Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Attitude, 5 years old

Yes, it has now been five years since I gave birth to my youngest child. He was born when we lived in a suburb, spent some time on the Mendocino County CA beaches as an infant, then came to live here at Sand Creek and celebrate his first birthday here. Crazy times, although he really probably doesn't know anything other than this place, this life. Wait till he gets his own room, 1/3 the size of our current living space!

We celebrated the day by going to Duluth, eating at his favorite McDonald's, and visiting the Great Lakes Aquarium. It is a place that unfortunately hasn't gotten the visitorship, hence the funding, that it deserves, but for a five year old, with some kid-at-heart parents, it is pretty cool. They have a two-story high aquarium with all of the native fishes of Lake Superior, including some huge lake sturgeon. And a freshwater marsh exhibit, complete with otters. They feed the otters pineapple...hmmm...

Mr. Attitude enjoyed his time alone without siblings to compete with. Despite my frequent desperate wonderings at his behaviors, he is really an intelligent, loving person and a delight to have for a son. As I always lament on my kids' birthdays, I am so unworthy...

Monday, November 27, 2006

sand angel



This is the girl who has taught me that a nightly game of cookshed soccer usually won't break anything and is mostly good for the soul. I love you, Starflower.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brewing time again

On his last journey to The Cities, The Hermit bought not one but two beer kits to brew at home. I figured I better get one of them done this long weekend, but of course I waited until Sunday to do it. Today's brew was a Belgian Witbier, a style I am not very familiar with. The Hermit had one on tap at a favorite restaurant in St. Paul, and he said it was good so I'll take his word for it.

Along with the usual hops, this beer calls for unusual additions like coriander and orange peel. Instead of the usual aggressive hoppiness of the beers I like to brew, this one had a more complex aroma. The malt syrup was partly if not all wheat instead of barley, so that makes for a change from the usual brew. Wheat beers tend to have a spicier, less bitter flavor. We'll see.

There is so much I want to learn about brewing. To me, for a long time hops were hops and yeast was yeast. Now I'm learning to appreciate the subtle differences between the varieties; today's hops seemed milder than what I'm used to. The yeast was described as "slightly phenolic", meaning I can probably expect it to add some fruity flavors to the brew as well as do the important jobs of fermentation and carbonation. And I was marveling at the fact that the package said it contained something like 2 billion yeast cells. Wow.

I was thinking about brewing and learning as I sampled the India Pale Ale I brewed a while back and watched the wort bubble and smelled its sweet aroma. Some people, it seems, think learning is something you do in school and once you graduate, it is to be avoided at all costs. Learning is for kids, they think. But there is so much to be learned from each day, and we adults for the most part don't get it. I have learned more in my adult life than I ever did in college or graduate school, more practical stuff, and I remember the lessons of life far more than a class I took twenty years ago. Even everyday household life offers opportunities for learning, and parenting is certainly the ultimate class. The key, I think, is not to stagnate. Try new things, and if you are set in your ways and think you can't learn something new, maybe think about why you think that way. I have surprised myself more than once.

I'm off to try something new, wild, and crazy. For some unknown reason, I thought I'd attempt calzones for dinner, with ham, cheese, and marinara sauce. The dough is in the bread machine right now.

Friday, November 24, 2006

the Minnesota coast

I need to see big water sometimes. Luckily, even though I live in the middle of the continent, I am just sixty miles away from a blue horizon.

Lake Superior is the largest inland freshwater lake in the world. The twin ports of Duluth MN and Superior WI are international port terminals, shipping out coal and iron ore and grain and bringing in shipments from everywhere. If you look closely you can see an ore freighter in the above picture. Hint: click on it...and you can also see my family, including dogs, enjoying this day.

Today was a holiday for me and the kids and we had a reason to visit Duluth. Thanks to a very generous benefactor (my father, bless him), we had the money to order the rest of the windows and doors for the house while they were on sale. Can I say enough how thankful I am? So I herded the kids around Menard's (MN-WI local version of Home Depot or Lowes, only much nicer), admiring the Christmas displays and choosing tile for the hearth, while The Hermit did the necessary transactions. Then it was up the hill to the bank, then down the hill on one of the steepest streets in Duluth, or anywhere maybe, and out to Park Point and the beach. Park Point is a narrow spit of sand running east from mainland Duluth, and separated from it by a shipping channel and the local landmark Aerial Lift Bridge. The wind was from the north, although the temperature was mild, so on the north side beach there was some good surf and the kids could run around barefoot. In late November...amazing!

