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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. 

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For someone who couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license back in the good old days, you might find it strange that I don’t like to drive that much anymore. It could possibly be that I am no longer young and blonde and driving a classic 1967 Ford Mustang. Back then, it wasn’t a classic,  just an old used car that my folks picked up because it was in their price range and they needed a second car.  My drive to and from work isn’t too bad, if you don’t count the snow and ice in the winter and the dodging of deer, skunks, and porcupines in the summer. It is probably HIM.  Yes, I tend to blame him for a lot of things, but this time it really makes sense. He is an excellent driver and likes to drive, so over the 42 years I have known him, I haven’t driven all that much, at least when we are together. During longer trips, if he needs a break, I will take over, but it  will be guaranteed that night will fall, the rain will start, and the road signs will say “DETOUR! ROAD CONSTRUCTION NEXT 100 MILES.” If on the off-chance this doesn’t happen, HE, who is supposed to be resting, will stay awake and offer helpful suggestions as to my speed (too slow), temperature (too warm), and/or my choice of radio station (not enough classic oldies) while I’m driving.  We will soon be taking our RV on the road. I have no earthly idea how to maneuver something that big, but I am not against learning, as long as I find a wide country road without traffic and preferably without anybody else in the vehicle to offer constructive criticism.  But honestly, what’s the use? We will be travelling the highways and not the wide country roads during our journey. I love riding in it, but have no desire to drive it. If I ever had to, I probably could, but would probably take all the back roads, stopping at each and every small-town antique shop and diner along the way. Hey! That sounds like a great vacation! Does anybody want to take a road trip? I’ll drive!

My mother-in-law was a wise woman. Whenever my father-in-law would go away for a few days to go fishing, she would spring into action. Paint, wallpaper, furniture rearranging, and simple carpentry would be done and she would hire someone to take care of plumbing, electrical, or roofing problems. My father-in-law could never understand it. “Every time I’m gone,” he would say, “She does another project that I would have gotten to sooner or later!” Sooner or later, with later being the key word. Let’s just say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. HE is not quite as bad, but he is close. My own simple carpentry skills have improved over the years while waiting for the sooner or the later. I even have my own drill as well as a hammer and a set of screwdrivers. There are only a few little things to get done around here that are too big for me to handle, and really, I have waited only two years for one of them, so I don’t know why I am even complaining. It doesn’t happen all the time, either. For example, I asked him yesterday to help me get the table leg unstuck in the camper, and I was very specific. “Not right now, though, I am in the middle of doing a project on the table.” That project involved sticky picture hanging strips and many little pieces of paper. He started immediately, wiggling and banging on the table leg. “No, really, not right now,” I said as a gazillion tiny scraps of paper hit the floor. HE turned a deaf ear. Not intentionally, because I think he really is losing his hearing. Either that or he is the world’s greatest expert on tuning me out. I sighed and muttered to myself, which he either didn’t hear, chose to ignore, and/or tuned out. I gathered up my project and in a few short minutes, the table leg was fixed. That got me to thinking. After 40 years of marriage, maybe I have learned something new. Perhaps HE is like our four-year-old grandson. When I want a kiss (from the grandson, not the husband), I tell him that I don’t want any because kisses are icky and I am immediately showered with dozens of kisses. It works every time! Maybe next time I need a project done, I will ask him NOT to do it. Either it is going to work or it isn’t. Something else that I have learned in 40 years of marriage is that when it comes to husbands, one can always expect the unexpected.

