Since my life is an open book, most people know that I am frugal, logical, and almost a hoarder. Not quite, but almost. When it comes to buying things on sale, the frugal part of me says “Yay! A good price!” The logical part of me says “Don’t buy that gigantic bottle of shampoo that is buy-one-get-one-free. That is way too much shampoo for just the two of you.” The hoarder part of me says “How many can I buy at that price?” I only bought two, but technically only bought one, since it was buy-one-get-one-free, otherwise known as BOGO. We now have enough shampoo to last us well into 2015, unless someone runs it on sale for $.99 a bottle, in which case we will have enough to last us until next Christmas. Those of you raising teenage girls will only have enough to last about a month. The grocery stores try to trick us frugal logical hoarders. They may call it ‘marketing strategies’, but I call it trickery. Last week, canned green beans (HIS favorite) were $.75 a can. We have been eating green beans from the garden, but I didn’t can any because I ran out of time, energy, and green beans. This week, there were big signs and advertisements in the newspaper and grocery store saying “Special! 12 cans for $9.00!”. Now, let’s just say that my grades in creative writing were much better than my grades in math, but even I can figure that one out. People were loading their carts, though. There is something about a cold snap that makes people want to stock up on supplies as if the Zombie Apocalypse was just around the corner. Why is there never BOGO on things like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ($15.99/lb on a good day, but don’t tell HIM) or the four-roll packages of good toilet paper? The cheap toilet paper lasts only about a day and a half, and the only way to save any money on the good stuff is to buy 20-roll packages. My linen closet has more shelves for toilet paper than sheets and towels. I have a suggestion for the Grocery Store and Product Advisory Board, if there really were really such a thing. Stop offering BOGO and make the product 50% off instead. Stop spending money on glitzy advertising and coupons. In fact, do away with coupons altogether. That alone should save trees, money, and calories. We don’t need “$1.00 off two megasupersize packages” of cereal that will be stale before it is eaten, except for those of you who are raising teenage boys or preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse. Use the millions of dollars you will save to decrease food prices all over the country. Charge us a price that is fair to you, the farmer, and the customer. Stop the gimmicks, the unnecessary extra packaging, and although this is still done at a few stores in small-town America, could we please have our groceries carried out to the car again? Exhausted parents of wiggly toddlers and tired old Farm Woman everywhere will thank you.
I got a message from an old friend the other day who asked if I would email her “idiot-proof” directions to our cabin. She thought she might find it by relying on her memory, but the last time she was there she and her two small children (now young adults) slid down the mile-long driveway in the dark, during a downpour complete with lightning and thunder. I’ve been going to that cabin since I was a baby, and never once actually looked at the county or township road numbers. Besides, if she relied on her over-50 memory, she could perhaps get lost in the middle of nowhere, looking for a cabin that is already in the middle of nowhere. Who knows where she might end up? There is one fire number for three driveways, so I’m not quite sure if it is ours or belongs to the neighbor. It is not that I don’t care about these things, but if God forbid there ever were a fire, the nearest volunteer fire department is about 15 miles away, so we know there wouldn’t be much left of a small old cabin and the outhouse next to it. My directions went something like this: “Turn right at that old place where we used to get ice cream bars when we were kids if we didn’t pinch each other and tattle about it on the way there. Go down the road a couple of miles and take a left where that falling-down old farmhouse used to be. The barn is still there but the house isn’t. Drive a few more miles, going up the big hill that Mom got stuck on. (An event that happened in 1967, but the poor woman never heard the end of it.) Go a few miles more, turning right until you get to the spot where that holocaust used to be but now there are a couple of nice lake homes there. (Yes, holocaust. I typed “resort” and Autocorrect decided for some reason it should be “holocaust”, which of course I didn’t notice until I had pushed the send button.) Turn left and follow Oluffson Road past the intersection. Here the road gets a little sketchy, but you should be OK because you only need a 4-wheel drive in the spring when it is really muddy after the snow melts. Bear right at the Y, and we are the driveway immediately on the left. There is a red gate with a hand-painted sign which reads “Crazy as loons” in red, white, and blue. That’s to keep the riffraff out.” No, these are not the real directions to our cabin. (With apologies to Oluf of Oluffson Road and any loons who might be offended at being called crazy.) Not that we don’t like company, but unexpected company just might catch us emerging from the sauna, and I wouldn’t want to scare anyone too badly. My friend said she wasn’t sure she could make it or not, and she never did show up. Either she changed her mind, is lost in the middle of nowhere, or she caught a glimpse of us coming out of the sauna. After all, it was Saturday night, and everyone knows that Saturday is sauna night in northern Minnesota.
