Planning a Hike

I have been planning a 3-week hike for myself in May.  That’s been keeping me somewhat busy and away from writing.  I say “somewhat” because the planning is only monopolizing half of my time.  The other half is devoted to daydreaming about it and/or having nightmares about what might go wrong.

Superior Hiking Trail

photo credit Superior Hiking Trail Association

I am planning to thru hike the Superior Hiking Trail.  While the trail extends 350 miles, only about 300 of it is considered part of a “thru hike”.  The last 50 are in the city of Duluth and then further south in a state park where there is no overnight camping.

I would ideally like to start at the north terminus (near the Canadian Border) and hike south.  That way if I have time, it would be easy to add as many southern miles as possible before my return date.

But May* is not the ideal to hike in northern Minnesota.  There could still be snow up north.  In a different year, there definitely could be.  Thanks to El Nino, this winter has been mild and I am not delusional for thinking the snow will be gone.  It is the mud and the rivers and creeks gorged with spring melt that I have to be concerned about.

So I will start at Martin Rd in Duluth and hike north.  That gives the north end a few more days to dry out as I hike towards it.  If I have time (and energy) in the end, I may stop in Duluth and hike a bit more south before going home.

I will blog this hike, although I’m still not sure of the format or how frequently I’ll post.  Probably more frequently than I did in March!  April TBD.

*Why am I hiking in May?  Because Memorial Day is the start of our busy season.  There will be a lull in late October/early November before the holiday shopping.  Last year Tom and I managed to close the shop and get away for few days then.  Maybe we will do so again this year.  But I am concerned that I will be too exhausted from our season and/or something else will come up that will keep me from hiking.  So I am sacrificing the “perfect” hike, for a hike.  Which is perfect to me.

How I survived my CSA

For those that don’t know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

Yeah, I know. Even spelled out, it is descriptive but not…explanative? Which is evidently not a word and why you’re expecting clear language on this blog after 13 years is beyond me.

A CSA is usually a local farm (or collection of growers) that distribute “shares” for their “agriculture” to the “community” which “supports” them.

You know those monthly subscription-based services like wine of the month club? It’s like that. But usually weekly. And with more cilantro. (DAMN YOU CILANTRO.)

We have a nearby organic farm, EverGood farm, who does both 1/2 and fall shares for 8-16 weeks during the growing season. Every week we stopped at one of the farmer’s market they attend and picked up our box of goodies.

I love that we have a CSA available to us even though we’ve moved hours away from civilization. And that we have a farmer’s market just minutes from the shop.

But.

(Of course there’s a but. Did you read the title?)

1) The CSA is available during the time of the year when we are our busiest.
2) The farmer’s market just minutes from our shop happens on a Wednesday. This has meant lots of produce sitting around until Saturday or Sunday when I may have time to cook and prep.
3) Even with two very adventurous palates and willingness to try new things, there have been some items we just don’t use (I’m looking at you, CILANTRO). Although the cost is small considering the amount of produce we receive, it is a waste to receive items we truly can’t or won’t eat.

(Cilantro tastes like soap to me. It’s genetic. I’ve tried using it in varying quantities in different recipes. And every time I think, “This is an awesome dish except for the soap.”)

The first year we struggled with some of the above issues but decided it was worth it to continue. Last year I was much more prepared and didn’t waste as much but at the cost of my free time and sanity.

So looking forward to year three, we’ve decided instead of participating in the CSA, we will pre-purchase credits to use at the market. This gives us flexibility in both the amount of produce (in case it’s a particularly busy week) and the actual product itself (we, uh, won’t be purchasing any cilantro). At the same time by purchasing credits in advance we are committing ourselves to eating local, organic produce and helping EverGood with a small economic boost in their non-growing season.

All that said, if you happen to not work 14 hours a day during the time CSA shares are distributed I think they are wonderful. Some of the positives (besides supporting local farming):

1) Usually fresher produce than you would find in a store.

2) Variety of produce including items you may not pick out on your own.

3) One-stop shopping for most of your vegetable needs for the week.

If you find the idea interesting, but are similarly concerned about being overwhelmed, here are the ways I made participating in a CSA easy:

1) Keep it Simple – Think Salads, Soups, and Smoothies

Sometimes confronted with a new or special food, I feel I must do something new or special with it. And if you have the time and energy, go for it! Let your CSA share be the canvas on which you paint a beautiful and tasty gourmet meal.