We saw one freighter headed out as we were driving around the harbor. We could see many of the crewmen standing outside, along the railing; I hope they were enjoying the mild weather and the sights of the day as much as I did. For a sailor on the Great Lakes in November, it can be risky; think Edmund Fitzgerald.

I may have some "craftiness" in me after all...

My dad found this latch hook rug in the attic recently, and yesterday at Thanksgiving at my brother's house he surprised me with it. I designed and made this rug when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. I entered it in the county fair as a 4-H project and ended up getting a blue ribbon at the State Fair. I had been looking for it for years, thinking it might make a nice wall hanging in a child's room. Or an adult child's perhaps. :)

This rug began as a photograph I took when I was vacationing at my grandpa's house in Florida. I always loved going to the beach, and that particular day at St. Augustine Beach there was a catamaran regatta. Yes, those are supposed to be catamarans, but I simplified it a bit. The bright colors of the sails against the blue sky and the bluer ocean was a scene I could not forget. I had also just recently completed a couple of latch hook rug kits, and thought "wouldn't it be nice to design my own rug." I took the idea and ran with it. First I managed to sketch the details of the photo out on some big paper, and fill in the desired colors with markers. And here I am now thinking I couldn't draw anything if my life depended on it! Then I transferred the areas of color onto a latch hook canvas, bought my yarn, and started hooking.

It made me really happy to see this rug again for the first time in maybe fifteen or twenty years. As an adult I tend to think in terms of limited possibilities: I'm not an artist, I'm not a crafty person, I can't learn anything new. I often admire the knitting and quilting and other creations on other blogs, but I think that's something way out of my league. Maybe it isn't; I used to crochet too, and embroider, and I think I even enjoyed it!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

finding roots

I know, pretty much for a fact, that I am one half Scandinavian. My grandpa on my mom's side was Norwegian, although I don't know exactly when his parents or grandparents immigrated, and my grandma is definitely Swedish, born of an immigrant mother and first generation American Swedish father. She still speaks Swedish occasionally, and when I expressed an interest in Swedish music recently she bought me a book of Swedish folk songs, which I hopefully will see on Thanksgiving.

But on my dad's side, things are not as clear, ethnically speaking. His mother, my grandma, was adopted, and there is no knowledge of her birth parents. A genealogical blind alley. All I have is a few pictures and what I remember she looked like. She died when I was eight years old. However, there is enough information on the Internet that I was able to look up today what her maiden name was. I found it easily, as well as her birthdate: November 17th, 1912.

Why have I been thinking of her the last few days? Sometimes I don't think there are any coincidences.

My grandfather's lineage, on the other hand, has been traced back to a Dutch settler in New York in the late 1600's. That's not counting the womenfolk, of course. But as far as I can tell, the heritage has been mainly along the Dutch line, with a little British Isles and maybe German thrown in. Oh well, after five or so generations, does it really matter? We're American mix.

I was fascinated though, seeing the names and wondering what my great great grandparents were like, in Clinton County Iowa (my great great grandfather was named William Clinton C... no kidding!) (and, I can't help but think: Iowa, Iowa..winter spring summer and fall, come see, come dance with me, to the beautiful Iowa Waltz--Greg Brown, folks!) and Montgomery County New York. I really have few roots here in Minnesota; who does, except for the Ojibwe and the Lakota. The rest of us are all recent arrivals in the last 150 years.

Monday, November 20, 2006

On a lonely lake, it turned November

I called in sick to work today. Mainly because I was awake most of the night for some unknown reason, so I was tired in the morning and there was no urgent reason to go to work. So there. Actually, I think there is some higher power telling me what I should do with my life. But as long as the worldly god of health insurance rules, I must work. Aarrgghh..

The Hermit, Mr. Attitude and I did some soul searching in the afternoon by driving around and visiting a couple nearby lakes. I set out thinking I would like to see a rough legged hawk, which is a winter visitor here from way up north. I was not disappointed; we saw one fly from a telephone pole, showing its characteristic underwing patches.

I promised Mr. Attitude he could take one picture. This was it; fresh beaver gnawings on a tree. Pretty good, I thought.

I had checked out this lake once, while I was in the neighborhood on other business. The entrance is a narrow unmarked drive, to a steep incline down to the lake, which is all within tax forfeit/State land. In other words, this lake has open access to all who can find it. It looks fairly unfound.

