Jimmy & The Bees

Ever since I’ve known Michael, I’ve known Jimmy. They were the basement boys; I met them as my neighbors six years ago. I married Michael last year, and by marrying Michael, I’ve committed myself to a lifetime of Jimmy. After all, Michael and Jimmy do have matching tattoos. While some may have run the other way knowing the stipulation, I braved the challenge- a lifetime of Jim.

Alright, since sarcasm doesn’t always translate through writing, I should probably let you know I’m only kidding. I love Jimmy like a brother and adore his eccentricities. He has always been one to think and do outside of the box; in this case, the bee box. So, let’s talk about bees.

This year is the first year in the history of the continental U.S. that a bee required federal protection when the rusty patched bumblebee, a once prominent pollinator, was placed on the endangered species list. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this bumblebee has declined nearly 90 percent since the late 1990s / early 2000s (not that long ago!). While the cause is multifactorial, disease, pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss are big players. The hard part of this news- these are human driven causes. It’s time that we take notice, educate ourselves, and take care of our environment and as a result, our small but important pollinators. Without these pollinators, we would be without more than one third of our food crops which contribute billions of dollars to the economy and put real food in our tummies. Sure, it’s easiest not to care; to believe that one type of bee is insignificant in this world of 20,000 bee species and 3,600 in our own country. But hey, it’s more important than ever. We, the human species, have more impact on this world than we are responsible with. It is evident in where we place value- on things, on money, and on the individual rather than the collective. The bees are a model for the values that we, as a species, lack. It is time to slow down and take notes from some productive, hard-working, selfless citizens of our world- the bees.

Jimmy returned from Kuwait and Afghanistan after a year of service in the military. He says that he spent plenty of time reading and thinking while away. I heard him conjure up many ideas of what he would do when he got home. He talked about borrowing my husband and sailing the world but the wild idea that stuck was buying bees. He cultivated this, and I got to keep my husband… for now.

Jimmy got his knowledge from youtube videos and Beekeeping for Dummies. While you can buy a beekeeping beginner’s kit, Jimmy made much of his own equipment and saved money doing so. That’s right ladies… he’s handy and single! After two years of learning about bees, this is Jimmy’s first season as their caretaker, and today, I follow him around as this novice beekeeper explains what he’s learned.

He starts with prepping the smoker. Jimmy says that the smoke he creates prevents a sting as the bees sense a forest fire and with this response to danger, they fill themselves with honey should they need to evacuate. With bellies full of honey, they don’t want to sting as this would lead to their death and a waste of the honey the hold.

Jimmy then gowns up to approach the colony. I laugh as Michael puts on the upper body garb too but disregards the fact that he is wearing shorts and sandals. As Jimmy pulls out the frames, I say “Jimmy, you seem like a pro”. He responds “Just wait until one lands on me” and describes the time one landed on his hand and he dropped the frame. He worried after this that if the queen was on that screen, he could have potentially hurt her which would have meant destruction for the whole colony. Although the hive is full of females, she is the only one that can reproduce. As he pulls out the screens, he watches for the queen. “If you know what you’re doing, you find her. I just look for eggs. They look like grains of salt. If I find fresh eggs, I know she’s alive.” He also checks for mites or for a bad smell; mites could attack the colony while a bad smell could indicate disease.

Soon, bees are flying everywhere. I sit in the grass as they hover around me. I always thought this experience would be chaotic or frightening, but now, it’s peaceful. I say this from a distance as Michael says “this is definitely the most bees I’ve ever been in” as he stands with his head in the hive in his cut off shorts. I guess he’s not that scared either.

Jimmy explains that 99% of the worker are female and adds “so this is what it’s like when women are in charge… they get shit done”. Jimmy still has not met his queen, and no, I’m not diverting back to the single Jimmy thing although that would also be applicable. Michael and Jimmy inspect closely until Jimmy exclaims “There she is! Holy shit, she’s huge!”. I can’t help but make my way down in to the swarm to see the queen; she is certainly distinguished. Jimmy tells us that she only leaves to mate with the goal of getting a variance of genetics; “survival of the fittest kind of stuff”. Jimmy does this hive check weekly. He inspects his ten frames for overall health. At the end, he smokes the bees so they duck away from the top of the box; he doesn’t want to crush them.

(Queen Bee pictured below… can you tell which one?)

We discuss the complexities of bees, and as a novice beekeeper, I can tell Jimmy has already developed a respect for these intelligent and hardworking creatures. He admires them in saying:

They’re so smart. Like they make these perfect hexagon shaped honey combs, and they can’t even talk to each other. For example, the three of us could get together, talk about it, go to Home Depot, and still not make something as good.

