Saturday, March 31, 2007


These two were getting pretty friendly this afternoon. Poor Blue Flame has a cold, so his eyes are a bit puffed up right now.
They knew what to do. Today was cold and rainy, and I made it as far as the cook shed. I washed dishes, a two hour task around here, and tried my best to straighten up the house. I estimate I reunited over 50 DVD's and Game Cube games with their cases.
I know, we need the rain, but the yard is looking pretty dismal right now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

state park sightings

In case you haven't heard, Minnesota has one of the best state park systems in the nation. I am fortunate to have four state parks within an hour's drive of home. The biggest one in the state is directly south of here, about twenty miles; in fact, the park entrance road is built along the same old logging railroad grade that runs through our property.

Today I had the opportunity to spend the day at that park, although unfortunately it was mostly indoors. I was asked to be on an interview panel for some entry-level park manager positions, so I spent the day intimidating young career aspirants. I was the only one on the panel that was not working directly for parks; they like to have someone from an outside discipline come in, and I think maybe they are required to have a non Caucasian or a female on the panel. So I've been asked to do this a couple of times. I enjoy it; it's interesting to see how different individuals react to the stressful interview process, and I like meeting natural resources folks outside of Fisheries. There may be a networking plan for career shift here. Or not. It doesn't hurt to meet people.

I had about 45 spare minutes at lunch time, during which I took a walk. I mean, no-brainer, the park has miles and miles of hiking trails and I'm going to sit indoors during lunch? I wandered down a road until I found a paved bike trail, then followed it for a while. I heard a phoebe, then heard, then saw a migrating flock of tundra swans. Then, after I had reluctantly turned around, I heard a screeching from above. I looked up to see four bald eagles, riding the thermals and leisurely migrating northward. Two of the eagles were obviously a pair; they were the ones calling to each other, and they followed each other closely in flight. I watched them until they disappeared from sight. Not a bad walk.

More interviews tomorrow. This time I will drive there straight from home, following some out of the way dirt roads. The best kind.

Monday, March 26, 2007

more spring birds, pond activity, frogs, and mud

This time of year I just keep adding birds to the list. Today it was fox sparrow and Eastern phoebe. The Hermit saw purple finches at the feeder here, which would be another new addition if I had been around to see them.

I got an email mid afternoon from The Hermit, saying he and the kids and the dogs were headed out to the pond. Afternoon temps here hit 68, which felt really, really warm. There was still a considerable sheet of ice on the pond, but I guess Sally made the best of the open water. Hopi was a bit more reluctant; she cannot understand the affinity her mentor dog has with water. What can I say, Labs are superior that way; heck they are the superior breed. Starflower was in her bikini when I arrived home. She said that she had been in the water a little, but it was still cold.

I took Togo for a walk after I came home, and one unique thing I heard was a barred owl calling in broad daylight. I also heard the first of the Western chorus frogs, sounding a little slow and groggy but nevertheless heeding the call of Spring.

And mud. It is everywhere, a fact of life, but this warm weather has it disappearing fast. The ground has thawed enough so water percolates downward. I hope to be able to drive my car back to the house in a couple days.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

March is a great time

Despite the mud everywhere and the standing puddles of water and the detritus that the melting snow reveals about what happened last winter, March is a wonderful time. The transformation that happens here, in just a matter of a week or so, is amazing. Perhaps if you live in warmer climes, you experience seasonal change over a more gradual period. But here it's BAM! Spring's here!

New year birds for today are: great blue heron, mallard, turkey vulture, Eastern bluebird, some blackbird (either Brewer's or Rusty, but not a grackle!--update, I am pretty confident now they were Brewer's), ring necked duck, and...woodcock. That first peent I heard at twilight, and the twittering that followed as he ascended into the sky in circles, was pure music.