There are lots of muskrat and beaver lodges on this lake. While we were there we saw two bald eagles and a flock of 50+ ducks (bluebills?) passing by looking for open water.

On the way back we stopped at another lake, which is actually an impoundment on a creek from an old logging dam. Most of the land around it is also tax forfeited, so it is open to exploration. There we saw another eagle, and four red headed ducks on a small area of open water. The lake had a lot of wild rice, looking like a promising duck hunting/ricing area for next year.

Ah, but the forests and waters do look lonely come November. And I found myself longing for open waters, for standing on a beach and not seeing land on the horizon. And after all the outdoor ramblings, I long for the warmth of a good woodstove fire.

morning at home

I'm taking the day off work today, so I thought I'd catch up and show a couple scenes from yesterday morning, which was beautifully clear and frosty, although cold (12 degrees).

You'd think in the above photo I could have taken the time to clean up the yard. Overturned plastic lawn furniture and cooler...not very classy.

Those peak ends should be closed in, with windows installed, in a week or so!

After I took this photo, trying to capture some essence of the sunlight on frost, I realized the camera lens had a gigantic fingerprint on it. Oh well, it kind of acted as a diffuser.

for Jim

1940 Farmall H

Saturday, November 18, 2006

okay, so I'll do some catblogging

This is Puffball, my 1 1/2 year old Siamese mix blobcat. I posted kitten pics of him in June or July of 2005. He now weighs around 20 pounds and likes to eat and sleep. A lot.

And this is Blue Flame, 6 month old son of Puffball before Puffball got altered. I guess you could call Blue Flame a true flame point Siamese. I've always had a thing for Siamese cats. I'm strange that way. :)

By the way, Calvin and Mr. Attitude (helped by Starflower) took the cat pics. I have better things to do with my time.

nothing to say, really

yeah. I'm dying to blog about something, but there is nothing that has happened here in the last 48 hours that I think anyone would find remotely interesting. I came home from work yesterday, had a couple beers, then suddenly felt too sick to make dinner, so the kids ate pot pies from the freezer while I alternately rested and surfed blogs. They watched Star Wars (the original) again. I watched some of it. I like the bar scene best, with those alien-looking musicians.

Woke up this morning still feeling half there, stayed in bed until two cats and one dog pestered me to get up and feed them. Vacuumed the house (amazing amount of detritus), washed dishes (only one week's worth, not bad.) Had a shower (check my January archives if you need a primer about showering here. I'm too lazy to look it up myself!) Managed to walk out to the mailbox to get the mail; new issue of Game Informer (for Calvin) and new issue of Heirloom Gardener (for me). I tried to learn a little yoga online. The Hermit and Calvin went to get a deer a friend had shot for us. Made cookies with Starflower (Ritz cracker peanut butter sandwiches dipped in chocolate..mmm...) and did a caraway rye in the bread machine. Dinner was fried walleye with grilled veggies. I made the veggie marinade from soy sauce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, chili powder, and garlic powder. It worked.

It was cloudy part of the day, then it cleared up just in time for it to get really cold tonight. When you can see stars, it will be a cold night. The high today was probably 30.

Oh yeah, when I went out to check the grilling veggies the first time I found Togo standing there to greet me. He had totally broken his collar; luckily we had an extra collar. He is such a good dog; when he breaks free he would rather come see me than go for a run.

So that's my world today; at ten o'clock I'm sure we'll switch from the new Cars video game to Red Green, then Monty Python. I'll probably blog surf a bit. Wish I felt like playing music, but that's not in the cards tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

something for those dark winter nights

I never was much of a TV addict, except when...

...a Minneapolis station ran M*A*S*H reruns after the ten o'clock news for years when I was a teenager. My mom liked the show, and I got hooked.

...then in my sophomore year of college, they switched to Cheers in the same time slot. I was devastated at first, not having ever watched the show. But I got hooked, my roomies and I made popcorn and took a study break every night at 10:30, and I kept the habit all through my twenties.

...I went on a business trip to Washington state with The Hermit in 1993(?) We went from Seattle to the middle of the state, and my uncle who was living in Walla Walla met us for a day of sightseeing. One of the stops was the town of Roslyn, where they were filming this very popular show called Northern Exposure. I had never watched it, but I thought the town was pretty cool. We had our picture taken in front of the Roslyn's Cafe mural, the one the moose walks in front of.

After we returned from the trip, we decided to see what this show was all about. It was good, but we got into it a bit too late. There were only a couple of seasons left before the show's demise after Rob Morrow left, and I had orchestra practice Monday nights when it was on (yes, I played flute in a community orchestra, and I was glad to have the opportunity) so I never got to see the whole thing.

