E & C Deck the Tree

I was sneaky.

A few weeks ago we got a Christmas tree. Although I would have loved to go to a tree farm like we used to as kids back in New Jersey, we've been really busy on the weekends with photo shoots and Evan's basketball coaching, so we opted for the pre-cut Menards tree. Not such a bad option, really. They have cute little trees that are perfect for our little Minneapolis house.

So one snowy Saturday night (I think the only truly snowy night of the year so far ... what's up Minnesota?) we got to work decorating our tree. But unknown to Evan, I had planted our trusty Flip Video on the bookshelf. Shhhh!

He figured it out by the end, but if you watch carefully (and I mean carefully, because it goes FAST!) you'll see him wave at the camera a little past halfway. Notice how he leaves the room for a minute at the beginning to put on a nice red shirt, per my suggestion? That may have tipped him off that something was a brewing ...

Our tree generally looks the same every year. I love anything and everything Norwegian or Swedish, so we have some straw ornaments tied with red thread, red wooden beads draped over the branches, and some wooden apples as well. I actually grew up with the same apples, and it was always tradition to start our decorating process with them, because you want them evenly distributed, of course. We also have various personalized ornaments, collected over the years -- and quite a few cows!

We're off to New Jersey for some relaxing, lots of games, and traipsing around NYC. Then we'll be back to spend some time with the Piersons at the farm. We'll definitely miss the white Christmas we had last year, but we're excited to celebrate, just the same.

Enjoy the video, and have a wonderful Christmas week!

Ninjas of the Night

We set out after dark, dressed in a hodge-podge of winter clothes. A neck warmer served as an ear-band for Karrin, mom's small sweatpants became Mike's running tights; a motley crew. But when you're on a night run, appearances don't matter.

I'm not sure if we lost track of time in our post Turkey-Day stupor, or if we were secretly just craving a night-time adventure, but whatever the case, we headed out on our run a little later than usual; the darkened sky didn't keep us indoors that November night.

We ran to the creek, then along the thin trail that hugs the creek bed and meanders up and around. A thin ribbon of path, where we shifted to a slightly vertical stride to keep trips and stumbles and twisted ankles at bay. But it's still quite possible to continue forward on a night time run even with brambles and uneven ground underfoot. You rely on your ears and your sense of touch -- and quite often your imagination begins to play.

We were the ninjas of the night.

I believe Mike even climbed a tree that had bowed over our path. A little night creature in the branches. 

Silently treading forward, our foursome made it to Lake Harriet where we paused and marveled at how far we'd come without tiring. The magic of the night, I guess.

But it's true, Mike said. It's often easier to accomplish tasks at night when darkness keeps your eyes from searching forward and forces your attention to remain in the present. Sure, your mind can wander, but you are less apt to think about how much further you have to go as you can't see what lies ahead.

Mike has lead many groups of kids on backpacking and rock climbing adventures (among other things), and will often lead the group on a hike at night, for this very reason. He's even tackled tricky climbs in the moonlight. Kids don't complain as much at night, he says. 

And it's kind of exciting too! A normal path can turn into a grand adventure in the moonlight.

I have never been much of a night runner before (partly because it isn't safe by yourself), but now I look for excuses to run at night. I like to be forced to dwell in the present, and not worry about what lies ahead. I am a planner by nature, so putting those blinders on and focusing on each foot placement in the present, is a welcome change. I guess that's the long and wordy way of saying the old cliches "stop and smell the roses ... enjoy the scenery ... it's about the journey, not the destination." But I like my running analogy better.

Try it. Become a ninja of the night. It'll keep you on your toes!

Note that my dad was most definitely on this run too (photo taken from his iPhone). He is the instigator of most of our runs when we're all together, and is always up for the next big adventure. And Evan even ran a couple miles with us that night - what a treat!

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's bustling here at the Pierson house: turkey is in the oven, refrigerator is packed with food halfway prepped, coffee is continually brewing, relatives have arrived, and the house is beginning to smell good!

Here's one new dish I'm introducing to the family this year.