I attended a bridal shower today, at my aunt and uncle's lake place where I spent some wonderful times growing up. The bride is a first timer, at age...well, I think she was the same age as my mom, they were really close as cousins growing up. 60 or so, although she doesn't look a day over 45. I'm happy for her and her husband-to-be! I had a good time talking with some second cousins I haven't seen in way too long.

spring birds

The soundscape in my yard changed literally overnight as scores of Dark-eyed juncos made their appearance. A single junco's call is not memorable, and I had forgotten what they sounded like, but a whole flock of them makes a twittering symphony. Added to it was the insistent peeping of red breasted nuthatches and the chatter of chickadees. The raucous cries of crows and Canada geese echoed through the air, and the rattling bugle of the sandhill cranes added to the chorus.

I had the chance to see a few other new birds for the year as I made an emergency trip to Wal Mart with the kids. Around here, a broken Game Cube connector cable almost warrants a 911 call. I had planned to spend the whole day cleaning house, and it was nice enough that the kids could play outside, not playing video games all day, but I knew come evening my parental ratings would suffer if I didn't do something. Besides, The Hermit, usual Wal-Mart runner here, was across the state for business. So we made the forty mile trip, and along the way I saw a tree swallow, common grackle, and ring billed gull, all new spring arrivals. I also saw three eagles and numerous hawks, probably red tails, but I couldn't tell for sure. I wonder how much getting glasses will improve my drive-by birding.

There was an American tree sparrow among the dark eyed juncos, so I saw a total of four new "year birds" yesterday. I was hoping to see a bluebird, and I scanned fence posts and wires in all the likely areas, but no luck yet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring is officially here!

On the way to work I saw my first male red winged blackbird of the season. And when I got out of my car at work, I heard a robin calling!

Edited later: I went for a walk at lunch time and saw a flock of robins, so that's confirmed. I also saw a dark eyed junco on the ground by the bird feeder at work; although they are very common around here in the spring, this is a year first for me. The Hermit called and said the sandhill cranes were calling at our place this morning, although I did not get to see or hear them when I came home. I took Togo for a walk, and we ended up walking along the north side of the creek by the horse pasture, and I think I saw some red winged blackbirds there. Didn't have binoculars with me though, and I don't have my glasses yet. :)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

it's seed time

I just added up how much I've spent on seeds and gardening supplies so far this year, and...well, this is an experimental year. I'm still trying to see what will grow best here, and this year I have the added challenge of growing for a farmers market. That said...$150 on seeds (and seed potatoes) and shipping and handling? That's not counting the book I purchased on Native American gathered foods, or the T-shirt from my favorite seed company; those extras in the seed catalogs are quite appealing, you know!

I probably have enough seed to last several years now, especially if I save some from this year's crop. When I ordered seeds, I had forgotten that The Hermit had placed a considerable seed order with Peaceful Valley Farm Supply last fall, to build up a sort of "when the shit hits the fan" seed stash. All good, but I wish I would have found the seed stash before I placed a huge order Sunday morning.

That huge order was with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I received that order today, four days after I placed it, complete with T-shirt. I must say, that is about the best service I've ever had from any seed company. I highly recommend them, and I admire what they are doing to find and preserve heirloom seed varieties. I will wear that shirt at the farmers market this summer.

I also have tomato seeds planted now, in addition to the peppers I did last week. My dad asked me if it wasn't a bit early, but they say 6-8 weeks before last frost. 8 weeks puts us into mid May, which shouldn't be too early in my hoop house beds. Varieties planted include: Brandywine, Amish Paste, Grandma Mary's Paste, Stupice, Yellow Pear, Black Cherry, Burbank, Ropreco Paste, and...I can't remember right now. But you can see I don't go half way with tomatoes. :)

Bird update: First killdeer heard today, on school grounds. Sandhill cranes reported nearby, but I have not seen or heard any...yet.

The other tomatoes I planted were: Siletz, Maskabec, Beaverlodge plum, and Beaverlodge slicer (both extra-early varieties). The peppers are: Alma paprika, Hot Portugal, King of the North, Wisconsin Lakes, early jalapeno, and serrano. Some of the tomatoes have sprouted as of this morning (Friday, 3/23)!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

today I am 40

...and I don't feel any different. :)

We had king crab legs, shrimp, and roasted asparagus for dinner. Not much in the way of local dining, but IT WAS GOOD! :)

And, I did see a female harrier at one place, male harrier at another, on the way home. The male practically flew into my windshield. Harriers are, I think, the most flight-gifted birds in the world. I also saw an immature bald eagle and a flock of about 12 wild turkeys near my home.

the joys of country life

We were awakened at 4:30 yesterday morning by the sound of Hopi growling from the foot of Starflower's bed, which she has claimed as her sleeping spot. Her growls turned to barks; prior to this I didn't think she even knew how to bark. Sally, usually the more vigilant watchdog, who sleeps at the foot of our bed, often on top of my legs, gave a slight growl but must have been satisfied that Hopi did an adequate job of alarm barking, because she fell asleep again.

