Saturday, December 29, 2012

A truly white Christmas!

Bailey enjoying the snow
I have now lived in Iowa for a full year! And, upon that year mark, we finally got snow - just in time for the Christmas season. I love Christmas - the music, decorations, and warm fuzzy feelings. I often forget that it's centered around religious reasons until I find myself in a church or at a Christmas concert at Luther College. Christmas, to me, is not about baby Jesus. It's the time leading up to the actual day that I get to spend with friends, spreading love and cheer.

To aide in these efforts, I started the season by purchasing 15 pounds of butter. The sale price, ordered as a case, saved me $25. And it's delicious, creamy, excellent organic Wisconsin butter. With some of the butter, I made several batches of cookies to share and to gift - Italian Christmas Cookies for an exchange (they have ricotta in them and taste like mini cakes!), gingerbread folks to decorate with Lauren, pfeffernusse for the challenge and to have something different (they're german cookies that have anise seed and cardamom in them), and oatmeal cookies for Tor. I love baking, and what better excuse to bake for friends then Christmas?

And with cookies and friends, December was great. Our work party was a lot of fun, I had plenty of time to have parties and potlucks with friends, and several people made me feel warm and fuzzy with thoughtful and special gifts. I also managed to watch several Christmas classics that I had never seen before. But! Christmas season is not complete without an actual Christmas, right? And so, off to Minnesota I went!

Sully climbing the mountain of presents at Grandma Nelson's
Cristina's in-laws invited me to stay with them for the holiday back at her wedding in July, and since the idea seemed fun and I had no other plans, I headed up to Grand Rapids, Minnesota on Saturday. The drive is gorgeous, and only about six hours from Decorah. Bailey came with, and we had a fabulous time in the snow and country.

Drilling the holes ...

On Sunday we went on a short hike around the woods across the street, and later went to Grandma Nelson's for the Christmas get together. Around 35 people packed into a tiny house to eat delicious food and treats, chat, and play games. I spent a lot of time with the kids outside, wrestling in the snow and pushing them around on sleds. Kids and snow are a great combination, and I have come to find they make them much stronger and bounce-able up north.

On Monday, we started the day ice fishing on a local lake. We drilled four holes into the ice, popped a tent over them, then waited for the fish to ignore us. It's quite cozy inside the tent, with a little heater and plenty of tasty provisions. Without any luck, we afterwards went to a service at the local church and had family over in the evening for dinner and good company. After folks left, we watched a movie and went to midnight mass. Christmas carols!
And now we can fish! 

On Christmas morning, Patrick took Cristina and I sledding around the woods. And by sledding, I mean to say he dragged us in a sled behind his four-wheeler. We attempted to dodge branches and twigs, and quite naturally he flipped our sled a few times. It was fantastic. In the afternoon, all of Patrick's siblings and subsequent kids came over. We played outside, had a bonfire, blew things up, and ate delicious food. After gifts, we stayed out with the kids under a gorgeous moon until it was -8F. Patrick's parents got me a really nice sweatshirt  and sent me home with a bunch of meat. I was really touched, and I love the sweater!

After a very chilly sledding adventure.
The day after, we slept in, enjoyed coffee and conversation, then visited Cristina's brother-in-law and family. They have a gorgeous house they built themselves and two adorable little guys. We ate lunch, chatted, then went spearing. Different than ice fishing, spear houses are set up on a more permanent basis for the winter. The hole is a large rectangle, and one uses sucker fish or lures to bring great northerns in. We didn't see any big enough to actually spear, but if we did, one would aim and throw a big, heavy, pronged and barbed spear at the fish. It was also quite cozy and relaxing inside the little house. After catching no fish, we had dinner in town before I headed back to Decorah.

I picked up Steffen at the airport on my way through Minneapolis, and made it back to Decorah a little after 1am. A few Christmas packages from the family were waiting on my doorstep, and a few surprises from friends as well. I went to sleep fully relaxed from my vacation and full of love from family and friends.

I had a really great Christmas this year, and I feel so much more settled and content then last year this time. And while I'm not quite looking forward to 2013 yet, I'm growing confident that I can handle what it will bring, and have started to formulate some plans to make it what I want it to be. Hopefully I'll be better about posting about it because big things are afoot (and great things have passed these past few months - I'll try my best to catch you all up!)

Cheers and love to you, and best wishes for 2013!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Allergic to Iowa.

Who the fuck is allergic to an entire state?!

I used to always brag that I didn't have allergies. I was allergic to stuff, sure - specifically cats, smoke, and dust. But these things are easily avoidable. And so seasonal allergies came and went, and I was fine.

Until I came to Iowa.

Isn't this place beautiful?
In the spring, I went to Urgent Care when my inhaler stopped working and my asthma was bad. They gave me a daily inhaler. Eventually, I had another asthma attack that wouldn't get better, so the doctor did more tests types of things and warned me that corn wasn't going to work out. Corn made me sneeze and was otherwise fine, yet my breathing still wasn't great. After seeing several different doctors that didn't know how to treat asthma, I asked to see an allergist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (only an hour and a half away).

At Mayo, they tested my breathing, the effectiveness of abuterol (fast-acting inhaler for asthmatics), and did a skin test. After looking into my nose as most doctors do, they did a more intensive rhinoscopy - where they put a fiber optic camera in your nose. They even checked out my vocal chords ... from my nose. Slightly uncomfortable, but still kind of neat.

From these tests, I learned several things. First - at some point I probably busted my nose. There's a bone spur on one side that touches the membrane stuff, and the bone on the other side has been pushed really closely to the membrane stuff ... which means that any slight allergy problems I have will make it impossible to breathe out of my nose. I sort of knew this as a life-long mouth breather, but now there's some science behind it. Second - I am allergic to everything. Well, not everything - but rather, many things. All of the grasses, pigweed, walnut trees, several molds and fungal spores, dust mites of all kinds, and cats.

My allergist was most excited about the dust mites, and I think this makes sense since it was one of the bigger reactions on my arm. Essentially, he said that at night our cortisone and adrenaline levels are pretty low because we're sleeping - and this is a good thing. However, if one is exposed to any sort of allergens at night, the low levels of natural steroids means that allergen exposure is heightened, and that makes one 400x more likely to be sensitive to allergens during the day. If one were to remove all allergen exposure during the night, then eventually those daytime allergens wouldn't really be a bother. The trouble with this is ... well, a lot. First, he recommended bed encasements to prevent dust mites and dust mite things from getting out, which is pretty easy. But then, I am to wash all of my bedding every two weeks in extremely hot water in order to neutralize any dust mite and dust mite particles. This requires a special washer that will sanitize - a washer I do not have, nor do any of the laundromats around town. Furthermore, carpet is bad, of which (of course!) I have. I shouldn't have clothes in my room, where my awesomely large closet is. All air ducts should be sealed off, window frames sealed. Animals shouldn't be allowed in my room, let alone the house (they bring in allergens on the fur). And all of this will maybe, maybe make a difference in three years.

On top of this, he prescribed several medications - singular, nasonex, allegra, and zantac as well as a sinus lavage.

