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The Sound of Crickets

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

 

Autumn is my absolute favorite season. I like most of the others (even winter!), but fall in the Midwest ranks the highest in my heart. Years ago, I turned in my area’s distinct season changes for the sameness of the American desert southwest. Though I truly love the mountains and cacti of the Sonora desert, by the time I reached my second fall season, I was homesick for the smell of decaying leaves and the cool nighttime/warm daytime temperatures. I missed the flamboyant colors of the deciduous trees and the chirping of crickets in the darkening night.

 

The cricket chirp is basically a male love-song to the cricket ladies. The sound is created by rubbing their front wings together in a process called stridulation. Katydids, a close cousin, sing their own song. Both are temperature dependent, meaning as temperatures increase so does the chirping and as the air becomes cool, the song takes on a more slow melody.

 

In 1897, a Tufts College physics professor must have been bored enough to discover a fairly accurate range of temperatures could be calculated by listening to this love-song. A.E. Dolbear devised a formula called aptly enough Dolbear’s Law. It centered on the relationship between chirps and air temperature.

 

TF = 40 + N

F=Degrees Fahrenheit

N=Number of chirps in 14 seconds

 

Tc = 10 + (N-40/7)

 

When using the song of the snowy tree cricket, the formula is accurate to about 1 degree. Other formulas, since Dolbear’s time, have been devised for the other less accurate species. Around here, the field cricket is the most commonly heard cricket. Apparently their song is not as accurate because it can vary by age and breeding success of the singers. However, there is a field cricket formula:

 

TF = 50 + (N-40/4)

 

Katydids have their own formula as well:

 

TF = 60 + (N-19/3)

 

Ok, this is not foolproof science. There are a few problems with Dolbear’s Law. First, crickets will become sluggish once the temperatures drop below 55 degrees F. or above 100 degrees F rendering the formula useless. Second, some cricket species create more of a single “trill” sound instead of a single chirp. Third, as mentioned, crickets can vary their songs when elements such as hunger, mating success, competition from other males and age are present.

 

I can attest, however, if you suffer from insomnia, laying in the darkness, trying to count the number of times a cricket chirps in 14 seconds to check the temperature is definitely a good way to bring on sweet, sweet sleep!

 

 

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Deciding which car to replace my 2001 diesel vw bug with was difficult —I loved that car.

I mean, it was a really cute car, got fabulous gas mileage at 40 to 45 mpg, and made all the little kids smile when they saw it. But like that old saying of all good things must come to an end, the kids and their friends become to big for the back seat. We also realized that it just didn’t work for the farm life we lived as it had been purchased during a short stint of subdivision living after a job change.

So, though it had been paid off for a while, we made the hard decision to sell it.

And though it was sold over a year ago, we pushed the choice of what to replace it with to the back of our minds. Or maybe I should say we became wracked with replacement indecision along with payment phobia. Because really,when you think about it, how many decent cars are out there for under say…12,000? Decent being the operative word here since I didn’t want to buy something barely bigger than what I had sold but with a gas engine that got only 20 to 22 miles to the gallon and still couldn’t pull a trailer or carry livestock in it. Also, as gas becomes more and more expensive and we hear stories of it possibly running out….why would I want to buy a $35,000 vehicle? And don’t even think about new and under $10,000 – you would just be whistling Dixie!

At first it was easy to live with our indecisiveness because I had our small cab truck to drive. Long since paid off, we had bought it new in 1995 and had used it as a back up vehicle for many years after it was paid off. Most often it sat unused in our driveway as a spare vehicle for an occasional trip to the dump. And even though it still didn’t fit all of us at the same time, since it only carries two adults comfortably, it did have the bed to put things in, could pull a trailer and could carry livestock. Three very important things for a homestead. As I said, living without my own personal vehicle really wasn’t that big of a deal….at first. I mean I really like the truck. If one ignores the rust in the bed, dings in the body and the stains on the upholstery, it is a great little vehicle with comfortable seats (a BIG plus since I have a slight back issue) and gets great gas mileage comparatively. I was never embarrassed driving it even when getting out of it at the mall at the same time as the lady in the Mercedes next to me. Why? Because it was paid off of course. And if for some reason I was the least bit self conscious that day, I would just imagine that maybe, just maybe, she was in debt to her eyeballs and I was the “millionaire next door” living the frugal life —just like the Thomas J. Stanley book. As we all know—we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover!