The Hermit turned on the back light to reveal a herd of cattle, probably seven of them, meandering around the back yard, licking grease from the bottom of the grill, looking for any other sources of food. He went outside and chased them away; eventually they ended up back at the neighbors' on their own.

Our neighbors across the road keep a small herd of cattle on their too-small pasture, and their fences are notoriously unreliable. One day a few years ago we found a newborn calf abandoned in the woods near our house. We get cows coming over to our place a few times a year, sometimes eating our animal feed and leaving piles of free fertilizer everywhere. The neighbors are always apologetic, but they just don't get it. Part of being a good neighbor around here is keeping your animals where they belong. Although these folks can be hard workers at times, they just don't have the reasoning ability and common sense it takes to be good farmers and neighbors. They also don't have enough income from their disability checks to invest in some fencing, and their sister who lives up the road, who owns the cattle, won't even bother to give one of them a ride to the doctor's in Duluth.

We put up with it; they could be worse, at least they're not running a meth lab or anything. And their place is close enough to the road, and the sight of a grown man riding a bicycle in circles in the driveway likely makes anyone think twice about intruding into our place.

On the wild side, the kids and I saw a pair of fishers, an uncommon sight, running across the road just south of our place. Fishers are probably the porcupine's only natural predator.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

kestrel dances

The kestrels are back, and I thank Starflower's friend Ada for giving me the opportunity to see them. Ada invited Starflower to meet her at the school pool for open swimming, so I drove her there. It was then I first saw the kestrels; how could anyone miss them, with their strong, agile flight.

Kestrels have a thing for open farmland; there are certain areas along the road to town where I can almost be certain of seeing them in the summer. I usually don't see them at home. As we were driving to the school I saw no fewer than four kestrels, all perched on wires then rapidly flying away as we approached in the van.

When I wasn't taking Starflower swimming, I was setting up a new shelf in the cook shed and getting my seed starting equipment ready. I have two heat mats made for seedlings, which I found out work nicely for finishing venison jerky when I need the oven for chocolate chip cookies. :)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I feel good...really good

On Tuesday, I will magically switch decades in my life, with the ticking of a clock move from one stage of life to another, or so they say. I don't really think our lives are arranged in decades, but popular thought seems to tend otherwise.

In a way, I can't wait to leave my thirties behind me. Looking back, it was a decade of spinning wheels, indecision, and wasted time. Okay, so I had all three of my children in my thirties. They are the best blessing anyone could have, but so much else was going on that they didn't get the perfect, planned childhood I had dreamed of. Life gets in the way.

For one thing, we moved. A lot. From Minnesota to Missouri back to northwestern Minnesota, to my old neighborhood in suburban Minnesota to a remote valley in northern California, to here, but almost back to California. To here, finally, the place where my dreams live. I'm going to move away from the new house when they drag my cold, stiff body out of it.

I realize now I was depressed a lot in my thirties. Not suicidal depressed, (okay, maybe once, but luckily I was too chicken to cut my own flesh) but just not into living. And that's a terrible thing to give your children.

I have not felt depressed for a long time. Today the sun was shining, and while I was washing dishes Calvin asked if I would come outside and play lacrosse with him. My stepdaughter had just given him a lacrosse set, two netted sticks and a plastic ball. So I did, and he had me going into the woods fetching the ball far too many times, but we had fun. Spontaneous, outdoor fun. I could not have done that three years ago. Or maybe two. Or one.

Then, after I got the dishes done, I felt like a little walk in the woods. It was there that I saw the spores of the cinnamon ferns, pictured above, standing over the snow. It doesn't take a lot of effort to find something here that really moves me.