The word "orchestra" sounds kind of like a bad sneeze, doesn't it! ;)

Then, a few years and two kids later we found ourselves living in a new state, with two young kids. We found out that a cable channel was showing Northern Exposure at 7 am each morning, and that quickly became a sacred ritual. I was at home with Calvin, age 2, and newborn Starflower at the time; I would have my morning coffee while nursing her and watching Northern Exposure, and Calvin would patiently wait until he could watch his Nick Jr. cartoons.

I practically memorized every episode. And I still think it is one of the best-written, most thoughtful shows ever produced on TV. I love the quirky characters, the surreal plots, and the natural beauty that is integrated into the filming. I love the sense of community shown by this fictitious town. And they had some good music. I still cry when I hear Iris DeMent sing "Our Town", which was played at the end scene of the final episode.

Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town,
Can't you see, the sun's setting down on our town,
on our town, goodnight.

So this is what I will be doing for the next few months on these long winter nights.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

music and wilderness

It appears that music, and dancing, are integral expressions of our human society. The last post seems to have struck a nerve with a few; it was agreed that music and dancing are deeply ingrained ways of marking transitions in life, in mourning and in celebration. There is no culture that does not have music. Anthropologists, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

I have been reading, along with the rest at Whorled Leaves, Gary Snyder's The Practice Of The Wild. I am not very far into it, but I have been drawn into his discussion of what wilderness really is. Wilderness, as it turns out, exists everywhere, in every one of us. In our land-dominating society it is expressed outrightly in very few protected areas, but it still exists everywhere that a few microbes can grow freely. It still exists in our minds, if not our lives.

That got me thinking about the kinds of music I am drawn to. The basic elements of music are drawn from the laws of the universe, the laws of physics, and certain "it feels right" laws. The basic blues pattern exists because for some unknown reason, it "feels right". Many songs are written with unwritten laws of chordal pattern and meter in effect. We humans are wired to feel good about certain repetitive patterns, and certain combinations of notes.

However, there is "tame" music, and there is "wild" music. I grew up, of course, with "tame" music. Church hymns, choir anthems, and Top 40 radio. All designed with creating a predictable human response. Some of the rock music of the 60's and 70's certainly had elements of wildness in it, but as promoters caught on to what sold it seemed to lose that primal feeling, started sounding more programmed and manipulating.

As I grow older (ahem...more mature is the preferred term!) I tend to draw away from any form of music that seem to be produced as a product. I like to hear new songwriters that have a fresh view on things, who can express their views musically. I like to hear young musicians take on old time and old folk music from around the world. Bluegrass, with its high lonesome element, draws me in but never too closely. I'm a musical drifter; I don't want to associate too closely with any one genre.

I found Celtic music without having been influenced by one performance or presence on radio. I liked its rich tradition, its sound that spoke to me; the major and minor chords, Dorian, Mixolydian, a grand happy mix of musical modes. That Irish music is associated with pubs and beer and folks getting together to share tunes over a pint makes it all the more appealing.

Lately I have been listening to Scandinavian music, which takes Celtic music one step further into wilderness. The modes are more dark, the meters more screwed up but still making sense, the picture of a dark gloomy wild moor all the more evident.

I think our musical desires reflect some inner longing, some craving for wilderness. Is it any wonder that jazz, a uniquely American music form, came together on the edge of the wilderness that was America a little over a hundred years ago. Jazz was musical exploration into the wilderness. Bluegrass, as defined by Bill Monroe, took basic human longings and phrased them in the voices of the mountains, of the forests, of the wild that existed then.

No good music comes from strip malls and uniformity. Good music has to come from that which is still wild within us, inspired by that which is still wild in our surroundings. I hope I can draw from the wilderness that still exists in my corner of the world and make music that celebrates it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

celebrating life

Four years ago, our friends Tom and Sal lost their youngest child, Lily, age 2, to a bad vaccine reaction. I can't imaging the heartache of losing a child; it is the fear that haunts all parents.

Lily died just a few weeks before we moved here. Tom and Sal didn't want a traditional church funeral; that just didn't seem right to them and I tend to feel the same way about funerals. They say funerals are for the living, but they are so formal and somber and dismal. When I die, I want someone to throw a party, celebrate whatever I have done in this world, celebrate the gift of life we all have. So Tom and Sal threw a party. They hired Fred, who had also just recently moved to the area and who was recently laid off from the corporate world, to play songs from "O Brother Where Art Thou", which Lily loved. They danced. I hear they had a great time; I wish I had known Tom and Sal then. It took over two years and an Internet bluegrass forum for us to cross paths.