I left quite overwhelmed. The doctor had just told me that my dog shouldn't live in my house, that I need to buy a new washer to wash my sheets (and that, essentially, the new comforter I bought to feel like an adult needs to go away), and that I am allergic to everything. Harvest time around Iowa is pretty bad for me since it stirs up dust, grass, and all sorts of spores - and harvest plumes can travel up to two miles. So on top of all that, I can go nowhere to be safe from harvest plumes.

Obviously, I cannot do everything he suggested. And I don't want to take four medications a day, on top of my daily inhaler. So after sitting down with my options, I've decided to get bed encasements, be careful about dust in my room, and put Bailey's crate outside of my bedroom. I'll do the nasal lavage (which is just a neti pot/sinus wash), possibly take singular, and if I don't think that's working - some nasonex. The doctor said that unless I do everything and remove 90% of the allergens in my room, it won't make a lick of a difference. But I can't do 90% and sleep in some airtight bubble, and really something must be better than nothing.

It's good to know what's going on. What I thought was asthma turns out to be allergies too. The only downside to this is that the allergies constrict my throat and make me feel like I can't breathe. An inhaler can help this a bit, but not completely - so the big downside is that I haven't anything to stop my throat from constricting should I run into something allergy inducing. Which is fun, if you think about it. Thank you, Iowa.

Since I know ya'll miss her more.
In other news, I welcomed the First Frost (well, second - but the first deep frost of a blustery Autumn day) dancing to the awesome Bitterroot Band at an outdoor bar, reveling in the cold breeze in my hair while jumping around with my friends. And the next day as I did random things downtown, I walked along the Luther Homecoming parade for a bit, had a nice conversation with the Librarian, ran into more friends at the coffee shop while writing letters, and simply enjoyed this Decorah life. So yes, allergies suck - and I can't breathe well right now much at all. But all the other parts are going quite swimmingly, so it's really okay.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The end of summer, and finally autumn.

Can you sense the excitement?
The leaves are changing colors, the air is crisp and cool, and most wonderfully I've landed in my favorite time of year ... just a bit early. September 22nd was the first day of autumn - and also the first of many morning patchy-frosts to come. While I'm ridiculously excited for the perfect-tea-and-sweater-weather, the bittersweet edge is that all the tomatoes and frost-sensitive crops aren't producing anymore. However, I did my canning, I've frozen my other goods, and I make peace with the end of the summer.

To start the season off, I had the most perfect Autumn Equinox day. I made an all-day-simmering sauce for lasagna with fresh tomatoes, applesauce from Seed Savers Exchange apples (picked from the historic apple orchard), and roasted apple spice cake. In the late afternoon, I headed to my friend John's farm where we took the remainder of the apples and ran them through his father's fancy apple press for fresh cider. It tasted amazing. And with a potluck and a movie night amongst wonderful company, I was brimming over with warm-fuzzy happiness.

September has been pretty good.

Birthday dinosaur learning. Notice flip flops.
The month (well, the prelude to the month), started off with a Dinosaur Party for Kate's birthday on John's Farm. I'm using this as an excuse to explain to you how awesome my friends are, and how fantastic this farm is. John's mother is a market gardener, and they have chickens, goats, sheep, geese, guinea fowl, cats, and dogs that literally roam the farm free (well, not the goats and sheep I guess). Chickens roost in trees and old school buses, geese lay their eggs wherever they please, and the guinea fowl leave pretty feathers in their wake - wild animals not to be tamed. Surrounded by grassland and trees, this farm is absolutely beautiful. John set up a bunch of brush for a bonfire and taught birthday-girl-Kate how to drive a tractor. When it got dark, we lit the fire, danced around in dinosaur costumes, drank beer, and took part in the St. Olaf tradition of 'Shirts-Off-O'Clock. It was fantastic.

I don't like posing, so here's ... 'dancing'.
Two weekends ago, I headed up to Minneapolis with Laura and Tor. We first watched Sleepwalk With Me, with a Q&A after starring Mike Birbiglia. Later, we saw David Byrne and St. Vincent in concert at the State Theater ... which was awesome. During the day, we enjoyed delicious food - such as a somali meal made special order for us, famous carmel-vanilla malts, and pizza. And after the shows we walked the city that night - for maybe three hours - enjoying the views, the noise, everything. I loved it. Walking Minneapolis at night has inspired evening walks with Bailey to enjoy deserted downtown Decorah.

This weekend, I shared a poem at the Decorah Poetry Slam. I'm no poet. I've never quite liked poetry. But I've tried it out recently, as you know, to explore a way to express and work with my emotions. After struggling with a depressive funk for a few weeks (which also explains the lack of recent blog posts), I wrote a poem about what all those emotions felt like. Some part of me thought it'd be a good idea to share the poem in front of a large group of people (and I won't say strangers here because in a small town no one is a stranger). In a way, it forces me to not give a shit what these people think about the poem and my emotions because it really doesn't matter. And reading the poem aloud challenges me to be more open about my emotions and the darker side of myself. Of course, it also challenges me to do something I find uncomfortable and different for the sheer benefit of growth. So I did it, and with the support of my friends it wasn't too bad at all.

Over the month, I've conqured much in the kitchen: canned whole tomatoes, heirloom salsa, sweet pepper jam. I made chili rellenos, lasagna, and roasted spice apple cake. And I'm excited for the return of baking season. Cooler weather also brings a feverish desire to knit warm things (which my new roommate cultivates as well). Could I get any more domestic sans producing small people? Yes. I'll save these domestic pursuits for another post.

Fall. I love Fall. And this fall, I get to pleasure of the beauty of changing leaves in ways that are much better than California. Pictures can do no justice, so I don't think I'm even going to try.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


My favorite park in Minneapolis so far.
Minneapolis is a three-hour drive away. With practically no traffic on the same highway most of the way, it seems shorter than it is. So two weekends ago, I headed up to The Cities with Lauren, Jess, and Laura for a girl-weekend adventure.

Lauren's favorite band, Murder by Death, was playing at a club in Minneapolis, so we got a hotel for the night and went to the show. The music was fantastic, the club crowded, and the experience not what I expected. The lead singer voiced my thoughts by explaining that the city is full of Norwegians, and because of this everyone was so quiet and attentive between songs and throughout the set. Everyone just watched the band in a stoic appreciation for the music. I couldn't help but dance around, and swoon at the percussionist (who I'd marry in a heartbeat). It was great.

Laura and I walked from the hotel to the show and back, and I really liked experiencing Minneapolis in that way. Lightening threatened in the background of skyscrapers, the winds were powerful and cool, and the city was a city - something to experience differently than rural Decorah.

The next morning Laura and I went to the Aveda Institute to get our hair cuts by students. A cheap haircut by a fairly talented, passionate and young persons gave me the bangs I've been missing and the haircut Laura can't find in Decorah. So with that we found lunch with our ladies, and headed to the big adventure of the day - getting tattoos.

Now it's apparently rude to ask what a tattoo means to a person, but I'll explain it here so you don't have to worry about asking. My leaf can mean many things, and the idea first came when I was in graduate school. The last year of my Masters was really quite awful, and I struggled with academic and personal life things. I felt I needed something to commemorate finishing, and to always remind myself that I have a Masters, and it does mean something and I should be proud of it. At the time, I wasn't that good at actually feeling that I was worth it or that it was meaningful. However, when I graduated I didn't have money or a job, so I sort of forgot about it for a while.