I love the woodland creatures around here. Really, I do. I love it that the big doe who frequents our back acreage brought two little spotted fawns to show us, but at a safe distance. I love hearing about bear sightings, even though I breathe a sigh of relief that we haven’t sighted one in our own yard. I love the birds that wake me up each morning at five and the hummingbirds that come to the feeders many times each day. The ants that found their way into the laundry room? Not so much. I’ve been reading up on natural ways to get rid of them, as HIS method of  spray, stomp, and kill is only mildly successful. Did you know that spraying a mixture of peppermint essential oil, water, and vodka is supposed to deter ants? I didn’t either, but I happen to have all the ingedients on hand and might give it a whirl. Lately,  I have developed an intense dislike for a squirrel. Not all squirrels, mind you, but a single little persistant red squirrel who manages to climb up the metal shephard’s hooks which hold our two hummingbird feeders. When we are not looking, he manages to suck them dry. When we are looking, no shouting or pounding on the window deters the bold little cuss.  If they are empty, he chews off the feeder ports trying to get more. I searched the internet to find the answer. We have never had this problem before in all these years with any of his squirrel relatives. Many suggestions called for petrolium jelly smeared on the pole. Although I know there must be an ancient jar around here somewhere, I coudn’t find it, so I tried smearing it with coconut oil stirred together with a whole bunch of cayenne pepper. Five minutes later, he was sitting outside the window licking the stuff off his paws. Ten minutes later, he was up the pole again. I waited until my own hands stopped stinging before I cut  a slit into a plastic lid and slid it on to the pole. The plastic lid lasted less than a day. I don’t know if it was the squirrel or the wind, but I gave up after finding it on the ground again and again. Next, I found a jar of menthol chest rub and rubbed it up and down the poles. That seemed to work, as I had no squirrel, but no hummingbirds, either. After two days, HE informed me that my little friend was back. The latest deterrent is HIS idea, which is a plastic cup that he threaded the pole through. So far, so good. I am not convinced that this will work for long, either. I have to confess that when I drove home last night I saw a roadkill red squirrel near the driveway and I actually laughed out loud, only to find my squirrel waiting under the feeders for a refill.  We have a live trap, but just setting it out in the yard could catch any number of creatures, including skunks. My next option will be to try the peppermint/vodka ant spray and just squirt him when he gets anywhere near the feeder.  I am tempted to just forget the peppermint oil, throw in the towel, and use the vodka to mix myself a drink.  If you happen to be driving through rural northern Minnesota and see a Farm Woman sitting on her front porch with a liquor bottle at her feet and a shotgun at her shoulder aimed toward the hummingbird feeder, it just might be me. Don’t honk and wave, because at this point, I am getting a little squirrelly myself. 

It was Camp Grandma this weekend, and Grandma needs a nap. Four-year-olds are easier to babysit than three-year-olds, I must admit. They like ice cream and reading books  and watching cartoons.  Although they are capable of reasonable thinking, it is sometimes futile to try to reason with them.  That isn’t what made me tired, though. It wasn’t the dozens of books we read,  (actually, it was the same five books we read over and over and over again), or the hours of pretending and role playing. I am tired due to lack of sleep. I stayed at my daughter’s house rather than mine so the dogs could be taken care of as well.   Plain and simply said, four-year-olds hog the bed. Max wanted to sleep with me, and I agreed, since of course, we grandmas agree to almost anything. It was fun to read stories and watch Tom and Jerry cartoons, which haven’t changed since I was a kid more than 50 years ago. As he slept, my favorite four-year-old kept scooting over in his sleep  until I had about four inches to spare before falling out. I got up and scooted him back, praying that he wouldn’t awaken. Two hours later, and two hours after that, it was the same thing. The next night, I was smarter, or so I thought. I started wayyyy over on his side of the bed. I read him five books. (Yes, the same five that I now know by heart.) His eyes got heavier and heavier.  So did mine, as a matter of fact. If you remember from reading a couple of previous stories, there is always a little drama when I stay at my daughter’s house. Once, the lights in the basement kept going off and on, seemingly at random. That mystery was solved. Another time, we had the  biggest storm of the summer, with the electric going off for hours, and we told stories in the dark. When Max was sound asleep, and I not far behind him, we were joined in the bed by a large yellow lab. Both dogs have comfortable padded beds on the floor, and I’m sure this was not allowed, but it can be as futile reasoning with a yellow lab as it is reasoning with a four year old boy.  Thankfully, it was just one of the labs and not both.  I shooed him off a couple of times, but finally gave up due to my lack of sleep from the night before. I was awakened again, this time by the sound and light of the TV from the living room and from being cold. Freezing cold, in fact. In typical Minnesota summer style, the tempereatures were hovering around 50 degrees during the night, and not too much higher than that in the day. I was thankful that Camp Grandma was inside and not outside in a tent.  Both Max and the dog had stolen the covers, scooted over, and left me again with about four frigid inches to spare. Certain that I had turned the TV off before we went to bed, I got up to investigate. I was not in the least bit afraid, as the dogs hadn’t uttered a peep, but it was rather strange anyway. I quickly figured out that the remote, which has so many buttons that an old grandma can barely figure it out,  was layed on in just the right spot by the other lab, who must have assumed that since there was no room in the bed, the couch would be the next best option. Tonight, when I get to our quiet little home, I  will turn on my electric mattress pad and have room to spare in the queen-sized bed. I am pretty certain, though, that even though it will be warmer, it will be a lot more lonely without Tom and Jerry, a large yellow lab, and my favorite four-year-old saying, “Read it again, Grandma, read it again!” 

