Fancy Coffee Friday: Mark of the Berry

I woke scratching.  I’d managed to get through the whole night without waking up with my arms feeling afire with the maddening itch of my latest battle with poison ivy, but that didn’t stop me from waking up with my alarm only to begin attacking the rash.  I silently cursed climate change and the overabundant crop of poison ivy that came with it and made my way to the loo and as I blearily went about my business I noticed new spots on my fingers.  And forearms.  And elbows?  What was this curse that had descended upon me?!

Taking up the bar of poison ivy soap, I began scrubbing at the itchy, welted patches and examined the new spots that appeared overnight.  And then it hit me:  I was sporting the Mark of the Berry.  Black Raspberries.

The afternoon before, in one of my pull-up-my-saggy-jeans-and-get-to-work (they only get saggy like that when I’m working for some reason) moods, I spotted the raspberries looking ragged, as old canes were shriveled up and spiky while the new canes, like wicked, toothy tentacles of an octopus, sprawled every which way.  The hedge needed cleaning up:  the dead canes needed removing and the new canes needed wrangling.  Unwisely, I chose not to change out the thin, knit work gloves for my more substantial pigskin pair.

Playing a botanical game of Jenga, I gingerly worked a section of cane out here, another there. Unraveling the weave of this year’s berry patch, I was attacked by the thorny tentacles that seemed to reached for me at every turn.  They grabbed my work shirt, bit through my jeans and nipped my fingers.  Each cane that I picked up and gently eased into place between the guide wires didn’t go gently, but I fought the good fight and my hedge of berries was soon looking well-kept and tidy.

The pile of spent canes, exhausted from producing a bumper crop and at the end of their natural lifespan, they were piled high.  I squinted my eyes in anticipation of getting my fingers poked as I reached down to tentatively pluck pieces and move them to the campfire.  I felt prickles sink into my fingertips.  Another left a large scratch on my elbow.  The fronts of my fingers looked like I’d taken part in a teeny-tiny knife-fight, scratched and bleeding.  Only for a brief moment did I ponder if this much pain was worth the effort for the berries – and it was.  The sixteen feet of black raspberries turned into two and a half gallons of wine in the secondary fermentors and a lot of bowls of berries with whipped cream.  It was our best crop so far and we enjoyed all we got, the local birds took the rest.

There is a pleasure that one gets when doing something for themselves, a satisfaction far superior to what is felt when a project is completed when working for someone else.  I hear time and again from people how much they’d like to have a garden or orchard but how they are plagued with little time with which they can attend to the plantings.  They tell me they admire how I make jams and jellies, and now wine, wishing they had the time and knowledge to do those things, too.  I continually tell people that the time is available, it’s just a matter of prioritizing what they want to do.  As for learning how to preserve the harvest – I’ve offered to teach people and not a single one has taken me up on the offer.

A little pain now equals gain later.  Hopefully by next spring we’ll be enjoying the raspberry wine in anticipation of spring and another season of showing off the mark of the berry.

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Fancy Coffee Friday: Change is in the Air

I felt it.  The itch, the urge, the need to change something.  I could feel it squirm beneath my flesh and I had to do something about it.

I contacted Matt Sandbrook, an illustrator and animator whose work I enjoy, a few months ago and asked him about his potential interest in creating new header, cover and avatar images for my social media platforms.  Happily, he said he’d be interested in drawing something up and so with that I began compiling ideas and examples for him.  The results of his fantastic work were put up here, Facebook, and Twitter last week and I am happy to report that they have been very well-received.

I’ve received a lot of compliments on the changes and people have said that the illustrations look very much like me.  Yay!  That’s what we were going for!

So a big THANK YOU must go to Matt – the man that brought my ideas to “life”.

©2014 Matt Sandbrook

The Amusing Muse, illustrated.  ©2014 Matt Sandbrook



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Fancy Coffee Friday: Tongue-In-Cheek Confessional

I sometimes call myself the “Accidental Nudist“, or another title I’ve used is “Liaison Officer to the Nude Curious“.  I’ve gone on “nakations” as a staff member.  I model nude from time to time.  Those things have one thing in common: I was remunerated in some form for being sans clothing.  They are jobs.  My facetious reference to being the “Accidental Nudist” is just that – a humorous, tongue-in-cheek play on the opportunities I’ve had come my way because of nude modeling.  To be fair, these are fun jobs where I meet some great people, but despite all the times I’ve been in the buff – I don’t actually consider myself a naturist/nudist.  Why?