But if you don’t have the time and energy? Remind yourself the point is to eat a variety of local, hopefully organic, produce. Any format you choose to get it in your belly is an acceptable way to accomplish that. The Three Ssss’s are my favorite.

Salads. Just about any vegetable and many fruits can be chopped up and thrown in there. Keep your favorite “salad extras” (think canned beans, crumbled cheeses, sunflower seeds) on hand with two or three favorite dressings to rotate. This is an extra bonus if you have a heat-wave in the middle of CSA season. Great, easy dinner without turning on the stove!

Technically A Stew, But You get the Idea

Technically A Stew, But You get the Idea

Soups. I once was at a loss with a particularly large CSA share that included leeks, eggplant, fennel, zucchini, and potatoes. One long ass google search later, Soup! Yes, I needed several other vegetables to complete the recipe. But eating vegetables was the whole point, yes? A lot of vegetable-based soups will be very forgiving with omitting or adding ingredients; just start with good quality bases and use your favorite herbs. You can also translate many soup recipes to the crock pot which helps with time constraints.

Smoothies. When in doubt, throw that ish in a blender, add some frozen berries, and suck down those nutrients! Almost any greens are blender-worthy, as well as any fruits, cucumbers, celery, and even some herbs if you’re feeling spicy and adventurous. I have a green smoothie daily, that usually incorporates 1-2 servings of vegetables at 1-3 servings of fruit. (If you are not used to green smoothies, I would suggest starting with your favorite fruit smoothie with 1-2 cups of spinach added. Spinach is by far the easiest vegetable to incorporate without noticing a different taste or texture.)

Not quite "green"...blueberries will do that

Not quite “green”…blueberries will do that

2) The freezer is your friend

At some point, you will be faced with an item you can’t for love or money work into a recipe in a timely fashion. I had a head of cabbage stare at me for a week and a half for this exact reason. My husband had obliged me with two heads of cabbage earlier in the season by frying up cabbage and bacon. But I don’t like cabbage and bacon and I was sick of him solely reaping the cabbage benefit.

I had just the week before made baked egg rolls for the first time, using up some Napa cabbage. I definitely wanted to make them again, but not so soon. Again, google to the rescue with directions on how to prepare cabbage for freezing.

You can freeze cabbage? Who knew? But CSA desperation calls for pulling out all the stops. Now that cabbage has been quartered and blanched and is sitting right next to the leftover egg roll wrappers.

Every once and while I am also smart enough to freeze something ASAP. I grate carrot and extra zucchini then freeze for all sorts of sweet and savory treats later. I immediately freeze my rhubarb because I’ll want to make jam later.

Some items can be frozen raw with no (berries) or little (grated vegetables) preparation. Some items need a bit of coaxing (herbs made into a “pesto-starter”, chopped fine with olive oil) and some need actual heat before they cool off (blanching cabbage). But I promise you the small amount of work put into packing away frozen goodies is worth it.

3) If not the cold shoulder (freezer), how about some hot air?

I’m talking dehydrating, y’all. And it’s awesome. I immediately put herbs in the “dehydrate” pile. I just can’t use up the amount we receive fresh before they start to rot. I’ve also found that dehydrated scallions will plump back up for most recipes just fine.

Another thing I dehydrate a lot is tomatoes. Tomatoes are the sort of produce I received in small enough amounts in my CSA that unless I put them in salads, I rarely feel I have enough to “do” anything with while they are fresh. I dehydrate them and then use them in place of sun-dried tomatoes in recipes for months.

I store my dehydrated items in clean plastic containers with good lids in a pantry spot that won’t get a lot of light.

Those are my tips on getting the most out of a CSA and trying to not get overwhelmed.  I do recommend trying a CSA if you have one available in your area.  It is an easy way to get tons of fresh produce.  Most CSAs will give you a heads up as to what is planned to be in a share so you can be prepared with recipes and menus for the week ahead.

I am really looking forward to this next season with Ever Good farms. I am a little concerned we will get so busy that we won’t use all of our credit, but that is why I purchased it now – to force us to shop where we really want to.