However at one point in our lives, we had decided to give the truck to our son for his first vehicle, telling him that when he received his drivers license it would be his to drive.

So when the big day arrived, and he past his test, we went to dinner to celebrate and then handed the keys to him with one condition: That we could still use it occasionally to take large bulk trash to the dump. And with that one gesture—plus a great meal of Thai food—I became officially a totally car-less person who would have to find her own ride and eventually her own vehicle. To my son’s credit he has many times offered me the truck saying he wouldn’t mind catching a ride home from school so I could use it, but I felt that a promise was a promise so I rarely took him up on those offers.

For a while I “made do” walking or ride sharing with neighbors or waiting for my husband to get home. Ride sharing was actually nice because even though I was “making do” it put me in contact with people I actually enjoy and might not have interacted with that day if not for catching a ride with them. But after a while it really came home to me that it is not easy being a 4 driver family. Each person had their own agenda, job(s), and responsibilities, while living to far from what little public transport that is available and often very far from where we need to go—the closest college is 45 minutes away — all the while only having 3 vehicles. Personally my first choice would be public transit—I love it. However, one can’t just conjure up buses and trains very easily in my neck of the woods, disregarding the inconvenience of livestock feed and public transit. So, as you can imagine, purchasing my own personal vehicle was the only solution to the problem.

As I said, for a while I “made do”, but this past weekend I finally got a new set of wheels. Yep, wheels. I say it that way because pretty much that’s the only truly new thing on the whole car. The only thing that doesn’t need a bit of work. The only thing that I do not like about the car.

Though to be honest…it does run. Pretty well at that and with as good of gas mileage as most newer cars. And to be honest again, though I could say I am “making do” I would be a liar to say that because I am actually thrilled to the toe nails over my “new” car: A 1964 Ford Falcon 4 door sedan. Now I have to admit—I would have been floating on clouds if I could have gotten something from the 50′s with fins on the fenders but….I’ll “make do” with this one from the 60′s. And though my new baby needs a bit of work done to it as all older vehicles do, I will be able to drive it just as soon as I go down and get it titled. I may not be able to roll the window up without help…but I can drive it.

So, going back to the title of my article of Making Do. It could be said by some that disdain the homesteading/frugal life that I am “making do” with this car —but I don’t see it that way. Especially if it is taken into consideration that I like and want different things than most other people—just like most homesteaders. I personally have never felt that living this type of lifestyle has ever caused me to “make do”. I understand that financially we haven’t always been able to afford everything, but to say we live this or that way just until we can work our way up to societies idea of not “making do” never occurred to me. Nor do I feel it’s at all true. “Making do” always sounds as if you are giving up something and settling for less — whether less nice or of less quality. As if I might be settling for this car instead of the Mercedes that most people aspire to own. As if instead of using human ingenuity (ie: my brain) to solve a problem I just “make do” until I can save enough money to afford someone else’s more common or more expensive idea. (You know all those great and wonderful ideas built of plastic).

If I did ever say that I was “making do” with this car though, I would also be able to say that my family did not have to give up, or sacrifice in anyway, for me to own it. Secret aspirations to some socially acceptable idea of a grander vehicle are not running around in my mind though—nor am I settling for less than what I wanted or hoped for. I look at my purchase as exactly how I want (and try) to live my life. I am recycling, something I strongly believe in. I am reducing by not purchasing new. I will support businesses, maybe even local, because I will have to purchase replacement parts or have work done that I or my husband are unable to do. I will learn some new skills (about motors) AND I am being a wise spender of my money and not competing with someone’s idea of what the Jones should own.

In the end I will put more money into my car, but I can do it over time, without paying interest, and I will have a great vehicle for way under any of the cheaper, but new cars, I could have purchased. Albeit, no show car — but a worthy car. A quality car that should last many more years.

Yes, I could have chosen some slightly newer, but still used, makes and models—but really I like the “older” look.

And best of all it holds more than two adults AND can pull a smaller trailer of hay or a few livestock.

