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Snow Day | Our Prairie Nest
Snow Days

What are your memories of snow days in your youth?

Mine is of listening to WBCN Boston 104.1, hoping for the snow song. It was a parody of Monty Python’s “Spam,” except it went, “Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow…” When you heard that, you knew there was a possibility of a snow day!

If Bridgewater schools came up, we’d get giddy with excitement and prepare for a day of fun. Staying home, reading books, watching HBO, or playing on our Nintendo was fun, but it was even better if we could go sledding.

We had two favorite places for sledding. One was Tower Hill, behind Bridgewater State College (now Bridgewater State University). This was long before the commuter lots and MBTA parking, before the T Station, when the college was just a college. You’d walk up the hill to the tower for the best sledding in town, and what a walk it was!

We’d trudge up there through the snow, sled in hand, all the way to the top of the steep hill. It was lined on either side by trees and, at the bottom, the brick building now used for the campus police posed a potential threat if you picked up too much speed and didn’t stop in time. It was a good 4 or 5 minute walk just to get to the top of the hill, but well worth it. Because once you reached the summit, you had a view of that part of the campus and one heck of a trip ahead of you!

That was probably our favorite place to sled, because the hill was steep, smooth, and fast. With the campus building at the bottom, there was just enough potential danger to make it extra exciting. Would you crash into the building or avert calamity? That’s all any kid wanted when they were sledding – the wind in their face and the thrill of the ride.

The other place we’d go occasionally was informally known as Strawberry Hill at the Strawberry Valley Golf Course in Abington. It wasn’t as smooth, steep, or fast as Tower Hill in Bridgewater, but it had the added excitement of more bumps and potential jumps. The photo below shows my sister (in purple) joining many sledders on the hill for a day of fun.

I would love to take my own children to these places someday, or somewhere similar. In eastern Nebraska, we have beautiful rolling hills known as the Loess Hills. There are some unexpectedly sharp peaks and steep inclines. Most people think of Nebraska as flat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth along the east coast (yes, they call it a coast because of the Missouri River; technically, it’s a bank, but that’s neither here nor there; “Coaster” pride is all that matters).

Despite these glorious hill views, I’ve yet to find the perfect sledding spot. Our backyard is unsafe for sledding and I have to act as catcher to keep my daughter from ending up in the icy pond! We’ll do that from time to time, but it’s not at the top of my list of snow day activities. The front yard also isn’t that great. The incline is much too gentle.

About 2 lots up the street from us is a pretty good hill on another property. If the snow falls just right on this east-facing incline (and that’s not always a guarantee), it offers good sledding with an effortless climb back up to the top. The property owner built a workshop/garage at the bottom of the hill, so we have to be mindful of that, but otherwise it’s convenient and pretty safe.

We went out last weekend for some sledding in our backyard, since the hill up the street didn’t have any snow on it. Of course, with so little snow, our playtime turned into us basically flinging powdery white stuff at each other. That’s another thing about Nebraska snow – it’s just powder most of the time. Not wet enough to build anything or make a proper snowball, unlike wet, heavy New England snow.

But we still have fun and love a good snow day!

Canning Pickles | Our Prairie Nest
Pickles & Breadcrumbs

No, pickles and bread crumbs don’t go together… unless you’re making them!

Last week, we did our first canning of the season. Year after year, we enjoy a bountiful cucumber harvest. The right ones go into pickles. Which cucumbers are best for pickles? You want the smaller cukes, the ones with smaller seeds. They should be just ripe. An overripe cucumber doesn’t make as nice a pickle.

Making Pickles

There are several ways to make pickles. The first couple of years, we went with the heat canning and boiling the jars, but last year we discovered an easier and tastier way to make pickles – no heat, no boiling, and the result are even more flavorful, crunchy pickles.

If this sounds intriguing to you, you want to go with cold process. There are several recipes available with different ways of spicing the pickles, but most come down to the same technique: you clean the cucumbers and jars, mix your spices, boil your brine, slice your cucumbers, add garlic, and then the brine and spices. Let them sit for a few days and then give them a try.

Making Breadcrumbs

The other thing we did last week was make homemade breadcrumbs for the first time. With all the grilling we do during the summer, the top of the refrigerator becomes a sort of catch-all for hamburger and hot dog buns. I don’t like throwing away the leftovers and I also don’t want to feed leftover pieces to the birds and ducks. It’s just not good for them or the environment. So I finally put the leftovers to good use.