But I wanted to stop in quickly on this wonderful day and reminisce a little about Tdays of yore. Remember this video I posted last year? It's one of my favorite Thanksgiving Day memories.

Today will be filled with great memories too -- Happy Thanksgiving!

Reuniting with an Old Friend

Tonight I spent some time with an old friend ...

I'm a little rusty, but it's always comforting to hear that familiar wooden creak, so intimate only I can hear, as I settle him under my chin, and to feel the taught cold strings slide under my fingers.

I was in third grade when I first picked up a violin. We'd been given two options: violin or cello. Although I must admit that I am drawn to the voice of a cello, I happily chose the violin to be in the company of friends and my older sister Kirsten.

Although I played in youth orchestras and then in college, most of my post-college years so far have found my violin tucked away in its case, the last concert program still lingering in its zippered pocket. But this year I decided to rekindle my relationship with the ol' violin and joined an orchestra: the Linden Hills Chamber Orchestra. I'm excited to be playing Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony (which has undercurrents of A Might Fortress is Our God), but the music is rather challenging, so I've spent some quality time with my violin this fall, brushing up and reminding myself of the old road map.

Besides practicing fingering and retraining my brain to think across strings, it helps to notice the little details of the violin itself that make me feel at home.

I forgot how much I love the delicate scroll carved at the top, in perfect cinnamon-roll fashion. At my first rehearsal this fall I was happy to find it still feels natural to sit with my violin resting on my lap, waiting patiently for my part to begin. As I learned to do when sitting in my youth orchestra, I found myself resting my lips on those wooden grooves.

And the moon shaped notch behind the neck, where I rest my thumb as I wait to begin ...

There's something in the waiting. It's such a great exercise for kids and adults alike, to sit within the music like that, just absorbing the sound. You don't realize it at the time, but you are imprinting the music into your brain -- your soul? -- so that years later when you are flitting through radio stations as you drive home from work you catch a snippet of sound that causes you to pause and brings you right back to that chair you sat patiently in when you were twelve years old and could hum every stanza of the Symphony.

Boredom is not an option. For when you're in an orchestra, you not only learn your part, but the flute solo and the clarinet's sad intro, the trumpeter's call -- even the conductor's stance.

One of my favorite moments is the very beginning of a piece when just a few instruments lead us out. It's oftentimes pretty quiet - just a flute or an oboe perhaps - and you wonder if the audience is tired and bored with the soft, lilting music. But this is simply the brink of The Beginning, and when you are familiar with the avalanche of exciting passages and harmonies ahead, those beginning moments hold anticipation.

... thanks again, old friend.

Read more about what my violin means to me in my previous post: Horcruxes. It just might have to do with Harry Potter : )

What are your favorite musical moments? Have you ever strayed from your instrument and then picked it up again? If anyone in the area wants to join our orchestra, let me know!

And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon

We have a tradition at our house where we only come up with a Halloween costume at the last minute. It's not that we dread Halloween or feel obligated to scrounge up a costume, thus pushing it to the last second before those trick-or-treaters start ringing. We're actually huge Halloween fans. It's simply more fun this way. It allows for spontaneity, requires creativity, is an excuse to wear some random things you have hidden away in your closet, and is FREE!

This Halloween my sister Sarah came over right around 5pm when I was busy starting this soup (it's great, try it! More like a Tortilla Soup than Chili. I think I'd like it even more without the chicken and with some garbanzo beans) and headed straight back to my room. Five minutes later she had become a Cowgirl! And notice our pumpkin with Woody? Haha ... non-intentionally theme appropriate (thanks Riley!).

I actually used the same pink-and-white shirt two years ago to be a cowgirl! (Read that post here). And last year I picked out a rarely worn red-and-white shirt to become Waldo. (Read that post here).

You should try it one year. Give yourself five minutes in front of your closet (and possibly other closets/storage cabinets throughout the house) and see what you can come up with.

Sarah's cowgirl costume prompted me to become .... a COW! Perhaps a horse would've been more fitting, but in this family, cows are kinda special. And of course when Evan got home he was game to be a cowboy.

