Wild days.

I just finished reading Helen Macdonald’s  simultaneously cozy/devastating H is for Hawk. The memoir about training a goshawk to hunt immediately after her father’s sudden death crosses psychic paths with an analysis (in third and first person) of King Arthur-chronicler T.H. White’s similar experience writing “The Goshawk” in the 1930s.

It was heaven for this very amateur naturalist. From ages 9-13 I expected to become an ornithologist, all wrapped up in raptors’ muscled wings and the mysteries of flight and thin air. This book brought back some of those wonders.

This spring, we headed to a segment of the Sac and Fox Trail to check out Chris’ baby — a new single-track bike trail being carved out of the adjacent woods — and scout for fungi. This was all the way back during an unsuccessful morel-hunting season.

We found something better: An eagle nesting in a slim margin of those impossibly tall, thin evergreen trees. Looking up from the rusty needle pad below, we spied the first glimpse of the nest-knot. It’s a jigsaw of sticks wrapped seamlessly around the trunk, like the branches of the tree, in a moment of panic, tied themselves in a ball.

We circled underneath to the neighboring meadow to get a better look, picking our way through the home’s detritus of rejected twigs. And there she was. White head perfectly orange-lit — she had to be perfect — in the fuzzy magic hour of Iowa summer dusk. In profile, her predator’s eyes watched our high-knee progress into the prairie. Our puny human eyes bugging out behind binoculars. Our whispered “wows.”

She got agitated as we loitered and took off.

On another night, we took a picnic to the prairie stubble to watch for her. Halfway through our chopped salad, she breached the trees above the nearby river, clutching a fish, and we felt a little wilder.

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Eagle 2

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Catching up.

Throwing it back to a late December/early January hike at Eden Valley, home of Devil’s Crack and Chris’ 28th birthday celebration – a time when we were right on the line between “two people” and “couple.” Wading barefoot through the October-chilled creek that day might have solidified things.

Friends Nate and Susi tagged along this time for silly photos, off-trail treks and mystic cow sightings. Afterward, we visited the General Store in Stone City for pork tenderloins in the cozy basement eatery.

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N and S have been married in two countries now, with a third celebration in CR coming up in August. It’s never too late for engagement photos in a field of frosted prairie grass, though.

 

I made this.

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THIS. This babe of a dining table/desk for two. And all it took was a cordless drill and some gumption (and this DIY inspiration and about five trips to Home Depot and lots of practice wood and one night of tears). Un-vacuumed carpet and desk mess also pictured so my design ego doesn’t go through the roof.

The legs are hairpin legs from, of all places, hairpinlegs.com. But they’re so hot right now, you can find versions on Etsy and Amazon. Three-pronged for extra sturdiness. The table itself is all kinds of customize-able — whatever width and length you want. One warning: When the store advertises the top boards as 12 inches across, they actually mean 11″ and some change (woodworkers’ rules, Chris says he’s heard of it). “Measure twice, cut once,” as my dad/Ron Swanson/every woodworker worth her splinters later reminded me.

I used:

  • Three 12(ish)” x 5.5′ top boards (Home Depot cuts for free)
  • Two 4″ x 5.5′ side frames
  • Seven inner braces
  • A ton of screws
  • Legs
  • Sanding block, brush and stain (Early American for Team USA)
  • Chris’ oldest T-shirt, destroyed for the cause
  • Water-based polyurethane

Best choices made along the way:

  • Practice drilling spare pieces of wood, so you still mess up on the final product but not as bad as you could’ve messed up.
  • Buying imperfect boards. Toyed with the idea of finding rescued barn wood — Iowa’s lousy with it — but didn’t. Still ended up with some nice knottiness, and I couldn’t be happier with the Early American stain. One coat. Makes it feel old and cherished.

Thanks to Chris for standing on the curvy pieces while I put them in their place. And for teaching me the ways of the drill. And helping when my arm got tired and sawing through seven blocks of wood in our tiny living room when I measured everything an inch too long the first time.

Around the Rap.

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Things I’m into: Hearts on old houses and female-fronted indie pop.

Representing the upper Midwest (woo!), Baraboo, Wis.-born PHOX played CSPS last fall, and I fell hard for the band’s bombast mixed with adorable singer Monica Martin’s on-stage anxiety. Working on merch before the show, we pulled a bottle of whiskey out of their T-shirt box. The drink showed up again and again in Martin’s hand throughout the show, when she wasn’t picking up a surprise trombone to join the rest of the seven-piece band’s horn section.

This was PHOX’s second time in CR (Martin apologized late in the evening for wearing the same outfit both times). I’d like to keep them all to myself in Legion Arts tiny theater, but I bet they’re destined for big things.

Down the road, Lion Bridge Brewing Company is taking shape in Czech Village just across the Lion Bridge from NewBo and just next to the Cedar Valley bike trail.

Zip through downtown and past the Quaker Oats compound to something great – though we’re not sure just what yet – taking shape at my CR happy place, Cedar Lake: Friends of Cedar Lake.