Every year since then, Tom and Sal have held a "barn dance". This year it was also dedicated to Tom's father, who had lived with them and died in September. His last words were "I feel happy!" While it is not held in a barn anymore, there is still a dance with a professional caller, and old time musicians. This is the second year we have attended; I brought my mandolin and joined in for the last dance set, after the potluck dinner.

I think we all need to dance more and worry less. I think we need to celebrate life instead of going through somber rituals and worrying about what people think. Laughter, dancing, music...this is what it's all about.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

computer as recording studio

I have now made a great step into the tech world. At the advice of Robin Andrea, verified by my musical-audio friend Fred, I downloaded Audacity, a freeware program that makes digital recording and editing easy for dummies like me. I had thrown away our cheap computer microphone, so I had to call The Hermit while he was errand-running in Duluth and tell him to pick up an adapter so I could hook up my amateur musician microphone (had to look up on the Web to find out what it is and what it does) to the computer. Apparently we hit upon the right connection because I got the mic up and running. Before I could drag a guitar out, though, the kids had learned the basic commands and were recording themselves. They had a blast.

Oh well, there's always tomorrow. The drawback is that the computer is in the "porch", while I normally practice in the bedroom, on the other side of the house (which isn't a terribly large distance). The advantage is that my microphone picks up very little peripheral noise (video games, shouting matches, etc.) So I could maybe set up in front of the computer with the guitar or mandolin and record a few songs. Or I could even record a guitar track, mandolin track, flute track, and voice track separately if I so desire. This is going to be so FUN!

I am exploring options for sharing my musical experiments with you, my blogging family. I'll probably have to eventually pay for my own site to host mp3 files. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm excited to have recording ability again!

woodstove critters

Funny how dogs and cats forget their differences when there is good heat involved on a cold day. (barely rose above freezing...they were predicting mid forties)

Yes, that is Hopi in front of the stove. She is growing.

And on the left is Whiter Biter, our part time indoor cat. I like his personality perhaps better than any of our cats, but he likes to roam. However, this time of year he knows when the stove's fired up there's no sense roaming too far. He gave me a very indignant look this afternoon when he'd come in and I had let the fire burn out.

I did spend the whole day in an old T-shirt and new flannel jammie pants. Life is good when you don't have to dress up.

Friday, November 10, 2006

house under wraps

If we haven't started putting up the metal roofing by Christmas, I think at least we could decorate by putting a big red bow on top.

The workers finished putting up the rest of the ceiling boards this morning. I had the day off (Veterans Day holiday) so all morning I listened to the sounds of hammers and power tools. Then, for protection, they covered up the roof with two large tarps. Now, for the first time since the floor was first built, when it rains or snows, the inside will stay relatively dry.

This is looking from the east loft to the west (right side to left in the first photo), with our driveway in the background. The crew will be back in a week or so to close in the ends. Then, the house will be pretty much enclosed! It will finally look like...a house. Then, all I want for Christmas is windows and doors. And insulation. And metal roofing. And a wood stove. And plumbing. And wiring...

As you can tell by the photos, it's been a mostly sunny day, although very cold. I don't know if it's gotten above 25 outside. The evening grosbeaks are back already! I saw a small flock in the tops of the pines, although they did not come to the feeder. I think they were just scouting out the area for now. I also saw a female cardinal, a rare sight for here.

cobweb clarification

I guess the cobwebs make me more cryptic in my writing than I should be at times, or maybe it's my inner editor telling me to be cautious about how much I say (which is probably a good thing). So now in the light of day, a retrospective.

We had fall parent teacher conferences last night, and while Calvin and Starflower are both excelling in classes, I can say I don't care for Calvin's teacher at all. She focuses on the negative, the "needs improvement" areas, which are few, without seeming to notice his strengths. She made it a point to tell us he was getting a B minus in science because he was "missing a few things" in his leaf collection project, one I helped him with and I know he went above and beyond to identify tree species (not required) and discuss them. He just didn't follow all the directions to the letter, in which case this should not be graded as a science project but as an exercise in conformity. She spent time discussing a few late math assignments, which happened a few weeks ago, saying that "if this continues his grades will suffer when he's in fifth grade". Ummm...he gets everything right on them, he tests well above grade level, he hasn't turned an assignment in late in weeks, what's the problem here?

