Friday, October 23, 2009

Bird and Squirrel Channel

I thought I'd post one more blog entry about the things I'll miss about Michigan. We like to joke that the only channels we get here are the "Bird and Squirrel Channel". Truth be told, they're my favorite! They're free and just outside the window. As a former "wild-life person", I've always loved watching critters. I personally prefer the bird channel, as does the cat, but the dog is most definitely captivated by the squirrel channel, ready to interact if given the chance.

Lately we've had a house invader of the rodent/squirrel variety. These pesky critters, while cute, can cause so much damage! If I had to pick though, my favorite would be the black squirrels we get up here. I've never seen them anywhere else.

Of the birds, my favorite on our channel is the tufted titmouse and the pileated woodpecker. These are giant birds! We also get the occasional Bald Eagle and Loon flying overhead too. Since we're in a dense woodland, we mostly get wood peckers, but what a variety! These birds stay here year round too. I'm a bit partial to these birds, as well as the chickadee, nuthatches and titmice who live here year round. They are truly hardy creatures.

I thought I'd post a few pictures we've take over the years for you to enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009


OK, when it comes to food, I was pretty darn lucky to be born in Louisiana. But that blessing can be a curse at times, namely, whenever I'm outside of Louisiana. Maybe it's because I was born and raised there that leads me to believe they have the best food in the whole world. Of course I have only been out of the country a few times, and not really as an adult ever.

That puts me in a tricky spot when it comes to trying to decide what food I'll miss the most when I leave Michigan. But one only has to look at the local foods in ANY region to quickly find what's best there. In Southern Louisiana, it's shrimp, oysters, and rice. In Oregon, it's Salmon, berries and elk. Here, it's apples, cherries and maple syrup. We'll be moving close to one of the biggest apple and cherry growing regions in the country though (Washington State), so it's maple syrup I'm really going to miss the most! You can buy it at any farmers' market up here, and I even experimented with making it myself. It was a really fun thing to do with the kids, using the maple trees on our property. I quickly learned why the real deal costs so much! It takes 40-60 gallons of maple sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. That's a lot of buckets to empty and sap to boil. But it's oh so good!

I've been thinking about maple syrup a lot lately as I try to use up what we have (including some from our own trees). Maybe a bit of home made maple syrup ice cream is in order, or some maple walnut bread. Maybe a bunch of maple granola? It's such a wonderful treat! Lucky for me I'll be able to buy it easily in Oregon, but I'll miss those early Spring days when the sap is rising and buckets and taps appear in maple groves around the area. Here's a few pictures of our crude collection system, as well as a boiler we saw at Hartwick Pines State Park's "Maple Syrup Days". Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ahhh.... much better

Some quick news here... today is CLOSING day for our Pendleton house! Since we're 3 time zones apart, it won't be until 11 or so before I hear from Chris, but I'll soon be wiring money, and he'll soon be signing papers for our new (to us) house.

Also my son loves his new clarinet so much that he has already spent 2-3 hours getting to know it. There's been a lot of joyful squawking in our house lately. He even put his dad on speaker phone last night so he could play for him.

Unfortunately he woke up this morning with an awful headache, stomach ache, sore neck and mild fever. So he's home now, missing a second day of band, a field trip to the local high school (15 miles away) for their homecoming parade and a corn maze, as well as a bake sale that we contributed to. Our high school here has its' own forest as well as a huge agricultural field. Average graduating class is about 60 seniors.

As for me, I unpacked my coffee roaster this morning. I recently bought some bulk coffee beans from our local grocery store. It's a tiny store that only recently started carrying the whole beans in bulk. They were out of almost all of their coffee this past week except for one roast. Ever since I started drinking it I've had horrible headaches that feel like caffeine withdrawal headaches. Ouch! I suspect they put decaf into the wrong chute. So out came the beans and roaster this morning, and as I drink and type, I'm feeling sooo much better!!!

I LOVE coffee. I must have coffee.....

I started roasting my own coffee several years ago as a way to save money really. I wanted to drink organic fair trade coffee, but the price for such was so expensive. I found out about coffee roasting who knows where, and decided to buy a small coffee roaster from Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting Company. In Oregon, getting good coffee was never an issue. My kids' earliest memories must include going through numerous "Good Bean" coffee drive-through stands that are scattered through out Southern Oregon. There's "Dutch Brothers" too. In fact Dutch Brothers frequently has hunky cute guys that were part of the experience, while the young ladies at the Human Bean stands were my husband's favorite... But that's another subject entirely. I was hooked on Human Bean because of the chocolate covered coffee bean that they placed on the top of every coffee cup that they served. Mmmmmm Chocolate and coffee... a match made in heaven!

The world of coffee can be compared to the wine world. There are so many varieties, so many regions, several ways to process the coffee cherry to make the green bean. Each variety and region has it's own flavor and characteristics. It's really an interesting subject.

Since moving to Northern Michigan I've come to depend on my coffee roaster to make my own coffee. It's so much better, the cost of green beans, even with shipping charges are easily half what you pay for whole roasted beans, plus you can I can get my organic fair trade coffee here without having to drive a long distance. I have control over the coffee, where it comes from, how long I roast it, etc... Sure it's a bit of effort, but well worth it.