I feel lucky to have lived in this city during years of such big changes and improvements. The new downtown library, NewBo rebuild, restaurant boom and greater bike traffic awareness complement the already awesome stuff going down here, like Indian Creek Nature Center, Palisades Park, Kernels games and the massive summer farmers market.

Another goal for 2014 is to get out in it as much as possible, hopefully on the back of an upgraded bike.

Negatives.

The Upper Midwest has been grappling with a devil of a windchill for about three weeks now, culminating (I hope) in tomorrow’s real forecasted high of -8 degrees. The governor of Minnesota called off every school in the state with projections for northern settlements’ temperatures to hit -80. Living the dream.

Sorry for your snow and cold this week, East Coast.

Yesterday morning warmed up to a positively balmy 30 degrees, so we chowed down a few pastries at Donutland and headed to Morgan Creek. The open prairie turns into a cross-country ski course/husky paradise in winter. Temps were already dropping by noon and now they’re back at below-zero windchills.

This seems to bring out full-moon caliber craziness, too. An older woman approached me at the grocery store last week to ask about my infinity scarf. She crotchets, she says, and has seen this style all over the place and wants to try it. I give her the scarf, she counts the rows, returns it and thanks me.

“I crocheted for Sonny and Cher, you know,” she says as she starts to walk away. “Well, for Cher. Big full sleeves on a mini-dress.”

I’m choosing to believe her.

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Chris is still biking, by the way. Made a grocery run this morning on his Surly Pugsley to get last-minute beer-making supplies for today’s first attempted batch. IPA is the new stocking-up-for-disaster bread and milk.

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Resolutions.

My 2014 goal: Cleaner closets, literally and spiritually, but mostly literally. They’re exploding with sweaters and old newspapers. Like my soul.

The hope is I can start with an organized closet and that will just magically translate to a cleaner, more energized life. Turn my bulky sweater soul into a stream-lined storage soul with more room to stash the important stuff, like reaching out to friends regularly, exploring new hobbies and planning for the future.

And, in keeping with New Years past, here are my favorite jingles! Spotify makes this tradition a lot easier.

Fall 2013.

Months ago, C and I went back to Backbone. It was a morose, last-weekend-together-for-5-months kind of trip. We were supposed to stop by a bakery for fresh gingerbread cookies, and that hadn’t happened, so I was already thrown and cookie-less. We were quiet, weather was bleak and the long lake looked more wild and suspect in autumn than she appeared last spring, bathed in bluebells.

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This year’s autumn dazzled. It was all trees on fire and last night of your life sunsets over Iowa prairie. But early on, there were days like this one that felt more ominous — scary-exciting like the smell of elementary school hallways during the first few weeks of class. We explored gloomy fields, little caves and radioactive orange fungi and lingered over leaves fallen across the trail in the prime of their seasonal plumage. We were quiet.

I’d forgotten this isn’t the time of year for raucous walks. You match your voice and footfalls to the sound of the environment, steadily decreasing in decibel to the silence of snow flurries, words like the occasional crackle of river ice moved by unseen currents. I’m ready to get back to that and melt into 2014, absorbing the cold (really, really cold), being quiet.

Bad blogger.

This poor blog. I’ve let her sit neglected for months with only bits of Drake for sustenance (not very nutritious). This, after cruising into fall with the best intentions to start fresh and fertile in this space. I wanted to do something different and necessary and not so “this is what I did on my summer vacation” in this space, and lacking that, I did nothing.

Months later, turns out this blog actually provides quite a bit of my motivation to explore and introspect. Good or bad, that’s a fact. I’m not cooking so much, I’m not walking so much, I’m not seeking so much. Time to get back to hiking posts, DIY days and reading lists to keep me honest and moving forward.

Stay tuned for ALL OF THE THINGS in Zoe’s Cedar Rapids. More pretty things, more crafty things, more homey things and hopefully a lot more June.

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October 2013.

I sometimes think that the other months were constituted mainly as a fitting interlude between Octobers. – Aldo Leopold

There are many odes to October out there. It’s the most loveable month — for the scarves, the pumpkins, the pumpkin alcohol, the cuddly times with cuddly people. My girl June learned to roll over this (her fourth) month. My boy Chris turned 29.

But something about 2013 has made this time around a doozy. And every time I think the dooze will give us a break, it gets doozier. I’m back in school — briefly. Chris moved to Antarctica and then came back from Antarctica and then almost left again. We talked job shifts. We talked house shifts. We talked finances (or lack thereof) after the big Iceland trip. We came to some conclusions and felt better.

And then this week, a truck with the first frost of October clouding his windows pulled out in front of me on the way to work and we crashed. In a big way. Twisted metal and air bag smoke and one minute the front of my car was there and the next it wasn’t. And suddenly it mattered a lot that Chris was sent back to Iowa, and a lot less what happens next as long as I’m OK and we’re OK. And PSA: It matters a lot that you completely defrost the windows of your car in the morning. OK?

C made me soup and bought me a rootbeer for lunch. He’s chauffeured me to work. He’s talked to my boss and my parents and in countless other little ways saved my life  (halfsies on that with the airbag — shout out to the Nissan Versa collision system). It’s going to be alright. And it can only get easier in November. I think.