It’s true. Bees are amazing. In writing this, I spent two mornings reading all I could about bees. On a rainy afternoon, I encourage you to take time to do the same. I can tell you that the level of intelligence they possess is surprising. The way they work together for the good of the hive is admirable. They are systematic and adaptable. While adaptable, like us, they still need their basic needs to be met. They need a good habitat. They need us, the humans, to stop messing with it and to restore it where we can. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife website listed these simple ways to help the habitat. It stated to “provide a mix of flowers”, “plant flowers in early spring”, “don’t mow or rake”, and “be pesticide free”. Let’s take care of the bees, honeybees and bumblebees alike, so that they can in turn, continue to take care of us.

As for Jimmy, he’s still single… with bees. You’re welcome Jim for morphing this in to a dating ad. Also, he bought a sailboat. I’m a bit worried Jimmy might take my husband and sail the deep blue. Perhaps, this is why I somehow turned this into a dating ad. Any ladies out there want to go sailing? If you have first mate experience, please apply.

 

 

Dreamers At Work

I got home from work at 2:30am last night. Working as a nurse in downtown Minneapolis is anything but monotonous; it can be a little chaotic and a lot of crazy; it is challenging and fast moving. I love it, but by the time my shift is over, this is where I want to be. At this time of night, the docks are quiet, the water surrounding them is still, and my neighbors are tucked away in their floating homes. As I enter the wooded marina, I breathe easier and move slower. While the sound of call lights continues to ring in my head, my lone footsteps on the dock finally quiet them.

At 2:30am, I am surprised to see another soul awake. It is John. He works late on his trimaran preparing it for June 8 at 5am when he and four others plan to race this not-yet-ready boat in the R2AK. It is a 750 mile race from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK. You must sail with no motor and no support boats. With the race nearly one week away and the boat currently afloat 1,760 miles from the starting line, I’m a little nervous for them. I spend a few moments with John, and as he shows me his project successes from the night with a smile that not many people can hold up so well at 2:30am, I believe in him.

Today, May 31st, we have a perfect afternoon. It’s sunny and still. It’s a project day in the marina. With the holiday weekend and spotty storms behind us for a couple of days, every captain in this place has big eyes and working hands.

Bob across the dock is refurnishing his wood trim. Rick, one dock over, is trying to fix leaks around his windows; he says this is a problem every Chris Craft of that era has; we yell across the water as we talk about this. On our boat, we added plywood to our top deck floor to stabilize and level it. It was two day project finished today with fiberglass, paint, and parquet flooring that Michael bought on Craigslist.

As the evening moves on, I visit the trimaran and find Juan. No, I’m not just calling John “John” in Spanish… that’d be confusing. Juan is John’s friend and a fellow sailor ready to take on the R2AK. Tonight, while John is at an open house for the Lake Calhoun Sailing Club (he’s an Associate Director there), it is Juan’s turn to get this trimaran race-ready.

John and Juan are roommates. They met in college when they both went to the University of Minnesota. They met on the water of course. Like all boat people, they got to talking about how to fix one or the other’s boat problem, and before they can do anything about it, they’re buddies forever. They are both Wisconsin boys; John from Milwaukee and Juan from Wisconsin Rapids. I lived in Wisconsin once and still had to ask where this was; Juan tells me its right in the middle of the state. Juan was born in Mexico; his family moved here when he was one year old. As Juan tells me more about who he is, I feel akin to him. His outlook is familiar.

Juan sailed for the first time when he was 10 years old. Then, like me and so many others, the teenage years brought distraction. He was in to sports, hunting, and girls. In college, Juan got a degree in chemistry. When I ask what he originally went to school for, Juan says “for knowledge mostly”. I don’t know why but the choice to get a degree in chemistry surprised me a bit… maybe because we just spent the last ten minutes talking about travelling and for some reason, being in a lab and being out in the world seem like two different animals. Juan told me about taking a few semesters off to backpack in national parks, play music, and spend time WWOOFing on a vegan permaculture farm in California. I related to him on these experiences, except on the music thing; in this, I lamented to him about my ongoing failed harmonica attempts. Juan plays harmonica, drums, guitar, and some ukulele. I’m jealous.

Juan told me that at one point he wanted to be a farmer. This, I understood. Michael and I talk of this often- having our own small farm. I watch my dad and my grandparents find ultimate peace and joy in this work. I ask Juan why he got a degree in chemistry. He tells me that his initial idea was to get educated in environmental water chemistry. Aahhhh… this makes sense to me now. Juan is smart and ambitious. I’m sure you’ve gathered this by now. He spends time with our waters and doesn’t want to just use the resource, he wants to preserve it too. I understand this. In this small revelation, I am proud. During a time when much of the world would rather look away from the environmental problems at hand, I find others my age that care. Juan is one of them. I see this same inspiration in my marina neighbors who gather garbage from the waters when they go out kayaking. I see it in my parents who love their land, my dad out “cleaning the woods” to make it the best habitat for what lives and grows there. I see it in my husband who adores the small details of what we have in our waters and woods; who lights up when he sees a new plant, tree, or animal.

