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So, it’s Christmas, and I am dwelling in comfortable solitude in Salt Lake City. And even though I haven’t been posting much since Theresa left, I am claiming taking a break for the holidays.

But I will direct your attention to this Salon article, with an interview with farmer and author Kurt Timmermeister, and small scale farming and Christmas feasts.

For the record, I will be enjoying red curry with green veggies as a part of my holiday festivities.

We will return to our regularly scheduled blogging soon. Maybe.

Theresa here again.

Cori went out to solo adventureexplore some more at Arches National Park and well, I am doing the opposite of that. Instead, I am locked in a death match music battle with the Motel 6 cleaning staff who are outside our room in the hall. To be perfectly honest I like their music more than mine but I am too tired to walk across the room and turn mine off. Yesterday’s adventuring wore me out  and then after a long, hard, couple of hours of waiting for Cori to do my laundry, I had to hunt and gather a pizza for us, since every four days we start to feel bad about eatiing only candy.

I might have hid under the covers after I provided dinner.

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We stayed in a motel the last couple nights because it’s just a wee bit cold at night here.

While I absolutely do not recommend travel expeditions while waiting to schedule a hip replacement, this trip has been lovely. Until today I haven’t been in particularly rough shape, and waiting an extra week in Portland for my wheelchair to show up was about the most complicated this trip has been. Cori might beg to differ that California driving caused the most stress.

Usually I try to get out as little as possible during the winter, but traveling in December has turned out to be pretty perfect. The national parks are less crowded, the surrounding tourist towns are delightfully abandoned during the off season, and we have been practically the only ones in a couple of different RV parks. I have fallen pretty hard for little Acorn the teardrop trailer. She keeps us from getting cold and is the absolute perfect cure for even the worst cases of insomnia. I want one to live in forever and ever amen.

Here are our reflections trailer camping near Joshua Tree

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Here we are not eating candy

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And the crazy sunset we enjoyed that night

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Also here is Cori demonstrating our running joke of how shut ins travel. Pull into a national park and open the trailer doors (or just the air vent depending on how nature social you plan to be, and then continue doing what you were already doing – usually reading or watching Netflix if you are us.)

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I have some more adorable nature pics here 

We have a couple days before we head back to Vegas where I fly back to Minneapolis. So now is the time to betting on how early we’ll fall asleep in Vegas. Hint: we usually make an effort to last until at least 7:00 pm.

 

 

 

 

I think my (sometimes inappropriate) self-confidence has been pretty well documented at this point. After all, I am one of the most interesting people I know! This isn’t a result of any sort of objective achievement in the field of Being Interesting. I am just the only person I know who exclusively does things that are interesting to me, so I am pretty much just the best.

Liking yourself is certainly an admirable quality in a culture that wants me to be apologetic for most things about myself. The flip side to liking yourself as much as I do is that, I sometimes need to get knocked down a peg. Confidence building workshops are entirely lost me, and its much harder to find a convention in some Radisson somewhere that hosts confidence destroying event. So, while the self help industry has little to offer, thankfully, the universe is usually happy to oblige.

I have been a global traveler for 20 years now. I pretty much got it down. I will whiz through TSA, proud of my cheap airfare, and confident that I have anticipated nearly every need. I know how to travel on a budget, and where to get the best deals. I have done multiple road trips and foreign travel with others, and by myself. Up until recently I had been to more foreign countries than U.S. states. I know basic sentences in the primary European languages, how to eat well and on the cheap. There is nothing I can’t handle! Cabbie trying to take advantage of someone new to town? No problem! No cell service? Please. Crowded tourist traps? As if.

You can start to see why I need something to reign me in every now and then.  Because as satisfying as it might feel, smugness is not admirable quality. Plus, I find smug people to be pretty boring, and that’s the pits. I am definitely in need of some effective humiliation.

Well, nothing will make you doubt your travel savvy and overall worth as a human being like having a hard time finding the Grand Canyon. It’s literally a gigantic hole in the ground that is 10 miles wide and a mile deep. It’s 277 miles long, and I’ve spent three days trying to get there.