It also gets as good of gas mileage as many of the newer cars currently on the road.

It’s one that I used my brain to come up with as an alternative to the standard, nee common, idea of buying new as the only way to go.

It’s one that’s going to be COOL when it’s done (and I’m thinking aqua blue).

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Lyndon’s Jam

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

I was going to share the Concord Grape Pie recipe this week, but I think this is better.

One, I know I am not the only one neck high in apple and pear preservation (and I see more apples ripening on the trees as we speak).
Two, this is a great Autumn Jam.

Three, this would be so, so good on Kathie’s Spiced Squash Bread!

Chai Spiced Apple-Pear Jam

3-4 pounds of apples (any variety)

3-4 pounds of pears (any type-I used Bartlett)

1 teaspoon each (or to taste)

-cinnamon

-cardamon

-allspice

-nutmeg

Sliver of peeled ginger root (optional-I didn’t have any this weekend)

1-2 teaspoon vanilla

2 Tablespoons of lemon juice

3 ½ cups of sugar (the original recipe called for six and a half cups, but I halved it with no problems!)

1. Coarsely chop peeled pears and apples (save peels for apple-pear butter if you want or feed to pigs if you find yourself short on time like moi)

2. Place all ingredients in pan and bring to simmer. Mash up some of the pears and apples when soft.

3. Simmer until mixture starts to thicken up (typical old style canner, I just cook it until it “looks right”)

4. Place into hot, sterilized jars with ¼ inch headspace. Hot-water bath for 15 minutes. I am going to say you will get 3-4 jelly jars full.

*It is murder on your pan, but if you forget you are making the jam and cook it to candy stage (without burning it), it makes a very good candy! Learned that the ruined pan way.

*You can omit the lemon juice (it does give the jam a little tartness) and use citric acid instead.

Oh, and do you want to know why I call it Lyndon’s Jam? Well, it’s a great way to use up all the apples I find all over the house with one tiny toddler bite mark (Lyndon likes to help himself to the bushel basket of apples that are quickly filling up the kitchen, but he doesn’t like to finish them!)

Enjoy!

 

 

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

 

Terrarium is one of those words that just doesn’t flow smoothly out from my mind and into my vocal cords. I have to stop myself and speak the word slowly because I always want to say “terranium”. Nevertheless, I love terrariums whether I say it correctly or not.

If you search around the Internet, you can find fabulous examples of terran-, opps, terrariums. I am going to repeat a common theme here. Plus, I am by far an expert terrarium creator; I just think they are neat micro eco-systems and thought I would get you thinking about them. If you start one now, I promise in late winter when the garden catalogs are tempting you and the ground seems forever frozen, you’ll be grateful for this little bit of green. A little biosphere you can nurture through the wild blues of frozen tundra (unless you‘re in Arizona or Florida, I guess).

I am going to give you instructions that are basic enough that you can use any glass container you like. Actually, now that I think about it, you could use the little trick Phelan taught us a few weeks ago and make some really uniquely shaped terrariums. Out in my back woods, I have the ubiquitous glass midden site from former occupants of this place. I’ve been wondering how I could use some of those old orange juice bottles and wine jugs.

Ok, on with the terrarium:

1. Find a suitable container. I like to use large brandy snifters that I find at the thrifts (although the last one I saw was $10; I had to pass). I’ve also used fish bowls (easy thrifting find). Once I thrifted the almost golden egg of all terrariums, a wood and glass house someone built especially for a little micro garden (the real golden egg would be one of those glass and wrought iron Victorian numbers!) Even a large mouth pickle jar will work. This step gives you a great excuse to go thrifting!
(Of course, the other option, and this one is great for school kids, is the 2-liter pop bottle [oh, maybe you call it soda? J ]. Just cut off the base to use as the planting part and wiggle the top back on by putting it inside the base. If you plant seeds, you’ll want to save the cap.)
The main thing to know about container choice is that terrariums are either going to be open environment (a shallow or open dish for example) or closed environment (a wine bottle). The latter (a true terrarium) is going to be more difficult to maintain, but we all like challenges, right? The trick is to give your plants everything they need and in the sealed environment they will thrive (and carbon, oxygen and hydrogen will do their life supporting chemistry thing).