And it's not rocket science. You simply put the green beans in the roaster and turn the timer on. You have to know the different roasting levels... As the beans roast, they expand, and "crack". It sounds a bit like pop-corn popping. After the first crack, the beans can be ready to grind into coffee, if you like that style. They'll be light brown. Most people prefer a fuller bodied coffee though and continue the roasting a bit further. If you roast long enough, you'll get to the "second crack" stage. Once again, the beans make their distinctive crack, but this time the oils in the coffee bean are released. This makes it very easy for them to burn. Not good. Once that second crack is done, you need to remove them from the heat and cool them. Then your fresh home-roasted coffee is ready to brew into my favorite beverage... Mmmm coffee....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance

One of my most prized possessions, given graciously to me by my mom, after my dad's death, was my dad's clarinet. I was fortunate to grow up in a family of music lovers, my dad included. He played clarinet in schools in Amarillo Texas where he grew up, as well as for LSU, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he (and my mom) attended grad school, and where I was born. I have fond memories of my dad playing his clarinet for us, and I was always mesmerized by the sounds he could make with it. My dad was a huge fan of classical music, as well as jazz, and we regularly went to concerts at LSU and in and around Baton Rouge. One of the highlights of Mardi Gras for my dad was seeing (and hearing) Pete Fountain's "Half Fast Walking Club" stroll by on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans.

After my dad's sudden death in May 2008 my family drove down to New Orleans over Christmas Break last year to help my mom go through all of my dad's things. As you know, their house had 2-3 feet of water in it during Katrina. So not only is this clarinet a cherished memento, but a Katrina survivor as well... tucked as it was up high in a closet and lucky to have been protected by its case. It was over Christmas that my mom allowed us to take it with us, intending it to be used for a potential instrument for my son as he started 6th grade band this year.

Now I have no experience at all with band. I learned piano and violin growing up, so I had no idea how to even put the clarinet together. Plus having sat in a closet in Southern Louisiana for many years unused, it needed maintenance and cleaning. The case was musty (to say the least), the key pads separated, corks old, etc..

As my son started band this year, I didn't' want to put any pressure on him to choose clarinet as his instrument, and made that clear. But choose he did.

Last week I sent this clarinet off to school to be repaired through the band program. It just came back last night! This past week I've shed so many tears thinking about this clarinet and my dad. I deeply mourn the fact that my son never got to see his grandpa play it, and that my dad will never hear the instrument played by his grandson. Grief is such an incredibly difficult journey. There's no telling when it'll cripple you, even months after a loved one has passed. But with this gift, I know there will one day be a time to dance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's your sign?

We have DATES!! I can now say that things HAVE fallen into place. Chris will be moving into our house in Pendleton by the end of this week. He should be pulling into town some time today. Closing will be later this week. Then he plans to drive back (ugh!) in less than 2 weeks to help me and the kids move out. So, our last week here in Michigan will be the last week of October, and we hope to be all be in Pendleton by Nov. 1st! It's SO NICE to FINALLY have a date!!

As I get closer to our move date, I've been thinking about all of the things I'll miss about Michigan. Of course we'll really miss our friends and neighbors, but there's other things too. My friend Laura's recent post (Laura's Simple Pleasure, on blogspot) inspired me to take some pictures and write about all of the cabin and lake house signs that are abundant up here in Northern Michigan.

When I first moved to Northern Michigan, it was one of the first things I noticed. Every driveway seemed to have a sign of some sort, near the main road. Sometimes they're by the mailbox, sometimes not, some are plain and simple with only a number or a name, and some are quite elaborate. Some are very colorful, some quite rustic. Some have one fish, some have two fish, some have red fish, some have blue fish... You get the point.

These signs have always amused me... they are SO not my style, but never the less, there is something appealing about them. I have always loved anything and everything that is hand made. That IS my style... food made from scratch, quilts made by hand, furniture crafted by a loved one. I think that's one reason why I'll miss these signs. They are all so unique, as is anything made by hand. I don't know if it's a Northern Michigan "thing" or more wide spread. Chris says he's seen these lake house signs in Wisconsin too. Oregon doesn't have as many of these lake houses. In fact I think there are very few places in the US where people can still afford a lake house. Maybe that's why I see these here and not anywhere else. Let me know if I'm wrong... But anyway, I took some pictures of my favorite signs along the road I drive almost every day. Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ode to Our Wood Stove

I love my wood stove... let me count the ways...
It warms us not once, but twice,
It warms our nights and our days.
Wood heat is very very nice,
And much cheaper than gas.
In Northern Michigan you pay a hefty price
Unless you heat with wood, like this lass.

OK... maybe poetry isn't my thing. But I do seriously love our wood stove. We realized the need for one after getting our first gas bill after our first fall month living here. It was quite a shock. We had budgeted for most things, and had moved here with the intentions of using only Chris' income to support our family. With a gas bill that would soon be higher than our mortgage payment, we headed down the the local wood stove dealer, bought a wood stove, and started looking for wood.