Punching People In The Throat Is My New Spirit Animal

I never think I hate February. But then somehow for the shortest month of the year it definitely drags for me. And this year I had to endure a whole nother day of it! There were all those “what are you achieving in your bonus day” memes and inspiring Facebook posts and what I really wanted to achieve was to punch all those creators in the throat and then take a nap.

I’ve decided I am taking a trip next February. Somewhere.  Anywhere.  Anything to break of the monotony of “Forever Winter Wisconsin”.

When I lived in Florida, I found November and December to be a little depressing. I struggled with the time change (here I do as well, but I’m more stoic and prepared) but mostly I think I hated that the climate did not match my expectations seasonally. I always had a hard time getting excited for the holidays, which made me try harder since Christmas is my favorite holiday, which made me even more depressed when I felt let down December 25th.

Here I LOVE November and December. I could become one of those people who says, “Well, there really are only X shopping days left…” when someone complains for Christmas decor in the retails stores on September 15th. Feel free to come punch me in the throat. I’m aware it’s annoying. But I’m so happy about it that I can’t stop.

In Florida, I LOVED January and February. New year! Clean slate! And it was warm/light enough to get out and accomplish stuff! Also, when I was single, I always, always found a guy in February or early March. Always. And perhaps I should have focused on what was it about me that meant every February or early March I was single and in search of new guy but whatever. I found Tom and he doesn’t believe in divorce so I can pretty much ignore all my commitment/relationship issues until death parts us. Whee! Man, that right there was enough reason to get married again.

Point is, I had lots of good and evidently sexy energy around me during the start of the year in Florida. Now here in Wisconsin I just have a lot of whining and darkness. And possibly leftover cheese. Because inevitably I also start off November and December determined to stay on track nutritionally for the winter and sometime after December 28th that turns into, “try not to eat all the cookies in one sitting. Pace yourself.”

But now it is March! Perhaps last year I didn’t have this hopeful surge but last year the weather report for the second week in March didn’t include average highs in the 40s. It has been warm and sunny, or warm and rainy (today). Either way means the snow is rapidly melting. And until the spring forward time change, it is light enough, early enough, I can walk in the mornings. (I still have to wear ice traction but it is a small price to pay for going outside without snow boots and a puff jacket.)

New Corporate Policy

Tom:  Damn!  I left your bra at work.

Me:  I shouldn’t have had any bras in the laundry!

Tom:  But you did.  A sports bra.  Don’t worry, it didn’t go in the dryer.  That’s why I forgot it.  It’s hanging off the door to the breaker panel.

Me:  What?!  What are you going to do when we have actual employees??!

Tom:…Tell them to hang their bras elsewhere?  That door is for YOUR bras.

I just might make it

February has been tough, yo.

In part because I realize I am too old to end a sentence with “,yo”.  Yet I feel without it the sentence, “February has been tough,” exudes a stoic adult-ness I do not feel about the situation.

But today I managed to buy prescription cat food online (Spike is a delicate flower, requiring not one, but TWO special diets mixed together to assure all of his output actually does, indeed, output) with just emailing pdfs and jpegs and not requiring me to speak to an actual person in person.

There’s hope, is what I am saying.  Or perhaps, I am saying,

There is hope.

Because I’m an adult.

Ugh and GoDaddy and Other Words Strung Together

I wrote this last Monday and didn’t publish for some reason.  Probably because I was so tired.  Oh wait.  I remember…it took me over 45 minutes to get the fire to the point it did not need babying that night.  I almost cried I was so frustrated.  I am certainly not the best at starting fires, but I do know the basics.  I usually get home first so I have lots of practice starting fires in our wood stove.  But that night the wood was damp and I could not stack the wood so it would sit right on the coals and it was just awful.

Things are better now.  For one, Tom is back.  For another, the temperatures rose to the point a fire is a luxury not a necessity.  I still hate Josh though.

****

I am tired and have a headache and am easily distracted. It makes for an annoying work day where I make an assumption about a piece of paperwork, email someone about it, then realize I have access to additional paperwork that can a) answer my questions or b) completely prove my assumption is incorrect.

And even after doing this twice, I will do it again. I will feel bad and give myself a stern talking to that I am better than this. I will pick up another piece of paperwork, read the first two lines, and say, “This is for X because it was X in the title! I will proceed as if it is for X without reading further!”