She also told me he's a good reader, but he doesn't read enough. They really emphasize quantity over quality at this school; points are given for how many books are read. He has read abridged versions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and enjoyed them so much he has talked about them for weeks and even acted out a few adventures. Yet he did so-so on the "comprehension" tests. I think perhaps the tests were not an accurate measure of his comprehension; we have had twenty minute discussions on the way to school about the history, culture and geography of those books. I tend to think Calvin thinks outside the box too much on tests, and I mentioned this to his teacher who replied "but he has to learn to do it the RIGHT way."

While Starflower's teacher was pleasant, Calvin's teacher's tone was cold and condescending. I could tell he was nervous around her, not wanting to interact, and that's not a good sign. The kicker was when she sent the kids out of the classroom so she could discuss something privately with us. She then brought up a sensitive issue, one I was totally unprepared to discuss, not a really bad thing, but her way of broaching the subject, with her condescending manner, put me on the defensive. I looked her in the eye with all the strength I could muster and said firmly, "I think this is something best dealt with at HOME." I then broke eye contact for the remainder of her lecture, gathered his papers and walked out.

In fact, I think her coldness and negativity are what brings on this "issue" with him. I'm seriously considering pulling him from her class, although he would still have her for some subjects, which would not be a good situation. Maybe even home or online schooling. He has so much potential, I will not have his spirit broken by a teacher who sees only what needs improvement. I know I suffered under elementary teachers in the seventies who apparently were taught to have all the warmth and approachability of a glacier.

So there you have it, not the entire tangled mess of cobwebs, but one of the key strands.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Ever notice how the cobwebs keep you from writing a coherent post?

And, does it ever stop me? (Please, be gentle...)

I've had the cobwebs the last couple of days. It's either related to the full moon, or the female cycle, imbalances, or a little bit of all. I can't even sign my name on a check today, darn it. But tomorrow is payday, they should be good.

Really, I have days when I would rather not talk to people because it seems I cannot open my mouth without sounding like a blathering idiot! Names, facts,'s all a blur.

It doesn't help when the cobwebs are exacerbated by a couple of sources. One of them, parent teacher conferences...I stared one teacher down, left without any pleasantries. I'll write her a note when I feel more coherent, but even then it won't be too nice. But I was distracted by other sources...

And, well, I have other cobwebs that must be cleaned out. Indifference, inactivity and all that...and indignation...oh well, I'm off with my dust mop...

And, by the way, Calvin knows more about science than the rest of his class put together. Just because he didn't put the assignment together just the cookie cutter way they wanted it... sheesh...

Can I quit my job and unschool now? Oh newly elected officials, (or even incumbent lord of our state, please listen), the system does not fit all.

Mama rant. Alone mama rant. Because no one feels the way I do, I guess.

fly by night

I just stepped outside, into the near complete darkness under a starry sky at 6 pm. Immediately, a chorus of hollow whoo's sounded from above. More tundra swans. From the location of their voices, they flew directly overhead, in a northwest/southeast path.

The moon was not up yet. These birds must know how to navigate by the stars. They'll probably be flying all night. God speed, hope to hear your magnificent voices in the spring.

Last night, The Hermit drove the kids to youth group at church, and saw the same bird twice, on the way there and back, a hawklike bird all white underneath, flying up from the ditch and disappearing into the woods. One time, it's in your mind. Twice, it's there but it's a spirit bird. I saw it the third time. That makes it a late migrating northern harrier.

Monday, November 06, 2006

breaking the ice

Usually, when a skim of ice forms over a small lake, it's a signal that it's time to put the boat in storage for the winter. Whatever fish are out there to be sought with rod and reel will still be out there in a few weeks, when enough ice has formed (4 inches for foot traffic, about a foot for vehicles, although it's always best to be overcautious!) for ice fishing. But when part of your paycheck depends on rearing and stocking fish, a half inch of ice is no deterrent. If I was in charge it would be, but whatever...

My assistant boss told me and John, the only crew who weren't out deer hunting or trapping, to re-set the nets they had pulled out of the pond last week as it was threatening to freeze. There are still a few muskies in there, and I guess the state needs every muskie it can get this year. I thought maybe the pond would have, at worst, some ice around the edges, because it was warm and sunny this weekend. But when we got to the pond, the water looked strangely calm and motionless. It looked thick, actually. And there were no geese resting on the water, which was unusual.