It definitely helps that Chris is a forester, and skilled at using a chainsaw. He even claimed that he enjoyed manually chopping wood... for about the first 3 months. They we decided to get an electric splitter. It can be used by all of us. With hardwood forest plentiful here in Northern Michigan it also wasn't hard to find cheap sources of wood, although I still find it hard to put beautiful chunks of maple, oak and birch in there. You can buy a $20 wood permit to collect dead and down wood at any Forest Service Office, or State Forest Office. Last year one of the designated collection areas was adjacent to our house and land, so that made it VERY easy!! One permit allows a family to collect 5 full cords of wood, which is more than enough, even up here.

We usually start working on our firewood supply in the Spring. Preferably we get what we need for 2 years in advance, so it has plenty of time to dry. It has been a family activity. Going out into the woods, we all work to carry the logs, then split and stack them.

Once the weather turns cold, there's yet a few more steps before the wood even gets to the wood stove. I get my trusty wheel barrel out and haul wood from the wood pile to the front porch so we have a handy source. During heavy snows we have to dig out a trail to the wood pile. Once it's on the porch, it's a matter of bringing in a small load to keep handy to feed into the wood stove.

It takes a bit of patience and understanding, even a bit of skill to heat with wood, but it's quickly learned. My 11 year old son can now skillfully manage the damper and door to control the fire. He can start a fire, and can be counted on to "keep an eye on it" when I'm busy, or to add a log or 2 when asked. I love the fact that my kids know how much work is involved in keeping a home warm, and know how to do it.

I also love the fact that we're getting our heat source locally and we are using a renewable resource. I use the dry heat it produces to dry out wet coats, hats, mittens, and boots. Last fall I bought 2 large drying racks from a local Amish store to dry loads of family wash without the use of a dryer. I even use it to warm up food occasionally. Plus it makes us feel very secure knowing that if the electricity goes out we'll be able to stay warm.

What more can I say. It's something I'm really going to miss. With a winter's worth of wood in our yard, we'll be using it as barter soon, or as gifts for friends. Up here, firewood is "currency". Plus it makes for an endless supply of dog toys!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saying Good-bye

It's the worst part of moving, saying good-bye to friends. Chris' last week of work is this week, and I had the opportunity to attend his going away lunch in Mio. It was obvious that many folks there are going to really miss him, and that the feeling is mutual. I haven't worked a paying job since we moved here, so I won't be doing THOSE good-byes, but I have gotten to know quite a few of Chris' co-workers, as well as friends here in town, and will miss them a lot. One thing about Forest Service, or BLM, or any work organization that often requires its employees to live and work in places that are often away from family is that they become part of your family. Other friends and neighbors in the community as well become family. Those are the folks you can really count on to watch kids in emergencies, take care of pets, houses, and often they're the folks you share holiday meals with. They send you flowers when you're feeling blue, send you flowers when you get a new job. They lend you tools, share their home-made jam with you, plow your drive way when you're off visiting your "blood" family. That's what I'll miss the most. Friends. It's hard, but in this day and age, it's so much easier to keep in touch. I hope all of you will.

One new twist this time around is that my kids will also be leaving good friends behind. Last time we moved they were only 6 and 8, but now they're old enough to also want to keep in touch. I told them I'd take the leap of faith and get them both email accounts. (yikes!). They'll be monitored initially (ie until they're 25), but at their ages, it'll be important to give them lots of opportunity to call and write. I hate pulling the kids away from their school and their friends, but we're moving to Pendleton with the intentions of staying there quite a while. We realize it'll be much harder for them to move as they get even older.

Lastly, I'll be saying good-bye briefly to Chris soon as he makes his second cross-country trip out there to start his job. We still are waiting for a date for the house closing in Pendleton, but so far things are going smoothly. The house appraisal takes place today, so we should know soon when we'll be able to take possession of the house. We'll keep you posted. Until then, good-bye!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Are we at our peak?

Around here in Northern Michigan, it's all about the fall color "peak". I wish all of you could be up here right now! It's my favorite time of year. Talk about distracted driving! It's so bad that I've almost driven off the road because I can't take my eyes off of the beautiful trees in their full glory. I've learned to "stop and view the colors". In the half a dozen places that I have lived, and many others that I have visited, this time of year, up here in Northern Michigan is THE most incredibly beautiful place. No wonder people come up here (and many other places in the Midwest and Northeast) to "leaf peep". While I don't think we're quite at our peak yet, we're getting pretty close. The maples are putting on quite a show right now, and the oaks will soon follow with their more subdued pallet. Since we're close to the highest elevation of the Lower Peninsula, we get it first down here. Sadly, pretty soon, a fall/winter storm will come along and blow all of these pretty jewels out of the trees, and we'll know that we're past our peak.... Until then, here's some pictures I took yesterday for you to enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Everybody's doing it?

Why a blog? I've been slowly becoming acquainted with the world of blogging over the last several months. I must admit it intrigues me. I have always liked to keep in touch through letter, postcards, and more recently email, web photo sites and Facebook. A blog seems like another tool to keep in touch with my friends and family. We have long lived far away from family, and with each move, new and old friends. With the move we're about to embark on, it seemed like a perfect time to start a blog. Join me in our journey.