Top Five Reasons I don’t Consider Myself a Naturist/Nudist:

#1 – I’m allergic to Insect Repellent, Sunscreen and… Poison Ivy.
I’ve tried dozens of products.  I’ve slathered and sprayed them on my skin and on my clothing.  I live in Wisconsin and besides swarms of mosquitoes, I have to deal with sand flies, horse flies, deer flies and numerous other species of invertebrates that are out to suck blood.  Poison ivy grows with abandon around my house and though I have sheep and goats who devour it readily – I’m presently still healing from having secondary contact from fingertips-to-shoulders from my little flock.  Poison ivy is not fun; it takes weeks to heal and even then, tends to leave scars on me.  The sun?  Compared to insects and poison ivy – it’s the least of my worries.

#2 – Wisconsin Winters
The winter of 2013-2014 in southern Wisconsin officially tallied about 16 days with sub-zero temperatures.  Where my house is, we’re always lower than the official temperature and could add at least another 10 days to that total.  I also have Raynaud’s Disease.  I will walk around my house in multiple layers that include a stocking cap, hoodie and fingerless gloves.  I’ve been known to be the center post of a human teepee on the couch with an afghan tented over me and the elderly cats demanding to be let inside.  Wisconsin winters are cold – but very beautiful.  They also require layers of clothing.

#3 – I love clothes/shoes.
Do you know how some people find “the perfect outfit” and then have to find shoes to match?  I find the perfect shoes first and have to find the outfit(s) to match.  My small area in the closet is packed-n-stacked with clothes and shoes, from incredibly casual tanks, jeans, and flip-flops to cocktail dresses and stiletto heels.  And then there are the accessories.

#4 – Have suitcase – will travel.  Anywhere, anytime – even if it means clothing required.
One look at my Google Maps account would show a world map covered in fields of gold stars.  I read a lot of travel publications and websites.  If it looks cool, I head to Google Maps and put a star on it.  I may not get to every location and site that I have marked, but I will visit as many as I can, even if it means being covered up head-to-toe.

#5 – My life isn’t defined by my clothing, or lack thereof.
Prior to being a nude model, I didn’t give too much thought to ones ability to wear, or not wear, clothing.  I saw the photos in National Geographic and I saw the nude figures in my dad’s drawing instruction books; they just “were” and it was no big deal.  Now, I think about it more often in philosophical terms.  I don’t wake up in the morning on a weekend and think, “I can be naked all day!”  Usually I wake up thinking, “Okay… first thing I have to do is get dressed because the lawn needs to be mowed and since I’ll already be dirty, I should clean the chicken pen, scrub the water tank and then go pull some weeds.”  By the end of the day, I’m really looking forward to putting on my flannel pajama pants.  I like to keep it real and be authentic.  Being clothed or not doesn’t make me any more or less of those things.

I’ve accumulated a lot of followers on social media who identify with naturism and social nudity, people who have told me they are assured that my experiences make me a nudist/naturist.  I can’t stop people from labeling me and I’m sure I’ll lose some followers on social media with this latest disclosure – but that’s okay – to each their own.  And, as Liza Minnelli, Mae West and Judy Garland who all came before me discovered with their fan bases – embrace your community.

Well, in my case, let’s just keep it at a hearty handshake.

P.S. – I’ve rolled out the new banner and look of the site!  Post on that coming soon.

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Fancy Coffee Friday: One-Sided Relationships

The computer is a great invention.  Not only did it allow researchers to make calculations in vastly shorter periods of time in comparison to writing it out longhand with a pencil on paper, it made the world a much smaller place.  Information is a few short keystrokes away.  We can explore new places from the comfort of our favorite seat in the house.  Communication happens in mere moments with people on the opposite side of the planet when it used to take months.  Relationships can be formed quickly because of this beautiful tool and they can be destroyed just as easily by the same means.