Juan tells me that studying environmental water chemistry was “actually kind of depressing”. I don’t even ask why; I know the answer. I think back to yesterday when I walked in to work behind a lady who threw a half cigarette to the ground right before she entered the building. I wasn’t sure why this set me off. I see cigarettes on the ground all the time and of course, there are bigger problems than one cigarette on the ground, but observing her total disregard for her surroundings must have done it for me. There was a garbage can right next to where she threw it; she didn’t even look at it. I picked up the cigarette, put it out, and threw it away. I continued to feel pissed off for the next hour. As I sat in work reviewing my patients’ charts, I wondered “why is this still bugging me… let it go Chels”. Now, in talking to Juan, I am reminded that it matters. To have an environmentally conscious chemist out there, I am thankful. To be an environmentally conscious nurse, this matters. To maybe someday be environmentally conscious farmers, this is huge.

At this point, I ask Juan how old he is. He’s my age- 28 years old. I only met Juan today; brought together by the water. It is how I’ve met so many people that inspire me; people that care about our world, how we treat it, and how we treat each other. My neighbors on this water are creative, smart, bold, and unafraid. They live in the environment because they care about it.

I once had a friend throw a piece of garbage out of her car. I said something and picked it up. She responded “oh yeah, I suppose you live in the environment”. This was over a year ago now and it has stuck with me. We all live in the environment. What is going on that not everyone feels this way? How do people not see the impact our habits have? How do we fix actions that are so commonplace, so dismissed; like throwing your cigarette to the ground with a bunch of people watching? I still don’t know the answers to all of these questions but I think about them every day. I hope this is the first step to something.

I help Juan hold the electrical panel as he cuts around it to fit the wall. We drink beer as we talk. Todd throws us two more Hamms from the dock. Juan works at Rahr Malting where he is a QC Project Manager, Micro-Maltster, and Assistant Brewer. He’s a bit of an expert in beer so I’m surprised in his gratitude for the Hamms. I invite Juan over for dinner. Michael made steak and asparagus. Juan says he ate already today and when I ask him if he’s on a one meal per day diet, Juan says that lately he is. With the time crunch of getting this boat ready while still working full time, Juan has been getting five hours of sleep and one meal per day. I am thankful that Juan finally agrees to eat after we put the food in his hands.

 

It’s Wednesday; the trimaran gets hauled out on Friday; I know he has a lot to do so I appreciate how present Juan is when we talk. His looming projects include getting the electrical situation squared away, mounting the solar panels, setting up the rigging, and attaching steering platforms. Juan tells me that at this point, the boat is not seaworthy and the five of them have yet to sail together as a team. Whether or not they are ready and able to do the race eight days from now, they will still sail to Alaska, get to know the terrain, and be more than ready for the race next year. I ask Juan about his future. Water will always be a part of his life; he loves sailing. He’ll probably stay around here for a while. He’s ready to set some roots. I realize I feel akin to him because of where he’s at in his life. He has stretched his legs out, carried a backpack around the country, and ponders on what he can do to be good for the world. In all of his exploration, he has found that making a difference where he stands makes the most difference.

As the sun sets, the dock gathers together to unwind from the project day. We finish dinner, drink beer, and talk about what was accomplished. Somehow, conversation turns to plumb bobs and we discuss these for what feels like an hour. It’s surprising how many jokes sprout from this conversation on plumb bobs. I am educated on the variety of plumb bobs that exist. It’s soon 10:30pm, and I retreat to the boat with plumb bobs on the mind. Alright, I’ll let you go before I babble on. It’s time for me to go to bed and time for you to google what a plumb bob is. Also, Michael wants you to google “plumb barbara”; do so at your own risk. Goodnight now.

The Spring Feels

With the spring season, I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. I’m not sure why. Spring is not my favorite season, not by a long shot. Sorry spring, don’t take it personally. I reminisce on this nostalgic feeling, looking for a cause. I’m not sure I found it, but I will ramble here anyway. After all, it’s stormy outside and I’m aboard and alone without my distractingly handsome mate.

This is the beauty of Minnesota. Just when you get to know yourself in a certain space at a certain time, your environment flips the switch. You are reminded that time is not a statue. It is not something concrete that you can go back to and touch or relive. Time is fleeting.

Spring reminds me of tilled fields, running in the rain, and of more recent nostalgia, coming home. Three years ago in April, Michael and I came home from nearly six months of travel. We loved every moment of these months, but we missed something tangible. We missed the seasons. We completely skipped winter and all that comes with winter – reading extra books, snowstorms, bundling up to go outside, movie nights in, the holidays with our families, etc. We had Christmas at a McDonalds for gosh sakes. They had free Wifi. You take what you can get. We didn’t notice until we returned how valuable these seasons are. They balance your innards (like your soul and stuff).

The change of season is a faithful reminder that you better get to living now because now is all you’ve got.

So back to the spring feels. It seems crazy to say that this is our third year of living aboard. It seems like just yesterday we were spending full days grinding down our boat, repainting it, and living in our van all the while. Time flies.

