Isabella is almost on fire…

My sweet Isabella is under fire, almost –If you go to the story and look at the photos, you’ll see my mom drinkin at the bar with my friend Dana… she loves her rum and coke, my mom :).

I love Isabella, it’s a very nice little “town” and a fantastic community.  Mom has been up there for 26 years — and when we go up that way everyone knows and loves her.  The people up there really do look out for one another and are a large, if slightly dysfunctional family.

My northwoods friends are on my mind today — they’re smelling the smoke in Milwaukee and Chicago — but most folks don’t know what it’s like to walk in the woods, take star photos in the dark, and generally be welcomed into the community.  When a forest fire threatens that, I worry.


A media vacation… can I do it?


As is quite clear, Andy and I are going to Colorado (Friday!!! YEA!!!!!) —

Don’t worry, we’ll still blog — (because you’d miss us, I know it!! 🙂 ).

A few days ago, Andy proposed a media vacation. I’ve already told my students I’m going to be off e-mail and our on-line class until the end of break.

The point is to avoid news…. to see how it impacts our lives.  This includes Facebook, which can be pretty newsy.. It also means, for me, avoiding blogs and news feeds.

It’s going to be a bit of a challenge for me.  I’m used to having a pretty steady stream of information coming in.  I check facebook more often than I should.  I read several news sources on blogs and blogs that write about news… and I check my school e-mail more often than I should.  I also watch way too much TV.

I’ve also noticed that I read a lot less for pleasure than I did when I was writing my dissertation… I think that’s because I needed to give my brain a break from writing so I’d read anything I could get my hands on.

So — what am I going to do with my spare time?  I’m bringing my nook — which is awesome because I can always get another book.

I’m NOT bringing any class prep stuff, but I may write some philosophy stuff either on my class blog or for myself.

We’ve got the fipod (fat ipod) loaded with about 7 days worth of music — so, I’m guessing we’ll have enough to entertain ourselves — inside.  Of course, there are pictures to be taken, good food to be made and consumed and maybe even some extra sleep to get caught up on… although, I doubt that last one will actually happen.

We have agreed to blog — so you’ll get to be caught up on what we’re thinking without the media giving input.  If anything, it will probably be entertaining.

The People’s Coffee Shop

So here’s the idea, a place to exist, drink coffee and be who you are without bringing your wallet necessarily,  perhaps just something to share.   A place like this existed in Isabella Mn. except it was just called Patty’s Mom’s house.

Before you wing-nuts get bent out of shape, we should be clear that neither Patty or I consider ourselves communists. I would say I tend towards socialism, but as it happens I live in the United States and for the most part that’s a great thing.    Patty is over qualified to tell you herself where she lies on the political spectrum.

But here is the thing, Patty and I both believe that money is not the only reason to do something.

The People’s Coffee Shop will be like any other coffee shop in that it has chairs and good coffee but what will be missing is the cash register and the hours on the door.     There will be a can for donations and we believe those who enjoy spending time at the PCS will use it.     About the time S’bux would be closing for the night, our clientele may choose to take a cup of coffee (or other beverage) to the fire ring or out on the deck and they will be welcome to stay late.

There will of course be a set of unwritten rules such as “mean people suck” and “don’t be a douche” and there will be the general expectation that if you regularly attend PCS and can’t plug the can, you had better find another way to contribute.

But it’s more then a coffee shop.  It will also be a studio,  gallery,  stage,  future home of Tone Toad Vintage Guitars and a secondary community center with internet. We both also like books and reading so there will be plenty of interesting things to read while you put your feet up.

So are all these things free??????   Of course not!!!!!!!!   But they may be available for barter.   It may be a place to discuss business such as art or guitars.    But it may also be a place to kick back and get a free guitar lesson just because.

I believe local people will appreciate having a place to go and will care for it regardless. I believe visitors will love it for the novelty of visiting the commie coffee place in the woods and will donate what its worth to experience our slice of life.

What could we all accomplish if money wasn’t the only consideration??????????

Life is funny that way..

Thanks to xkcd

Hubby and I got married just before I was 22. He was in the military and I had about half of a bachelor’s degree.