One phenomenon that appears to have become much more prevalent due to computer usage is the one-sided relationship.  Legions of people found themselves falling in “love” or “like” with the persona of someone they hadn’t met in person and who perhaps showed an equal interest in them, too.  I was guilty of that myself, caught up in the romanticism of what was essentially for most people an interactive work of fiction.  Characters playing out their cherry-picked roles on a stage nobody saw; it was a bit like listening to A Prairie Home Companion on NPR – only much more bawdy.

It’s almost surreal to think that I started to chat with people online 20 years ago, first on BBSes, then chat rooms and now places like Twitter and Facebook.  I found a lot of dates in college right on my own campus, mostly before people used chatting for nefarious reasons, and later on I formed long-lasting friendships with others I met in Yahoo! Chat rooms.  Those were places where it seemed everyone had more time and you could be lost in conversation, albeit typed, for hours on end in rapid-fire exchange with someone else who seemed to declare, “ME TOO,” in equal amounts and with just as much enthusiasm.

 Today, conversations are reduced to condensed blurbs of 140 characters or less in between taking selfies or checking in at Foursquare.  Inevitably, the person who has more time, interest and a longer attention span is left hanging on the line as the person holding the soup can on the other end of the string has to set it down to go live their Life.  And so begin’s the one-sided relationship.

My life now is not like it was a few years ago and I went from being a daily visitor in chat rooms to now a somewhat frequent poster to Twitter, going silent for days then then sending a barrage of messages out to the internet for all to see.  My online persona, according to Mr. Muse, has very attractive “electronic pheromones”, and dare I use sadly to describe this – sadly, I have attracted more than my fair share of people who carry the torch of the one-sided relationship.

One of my dear internet friends of the past several years and I had an email exchange pondering this phenomenon of the internet one-sided relationship.  They’d experienced the same things I had of receiving messages of “I hope you’re okay, you haven’t posted anything in a couple days” or similar.  These same people, who know only your online persona that you’ve crammed into a few bits of binary and nothing of the actual you appear to form this weird relationship with you in their heads which they find comfortable and they tell you their deepest secrets and desires and feel completely at ease asking you about the most intimate details of your life.  These are the people who hide from the world under the guise of “I’m just socially awkward,” hoping that will excuse their exhibition of creepy behavior.  The jig is up – society is onto you.  We have reached normality.

Oh ye torch-bearers of the one-sided relationship – you are the sperm whale, summoned into existence miles above the earth and hurtling towards it to smash into this thing you’ve called “ground”.  Those of us who have dealt repeatedly with you, are the petunias, “Oh no… not again.”

I implore those who are addicted to their computers and mobile phones to turn them off, set them down, walk away from them and go forth out into the world and talk to actual people, face-to-face.  Relearn to read and pick-up on facial expressions, vocal inflections and body language.  Learn to stand at an appropriate distance from someone when conversing with them.  Walk about in the out of doors, breath in that fresh air, or not-so-fresh for those in the city.  In other words, create your own Life and then go Live it.  Fully.

So, what was once a tool of universities and the military is now mostly known for internet porn, chat rooms and online stalking.  But it’s not all doom and gloom.  Social media has created a place for the citizens of the world to bring to justice those who violate the rights of others.  They can bring attention to situations that need to be known and solved.  Vive la Revolution!

Computers may very well run the world one day, taking us humans out of the equation entirely.  Until then, at least we know that the meaning of life, the universe and everything is 42.

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Fancy Coffee Friday: Dirty Talk

Let me start off with saying, “Mom – cover your eyes.”  Now that that is out of the way…

I am not a fan of talking dirty.  Oh, I’m foul-mouthed to be sure and have said that I swear more that my dear friend who is a sailor, but “dirty talk” is beyond me.  When I watch movies where people talk dirty to each other, in person or on the phone, I squirm at the whole idea, and the uncomfortable nature of people pretending to be what they aren’t.  If it doesn’t roll right off the tongue, it’s not genuine and being the genuine person that I am, disingenuous behavior makes me uncomfortable.

