ve got big black ones (like I pictured above) and little brown ones doing their ant thing out there. We get along fine as long as they steer clear of me in corpse pose.

This is what one who favors summer but has lived through long winters must do: find joy in even the less appealing parts. Like rain. Sure, gardeners love rain. But vain 50-somethings with limp hair like it less. Rainstorms have been passing by on the regular lately (which is why the mosquitoes have finally made an appearance).

2020.07.09

July 9: Listen to a rainstorm and count the seconds between lightning and thunder. 

After my Beloved retired the other night, I skulked around the dark house with a flashlight checking on the operation of the new gutter system and listening to the rain on the roof of the garage (we have so much insulation in our roof of our house, you can hardly hear the rain drops, but out in the garage, it’s pandemonium). I tiptoed down to the basement to check for leaks and found none (whew!), and as I passed by the front door, I peered out into the darkness and counted the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. The lightning was ten miles away. My camera setting might trick you into believing this photo was taken during the day, but it was black out there, and water was falling in gallons from the sky. I didn’t venture into the wet, but the scene was quite lovely.

That’s how one endures life’s storms: find beauty in them. There’s a word for that: ceraunophilia, loving thunder and lighning and find them intensely beautiful.

2020.07.02 lemonade

July 2: Drink freshly made lemonade.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

 

Mournful cooing speaks of summer

A mourning dove lives somewhere near my house or, more likely, more than one lives nearby.

I’ve heard this bird’s mournful cooing as I emerge from sleep in my bed in the morning, when I’m lingering outside in the afternoon, and when I’m harvesting cilantro in the back garden before dinner, so he lives nearby.

When I asked my Beloved about it, he said mourning doves are like rats with wings⁠—they’re common and pesky.

But the language of a mourning dove is quite beautiful, much better than a rat’s scratching, and so it made my list of ways to savor summer.

June 28: Listen to a mourning dove.

Getting a picture proved impossible. I followed his call last week and tracked him to somewhere around the elementary school across the street from my house. Amid the tweets of other birds, you can hear the mourning dove’s call, but you can’t see him.

Even without the flashy good looks of a blue jay or beautiful scenery, the mourning dove’s call calms me. Just the simple act of paying attention forces me to slow down, and savor.

Here’s to summer.

Savor summer with Peanut Butter Chocolate Pudding Pops

On my list of ways to savor the flavors of summer in this strange pandemic season, I listed “make homemade popsicles.”

I remember my mother making popsicles long ago in the ’70s. It’s exactly the type of recipe Jell-O would have popularized back then to promote sales among homemakers. Nowadays, people just buy popsicles.

But on the theory that making them myself would help savor the popsicle, I made some. Fortunately, Mom gifted me some extra molds she described as being forty years old, meaning they were the same ones she used back in the ’70s. If that isn’t a testimony to Tupperware, I don’t know what is.

I wanted to make fancy, three-layer pops with peanut butter being one of the layers (because I love peanut butter). I could not find such a recipe several pages deep into Google search results, so I made one up and it turned out great (despite my father’s skepticism about the structural integrity of such fancy pops). If you like peanut butter and making a big mess in the kitchen, you might like it, too.

Popsicles in process

June 28: Make homemade popsicles.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Pudding Pops

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Beat milks, pudding and sugar in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Fill popsicle molds one-third full.
  2. Remove two cups of vanilla pudding mixture to a new bowl and beat in peanut butter. Fill popsicle molds with resulting mixture to two-thirds full.
  3. Remove one cup of peanut butter pudding mixture to another bowl and beat in cocoa powder. Fill popsicle molds to full and freeze until firm, about three hours.
  4. Depending on the size of your molds, you may have extra pudding. Spoon it carefully into glass dishes (so you can see the layers), and enjoy with whipped cream.
  5. Release mold from popsicle with the heat of your hands. To really savor your popsicle, you’ll lick it. But I like eating it in bites. You do you.

Pudding Pop

Yum!