My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to food. My side of the grocery cart may have things like organic milk, almonds, kale, and gluten-free non-GMO corn chips. His has something sweet, some sort of deli meat for his daily sandwich, and potato chips. I like to eat ethnic food and stir fry, the spicier the better. HE prefers simple cooking, canned vegetables, and a bowl of ice cream every night. Now, due to a diagnosis of gout, he needs to limit certain foods like whole grains, legumes, and beer. Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. You can guess which one he hasn’t completely cut out of his diet. Since many of his relatives lived well into their 80’s and even their 90’s, and many of mine died by 60, I’m not the one to cast any stones. For the most part, his diet is healthy and besides, I’m his wife and not his mother. This week, he is planning to stay at our cabin to mow, split wood, and fish. He spends more time working than cooking while he’s there, so he asked if I could pick up some canned beef stew and hot dogs so his meals could be both quick and filling. My treat while he is away is something he detests: Fresh salmon, and glory be, it was on sale, too. Waiting my turn at the fish counter, I visited with Mrs. Nice (but too skinny) Customer who was explaining to me how much healthier the wild-caught salmon was than the farmed salmon. I don’t know why she thought I needed to know this, except perhaps it was because I am kind of pleasingly plump and was dressed like I just jumped out of the rutabaga truck in jeans with stains on the knees from gardening. I hadn’t noticed until it was too late to change. I had just that moment snatched away a fresh green pepper that my grandson was trying to chew on, telling him it was icky. Of course “icky” simply meant that it hadn’t been washed, so I didn’t want it in his mouth, but in trying to keep those little hands busy, I had handed him a package of his grandpa’s hot dogs instead. While chatting with Mrs. Nice Customer about healthy foods and explaining that I was a Cardiac Rehab nurse who knows these things, I noticed that she kept looking in my shopping cart. The fresh fruit, salad greens, and organic dairy products were buried under potato chips and processed cheese (HE loves it!) with a loaf of non-gouty soft white bread balanced on top. The cute toddler seated in the cart was happily sucking on a package of hot dogs. She just looked sadly at me and walked away. I’m sure she had a tale to tell her husband at dinner. Me? I’ll probably still be dressed like a country bumpkin at dinner time, because after all, it is my day off and I’m eating alone, but I’ll be eating the same thing. Really, I will.
