lake life

Start With an Onion

It can be hard to get excited about making dinner.  But it never fails, as soon as I get my lazy tush into the kitchen and get the chopped onion into the pan (because don't all recipes start with that?) the awesome smell of caramelizing onion cooking causes me to forget my resistance, and to relax in general.

People ask me often if I cook while my husband is overseas and they are surprised to learn that I do.  For me it is not strange for cooking to sometimes be private and solo; I starting learning to cook while living alone in my first apartment, and lived alone for much of my twenties.  While eating at restaurants a pastime that I have enjoyed as much as most in my age group, cooking still strikes me as a critical life skill, not mention a good pillar of long-term health.  My skills have been slow but steady enough in their evolution.  Interestingly, and perhaps leading to my willingness to cook even when no one is looking, I experience cooking as nice creative outlet of the hands-on variety.  For now anyway; I'm sure motherhood could change that, although I hope it doesn't.

Just as the onion lights my cooking fire even when I'm just not feeling it, books and fabric and yarn ignite my sewing and design excitement, especially if I'm not sure where to start.  I recently splurged on a book like that; it has some beautiful images that remind me why textiles and sewing make me excited.  I am particularly enamored because I have been harboring a big crush on blue colors for a couple of years now.  Here are a few images from the book:

I was also having a hard time getting inspired with ideas for our nursery (nursery-slash-guest-bedroom, more accurately).  Babies do not come naturally to me, nor does the soft and sweet vibe that I see in so many photos of suggested nurseries.  I kept coming back to some hand-dyed cotton knitting yarn that I had picked up at a craft fair in NYC years ago while visiting a friend.  I was working on knitting a baby blanket with it, so when her mom offered to make us a quilt in our choice of colors, I suggested those same colors: red and orange, turquoise and indigo, in a variety of shades.

Still, in spite of that, I had no vision for the rest of it.  Especially with the room already full of home office and guest bed furniture and my husband on the other side of the planet with only a fuzzy timeline for return.

Not to worry; I found my inspiration when I went home in June, right where if I'd been thinking, I would have expected to find it: the flea market that I've been going to with mom since I was a kid (see photo above) and a place where in high school I even found a prom dress, a vintage flapper dress that mom altered and that I've been known to still wear once in a blue moon.  

The market occurs every Sunday, as it has for 45 years; since long before Anthropologie figured out that people would pay hundreds for shabby-chic objects that their buyers found in France for a few Euros.  I'm not as devoted a flea market attendee as my mom; I'm willing to skip vendors that I don't find promising and I do get distracted by some of the old-looking new goods that have crept in over the years, while she easily finds beauty in objects you couldn't pay me to bring home.

Regardless, that's where it came together.  A wall shelf made from metal and wire fashioned into a canoe-style boat washed in an aqua color (old-looking but new), and a metal minnow bucket with orange print (actually old but clean and free of minnows), to be transported home in my carry-on back to Texas. Our little guy will surrounded by reds, oranges, and blues and more importantly by some evidence of his Northern roots while he gets comfy in his Southern home.

Texas Wine Trail

We recovered from our month of life madness by exploring the Texas wine trail this weekend, enjoying the offerings of a half-dozen area vineyards.  The weather was lovely and sunny and it was our first drive through Hill Country, a much-loved area near Austin and San Antonio, and only a four-hour-ish drive from Houston.  We stocked up on wine and enjoyed the spectacle of Texans embracing their natural habitat.

We were a little late booking a place to stay, so instead of using a classic hotel, we used the company AirBnB to book a room which turned out to be in a private home.  It was my first time using AirBnB, and while it was generally a positive experience, I also learned a lot in the process.

Our bed was comfy, and our hosts very friendly, treating us more like friends than guests.  We were entertained by their sweet blind dog, and their multiple rescue birds (who did not sleep inside the house, thankfully).  I was grateful to not see any tarantulas or scorpions, which apparently are not uncommon in those parts.  We did see some deer in the backyard, along with a neighborhood cat, and we enjoyed their outdoor fireplace on their big stone porch before going to bed on Saturday night.

We had breakfast in a little town called Wimberley, and I was very entertained by this little business we saw near their town square.

Stitching Time

There is little to report, but a nice calm before the next life hurricane is cause for celebration, not consternation.

Texas continues to entertain, although I haven't been struck with my usual urge to dissect local absurdities.  My mind has not been altogether here.  I had a nice visit to Minnesota, where I enjoyed the hot commodity of fresh air and open windows.  We didn't buy the land that I thought we would, and that was the right decision for the time being.  I'm still waiting for news on the dream job, which also has my mind one foot out the door, as slim as those chances are.  As per usual chez LaCasse, champagne chills in preparation for either an invitation to interview, or the inevitable thanks-but-no-thanks email.