Our life trajectory looked something like this…

  • We move a few times with the Air Force…
  • Finish our BA degrees,( maybe Hubby goes to law school).
  • More likely, Hubby has a job in computers.
  • I have some kind of an office job.
  • We have a couple of kids.
  • We have a couple of cats.
  • We live a middle-class life in the suburbs of some state, not MN.

I never would have guessed that at 42 my life would look like…

  • We live in Minnesota.
  • Hubby is IN law school, after doing grad school in political science.
  • I have a Ph.D. in philosophy — from Nebraska, of all places.
  • I’m teaching philosophy in a community college and loving it!!
  • Andy’s my BFF (I knew him then, kinda…).

I got the cats part right —

Who knows what life will look like at 62?  One thing I do know is that I’d like to have some adventures…

Make your own pizza night

Tonight we did something fun — we went to Andy’s brother’s home for make your own pizza night.

The idea is simple and brilliant — purchase pizza crusts, make some pizza sauce (i.e. fix up sauce from the jar 🙂 ) — get plenty of cheese and yummy ingredients — then let your guests make their own pizzas.  The kids made mini pizzas — the younger ones did cheese only, Max had meat on top of meat (Canadian bacon, pepperoni and sausage, with a little cheese someplace in the middle).  Andy’s brother made a super Hawaiian, with pineapple, olives, sausage and other yummy stuff I don’t recall on top of red sauce.  Andy spread butter and then minced garlic instead of red sauce, then Canadian bacon, pepperoni, spinach, black olives and sausage — plus cheese.

The dinner was interactive, fun and gave us plenty of time to chat while the pizzas baked.  It was fun to try what others made — and everyone got exactly what they wanted…. brilliant

The photos don’t do the night justice…

Andy made greek salad — yummy — spinach, red onions, olives, feta cheese, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers and pistachios with Paul Newman dressing.

We put the ingredients on the dining room table and everyone got creative — in this photo you can see Andy’s pizza on the right and his brother’s pizza in production on the left.

Here’s Andy’s brother’s pizza — yummy!  I added banana peppers to mine —

Here’s Andy’s pizza — yummo!

We used a pizza stone and Andy’s brother bought the crusts someplace other than the grocery store — and they turned out quite well.

Organic Cuban black beans

I should begin by saying this is another cooperative project — it was Andy’s idea, we shopped together, I did most of the dicing, took the photos and wrote the blog post– Andy did the EFG thing (Evil Food Genius) — putting it all together.

After watching Food Inc, Andy and I decided to make an organic and reasonably responsible meal.  We decided on Cuban black beans — which ended up as a pretty thick soup.  It could also be served over rice.

Considerations: The main ingredients had to be organic.  We also tried to select local ingredients, within reason.  We bought them at the local co-op.  The goal was to see if we could make a satisfying meal that is modestly ethical, healthy and affordable.

Food sources: Celery:  Mexico, Carrots, Jalapenos and Cilantro:  California … note, we could have bought carrots from Wisconsin, but at $8.00 for a bag, we declined.  The canned beans were from New York, as were the tomatoes.  The ham hocks were from Iowa, raised on family farms etc…

I know we could get all of the fresh veggies and beautiful tomatoes from the local farmer’s market, in season — sadly, it’s winter here in BNCC and nearly nothing is growing except the piles of snow and dog poo in the back yard.

Cost: The whole pot cost $35.00 — and made at least 10 satisfying meals, so about $3.50 per meal.  This cost does not include the cost of the salt, lime juice or Jerk Seasoning.

Recipe & Instructions:

1) Small dice several stocks of celery, 1 large onion and a bunch of carrots & jalapenos.

2) Heat 3 Tbs olive oil, heat/sweat the celery, onion and carrot and jalapenos.

3) Add 1/4 cup of diced garlic — put it on top so that it won’t burn (an EFG tip!)

4) Add 3 large cans of black beans and the liquid.

5) Add 3 large cans of tomatoes with the liquid.

6) 1/4 cup lime juice

7) Chop 1 large bunch of cilantro and add to the pot.

8)  Add 2 ham shanks, making sure there is enough liquid to cover — add water or organic chicken stock if you have it — we didn’t.

