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Theory of Minor Demons

Theory of Minor Demons


Himself has a theory about minor demons — minor demons are what beset you when you are unduly annoyed by other people, usually other people who are just going about being the other people that they are, without any intention of bothering anyone.

The first time we encountered minor demons was years ago, when we were hiking in the Columbia Gorge on a trip to Portland, and we Could Not Get Away from these two chattery teenage girls on the trail. We’d hustle to get ahead and get some space between us, and they’d pick up their pace. We’d drop behind to let them get ahead, and they’d stop at a fork in the trail, chatting innocuously, but loudly, and loitering until we’d caught up with them again. Then they’d fall in, right behind us, chattering. On a trail. In the woods. Where we’d hiked to have a little peace and quiet. Could not shake them.

Minor Demons, Himself said after we finally managed to escape them, just as we re-entered the crowded trail from the waterfall, when it was too late and it didn’t matter anymore.

I had a week of Minor Demons. There have been too many people here in town — there was a big free concert on Main Street, a huge success, ten thousand people packed into three blocks having a great time and spending money in local businesses. I’m two blocks away, so starting mid-afternoon, my street filled up, there were crowds heading over, there were just people hanging around. It was fine, I told myself. People like this kind of thing. Its good for the town. And it was. I was on a deadline, and had to work, but people were happy, they liked it, they danced and sang along and had a great time.

But then, three days later, the PBR Bull Riding at the Rodeo Grounds across from Himself’s house. It was raining. I was still on a deadline and was working. I left here late and went over to his house and there was not a parking spot for blocks. It was raining, and I was tired, and I’d been working two jobs all day and I was Just Over It. Plus, there was loudspeaker announcing in that Gee-Shucks rodeo voice that is so annoying, and did I mention, even in my tiny new car, there was no where to park for blocks?

I came storming into Himself’s house In A State.

Minor Demons, he reminded me.

I hate crowds. It’s one reason I moved to Montana. There’s fewer than a million people in a state the size of most of the northeast. I am a short person and I get enormously claustrophobic in crowds and this summer, with the highest-ever visitor numbers to Yellowstone and through town, it has been A Trial. I like my nice quiet life that just hums along on its steady baseline of routine, and there have been too many people, and too much noise, and sirens and car wrecks and forest fires and crowds and by Saturday night I had just Had It.

And this is the minor demon part. Minor demons are things like this, things sent to test us. I don’t work in tourism, but most of my friends and fellow townspeople do. Tourism is great for our local economy, and is quickly becoming the major economic driver of the state. Which is great for things like pushing back against the two gold mines they want to build in the Paradise Valley, and perhaps might even help us save the grizzly bear after delisting.

I know all this. But Saturday night, when I was tired, and there were too many people, I lost my damn mind. Minor demons. They’re sent here to test us. I might not believe in big-G G-d anymore, but I certainly believe in minor demons. And Saturday night they got me.

We had a rare open night at Himself’s cabin last night, and one peaceful sleep, with no noise other than coyotes hunting bunnies in the willow thicket, went a long way toward quelling the minor demons.

On Paying Off My Mortgage

On Paying Off My Mortgage

Livingsmall Goal # 1 Done! House is paid off!

On Friday, I wired the last payment on my house.

I own my own house. No one can make me move, ever again, if I don’t want to. For someone who went to six grammar schools and moved pretty much every 2 years until I was 35, this is huge.

This has been the primary goal of LivingSmall since day one. I moved to Montana because it’s beautiful of course, but primarily I moved here because I could buy an inexpensive house. A house I could afford to pay off.

I did my masters degree at UC Davis, where I applied in large part to study with Gary Snyder. I’m not a poet, but I figured if Gary was there, something cool must be going on. Gary’s biggest advice to us budding writers was not about poetry, or even about writing. “Find a cheap house,” he said. “Someplace you can pay off. If it’s cheap and you want to live there, there’s probably also other artists there.” That’s what he did all those decades ago on the Yuba Ridge, and what I was looking for in Livingston was something similar.

So that’s what I did. I came up here in 2002, seeking a cheap house, and a found one in a town full of artists, and writers, and musicians, and fishing guides, and electricians and carpenters and schoolteachers.

I built a garden, and fixed things up bit by bit. I paid cash for everything I did on the house and while I’ll need a new roof next year, and I have to repaint some things, and while there are always things I want to do in the garden, I own my house, free and clear.