2. OK, now find some pebbles, gravel, or sand. I like pebbles and will specifically gather some whenever I venture up north for camping. Clean them up, if needed, and place them about an inch thick on the bottom of your container (carefully so you don‘t break the glass-learned this the hard way). This is the drainage area and will keep your plants from becoming waterlogged.

3. Here is where is starts to get tricky. If your terrarium is a closed environment, you’ll need an air filter. Activated charcoal is the main thing used, but there may be other options. I use it because I used to have a large fish tank and I have some on hand (and you don’t use much). Place a scanty layer of the charcoal over the pebbles (sand or gravel). If you are making an open environment (which is really anything with a wide enough mouth new air can circulate in and out of the container), you do not need the charcoal.

4. Next, before you add the soil, it is useful (but not absolute) to put a layer of dried vegetation such as sphagnum moss to keep the soil from leaching into the pebbles. You can also just be careful!

5. Add the soil. If you are making a themed garden, add soil types necessary for your life forms. For example, if you like cacti (and I do) put in soil cacti thrive in. If you are making a woodland garden (my favorite!), I just dig up soil from the woodland. Of course, I don’t care if I get some of the fauna inhabitants (I think it adds to my terrarium). Generally speaking, however, regular potting soil works well and it is sterilized if you don’t want to risk any creepy crawlers in your micro-garden.


6. Now the fun part! Add the flora. My favorite is a moss terrarium. I have a friend who is in her late 60’s. When she was in high school (yes, high school), she published a paper on the moss types of Southern Illinois. When she retired from teaching, she took a job as a temporary biologist at my former job. We worked side-be-side for three summers. It was she who taught me that not all mosses were the same. Look closely: you note the subtle differences. Anyway, I now just go out to the woods and gather moss for my garden. It helps to note the environment you take the moss from and try to recreate that environment. It will do well as long as you remember to spray it with water now and again. Of course you can also just buy your plants or take a cutting from your current plants. I’ll add a list of plants that do well in a terrarium environment. One day, I really, really want to make a carnivorous plant garden. My local botanical gardens has one and I have loved it the moment I spied it in the kids section of the gardens!

 
(We call the rock at the north point “The toe rock”)

7. Other tidbits: I also add unique rocks or glass animals sometimes just for fun. When I was a little girl, you could buy these little families of animals specifically for terrariums. The group would have a mama (raccoon, bear, duck, etc.), a papa, and a baby. I had dozens of them and I remember my mom kept one of those flying saucer type terrariums in the living room. I would arrange and rearrange my animal families in that thing (and I didn’t even care that the mama raccoon was the same size as the mama bear!). I’ve seen terrariums on the web that had gnomes and one day I would love to craft my own from clay just for my little glass habitats. I probably don’t need to add these make great (frugal) gifts that you can start now and give later. I meant to do that last year…

8. Last, water and seal (if closed) or place in somewhat sunny location (I have one in the office that has been going for two years with really indirect sunlight). I should probably note that true direct sunlight will work just like a solar oven! Mmmm, baked moss…

9. Common Issues with terrariums:

-Mold-watch for it and remove it as needed. The charcoal will help alleviate some mold problems.

-Initial settling in period is the most difficult. Your plants will need adjustment time and if you are creating a sealed environment, you may need to watch for too much or too little water.

-If there is so much condensation you can’t see the plants, take the lid off for a spell. Eventually, all will be sorted out in your wee biosphere.

Let me know if you decide to make one. Post a picture/link if you can (the next best thing to making them is terrarium voyeurism). Ok, now go make a beautiful terrarium and stop noticing my terranium typos! ;)

 (Don’t mind my mess here-I should have snapped a better photo, LOL)

A Few Plants for Terrariums
Cacti
Carnivorous Plants (Venus Flytrap, Butterwort, Pitcher plant)
African violets
Ferns
Moss
Ivy
Herbs
Succulents (I make a lot of them with hens & chicks)
Smaller houseplant varieties (Jade, Tickle Plant, philodendron)
Small woodland plants (make sure not endangered!)
Interesting stuff growing in your backyard…   

 
 

 

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(Cauldron Ridge Farm II, February 2008)

This is weird. I usually write these on Sunday nights, polish them up on Monday evening and publish before I leave for work on Tuesday morning. I wrote the bulk of this post last night (Sunday) while canning. This morning, I logged into my email account and saw a bit about how the 2009 Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a winter that may be close to catastrophic proportions this year in some temperate areas and even chillier than usual in normally mild areas. They claim to be 85% accurate and we should expect record snow, ice and cold.

