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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

More Thanksgiving

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During the three-day-weekend following Thanksgiving, we enjoyed leftover turkey sandwiches and some spectacular creamy turkey with wild rice soup that Cyndie whipped up from the remains of our feast. Saturday night, we were both looking for a change. A scrumptious homemade pizza from scratch more than fit the bill.

By the middle of the afternoon yesterday, neither of us had an appetite, let alone a craving for what to do for our Sunday dinner. I suggested we wait until either of us got hunger pangs and then we could revisit our options. Before we reached that point, Cyndie happened to notice we still had all the side dishes left over from the holiday meal that we shouldn’t let go to waste.

That made the decision for us.

When all the goodness was heated up and heaped on plates, it became the only thing I could possibly have wanted. It was a Thanksgiving feast all over again.

I am even more thankful than ever for all the blessings we enjoy.

  • For the culinary skills Cyndie employs daily to feed me better than I will ever deserve.
  • For our home and a warm bed.
  • The companionship of all our animals.
  • Family and friends who love us and make us proud.
  • Entertainers who work every day to bring laughter into the world.
  • That most people understand the risks of the pandemic and take healthy precautions.
  • That the majority of people in the world are good and would help others in need.
  • I have a job that gives me access to health insurance.
  • That the NFL football team I stopped watching yesterday didn’t quit when I did.
  • Jigsaw puzzles, a fireplace, books to read, and my lifetime collection of music to listen to.
  • That I saved 100% by not buying anything from much-hyped sales “bargains” over the entire weekend.
  • A car that safely makes my long commute tolerable.
  • Monday mornings, that make a prior weekend seem that much more precious.

Okay, I admit it. I turned off the game when the punt was fumbled. I had a puzzle to finish. Imagine my surprise when the score was flashed on an update of games later in the afternoon.

If you are reading this from beyond the Minnesota region, just disregard that part. It’s not really important.

Honestly, yesterday was a pretty dreary day for me. I suspect a large part of it was the harsh reality that the long weekend was ending and a return to the workweek was getting closer by the minute. The stark contrast of weather from the sun and warmth of Saturday to cold, cloudy, and windy Sunday didn’t help, either.

Ending on a high note of feasting in continued thankfulness is a pretty good way to break that spell.

Here’s to not letting a single dreary day become anything more than a temporary affliction and making a point to pay frequent attention to things we can be thankful for each and every day.

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Written by johnwhays

November 30, 2020 at 7:00 am

Adding Lattice

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On a gift of a day in late November when warmth and sunshine belied the proximity to winter and scores of others were hanging Christmas lights on their homes, Cyndie and I were weaving branches into the frame of our gazebo.

The inspiration struck a few weeks ago when I was pulling down the aging canvas canopy in preparation for the onset of winter. The old cover had long ago faded from the original brown color to a silvery-blue and the fabric fibers, weakened by the relentless bombardment of solar rays, were breaking around the edges.

I was pretty sure it didn’t have another summer of life left, so I considered alternatives. A natural canopy of live vines would provide shade in summer and leaves would fall off for the winter so I wouldn’t need to do any additional work.

All I needed to do was convince Cyndie the idea had merit. Since we share a similar perspective about these kinds of things, she was all in.

While I was taking a few weeks to think through how I might execute my vision, Cyndie was thinning our woods of saplings in preparation.

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First, we wove one long stick along the front face, then, two. Continuing around the four sides, we worked our way up. The closer we got to the top, the harder it was to weave the branches through, so we switched to cuttings from wild grapevines.

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Next spring, we will transplant some wild vines from our woods to the four legs of the gazebo in hopes of establishing a natural canopy that thrives on the massive exposure of direct sunlight.

My only trepidation is about how much snow might collect throughout winter to stress the modest strength of the metal framework. I expect it will depend on how wet or dry the snowfalls are and how frequently separate snow events will occur.

It’s a gamble we are willing to wage. I figure, worst case, I could use more cut trees from our woods to prop up the frame in places where the metal shows signs of buckling. The whole thing is already flexed out of level due to the lack of solid footings. We merely set the four legs on spots I prepared when we moved the gazebo to this spot beside the labyrinth. The ground in those spots has not shifted in unison from the subsequent seasons of freeze/thaw cycles.

The structure has a quaint “askew” look that I expect will fit nicely with the vision I have for a natural canopy of living green growth by the middle of summer.

For now, we just watch and wait.

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Written by johnwhays

November 29, 2020 at 11:05 am

Happy Chickens

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Our newest chickens are now about four and a half months old and have reached a size that has the two remaining hens from the previous batch mixing with them as equals. As a group, they are behaving as the happiest and friendliest of yard pets. Almost too friendly, in fact. They are showing no hesitation about racing up to us when we are walking Delilah, who would not hesitate for one second to grab a mouthful of feathers.

On an afternoon walk after our Thanksgiving feast, Cyndie made me stop to occupy the chickens while she hustled ahead with the dog.

She paused to look back and see me chicken-whispering to thank them for agreeing to wear face masks for my little photoshoot the day before.