Breadcrumbs are easy to make. I tore the buns into small pieces and put them on a foil-lined baking tray. Then, I placed them in the oven at 350 degrees. I checked on them every 10 minutes, mixing the bread until it’d all gone nice and dry.

If you aren’t sure you can remember to check in consistently, because you don’t want the bread to burn, you can dry it at lower temperatures for a longer amount of time. When a few pieces still felt a little soft, I turned the oven off and just let the tray sit for another 10 minutes.

Most recipes call for a food processor for the next step, which we don’t have (that and a mixer are both on my wishlist. Someday!), but a blender works just fine. I filled the blender about halfway with dried pieces of bread and used the ice crushing setting to break them down into breadcrumbs.

Then I experimented with my next batch by throwing in a combination of kosher salt, oregano, basil, and parsley. I kept the spices to a minimum, but probably could have been more generous with the amounts. This batch of breadcrumbs came out smelling delicious and I plan to make them in the future with slightly stronger seasoning.

That is, if cooking with them turns out well. I’ll try to remember to report on that!

*Edited to add: Cooking with them was amazing! Just as good, if not better than, store-bought breadcrumbs.

Bread Crumbs | Our Prairie Nest

Happiness | Our Prairie Nest
Happiness

I was planting seedlings in our garden today and wondering, Am I happy?

It’s a normal question for anyone to ask from time to time in their lives. And today, probably stemmed from the fact that I was lamenting the need to work versus get our garden ready. But the fact remained that the garden did need t0 get planted, and I started pondering the flexibility of my life these days.

I’m grateful that what I do allows me to live this way. The joke I make to my husband is, “I’m a magician. I turn words into money.” Of course, writing is much more than that. But I know how incredibly fortunate I am right now.

In my previous job, I was so stressed out, that I couldn’t wait to escape it. Oh, the money was good! And I suppose if you like to market a luxury item geared toward a high-end market, it’s fine. However, I breathed a sigh of relief every time I crossed the bridge that signified the change from city to country. I didn’t enjoy having a fast-paced job or being in the city, no matter what the pay and benefits were.

My former boss didn’t understand my feelings. He thought someone intelligent and capable couldn’t possibly want something less than all of that.

But I didn’t want less.

I wanted more. More time for me, more time for what I love, more time for my family and friends, and more time where I could just genuinely be me, instead of the version of me the company demanded.

Maybe I don’t get a steady paycheck anymore. Yes, now I’m paying 30% taxes instead of 15%, because I no longer have an employer to pick up the other half. True, I pay taxes instead of receiving a refund. Also true that I am not rich. At least, not financially.

I am, however, immeasurably happy when I can do something like this: sit on a tree stump in my backyard, watch my daughter flit through the sprinkler, and write. My time doesn’t belong to anyone but myself these days.

Charles Bukowski was onto something.

If you dream of the same thing, work on it now, rather than waiting. It took me a long time to get here and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

Making a House a Home | Our Prairie Nest
Making a House a Home

We’ve been working on home improvements every since we bought our home in 2013. This wasn’t a place we bought as a dream home. No, no, no. This was a place we bought with the idea of making it a place we would want to live. Location and size were the biggest factors in our purchasing decision. That and the fact that we could buy the house for cash and close in 2 weeks, since we had just returned from living overseas and didn’t want to put family out by staying with them a long time.

The idea of home is rather nebulous, really. We have a lot of sayings about it, though, right? “Home is where the heart is” and “There’s no place like home.” Some people even feel that home has nothing to do with physical location, but where certain people live.

For me, home is very much a physical place entwined with a sense of comfort, security, nostalgia, and other things too nebulous to name. I’m a person who likes to set down roots in a place that I can call my own. That’s also one of the reasons I like quiet neighborhoods, country settings, and ownership instead of renting. I’m also one of those people who can be happy pretty much anywhere. Just tell me where I need to be and I’ll set about making my own cozy little nook there.

Of course, what we’re doing is physical – tearing out walls and old wiring, ceilings and insulation, carpets and floors, windows and doors – and replacing tangible aspects. In essence, we’re rebuilding our house from the ground up. And what we’re doing is infusing it with the things that take it beyond just being a physical space.

Every decision made is something deeper than just “What color should the walls be?” The physical location we’ve chosen to live in means something to my husband. The palette we’ve chosen means something to me.  For us, these tangible aspects connect with memories and emotions, and blend together seamlessly to make us feel like we’re home.

Okay, maybe my color palette shows that the home that will always be in my heart is back where I grew up. But I think we can have more than one home, don’t you?