Happy Thanksgiving Readers! Like me you're probably busy in the kitchen today and tomorrow. However you can head over to my personal blog for a link to my deceptively simple soup formula that uses fall veggies from the garden (and fruits) for delicious creamy soups (without the cream) that will fill you up with filling you out.
When we left the western suburbs for the city my only regret was leaving the critters behind. No more would I breakfast within sight of eagles, encounter and maneuver around minks on the dock or spy baby Bambis on the way to the grocery store.
Moving to Minnesota and settling along the Minnetonka/Wayzata border I was always in awe of the sheer variety of critters roaming the woods and waters around my home. Animals I only imagined in the great Northern wilderness made their homes and lives close to where I was doing the same. When I wasn't spotting them outright, I saw their tracks and other signs that they had passed by while busy surviving their day.
Six years later, heading into the city I figured the wildlife would be limited to only the most adaptable creatures; rabbits and squirrels, a few common birds and perhaps a flock of pigeons. But I was wrong.
With the exception of deer (although I hear they range a few blocks north of here by the country club) and the odd otter sighting, I have yet to miss a single animal I used to see before. They are simply in a different setting. And in some cases I see them much more.
The barred owl that took up sentinel on our basketball hoop right outside the window was stunning. The summer of the "sidewalk foxes" was surprising and delightful. A single tom turkey appeared for awhile foraging at 4 o'clock every day down the street. Waxwings still gobble fruit but from another tree. Eagles soar above me as I walk the trails, I must only remember to look up. I even glimpsed a mink as he made his way between the lakes. The city does not deter them.
Not all is charming though. Just as in the burbs, the ubiquitous raccoons prowl and plunder. They pillage bird feeders, chew through veggie gardens, terrorize urban poultry and wreak general havoc in neighborhoods. For the most part we do not find their antics endearing.
So when I noticed the pointy ears and black-masked eyes at a curious angle in the gutter the other day I just groaned. What are they up to now? But as I drove closer I realized this raccoon was between a rock and a hard place.
Crawling into the street from the storm drain this guy ( or gal) had become stuck. He scrabbled and clawed but his butt was stuck. To make things worse it was a cold and rainy day. He would try and try then rest his head on the pavement with a look of sheer exhaustion and misery. Surely he would make it out in time?
I drove home half a block away but turned around and gave it another pass. He looked so pathetic, so pitiful. I thought about times in my life when I had become stuck, albeit usually metaphorically. I drove around the block one more time. Still stuck.
For a nanosecond I considered grabbing a blanket, throwing it onto the struggling critter and quickly pulling. However reason prevailed and I called in the experts. The lady at animal control gave an empathetic "awww" when I described the wily critter's plight. I had to leave for a prior appointment so I wasn't able to watch the extrication but he wasn't there the next day when I checked, so one way or another he found freedom.
I couldn't help but wonder will he repeat the process.
I still haven't forgiven the general raccoon population for the wrongs they have done me. But just like in war, when you see the enemy up close and personal, long held opinions can change.
With my kids grown up I miss making Halloween costumes, but I have to say I sure don't miss the weather worries associated with it. And we didn't even live in Minnesota then.
It was a point of pride for me that we always hit the streets in homemade costumes, none of that slick, shiny dime store stuff. Creativity was king.
Talking with my daughter on the phone recently I told her how the news featured the best Halloween costumes for cold weather and how to convince your kids you didn't really notice the sweatshirt layer underneath. Yeah, right she said.
It never ceased to amaze me that no matter where we lived; the more imaginative the costume we concocted, the crappier the weather. If it wasn't the weather, something else always seemed to thwart my most earnest Halloween efforts.
It all started when the same daughter was obsessed with the Little Mermaid. Being a new mom I went all in and produced an iridescent tail with quilted fish scales and matching scallop-shell top, plus a sea-shell tiara. Of course, it was a rare Kansas snowstorm that night. At least we have the video of the three, count 'em, three trick or treaters that showed up. And yeah, yeah, I know all about your famous Halloween blizzard, so I can hear you say, wow, what wimps.
The year of the Beanie Baby. I sewed and sneezed through yards of polyester fur to transform my son into Mel the adorable Koala, while my daughter went as his tag, an oversized foldout heart complete with that red plastic thing that attached to the toy. Yep, pouring rain.
As the kids got older we switched from cute to catchy. The weather guys were predicting a warm evening, so we went with a Survivor theme, it was still new and newsworthy. Hawaiian shirts, buffs and tiki torches (and we hung a few of those old Beanie Baby rats and snakes on the torches). You have your Halloween blizzard of '91, Wichita had the Halloween flood of '98. I have a picture of them in their costumes with the TV's orange splotchy weather radar in the background.