I think it was right after posing for this photo with my tripod that we realized a whole group of kids were crowded by our door just watching us. Oops! I should mention that we had scary/Halloween music playing all night, and one little girl looked up to us with concern in her eyes, saying "it sounds really scary in there." Oh the fun of Halloween.

Here we are practicing our mooing/chewing our cud (Evan is significantly better at this than me).

We didn't have many trick-or-treaters .... more for us! Towards the end of the night we decided to relax upstairs by the TV, but were sure to leave a handful of candy on the front steps for those late-night teenage trick-or-treaters. I left about 7 pieces of normal candy, then a few mini bags of animal crackers, and Evan threw in an old candy cane, just for kicks ... you know, to see if what they would take it. And sure enough, and hour later, it was all gone -- candy cane and all! 

We installed our new full-glass storm door just in time for the festivities! It was a pain to put up and took a few hours, but it was definitely worth it. Now we can spy on the squirrels who like to sit on our doorstep and plot their attack of the pumpkin/decorative corn/you name it. I'll have to post a picture with the door closed soon -- you can finally see the finished blue door!

If you haven't seen this Halloween light show yet, watch it! It's amazing. We watched it about three times the other night. We're thinking a road trip out to California to see it in person next year? Anyone with us?!

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly, a family tradition

Would you believe me if I told you this jelly is made out of alligator tails? No? Good, because it isn't. But wouldn't that be cool?!

The story to Anitra's Jalapeno Jelly starts along the shores of Green Lake in the little town of Spicer, Minn. at my great-aunt Anitra's home. The very lake where my family used to gather from all corners of the country to share in some inner-tube floating, off-the-dock jumping, long games of dominos, and some great hors d'oevres (or "horsey douvers" as we liked to call them).

Since moving to Minnesota (I'm originally from New Jersey) I've had many more opportunities to sit lakeside, and family gatherings have shifted to the colder month of November where we've bundled up to play ladder golf after another Turkey dinner.

Some crazies (ahem, Kirsten ...) still can't resist a dip in Green Lake.

Although we've all gotten older and our days together now come in bursts and spurts instead of endless summer days, we still carry on the hors d'oeuvre tradition.

Anitra's Jalapeno Jelly is one of my all-time favorites. It's surprisingly simple to make, and once you have some cans stocked up, all you need is a little cream cheese, some simple Ritz crackers (and maybe a Corona), and you are set.

Don't be fooled by the scary green color ... no it doesn't have any ingredients found in Green Lake, as the title below suggests.

Be prepared for a little tang on the tip of your tongue, but paired with the cream cheese, I wouldn't even call it spicy. The 5 cups of sugar (yea, you heard me right!) really tone down the jalapenos.

Anitra's Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
Makes 5-7 1/2 pint jars


1 1/2 cup vinegar
2 Tab lemon juice
1/4 cup bell pepper, diced
1 cup jalapeno pepper, diced (seeds removed!)
5 cups sugar
1 6oz package Certo (liquid pectin) - for me this was both bags in the box


Combine first four ingredients in blender or food processor. Pour into large pan and bring to a boil. Add sugar and simmer 10 min. Turn off heat. Stir in Certo (it will begin to thicken quickly). Pour into jars (we used a funnel to help control the mess, but once it started getting thick I don't know if a funnel was necessary).

Enjoy with Ritz Crackers and cream cheese.

Now go grab some crackers and a good friend (or your entire extended family) and enjoy!

Thanks Anitra for the jalapeno pepper jelly, the french toast, the dominos, and all the good times! See you soon!

If I Were Up North ... {10 things to do north of Duluth}

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. ... 
~William Wordsworth

In Wildness is the preservation of the world
~Henry David Thoreau

I had intentions of blogging this morning from the shores of Lake Superior up in Duluth, Minn. Evan is taking a one-day class (for his Master of Environmental Education) up in Duluth, and had I gotten up and hit the road with him at 6:30 this morning, I could be typing away with views like this in front of me:

Well, I wouldn't exactly have views of Palisade Head in front of me from the Caribou Coffee on Canal Street, but I would know I was that much closer to one of my favorite places on earth ... the North Shore. I know, it's crazy to think a Jersey Girl would have such a sudden love affair with a place so far removed from the ocean, but I can't help it. Four short years as a Minnesotan has already given me the North Shore bug ... and especially around this time of year, it's hard to pass up a trip up there, even if just for a day. But there's lot to be done on the home front today, and I figured what's the next best thing to visiting the North Shore? Why, writing about it and enjoying some old photos of yore!