Okay, Mom, you can uncover your eyes now.

That brings me to the other night.  There I was, in the garden picking beans and my mouth was watering at the thought of steaming those little, green beauties and tossing them in some melted bacon fat and with fresh thyme from the next bed over.  I looked at them lustily, craving their taste.  I wanted them in my mouth with a passion that was heated and which seared me to my very core.

And then I spied them.  Weeks ago they were tiny and cute, but now?  Now, they were bigger than I could hold in my hands.  I moved my eyes over them and whispered, “You are the most luscious melons I have ever seen.  Grow…. grow bigger… become sweet and juicy, for I must taste you.”  And I pictured myself burying my face into their seedless glory…. for I was growing watermelons this year and they had gone forth and reproduced.

But did it stop there?  Oh no.  Grape tomatoes had been coming of age for a few days and I’d been relishing them with abandon, but there it was…. a beefsteak-type tomato.  She was big, pink and slowly reaching the age of consent ahead of her estimated 15 pounds of sisters.  She was a German Queen, an heirloom variety and I gazed at her longingly and whispered, “Soon I will have you.”  My fingers lightly brushed her leaves and I felt a shudder and I began to hunger for her taste on a much deeper, far more inappropriate, level.

And then it occurred to me…. it wasn’t that I didn’t talk dirty, it was that I only talked dirty where I found it most fitting:  to the plants in my garden.  My fingers encased in nitrile-dipped gardening gloves as I pulled weeds and picked veggies from dirt I’d been farming for a few years, encouraging the plants to burst forth in an abundance of delicious produce.  I wiped another mosquito from my brow.  I licked my lips as I picked up my bowl of green beans.  Soon…. very soon, they would be mine. My conquest would be complete.

And now I smell like tomato and cilantro… all I need is a little jalapeno and you can call me Pico de Gallo!  A spicy little number.

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Fancy Frappe Friday: How Friendships are Born

BEHOLD!  The power of frappe!  It matters not that it's just my usual "Baby Grasshopper" all whizzed up in a blender.  I'm not in a rut!

BEHOLD! The power of frappe! It matters not that it’s just my usual “Baby Grasshopper” all whizzed up in a blender. I’m not in a rut! (Thanks to HostGator for the BlogHer ’14 swag. How do you like that product placement for a product I don’t even use? Pretty awesome, right?)


I am a joyful person.

I’m a joyful person plagued with an “angry, bitchy resting face” who usually keeps to herself because…. I like myself.  Okay, that and many other people irritate the shit out of me what with their “my life is so haaaarrrrrrrd” kind of horse-pucky… But I digress, let me get back to joyful.  Anyhoo!



I’m a surprisingly optimistic person.  The glass is half full.  The clouds are lined with silver.  Pots of gold are found at the ends of the rainbows.  There is always a bright side.  You get the idea.  I’d have kept going but I ran out of expressions of optimism.  My sunny outlook on life means I attract all kinds of people, even with my “angry, bitchy resting face”.  Most of the people who I attract fall into two categories:  those that really need to talk to a professional therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist and not me because I’m not a professional and those that are resilient, optimistic folks.  I prefer the latter to the former.



I like resilient, optimistic people.  I don’t mind if they are also cynics (I’m pretty cynical for an optimistic person) because I tend to see the cynics as realists and I enjoy the company of realists.  That probably plays into the the fact that I’m analytical and logical which is rooted in reality.  So, color-me-happy when at BlogHer ’14, which took place in hot-and-sunny San Jose, California, last weekend, I met some wonderful people with whom I had some lovely chats and some great laughs.  We chatted about life and our blogs (of course), addictions to cookbook collecting, bacon and how I’m allergic to everything (not really…. but it sure does seem like it).

Now that I think about it, the BlogHer ’14 Conference may have also counted as my very first “TweetUp” and I didn’t even come away feeling violated. BONUS!

