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I didn’t think I would have time to write a story this week. Between work, travel, reunions, and a wedding, it has been hard to find the time to write something witty, thought-provoking, or even mediocre. Writing is harder than you might think, and sometimes my own inspiration comes from the oddest things. BATHROOMS would be the perfect example. After the usual “hurry up and wait” business of travelling by air, the flight crew tempts everyone with a variety of beverages in a plane that holds 185 people and two small bathrooms. You can do the math here. They don’t let you stand and wait in the aisle anymore either, so it is every woman for herself. Even if you had a snowball’s chance in Florida of getting in, who would really want to? You can barely turn around, much less be seated. About the time you get in, the turbulence starts, and you always wonder what is happening out there. I waited. So did 125 other club- soda-with-lime sipping ladies. I waited when we got off the plane,  holding the carry on baggage. HE used the men’s room, while I eyed the 10 women in line next door. We hiked to the next one, and there were 15 in line for a 10 stall ladies’ room. The men’s room had no line, of course. We waited. And waited. Rumor from the front of the line described the same conditions down the concourse. A desparate sounding voice came from somewhere behind me: “Please, ladies, I’ve got to go now!” Poor thing is probably one who carries a water bottle with her all the time and hydrates. I would have been more sympathetic, but had three minutes to board my next flight. We rushed over to our gate, only to find out that the flight had been delayed. HE wandered off to find something to drink. Not me. I can wait as long as it takes, even if it is all the way home to Minnesota. 

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Cocoon

We got up earlier than usual for a day off, as there were things to do. It was foggy and cool, but not cold. There was not even the slightest breeze in the air, and the lake, when we reached it,  was like glass. The sun, barely up an hour, looked like a big pink orb hanging low in the sky, and I was glad I was not driving, because the surreal color fascinated me so much that I couldn’t stop looking.  They say our beautiful sunrises and sunsets here in northern Minnesota are partially due to the fires and smoke from the northwest. Our pleasure comes from their pain, unfortunately. The past few weeks of hearing what is going on in the rest of our country, not to mention the world, has sometimes made me want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers up over my head. The fires, the floods, the hurricane force winds, and the threat of war. Always, it seems, there’s war. Today, in my sheltered Minnesota world cocooned by the fog and surrounded by the beauty of the fall leaves,  I am thankful. My home and family and friends are safe. My beloved north woods are intact. Our lake is not overlapping its banks.  I know this truth: As long as there is sorrow in the world there will be grandmothers who pray. Today, in these woods, I am in my church. In the meantime, we drive along the roads of my childhood, and the fact that they haven’t changed much brings comfort to my soul. To make it last just a little bit longer, we turn right at the end of the narrow dirt road and take the long way home. 

If truth be told, I’m not much of a Farm Woman these days, if you go by the usual Farm Woman standards. My garden beds are weedy. I don’t have jars and jars of home-canned beans and tomatoes lining my pantry shelves. I only have a few pitiful looking tomatoes ripening on my windowsill. I’ve had plenty of zucchini, but only a dozen little cucumbers. The deer ate the tops of all the sunflowers, so I am missing their dramatic size and colors which have brightened my yard every summer, lasting into fall. Even the small African violet on the kitchen counter is looking like it is ready for that great flower garden in the sky, but let’s just have that be a secret between us, because I am supposed to be keeping it for a friend. I’m sure she meant that I was to keep it alive rather than just keep it, but things aren’t looking good. When it comes to gardening, both indoors or out, some years I win and some years I lose. Except when it comes to hollyhocks, which are always winners. Although I take all the credit by calling them mine, I am only the keeper of the hollyhocks. They were here when I got here, and hopefully, they will be here long after I’m gone. I noticed the seedlings in early June the first year we moved here and wondered what they were. The large-leafed green plants grew taller every day and soon burst forth with big blooms of pink and white and red that resembled the skirts of long-ago Southern Belles. They start flowering about halfway up the tall stalk, a few at a time, and as the flowers on the bottom die off, the ones above them start to bloom, leaving seed pods behind. They bloom throughout the summer and the bees love them even more than I do. I have read that on old homesteads, hollyhocks were often planted around the outhouses. They don’t have a scent, so I can only assume that since they grow as tall as the roof that they were there to add a little bit of beauty to the biffies of rural America. Hollyhocks reseed themselves easily, even coming up in the grass two feet beyond their bed. Since HE mows right to the edge, I have tried digging them up to transplant them around the outbuildings and even the old outhouse, but they must be finicky, because only one has ever survived, but it does come back every year. Usually, I just wait until the last Southern Belle has shown her bloomers and break up the dried seed pods, sprinkling the seeds liberally in the south-facing garden bed, just as generations of Farm Women before me have done. If only African violets would be so easy.