Well, Lauren wanted to get another tattoo, and the idea was for us all to go to Minneapolis post-Yawping and get tattoos. Lauren draws up an artistic impression of the elm leaf I was thinking of, and it's prettier than I imagined it could be. So I pay my deposit to Saint Sabrinas a week before, and soon enough find myself there. Getting a tattoo.

It didn't hurt all that much, and I absolutely love it. Yes, the placement is weird - but I didn't want anything on my legs or back. I want to see it so that I can actively remember what it means to me. And I don't wear a whole lot of sleeveless things so it's mostly hidden - which I like. And now that I have it, it serves to be a mark of what I went through, how I grew from the experience, and how that melds into where I am now and what I'm doing. A leaf comes with the changing of the seasons, always growing new each season - always dealing with change. This one will stay with me, marking changes in my life, reminding me that some things with always be with me and that I'm still me through all of the changes, but that change will be inevitable and I can weather future changes too.

Sometimes it makes me feel pretty badass too.

Laura got two tattoos that look spectacular. Her placements were harder, so after finishing we distracted her with embarrassing and hilarious stories. Now happily tattooed, we wandered toward ice cream and stopped at The Lowery instead to enjoy oysters and beer ... they had Deschutes and Lagunitas, which I haven't had since California.

With that, Laura and I came back to town freshly tatted, drank whiskey until late with Tor, and I began my weekend on a happily upbeat note.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nothing Compares.

As you've probably come to learn, Tor-planned adventures make up a great deal of the ridiculously awesome things I do around Iowa and Minnesota. So when it came to going to the Iowa State Fair, Tor was charged with making it a great adventure for myself, Tor, Laura, and Steffen. And of course, he delivered.

We headed out of Decorah on Friday after work. Des Moines, where the State Fair is held, is about four hours away, and we were planning on camping at a lake about thirty minutes Northeast from Des Moines. Along the way we drove through Toledo, home to little Tor memories and the 'Butter Cow Lady'. Tor toured us around, showing us his old house and various other parts of town while sharing stories. While in town, we stopped to enjoy ice cream at the Butter Cow (a shop that took over the much-disliked DQ of Tor's childhood that put a better, local ice cream shop out of business). Since we were getting hungry and Tor's birthday was coming up (along with both Tor and Steffen getting promotions at work), we felt red meat was warrented and stopped at Rube's Steakhouse for dinner. This 'Grill-Your-Own' Steakhouse is exactly what it sounds like - you purchase a cut of meat and you grill it on a massive grill with friends. While waiting for the meat to cook, we made copious amounts of Wonderbread-delicious Texas Toast. They make extra thick slices just for Texas Toast. Potatoes came with the purchase of steak, and dinner ended up being delicious. Having little time after steak to actually make it to Des Moines, we stopped in Grinnell and camped at this gorgeous little lake outside of town. Making it just before sunset, we scrounged for firewood from neighbor campers and drank whiskey while attempting to wait for the meteor shower that we all ended up sleeping through.

The next morning we headed to Des Moines for the State Fair. We found parking in some guy's backyard for $5, which was quite awesome given his backyard ends at the fairgrounds. A quick walk to the gates and we were there - The Iowa State Fair, where "Nothing Compares".
An incredibly bizarre looking chicken.
Fastest sheep shearer!
First we saw various animals - chickens and various poultry. We said hello to dairy cows, and visited hogs. We saw some sheep, and watched a really awesome sheep shearing contest. We spent a lot of time with baby animals, and watched a baby goat being born. We toured the grounds, which are actually quite nice (and historic). We went into various Industry buildings, and saw the life-size butter cow and various agricultural pursuits. We saw the arts and handicrafts, and everyone much obliged to accompany me to the knits and amazing quilts. We rode Ye Old Mill, which turned out to be fantastic and completely worth $3. And best of all, we ate a lot of food. Afterall, a Christy blogpost wouldn't be complete without food, right?

We tried all the various fried items - deep fried oreoes, cupcake, and twinke. We shared Laura's delicious turkey leg. We had bacon dipped in chocolate. We ate various lamb items for lunch. We had ribbon-tates for dinner, and overall - ate fair food in delicious excess.

For our evening entertainment, we watched a horse pull. What is a horse pull, you ask? Well, funny enough - I didn't even know what a horse pull was before going either. A horse pulls is a contest in which a team of horses pull an increasingly heavier sled of blocks until one horse team rules them all in strength and ability. It was pretty entertaining and impressive, especially with our arbitrary picks for who would win.

The best part of the evening came after dark. Laura had wanted to win a fair fish. Earlier in the day we had found the carnival game where you could win fish accessories and purchase a fish for $1. So we played the game, got ourselves some points, and decided to come back later for the fish. Given the guy running the stand was young and entertaining, we played some more, got him to give us a deal, and put all of our points together to get a pretty sweet tank with glowing rocks with accessories and five fair fish. Laura was estatic, and two of the fish have survived to now live in a fancy filtered aquarium in her house. We walked away pretty stoaked that we had out-carnied a carnie.

We headed back to our campsite, and woke up the next morning ready to explore Grinnell. To our luck, some art students were giving away free bagels if you contributed to a painting, so I drew a mouse-looking unicorn with an accidentally-painted flesh-colored horn. After hob-nobbing with an old professor, Tor lead us around his campus. It was really pretty, with goregous old brick buildings and trees. We stopped at some swings that were located next to a perfectly climbable tree outside of the main student gathering place, and I realized that if there were accessible swings at UC Davis I would have never made it to class.

After Grinnell we headed back home. Of course, hunger hit, so we decided to try our luck in Waterloo. Our limited Sunday options were Chinese, Mexican, and Pizza ... since the Mexican place was a hole-in-the-wall next to a little grocery store, we thought it would be our best bet towards something authentic. A menu entirely in spanish got our hopes up, so I ordered myself an al pastor burrito.

This burrito was the best burrito I've had since leaving California. It tasted legit. I was full of all kinds of happy after realizing that there was a place, in Iowa, which could make delicious, legit, burritos. Suffice to say, I have no problems driving to Waterloo just for one of these burritos in the future. That's how much I miss Mexican food.

And that was the Iowa State Fair. Way better than the California State Fair. Truly, Nothing Compares.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


With a belly full of brunch on a wonderfully perfect Sunday morning, I'm drawn towards introspection.

Recently I've been missing California. The cooler weather and even cooler breezes lack the scent of an ocean, yet feel the same. The ocean is so far away now - and that, of all things, bothers me the most. I don't really care about beaches all that much, but I never realized how the simple sight of that body of water meant so much to me. And now, I cannot drive to see it. I have to fly.

My favorite place to see the ocean, Patrick's Point SP
I still really love Iowa, and no matter how much I miss California every now and again, I don't plan on going back. I've been thinking of my idea of 'Undaunted Conviction' when it comes to living here. I've grown accustomed to things, I feel I don't stick out as much, and the adventure part of it is not as 'exciting' and 'fresh'. And while I do go on adventures and seek fun things to do, it all lacks the shiny-newness this blog was first founded on. I live life in which all things are an adventure, and plan to continue this blog on that idea. But fewer things require an adventure to face, and what does life become when the adventure here is a more settled venture?