In the process I built a life. A life that as some of you who have followed me a long time know, was nearly derailed entirely the first year I was here. As I tell people when the story comes up, if you’re going to have a disaster, have it in Livingston. Everyone came. My kitchen filled up with people that first night, and they’re all still here. I’m still here. We are all here together. We’ve seen one another through other disasters. We’ve all brought food to the Elks club for funeral parties, but we’ve celebrated kids birthdays, and book launches, and year after year of rodeo parades.

It was not a mistake, my project of living small. There’s more big news to come, but for now, I’m going to take a moment in my back garden, where the beans are shooting above the trellis, where the sunflowers and hollyhocks are blooming great shoots of color into the sky, where the chickens I just deloused are clucking around in their coop while I wait for Himself to come home for dinner and a Red Sox game on TV. It is not the life I thought I wanted, but it is a better life than I ever could have envisioned.

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Baby Cows

Baby Cows

When I drove down the road from the cabin the other morning, what should I see but new babies! There were six of them hanging out in the shelter of the State section. At this age they seem far less interested in eating hay than in nestling in it — a wee cattle nursery.

I love this time of year in Montana. From now until summer there’ll be field after field filled with baby cows and baby sheep (and sometimes baby goats). We’ll also get to look forward to the bambis — who are beyond cute.

Of course, we were also awakened at three AM by a pack of coyotes chasing something just on the far side of the shed. A deer probably — I can’t imagine the bunnies were out tempting them at that hour, and there were a bunch of them, four or five probably. It brought out something elemental in me and I found myself hiding under the covers!

Spring in the mountains — aside from the fact that we got a foot of snow today, it seems to be on its way …

Fitness 2011

Fitness 2011

These were actually last year’s Christmas present, but I didn’t get to use them much as we got a warm spell right after the holiday.

Today it’s sunny and beautiful. Clear blue skies, about 25 degrees, lovely. So at lunch, I took my new skates over to the lagoon in town park, and skated for about 20 minutes.

It was great — the ice was bumpy and there were patches of snow on it just like when I was a kid, and the adventure is compounded by the fact that I grew up on figure skates, not hockey skates, so there’s just enough of a learning curve to keep it exciting. On the other side of the road from the lagoon, the Yellowstone river was rushing past, and beyond that was Livingston Peak and the north end of the Absaroka Range.

So much more fun than going to the gym, or downstairs to my treadmill desk, or even for a walk (although I do love a good walk on a sunny winter day). Duck out at lunchtime, go skate hard, breathe hard, and feel all sorts of weird little muscles I haven’t used in decades come back to life. Here’s fingers crossed that our nights stay cold and the days continue to be sunny and bright (and not too warm).

Eating Out in a Small Town

Eating Out in a Small Town

So, last night I was feeling festive, and suggested to the Sweetie that we go out to celebrate. I put on girl clothes, and some makeup, and he cleaned up, and off we went.

We live in a very small town. The options for dining out are very limited. There are two Chinese restaurants of the old-fashioned chop suey variety, a Mexican restaurant that isn’t bad, but is heavy on the shredded yellow cheese, a Bistro, an Italian restaurant owned by a very good friend (closed on Mondays), an inexplicably popular rib and chop house that I don’t like because the meat comes swimming in butter, and a general dining sort of restaurant that seems to get sold every two to three years.

There was nothing especially wrong with out dinners, but there was nothing especially right with them either. I had a nice piece of fish on some kale, and Himself had a burger and fries, but all in all, it mostly reminded me of why we don’t go out to eat that often. Nothing was really that much better than we can make at home. The service was a little off, which could have been because it was a Monday night in the off season. But in general, we left feeling sort of let down. We spent a reasonable amount of money on a just-okay meal in a terrible economy and frankly, we would have been better off cooking at home and watching (the really great) SF Giants/New Orleans Saints game.

I guess it’s an argument for learning to cook reasonably well. I like going out on those nights when everyone seems to be out, and when the point is as much the buzz of seeing people and simply being “out” — maybe with a nice outfit and a little makeup on. But for the most part, I like my own cooking as much as most of what I can get around here (and the lack of restaurants is one reason most of my friends are such good cooks, particularly of Asian food — there just aren’t any restaurants for that).

Regardless, it was a nice evening. We went out, dressed like grownups, and toasted my wee triumph. Then we came home, and I put sweatpants on and we watched the end of a good football game. All good.

New Community Garden

New Community Garden

There’s a new community garden here in Livingston, and it’s right up at the end of my alley at the Lincoln School. The Lincoln School was converted years ago into artists studios — they’re not very expensive and there’s always a waiting list for those nice old classrooms with the big windows. There have always been two big patches of lawn out front, and when the International Fly Fishing Center was there, they’d have casting classes in the summer. This spring, someone got the splendid idea of converting all that useless grass into a community garden.