So I've compiled a collection of some of my favorite Up North memories for you, in hopes that it encourages everyone to take advantage of the beauty around us. Whether it means just going for a bike ride around a city lake (I hope to do that this afternoon!), rolling down the windows in the car, or trekking out on a big weekend adventure. As some of my favorite writers mentioned above (William and Henry ... we're on a first-name basis), it's high time we reconnect with nature because that's where life truly lies. So what if it's a little chilly out or the leaves aren't quite as vibrant as last year. Maybe it's even rainy and dull. There's something to be learned just by soaking that up (both figuratively and literally). And while we're on the topic of appreciating nature, let me recommend the book Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. There you'll find awesome quotes, such as:

"Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement ... everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually" (292).

"Nature is beautiful, but not always pretty" (56).

"Perhaps the eighth intelligence is the intelligence within nature, the lessons waiting to be delivered if anyone shows up" (78).

"The quiet wisdom of nature does not try to mislead you like the landscape of the city does, with billboards and ads everywhere. It doesn't make you feel like you have to conform to any image. It's just there, and it accepts everyone" (84).

"I have come to the conclusion that one's idea of nature is also their idea of a paradise or a heaven on earth" (306). -- what does your heaven look like? Mine might just look a little bit like the North Shore.

Without further ado ... If I were Up North today, here are some of the things I would love to do!

Top Ten Things to Do Along the North Shore:

1. Take a nap at Crystal Cove

A hidden landmark off the road of Highway 61, just at the base of the turn off to Wolf Ridge, Crystal Cove is the perfect place to soak up some sun (even if you have to wear a jacket!), go kayaking, or look for agates. (I might need Karrin to confirm the location as I can't find it online! I guess it really is hidden!) - photos from our recent trip, June 2011. It was actually just the original six Pearsons, no significant others (although they were invited - we aren't that exclusive!)

2. Collect birch bark

Birch (and Aspen) trees are abundant! Although I've heard they are a young-forest tree, so in the next 50 years or so many of these trees will die off and be replaced by larger evergreens. Don't pull the bark off of living trees, but if you scour the ground, you are bound to find sheets of Birch "paper".

3. Take a hike

So many hikes, so little time. I've climbed Marshall Mountain at Wolf Ridge maybe four or five times (more info on Wolf Ridge below). It's one of my favorites as it's a short yet steep hike with a great view - in any season!

Other popular hikes in the area include hiking along the Temperance River, hiking in Tettegouche State Park, exploring the Superior Hiking Trail, trails around Gooseberry Falls, and many more!

4. Explore the rocky coastline

The bottom right picture is right on the shores of Lake Superior right where the Temperance River flows in. The other photos are from the shoreline at the place we were staying in Tofte, Minn. Sarah was by far the best stone-thrower of us all. And by the way, the book Sarah is reading there is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, it's very good - I just started reading it. There's something about a rocky coastline that is more soothing to me than say I sandy tropical beach. I think it has to do with the sound of the water as it laps up on shore, collecting between the jagged rocks.

5. Get Cozy in a Dome Home

Have you ever stayed in a house where all the walls are rounded? It is quite the experience! My grandpa had a dome home in the Black Hills of South Dakota when I was little. I have memories of playing in the snow there with cousins and both sets of grandparents. This was a much larger dome home with three floors! We (my parents, sister and I) stayed there this past June for a few days before heading to my cousin's wedding. We found it on Cascade Vacation Rentals.

6. Embrace the cold (if it were winter)

The only way to survive winter in Minnesota is to bundle up, put a smile on your face, and have some fun. You know you've been in northern Minnesota during the winter if you've had to sleep all bundled up in a hoodie and long underwear!