Ok, now on to what I wrote up before I heard this forecast:

One of the biggest changes in outlook from days of yore and modern times, in my opinion, is how we deal with winter here in north central and eastern U.S. From literature I’ve read, winter past was dealt with through summer and fall preparation and thought of as the time of year for hunkering down, a rest between the planting & foraging times of the year. The focus was on family because family was going to be the main faces you saw until spring returned.

Now-a-days, we hardly think of the seasonal changes except by the decorations Target has for sale. We know when we see pumpkins, black cats and skeletons, fall must be here. Then before it has ended we start to see evergreens, snowmen, and silver bells and realize winter is just around the corner. We don’t think about the amount of snow fall we may receive or how cold the temperatures will fall before the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the sun again. Big snow merely means annoyance: Schools cancelled, roads slow to be plowed, or the cold that nips at our unclothed body parts as we race between building and vehicle.

These are, of course, my opinions, nothing more, but in my quest for a simple, more natural life, I think a lot about seasons and how to live through them if I was without some of today’s conveniences. I have managed to learn how to plant and harvest during spring and summer; I preserve food stores during autumn, but winter skills still elude me in this adventure of life I am living. I am a child of modern times and I have never had to live a hard winter, one where what I prepare for actually keeps us alive and well.

My father grew up in southwestern Virginia. His folks lived up in the hills and, though the winters are much more mild than my own Great Lakes region of the country, they knew how to prepare for months of home time. They also kept a system of natural signs to help predict how hard the winter would present itself. Most kept a root cellar (I wish I had a picture of the one my uncle Pleas built his wife, it‘s great!) and in summer the gardens were put up carefully. If the locust bloomed heavy during the summer, they simply stored extra sauerkraut, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, apples, onions, potatoes, collard greens, peaches, eggs, and corn. They bought bulk sacks of pinto beans, corn meal, flour and dried milk (for constant pots of beans and ham hocks with cornbread and biscuits and gravy every morning). I guess you just never knew how long you were going to be stranded up in the hills. Growing up, my dad had a bit of the winter prep mentality and they canned a small amount, but for the most part winter, as I said, was a nothing more than an annoyance.

(As an aside, I’d love to participate in a PBS reality show on Appalachian Mountain living [any period before WWII]. Living poor up in the hills would be such an excellent dose of reality for most of us).

I think because we have moved so far from our self-reliant roots, we have lost touch on how to read Nature’s signs. Folklore abounds on how to tell if an upcoming winter will be hard or mild. Because my father chose not to carry on his relatives’ lifestyle, folklore was, for the most part, absent in my childhood. Most of us are a couple of generations away from the line between yore and modern times. Some us never knew our grandparents and our parents ran as fast as they could from self-sufficient lifestyles. Fortunately, we do have a few tools (Internet & books) at our disposal that actually expands our resources for learning some of the old ways, particularly when dealing with the seasons. This new knowledge not only reaches across generational lines, but cultural ones as well.

So, with that long introduction, I wanted to mention what got me thinking about all of this. Around here, the fruit trees are laden with fruit. Everywhere I look, I see ripening apples and pears, and Michigan orchards mentioned it’s been one of the best years for plums, apricots and cherries. The nut trees already look chock full of nuts and I am just waiting for them to drop so I can compete with the squirrels. Now trees heavy with seeds/fruit generally could mean one of several things, including the tree received plenty of moisture and nutrients the year before or it is trying to propagate itself in times of impending hardship. I started thinking that maybe I should be preparing for a harder winter this year based solely on what I have been observing with the trees. If I’m wrong, it won’t hurt to have a pantry full of food to eat, warm blankets to snuggle under, and extra wood to burn for maple sugaring.

So, who wants to guess what winter will be like in your region? Do you use any folklore?