I’m not sure if it’s the tired or the distracted that is causing this but I am at the point in the day where I have given up self-correcting. I am just trying to do the bare minimum of work to make it until bedtime. It will save me and my co-workers much time in the long run.

****

I had a very unpleasant experience with GoDaddy first thing this morning, where I was trying to ask about getting a domain name registry wrapped into my hosting service to save a little money.

And the person (Josh) I spoke to has obviously heard this request before and had his answer down pat (that can only be done with a new service, not renewals) but he was so condescending and rude about it. He would not let me finish my very first sentence. He also said, “Well, the domain name is ONLY fifteen dollars” in a way I am very sure he would not appreciate if I clonked him over the head and then took only fifteen dollars out of his wallet.

I would really like to contact GoDaddy and let them know Josh was a dick. It was not the worst experience I’ve had in customer service, but it is the worst I’ve had with GoDaddy.

Except, evidently, you cannot email GoDaddy. You have to call GoDaddy. That great customer service they pride themselves on must be conducted over the phone so they can address your concern as quickly as possible.

I do not want to call them because I do not want GoDaddy to do anything. Maybe fire Josh immediately and send him on the walk of shame with his headset dangling? But I do not want GoDaddy to do anything FOR me. And I feel if I call to complain, it will be implied that I am looking for action by, for example, giving me the fifteen dollar credit I originally called about. And Josh was an asshole, but I understand from subsequent reading, he was a correct asshole. I do not want GoDaddy to bend the rules or give me a special Josh-was-an-asshole discount. I just want GoDaddy to know about Josh because I want to get good customer service from them in the future and letting them think Josh is good at customer service will not facilitate that happening. Maybe they are making the Josh-From-Billing Customer Service Excellence Award right now as I type! Pretty soon it will be 24 hours of reaching Josh and I will have to decide to switch hosting services and I don’t want to do that.

****

I like how I complained that I am jumping to wrong conclusions and rushing forward on assumptions in my own work and then also complained about someone not letting me finish a sentence he was so sure of my question and rushed to answer it.

In other news, it has become officially cold (-30 windchill, HIGH of -3) so we have to have a fire going in the wood stove all the time. My skin is itchy and my hair crackles when I put on a shirt. My toes are pretty much never warm unless I am currently in the shower. I am beginning to understand that I can want to move somewhere there are seasons and still not love 100% every aspect of every season. Tom will be gone for two days (trade show) and something I have already learned from his Christmas trip is that this life we chose is definitely not for the soloist. Maybe with a different house, or different cats, a different commute…but as it sits now, we are both required participants in the daily maintenance of this life. And that goes doubly for when the weather necessitates the wood stove. I am all about equality and toting in wood myself, lighting fires, maintaining fires…but it means while I’m doing that he is making dinner or giving a cat medicine or washing dishes.  When it’s just one of us here, something definitely falls to the wayside.  Usually sanity.

I Feel Like There is a “Nacho” Joke In Here Somewhere. Please Find It.

Somewhere around today probably marks the one-month anniversary for me becoming a vegetarian (again).

It was a bit of a gradual transition due to my habit of making large amounts of a recipe so leftovers are available for either freezing or next week’s meals. Since Tom is not a vegetarian, I did not need to “use up” every single piece of meat in the house but I do remember there being a day or two of meat leftovers after I had specifically purchased only vegetarian groceries.

Overall, I am very happy with the decision and find it extremely easy. Again, beforehand we usually had at least one completely vegetarian meal a week for dinner and I was not eating lots of meat at lunch. This was not such a huge switch for me as it might be for others.

I am a small bit concerned about my energy level. But that is probably more related to stress and my forced resting state as my skin infection healed. I had started a very active morning routine (after the vegetarian switch). I am finding it difficult to re-start but I think that would be the case no matter what my diet.

I will be due to have blood work (thyroid) done shortly, so I feel comfortable continuing my veggie quest with the knowledge I will have a mandatory doctor’s visit where I can share these changes.

I am very surprised with how supportive Tom has been. We try to split housework fairly and I do the majority of the cooking. I have offered to make recipes where meat could be added at the end to complete the dish for him, but he has so far declined. I also agreed to purchase meat if he wants it on the grocery list. That offer has probably been declined because since I never did eat a lot of meat, I was never the person to send over to the butcher to select the best roast.  It usually helps if someone knows what animal a “Boston Butt” comes from.  (A pig.  But I did not know that before Tom and I am pretty sure I have still never purchased one.)

