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).