What I've come to find an 'Undaunted Conviction' has begun to mean is this hold on life I've slowly grown into because of coming to Iowa. I moved my whole life here, to a place I had no understanding of and where I knew no one. And on the other side, I found I have survived and I have thrived through something I never thought I could do. But moving to Iowa was just a capstone and manifestation of a whole year getting through shitty things and life changing realizations. And I truly mean life changing realizations and shitty things, the sort of things where I can look back and see the person I was before is no where near the person I am now. In the middle of something like that, you can't feel the ground and you can't see the sky, and you're torn between crying and running away and desperately wishing for everything to settle and go away. And then an opportunity in Iowa delivered me to a new start, where I could take the things I had learned and become the person I was always trying to be.

Weekly Game Night, full of things that save my soul.
Not to say that moving to Iowa answered my problems. In fact, your problems follow you no matter where you try to run. But here, I have been able to grow into myself, to live my life with the things I have learned, and to see things differently. I have a supportive group of people that can help me through things, who encourage me to grow, and push me forward to face my life and inner demons with the Undaunted Conviction that brought me here. Because let me tell you, dear friends, the inner workings of my mind are not a place for the weak and the hopeful. I fear facing my inner self so much so that any time spent alone I anxiously try to avoid the darkness full of anger and sadness that resides within my soul. This sounds dramatic, I realize, but it's true - I feel a soul-sucking loneliness at just the thought of being alone because of these inner emotions. Years of bottled up anger, sadness that cannot be solved, self-hatred in every form, and insecurities line the walls of my psyche. The insecurities are the worst lately - they eat away at everything good in my life. They make me question friendships in dark moments, reiterate the fear that I'm unlovable on too great of a frequency, and try their hardest to take away all that I've become now in Iowa.

And so I've come to realize that the Undaunted Conviction that brought me here is becoming a different thing. After spending so much time in the dark - not feeling, emoting, or understanding my life - I was forced to uncover that veneer. And now I'm left to face those exposed demons instead of pretending they don't exist. I have to acknowledge the reality of my past instead of the painted, pretty pictures I used to remember it as. I have to accept myself, and things, as they are. And I need to use that Undaunted Conviction to face my demons, my inner workings and insecurities, to continue to grow and to not fear the loneliness in such a detrimental way. I need the Undaunted Conviction to learn to be okay with myself and to truly love myself in all my manifestations.

Last night, I went to a Yawping. The idea came from a Walt Whitman poem, 'Song of Myself,' with this specific line:
"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."

The yawping was created to barbarically sound the ridding of past shitty things and to start life with a new, undaunted conviction. And so I yawped, with the following piece in mind:

I yawp to rid myself of insecurities.
I yawp to learn to love myself - all parts of myself, dark and sad, happy and cheerful, creative and free.
I yawp to accept my past, to no longer yearn for things that cannot be and to not let it define my future.
I yawp to let go of expectations and preconceived notions, to allow things to be as they are, and work from there.
I yawp in celebration of how far I've come, who I've left behind, and what I've grown to become and understand.
I yawp for a fearless future, of a stronger me, undaunted by the unknown, unchained by the past, open for what it may be and ready to be me.

Life isn't always easy. And I've come to find it never will be settled. I'll always have challenges and shitty things, but I know that if I face it with the same Undaunted Conviction that got me here, if I see what I've already come through, then I'll be okay. I'll come out okay in the end. And so I see myself moving forward, knowing what I can accomplish, hesitantly embracing the loneliness, and looking for the sunshine on the other side of this very long and dark road.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Artificial Corn Insemination. Or, Corn Hand-Pollination.

I need to explain something to you. Rather, I need you to understand what summer means for Christy.

Me teaching Corn HP with a co-worker at the latest SSE Conference. Picture taken by SSE photographer, Tim Johnson.
Let's talk corn - specifically, heirloom corn. And growing it in Iowa, a state full of corn. Corn is wind pollinated, which is a problem when corn grows everywhere. Wind pollination means corn pollen will try to get all up in any available corn silks, resulting in the dreaded cross-pollination. So, what does that mean when you need to save seed from heirloom corn? You hand-pollinate it. And since not only is corn wind pollinated, but extremely susceptible to inbreeding depression - you must grow at least 200 individual corn plants per variety. And now we come upon Upper Field North West, where 20 varieties of corn are growing for me to pollinate (and if you've tried out that math, make sure to note we've grown about 300 plants per variety just to be safe, so that's about 6,000 plants).

The first challenge to Corn Hand Pollination is pure survival against deer, raccoons, drought, heat, and thunderstorms. Deer love to eat random parts and tassels, raccoons will tear that shit up regardless of the effort invested on my part, the drought will dry the anthers and stunt the plants, the heat and humidity will challenge anyone attempting to pollinate the corn, and the thunderstorms will blow all that corn over (and even if you attempt to trellis the weak-ass corn, the twine just serves as a handy way to decapitate it!) I haven't even begun to think about crows, fungus, or insects - but I'm told that will come too.

A quick Corn Anatomy lession, thanks to the Plant and Soil Sciences eLibrary. 
If the corns survive (and yes, I say corns - which apparently makes me stand out as a non-midwesterner, but now I'm going with it), then we can begin the actual mating process. First, the emerging silks must be protected from random and prolific in-the-air-and-everywhere corn pollen. Here we use a little wax-lined bag to cover the silks, what I like to call a corn condom (technically, it's called a shoot bag). And if this sounds easy enough, let me clarify the process here. First, one must find emerging shoots before they silk, which in itself is a task. Leaves must be torn off, and one must make sure that the shoot isn't too small, but also not too far gone. Then, the top of the shoot must be trimmed to 'release' those tightly wound silks. The corn condoms must cover this shoot, but one must make sure to slit the leaf a little to ensure the bag stays put and your efforts are not in vain. One must attempt to find two shoots per plant. When silks start showing up, carefully protected in the little corn condoms, then one can begin the next step.

Now pollen must be collected. This involves stapling bigger bags around the tassels of the corn. But not just any tassel will do - oh no. You need an actual shedding tassel, one that's not too spent but one that's not too early. If you find any of these, then you have to staple the bags on in such a way that the wind won't blow them off and the pollen won't fall through. And this must be done as late as possible in the afternoon to ensure the freshest of pollen for morning pollination. If you're preparing to pollinate a variety, you have to go through and double check the shoots and shoot bags, trimming any silks that have gotten too long and releasing silks that may be trapped in shoot leaves. At this point, it helps to mark any bags that are ready.

Come morning time, one must wait for the dew to dry up and for pollen to begin shedding, meaning actual pollination doesn't start until 10am. At this point, tassel bags are carefully collected, all the pollen is consolidated into one bag, and anthers/ants/aphids/etc are filtered out. Hopefully at the end of this, you'll have a bag full of pollen. Now comes the actual pollination part, in which a shoot bag is lifted, pollen is dumped onto it, spread a round a little, and then a used tassel bag is stapled around the shoot and stalk in a specific way that will make sure it doesn't blow off. You have to make sure the silks won't get any other pollen. We also mark each shoot with flagging tape so that if the bags fly off at the end of the season, we'll still know which corn we pollinated.