Thanks spring for the in your face reminder that you are here; for startling us with thunder and showering us with oversized hail this week; you play dirty. I write this as tornado watches and warnings beep all over the state. Spring is beauty and pain at its finest.

We bought the boat prior to our travels, not knowing how the world would change us and if we would even like each other when we got back. Spoiler alert: We came back not in dislike or like, we came back nearly obsessed with one another and filled with a love for genuine souls and joy in any strange experience that would come our way. You could say that this marina fit into our lives perfectly for the strange and genuine souls we would meet in those weeks are like our family now. Roger knows our schedules down to the hour and is a constant on the dock, looking out for us all and always there when we need a hand. You know summer is well underway when John has his flags out and his music is heard from down the dock. Diane is the one you go to for a good conversation; she listens intently and has the best insight. Wally starts the bonfires and tries to share his blue mixed drink with you. I won’t dare share his secret cocktail recipe but I’ll let you know it contains three different kinds of alcohol and nothing else; I’ve had it once and never again. I won’t go on and on about these people although I could. I hope that someday, these people I love will let me share them through story but that’s for another time. Anyway, this is all a part of the nostalgia thing.

I have a feeling that spring will always remind me of those May days three years ago. From sun up to sun down, we were working on that boat. Michael had a grinder for a hand while I, who finds painting to be very therapeutic, had had enough therapy to cure the craziest of minds and then make them crazy all over again. We were in a constant state of sweat and van life certainly didn’t help our hygiene. Our future neighbors would stop by to meet us and bear wisdom or ideas for this or that adding to our to-do list and allowing us to quickly fall in love with this quirky place.

Wow spring, you are actually raining so hard right now that I can no longer hear myself think. What are you trying to say, that you’re not all flowers and Mother’s Day!? I get it. Okay guys, Mother Earth wants me to tell you that spring brings the feels, but they’re not always good. You might meet a spring that makes you miss someone or like I’ve noticed, a spring that reminds you that time is not a statue; you can’t go back to it. Spring might make you feel old or like you’ve left something behind.

Spring brings storms. They’re scary sometimes… especially now when Michael is at the cabin and here I am stuffing towels into crevices to remedy unexpected leaks and refreshing my weather app to see if there’s a tornado in my midst. Hmm… I hope our bilge pump works…

Okay, she chilled out now. That was intense. I’ll check the boat for hail damage later. It’s the funniest thing to watch the river’s response to hail; jumping all around, a perfect representation of my nerves at the time. It’s crazy how your mood syncs with the weather. Spring, you are a powerhouse…you make us feel oh so alive. You shower us (quite literally today) with all sorts of sensations. You remind us that time is fleeting while surprising us with new life. You startle us with thunder and then bring a rainbow. Spring, you’re a bit bipolar but I like you. Ya know, after writing this, I just might call you my favorite season… don’t tell summer I said that.

 

 

 

 

From The Birthing Room

Dear Mom, I am who I am because you were my mom, always my backbone.

Dear Grandmas, you show me strength and love that persists through all things, my inspiration.

Dear Michael’s Mom, you are so naturally a part of my heart, my incredible blessing.

To all moms today… thank you. You are truly amazing.

This Mother’s Day is a little extra special for me for two reasons. First, I gained the best mother-in-law a girl could ever ask for. Second, my sister became a mom for the first time. With this, I had the honor of being a part of the birthing process, and man oh man, after what I saw in there… props to you ladies, this was certainly a hard earned holiday.

In honor of a mother’s strength and with my sister’s blessing, I share my nephew’s birth story below.

 

Hank’s birth story

I was at work and just got on my dinner break. I called Michael to see how he was doing and after hearing that one of my patients died unexpectedly earlier in the day, I was kind of in a funk. Right after getting on the phone with Michael, I got a text from Jess. It came in at 19:46 and read “Good chance we’re going in tonight… contractions are picking up. I’ll let you know if/when we head to the hospital. You should be able to finish your shift”.  The tears came right away as I was on the phone with Michael; I was so excited. At 22:44, near the end of my shift, I got the text that said “Leaving in the next half hr”. I was late out of work due to another busy night and didn’t hit the road until 00:40; I rushed (probably too much so) to the boat to pick up Michael and we were at the hospital in Stillwater at 01:30; that’s got to be some sort of record. I was highly anxious on the way there (more so than I’ve probably ever been) thinking I could potentially miss it.  Boy, was I wrong. It wasn’t until fourteen hours and one minute later that Hank was born.

 While the cheering squad (Mom, Dad, Kent, Becky, and Michael) slept on the floor and in the chairs in the waiting room, Jess and Sean stayed awake in room #222 dealing with contractions every couple of minutes.  I could already tell that Jess was tough as nails.  When the pain got intense, she closed her eyes and went inward. I’ve seen this as strength before. While some people make noise to express pain, look outside of themselves for a way to fix it, or need distraction to stay calm, I find that the strongest people turn inward and find peace and strength there, within themselves. Jessi wanted no distractions, no TV or music; she never once complained or even asked questions… okay she did ask two questions over that next fourteen hours and they were right at the end. She asked “Did I just shit myself?” (she did not by the way) and “Is he ever going to come out?” (a question we were all thinking).