So it is coming up on spring, I am going to move into my dream house this summer, I am going to have my best garden ever, and even sell at the farmers market and play music there. Who could ask for anything more?

Friday, March 16, 2007

wascal wabbits

I got home early today, because Starflower had a music program at school at 1:30, and by the time it was over there was no point in going back to work. Anyway, my stepdaughter Sarah was here for spring break (she's a graduate student at Nebraska) and we made her a good steak dinner.

I did get home early enough, before dinner started, to take Togo for a walk and even to check out my garden. I saw maybe one lettuce sprout where I planted last week. There's still hope.

But then I walked over in the snow to check our apple trees we planted last year. Unfortunately, most of them have been nibbled on by rabbits, maybe even girdled. Arrrgghhh.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I went for an eye appointment today. I have gone without corrective lenses for 39 years, but I thought I should at least get my eye health checked before I suddenly found myself among the middle aged.

The verdict: While it is not legally necessary for me to wear corrective lenses for any function of life, I was impressed with how my far-sight vision has decreased through the years. I just might get a pair of glasses for driving, bird watching, looking out over an audience...anyway, wishful thinking aside, anything that might require me to look out over a distance. Oh, middle age. I embrace thee. I think.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Farmer's Market meeting

I attended a meeting of the Sandstone Area Farmer's Market tonight. Last year I was toying with the idea of growing extra vegetables and participating in the market, but that kind of fell by the wayside. This year, however, I have extra encouragement to join the market; it turns out one of the main organizers is an old coworker and friend of The Hermit's with whom we recently reconnected. She and her husband live within ten miles of us now, and The Hermit happened to find out through a local work contact. Sometimes it seems this county is a last outpost for those like us who seek to leave the city life.

There were maybe twenty or more people in attendance, a good assortment of veteran farmers and hobby gardeners, all who like the idea of providing fresh local produce. I'm beginning to think that, with the passion I have for gardening and producing our own food, perhaps I should not be so stingy with the results. I can preach my gospel best if I actually get out and sell some vegetables, and let people know why I'm there. Plus, the vendors returning from last year all said it was a lot of fun. So, I'm planning on it.

I also may be instrumental (pardon the pun) in getting some music performance together as a regular feature of the market. When we briefly lived in Northern California, the little market we went to on Saturdays, which had fewer vendors than the Sandstone market, had a tradition of acoustic music jams. I think live, traditionally-inspired music adds a lot to a farmer's market experience, and everyone at the meeting seemed very interested when I mentioned I played a little.

This, on top of everything else on my plate right now. But this could be fun...:)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

warming, thawing, planting

After being snowed in last weekend, and confronting below zero temperatures several mornings this week, we are finally having some nice spring-like weather. High temps were in the forties both Saturday and today; that's T-shirt and Birkenstock weather for us Minnesotarcticans. It's been nice enough that I have resumed taking morning walks with Togo, the husky. I really enjoy getting out there in the fresh air, smelling the thawing earth, seeing the blue sky, and hearing the quiet that is all around. There are a few snowmobilers out, trying to make the most of last week's snow, but for the most part it's quiet here. Sand Creek is open and flowing.

This weather even gave me the urge to make my earliest-ever planting. I have one raised bed I covered with plastic over PVC hoops last fall, hoping to overwinter some greens. That didn't quite happen, but the plastic survived the winds of winter and when I checked, the top two inches of soil were thawed and workable. Even though I had to walk over snowdrifts to get the the bed, I planted spinach, kale, lettuce, and cilantro.

I also did my first indoor plantings of six kinds of peppers, and some chives. It's nice to walk into the cook shed and smell dirt. Good dirt.

St. Peter does WHAT?

In light of recent events, the kids have been asking some thoughtful questions about death and the afterlife. It seems most comforting to me to imagine Puffball in some kind of a cat heaven, complete with catnip bushes and bottomless food bowls and sunny windows with a bird feeder view.

How cats interact in this heaven, however, and just what they take with them of their physical bodies, has been a topic of discussion. Today at breakfast the kids were asking if Puffball would get to meet Lilith. "Lilith was a female, right?"


"Was she spayed?"


