Wednesday, January 30, 2008

maybe I'm getting too used to this weather

It was a usual morning. Wake up at 5:56, stay under the covers until 6:00, wake Calvin and Starflower, make coffee, etc. I glanced at the thermometer: 20 below. I stepped outside and heard the wind rushing in the pines. My cheeks stung with cold as I went out to warm up the car. We made it out to the road a minute early.

A minute later, no bus.

Three minutes later, no bus.

The radio announcer comes on with "just about every school in the northland is closed today". Usually that means our district is still open. But after five more minutes we went back to the house, I checked the school's website, and...surprise! School is closed!

Honestly, it never crossed my mind that they would close school just because of 20 below weather and wind chill of who knows what. I think they've had school before on colder days.

It's supposed to warm up by the weekend.

Monday, January 28, 2008

January thaw

It got up to 42 today, according to my car's thermometer. This won't last, as we are supposed to get back to 20 below tomorrow night. That's a difference of 60 degrees!

At least, the quick thaw and freeze will mean an amazing surface for my skating pond. Better than if I had the time to manage it myself.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Local blogger offspring sighting!

I have been following Heidi's blog with interest lately, after I found out she lives maybe five miles away from me, has many similar musical and literary interests, keeps track of birds, etc. A potential kindred spirit.

Today I had to go to the post office to pick up my melodic banjo book. As I stepped away from the window, I noticed a teenage boy checking a mailbox. He looked vaguely familiar, from pictures I had seen on the blog. I was almost sure he was Heidi's son, but I was too shy to say anything. I saw him later, riding his bike around town as we dropped a car off at the garage to get a couple new tires. I knew from Heidi's blog that he had traps out at various places around town, and he was probably checking them. The Hermit's comment: "Now there's a brave soul!" (It was maybe fifteen degrees at the time.)

It turns out that was indeed Heidi's son. In fact, in an email Heidi said he had recognized me. Wow. Small world. And, how blogging brings us shy souls together. In the last few years, ALL of the friends I have made have been through the Internet. I don't know if I should laugh or cry.

thought for the day

We cannot control the winds, the calm or storm over the open sea. But we can build a boat, make a sail, learn how to use them working with the wind, set a course and navigate by stars. We can, and we must.

Friday, January 25, 2008

the look

I have to admit, the blue was starting to bug me, that and the light text against dark background. Plus, it really wasn't visually interesting enough, especially with the dearth of photos I've published lately.

I think I've found a visual balance between simplicity (reflecting the state of living I strive for) and...hmmm, I don't know exactly what the word is I'm looking for. "Busyness"? Which is what I need to have in my life as well.

The look also reflects my desire to get back into writing, reflection, and taking my blogging more seriously. To get back to what my blog description says it should be.

Okay, not TOO seriously. There will always be room for projectile pistachios. :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

the fabulous flying pistachio

Or, why I am next in line to be certified crazy during this Minnesota winter. :)

There was a wonderful moment at work today, totally unplanned which made it all the more funny. Background info: I work in a small office room that holds four of us during the worst times. At least we have a few dividers; from my vantage point I can totally ignore the boss when he comes in to tell outrageous stories like Hap Shaughnessy from Red Green.

Anyway, today I was finishing off my day's ration of pistachio nuts at about 3:00. I have been enjoying them as a snack, no sugar and lots of micronutrients! I came to the last nut, which was in a shell that hadn't fully opened...

I panicked for a while. How would I get this nut open? I mean, once you eat one pistachio you gotta have another, and so on, so this was really a crisis. ;)

Finally I came up with a brilliant plan. I would crush the offending nut with a pair of scissors I had in my desk. I strongly gripped the nut in the scissors.

What happened then could not have been planned more perfectly.

The nut somehow slipped the grip of scissors. The scissors were arbitrarily pointed in the direction of a coworker's desk, one I had never given the thought to of perhaps hitting with a pistachio nut in the near future. AS IF....I had ever thought of using pistachio nuts as a weapon!

So... the wayward pistachio went hurtling through the air, over a bookcase. A split second later, it landed, with a "ping" against the Microfiche reader my coworker was using to age fish scales (yes, how archaic) and into a Petri dish he was using to hold water to wet the scales.

"What THAT?" he remarked.

I was already doubled over and in tears from laughter.

Now, you have to understand, John, my coworker, is the king of ironic, cynical humor. (And he is a diehard Packers fan, so he is understandably going through a period of mourning.) Nevertheless, he managed to mention that perhaps we should fill out a "near miss" accident form, so the regional safety committee could take up the issue of flying pistachio nuts. He thought he could have been blinded, or even killed by a pistachio to the right spot on the temple.

