Monday, October 31, 2005

the set list from Friday

Here's what we played. Fred played mandolin on everything, I mostly played guitar except for a couple of songs. We had just enough material to fill the two 45 minute sets. Colleen, a local singer/songwriter, came up and sang some wonderful harmony on the last couple of songs.

Set 1:

1. I Wish It Would Rain (Nanci Griffith) Deb-vocals
2. Gotta Travel On (traditional) Fred-vocals
3. Chinquapin/Soldiers Joy (traditional) instrumental, Deb guitar, Fred mandolin
4. Paradise (John Prine) Deb-vocals
5. Lord, I have Made You A Place (Greg Brown) Deb-vocals
6. Gospel Plow (traditional) Fred-vocals
7. Across The Great Divide (Kate Wolf) Deb-vocals
8. Our Town (Iris DeMent) Deb-vocals
9. Tear My Stillhouse Down (Gillian Welch) Deb-vocals
10. Rabbit In The Pea Patch (traditional) Fred-vocals
11. Lay Me Down Easy (Kate Wolf) Deb-vocals
12. Charming Betsy (traditional) Fred-vocals

Beer break

Set 2:

1. Red Tailed Hawk (George Schroder/Kate Wolf arrangement) Deb-vocals
2. Home Be Bearna (traditional Irish) Fred-vocals, Deb bouzouki
3. Whiskey Before Breakfast/Saint Anne's Reel (instrumental) Deb bouzouki, Fred mandolin
4. Barroom Girls (Gillian Welch) Deb-vocals
5. Sitting Alone In The Moonlight (traditional) Fred-vocals
6. Early (Greg Brown) Deb-vocals
7. The Train Carrying Jimmie Rogers Home (Greg Brown) Deb-vocals
8. Handsome Molly (traditional) Fred-vocals
9. Tecumseh Valley (Townes Van Zandt) Deb-vocals
10. Sow 'em On The Mountain (Carter Family) Fred-vocals
11. White Freightliner Blues (Townes Van Zandt) Deb-vocals

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wildlife update

So yesterday The Hermit and two sons were on a horse hay run. They saw six turkeys flying acros the road. Ten years ago there would have been no turkeys. Damn DNR introductions ( ;) ) and global warming.

Today (Sunday) the Hermit donned his waders and walked across the swamp and across the creek. He saw one woodcock (Breeders here, but late to see one) and five ruffed grouse (I didn't think there was but one grouse left in the county!)

I have been pretty much tied to the house here since my Friday night gig, but I've been enjoying the bird feeder. I will post the set list from Friday tomorrow, my home computer does not seem to be able to decode the set list that Fred so promptly emailed me on Saturday. I am somehow missing that gig, the feeling of playing music and having someone listen to it, of having it all work out right and having a lot of fun doing it.

Last of the fall harvest

The tomato hoop houses are now taken down for the fall. Some time in the last week, during a night of 20 degree temperatures, the last of the tomatoes finally gave up the battle with frost, leaving dead, brown vines, a few ripe tomatoes, and a few good green ones. I picked what looked good, and tossed the rest into the grass behind the garden. The year's work, begun in March with some hopeful planting of seeds, is over. I am grateful for what the garden produced, sad that it is over, but relieved that it is as it should be, the turning of the seasons, and now is the time to take a rest from gardening.

I shouldn't say it's completely over. I still have lettuce, spinach, and arugula in a cold frame. This is my first experience with growing greens in a cold frame, so it will be interesting to see how long they will last.

This time of year, planting goes completely against my instincts. I had an order of garlic and some daffodil bulbs that needed to be planted yesterday, and it was a struggle to bring myself to do it. I had to clean out one raised bed and bring in some soil from one of the potato beds to fill it up more. I spent a few minutes working the clumps with my bare hands, breaking it into finer particles and smelling the mix of mineral, moisture, and life that is the soil.

This morning it was dark and rainy, and I sorted my tomato harvest into "ripe, use ASAP", "green, put into a box to ripen", and "green, for green tomato salsa". I ended up with a two gallon bucket of tomatoes in the third category. I had never made green tomato salsa before, and I really had no clue how it would turn out, but I figured I would just use my basic tomatillo salsa recipe and go from there. I threw in onions, garlic, hot peppers, cilantro, and cumin until it tasted pretty good and the tomatoes were cooked soft. I found out that green tomatoes, especially Green Zebras, which are green and striped even when ripe, work just as well as tomatilloes in salsa verde. I ended up with eight pints in the canner, and another pint to eat fresh because I was out of clean pint jars.

It's a lazy afternoon now; still gray and dreary, but not raining. There is a constant influx of chickadees, juncos, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and a few fox sparrows at the bird feeder. We saw a male cardinal the other day; we are at the northern edge of their range and they are rarely seen around here.

Kid Quote Of The Day: Last night I asked Mr. Attitude if he would cuddle with me; it was his bedtime. His reply: "Give me five cents!" :)

Friday, October 28, 2005

the music...

...was fantastic. I had a great time, and everything just flowed. No major screw-ups, no times when I completely lost it, we were just there.

I was intimidated by the set list at first, seeing this huge list of songs that we supposedly knew how to play. But one by one we proved we could actually play them, and two 45-minute sets went by very quickly. I should have thought to write the set list here. Fred, if you could email it... ;) I'm sure my many fans would appreciate it. (Fame has surely not gone to my head here!)

The venue was a little restaurant/tavern, very out-of-the way but well-attended. The audience was a late dinner crowd, with a few people who actually appreciated the music. Very non-intimidating.