They had been very accommodating, lining up politely for their fitting.

This morning, there was a new level of excitement because Rocky found his voice again and was crowing many times in a row after weeks of silence following his initial experiments.

Rocky’s coloring and sheen are launching him far beyond the splendor of his brood of adoring pullets.

We continue to visualize his protective spirit as one that will include us and any people visiting as non-threats. He could be our ultimate test of the power of our chicken-whispering abilities.

For now, we are thoroughly enjoying the present state of bliss caring for our growing chickens. They seem totally happy, which is making us even happier.

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Written by johnwhays

November 28, 2020 at 9:55 am

Fitting Feasts

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Despite the peculiar Thanksgiving “ungathering” in the U.S. yesterday, brought on by the miserably timed (like there would ever be a good time) runaway community spreading of COVID-19, I am personally aware of many feasts that were had by individual households anyway.

I unwittingly broke a loose promise made to my mother a lifetime ago by not eating our Thanksgiving dinner at the old family table. We were gifted with rights to the table when we bought our first house, with the requirement that we host Thanksgiving on it for years after. Yesterday, since there were just the two of us, Cyndie and I chose to dine at the coffee table in front of the fireplace instead.

Cyndie performed her usual heroics in the kitchen and prepared a turkey with classic side dishes that could have fed a houseful. Luckily, she had baked most of the extras the day before so she could distribute portions to her mom and our kids in advance for a modified version of sharing the holiday feast together. Cyndie did her own custom door dash delivery to each of them.

In true 2020 pandemic fashion, the Friswold clan logged in for a video conference from each of our homes for the chance to see faces and hear voices on a day when we would normally have been together. The typical hijinks ensued.

“You’re muted still!”

“Turn on your video.”

[waving hello]

[all talking at once]

[followed by awkward silence]

Ah, but there is nothing like actually hearing the voices of our loved ones. Priceless.

As Cyndie and I got a few bites into our plates of Thanksgiving goodness, after voicing adoration for each of the fabulous flavors, I turned to her and asked, “Are we supposed to start arguing over politics now?”

Mostly, we just cooed over the fire in the fireplace, the exceptional quality of our holiday feast, and how good we have it despite the national crises simmering all around our country.

Much thankfulness ensued.

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Written by johnwhays

November 27, 2020 at 7:00 am

Thanksgiving 2020

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Written by johnwhays

November 26, 2020 at 7:00 am

Multiple Pies

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The new oven plays a cute little tune when it reaches the temperature setting. I heard that song a lot yesterday, between the pies and gramma Betty buns Cyndie baked for customers and family members who are on her planned delivery route this morning.

Apple pies, pecan pies, and pumpkin pies (not shown) were options that customers of the White Pine Berry Farm could pre-order for Thanksgiving. Of course, Cyndie chose to make extra in order to have one of each for us to cut into for “testing purposes.”

Based on the results, testing probably wasn’t necessary. They were perfectly delicious.

She caught me in a happy mindset, so I was easy to please. Investors seemed pretty giddy yesterday after the Biden announcement of his cabinet picks, pushing the Dow past 30,000 for the first time ever. I heard some interviews with appointees and the President-Elect himself and witnessed level headed informative assessments of current realities that were completely free of conspiracy theories and hyperbolic rhetoric.

It was awe-inspiring for its complete lack of bombast.

Even as the pandemic spreads like wild around us, there is a growing measure of hope for a new normal that will be devoid of mockery and bullying from the highest offices of the new administration, where staff will no longer be required to parrot the company line or be shown the door.

It’s the honeymoon period. There’ll be time soon enough to call the next administration on their failures to live up to promises. For now, I am enjoying the breath of fresh air.

Have they promised a pie for everyone’s kitchen counter yet? They should.

I know someone who is pretty good at baking them.

(Oy. Think of how much test tasting that would involve…)

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Written by johnwhays

November 25, 2020 at 7:00 am

Tuesday Before

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‘Twas the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and all through the house

all the creatures were stirring because they knew something weird was up!

No one is coming and we’re going to stay home

the pandemic is raging so we’ll feast all alone.

A pandemic Thanksgiving is a very strange thing. It does feel like a holiday week, except for the part where it doesn’t feel like a holiday at all. So far, our family has been lucky. Every time I have started to think I might be getting sick, it turned out to be a false alarm. To the best of my knowledge, neither of Cyndie’s nor my family members have needed to be hospitalized.

The reports getting more and more exposure on the news from doctors and nurses who are burdened with caring for the rapidly growing number of patients who need intensive care are heartbreaking. I can imagine how frustrating it must be to head home from a long shift of being over-worked and driving past locations where people can be seen gathering together and/or not wearing masks in behavior that comes across as disrespectful of the perils and subsequent burdens that fall squarely on the front line healthcare workers.

There is such a disconnect among people with varying levels of concern.

One nurse said they have to eat like snakes. With no time to take breaks, they grab food when they can and swallow it in one bite so they can get back to tending to someone struggling to breathe.