It was funny because I could not tell that the whole surface of the pond was frozen over. The ice was so smooth and reflective, it looked just like a calm water surface. With a half inch of ice or less, and no snow on top, the color of the water below showed thru the glassy ice. I was not sure until I backed the boat in and heard a big CRUNCH.

My coworker took the helm of the boat while I remained on shore; he was going for a preliminary spin to break up some ice. Better him than me, I thought. I watched and listened as he gunned the motor. Everywhere he went on the pond he sent sheets of ice flying, breaking, crashing. The sound of cracking ice was deafening, but the after effect, the sound of waves of water pushing up the ice, breaking it more gently, would have been nice to listen to were it not for the persistent sound of the motor and the boat breaking more ice.

Eventually John came to pick me up and we set the nets quickly, rumbling through ice chunks as we went from site to site. Then, after all eight nets were set, we went around on another ice breaking mission. This time I was on the bow of the boat, feeling every small sheet of ice hit the boat and break into smaller pieces. Like the motor was the blender, and the pond was a giant margarita.

I do not recommend ice breaking in a boat for sheer recreational purposes. It was interesting, but I think when water freezes over, it's Mother Nature's way of telling you to take a break.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

no-excuses music day

photo by Starflower; amazing quality as usual

Today was my self-designated music day. I had no excuses: there was no housework that urgently needed to be done (those cobwebs on the end wall will have to wait for another time), the kids were entertaining themselves, The Hermit and Stepson #2 were out deer hunting part of the day, and because it is deer season, even though it was a rather nice day I felt better off indoors. You never know what kind of person might be hunting nearby.

First I took the flute out of its case, where it has been for way too long. My tone quality was as expected for me not having played for a while, but it got better after a few Irish reels. However, my dexterity, usually the lesser half of my playing...absolutely surprised me. I was playing reels at twice my normal speed, and my fingers were communicating with each other and moving perhaps better than they ever have. I wish I had a recording device, because I don't know when I'll play this good again! I also played a couple slow waltzes, just to work on intonation, and if only I'd had a guitar accompanist it may have been lovely. I was just about to attempt a Bach sonata when The Hermit and SS2 returned (deerless), and it was probably better that I put my flute away at that time rather than bursting my bubble by screwing up what I affectionately refer to as The Nemesis Sonata. My college flute teacher made me play it over, and over, and I never seemed to get past certain passages.

After an outdoor lunch break, I was ready to bring out the mandolin. I started out with the familiar, and pretty soon I found myself ripping through the familiar at speeds heretofore unimaginable! I don't know what the reason was, but today was Dexterity Day. I was on, even sounding remotely like Chris Thile for the first time in my life. After so many months of hardly practicing, I sound better than ever.

I started paging through my dog-eared copy of The Fiddler's Fakebook. I'm on an old-time kick lately, and I want to expand my repertoire. Little did I know, however, that by the time I put the mando back in its case, I would have expanded my repertoire by over a dozen tunes. It was remarkable; I have never been able to play a tune on first sight so accurately, and with such speed. And I had the energy, and the attention span, to do it. I have not felt like this in a long time.

I don't know from whence this gift of musical ability, which somehow descended upon me threefold after eluding me for years, came, or how long it will stay, or why it all seemed to come together, but it was more fun than I've had in a long time. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to be in the presence of a few other musicians, playing off each other's energy.

Sorry if this sounds like a self-important brag-fest, I'm just basking in a musical afterglow right now!

Saturday, November 04, 2006


This is, from the left, my stepson Tom (22), Mr. Attitude (almost 5), and Calvin, 9.

Tom is engaged, which means I will have a step daughter in law in 2008. She is really sweet, has been to enough family functions that I know her well, so that is good. Interesting that the youngest of my stepkids is the first to get committed...also have a stepdaugher 24 and stepson 27.

They are having a great time tonight playing video games. Tom was out on the deer stand all day but didn't see anything. The Hermit was out a good part of the day with him.

I hope they get at least one deer. There were a few nibbling at the garden in the summer.

Now you've done it, Ben and Jerry's

Just when I thought I could maybe live without ice cream, you came up with a flavor that I cannot resist. Well, besides Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, Cherries Garcia, and Phish Food...among others. But I've been walking by the freezer aisle lately, not giving in to the luscious pints lurking behind glass doors. I can say I have not consumed more than a pint of ice cream in the past year. And, up until now, I have not felt deprived.