The mouse is in the breezeway, which is technically not in the house. The connecting door between the two stays closed, unless I am carrying groceries/laundry/etc. or I forget to close it. The old breezeway has shifted, leaving a gap between the back door and the threshold large enough for Mrs. Mouse and her large extended family to move in….and out….and in again every night. At least that’s how I picture it in my mind when there is the tiniest noise out there. I see the evidence of their family reunions every morning. It needs more than a simple repair, and I am somewhere around the third from the bottom on my carpenter’s have-to-do-before-winter-but-maybe-next-spring list. We set a mousetrap, for whatever good that does. Perhaps I should say I set the trap, since I got tired of reminding HIM to set it every night. There’s another problem. HE sleeps later than I do every morning, which means that I have to check the trap. This morning, I picked up Barney the Chihuahua to save his nose in case there was no mouse in the trap and checked where I had put it last. No trap. I checked behind the dryer, under the table, and inside a rolled-up rug. No trap, no mouse. That meant that there was probably a live mouse in a trap somewhere. Ick. Since I had to leave for church and HE was still asleep, I quickly scrawled a note and left it on the counter: “I set the trap but it wasn’t there when I checked. Eek!” By the time I got home, the problem was taken care of. My hero. I am being not the least sarcastic here, unlike my usual style of writing. I was planning on telling you about the 27 golf shirts in HIS closet, but will keep that story for another time. Happy anniversary to my mousetrap-finding hero who literally keeps the home fires burning because I can’t start a decent fire. Thank you for loading the boat, getting the bait, and filling the gas tank so all I have to do is step in and fish. Thank you for wiring the chicken coop so I wouldn’t have to go out there in the dark and get eaten by wolves or coyotes. Thank you for snow-blowing a path through the thigh-high drifts so I can get to my girls in the winter. Thank you for feeding them when I have a late meeting because you love me more than you hate chickens. Thank you for tilling my garden that I let go to weeds every year. Thank you for not saying “I told you so” about the turkey poop in the back yard. Although I would really like a few goats to add to our menagerie, I know you really don’t want them. So on this, our 37th anniversary, I just wanted to tell you that I love you more than I love goats, however cute and cuddly they may be.
The ten sweet fluffy chicks that I got this spring have turned into a bevy of clucking screeching teenage girls. As with human teens, this can be a difficult age. Earlier this summer, I had to crawl into the bushes where they had hidden themselves, getting a wood tick bite with a classic bullseye rash which bought me ten days of antibiotics. Later, when HE lit a fire to burn the tree trimmings, they were frightened by the flames and ran cackling into the woods. It took both of us to cajole them into the safety of their coop. Yesterday, I spent the morning cleaning the house. I don’t know why I bothered, since we were expecting a visit from Max, our 1 1/2 year-old grandson, who can spread pots, pans, and crumbs from one end of the house to the other in no time at all. Despite the fact that I desperately needed one, Max was determined NOT to take a nap, which reminded me so much of his mommy, whose first short sentence was “No nappy!” and as she grew, had a discussion with her kindergarten teacher in which she told her she would lie down during nap time if she had to, but she certainly wouldn’t sleep. I’m digressing, though, so I’ll get back to the chickens. After the cleaning, cooking, toddler chasing, and dinner, I was ready to put the girls to bed. In other words, I wanted to lead them back into the coop with my handy-dandy broken fishing pole chicken guider so I could relax and fall asleep in front of the TV like normal people do on a Saturday night. The older chickens obligingly went into the coop, but the teenagers saw me coming and ran off into the corn field, scattering in all directions. I managed to get through the maze and chase them back into the yard, but I was more than a little worse for wear, being covered with corn pollen, dust, and quite a few icky spider webs. I must have looked like some sort of scarecrow when I emerged, still carrying my broken fishing pole, because I managed to scare most of them into the coop except for two, who ran flapping and screeching into the swampy woods near the coop, otherwise known as the land of wood ticks and foxes and bears, oh my. Not my favorite place, by any means. By the time I chased them out of the woods, the others had all come out of the coop and were heading back for the corn field again. I threw down my fishing pole in disgust, needing an icy-cold bottle of hard cider to revive myself and not caring at that moment if the real or imagined wildlife ate every one of them for dinner. Chickens always come home to roost, though, and once the sun started going down, they all headed back to the coop, taking their sweet time, I might add. I did a head count, safely latched the coop door, and headed back to the house, which was all picked up and much too quiet. I’ll bet little Max fell asleep before they got out of the driveway. Grandma needs a bath to wash away the spider webs and wood ticks, along with a good night’s sleep. Hopefully tonight I’ll dream of rocking my grandbaby rather than chasing my chickens through a maze of maize.