When the sun started rising, we all had a fresh energy (despite Jess and Sean getting no sleep). Along with this fresh energy, the contractions got stronger and more frequent. While the cheering squad went out to breakfast, we met Michelle Rice, the midwife, a woman we would later learn had a lot of patience and respect for the natural process of birthing. Jess also learned what worked best for her contraction pains; the weird peanut shaped ball was good to straddle, and if Sean pushed in on her hips from both sides, she found the most relief. Jessi continued to be a total badass on no sleep and no food.

Eventually it was time to transfer to the tub room. This was exciting and just what Jessi wanted to help relieve some of the pain. She was in the tub for an hour or two, and Michelle began to worry that her cervix was not dilated enough to stay there until Hank joined the world; Jessi had to get out of the tub so Michelle could get a good check; she was at 9cm; this was good; she was only at 7-8cm on her most recent check before. Michelle encouraged Jessi to stay out of the tub for a bit and try multiple positions to wiggle Hank down. Jessi was in a lot of pain now with frequent and strong contractions. It hurt to move at all but she did it anyway and even when she did not want to, it only took a time or two to remind her that if you move this or that way, we might have progress. Jessi cooperated with everything and again, made no complaints. At this time, her eyes were almost constantly closed but she still heard our suggestions; if we asked her to breathe slower, she worked hard to make it happen. During her time out of the tub around 13:30, she used the bathroom, sat on the weird peanut thing again, sat on her knees in the bed, and stood up rocking back and forth.

After all of Jessi’s hard work and Sean being constantly at her side and clearly in touch with every feeling Jessi had, Jessi was now dilated to 9.5cm with only a very thin area remaining. It was now tub time again; time to push. The water had to be between 95 and 100 degrees for baby to transition well to the life outside. Holy hot. Not only was Jessi in a room full of people working harder than I’ve ever seen anyone work in their whole life, she was now in a hot tub. We had the fan blowing on her, cool cloths that Sean diligently switched out to keep her comfortable between contractions, and sips of water, but she still had drops of sweat falling down her face. There were multiple times during this phase that I got full of tears just watching my sister fight so hard, over and over and over with what felt like (but certainly was not) no progress. Her eyes were closed, she had no sleep, no nutrition, was sweating in this hot tub, and never once did she cry, tell us she couldn’t do it, complain, or even raise her voice. I certainly would have felt defeated by now, potentially asked for pain meds, and most certainly would be crying or yelling as an outlet. I am a nurse and have seen a lot of pain but this was the most. This was relentless; like an enemy coming back at you stronger and harder with every hit. It takes strength you don’t believe you have any more to keep going.

For these four hours of pushing, I felt like I was at war with Jessi, Sean, Michelle, and the nurses as our soldiers. The only hard part was that Jessi had to do all of the fighting. This is what brought tears to my eyes and sometimes when I would tell her “push, push, keep going” or “we’re almost there, be strong”, I lost faith myself and my lip would quiver in saying these things. Sometimes all the soldiers would be quiet but Jessi wouldn’t let up; she was still pushing, with her eyes closed, and her courage greater than anyone in the room.  Although she never did, if Jessi had tried to quit, I could see that Sean would be right there to instill some sort of reminder that their love for this little man she was working so hard to get out was stronger than any force that could try to fight against them. I was seeing that the strength she carried came from a place deeper than just her; it came from her love for Sean, for Hank, and knowing Sean’s love for the both of them. Jessi was pushing for all of them; she never forgot that.

I become teary again as I write this because I think about Mom and Dad, Kent and Becky, and Michael; they were soldiers too. And after 12pm, they began to wonder what was taking so long; they began to worry. Michael later tells me that an announcement was made over the intercom; something about an emergency or a code and that all available staff had to report to room #2; Jessi’s first room was #222. Michael told me that Mom’s hands started shaking as she held her phone and for a minute everyone was very scared. Becky was our messenger and was able to tell them that everything was okay and provided updates throughout.  Besides breakfast, the cheering squad never left the hospital. Michael described it as feeling like “a lock-in”; he said it was really pretty fun; they took over the waiting room and apparently watched a lot of TV shows about diesel engines (at least that’s what Kent said). Good grandparent bonding plus Michael. During the last four hours, they were on pins and needles just like we were in that room. Becky said she was praying constantly; I said a few prayers too, and Grandma and Grandpa Larson tell me later that they were praying all day. We were all keeping God very busy.

Jessi pushed in that tub for what felt like forever. This is also were I saw what looked like the makings of a tiny black mohawk; long black hair floating; this was amazing and I felt so much love for this little boy already. We told Jessi “he has hair! he has hair! long black hair!”.  Jessi was exhausted and likely overheated and after two hours of pushing in the tub, Michelle made the call that she should get out and try pushing in the bed. This is where it gets a bit blurry in my mind already because there were so many times when I thought he was coming out that I had no concept of time. I saw the top of his head poke out what seemed like a million times and then after the contraction, his head would go back in; he wouldn’t stay put enough for Jessi to push his body through the pelvic canal. She had to of pushed for two more hours in that bed.