"When cats go to heaven, do they get their parts back?"

"Yes", Calvin answers. "There's this guy dressed in white standing at the gate there that gives them back their testicles and stuff."

Ahh, grief mixed with a healthy dose of humor.

Friday, March 09, 2007

goodbye is never easy

Especially when it comes so fast, and unexpectedly. AND, edited to say, when your cat is not even two years old.

We lost a good house cat today. As I detailed in the previous post, I woke at 5 AM to see him on the floor writhing in agony, three of his legs paralyzed. I was frightened and confused; he had been just fine the night before. Mr. Attitude and I were sitting on the couch reading books together, and Puffball was stretched out next to us, perfectly content. I commented how he looked like roadkill. I now regret that statement.

I called the local veterinarian and left a message. She called back a few minutes later; I described the symptoms, and she said it sounded like a blood clot where his main artery splits to his hind legs. She said to bring him in when her office opened; it was a serious condition but there was no immediate emergency treatment that could be done, except maybe give him a quarter of an aspirin if we had any. We didn't, not that it would have mattered.

I brought him into the living room where it was warmer, then later put him into a box lined with bath towels. By that time, his hind legs were stiff and cold, and he was unresponsive.

A quick check at the vet's confirmed the worst. The vet said she's never seen a cat survive that condition for any length of time. I tearfully consented to euthanasia. Watching him die was actually more peaceful than helplessly watching him suffer at home.

When the ground thaws, he will be buried alongside Lady and Annie, the dogs, Lilith the cat, and Topper the horse. We're getting way too much of a pet cemetery going here.

I sure miss him.

Puffball's genetic material lives on, however, in his son Blue Flame. Blue, because his eyes are the most gorgeous sky blue I've ever seen in a cat, and Flame, because he is a flame point Siamese. I have a feeling he will be a specially spoiled cat these next few days.

this is not going to be a good day

I woke up at 5 am to the sound of one of the cats out in the porch. It was an odd, howling sort of meow, something I'd never heard before. I went out to find Puffball writhing around on the floor, panting heavily,and howling. He appeared to be partially paralyzed. I called the vet, left a message, and she called back. She said it sounded like a blood clot, and the prognosis wasn't good.

I'm bringing him in at 8, but I'm expecting the worst.

I have way too many cats outside that I want to get rid of.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

coming out of the chrysalis

I think a recent post on Madcapmum's blog, and the subsequent comments, have said it well: A lot of us bloggers, especially in the northern climes, seem to be wrapped in a cocoon, waiting to be drawn out again. I feel it. I am looking forward to spring, knowing we are at the point that if winter comes at us with a vengeance, at least it will be at most a temporary thing.

I was looking at Floridacracker's blog today, envying his sightings of ducks in a bay along the Gulf Coast. Then I realized: There's not much about the weather at this time of year in Minnesota that draws us outside, to gaze on the wonders of nature out there. Cause frankly, there ain't much. Frozen lakes, frozen rivers, frozen forests so frozen that you wonder how they'll know when it's spring. Frozen hearts, frozen so hard you don't know if they're broken or just like the ice on the big lake or whatever. Maybe they'll thaw come spring.

That was my songwriter muse coming thru there; don't you dare repeat it!

Anyway, life seems to be on hold here until daytime temps average above freezing...will try to blog, but the blood to my brain feels like sludge...

It's dark. Though we see the light increasing at the end of the day, it's DARK.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Winter survival in the cook shed

How many straight hours can one listen to the sound of video games being played, of kids arguing about video games, and of kids giving up on video games to watch a "King of the Hill" marathon? All within about 500 square feet of living space?

Yes, those are Christmas lights still up in March, and those are real icicles hanging from the lights. Actually I prefer to call them "winter cheer" lights, because I never intended to take them down until day lengths got back to a reasonable amount. Around the equinox, that is.