I don’t really understand how it happens. Oh, I sort of understand it. You plant the seed, it germinates with sunshine, warm soil and water, and a tiny plant emerges. With tomatoes, I start with plants, as our Minnesota Zone 3 growing season isn’t that long. When it comes to zucchini, I plant seeds. I watch and water them carefully, waiting for the first two leaves to emerge. Through June and July, I just wait. The tomato plants, healthy and robust, reached the gutters and I tied jute to their cages, attached to an S-hook on the gutter. The zucchini grew slowly but surely, with yellow flowers as big as my hand. Suddenly, and nothing short of a miracle in my humble opinion, the flowers turned to fruit. Some are dark green and smooth, while another Italian variety I tried for the first time is green with ridges and yellow stripes. I like my zucchini small, tender, and succulent, so I watched them carefully. I watched the tomatoes, also, and they are not doing as well. After their initial vigor, they have settled into what appears to be a rather mediocre year. I hear the same from other gardeners around here, too. I remember years with BUCKETS of tomatoes sitting in the breezeway and any with the slightest blemish unceremoneously tossed to the chickens, so I am hoping for a miracle. The zucchini were slow and steady, though, until last week. All of a sudden, the small tender zukes turned into monsters overnight. That’s what I don’t understand. How in the diggidy dang dickens do they grow so fast, and why don’t tomatoes do the same? Yesterday, in the cold drizzling rain that lasted all day, I checked on my plants and picked. By evening, I couldn’t help but look again and found two more of huge proportions that I SWEAR weren’t there earlier. Since the chickens are molting and don’t much care for cold drizzling rainy days, I actually got more zucchini than I did eggs yesterday, and I have 17 hens. Seventeen unproductive hens, at the moment. One tends to get a little philosophical while staring at a dozen rather large zucchini and figuring out just what in the heck to do with them. I quickly decided in that philosophical moment that I shouldn’t compare life with zucchini. Only a Crazy Woman would do that. Even though we all know that I talk to chickens and perhaps even tomatoes, I’m not there yet. By the way, the chickens told me they prefer their zucchini cooked with a bit of onion, so I’d better start chopping.

“If you’re wrong and you shut up, you’re wise. If you’re right and you shut up, you’re married.” ~ Unknown

HE and I, along with our canine tagalong Barney the Chihuahua, just returned from our 40th wedding anniversary trip in our vintage motorhome. We drove 2500 miles, saw six states, one provence, three Great Lakes, big cities and small towns, interstate highways, gravel roads, and a LOT of road construction. He did all the driving, of course, as I have no interest in driving that Big Girl and my navigational skills are limited to finding my way around the block as long as it isn’t raining or dark, as my eyesight isn’t that great. I’ve also been noticing for the last couple of years that my hearing is not as good as it used to be, either. His is just as bad, but HE won’t admit it. I have a harder time hearing when there is background noise, such as the wind blowing in my right ear (the large windows help it stay nice and cool in the motorhome without the a/c and saves a little on the dismal gas mileage) or continuous 1970’s rock music playing loudly in my left ear. (Loudly because HE can’t hear it, especially with the wind blowing in his left ear, but won’t admit it, even if you ask him.) Honestly, I learned to tune him out for a lot of the trip, because he would mumble something, I would ask “What did you say?” and HE would tell me he was either talking to himself or to the dog. It was just as well, as while travelling, I often have my nose in a good book or watch a movie on the DVR player. I had brought along several favorite movies, headphones, and earbuds. I had just settled in to watch one when I realized that the headphones didn’t take away the sound of the wind blowing in my right ear and the continuous 1970’s rock music playing in my left ear. I swiched to the ear buds and turned the volume up LOUD. Ah, that did it. HE was looking at me by then. I could see his lips moving, but due to the ear buds I could only hear muffled sounds coming from his mouth. “What?” I asked, pulling out the buds. HE wanted to carry on a conversation NOW? “What did you say?” Now he started speaking LOUDLY, and very slooowly, like I was not only deaf, but not very bright, either. I have a couple of small bits of advice here for all of you newlyweds. Take it from an old Farm Woman married 40 years: Sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut, put your earbuds in, and turn the volume up. It saves on arguments. And later, when you are sitting in front of the campfire on your anniversary trip, he will look at you over the crackling flames and say, “I love you, Dear.” At least I think that’s what he said. Maybe it was “I’d love a beer.” Either way, I want to wish a happy anniversary to my husband. I’m glad we’re travelling this road together. Thanks for being you…and HIM. I’d love a beer, too.