After so much patience and Jessi working incredibly hard, Michelle slightly hesitantly offered Pitocin; she recognized that Jessi was doing all of the pushing work and her body was too exhausted to help her; she needed her uterus to contract and help her get Hank just a bit further. This was a good call.

After 20-30 minutes of IV Pitocin, Hank’s head was progressing and Jessi was now experiencing the worst part; the neonatal team was called to be on standby in case the baby needed anything and after 22 hours of labor pains, we were finally at the end. Jessi never let up; she gave it everything she had and all at once, he was out. Jessi was still in the zone and Michelle had to say “Jessi, open your eyes and look at your baby”. Hank was put in her hands and I could tell that Jessi and Sean could hardly believe he was theirs. He cried lightly and briefly and seemed to be right at home in Jessi’s arms.  Sean was full of love for this little man and was immensely proud and in love with both Jessi and Hank. Becky relayed the news to the cheering squad; Hank was here! 5:31 PM on March 4th, 2017. 7lbs 2oz and 21 inches long.

Michael said that Mom and Dad started crying; every one of those grandparents and Uncle Michael were so proud and so happy and so in love with Hank. They would not have wanted to be anywhere else that whole day.  After Jessi and Sean got some time with Hank, and Hank practiced latching onto Mama for some milk, we all went in to meet him. Hank is perfect. His long black hair, long fingers and toes, and adorable little face. He was so content; no cries, just a cute little yawn we caught on camera.

He is an incredible little dude with two amazing, strong parents. I felt so honored to have gone through that process with Sean and Jessi.  Although it was way more intense than I could have imagined, I was left in awe of the power and strength of true love. Jessi and Sean have an incredible love for each other and for Hank. Not everyone can go through war like that together without becoming divided or weakened. I knew my sister was tough but holy cats. With Sean by her side, she can take on this whole world.  Hank, you got some pretty kickass parents. They’d go to hell and back for you.

After the cheering squad left the Roadhouse family for the night, we went to Joseph’s Bar & Restaurant and all had a drink with a big cheers to Jessi, Sean, and Hank and to the power and love of family.

 

From Tree To Table

Maple Syrup. Nature’s sweet, sweet nectar. While looking to buy land, Michael and I looked for two things – water and woods (are you seeing a theme here?). Fortunately, we found both in The Northern Post, our 40 acre slice of heaven in Two Harbors, MN. In the spirit of syrup, let’s talk woods. Minnesota’s most northern woods is unique in that it is primarily coniferous (cone-bearing). The spruces, pines, and cedars maintain their green and hold mounds of snow through the winter; a welcome contrast to the deciduous (sheds it’s leaves annually) North American woods to the south of us. Nestled at the south stoop of the Superior National Forest, our Northern Post grows a blend of coniferous and deciduous trees leaving us wanting for nothing. While we honor the green conifers through the long winter, it is the maples that rule the spring. With sweet sap coursing through her veins as the frozen days thaw, Mother Maple is gracious in sharing her yield.

In late January, we began the tapping. With 30 inches of snow accumulated and no leaves on the trees to assist with identification, Michael and his younger brothers battled the elements to find what they believed to be 70 qualified maples. With the taps in, we looked forward to the spring thaw and really had no idea what to expect.

The thaw comes fast and unexpectedly and while I am home on the boat waiting for my sister to birth our first nephew, Michael was left to the land to conquer the sap of 70 trees all by his lonesome. At this point, since Michael, along with the help of his brothers, Christian and Cameron, did 96% of the work (my 4 percent comes from moral support and hauling in the over 70 pails that week before), I will transcribe his tale of tapping and sapping…

Preparation

First, Michael purchased 75 stainless steel taps online. Next, we needed a maple syrup evaporator. I’m sure these things are for sale somewhere but in true Michael fashion, he found his own way. He started where all dreamers start: Craigslist. This is where he came across a four drawer filing cabinet for $5. The next step in following a dream: find a friend that’s crazy enough to go there with you. In this venture, Michael found Sam. To begin the transformation, the drawers were removed from the cabinet and the cabinet was laid on its back. Catering pans were needed to fit the openings that once held the drawers. Sam and Michael took a road trip around the city to find these. They found that no place would sell them to you unless you owned a restaurant. No problem, they’ll just play the part of restaurant owners… they thought this seemed easy enough and to the restaurant supply store they went. After getting stopped at the front for a “restaurant ID”, they were caught in a pickle. They were booted out the door without the desired catering pans. While this would deter most, Sam and Michael quickly found an unlocked back door. Michael reports that this worked out great until he got to the cash register and was again asked for this “restaurant ID”. With the catering pans in tow, it was not the time to give up and go home. Michael explained to them that he was new to the restaurant business and did not yet have an ID; he added that he did not want to disappoint his boss and asked that they please let him make this purchase. They let him through on a guest account, and they escaped with the prize! At Home Depot, they uneventfully purchased the hinges for a door on one end and a chimney for the other end. After two hours of labor and a cup of sheet metal screws, they had created the Frankenstein evaporator.

