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I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that it has been a long time since I sat down and read a book from cover to cover. I used to be an avid reader, finishing at least two or three books a week. Nothing too intellectual for me, though. Notice that I didn’t say that nothing IS too intellectual for me. There is a big difference between the two. I prefer light mystery and humor, with an occasional bit of gardening or chicken rearing thrown in, and hopefully the latter has a bit of mystery and humor thrown in, too. Somehow, I’ve been bamboozled into the dark abyss of a device called a smart phone which makes me anything BUT smart, along with leading me into the temptation of social media. That, my friends, is a time-sucking brain-numbing thing which has no use except to put you in touch with long lost lost shirt-tail relatives and old acquaintenences, many of whom: A) Think that everyone wants to know their darkest thoughts about politics and those who don’t agree with their particular politics. B) Share recipes by the dozens for things they have never even attempted to make because how could they, when they spend so much time on social media? (Was that a statement or a question? Please see above about not being too intellectual.) C) Share WAY to much information, some of which only their priest should hear after being prefaced with the words “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Yes, I was reeled in….hook, line, and misspelled drama. Until my electricity got knocked out by an early morning storm, that is. No power means no lights, no TV, no WiFi, and even worse, NO COFFEE. Thanking my lucky stars for a motorhome with a generator, the coffee got made and I went back to the house, cup in one hand and phone in the other, until common sense settled in. Actually, it was Barney the Chihuahua who settled in, putting himself between me and the phone. He doesn’t like it much. Besides, I didn’t want to drain the battery and have to trek out to the camper to fire up the generator to charge it up again. That wouldn’t be very intellectual, either. With nothing else to do, I picked up a book and started on page one. It was one of those grab-you-from-the-start-laugh-out-loud novels, a gift from my daughter who knows I love this particular author. Strangely enough, it was just like meeting up with an old friend. No power also means peace and quiet in the house. There were no sounds from the TV, no hum of the refrigerator, and only the peaceful snore of an old dog in my lap which was more comforting than disturbing. In fact, when the power returned three hours later, I was so engrossed in the book that it didn’t really matter. I got nothing else done that day, until after I turned the last page. Some of you might say I just substituted one time-sucking brain-numbing thing for another, but I actually felt refreshed and energized, and even managed to make dinner and tackle a few weeds in the garden that evening. I think I need to be powerless a little more often.

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Many years ago, HE took a travelling job with Florida East Coast Railway. We talked about it, and although it wouldn’t be a piece of cake with our husband and father gone through the week and home only on the weekends, the job was a good one, so we would muddle through. I muddled through half of the first day, until I discovered that while I was at work, our dog killed two rats in the back yard and rolled in the remains of her conquests. Let’s just agree that 90 degree Florida heat and the entrails of dead rats do not make a pleasant combination. I buried the victims, scrubbed the dog, scrubbed myself, and felt a bit of pride that I was able to handle the type of crisis that I usually would call HIM to do. I had this. Yes, day two was going fine and dandy until I got home from work and discovered that the dog had dug up the corpses and rolled in the mess again. Let’s just agree once more, without all the gory details, that rat guts on the second day in 90 degree heat smell neither fine nor dandy. HE no longer works out of town, but we do occasionally take separate vacations. HE has a bucket list which includes watching a baseball game in every stadium in the good old USA. Although I like baseball, I don’t like it THAT much, so I am staying home with Barney the Chihuahua and 16 elderly laying hens. (Don’t tell HIM, but it is really a vacation for me, too.) I wasn’t worried. There are no rats around here, the mice don’t usually move in until fall, and my only job besides my regular job is to drive to our cabin and turn on the bilge pump in the boat in case it rains. The road to get there is one of those “minimum maintenance” Forestry roads, which really means NO maintenance, but I can make it with my all wheel drive unless it is really wet. Waving goodbye the morning he left, I headed for the necessary room and back to my bed. Except…the toilet broke. Not the first day or even the first hour, but the first minute he was gone. Just my luck. Thankfully, I know how to turn off the water and we have a second bathroom. Heck, we even have an outhouse in the back yard, and they don’t break…do they? No worries here. No worries except that ever since HE left, the heavens have opened up every day and we have had torrential rains. The lightening and thunder each night makes Barney bark, and I have had little sleep. The bilge pump has been run and will need to be run again soon. The road to the cabin is a sea of slippery muck and deep potholes, and I’m afraid to look in the basement because I know it will be wet, which will involve more work. I hope HIS vacation is going well. Mine? Not so great, but thanks for asking. Don’t worry though, I’m muddling through.