This all sounds understandable and not that difficult - tedious, but otherwise easy right? Well, there are a few more things to learn. First, corn wants to outbreed - meaning, it really doesn't want to mate with itself. This means it's likely to shed pollen when the shoots aren't ready, or visa versa. And while this may be smart of the plant, you come upon situations in which only 30 of the 300 plants have shoots, but the tassels are at the peak of pollen shedding. So, we have to pollinate just those 30 shoots, and repeat this process until we get as close to 200 as possible. This means we may go through a particular variety 2, 3, or 4 times depending on how asynchronous the pollen-silking is. Which is fun.

What makes it even more fun is that because we're working with heirloom corn, this shit is crazy. Some varieties are only a foot tall, others are incredibly bushy, some have tassel-ears, some need to be cut three inches to release the silks, others will push silks up before you can even see the shoot, and some will just fall over if you look at them wrong. Genetic diversity, at its finest. And with a drought, we have the additional challenge of stunted, short plants ... where several of our varieties are no more than three feet tall. Try pollinating that all day. It's fun. The scarier part of the drought, actually, is the fact that it shortens the window you can pollinate (6-8 days to 2-3), it dries up the silks and pollen quicker, and it forces plants to chose between ears or tassels. Essentially, despite all this hard work, our yield is going to suck.

So, welcome to my summer in Iowa. I do corn all day, and that isn't even enough time. It takes three people 2.5 hours to pollinate just two varieties ... and I have 20 to pollinate. Several times. And just one extra person to help me, maybe two in a week.

We tell a lot of dirty Corn HP jokes.

In the end, Corn Hand Pollination forces me to accept situations as they are, to be at mercy of things outside of my control on an everyday basis, and to work outside during the heat and humidity of Iowa all day. It's building Midwestern character I never thought I'd need. That's a silver lining, isn't it?

Sunday, July 29, 2012


I promised that my next post was going to be about food, and while the main reason behind this post is Nordic Fest, a good portion of what I did during the festival involved food ... so it's sort of the same thing.

Nordic Fest happens every year to celebrate Decorah's strong Norwegian heritage. The streets are closed down, little houses for venders pop up on the main street, flags are hung in every possible spot, and store windows are decorated in Norwegian fare just for the one weekend event.

On Friday, I got off work early and spent the afternoon wandering the festival with Laura. We checked out the 'Viking Encampment' with craft fair (full of neat wood workings like spoons and bowls, pottery of various sorts, and metal working). The Vesterheim has a whole bunch of little houses built by Norwegians long ago, so we checked out the insides and enjoyed a slate roof. There was an art fair that prompted me to buy a pretty pottery cup, and we had the opportunity to check out a lot of the stores on Water Street that we never usually do.

However, I know you all aren't here to hear about 'what we did', so here's what we ate. Friday began our eating challenge, in which we decided we needed to make sure we tried every type of Norwegian food offered. Plus, I only took pictures of my food.

First was varme pølse, a sausage wrapped in lefse (which is a flat pancake-like bread made with potatoes that is ubiquitous to Norwegian cuisine). Next we had a lingonberry slushie that was really good. And finally, my fair favorite - rømmegrøt with rosettes. Rømmegrøt is a warm custard served with melted butter and cinnamon and sugar, and rosettes are funnel cake flavored cookies (which taste like funnel cakes because they're deep fried like funnel cakes). Traditionally served at Christmas, I was pretty excited that I had the opportunity to eat rømmegrøt three different times throughout the weekend. And I'm in full support of any culture that has funnel cake flavored cookies outside of county fairs.
rømmegrøt with rosettes
This was all before our supper, Smørgåsbord, held at Decorah First Lutheran. This Norwegian supper included meatballs and mashed potatoes with gravy, ham, green beans, coleslaw, pickled herring, pickles and pickled beets, lefse, rømmegrøt, søtsuppe (sweet soup of various dried fruits in syrup/juice), cookies of various sorts and all with fancy Norwegian names like krumkake (shaped like horns), kransekake (almond ring cake), and kringle (soft doughy pretzel shaped pastry). We soon discovered that most Norwegian desserts are some recombination of butter, cream, and sugar. Not a bad way to eat. Since we hadn't quite prepared for how much food we would be eating at super, we smuggled out a few cookies because we were really full. 

After eating, we watched the Nordic Dancers. This troop of kids began dancing together in the third grade after being selected for the team, and they all dance together for 10 years. The organization only holds try outs when they need a new team - so if you were born in the wrong year, then you're out of luck. While dancing Norwegian dances may seem like the dorky thing to do, in Decorah all the cool kids do it. And this explains why everyone in this town knows how to dance. See, later that evening there was a Foot-Notes dance. I know I've told you about these dances before, full of waltzes, two-step, polka, and shadish. This particular dance was held on the street in front of the court house on a perfect summer evening with a clear sky and cool breeze. And unlike other dances, there were hundreds of people here. Everyone knew how to dance, buzzing around the dance floor to the same beat. I love dancing in Decorah, but this dance may top them all due to the pure abundance of people, the perfect summer evening, and the energy of everyone together having a fantastic time.

Saturday was equally full of Nordic themed awesomeness. Laura and I took part in the rock throwing contest (in which you hurl 50 pound rocks as far as possible), checked out more entertainment of string bands and vikings, and ate even more than the day before. We had delicious skekt svinek jott (pork chop on a stick ... which was the bone), vaffel (waffle with ice cream and fruit on top), nisse (lingnonberry ice cream), and another Norwegian supper. The first one was so delicious that we decided we couldn't pass up another chance at First Lutheran Church. The main difference was carrots instead of green beans and boiled potatoes instead of mashed ... so I won't make you drool more by walking you through the delicious eats again. We also tried lutefisk, the famed fish of Norwegian lore. While we didn't partake in the eating contest, we tried the gelatinous goo that was drowning in butter. It's not terrible, but it's not delicious ... completely deserving of all it's jokes.

eating lutefisk!
pork chop on a stick!
Norwegian Dinner No. 2
The end of Saturday brought another Foot-Notes dance and fireworks. Laura lives on the dike, so we took some lawn chairs up to the top, drank our beer, and watched exploding balls of light in the sky. Decorah doesn't do fireworks on July 4th ... but they do them for Nordic Fest. And while firework shows are pretty standard, this one had the prettiest ending I've ever seen - with many of the white, weepy ones that stayed in the sky when finished. Our white-trash lawn chairs with cheap-cigars and beer drinking ways made the viewing all the more better.

With an uff-da to finish the weekend, I'm glad to say we accomplished our eating goals, and I feel pretty good about the level of commitment I gave to Nordic Fest. Undaunted conviction to Nordic ways, and to the Decorah lifestyle of Eat the Butter and Go Dancing. Mange takk, Decorah.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dairy cartels in the land of few surprises.