Saturday I walked over and had a nice chat with Michael McCormick, director of the food bank and his wife, who were finishing up the rows and planting veggies. There are a couple of high raised beds for the wheelchair bound folks at Counterpoint, the organization across the street who offers services for those with developmental disabilities and brain injuries, and there are rows set aside for the food bank, for Loaves and FIshes (a Christian soup kitchen) and for other special needs groups in town.

Because our weather has been cold and rainy (with hail on occasion) everyone is getting a late start this year. But I’ll keep you posted as it comes along. If it works out this year, they’re planning to convert the other patch of lawn. It’s a really exciting development, and I can’t believe it’s right up at the end of my back alley!

Go-To Recipes?

Go-To Recipes?

So all this talk about cooking, just ordinary cooking, has gotten me thinking about go-to recipes, the ones you rely on and can do without really thinking. For Michael Ruhlman it’s a roast chicken. Which I’ve got to second. I use Marcella Hazan’s “recipe” which is nothing more than a roast chicken with a lemon stuck full of fork holes inside it. The lemon does wonders.

I’m having the girls over for Oscar night on Sunday, so I’ve been thinking about what to cook.There’s going to be a bunch of us (the Sweetheart is fleeing to his cabin, not a fan of pop culture is he) and we’re all going to be talking on top of one another and swilling wine, so I’m thinking something simple. I’ve got a couple of big roasts in the freezer — I know there’s at least one pork shoulder down there, and a chuck roast, but I might wind up turning to an old favorite, penne with vodka sauce. It’s a great party dish because it holds pretty well, you can make it in enormous quantities, and I’ve never fed it to anyone who didn’t really like it. With bread, and a salad (I’m thinking the marinated beet and grapefruit salad from Urban Italianby Andrew Carmellini.

The penne vodka recipe I use (well, I think I’ve memorized it by now) is from one of the first books I ever worked on, back when I was a starving editorial assistant in New York: The Glamour Food Book, now sadly out of print. It was a collection of recipes that Glamour Magazine pulled together and reprinted, most of which were fast, easy, and reasonably cheap since their target market was young working women who were just starting out. I still have it, and I still cook from it.

So there’s a thought. A mainstream fashion magazine in the 1980s that had recipes, for real food, for food you’d cook for a little dinner party, or to feed yourself on an evening after a long day at work. And it wasn’t considered “cooking from scratch” or anything exotic. It was just cooking. It was just what you did, especially if you were young, and didn’t have much money, and wanted to entertain. Hmm. No wonder I’m such a dinosaur.

So readers, what are your go-to recipes? The ones you use when you don’t want to think about a recipe. When you just want to cook something you know you like, and that you know your friends and family like?

Gearing up for spring

Gearing up for spring

overwintered herbs in spring rain

It’s raining today — a nice soft spring rain, so I took the poor scraggly herbs from the Winter Herb Garden and put them outside the back door. The rosemary seemed particularly crunchy, but it did it’s job — it didn’t die. The thyme has been remarkably successful — the last few weeks it’s been sending out delicious little soft green shoots.

seed organization

I also got my act together last weekend and organized my seeds. As you can see — my “system” is nothing fancy. A couple of cheap bins from Pamida and a paper bag — but by the end of any garden season they’re a mess — some are in the basket with the cheapo tongue depressor/craft sticks that I use for garden markers (easy to write on with a sharpie, and they compost nicely), some wind up on the seed starting shelves, some sleeves were empty, in general, it was all a mess. So I went through and got everything organized by type — tomatoes, greens, herbs, cucumbers, beans, peppers, etc. Some people organize by planting order, but that’s too daunting and frankly, feels a little constricting. I know the spinach and broccoli rabe will go in first, but I’m never entirely sure beforehand what I’m going to put in next. So there we are — ready to start seeds this weekend or next, and ready to put some early cold crops in the garden beds.

I don’t have a picture of those, but they’re starting to shape up. I loved the straw mulch I used last year, but it had a lot of seeds in it so there’s all sorts of wheat growing in my garden — and it overwintered just fine, so it must be winter wheat. At any rate, I had a lovely half hour or so after work last night turning over the soil in a couple of my raised beds, pulling all those wheaty bits out for the compost. I have two beds now that are all fluffy and ready for seeds. This weekend I’ll clean up the rest, and start with the cool-weather greens. I’m so excited! Another year!