TV

Admittedly, we watch a lot of television. We have four TVs in our house. Yes, four. Don’t judge. Three are of the flat screen variety, and one old dinosaur in the guest bedroom is fat instead of flat and has both a VCR and DVD player in his belly. When we purchased it, it was top of the line. It is now pretty close to the bottom and will soon be replaced by something called a Smart TV. Apparently, a Smart TV is a hybrid TV that is a cross between a TV and a computer. It allows you to use apps and stream movies, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it baked and spit out a pizza on movie night. I am of that certain age who remembers the TV repairman coming to our house, or at least, carrying the “guts” of the black and white console TV in to the repair shop. Some families even had a huge console in their living room that had a TV, HiFi record player, and even a bar inside! Talk about kitschy. Televisions today are more or less disposable, and really, not that expensive. Our camper, which is kind of kitschy itself since it practically screams the style and colors of the 1990’s, came with two TVs. Both are small, boxy, and practically useless, since neither is digital and each would require a converter box to even get regular channels, which here in the north woods would number about two. A friend gave us a smaller used flat screen television to replace them, but no matter how I tried, the screen stayed locked on channel two. Are you counting? We are now up to SEVEN TVs, and you can add one more, as I just bought number eight yesterday. Number eight will replace numbers five, six, and seven in the camper. It is not a Smart TV, but by adding a little module attached to the plug in the back, it miraculously becomes one. I know this, not because I’m smart, but because I asked for directions. Sadly, gone are the days when you can plug it in, attach a cable or antenna wire, and turn it on. I now had to add a Smart Antenna that sticks on the window as well as the little miracle module, figure out how everything worked, and program in all my passwords for everything as well as scan for local channels. (Zero, since I am parked in the trees.) After blood, sweat, and a few naughty words, I was done, and it only took one weekend afternoon and half of another! I was tempted to stay in the camper and watch a little TV, but the sun was shining, and only a crazy woman would spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon sitting in a camper in her driveway watching TV, right? OK, I stayed for just one program, and frankly, was kind of waiting for it to mix me a cocktail . After all that, I deserved it.

I was going to write this column yesterday, but was just too feckless. The cold and rainy weather following last week’s hot and humid days only proved that Mother Nature is a fickle female. The damp chill made me want to curl up in bed with the heated mattress pad at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, kind of like those frigid, freezing winter days of not so long ago. Instead, I made a fantastic and flavorful pot of soup, and as I chopped vegetables, fantasized about life in general. Well, that and watched reruns of Judge Judy. We are, for the most part, living the dream, and are very fortunate, but to be fair, a little more money and a little less work would be fantastic. Fairly recently, I turned sixty years old, with the years between my forties and fifties seeming to flash by in an instant. Sixty. How the heck did that happen? What words starting with F can describe sixty? Formidable? Frolicsome? Foxy? I doubt it. Sixty is too old to be fetching and too young to be flamboyant or flashy. I’ll save that for my 90’s. In my sixties, I would like to be fair, friendly, flexible, and forgiving. All of that while flourishing as a famous author who writes fascinating stories about an old Farm Woman who solves mysteries while raising chickens and making fabulous soups. Not out of her chickens, of course. How’s that for a funny flight of imagination? I should make soup more often.

Cabins are a lot of fun, but a lot of work. Luckily, we can usually manage to do both. Our family has owned the lake property since the late 1950’s, so my sister and I were the first generation of kids to swim and play on the beach with a bucket and a shovel, tadpoles and fishing poles. Over the years, the sand turned to wild strawberry plants, then weeds. Dad would cut it with a scythe, but in the later years since the next generation took over, a lawn mower is used, although the old scythe is probably around there somewhere. Keeping the weeds down helps decrease the bug population, but you wouldn’t know it by the mosquitoes we slapped and flies we waved away, even though we doused ourselves with repellent. Some things never change. HE surprised our grandson with a big pile of sand up on the lawn, and as everyone began to rake it to make a beach of sorts, Max became the king of the hill. Seeing all that sand reminded me of my own childhood summers there, and I longed to slide down that pile myself, barefoot and without a care in the world except for a few itchy mosquito bites. Having sand in one’s britches is more bothersome for an old grandmother than a young boy however, and besides, there were dishes to wash the old-fashioned way. That means hauling water from the pump and boiling it on the stove before pouring it into a dish pan and scalding your hands. Some of you would probably rather have sand in your britches, but believe me, there is a nice view of the woods from the kitchen, the birds were singing, and the work went by quickly. As the king reluctantly left the hill, covered in sand from the top of his head to the tips of his toes and carrying a toy shovel, he looked back and said, “Keep it just like this forever!” Oh, my heart! Even with mosquitoes and flies and sand in my britches, I would if I only could.