Fourth of July has come and gone, and with the promises of something amazing Tor, Steffen and myself headed to Madison, Wisconsin for Rhythm and Booms. After tricking me into thinking it could snow on the Fourth back in Winter, and by liking this seemingly innocuous holiday so much to deem it his favorite, I told Tor he had to make it an amazing Independence Day. And, while not on July 4th, it was a fantastic weekend.

After stocking up on snacks for the road from the Farmer's Market, we set off towards Madison, Wisconsin with just a few stops planned in between. And by a few, I mean that we did so many randomly awesome things that I can't remember it all. In fact, before we even made it to Wisconsin we had ourselves some cheese curds and ice cream from the Waukon creamery. Delicious.

'Hiking' In.
In Wisconsin, we stopped at Blue Mounds to set up camp. As the highest point in Wisconsin, this 'mound' provides a cave, camping, and beautiful hiking. We chose a hike-in camp site that involved all of a 1/4 walk down a paved road to nice little camp sites ... rough. After setting up the tents, we checked out a few observation tours to appreciate the view. It was impressive - you could make out the entire Wisconsin river valley and see gorgeous little farms all over the land.

First, we went to Cave of the Mounds. This National Natural Landmark was discovered some years ago by accident, and is (according to the fantastic 'Historical Consultant' interviewed for a pre-tour video) one of Wisconsin's few surprises (because those things don't happen a lot around here!). It's a gorgeous cave that has all the features of a cave, and our tour through was perfectly cooling and entertaining.

Afterwards, we headed out to Spring Green Prairie Reserve. This prairie has more sandy, dry conditions - so there are cactus through the prairie. We climbed up the bluff to the top and got a gorgeous view. Due to an ignored 'Trail Stops Here' sign, we discovered the best spot was impassiable with poision ivy. So we hiked across the bluff to find this amazing rock output with an amazing view. We sat and enjoyed the view for quite a while - I could have spent quite a bit of time here, but fireworks were to be had.

Amazing Views!
After hiking back, we looked for some Technu (yes, we also found some poision ivy all around our feet and legs), then jumped in the river for a lovely dip. After being sufficiently cool and testing our swimming abilities (only Tor could stand the current enough to swim to the other side), we finally headed into Madison for the fireworks display. With traffic and maddness, we weren't sure we'd make it on time. But, a quick parking find and a run down the hill found us seated in the park as the show was beginning. The show featured 30-45 minutes of beautiful fireworks, supposedly correagraphed to music. The music portion sucked, though the Whitney Housten tribute was entertaining. The fireworks felt like a technicolor version of birthday cake, and I love birthday cake.

I saved one donut for breakfast. Mmm.
Afterwards, we went downtown for dinner and drinks at The Great Dane. Wisconsin is known for having good beer, so why not get some while we have the chance? Afterwards we wandered around the main street into campus, with it's many bars and great atmosphere. We wandered around campus a little bit, enjoying the campus filled with various groups of drunk college-aged persons. After exploring and enjoying, we stopped by a donut shop on our way back to the campsite (it was open at 2:00 when we needed it to be!) and fell asleep, hard.

On Sunday morning we woke up easy and headed off on our adventures. We stopped in Spring Green - an artsy little town that had a delightful little cafe for breakfast. We had stopped by here for a look at Talisen the previous day ... today was just about the breakfast. After wandering around downtown, we took the back country roads along the Wisconsin River to Iowa, stopping at a random cheese store and at a little reserve for a quick hike along the way. It was great.
The Wisconsin River!

 All in all, Wisconsin isn't so bad either. All of the back roads are paved because of the 'milk cartel' (trucks don't like the gravel), so it was a pleasant ride. We ran into a pretty chapel, stopped for pretty views, and enjoyed the meandering river. It was a fantastic weekend. And, for the actual Fourth my friends and I swam in a local hide-away quarry, drinking beer and enjoying the cool for a couple of hours. This weekend, we went to fireworks in Spillville, where people come from all around. It was really great. People care a lot about the holiday here, so it was fun to experience it in so many different ways.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


If you haven't noticed, things are busy because summer is finally here.

Shooting stars at Hayden Prairie
I've come to understand another side of seasons, and that's the mass eruption of activity that occurs when things thaw. With only a few months of summer, everyone tries to pack as many things in as possible with any free time available. And not only is your time outside of work jam packed, but with things going in the ground and growing quite prolifically, harvests and maintenance are a top priority at work too. It's crazy.

For example, strawberries. The Wold farm is fifteen minutes to Minnesota from work, and with $1.25 a pound for you-pick strawberries, it's totally worth it. They don't weigh you on the way out or in, so you can get away with snacking to, you know, 'sample' the different varieties. Strawberry season is three weeks, a drastic difference from the summer-of-strawberries of my youth. But here, that's how most things are - short, jam packed seasons. With freezers full of strawberries, we move onto peas, then eventually the summer crops. And this is just food!

Outside of food, everyone is busy. With camping, canoeing, farmers markets, hiking, being outside, BBQs - there is an endless amount of things to do, and no one stops doing. Case in point, I've been busy. Too busy to write a blog post in a very long time. I haven't meant it to take a while, but here I finally have found sometime between running a 5K this morning and pickling garlic scapes this afternoon. Oh yes, and then a dance in an old school house tonight, after drinks at an outside bar yesterday, and tomorrow? Maybe a hike, baking a cake and some pie, then gardening. Life is full.

But it's a good full. It's full of friends, summer, community.

With a few new friends in town, there are weekly game nights and general adventuring. It's been fantastic, and I feel lucky to not only have so many people to spend my time with, but to have so many supportive and wonderful friends. Seriously.

The community of Decorah is opening me up to things I never thought I'd be a part of. Last weekend, I went door-to-door canvassing for Obama and attended a potluck for The People's Time Exchange. In this group, we'll offer our time and skills for the same in return. If I garden for Sue, I have an hour in the bank. I can use this hour to learn how to braid my hair, or ask someone to walk my dog. It's amazing to see the type of community members it's brought in, and I feel rather lucky to be a part of it.

Laura canoeing. Beautiful, right?
I had meant to write a post about canoeing - I went for the first time a month or so ago. And I have found I love canoeing. You're sort of working, but not all that hard, and can easily enjoy the beauty of the river and wooded hillsides (because this region of Iowa is beautiful). We went night canoeing under the last full moon a few weeks ago, and that was equally awesome. I really want my own kayak now.

I like summer here - I like being busy, being outside, enjoying nature, and seeing everyone be so active and happy. The humidity has been tame so far, but I can already sense this will be my biggest challenge. It saps my energy, makes the air heavy, and it's such a strange feeling. I sweat more than I expected this morning, but that's all a part of it. So if I can think of all these fantastic things with life, then I can hopefully push past the humidity.

Next post - food. I promise.
I leave you with this image of me 'eating' wild things.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Things to get used to.