It wasn't always the weather that rained on our parade. There was the year we moved to a very small Illinois town where unbeknownst to me they had strict rules about trick or treating. I had spent weeks sewing through slippery turquoise satin and sheer fabric to make my daughter the Disney character du jour, Jasmine ensemble from Aladdin. (She says she can still remember me crying when I sewed it backward and had to rip out all the delicate seams.)
I waited for dark and headed out with the kids only to be told at the first door that trick or treating hours were 4-6pm and we were too late and out of luck.
Moving a lot did mean we could recycle costumes occasionally because it was new again in a new town, I did get my money's worth out of my son's Great Pumpkin get-up.
There were other times when I soldiered on with Halloween no matter the obstacle. "Soldier on" being what I was told whenever I encountered a problem while we were living in England. The kids still very young, were worried they wouldn't have Halloween, especially with such a strong sentiment about adopting those "bloody American holidays". The first year, without a sewing machine and no craft stores in sight, we pulled off the Flintstones. I used old scraps laced up the sides for cave men clothes and added a certain flourish with chicken bone (from the day-before dinner) accessories.
The next year though, that little English village celebrated Halloween and our kids wore their costumes from the ill-fated Illinois year. Better yet they won pound coins as prizes at the pub. And at our house, we had three, count 'em, three trick or treaters.
It was an innocent favor. My husband asked me to buy a gift for a young Chinese woman who helps to coordinate his travels when in China. A sweet request, my husband is thoughtful about the people that make his work life easier to do. He said he felt like he needed to acknowledge her rain or shine sunny service.
While a trip to China would take me several months of thought and preparation plus a steamer trunk, my husband the intrepid traveler, shares his packing style with George Clooney's million-mile character from "Up in the Air". He calmly and precisely fills a carry-on late the night before he leaves and always makes the same "don't want to forget my brown socks" joke.
In the same nonchalant manner he asked me at the last minute to fulfill this gift mission.
Beyond the fact that everything and then some is made in China I reasoned it wasn't going to be simple. Sure enough, google "giving gifts to Chinese" and you are presented with the complicated code of number, color and symbolism that governs the Chinese gifting process.
A hand knit scarf? Too close to a towel typically handed out at funerals or a handkerchief that means "so long" in courtship. The same for sharp objects (which the TSA doesn't like either) and shoes, especially straw sandals. Clocks, the passing of time and death. Sets of four, in their language too close to the word for death. Nothing white, no white or yellow flowers, once again too funereal, but somehow pink and yellow's ok. Trying not to think they are kind of preoccupied with death.
According to experts the best Chinese gift is a red envelope with crisp money. Well yeah. Finally something everyone wants, but Americans wouldn't sweat the envelope color. However that looks like a bribe. Not good.
And yes, if I had been given some time I might have found something local and meaningful, and mind you it had to fit in the carry-on.
In the end I settled on a small, hand-carved loon (made in USA) and a bag of Minnesota hand-picked wild rice. I know, not too imaginative, I'm not known for my gift-buying. I'd be interested in your ideas in case there's a next time. After he left with the gift snuggled next to his shirts, I looked again at another list of offending colors. Oops, black and white, death again, the colors of the loon.
This is why my husband prefers to do all the Christmas shopping.
Where did the white squirrels go? Everyday last fall I told myself that soon I'd grab my camera and visit the little triangle in the park where they busied themselves with acorns everyday, sit real still and finally get a decent photo of the ghostly rodents. But I put it off even though I passed them everyday on my way back from walking. And when the snow fell I shrugged and said there's always next year.
Now there's no sign of the white squirrels.
Too bad because I'd done a little research. It seems among them there are albino squirrels and leucistic squirrels. From what I could fathom albino squirrels have a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin, and leucistic squirrels have a genetic mutation that prevents the melanin from forming in their fur.
So were the white squirrels of William Berry Park, albino or leucistic? The only way to tell would have been to peer into their beady little eyes, with albinos having characteristic pink eyes while the others have normal squirrel-colored eyes. I never got close enough. Although I've seen a few others around town that were definitely albinos.
Apparently sometimes you get enough cross mating that a number of squirrels will exhibit the unusual coloring, or lack of it. I spotted two white squirrels at a time, maybe not enough to qualify as a colony. They do exist in parts of Minnesota and around the country. As do their counterparts, black squirrels.
So was it the winter that wouldn't leave that did in the white squirrels? It sure seemed to be a year that produced a plethora of white cabbage butterflies. Although the white squirrel's coloring is great camouflage in snow, if albinos, they would have trouble seeing, and apparently they fall more often than more nimble regular squirrels.
It was a long winter into snowy spring that seemed to favor redbud trees (were they ever as purple and pretty?), made many tomatoes mealy and sprouted weeds not seen in years. And I've yet to see a single raccoon this year, hmmm.
What about it, any white squirrels in your neighborhood lately?