“You might be a redneck if…Your only condiment on the kitchen table is the economy size bottle of ketchup.” ~Jeff Foxworthy

Mother’s Day, 2018. You would think I would have better things to do than visit the local big-box store. Unfortunately, I mixed up the time on my Mother’s Day lunch and had more than an hour to kill. For some reason, every person in town along with many whining and/or hyperactive children also thought that Mother’s Day afternoon would be a good time to shop. Today, I killed time by searching for specific things: A new band for the fitness tracker that I wear on my wrist. (Nowhere to be found, nor was anybody at the counter.) A bag of crackers made with 100% cheese and nothing else. (No longer in the deli section and definitely not in the cracker section.) Last but not least, small bottles of a certain brand name ketchup. We are a family of three, if you count our small Chihuahua as one, and he doesn’t even like ketchup. Every summer, I have to buy one bottle for our cabin, one for the motorhome, and of course, an extra one for the pantry. I don’t want to have to find room in small coolers or refrigerators for giant 32 or 64 oz. bottles of ketchup that require two hands to pick up and squirt. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer small glass bottles which must have the sweet spot smacked in order for the ketchup to come out while you wait patiently with anticipation. Apparently, they are as out of fashion as I am, at least in big box stores, where almost everything is super-sized. Finally, I spied some smaller bottles on the bottom shelf. Not only were they on the bottom shelf, but they were slid way to the back and located behind a large iron support column, almost out of eyesight. Here’s the problem: My own rather large er… “support column” could not squeeze between that and the bottom shelf. I could get down on my hands and knees, but would risk being run down by the many shoppers who were texting while driving shopping carts. Worse, there was an even higher risk that once down, I wouldn’t make it back up. Using my newly-practiced yoga moves and holding precariously to the side of the cart, I leaned waaayy over to one side and snatched up a bottle, then one more. Whew! Finally. Then I saw the label: NO SALT ADDED. No wonder they were hidden away in the dark recesses of the big box kingdom! I gave up and headed for the checkout lanes, the shortest being behind a lady purchasing 15 gallons of milk. Thankful that I didn’t have to lug 15 gallons of milk out to the car and into a refrigerator that is surely going to be too small, I paid for my purchases and headed out the door. I may not have found a fitness band, cheese crackers, or ketchup, but I managed to find an economy-sized package of dinner napkins that should last us well into next year.

Viili

My mother was 100% Swedish, and very proud of her heritage. Her ancestors came from Finland and were known as Swede-Finns, and since she was from immigrant parents and only the first generation born here, we ate a lot of traditional foods of both Sweden and Finland. It didn’t matter to me, as Dad was 50% Finn with the rest of his genetic make-up being Norwegian and Danish. Yes, that meant lutefisk for Christmas Eve dinner, not that I ate any. One of my favorite heritage foods has always been Viili, aka Viilia (pronounced feelia), aka filibunke, a mesophilic Finnish yogurt, which means that it needs no heat to culture. In other words, you just add a spoonful of it to a bowl, stir in milk, leave it at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, and voilĂ ! Yogurt! Yes, I know that voilĂ  is French but unfortunately, my Finnish language skills are limited to a somewhat skewed version of “holy cow” and words not appropriate to a family-friendly publication. After years of searching for a Viili starter, I was finally gifted one by friends and fellow Finns, the Salmelas, and have been in heaven ever since. I gave my sister a starter, but she prefers her homemade Greek yogurt, which is admittedly, pretty awesome. I tried to share the starter with other Finnish friends, most of whom remembered their mothers or grandmothers serving it, who turned me down flat. The flavor of Viili is mild and not at all sour, and although very smooth, the texture has been described more than once as kind of like mucous. I like it plain, while others eat it with fruit and sweetened with honey or maple syrup. Although I can’t find raw milk to make it exactly as my mother did, it is still good when made with organic whole milk. Funny thing about heritage, though. I recently got my DNA results back, and surprisingly, this blue-eyed former blonde Scandinavian Viili slurper is 1% African and 48% Finn. If you do the math, and my father is 50%, with the rest of my genetics matching his as expected, that must mean that my proud flag-carrying 100% Swedish mother, whose parents and grandparents lived in Finland, must have been part Finn. Being the storyteller that I am, I think that perhaps a young Swedish beauty went to the neighboring farm to borrow a cup of Viili, and the rest is history. My history, to be exact. Holy cow.