But you did it, Ben and Jerry's. You created an ice cream than incorporates one of my favorite consumable substances...BEER. That, along with another delectable treat, CHOCOLATE. Yes, that's right. There is now an ice cream that combines cream stout and chocolate. Is this heaven?

Way back when I worked at Baskin Robbins, before I even knew what beer tasted like (yes, there was a time...) I remember a few male customers joking that if only they made beer-flavored ice cream. How gross, I thought. Now, uhh...twenty years later, here it is. That pint in the freezer may not live until morning. :)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dog on the loose

I just went outside to...ummm..well I just had to go outside. Anyway, I was greeted by Togo, my husky, sans collar or chain. I went back to where his run is, and found no evidence of collar or chain. is 11:30 at night, later than I normally would be staying up, but I can't just go out and run around and find a chain et al for the night. Guess I'll just let him run free and hope he stays close, which I think he will.


the road trip

Rollin, rollin, rollin
keep those fishies rollin,
folks'll come a trollin, walleye...
(to be sung to the tune of Rawhide, and I have many more words where those came from, after all it was a long drive..)

Walleye. This is what Minnesota is all about. These are eight inch or so fingerlings, being released to grow, with unknown success, into adults into lakes that lack spawning habitat for these babies.

I drove over 300 miles today to pick up and stock 160 pounds of them, less than a thousand individual fish altogether, into a 600 acre lake. I don't do the math, I just deliver.

This is North Big Pine Lake, a dreadful lovely spot where I have stocked walleye recently. It looks so lonely now.

At Powder Ridge, a glacial moraine, they were making snow for skiing, snowboarding, etc. Don't know what that McMansion is doing in the foreground. I don't think the artificial snow will melt tonight.

And this is at Maine Prairie, near Powder Ridge, where apparently a bunch of settlers from Maine tried to settle until the railroad company decided to run the railroad through the town several miles south. The railroads decided everything in those days.

I also saw lots of disturbing rural sprawl; that is, formerly small towns like St. Cloud and Hutchinson now boast populations rivaling those of Twin Cities suburbs, and there are look-alike townhouses and factory homes and mega churches ("worship centers") in former farm fields. (Would God approve?) When will it stop? It was nice to see some country I haven't seen for a while, but I was getting plenty tired by the time I stocked the fish and drove back to the office. Hopefully, I'll spend the whole day in the office tomorrow, which means a blogging break once in a while...;)


I just got off the phone with my now-ex doctor. I am convinced that unless you have an immediately life-threatening condition, he doesn't want to be bothered with you. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and all that. Grrr....

I only called to ask about the results of some recent tests. I hoped he might have been open-minded, maybe have been open to some of the research I've been doing, that suggested a test that turned out normal may not have been, and may suggest the reasons of me having a body temperature of 96 point something and gaining weight on an anorexic diet. Pahhh... It's all normal, he told me, and he doesn't want to consider anything else.

At one point in the phone conversation, he paused for about a minute or so, and I had to ask him if he was still there. "Yes, but I was finished with what I had to say." Arrogant SOB.

I've had it with doctors. I'm smart enough to know what I have, and what needs to be prescribed for it, why can't I find a doctor who will take me seriously? And, for that matter, why can't I find anyone, including a spouse of fifteen years, who will?

Dangerous territory, I know.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Swan song

Not for this way, no how.

I heard the music of swans twice today. With the cold Arctic air we've been receiving, the gray skies and snowflakes and ice around the edges of the ponds, it is time for swans.

The last time I heard swans, it was in the spring, just when I was getting a new refrigerator...Strange coincidence, Floridacracker?

Anyway, swans have a voice than summon you from the depths of whatever it was you were involved with. I heard the swans from inside my cookshed, with music playing. The first time, I was stocking walleye in a lake, but I paused to hear the muted whistles, the sweet music of a V-formation of swans flying overhead, chased by the wind, by the snow, by the grey clouds of November. The second time, I rushed outside in a second. The perfect V of swans flew right over the house. Wow.

These are Tundra swans, which like their name, travel from the tundra to the Gulf coast and beyond. They are wild and beautiful, with a haunting call that reminds me of cold winds and snowflakes and frozen marshes with yellow grasses and red shrubs. Beautiful.

Tomorrow for work I'm going on a three hour road trip down to pretty near southern Minnesota to pick up some walleye to stock in one of our local lakes. Three hours one way, that is. I wish our trucks had CD players; I've been enjoying a couple CD's by a local group, Trampled By Turtles, lately. Oh well, it will be nice to see some of the country I don't normally see.