An added bonus with him purchasing whatever meat he chooses to eat is that grocery shopping is a lot faster. I also feel less guilty in choosing a non-sale or expensive “treat”. Last week’s Ranch dressing and veggie nuggets? No remorse over the calories or the dollars!

I should also say that most surprising so far in Tom’s support is that he is eating vegetarian a lot of the time as well. I make enough for there to be leftovers and many nights Tom prefers the convenience of re-heating a vegetarian dish than making something else. It makes me happy to know I can cook vegetarian (or vegan) meals that are tasty enough to appease a meat-eater. It also makes me happy because I believe eating more vegetables is healthier and I like the idea of him being healthy.

Please note that I did not make this change because I thought I would be automatically “healthier”. I am aware that Oreos are vegan and you can find processed junk to fit any dietary restriction. When I ate meat, I aimed to eat homemade meals that didn’t call for a ton of prepackage foods. Now that I am a vegetarian, I do the same.

This diet change is prompted by concerns over animal welfare and the environment. Because of that, I would prefer to seek out vegan meals. On the one hand, the only dairy I eat on a regular basis is cheese and yogurt. On the other hand, I do eat both regularly. If anything, my cheese consumption has gone up since this change. (There I go, not being “healthier”.)

In order to shift myself to eating less dairy, I have purchased a book on vegan crock pot cooking and I’m working through one recipe a week. Once I feel like I have a good enough collection of recipes to work from, I will likely start looking at some of, what I feel like, are the harder vegan decisions like butter alternatives and how to still bake without eggs.

I have already tried one vegan cheese recipe. It was…interesting. It was nacho cheese and if we define nacho cheese as tangy and salty and gooey than I would say the recipe was a success.

If we define it as something we would call cheese and eat with a spoon straight out of a container then…fail.

Flowing Through My Veins

I am having a medical setback that is painful and making me grumpy.

It is another small case of cellulitis on my thigh.  I have filled my antibiotic prescription that my doctor was nice enough to give refills for the last time this happened (June).  I am still on the fence about actually taking it.  The lump appears to have gone down some today, with topical antibiotics and warm compresses.  The oral antibiotic is 4 times a day, 1 hour before or 2-3 hours after a meal, for 10 days.  I’d like to avoid that if possible.

The issue is that the location is an extremely chafey one.  Not only is this causing the pain, but it makes it unlikely that topical solutions will resolve the situation as any sort of friction, such as walking from my desk to the bathroom, will immediately undo the good work.

So…yeah.  I guess I just decided I’m taking the oral antibiotic.  Wheee!

I like to counteract this sort of pain and grumpy with some sort of culinary treat.  Junk food to take my mind off of the hard knot of bacteria throbbing in my leg.  (I bet you’re hungry now!)

And yes, there is vegetarian junk food that does not include high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.  And yes, I do still stick to the bare minimum of my healthy eating mandates even when making poor food choices.

My small attempt at “healthy” junk food does mean I wander the aisles reading ingredient list after ingredient list.  I also knew I didn’t want truly empty calories – I am tired and if I put effort into heating something up at home, it had better make me feel stuffed to the gills.

I kept wandering, reading, searching.  Nothing was leaping out at me.  Finally I had a heart-to-heart with myself and asked, “What is it you truly want to eat that will make you feel good?”

My answer?

“Anything I can dip in Ranch dressing.”

Please note I have ingested Ranch dressing all of zero times outside the state of Wisconsin.  I am as shocked at this revelation as you are.  Cheese State assimilation 99% complete.

Also, I had to buy the “expensive” “organic” dressing just to get the ingredient list to conform to my requirements.

But now I am sitting here with a plate of mozzarella bread, veggie nuggets, and a healthy bowl of Ranch dressing.  And I am VERY happy.

I also just remembered I have salad in the fridge.  Do you suppose people put Ranch dressing on that as well?

Already a Winner!

Here we are, a mere 7 days into 2016, and I have already made it to Walmart once!