Don’t laugh when I say this, but chickens are not polite. They cluck, they peck at each other, and they push each other out of the way when dinner is served. They are especially hard to count in the evening when I lock them in the coop for the night. I entice them in by feeding them. Sundown also draws them in, but during the summer months, sundown comes long after I am ready to go inside and call it a night, so I have to resort to bribery. I always count those chickens before I close the door. Seventeen. Six yellow, six black, two red, one white, and one black with white speckles. Oh, that’s only sixteen. I always forget the broody one who never seems to leave the nesting box, even though there are never any eggs underneath her. I always check, and she always pecks me. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon yesterday, and I was multitasking by simultaneously hanging sheets out on the line and admiring my beautiful zucchini plants. Bees were buzzing in the hollyhocks and Barney the Chihuahua was on a long leash, sunning himself. The chickens were all over the place, either searching for worms and bugs in the sunshine or searching for worms and bugs in the shade. All was right with the world. All of a sudden, I heard an awful shriek. It sounded like a screaming chicken getting carried off by a wolf or an eagle…or something. I looked up to the sky first, but saw nothing. The chickens that were in the yard heard it also, and ran for cover. Barney’s ears perked up and he stood, looking south, toward the old pole barn. I needed to check out the source of the shriek, but am pretty squeamish and didn’t want to find a pile of bloody feathers, nor did I want to come upon a rabid wolf or coyote eating one of my beloved hens. Still, if I am to call myself a Farm Woman, I needed to check it out. Another shriek pierced the silence. Slowly, carefully, and filled with apprehension, I walked back toward the barn, clapping my hands and whistling. The whistle calls the hens, who think it is dinner time, and the clapping of hands is to scare away the wolves. I saw no pile of feathers and thankfully, no wolves. In fact, I saw nothing but a bunch of chickens cowering under the bushes. Right before sundown, I tossed out some feed and counted my chickens as they came in the door: Six yellow, six black, two red, one white, and one black with white speckles. Sixteen. As I expected, one was gone to chicken heaven. I was very sad until I started gathering the eggs, and realized that once again, I had forgotton to count the one who never leaves the nesting box. There she was, broody and glaring and beautiful. I reached under her for the egg that is never there, and this time, I was happy to get pecked. As for the awful shrieks coming from behind the pole barn? I don’t want to know, and I hope you don’t either.

The Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, is a phenomena that happens when the gasses of the sun meet the magnetic field of the earth, causing a beautiful display of dancing lights. A gassy collision is not really an apt discription of such ethereal magnificance, but it is the best that I could come up with, not being a scientist.   I have seen these magical lights when I was a child and my father, who WAS a scientist, dragged the whole family outside for the show in the middle of the night.  I wasn’t too receptive back then. I have seen some beautiful Aurora Borealis photographs,  but have wanted to view it in person for some time now and as an adult, when  I would be so much more appreciative of the sight. The reason why I haven’t is that it is usually best viewed in the middle of the night, and I am sound asleep and entirely too slothful to drag myself up and at ’em at  2 a.m. One evening last week was supposed to be prime northern lights viewing  time between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.  It was all over the news and social media. Even HE asked me if I was going to stay up for the show on a work night, and knowing that I usually fall asleep in front of the TV at nine, I asked him to wake me up. He didn’t, but I woke up at 3:30 a.m. all on my own which is an unfortunate side effect of the aging process.  It was past the prime viewing time, but it wouldn’t hurt to look out the window, so I did, with my faithful companion Barney the Chihuahua at my heels. I couldn’t get a good look through the trees, so Barney and I stepped out on the deck. I was hoping and praying that as we edged out of the Aurora Borealis prime time, that we weren’t edging into the nocturnal skunk prime time, so I moved cautiously, sniffing the air. Barney the Chihuahua did the same. Sure enough, I could see a slight glow above the trees to the north. Getting as excited as I could be for 3:30 in the morning, I grabbed my phone for some pictures and Barney and I jumped into the car and pulled out to the highway, heading north. We were the only souls on the road and thank goodness for that, as I was wearing my pajamas, which are actually an old pair of yoga pants and an oversized tee shirt, along with my comfy bedroom slippers. I only had to drive a half mile when I realized that the lovely glow in the sky was actually the parking lot lights of Cannibal Junction, which is a neighborhood restaurant and bar. Not too ethereal,  but the food is good. Unfortunately, they don’t serve an earlybird breakfast special, so I headed for home and a cup of strong black coffee. Too bad, but this aurora-chasing adventurer still has to work her day job.