Tapping

With the taps purchased and the Frankenstein evaporator ready for its debut, it was time to tap the trees. Michael reports that it is a simple process provided you have identified your trees whilst the leaves are on. This is something that slipped through the cracks of his early fall to do list. After a couple hours of hiking through waist deep snow with a “Trees of Minnesota” book and a pdf download of “making maple syrup”, Michael felt he had done enough research. He ditched the books and got out the drill. To tap the tree, he drilled a two inch hole at an upward angle to allow the sap to flow down and out and gently tapped in the “spile” (another name for the tap if you really want to sound cool). You then fit a tube around the spile and put down a bucket with a secure cover that has a hole drilled in it for the tube to run through. We used five gallon buckets; another Craigslist purchase for 80 cents a bucket.

Waiting

Now, we wait for Mother Nature to do her thing. The sap starts to flow when day temperatures are above freezing but night temps stay below. While we initially knew nothing about what trees to tap, we found out that you can tap any maple (although it is the sugar maple that has the highest sugar content) that is at least 10 inches in diameter three feet above the ground.

Collection

While everything we read about sap collection advised to collect sap daily or as frequently as possible, we could only collect weekly at times and found no change in taste with this timeframe. With 70 trees to gather from, the best advice we can give is to bring a friend.

Evaporate     

Something you may not know is that the sap to syrup ratio is 40:1; for 40 gallons of sap, we get one gallon of syrup. This translates to the ultimate test of patience, and evaporating is where it all goes down (or up if I’m being literal). The evaporation phase is when Frankenstein gets to really show his stuff. Make sure you have stacks of dry wood; you’re going to need it.

The ceremonial evaporation begins with the lighting… maybe a cup of lighter fluid on some small branches; whatever feels right. It’s nice to have a long evaporator like ours because we spent little time cutting our wood to length.

Once the fire gets rolling, on go those pans that Michael and Sam almost became criminal over. Fill the pans with about 4 inches of sap to start and monitor closely to prevent a boil over. You can control the temp by adding cold sap or by opening and closing the end door to control the oxygen flow.

On average, we were able to boil down three gallons of sap per hour. Our longest evaporation of 110 gallons took just over 30 hours. And yes, this means taking shifts through the night to go out and stoke the fire. Unless you saw a very scary looking wolf on your trail cam the night before, then it’s logical to insist on “maybe we should just do it together”… that was Michael as much as me by the way.

When the sap gets close to that 40:1 ratio and appears brown in color, it has been over a full of day of feeding the Frankenstein. At this point, we combine the pans and finish the cook on our propane camp stove; it’s a bit more controlled this way. As it cooks on the proprane, we keep checking it to see how much it has thickened until the desired viscosity is reached. I’m sure the real deal syrup makers would tell you to check its sugar content, or “Brix” (unit for measuring sugar density). They say that a Brix of 66° is ideal. With my Norwegian heritage carrying down a strong gene for sweets, I like to think my taste test for Brix is on point. So as soon as it looks delicious, I take the liberties and consume a spoonful. If it makes me want to whip up some pancakes now, then 66° Brix it must be. I hold off on making pancakes because I know we must pour the steaming sap through a fine weave strainer and this takes optimal concentration. Our fine weave strainer of choice is a clean t-shirt.

After the strain, we want to cool the syrup as quickly as possible. Michael’s preferred cooling method is placing the hot pan in a shallow part of our 30 degree stream as the thermal conductivity of water is 30 times than that of air. I’m on edge the whole time as I imagine the hard earned, finished syrup getting washed away with the waters and finding its way to Gooseberry Falls by late afternoon. Michael assures me that it’s secure and I don’t have to sit at the shore and stare for 30 minutes.

After the syrup is cool and safely out of the stream, it’s time to hit the bottle.

Enjoy

This is the best part. Enjoy! Some of my favorite uses so far: slathered over homemade buckwheat pancakes, used to caramelize cashews, and added to plain yogurt or kefir. We have ambitions to make a batch of kombucha with it, so stay tuned. But the most enjoyable part is spreading the love! Everything is sweetest when shared… ain’t that the truth.

We live on a boat… and why

“Why?”… I suppose this is a logical response to telling someone that we live on a boat although I am surprised at the question each time and have yet to come up with an eloquent response. I usually end up saying something about living with less is actually more and I immediately regret sounding like a cheap life coach. Sometimes I say “well I grew up along the river”… as if this explains the choice fully.