Here is a list of winter weather folklore I scrounged up:

1. Kentucky wisdom claims if there are plentiful berries in summer, the winter will be cold and severe.

2. North Carolinian folklore is that an unusually large quantity of sweet gum berries, wild grapes, etc. will bring a hard winter.

3. If hornets build their nest low in a tree, hard winter is eminent.

4. Look for wooly worm which is the larva of Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella), the original weather predictor. The wider the orange band, the more mild the winter will be. If it mostly black, prepare for a winter with lots of cold, snow and ice. This would make a great statistics project for home schooling.

5. Year of snow, fruit will grow.

6. Onion skin very thin, mild winter coming in. Onion skin thick and tough, winter will be cold & rough.

7. If a tree blooms in fall, expect a harsh following winter.

8. If snow falls on unfrozen ground, the winter will be mild.

If folklore wisdom for weather predicting is just too hit or miss for you, I do have one more suggestion and this one is a tried and true weather predictor. Oh, you better get a pen and paper for this one.

First, find yourself a good rock (any type). Place rock in a clear, prominent location in your yard.

Then, just look for these things:

If it’s dry ——Weather’s Clear
If it’s wet —–It’s Raining
If its white —It’s Snowing
If it’s gone —Tornado
 
 

 

 

 

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Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by Gina

I’m Gina. I have always thrived in the midst of challenge. Here is my nutshell story:

All my life I have skirted the conventional. I don’t think this was exactly intentional, just that I felt different, liked different, and, thus, surrounded myself with different. My parents used to call the friends I drug home my “stray puppies”-these were kids from various backgrounds who also weren’t controlled by the mainstream culture like many of our peers seemed to be. Kids with colorful personalities that just didn’t quite fit in the way American T.V. instructed. My own personality list included these titles: Bookworm, shy, tomboy, lover of nature & animals, introvert, old-fashion, modern (yep, a contradiction), weird, vegetarian, alternative, book smart, and loner. At least, this is the list I would have made for myself as a teenager when “not fitting in” seemed to be a negative thing. In the sixth grade, along with a gorgeous boy who decided to embrace his Native American ancestry, I was voted “most weird” by a jury of my peers. (Believe me, this was not exactly a happy moment in my life and even two and a half decades later makes me sad).

As I grew, I slowly began to embrace my eccentric persona. I began to care less that I was a square peg in a round world. I met others like me and realized I wasn’t so alone. I also began to notice that the “normal” kids were secretly attracted to the “weird” kids like me (maybe because they felt “weird“ too). I realized it no longer mattered how I dressed, what I listened to or how many hours I spent reading or hiking alone in the countryside. I’m not saying it was easy being different: I felt like I was trapped in this realm between wanting to be a back-to-land girl or an Indy rocker. I mean try telling your mohawked, punk boyfriend in the middle of Cornfieldville that you really would love to be a farmer and see how weird you feel!

In my early to mid-twenties, I decided I wanted to escape the connections and venues of my Indiana birth-city. I picked an area in complete opposition of the deciduous forests and seasonal changes of the Midwestern state I was raised in. I picked Tucson, AZ because I kept in my memory an article about Tucson in an old 1975 Arizona Highway magazine I had seen as a child and I wanted to see the giant cacti for myself. I took a short trip and fell in love. I moved there three months later alone. Well, not alone, I had my beloved pitbull/Dalmatian Isaak with me (he died a few years ago at the age of 16). I lived out there for awhile, but ended up back in Indiana with a broken heart and even bigger questions about who I am. I decided to return to school and gathered enough knowledge to be labeled with career options. IF I knew then…I would not have wasted my time & money in school.

In my early 30‘s, still in Indiana, I met my farm boy husband. I threw everyone who knew me for a loop (including myself) when I became pregnant and eventually married him. I threw even more loops into how people had known me when I gave up vegetarianism (after more than 13 years) and began to raise our own meat. I bawled over the first pig we slaughtered.

I can’t really say what makes me not normal because everything I do is so normal for me. I do have the insight to realize when my ideas or the path I am following are not exactly the status quo path of sorts. I do have the ability to censor my weirdness in crowds of near-strangers (like professional contacts). I also love and unconscientiously seek out other people who are not exactly the common bean in our cultural soup.

(more…)

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