Meanwhile, retail industries are advertising holiday sales like nothing is amiss, hoping to avoid financial collapse of their own businesses by propping up a facade that everything is just fine. Keep shopping!

Just don’t hoard paper products or cleaning supplies.

Who would have guessed that toilet paper would become a treasured stocking stuffer for Christmas?

I’m still commuting to the day job, where stress is high, but looking forward to staying away from people for the coming long weekend. Cyndie has stocked our shelves with ingredients to entertain us both with her culinary arts.

The entertainment of watching spectator sports played in empty stadiums hasn’t hooked me as a desired distraction so I expect I will lose myself in more books and movies or take some deep dives in my music library this weekend.

Think of all the gas we are saving by staying home.

Let’s all offer a toast to the doctors and nurses who are working harder than ever in conditions that are riskier than ever this Thanksgiving.

Maintain safe social distances in their honor and remember to give thanks for every blessing that can still be found, even in an otherwise difficult year.

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Written by johnwhays

November 24, 2020 at 7:00 am

Weekend Escape

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With the Wisconsin deer hunting season getting underway on Saturday, I spent the weekend laying low, ensconced in the comfort of our couch and chairs around the fireplace reading about people who were anything but. I had been loaned a copy of Anatoli Boukreev‘s book, “The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest” detailing his account of the fateful events on Everest back in May of 1996.

It was revealing to finally read Anatoli’s version after previously only having been exposed to Jon Krakauer’s descriptions from his book, “Into Thin Air.”

As happens every time I read about what people endure in the death zone of high altitudes, I am dumbfounded that anyone would subject themselves to the insanity.

Reading about the prolonged deprivation they suffered in the high altitude storm while I am comfortably lounging by the fire is mind-bending.

As precious as it was for me to spend time in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, none of the “death zone” expeditions hold any appeal.

I am satisfied to read the accounts of others while escaping from the realities of being shut in by hunting neighbors and a coronavirus pandemic.

Unfortunately, the outcome for those who lost lives that day back in 1996 always comes out the same, no matter who’s account of the events I’m reading.

My heart breaks for them every time.

 

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Written by johnwhays

November 23, 2020 at 7:00 am

Mindfulness

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Words on Images

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Written by johnwhays

November 22, 2020 at 10:32 am

New Oven

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It’s not hard to imagine that sometimes it is hard to imagine. We all have the ability to simply make things up, creating stories that never actually happened. It’s a thought exercise. Like all exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I find I am more inclined to take the easy route and rely on describing what I actually experience. Turns out, it is often less believable than what I could conjure up in invented tall tales.

Case in point, this actually happened… The low-battery warning chirp started on our main smoke detector on the very day we first used a newly installed gas stove/oven in the kitchen. How’s that for timing?

Added context will help to deepen the intrigue.

As Cyndie has amped up her baking in the last few months, the shortcomings of our aging oven were becoming a growing annoyance. We don’t know whether it was one of the original appliances in our 30-year-old home, but the advancing rust and warped door that wouldn’t entirely close helped justify taking the leap of purchasing a replacement.

An added incentive, having tolerated the dissatisfaction of cooking on an electric range in the 8-years since we moved in, we could finally change back to gas burners that we have both always favored.

I needed to change out the 240 VAC, 50 Amp circuit for a 120V/15A, and we needed to hire a professional to add a new gas line from the furnace room up to the kitchen. That was all rather straight forward to accomplish. Timing and doing the purchases online were the harder parts of the project.

Everything ordered seems to take longer than expected during a pandemic and getting all the specs right with clicks on browsers is not a given. Cyndie originally thought she was getting a dual-fuel double electric oven with a gas range. She succeeded on the double oven, but not the electric part. The difference was not a show-stopper, so all gas it is.

The oven arrived before the gas line had been installed, so the gas plumbers were the ones to install the LP kit on the oven when they arrived. Here is how that all went:

  1. They cut an electric wire while drilling through the kitchen floor.
  2. At their expense, an electrician would arrive the next day to repair.
  3. Cyndie ran the double ovens for an hour or two per manual instructions to burn off and season the surfaces.
  4. Owner of plumbing company showed up following day to fix wiring.
  5. Cyndie demonstrated for him how the bottom oven sounded like a jet engine and he freaked out and turned it off in near-panic.
  6. By that afternoon, first guy returned to discover he missed installing the LP reducer in the second oven.
  7. We all envisioned the several catastrophic calamities that had just been narrowly averted.

The day when everything was finally correct and Cyndie used the range for the first time to boil potatoes, the smoke detector beeped. The occasional beeping seemed inconsistent to me, leading us both to suspect it had something to do with the new gas range. Maybe there was some problem with the adjustment of the burning flame that needed to occur?

There wasn’t smoke, but could it be carbon monoxide?

Well, no. It was the low battery beep. Installed new batteries and have used the stove and ovens without mishap since.

How’s that for timing?

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Written by johnwhays

November 21, 2020 at 11:14 am