*snort* *chortle* HAHAHA!

I could not have aimed that pistachio better if I had tried. And I laughed about it all the way home. :)

Oh well, laughter is good medicine, and I have been needing it lately.

A rare (for me) bird treat

There's a red bellied woodpecker on the suet feeder at work right now. I'd take a picture but it probably wouldn't turn out too good with the 1 inch wire mesh screen they put over the window after we got broken in to a month ago.

28 below this morning. Warmer temps are on the way, though! I'm ready!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Part 3: Let the music play!

I had a few necessary tasks to do on this work holiday. The worst was to "make some space" in our outhouse, which we use as a composting toilet. The trouble in the winter is, every deposit freezes solid and takes up a lot more space than if it had just composted and evaporated down like it does in summer. So I hand picked (with a bag over my gloved hand) two 5 gallon buckets of stuff and carried them to the compost bin. Nuff said.

After I washed dishes and completely reorganized my kitchen shelves, it was time to jam. When I went to my banjo lesson on Saturday I bought Tony Trischka's Banjo Song Book, because it looked like it had a wide variety of stuff to learn. I didn't look at the copyright date 1977 when I bought it, but when I saw a photo of a very young Bela Fleck, still in his teenage years, described very prophetically as "the crest of the wave of the future (of banjo)", I realized this was a dated, but timeless book. I have learned perhaps more from it than I have learned music, on any instrument, from any other source. I have realized that I want to play melodic banjo, not straight Scruggs or clawhammer. I have even learned the differences between these styles! I am ordering a copy of Trischka's "Melodic Banjo" book tonight.

Tonight's meal was a delectable bean soup, made with the bone from our New Year's ham. The kids even asked for seconds.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Part 2: Enjoy da Boydz!

Terribly lit picture, sorry, of some incredible pine grosbeaks and a common redpoll who happened to show up. Our feeder was a constant center of activity as chickadees, nuthatches (red and white breasted), goldfinches, redpolls, and pine grosbeaks sought energy to withstand the cold (high 2 degrees maybe?) temperatures.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How to spend a three day, below zero weekend, part 1

Get as far away from home as you can!!!

No, really, I did have a banjo lesson scheduled for today, so I took off for The Cities at about 8:30, and I was thankful for the heated seats in my Subaru. I used to toss them off as frivolous luxury; but I started to use them when the temps dipped below 40. It feels really good on the back. But today the seats would have been frozen solid without the heating feature.

I had a very good lesson. I had been struggling with "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" lately, but as my teacher pointed out, that was just because I had been trying too hard to adhere to the written-out, Earl Scruggs version. When I realized I could just use chords and picking patterns to basically fill in the whole song, I did much much better. I also realized that I have a way of tuning out during lessons when the info comes too much at once. I gotta get over that.

Then I did the obligatory stop at Trader Joe's, where I found horseradish sauce WITHOUT high fructose corn syrup (could not find that at the local grocery store!) and a few other goodies. And a case of Three Buck Chuck. Some wine snobs behind me in line were talking about how they did not like Charles Shaw. Well, fine. Pay eight, fourteen, thirty bucks a bottle, but I LIKE having a decent Merlot or Chardonnay without having to budget for it.

On the way home I saw one raven who performed a special trick just for me. I just adore ravens when they do that flip over thing in flight. :) And I saw three bald eagles, two soaring over the Kettle River and one over Sand Creek. Awesome.

It turns out I returned home just after The Hermit and kids, who had been to Duluth for a McD's lunch and who had picked up Papa Murphy's pizza for dinner. So this totally blows my standing in the locavore/glocavore ratings, but...chicken artichoke bacon pizza is very good...and I didn't really eat all that much... :-)

The chickadees and pine grosbeaks and even redpolls were busy at the feeder. Birds gotta eat.

Parts 2 and 3 to follow. It's a three day weekend! Stay warm!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Glocavore" there's something to ponder!

Penelopedia has posted about an issue I have spent some time considering...local eating. Now, I'm all for procuring local foods, IF they can be sustainably produced within a reasonable distance. But, as the article quoted by Penelopedia suggests (although a bit "in-your-face-edly"), sometimes we just CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT WE WANT locally. I mean, here in northern Minnesota the Ojibwe lived off venison and wild rice and blueberries and a few other plants we modern civilizationalists would not care to make into food. The influx of European immigrants brought a few other food choices. But, admit it, we are not exactly a food basket here, are we?