When Theresa and I left the coast, it was with the idea that we would head to the Grand Canyon. Actually, we were planning on going to the Grand Canyon after leaving Portland, but that decision got waylaid.

One thing that I have a hard time understanding as a Midwestern is that there isn’t always a direct route from here to there. Out west, there is usually a mountain in the way. So, there’s been a lot of back tracking, and inefficient route planning. Without boring you with all the tedious details, there have just been a lot of rookie mistakes in the past couple of days, all of which have landed me about an hour south of the Grand Canyon.

But, now that I have been reminded that my driving/travel instincts aren’t the infallible compass I’ve come to expect, it’s time to reset, and reassess my plans. So, Grand Canyon, tomorrow. For sure. Unless we take that Greek guy’s advice and go to Sedona. Or maybe the Petrified Forest.

I have never been especially comfortable with challenging myself. I usually can work my way through a challenge mentally well enough to know if I will be successful, and have a pretty accurate view of my abilities. I rarely undertake an endeavour where I am not reasonably sure of success. Granted, there have a been a few drastic miscalculations on my part (grad school) that have turned me pretty gun shy on taking risks, and shaken my usual stony confidence.  The long and short of this is, I don’t risks where I am not fairly confident I will succeed. I may not dream big, but I do dream calculated.

So, the beekeeping thing. I love my bees, and I love honey. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to integrate them so profoundly in my life that I could support myself and be happy? Dream on, dreamer.

Well, I don’t have Big Dreams, so when it started looking like Turkey Hill’s Barrel Aged Honey might actually go somewhere, I set out to turn a Big Dream into a Calculated Dream. And to do that, I really needed to learn more about an industry I use constantly but have very little understanding of how it actually works. I mean, how do people produce and sell food products on an economically viable scale?

Great question, and not one that many people have an answer to. The most consistent elements to making it in this business are: having a good product and be lucky enough to find a market for it.

Thank God locally sourced, gourmet foods are so trendy right now. Producing and marketing my honey has been a crash course in commodities pricing (Did you know the difference between whole sale and resale pricing? I didn’t! Also, what is a reasonable mark up?), distributor dealings, contract writing, sales, production, engineering, and imaginative problem solving. Oh, also business insurance and labeling rules.

So here are the things I have learned about in the process of developing a food product

1. Production and Development

Developing and producing our product is one of the most interesting parts of this business, and I have to hand it to my dad for having an almost obsessive attitude about production. His mechanical background makes him ideal for addressing problems like how to handle size and weight of massive storage barrels. At 12 lbs/gallon, producing hundreds of gallons of honey per year becomes a logistical nightmare. As our volume increases, our system of aging, bottling, labeling and distributing will have to refine and evolve. It’s one of the best pain in the ass problems I’ve ever dealt with.

A less fun problem is developing the packaging. I really just want it to be functional, but it has to look nice on a shelf, and be consistent with “brand”, that we haven’t really developed yet. There are also FDA labeling rules, such as weight that need to be visible and certain size.

So, cool. We have a good product.

2. Sales and Marketing

Getting someone to buy it is tricky. It started with word of mouth, selling to friends and family, and friends of friends, etc etc. And eventually it got to the point where we capitalized on some professional connections, and landed a restaurant account. Managing sales accounts is one of the worst pain in the ass problems I’ve ever dealt with. So, it came down to this. Did we want to manage our own sales accounts, with dozens of small sales, or did we want to get a distributor, someone who would buy large quantities of product from us at our lowest price (whole sale), then resell it to retails, who then would sell directly to the consumer? It’s a question of balance. Selling directly to consumer is more costly, but the profit margins are higher.

Since I am gone for four months, and everyone has a full time job, we were luck enough to land a distributor who specialized in gourmet foods, and has done amazing things for us. But since we do make the most money from direct to consumer sales, I still try to drum up as much word of mouth as possible. We were lucky enough to be profiled in Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine, and I even got a mention on my favorite podcast.  Unique marketing events like tastings have been a great success for us.