9) Add salt to taste, bay leaves and Caribbean Jerk Seasoning (in the bottle).

10) Let it simmer, reduce, simmer some more — you’ll want to break up the tomatoes and eventually pull out the ham shanks, pull off the meat and return it to the pot.

The whole process (including shopping, prep and cooking) took us several hours… but the result is really  yummy!  The portions can be stored individually for quick lunches or dinners.  They can also be frozen for easy lunches for a couple of weeks.

Here are the basic ingredients — fresh from the co-op.

Here are the veggies all diced up and waiting for Andy’s EFG touch!  I diced everything but the jalapenos, as they still scare me.

Here’s all the goodies just before they became mixed up… pretty colors!

Here it is as it simmered… and simmered — about now, I wish we had a “smell this” capability on the blog… (many, many other times you should be glad that isn’t a feature).

I didn’t take a photo of my bowl — mostly because I was too excited to eat it.

I think this was a great experiment for a cold winter break afternoon.  The actual prep time wasn’t bad.  Andy’s suggestion is to get it started on the stove and then move it to the crock pot for the simmering stage.  A little planning will have delicious smells great you at the end of a long work day — well worth it!

In the end, it’s a healthy and satisfying meal — and moderately ethical.

Why do we want… part 2

So, I’ve been thinking about this… why the “American Dream” is owning the biggest house you can’t really afford…

Philosophers, Kant in particular, argue that human beings are the only inherently worthy things.  He says this because we assign value to other things, so a new Mercedes is generally worth more than my 5 year old Corolla (although, I may prefer the Corolla — I suspect that wouldn’t last long…).

So, I think it’s important to think about where those values come from… how do we get the idea that a big house in the ‘burbs with granite counter tops, hardwood floors and a whirlpool tub is a life goal?

Like many things, it seems to me that this particular value set is socially constructed.  By contrast, other values have a natural basis — for example, valuing a healthy body is prompted by the fact that being sick feels bad.  Valuing chocolate and sex are prompted because they feel good, etc..

One indication of a socially constructed value is that other cultures make opposite choices.  So, in Scandinavia it’s not a socially acceptable choice to build a McMansion (notice the term... hmmm...).  Instead, modest homes and living within your means are valued and conspicuous consumption is frowned upon.

Another indication of a socially constructed value is that it changes over time.  So, before WW II, most families lived in modest homes in or near the city center.  A combination of the GI bill, returning war vets and the interstate highway system — plus increased car ownership, prompted the creation of the suburbs.  So, folks went from living in modest homes to living in homes with yards, dens and a bedroom for every person.

Recently, it seems to me that the media and banking interests have pushed average Americans to want more home than they can afford.  It’s in the interests of the real estate and mortgage industries to entice people to take out mortgages they may not be able to afford, because then they can charge higher interest rates.  Then, banks bundled these less than desirable mortgages together, sold them several times and lead to a recession / depression.

The increased demand for housing (which was created by the real estate folks and others…) lead to a sharp increase in housing prices.  Of course, the real estate folks were paid by commission, so the higher the home price, the bigger the paycheck.  Also, the banks had more money to charge interest on.. so they weren’t complaining.

Finally, the concept of the “flip” created artificial demand and artificial values in homes — because the flipper needed to make money on the deal, so they did minimal improvements and then demanded higher prices.  Because mortgages were fairly easy to get (see above), the housing market was tight and folks who wanted to achieve the “American Dream” bought more than they could afford.

Sadly, the “American Dream” has turned into a nightmare for many people, as lost jobs and significantly decreased home values have turned what seemed to be a sound financial decision into the cause of their bankruptcy.

All of this was due to a powerful combination of a blurred distinction between need and want — and institutional shaping of wants for their own enrichment.

It seems to me that a recognition of the source of the desires is the first step in changing those desires.  Being manipulated into wanting something like a McMansion is less likely when it’s clear that the desire isn’t inherent to the person, but rather external.  As humans, we tend to resist manipulation when we recognize it — and this is one way we can begin to change things in ourselves.

Of course, I’m not the first to say we need to think about what we need — and I support Andy’s desire to live simply, in the woods…. although, I think some plumbing needs to be in the plans :).