But the "Glocavore" movement (if it is one) suggests that we support certain products that simply cannot be produced locally. So we can't grow olives here in Minnesota. Fine, we'll support growers in California who can. Ditto for almonds, rice, etc. I can agree with that. Specialty farmers get decent prices for their crops, we get olive oil in Minnesota, it's a win-win deal. I hate to say it, but I almost can't grow tomatoes here, although I keep trying. :)

I admit it, the "locavore" thing has always been problematic for me as a blogger. I support it, I have a freezer full of local (<20 miles) grass fed beef, but to me it isn't the answer. There are some foods that cannot be grown locally, but could provide significant income to someone who could. I'm not talking about shipping lettuce to Minnesota in June when we could supply our own very well. I'm talking about almonds, oranges, artichokes, lemons, grapes...anything that cannot be grown in a specific climate, but would be missed in our cuisine. Especially anything that makes a statement against processed foods.

I always feel like, among the blogging community, locavorism is a status thing. A "feel good" thing. A "hooray for me" thing. And that has kept me from expressing my doubts about it, in the past. I was afraid of alienating any blogging "friends" who did not share my views. But now I don't care. I've grown older, and wiser!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

random happenings

I must be suffering from Midwinter Blog Writing Freeze. I think the lack of sunlight affects my motivation and ability to compose a thoughtful, coherent post. But the sun is shining, and the south facing office is full of natural light, so I better seize the moment.

On Saturday I finally got the snow cleared off the pond for skating. Or, I should say, I removed about a two inch crust that was all that was left of the twenty inches of snow that had covered the pond since the weekend after Christmas. What happened to the rest of the snow?

When a heavy snowfall covers a layer of ice (assuming the ice is thick enough to support it), often the weight of the snow will push the ice down, forcing water up around the edges and through any cracks that may be in the ice. The thick blanket of snow insulates the water and keeps it from freezing solid. Dig or step down in the snow, and you will encounter a layer of slush between the snow and the ice. On large lakes where people are normally driving their vehicles on the ice this time of year to go ice fishing, the slushy conditions create a sometimes invisible safety hazard. On a small skating pond, it mostly creates a mess and dashes hopes for skating for the year.

However, it got cold enough, and the water seeped up enough to freeze solid beneath a snowy crust. It took a bit of physical force with the shovel sometimes to push through the crust, but I got the pond cleared. The ice is far from ideal for skating, but Mr. Attitude and I went out and made the most of it. It was Mr. Attitude's first time on skates, and he impressed me with his self confidence and ability to stay standing as he made skating-like motions.

I was already feeling the shoveling part that night when I could barely lift my arms. Ouch.

Our chickens (about a half dozen now) have been roosting outside the last couple of nights, even though this morning it was 18 below zero! What's up with that? Are the geese not sharing the space? Yesterday morning as I was racing to drive Calvin out to the bus, which was early, I nearly ran over a Rhode Island Red.

This morning on the way to work, I saw something large fly across the road ahead of me. It didn't have the speed of a goshawk; even though I was inside the car and could not hear anything outside, the flight struck me as being "silent", if that makes any sense. I immediately thought "owl". Since I was on a low traffic gravel road, and no one was behind me, I was able to stop and locate where the bird had landed in an aspen tree about 50 yards into the woods off the road. Barred owl! I managed to get a good look with the binoculars and tried to guide Mr. Attitude so he could see it too. I don't know if he ever found it, but I was happy that he seemed as excited as I was.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Forgot to mention, birds

Approximately three and a half miles north of where I work, there is an open pasture, with a few mature trees off in the distance. I scan the pasture and the trees every day, looking for signs of bird life. I do this deliberately, because last year, almost every day I could see a red tailed hawk perched in one of those far off trees. Today I saw the white breast at 60 mph, and when I stopped and scanned with my binoculars I saw the red tailed culprit firsthand. Sweet.

I also stopped to see a bald eagle perched in a tree a couple miles to the north, where I had seen bald eagle perch before but I have no idea why. Open water? Maybe springs in a ditch, I don't know.

The third bird was a bald eagle on the ice of the Kettle River. I was going by too fast to stop or observe, but it looked like it was eating something.

Bad dog, no biscuit!

I was doing yoga this morning (now wait, when does she find the time to do yoga?) actually Calvin had a special school trip he had to be to school at 6:45 for, so The Hermit drove him and I found myself with an extra half hour I would otherwise fill with the activities of waking up. Coffee was already made, the younger offspring did not need to wake up until 7, so I seized the moment.