Although Minnesota isn't exactly known for it's downhill skiing, Lutzen mountain isn't half bad, and you can see Lake Superior from the top! (When it isn't snowing, that is). Cross-country skiing is also quite popular.
7. Visit a lighthouse

This is the lighthouse in Duluth in the Canal Park area, but there are other lighthouses, like Split Rock, and even one in Two Harbors.

8. Explore Wolf Ridge ... and learn something new!

My sister Karrin was a Naturalist at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. a couple of years ago, so when I visited her I always had my own tour guide. Although they most often host school groups during the year, I think families can sign up to visit during the summer and they hold various activities during the year. Here's my favorite nature guide teaching us all about trees, birds, and the Voyageurs (French explorers):

Challenge yourself to go both high and low ... literally! At Wolf Ridge you can go down (and up!) the "stairs of health and happiness" (aka the longest set of stairs known to man ... how long are they again Karrin?) and they have the Ropes Course, which boasts views of Lake Superior from the top!

Here's a post from Fall 2009 up north, you can watch a slideshow from our winter trip up north, and here's a slideshow from the Wolf Ridge commencement from 2010.

9. Have a bonfire on the beach

If you rent a home along the coast of Lake Superior, chances are you'll have access to the rocky beach! 

Or even better yet -- a wedding on the rocky beach!

10. Keep your eyes open ... to the little things and the grand views, the fast creatures and the slow.

If I felt like making this post longer, I'd share our stories of camping up north ... but you can read about that here. Needless to say, camping options abound when it comes to Northern Minnesota. I have yet to make it to the Boundary Waters. Also on my list of must-explore is Madeline Island and the rest of the Apostle Islands.

But enough chit-chat for today. I'm off to get my butt outside!

What are some of your favorite things to do along the North Shore? Or anywhere outside, for that matter. Do you have a favorite nature quote? I know my list is continually growing!

Front Door Blues, Part I

The other weekend E and I got an itching to whip out those paint brushes again and tackle a weekend project. We've been slowly and steadily tediously painting the wood trim throughout our house, and already painted almost all of the walls when we moved in two years ago, so there really isn't that much left to paint. But after reading a few other home improvement blogs (like this one) I felt inspired to spruce up our front door. After all, the front door is actually quite an important part of your house, and according to feng shui experts, is where energy flows in and out. Not to mention it's the first impression someone gets of your house, so why not make it reflect a little of your personality or style?

Although I love the idea of cheerful yellow door, we have beige siding, so that wouldn't help the door pop. Since we have a red roof we thought a red door might work well, but we ended up choosing a dark blue to add some depth to our house. In case you're curious, a blue front door in feng shui represents water and abundance, and is thought to invoke a sense of security, tranquility, and trust. (read more here). We'll have to let you know if we agree, after we test it out!

Here's the color we chose: Planetarium (the darkest chip)

Helpful tip: use a hammer and nail to punch little holes inside the can. This way the lip of the can won't get caked with dried up paint, especially if you plan on reusing the paint on a few occasions. 

Here's our supplies, thanks to the advice of the guys in orange (aka the Home Depot paint station workers)

Behr's Premium Plus Ultra Paint and Primer in One
High density foam roller
my handy dandy sherwin williams tight-spot short-handled brush

And here's what we started with (house numbers removed for safety reasons, and I have no idea why there's a can of bug spray on the front steps or why our little "fisher-price" light is on ... can't wait to update that, although Evan claims it's cute):

We're planning on getting a new storm door somewhere down the line, possibly from a used or outlet store like BMO. It would be nice to actually show off the new blue door with one of those full-glass storm doors. 

Let the painting begin!

Now here's where we started singing the blues ... the blue paint didn't cover very evenly! I don't know if it was using a dark paint over white, the foam roller, or some other unknown problem, but this is what the door looked like after about 2 or 3 coats and then five full coats:
It's safe to say this door needs a few more thin and even coats before we can call her done. Hopefully after I work on her a little more this afternoon, she'll look something like this (minus the wreath and the fancy molding):

Needless to say, to be continued ....

Blue door on brick house from here.

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