I did not want to go, actually.  Because I was in a town I rarely frequent and didn’t know where the Walmart was and had an appointment for a Dr I’d never seen and I assumed I’d be there until past my usual go home time and then still have a longer commute because rarely-frequented town is in the opposite direction from work than home.

But!  I got to the Dr early.  And they didn’t need any intake paperwork because I’m already in this particular clinic’s computer from other doctor visits.  And the Dr actually SAW me early (something very different than arriving early) and the Dr was an Optician, one of the only Opticians in two counties I can see on our new health insurance hence needing to drive to rarely-frequented town, and I only wanted glasses not contacts, and nothing looked alarming in the exam, so it was a pretty short cut-n-dried visit.  I was done 11 minutes after my original appointment time.

I had to see an Optician ASAP because right around Christmas I broke my glasses.

What happened was, Christmas Eve was pretty dead in terms of customers so I decided to sneak into the back room and re-arrange some of our storage.  This included moving huge, old, wood cabinets that we nest one atop another.  Tom wasn’t that impressed with my endeavors because he was under the impression that last time we moved them he left the four-wheeled cart underneath it.  WRONG.

I moved it with my blood, sweat, and tears to back up closer to the wall and had this grand easy plan of creating shelving behind it for things we don’t need access to daily.  Tom was also not impressed with my shelving plan and insisted we need to make actual support structure and not just lay plywood across random stuff onto the cabinets because he has seen people get hurt like that and I don’t know what he’s talking about but in my grand re-organizing a box fell on my head and SNAP went my glasses hinge.

I spent the rest of that day with my glasses taped together, but the arms of my glasses are very wide at the hinge, meeting up completely with the width of the glasses, and that made it very difficult to tape.  They “fell”? out of the tape quite a bit.  When I got home I got out the crazy glue.  The metal hinge is what broke and it is embedded in the plastic frame so it was also very hard to match up to the broken piece inside.   But I finally got it, went to sleep, and in the morning viola!  Almost wearable glasses!

I’ve actually been very impressed with how the glue has held.  It only took 48 hours for me to forget the fragile-glasses situation and close the arms as part of my automatic ritual for getting into the shower.  Evidently the glue that is holding the broken inside piece was not attached, literally or emotionally, to the extra glue that was keeping the arm straight.

But still.  Not ideal.  My glasses always look a little lopsided on my face (it is NOT that my face is lopsided.  It is that every single glasses frame every created is lopsided.  Got it?) but now the left arm, while holding in there, is not exactly tight to my face.  They fall off when I do yoga or bend over to put on shoes.  Since it has been three years since my last exam, off to the Optician I went.

Despite the inconvenient location of the clinic, I would have purchased new glasses there just to have this process one step further along.  Unfortunately, between my pupil dilation and the itty bitty print on the price tags, it seemed like something I was not capable of doing then and there without regrets.  So instead I found out that the Walmart was only 5 minutes from the clinic and there was a back route and that is the thrilling story of how I bought paper towels and toilet paper.

Not a Math Major Or On A Diet

I decided we would have spaghetti for dinner.  And that I would use the whole box because I hate having silly extra portions leftover that aren’t enough for two people.

But when it got to the point of pouring pasta into boiling water, I hemmed.  Hawed even.

I checked the number of servings in the sauce (5), the number of servings in the pasta box (6.5.  Who the fuck has ever eaten a half serving of pasta?), tried to take into to account that we would want to get a 2nd dinner out of this….and put in 4/5 of the box.

Only afterwards, once the spaghetti was cooked and I was combining everything did I realize that I somehow purposely decided that we were only going to eat 1 serving of pasta at each meal.  And while that perhaps does not automatically result in the same swearing a 1/2 serving might, it certainly does in this fucking house.

The really annoying part is that Tom will get home and if he likes it (it has…dun dun DUN…vegan meatballs in it), he will not care that our meal plan included a x2 by this.  While I have tried some moderation with the idea that I can fill up on pecans and dark chocolate chips later – completely guilt-free!  it was just 1 serving of pasta when obviously I need 3 for basic survival! – he will just snarf down the whole bowl.

Oh wait, that’s not the really annoying part.  The really annoying part is that I now have a silly extra portion of spaghetti in a box that isn’t enough for 2 people.  Good job on those math skills!  Thank goodness I went with my gut reaction and didn’t overthink myself into a too-little-pasta corner!  Again!