“Let the music be your master” ~Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant)

 When my daughter was a teenager in the 90’s, she and her friends would take the portable CD player outside and listen to Britney Spears or ‘N Sync loudly while they soaked up the summer sun by the pool. I often asked them to turn it down so the neighbors wouldn’t be disturbed. At the time, I never confessed that when I was growing up in the 70’s, I would put the stereo speakers in the open window of my bedroom, stack a few vinyl LP’s on the record player and play Led Zeppelin quite loudly out the window while my friends and I sat outside in the summer sun. I’m sure the whole neighborhood loved it, or maybe not, because my mother would often ask me to turn the volume down…way down. Led Zeppelin just doesn’t sound quite the same when played softly. My mom enjoyed her own music as a teenager,  but the way it was delivered was different. Of course, the family had a radio, which my grandmother listened to while she ironed clothes for those who had enough money to pay someone to do their ironing. Small transistor radios hadn’t been invented yet, so portable music was only a dream. My grandmother was widowed, it was the Great Depression,  and there wasn’t much money for frivolous things like a Victrola to play the latest hits of 1939. My mother turned 14 that summer.  The family did own an Amberola, which was a record player invented by Thomas Edison that played cylinder type records made of wax or celluloid and plaster of Paris. The records would play only if someone cranked up the Amberola using the arm,  which was located at the side of the player. No plug or batteries were needed, which was a good thing, since many homes had not yet been wired for electricity. Mr. Edison helped out with that, also, by perfecting the incandescent light bulb.  When Mom was a teen, she and her friends lugged the Amberola to the lake and put it in the boat along with a picnic lunch, where they cranked it up and enjoyed (kind of) loud music while they sat in the summer sun. I have no idea if Glenn Miller or Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra had music available on Amberola cylinders or not. I do know that there would have been no money to buy them if they did,  so Mom and her depression-era friends made do, just as they always did, and listened to the old music of her parents’ era. Since I have both the player and the cylinders, I know that the collection contains lively tunes sung in Swedish, hymns, and Sousa marches. All of them sound tinny and scratchy to my ears, but the thought of somebody figuring out how to get music to play from a wax cylinder is pure genius. I am privilaged to be the keeper of this family heirloom, which still works despite three generations of young hands that have cranked it up and laughed hysterically at the scratchy Swedish songs. I kept the Led Zeppelin album, too. I wonder if someday, my own grandchildren will laugh at the scratchy sound of the music. 

Even though I have downsized the garden, I managed to squeeze in spots here and there for four zucchini plants. If two of them manage to live through the scratching chickens around here, it will be fine. If no zucchini plants survive, it will still be fine, because as you know, by the end of summer folks will be begging you to take it off their hands. HE won’t touch the stuff. Never has and never will. I shouldn’t even mention the time I made several loaves of cinnamon zucchini bread for the freezer, which he polished off without ever knowing the ingredients. If you don’t say anything, I won’t.  Not including HIM, this recipe is a family favorite passed on by my mother. As with everything,  I have tweaked it a little to make it my own, which is probably exactly what my daughter will do when she makes it. Our mothers taught us well.  This healthy soup manages to taste creamy without the addition of cream, doubles easily, and freezes well. You can make it with those bags of zucchini cluttering up your freezer that you have no idea what to do with. It also is a way to use up those submarine-sized squash that seem to show up in your garden overnight. In a good gardening year, I am so tired of zucchini that I toss those to the chickens. 

Here is the recipe, which serves four:

2 pounds (about 4 medium) zucchini, scrubbed and sliced     1 medium onion, diced    4 Tbs. butter or olive oil

2 cloves chopped garlic     2 tsp. curry powder    1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes      2 cups  chicken (or vegetable) stock     1/2 cup water

salt and black pepper to taste     grated parmesan or romano cheese as a topping, if desired

Heat butter or olive oil in a saucepan, add onions and zucchini and cook until onions are carmelized. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the zucchini is soft, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly and blend with an immersion blender (Has anybody seen mine? I can’t find it ever since I reorganized the kitchen!)  or place in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Bring back to a simmer before serving.