While I was doing some balance poses, I heard some moving and shaking from the porch, where Maggie the Chesapeake's crate is located. Normal, I thought, but it persisted. Uh-oh, something is not right.

When I looked out onto the porch, I found Starflower's new $70 Lands End jacket, which I had been so proud to order for her, next to the kennel, and the sleeve DRAGGED INSIDE. I pulled the sleeve out, and knew right away it was irreparable. Damn. I know dogs gotta chew, but HOLY SHIT! It's a $70 jacket for God's sake!

I had no choice but to order a replacement this morning (along with a pair of boots for SF that had gone on sale and a shirt for myself, on sale). I am very grateful that we have the means to replace it. I didn't know if The Hermit would get a paycheck for late December, since he has been on leave, but it happened, somehow.

So tell me, are Chesapeakes good for ANYTHING?

And, A Hermit update. He decided to go to a meeting in Grand Rapids, 120 miles away, overnight. Good for him, I think he's ready.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Rearrangement Day

I think the day we take the Christmas tree out, usually the first Saturday after New Year's Day, should be a holiday in itself. It always feels good to purge the Christmas clutter, which, joyous as it may be, has its time and its place.

Today I turned it into a whole living room rearrangement thing. The spruce Calvin and I cut went out to spend the rest of the winter as bird shelter by the feeder (not that we need any more, it's just a good idea). I brought the Shop Vac in and spent about an hour picking up needles and cobwebs. Needles and cobwebs. That sounds like a good name for a song, or even my first album. :)

Then I had the bright idea of moving the TV and accessories from the corner, where it wasted a lot of space, to the wall, where it would not waste quite as much space. Then we moved a rocking chair into the empty corner, moved a lamp over by the (now not used lately) wood stove, then brought a halogen lamp in from the cook shed to light the rocking chair corner. I entertain fantasies about cuddling up with a good book in that chair, but as long as the TV is on (16 hours a day) I don't know if that will happen. But it sure looks nice, that chair, draped with a Woolrich Indian blanket. And all the open space on the floor. I may finally have a place to do yoga or Pilates, if I can grab the TV/DVD player before everyone else.

In the words of The Big Lebowski: "It really ties the room together!" :)

New post on Deliberate Homemaker

Hooray! My other blog is not dead! Today I blogged about a wonderful vegetable stew, and the unlikely inspiration from which it came. Click on the link to the right. I'm too lazy to put one here. :)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Perhaps the ugliest flower ever

I am way overdue for a gardening post. I have received many gardening catalogs, and have been perusing the vegetables, but have not quite gotten to the flowers. Flowers are mainly wishful thinking for me.

But I could not help but comment on THIS:

I love purple coneflowers, in their NATURAL state. I even have one White Swan white coneflower, which is pretty hardy and looks nice surrounded by purple Nicotiana. But THIS??? This is a supposedly "improved" version of coneflower. I say it looks like a non-colored coneflower with a sinus infection. Or bad hair.

Even if I could grow coneflowers around here, save for my White Swan which is doing pretty well in a semi protected area, I would not grow these if you paid me.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

spectacular Sandstone sunset

This is the view from the parking lot of Rich's Bar and Offsale Liquor. I was just walking out, six pack of Bell's Winter Ale in hand, and was captivated by the sky. I happened to have my digital camera handy in my purse.

I was doing laundry across the road, at the extreme right of the picture. I hate laundromats, but that one is pretty clean.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

happy new year to me...

And a happy new year to all of you who believe enough that I have something to say to keep checking back here! :)

My New Years Day was really sort of a nothing day, which was exactly what I needed. Nowhere to go, no big plans, just take it as it comes. It was cold, with a high barely 5 above minus wind chill. Otherwise I could have talked myself into cross country skiing. Instead, I dragged out the neglected Taylor 512 guitar, and my neglected voice, and sang and played a bunch of Kate Wolf songs. I think my guitar playing leaves a lot to be desired, but in truth I could probably hold up accompanying myself at an open mike. Which I hope to do this year, even if it's at the Gas Light in Sandstone.

I also watched birds, hung some suet out at the feeder, and practiced banjo. I learned another Kate Wolf song (Red Tailed Hawk, actually written by George Schroder) in A minor on banjo.

I need to get a band together, or at least find some people around here who want to play roughly the same kind of music. Playing music alone is...lonely. You can do great things, but who is there to share them?