I guess if I had the time and the forethought, I’d start at the beginning- being a kid. As little humans, Michael and I were always outside. We had everything if we had time and blue skies or fresh waters. Joy was in the little things; it still is. While at play, my sister and I would stay hydrated by drinking water from our grandparents’ creek while, unbeknownst to us, the cows were shitting in it up the stream. Maybe that’s how I should answer the question next time. They: “Why do you live on a boat?”… Me: “Because I drank shit water as a kid”… I’m afraid this might miss the point. The point is that water and the wildness surrounding water represents home.

Fishing with my dad and my sister in the creek while donning my lucky fish pants is when I felt invincible. Jumping in inner tubes with my cousins and floating for hours down that same creek was my first thrill of adventure. Pulling leeches off the leg of my childhood friend was perhaps the first nurse-like thing I ever had to do and just like doing wound cares on my patients now, I enjoyed it much more than most. That was probably another weird example but drinking shit water and pulling leeches off your friends are small but true examples of life’s stuff. I bet each of us can think of something that we thought was a good, refreshing, and logical lifestyle choice but later found out it was shit water. Although we may look back in disappointment and wonder “why didn’t anyone tell me this was shit water?”, the experience didn’t kill you, and you probably wouldn’t change it; after all, that experience is a part of you and you are who you are… shit water and all.

So why do we live on a boat? The answer in one sentence: it’s more home than a house filled with stuff. Our boat is small and while I cannot get away from my husband’s farts, I know that life is too short to be separated from blue skies, moving waters, and each other. By ridding our lives of more walls, more things, and more distractions, we are home.

We are home as the boat pounds against the wooden dock on a windy day or when it rocks just ever so slightly so that our guest thinks they’ve gotten tipsy off of one sip of beer. Home is waking up to our neighbors chipping away ice at 5 am on a winter morning or seeing stars as bright as diamonds while still in city limits.

This home has the best neighbors; the kind that provide an old water hose as housewarming gift or babysit your kombucha brew when you’re out of town.

These neighbors would jump in the freezing water for you… and they have… more than once. These neighbors chip ice together on the coldest winter nights and meet at the fire pit on the more seasonable ones.

You can never use the excuse “I’m out of beer” because before you finish that sentence, the nearest neighbor will have placed a cold one in your hand.

The mallards, beavers, and fox are your neighbors too. And that occasional loud fish will startle you right off the dock.

You feel the world when you live here; the river rocking you to sleep, the moonlight casted across your bow porch, and the sound of geese flying overhead. If I had to drink shit water to get here, I’d do it again.

Our Three Small Spaces

Neighbor Girl

In 2011, a boy and a girl from two different and smaller parts of the state found themselves as young 20 somethings in the big city of Minneapolis in the same apartment building we’ll call “The Phoenix”, mostly because that was the building’s real name.

On the girl’s move in day was when she first saw the boy. He was drunk and smoking cigarettes on the front stoop with his loud friends; how can you not fall in love with a scene like that? Despite this special first impression, the girl got to know and love these boys; they became like the brothers she never had; well, except for one… because that would be weird. That one was Michael. While Michael lived only three floors away, it took three months for them to truly meet again. The rest is history.

Michael was special in a way this girl knew nothing about. It was an easy love and five years later, they were married. In that first year at The Phoenix while still playing it cool, the boy referred to the girl as “Neighbor Girl” and his friends, family, and coworkers soon knew her as such.

In year three, after backpacking around the world for six months, this boy and girl came back to Saint Paul, Minnesota and mustered up some change to buy their first home together- a steel hull beauty of 32 feet in length and 10 foot in beam. They named her Neighbor Girl and this couple’s tiny living love affair was underway.

The Northern Post

Minnesota’s north shore and nearby woods is the most spiritually invigorating place we have ever been to. After Michael’s daily trolling on obscure property sites, we found the perfect 40 acres of wild near the north shore town of Two Harbors.

Over one year and with no road in, we hiked in all the supplies needed to build an off grid, one room cabin.

Shout out to the amazing family and friends who got coaxed into this madness; it was not a walk in the park but often times a trudge through knee deep snowfall.

After 1.5 years and a completed cabin, this 40 acres continues to be our spiritual haven and our home base of creativity and wild ideas.

The Wheel House

In the unassuming southeast corner of Minnesota lies the hidden gem and natural wonder of Winona… a place where brilliant minds and creative hands are born. Okay, I may be biased. Winona is my (Chelsi’s) hometown; it is where I fell in the love with the wild Mississippi and the people that line its shores.

In the heart of Winona, you will find an island of nearly 100 boathouses, an established community of funky folks that has existed for over a century and after going to battle for legal legitimacy in the 1990s, was finally grandfathered in and legally accepted as livable in 1997. While the city will not allow new boathouses to moor, the roughly 100 boathouses that exist today will continue to have the legal right to moor at their designated site on the island. When the opportunity arises to purchase and restore a piece of your hometown’s history, it’s an obvious choice; you gotta do it. This one was definitely in our wheelhouse ;). The rebuilding / remodeling of our backwaters boathouse has just begun. Stay tuned to be a part of the madness.