Doing goats before a storm.
Now that the trees are almost completely full of leaves, I've really been able to notice the distinctive differences between tree-lined streets here versus other places I've lived. For one, most all of the trees are deciduous. There are no prolific numbers of pines and evergreen oaks, and (of course), no redwoods. I also haven't seen a eucalyptus here, which make sense since even those in Davis suffer when a frost hits. There are a lot more maples of all different shapes, sizes, and colors. There are more elms, and different kinds of oaks (including a lot of burr oaks). Last weekend, I went to a meeting to start a 'Friends of Decorah Parks' group at one of my favorite parks. We went for a walk along the wooded bluff afterwards, and I tried my best to identify the trees with my book ... and it felt really overwhelming. I love trees, I take notice of landscaping, and plants can make a place a home. So realizing that so many of the trees were unfamiliar, and there were very few familiar trees, made me feel very overwhelmed. Even the landscaping is unfamiliar to me! While there are plenty of junipers, we have larkspur and peonies instead of agapanthus and heavenly bamboo. I never realized how comfortable that familiarity was.

Regardless, I like maples. And I really like the tree-lined streets, where the trees are so old they shade the road with their pretty maple leaves. And peonies smell delightful.

I'm also having to adjust to a different set of weather patterns here. First, it rains outside of winter - which is weird for a girl who grew up in California. And not only does it rain, but it thunderstorms. The first few times I was freaked out because thunder is loud, and I don't like loud noises. But yesterday morning a thunderstorm woke me up, and it's rolling thunder with sparks through the sky were pleasant and lovely to think of and hear. I need to adjust my view of storms, however. If I hear of a storm, and see there's a Hazard Weather Warning, usually I think none the different. These things happen all the time in California since people just like to get excited about different weather. But here, it actually means something. There could be a tornado coming with all those winds - so when the emergency bell rings, you have to run home (and we did). I have never seen a sky turn green like that, and standing in the rain waiting for the winds to come feels both dangerous and exciting. Hail can damage your car (and can come with any storms, despite it being May), and the wind is substantial. People don't go out in storms, and I had the pleasure of being caught out in one which now helps me fully realize that it is not just some little bit of rain. It can pour so hard and so fast that you can't see the road two feet in front of you.
One of my new additions, a house plant!

We had a pretty substantial storm this week, bringing much needed rain (have I told you that we don't irrigate, counting on the rain instead? What is this?!). The winds were so intense, it took down several trees, tore apart all of the isolation tents at Seed Savers Exchange, and destroyed Tor's goat shelter. Yes, the entire shelter. It looks as though the wind lifted it up, threw it over the fence and down a hill. You could see pieces of the shelter littered down the hill, spaced so much so that it looked out of a movie. And I thought we'd be okay if we caught a bit of the storm while milking goats.

Wednesday was the last frost date, so we're planing all of our tomatoes. And on the other scale of the weather, today will the the hottest day we've had since I've lived here - up to 93 degrees. You can already feel the warm air seeping in as I get my first experience of substantial humidity. This will be new too, but I'm confident I can handle it. Everyone just gets sweaty together.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In general: life. With lightening bugs.

Bailey with a bow.
With the snow completely melted and the threat of frost soon gone, it's beginning to seem a lot like summer in Decorah. From dancing in bars to potlucks with games, I'm looking forward to what summer actually has to offer (aside from the humidity) ... everyone else seems to feel this way, too!

Most musicians in Decorah play danceable music at their shows, from two-step to swing and anything else. And everyone dances. The fantastic thing about this is that no one really cares what you look like or if you're even dancing that well - just dance. And so I do, and end up world's away from my mind's problems. As cliches go, I dance like no one's watching and it feels good. Last weekend, we went to a contra dance at the Highlandville school. It's a one room school house from back in the day that's perfect for dancing. It's also quite idylic, with windows open and dewey grass outside to cool off in, music floating around.

While life isn't perfect and my ducks are certainly not all in a row, Decorah keeps letting me know I'm in the right place. At work things are getting busy, which means less time on a computer and more time outside gardening. And I know I'm in the right place when I spend most of my work day gardening, then come home to pick up the hula-hoe and do the same to my own community plot.

A perfect Sunday afternoon.
Sunday was a fantastic day - it's amazing how accomplished and happy you can be when you fill a day with successful chores. And there was something quite picturesque about having my clothes all on the line, with freshly cut grass underneath and coffee for any break time. My house came with a clothes line, and most houses around town have one. Furthermore, no one collects grass to throw away here - it just goes right back on the lawn. While I did this in Davis, it wasn't the norm - a peer of mine was doing research on the benefit of leaving the clippings right on the lawn. Apparently, they already know about this in the Midwest.

On Saturday there was a potluck at a friend's farm out of town. This farm is awesome - bunnies, chickens, geese, guinea fowl, lambs, then of course tons of delicious vegetables. They have the best tasting eggs in town ... available at the Co-Op, too! Did I tell you that you really get to know your farmer around here? In any case, we shared food and played games, and I absolutely love that I have friends that will play duck-duck-goose as grown adults. It's nice because I have other friends to spend the rest of that evening with drinking whiskey on the porch, then heading to the bar to dance. It all seems too story book perfect.

Foraging feast!
Last Saturday, my friends and I made a forging feast - Steffen caught the fish, then we collected wild parsnips (being careful to avoid the tops) to roast next to a risotto of stinging nettle (tastes like spinach) and wild ramps with morels on top. Feast on this, nature.

And speaking of nature and story books, guess what else is here? LIGHTENING BUGS. The real things. They even live in town, and flash like lightening (though less intense). I'm excited for summer when there are more of them. Plus, Bailey was trying to catch a few on her walk last night so I'll also have a new form of entertainment when they increase their numbers. I've been attaching her leash to the porch and letting her lounge on the front stoop like a real porch dog ... she loves it. So many bugs to chase.

And otherwise, have I mentioned there's a river that runs through town? The upper Iowa, accessible all over and open for the swimming. So yesterday afterwork, we did! It was warmer than the Pacific, with stronger currents but equally refreshing. I'm so very happy I can just jump in the river at any point I want! Then maybe get ice cream at the Whippy Dip afterwards, and gosh darn it, doesn't that just sound dandy?

So there it is. Life is dandy. And everyone keeps telling me I fit in really well. How about them apples - little Midwestern Christy from California, walking her dog, swimming in the river, and dancing all the time.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Battle Iowa.

Iowa has been good to me. My first winter was mild, the spring thunderstorms have brought no tornadoes, and it's given me a place to live that's really spectacular and filled with amazing people.

However, there have been a few things Iowa has attempted to rouse against me - mainly, allergens and deer.
Since you can't take a picture of asthma, here's Pancake!
I haven't really had allergies, although I am allergic to things (and yes, I see these as different things). Cats, dust, and smoke make my asthma act up (which is different than allergens that cause runny noses and watery eyes). And my asthma is mostly under control because I can easily avoid the things that bother it, and use an inhaler with the things I can't (such as cold air and exercise). And so naturally, I assumed things would continue as normal in Iowa. Winter came and went without incident, and spring started without much to worry about either. There was a day here and there where the dusty wind seemed to tickle my lungs in such a special way, but nothing to use an inhaler over. We've got this, right?