One subject that came up was my “Fancy Coffee Friday” posts and their title.  I was asked what I had against frappuccinos (nothing – except I’d rather get my coffee drinks here than there…that would be Starbucks) by a man known as Sisyphus on Twitter at @SrslyAmusing (how could I NOT follow someone with that handle!).  Now, Barriques doesn’t have their fancy coffee drink menu posted online – I’ve asked for it to be done so I can sway my coworkers to get their drinks from Barriques vs the ubiquitous Starbucks – but they haven’t.  So anyway, some intelligent soul snapped a photo of one of the Barriques locations fancy coffee drink menu and I saw “frappe” and I thought, “I can’t call today’s post “Fancy Frappuccino Friday” if I’m going to have a Frappe!”  Besides, Starbucks probably trademarked that drink name and then I’d have to pay royalties or some other such silliness if I used it for today’s post’s title.  So, to Sisyphus – thank you for shaking up my Fancy Coffee Friday and this was a very long-winded post about absolutely nothing just to say:  I’ll see your Frappuccino and raise you a Frappe.


P.S. If you’re reading this, we had a conversation at BlogHer ’14 and I didn’t call you out on this post… just wait!

P.P.S. Friendships are made from good burns and playing Marco Polo during conferences that don’t live up to their hype.

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Fancy Coffee Friday: Sandfly Scourge… Or how I channeled Angelina Jolie

This past Saturday, Mr. Muse, a couple friends and I, spent a lovely afternoon-into-“prevening” on the Wisconsin River, kayaking, drinking adult beverages (Johnny Appleseed Hard Cider in 16 oz cans for me), stopping at sandbars and having discussions of the philosophical and not-so-philosophical kind.  The river was packed with weekend canoist-campers, many of whom were numerous-adult-beverages-in-the-bag before we shoved off into the water.  The weather was lovely, the sun came out and visited frequently in between hazy, somewhat overcast, moments and I didn’t end up looking like a wiener overcooked on the campfire.

After our friends headed home, Mr. Muse and I worked outside for a little while and I received what I thought were a couple of mosquito bites on the face.  Not a big deal; being allergic to insect repellent makes getting bitten an expectation rather than a rarity.  That all changed when I woke up Sunday morning looking like half of my forehead had turned Neanderthal overnight and that I suddenly developed a goiter on my neck.  I tried to think if I’d been bitten by a horse fly (green or black) or a deer fly, but I knew that whatever had bitten me was small enough that I mistook them for mosquitoes.  By Sunday evening the swelling on my forehead and neck had gone down and Monday morning it appeared that all things were back to normal.

Then, Monday night as I was finishing up evening chores, I stepped out of the barn with my container of scratch feed for the Happy Chickens and felt a sharp pain on my lower lip.  Licking quickly out of reflex, I caught up the offender and spit it out without looking at it right at the moment I noticed the local Chief of Police had pulled in and was walking toward me with a flyer in hand.  Mr. Muse had noticed the Chief pull in as well and joined us at the barn gate, chatting about this-n-that, including the reason for the flyer, and as we chatted I could feel the bite on my lip swelling larger and larger.  After the Chief left, I finished up chores and headed into the house straight to the mirror where I was at once crestfallen and amused that I looked like I had just took a punch to the kisser.  By bedtime I looked like I’d received a collagen injection on the right side of my lower lip.

I treated with some oral analgesic, hoping that would take care of the pain of the bite (it did), and really hoping it would help bring down the swelling (it didn’t).  When I awoke Tuesday morning, I could only laugh as my normally full-kisser was looking like I was hoping to imitate Angelina Jolie’s pillowy-pucker.  Thankfully, after a good hour-long stint on the treadmill the swelling had gone down considerably and as I approached lunchtime, my lip was approaching it’s usual size.

Researching online, I brought up the Sandfly/Sand Flies aka way-too-many-colloquial-names-to-list-here and discovered that if you’re allergic to their bite, the swelling I experienced was mild (some people continue to have swelling for 2 weeks!).  Also, next time – I’ll dose myself with Benedryl.

So, beware my dear readers!  The Sandfly Scourge is upon us!  Protect yourselves!

As for me, I think it’s about time I invest in a No-See-Um netted hat for being outside while it’s Sandfly Season.  No offence to Angelina Jolie, but I think her lips look better on her than they do on me.

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