I finished my classes, and am grateful to have no more homework.  My final illustration project left me with many ideas and with more work to do on my own this summer, which is, to me, the sign of a class worth taking.  So now, I'm doodling and stitching, organizing and plotting, drafting and resting, and alternating between feeling wonderfully relaxed and intermittently antsy.  I continue to sew by hand, even when I know I should switch to a machine...sewing by hand costs me time, but makes me happy and brave, so for now it dominates.

I have disassembled my wedding dress in order to examine the fabric for its reincarnation into the anniversary dress.  I have begun sewing a dress that I envisioned in my final illustration project.  And I really need to be making lightweight tanks and sundresses, because the Texas heat is upon me and I forgot how serious it is.

Reading continues on the history of cotton and it is an amazing story.  Vaguely familiar parts of our nation's history are coming to life in a much more vibrant way for me through the lens of the story of this challenging fiber, and its links to this part of the country.

"Kuwait on the Prairie"

As far as we can tell, there is no oil in Minnesota.  Mostly, as we observe what having oil can do for and to a community, we have been grateful that the place that we call home would not be used and abused by the boom and bust cycles which plague the modern oil economy.  During visits home, I have been happy about the lack of random derricks and rusted out equipment lingering in fields.  I have felt grateful that prices of food, fuel and housing do not feel as artificially inflated resulting from oil companies temporarily pouring money and people into a place.

On the other hand, there is the Bakken formation, in western North Dakota.  Growing up, all I knew of North Dakota was Fargo, where my parents were born and raised.  I knew that it was cold, even colder than where I had lived in Minnesota, and that many people I knew from the area around our cabin lived in Fargo during the times they were not enjoying the Minnesota lakes, where we all spent as much time as possible.

My life with my husband's work has been largely separate from my life at home.  If we are home visiting,  the language and rhythms and energy of oil production feel distant and far away, a separate existence.  However, a few weeks ago, there was an article about western North Dakota oil production in my favorite magazine, The New Yorker.  I read The New Yorker not because I care about New York, which I don't particularly, but because it is consistently some of the best writing around.  The articles are detailed, relevant, thorough, intriguing, and help me feel connected to the world.  I read about the Arab Spring, the development of an American art museum by the Walmart family, the history of cancer, the possible viability of insects as a viable source of protein for developed nations, and all manner of other random things which I would normally only catch headlines for.  And on that day, I read about places and a topic already partially familiar to me.

I had recently made the drive between Minnesota and Calgary, and had been comforted to see the physical space between those two places.  It made me much less homesick to understand that in one day, propelled by forces mostly within my control, I could traverse the chasm between our oil-soaked life in Calgary and our family life in Minnesota.  During that drive, I was also comforted, for the first time, by the presence of an oil industry.  I saw with my own eyes residue of oil and gas world linked to a place that was very close to home.  It struck me as a possible long-term way home for us, and have thought of it frequently since that trip.

August : Pickles, Pickled

My dad makes the best spicy dill pickles, and I heard a rumor that my brother-in-law and his future bride are making pickles this weekend.  When I was home, I was able to witness my family making pickles, and it was a colorful and memorable day.  My godmother was there, and she spoke of mixing these pickles with cream cheese to make a dip.  Tonight we ate that for dinner with crackers, and it was delicious.  I added cayenne and cajun spices for extra excitement.

When my husband is slightly, but not terribly, hung over, he says he feels "pickled", which I think is great.

Long Haul

My husband and I drove back and forth between the New Orleans area and Minneapolis/St. Paul during our few years of him working in Louisiana.  Those were the hardest road trips of my life.  Twenty hours total drive time and driving conditions that were less than ideal during the seven or eight hours closest to Louisiana.  My first clue that driving through Mississippi would be a test was when I saw a sign for a rest area which read "Security Provided."  The gas stations were no better; I learned to roll up the cuffs of my pants to avoid the filthy floors.  That was also the era where I started traveling with hand sanitizer, a precaution I'd always found silly in past travels.  We found ourselves avoiding water and coffee until we were almost through the state, but it was impossible to clear the state completely without stopping for fuel.

We did that drive maybe two or three times a year during that period, and it wore me out.  So when we were transferred to Canada, at first I refused to drive home.  We were one 3.5 hour flight from home, why would we drive?

Then I watched flight prices skyrocket.  Ever since we arrived, flights have remained consistently between $700 and $1000.  I got really homesick and started to research a little.  How hard would it actually be to drive?  There was a border in the way, which was a new hurdle for me in a car.  The trip looked to be, per Google, around 18 hours.  In eighteen hours, if I remember correctly, you can fly from Atlanta to Dubai. Or you can drive from Calgary, AB to Detroit Lakes, MN.

Turns out, it's not that hard.  Approximately $400 for fuel, much better than the price of two flights.  Another $100 to make it to the Twin Cities and back, but also the freedom of our own car during the trip.  And, the nice surprise is that I like this drive better than the Louisiana-Minnesota route.  People wrinkle their nose in distaste at the idea of driving long distances. However, I don't find this one very hard.  Driving the length of Mississippi felt much more strenuous to me than driving across North Dakota and a little bit of Montana.  I like to revert back to my naughty college days and crank the music while sucking down caffeine. I force myself to listen to songs and podcasts in their entirety, in order to practice patience and to find unexpected inspiration.