When I think back on those long and seemingly endless summer days of my growing up years, I think about blueberries. Blueberries were Dad’s favorite fruit and we ate them throughout the year in one way or another. Family and friends would pile into the car several times a week to go picking in the woods, and it was fun, or so they told me. I would begrudgingly pick a cup or two, for which I would be paid anywhere from ten cents to a quarter, depending on the size of the cup, then head on over to the car to read about the latest adventures of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. My father, who for some reason did not believe in paying money for the good grades on my report card, thought that bribing me would make a berry picker out of me. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but that, along with digging money out of the car seats while everyone else was picking berries, gave me money to buy Pixie Stix or wax lips at Kozy Korner. Dad, who loved berry picking plus had the lucky but unfortunately non-genetic advantage of being immune to mosquito bites, would go to the woods every day. Because of that, we ate like kings: Blueberry pie, blueberry muffins, blueberry coffee cake plus pints of the little jewels that Mom canned into sauce, which she would thicken and pour over pancakes on cold winter mornings. From the first of July until sometime in August, there was always a large plastic bucket of blueberries in the refrigerator, right next to a wide-mouthed gallon glass jar of milk. In those days, we would get our milk fresh from the Juntunen farm. By morning, the cream would have risen to the top of the jar. We were supposed to stir the milk before we drank it, but on those wonderful summer mornings after sleeping as late as we wanted, my sister and I would fill a cereal bowl full of blueberries, ladle on a couple of scoops of thick yellow cream, then sprinkle on a large spoonful of sugar. There is absolutely, positively nothing else in the world that tastes better. Of course, that was in the days before some know-it-all invented cholesterol and someone else decided that cream and sugar were on the naughty list. Years later, while we were all gathered around the table during a summer visit home and a trip to the berry patch, my dad served us a small bowl of wild blueberries for dessert. With a twinkle in his eye, he set out a carton of skim milk and a carton of cream, along with the sugar bowl. “You choose, ” he said as he passed out the bowls. You can probably guess which I chose, naughty girl that I am. It wasn’t quite the same without the Juntunen’s cream, but I’ll have to admit it was pretty good. I hear that there is a bumper crop of wild blueberries this year, due to all the rain we`ve had in the north woods. I still don’t like to pick berries, but I sure do like to eat them, so perhaps I will go out at least once. Pass the cream and sugar, please.
I don’t remember seeing many crows when I lived in the city. Oh, I’m pretty sure they were there, but I first noticed them when they would fly toward my car from the side of a country road and startle me just enough that I would put my foot on the brake. Every time. It took me that whole first summer to get used to them. Nobody pays that much attention to the lowly crow, unless they are pulling up the farmers’ corn sprouts and seeds from the fields or harassing some poor gal from the city trying to be a Farm Woman. Crows are extremely intelligent and if trained, can count and even speak a few words. Back in those days, they were probably saying, “Get ready guys, here she comes again!” The crows around our house are pretty smart, too. They must have heard the old adage that the early bird gets the worm, because they are caw-cawing at the crack of dawn. Last week, it was 4:45 and since the days are growing shorter, they let me sleep in until 4:55 this morning. These country crows must be eating a lot of worms, too, because they are almost as big as my chickens. The bigger they are, the louder they caw, too. They seem to be calling to each other, reporting the worm and/or bug status underneath my bedroom window. Once they start their cacophony, Barney the Chihuahua crawls out from under the covers and wants his back scratched before going outside. Me, too. In fact, we’re all up except HIM. He manages to sleep through it all, but if you ask, he’ll tell you he didn’t sleep a wink. Even though a flock of crows is oddly enough called a murder, I’m not tempted to get out the shotgun. Our winter birds are beautiful but pretty quiet, and in the very early days of spring, the cawing of the crows is a welcome break from the cold silence, letting us know that the long dark winter is nearly over and spring is on the way. I must admit that I found it a little strange that a group of intelligent creatures communicating with each other could be called a murder. Some things in the English language make no sense, and yet others hit it right on the nose: A group of baboons is called a troop or a congress. I pick the latter, because it makes much more sense, at least to me. But then again, I brake for crows.