3. Not getting ahead of yourself.

It’s almost euphoric to hear people from all over the country get excited about our product, and tell me it’s the best. Not just friends who are blinded by personal bias, and not just strangers, but by actual funny people I respect and admire, and kind of want to be. It’s really hard to remind myself that the whole thing might crash and burn eventually. and to not let my ego start to think I actually know what I am doing.

It feels like we are really successful, but to date, no one has actually drawn a paycheck and that day is still a long way off.

When this whole thing started, it felt like a misguided risk, I didn’t have any idea what we were doing, and I wasn’t really sure that I was capable of doing it. But talking to farmers with high end food products don’t really have any idea of what they were doing either. And that’s really comforting.

So, now I suppose after some 26 years of taking only small, calculated risks, it’s time to dream a little bigger and do something that I am not sure I can do.

Annachronistic

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I was at my cousin Emily’s wedding reception, and someone spilled their drink on the dance floor. I wanted to make sure the dance floor was safe and nobody slipped on the puddle of liquor, so I asked the bartender for a rag to clean it. As I placed the cloth on the floor and quickly tried to dab the liquid up using my foot, a male voice from behind me said “You’ll make a great wife someday.”

I was taken aback to say the least. What does a woman say to that kind of statement? Thank you? Fully aware of the cultural differences involved, I simply shrugged the comment off, smiled and finished cleaning up the mess before someone got hurt.

DSC01515 (2) My placid reaction needs a bit more context in order to make sense. The wedding reception took place in my cousin’s hometown in Central Minnesota. The ceremony was beautiful…

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One question I get asked a lot is “Where are you?” The answer is either “I don’t know.” or it’s some town no one has ever heard of.

The best answer I can give anyone that makes any sense is: I am somewhere between major city A and major city B. And sometimes those cities are states apart. Because I have been somewhere between Las Vegas and Portland for 2 days, and there is not a whole lot that is going on between them.

I genuinely don’t mind being in the middle of nowhere. I don’t miss “civilization” at all. But it really slams home when I get to town and find out that world has gone on without me. I am not sure how to reconcile that with my chosen lifestyle.

Hey also, it’s super late, so this post is a tinsy bit weak, but the sun has set so it’s Bed Time.

It’s still 1990 in Sequoia National Park. By that I mean, absolutely zero cell service. It’s kind of nice but after 2 days, I worry about my brain twin, and regret not making phone calls on Saturday before I arrived.

Sequoia has a similar landscape to Yosemite, both a part of the high Sierra Mountains. Sequoia is obviously the less visited of the two, with few amenities available. But it was easy to get a camp sight, despite the holiday weekend.

Sequoia is also home to General Sherman, the largest tree by volume. It’s the largest living thing on the planet. I am not really even sure how to comprehend that fact. I have seen a lot of global superlatives. Ferris wheels, aquariums, etc, but largest living thing has a certain sort of umph that can’t quite compare to anything else.

I also went to see the Crystal Caves in the park. It felt a little ominous pto see this ticket:

I guess it’s time to really test my relationship with spiders.

I have to laugh at myself, every time I hear a ranger talk. I always have a sense of incredulity about the seriousness they have. It makes me wonder how many people come through the national parks and make complete asses of themselves. I was sternly told to make sure I have a water bottle and make sure I go to the bathroom. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a snack, since it’s a few miles of walking. But don’t leave food in my car. Do I have a flashlight? Don’t forget a jacket!

I appreciate the cautions about distance and difficulty, but all the other warnings make me feel like I am 10 years old. Which makes me wonder at how many people the rangers have to deal with that are being dumb dumbs. And it irks to admit how often being reminded to have a water bottle is actually necessary for me. So while it may make me feel like I am being overly parented by rangers, I do admit that, unlike at home, I don’t have a ton of experience. I have spent less than 10 days alone in national parks. So, sure, I don’t need someone to check up on me and make sure I have everything I need to run errands and go to work, but that’s pretty far removed from where I am now. I may laugh at the dumb dumbs that prompt that rangers to be so stern, but really I should thank them. Without those dumb dumbs, the park rangers wouldn’t be looking out for dumb dumbs like me.

The walk down to the cave is easy enough, but the 300 foot drop in elevation over a half mile made me dread the trip back to the top.