My husband and I have road trip in our DNA. His grandfather drove trucks many years ago, before starting his own trucking business.  My own parents chucked me into the backseat for many, many trips to the cabin.  Most of these trips were only three or four hours, most weekends of the summer, but for about five years, they were about twelve hours, only one time per summer.  I was expected to entertain myself and not make a fuss.  I have never slept well in the car, so mostly I read, in between occasional rounds of Alphabet game, I Spy, star gazing and license-plate watching.   I learned to report my need for a bathroom break well in advance of the situation becoming an emergency, and also that parents are very susceptible to requests for McDonalds on a Friday afternoon after a few hours in the car.

Driving satisfies my curiosity; now I can picture the space between where I live and where I'm from.  I am comforted knowing that I can get home of my own accord if necessary.  I also now know that there is a town called Bloom, North Dakota, and that the National Buffalo Museum is in Jamestown, North Dakota.  I know that when you cross the border from North Dakota to Saskatchewan, you can buy a sweatshirt with the logo "Saskatchewan: Hard to Spell, Easy to Draw", and that there are badlands in North Dakota.  and that there is also a stretch of highway near there called the Enchanted Highway, and the metal sculpture sign for it features enormous geese.

Driving home and back helps me undersand where I am in the world.

The Village That Raised Me

I'm getting ready for bed, up at the lake.  In the new house, the one that Dad says I should no longer call the cabin, a door opens from my bedroom out to the lakeside patio.  Music is floating across the water, from the bar a few miles away where I used to waitress during the summers of the college years.  Bottle rockets are being launched from near our neighbors' waning bonfire.  A little part of me wants to be at the bar; and if i went, there is a good chance that I would bump into an aunt or uncle, cousin or friend.

The bar is located in an area of the lake called Shoreham.  It is a tiny hamlet full of rowdy ways and colorful characters.  Full of loyalty and friendship, and probably a little bit of heartache and betrayal.  But I'm not feeling as social tonight, I want to stay near the water and wake up sober and rested.  I need to have my wits about me for the flea market tomorrow; I'm twitchy anticipating the treasures I will snatch up.  The reality is that I'm trying to absorb as much of this place as I can before Monday, and it's impossible to deny that buying little bits and pieces makes me feel like I can pack it all up in my suitcase in order to bring it across the border with me.  The shopping urge is strong these last few days; surely a response to my imminent departure and my flailing attempt to capture the essence of the place by gathering the right combination of souvenirs.

At the flea market tomorrow morning, I will see more people I know.  I will see some of the people who are at the bar right now, and I will see others who may already be asleep all around the lake now, under old soft blankets and quilts, listening to the same crickets and loons and slightly too-loud music.

My parents met in the middle of this lake, on a night probably very similar to this one, 43 years ago.  My brother-in-law proposed to my sister here, and my husband also proposed to me here.  It is a magical, special place, and enormously difficult to put out of my mind when not enough time is spent here.

Lake Days and Horse Thieves

My husband and I are on a whirlwind trip to Minnesota.  We are out and about together, at home, and home feels amazing.  It makes me a little nervous to be here, because I just started feeling happy in Canada, and I'm worried about this upsetting the balance.  I wavered today, but a trip to the neighborhood bookstore helped.  Regardless, while I can't say that we are on vacation, because my husband has been working most of the time, I can say that I am on vacation and he has been stealing relaxing moments as often as possible.

Friday was a perfect Minnesota lake day.  Such a day includes the following: 80F with a slight breeze, more time on the boat than on land, no time in dry clothes, stops on land only to move people or to replenish food and cocktails, frequent submersion in the lake, sunbathing which does not result in ruinous sunburn, and lots of family and friends around, all doing the same thing and resulting in spontaneous mayhem and afternoon intoxication.

This weekend we have been in St. Paul visiting my husband's family.  We spent some time today with his grandpa who is old-school and very cool.  He is 92 and still lives independently in his home, with a fair amount of support from his attentive daughters.  He is sharp as a tack.  He gave us advice on two topics: family and luck.


As we discussed family roots and backgrounds, at one point he said, "Well, don't shake the family tree too hard, because you never know what's going to fall out."  Pause.  "Horse thieves," he chuckled, almost as an afterthought.  I secretly hoped that there was something so interesting and scandalous as horse thievery in my family.

We also talked about his career in the trucking business.  He drove trucks for ten years before starting his own trucking business, at a time when there were far fewer rules and regulations, so he has some stories from that as well.  His advice on the topic of work is that the harder you work, the luckier you are.

My husband has to go back to work already tomorrow, and I know he hasn't had enough time with his family.  I'm fortunate enough to be able to head back to the lake for a few more days before driving back up north.  I plan to squeeze as much Minnesota as I can out of these coming days, before I have to go back to Canada and make some luck.