I'm not saying the kids didn't get out to enjoy some fresh air once in a while. Starflower especially seemed to enjoy the snowdrifts. But my philosophy on outdoor recreation has evolved to the point where, while I encourage it, I don't want to nag the kids to drag their butts outside for a while. That would leave them with the sense that playing outdoors is just a chore, something to appease Mom. They eventually find their way outside on their own. Unfortunately, I think the pond skating season is over for the year so that won't be an option. Even if I did get out there with the snowblower (not the shovel; I think I'm still hurting from the last time I cleared a mere three inches of powdery stuff off the ice!) I would probably find that the weight of the snow has caused water to seep up around the edges and cracks in the ice, forming a layer of slush. Oh well, I did rediscover how to do the waltz jump this year, and the kids improved greatly.

Funny thing, when the big snow hit and I found myself facing an extended weekend at home, I fancied myself making all kinds of culinary creations in the cook shed. It would not have anything to do with escaping the constant barrage of electronic noise, now, would it? Not a bit, I tell you. I only found the time to make:

  • rye bread

  • bread crumbs from old rye bread

  • Italian meatballs using the bread crumbs

  • spaghetti and meatballs

  • teriyaki sauce (for marinating meat, stir fry, etc)

  • chocolate chip cookies (gone in 1.5 days, I didn't eat any)

  • oatmeal cranberry raisin cookies (now these I could get into)

  • pot roast

  • beef stew from leftover pot roast

  • whole wheat flour tortillas

  • venison jerky

  • pickled northern pike

Note the hyperlinks on the last two items. I also found the time to resurrect a blog I started in September, which I haven't really been paying attention to. Every so often when I do a food post, I plan on posting the recipe there, as well as some of my musings on trying to be a homemaker while living the reality of holding a full time job outside the home.

That's the intention, anyway.

(clockwise from upper left: pickled northern pike, oatmeal cranberry raisin cookies, venison jerky, tortillas)

Friday, March 02, 2007

digging out

This is why I'm not at work today. They closed state offices in the county to the north, but apparently they thought 20+ inches of snow in this county just wasn't enough. Here's the view up the driveway.

It's a good thing the snowblower started.
Remember "The Coneheads" from Saturday Night Live? The bird feeder reminds me of them. Note the chickadee in flight.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

blizzard kids

Someone tells me their names are Love girl and Star Ranger. One of them is now sleeping soundly on the couch (woke up too early.) I am betting they won't have school tomorrow. The wind is howling and the snow is blowing.
Edited: it is official. No. School. Friday. ! Woo Hoo!

march came in like a lion

At 6:15 this morning, an unprecedented hour for them, the kids woke up. "Let's get ready and ride the bus this morning!" This was highly unusual. I usually have trouble getting them out the door at 7:40 AM.

However, I then heard The Hermit say "We'd better see if they're having school today!" He turned on the TV, and of course there was a long list of school closings. Our district was among them. Strangely, the kids did not go back to bed. They were too excited at the prospect of a snow day.

Work was not cancelled for me for the day, however after weighing the risks of the 30 mile commute against the benefits of me showing up (I'm in the process of updating our area office web site, which is nice but not essential) I stayed home. It turned out to be a wise decision; this morning we've had periods of snow so heavy you can hardly see, plus high winds piling up drifts everywhere. It would have been a risky commute home.

Instead, somehow the cooking instinct kicked in. I went out to the cook shed after breakfast and cleaned things up. Then I put a rye bread in the bread machine, put some old bread in the oven to dry for bread crumbs, made teriyaki sauce, put a roast in the slow cooker for dinner, got some venison steaks out to thaw, which I will make into jerky later, and there are two sticks of butter softening on top of the stove for a batch of chocolate chip cookies later.

And this is how we ride out a blizzard here in Minnesota. It's as good a time as any to sample the home brew (Belgian Witbier on the left, delicious, Three Hearted Ale on the right, delicious, both kits from Northern Brewer). The cheese is tomato basil Gouda from a farm about thirty miles away.

Another blizzard survival tip: Finding the Pokemon Colosseum video game disc, which has been missing for about a month, will keep kids occupied for the whole day. (That is, me finding the disc in a pile of other stuff. ) That, and a Jetsons DVD. Next up: King of the Hill, our new favorite diversion. No, we're not running outside to pile up on a snowdrift. We have seasons 1 and 3 on DVD.

I'm kind of liking this. Maybe school will be cancelled tomorrow too!