Then straw happens. I've been working a lot in the Diversity Garden - the raised beds by the Visitor Center at Seed Savers Exchange that I plan, plant and maintain. A few coworkers and myself raked up all the old straw and needed to place new straw down for the upcoming season. I've worked with straw before, but nothing beyond a tickle. I've got this, right? An hour into placing straw, I realize that the tickle is rather irritating, and maybe I should actually use my inhaler. So I hitch a ride to the office, use it, bring it down and continue working with the straw (remember, I got this). Well, another hour goes by and this time it's more than a tickle. Luckily it's break time, so I think (of course) a walk will help. But the walk does not help, and I cannot breathe very well at all, and have very noticeably been unable to keep up with my coworkers on this walk. Tor seems quite concerned because my person shows I can't breathe (always a good sign), and so I find other things to do and let them finish the straw. Thursday and Friday go by with a low-grade inability to breathe well (nothing alarming, just annoying). And Saturday, things have not gotten better. In fact, my inhaler seems to have stopped working, and gentle pressure is placed on me to go to Urgent Care. And so I do.

At Urgent Care they give me Prednisone, a steroid that helps with lung inflammation. With that and Claritin, I'm left with 'asthma exacerbation' and told to come back within the week. I spend the rest of the weekend doing absolutely nothing that may tempt my asthma - no walking my dog, no morning movie at a friends' house who happens to have a cat, etc. And by the time I see the doctor on Wednesday, things have not gotten better. I am incredibly short of breath all the time, my chest is tight and it all feels like the throat isn't working right. This makes me exhausted and frustrated because I just feel shitty and nothing helps make it feel better (not soup, tea, sleep, showers, etc). The doctor says it's allergens, in a cheery 'Welcome to Iowa!' sort of way. But what was first 'simple' in her mind turned out to not be, as a nebulizer treatment did nothing and oxygen levels in my blood all point to me getting quite perfect levels of oxygen in my lungs. Chest x-ray shows nothing special, and a blood test shows I'm not anemic .... so what's going on? Unofficially, I think it's this: whatever is in Iowa's air does not agree with my lungs. I had an attack of sorts on Thursday, which made the whole breathing-thing sore and disagreeable. Like a sports injury, it all needs to heal so in the mean time, I'm uber sensitive to any asthma allergens. Maybe once it heals up then I won't have such difficulties on a day-to-day thing with Iowa air. Or maybe, I'm allergic to Iowa and will need some daily maintenance medication. I look forward to the day these decisions can be properly made and I can breathe normally. Who knew?

On a lighter note, the battle versus the deer is a lot less life threatening. For us, at least.

Carefully crafted paths protected by deer netting.
Tor, Steffen and I put in and got three plots in the Community Gardens right next to each other. Down by the river, we had heard these gardens get ransacked by deer every year. So we planned accordingly and built a deer fence with some t-posts, deer netting, and crafty usage of sticks to create height. Our paths look pretty fantastic, and some spinach was placed in on a whim. One evening, we notice the gate had been left open and a deer had just sort of wandered around - sort of checked it out, see what there was to see. So we fix our gates and think that this deer is just a silly little beast. On Saturday we go to plant some lettuce and see the deer have been back. However, they didn't just waltz in an open gate this time. No, they broke open a gate to get into our garden that had nothing but sad looking tomatoes and a few spinach plants in it. They nibbled some tomato plants, tramped all around the beds, and left. This does not bode well for our gardening season, and we all heard at least three maniacal laughs as we relayed this story to friends. So, we didn't plant the lettuce and got ourselves some plantskyyd - dried bovine blood that you reconstitute with water and spray on the plants to deter the deer. Delish, right? NO. That stuff smells like shit. Bah, freaking deer. Becoming decidedly less adorable. I will keep you updated as Battle: Deer continues this season (should be a lot more exciting than Battle: Colorado Potato Beetle, because we can just smash those guys). 


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Birthdays and Baby Goats.

I was planning this really nice, introspective blog post about new things, new beginnings and new ideas. Fitting for it being my birthday and me having the most spring-like birthday I've ever had, as well as signifying the absolute most change in my person and situation since last year. But, this blog post is a little late for that, and a handful of goats re-routed my train of thought. Yes, literally, a handful of goats.

Thus begins the most ridiculous and awesome birthday I've ever had.

Frigg and Early, born April 8
On Sunday, I got a call from Tor. He was out of town for Easter, frantically on his way back. Apparently, goat Freya had triplets, found by the folks who own the property Tor keeps the goats on. He called me up to see if I could go out and hang out with them until he got into town. The babies were about a week early, and Freya rejected the smallest one. It was graciously taken inside, where goat colostrum and bottles were found from neighbors. While things weren't looking too good for the littliest baby, the others were healthy - clumsily rambling around while I attempted to herd them together with Freya and 'protect' them from the neighboring cat. Nothing like standing on a hillside on the eve of your birthday with newborn goat bleets to make you introspective on your last year. I talked with Cristina on the phone during a good portion of this standing-waiting evening, in which she said several times (and I had to agree) ... I can't believe you're in Iowa!
Pancake and Tikka, born April 9

For my birthday the next day, I  had purchased tickets in advance and planned to go see Fun. in Iowa City with Tor and another friend. There was some question as to the feasibility now that Tor had baby goats to care for. Steffen said he could feed the littlest one while we went to the concert, and despite the chaotic morning we were all set to go. That is, until fifteen minutes before a late leaving time - Tor checked on the goats and goat Terra was now having kids. Tor hadn't realized she had been bred at the same time as Freya, so this was a certain surprise. As it was too late to round up anybody else, the concert was no longer an option. In a weird way, I felt that the universe just did not want the concert to be - it could have worked out, but everything happened in such a way that it didn't. Nevertheless, now without a concert to go to I invited coworkers and friends to my house for an impromptu birthday party that night, and I left work early to play with the baby goats. Tor let me name them given the shared birth date. The boy is named Tikka (the boys won't be kept, so what's more delicious then tikka masala with goat meat?) and the girl Pancake (or Pan for short). They were adorable, much bigger than the triplets, and so very special to hold.

After we forced Terra to fed her baby goats, I headed to my place for a really nice evening. Quite a few people came over and brought all sorts of delicious foods, and my new roommate surprised me with a beautiful chocolate cake with raspberry topping, decorated with violets and candles! It was really quite lovely, and I enjoyed spending time with my friends and eating good food. What made this party even more fantastic was the presence of the littlest baby goat. As it survived the first night, it still needed to be fed every few hours and wanted to be held for warmth.So, it came to my party. Who else has baby goats at their party?
Willow in my apartment

I've been keeping the baby goat with me during the nights this week as Tor has been sick, and it's really fantastic and hilarious at the same time. Baby goats don't belong in houses, and tend to look quite out of place. Bailey doesn't know what to do with the baby goat since it smells funny and plays differently. But helping care for this goat has been a really great experience, and the whole goat ordeal definitely made this a birthday for the books.

And not only did I get all kinds of goat experiences for my birthday, but everyone was so nice to me - I got cards from various people, all sorts of flowers, cakes, and even whiskey in the mail from Natalie! I ended the day feeling very blessed and lucky to not only have been able to help with baby goats (and play such a role in their lives), but also to have so many people that care about me. It's a warm-fuzzy kind of feeling that I've been riding off of this whole week - baby goats and birthday love.

That's an epic kind of birthday.

Birthday goats :D