I only wish my voice was used to this, as well as the fingertips on my left hand. Both are a little rough right now, but will get better with practice.

My pay was five dollars in tips, a pint of Summit Extra Pale Ale and a Two Hearted Ale. I could not ask for more.

Calvin and Hobbes look at winter

I just found this link on milkriverblog , and any Calvin and Hobbes fan like myself is sure to appreciate it! Favorite quote: "Oh yeah? DEFINE 'well-adjusted'!" pertaining to Calvin's snow sculpture of a giant chicken standing over a chopping block with a decapitated snowman. :)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

life, and the gig, goes on

I'm slowly returning to a new kind of normal around here. It is Thursday night, just after eight o'clock, and I'm not worried about tying up the phone line because I know someone will be calling. There will be no call tonight, and that's one of the day-to-day things that I miss.

I was in a huge funk this morning. Even coffee, good coffee, could not open my eyes. I called in "tired" to work. My boss said do what you have to; he understands. We went to the feed store this morning in the old Ford pickup truck, and bought our first fifty pound sack of black oil sunflower for the fall. Black-capped chickadees were very grateful.

I will still be playing music tomorrow night in a little tavern just outside of Moose Lake, MN. I am not nervous yet, although I will be. I went to Fred's house to practice this afternoon, and I feel pretty good about it. I brought a lot of songs to play, Kate Wolf, Iris DeMent, Townes Van Zandt and Greg Brown and others, songs I have played and sang for years just to myself. They sounded much better with Fred's mandolin; music is really not a solitary pursuit. I could not get up there onstage all by myself and do justice to the songs I am playing. Anyway, I always have a great time whenever I play music with friends, and I know tomorrow night probably won't be perfect but it will be fun.

The coyotes are at it again, off and on this evening. Haunting.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

i am exhausted

I didn't think these last two days would take so much out of me, but I have hardly anything left and I'm taking the day off work tomorrow to recuperate. I should be in bed right now, but I need this as much as I need a good night's sleep.

We decided to drive down to visitation on Tuesday night, then came back home and drove down again today for the funeral at 11. It's about a 100 mile drive, an hour and a half or so, and even though The Hermit was driving, the ride alone wears me out. But I get strength from my home place here, and for some reason on Tuesday I just could not bring myself to pack everything I needed; the kids' clothes, my own clothes, etc. And it is so much better to wake up in my own bed.

The funeral was simple, and beautiful, as far as funerals go. I played my version of "Amazing Grace" on flute, and it went well despite me getting, of all things, a strand of hair in my mouth as I started to play. That has never happened to me before in 25+ years of playing the flute. I had to pause between verses and brush away the hair. Oh well, such is life here on earth. Imperfect, but we strive. Judging from the kind words afterwards, no one else really noticed.

I really, really wished that in the eulogies and messages, though beautifully written and delivered, that they would not have concentrated so much on my mother's illness (MS 20 years, cancer 7 years) as the person she was, before all of this, with or without. She was, after all, a person before all of this started happening. I, in my message of flute playing, concentrated on what she gave to me as a mother, before physical illness was in the picture.

And I cannot get over the absurdity of one being cremated, then buried in a little vault in a cemetery to which one has absolutlely no connection to the surrounding land. It's a big cemetary in North Minneapolis, a place I had only seen once or twice before. Funeral directors' real estate. At the grave site, all I could think about was the traffic rushing by 50 yards away, the fake Astro Turf they put out, how when I die I want my body left to decompose into the soil here, at my home, or at the very least scatter my ashes around the places I have known and loved in my life. Mr. Attitude probably personified the whole absurdity of the situation; in his almost 4 year old mind he could not comprehend why we were all standing here in this park. All of the grandkids picked one flower from the bouquets; everyone else got red roses, he got the Tiger Lily (he called it Lion Rose). Very appropriate.

And I am very proud of Calvin; he was asked to read a lesson at the service, Psalm 23, and he rose to the occasion perfectly.

My dad is doing well; in fact, I think he is very relieved. Being the caregiver of one with a debilitating illness, then on top of that a terminal one, has to be very draining. He is going to buy a new bike tomorrow; he said his old one is wearing out. And he will probably not return to work. Nothing there to return to I guess.

And so I return here. My garlic order finally arrived today; maybe I will plant it tomorrow, along with the daffodil bulbs The Hermit bought after Lady died. Later I will go practice some music. It's a beautiful life.

The coyotes are going crazy tonight; I heard them, almost deafening yelps and echoes, as I walked in the dark to the house.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

the legacy

Maybe it is all about music, after all.

I mean, I've been trying to figure out what the best things I remember about my mom are, what she gave me that will live on in my life. It isn't an easy job; as adults we never developed the mother-daughter friendship that I would have liked. We weren't enemies, we just were not as close as I would have liked to be. And that's just the way it was.

I'm trying to remember what she did for herself, if she had anything she was passionate about. I realize I'm probably a much more passionate person than she was. And that's just the way it is.

Her biggest priority was whatever my older brother and I were interested in. She was Cub Scout den mother, Girl Scout leader, Mom's Taxi to Little League, flute lessons, 4-H meetings, and whatever else we were involved in. She worked as a school cook so she would only have to work a few hours on school days, so she could be there for us the rest of the time. She taught me to sew, to cook, to put my best into whatever it was I was doing, whether it be birding, rocks, photography, cheerleading (although I wish she would have counseled me against that one!), or cross country skiing.

But did she have any interests of her own? Anything she really, really wanted to do, that she might have done once I left for college had she not come down with MS?

Then I remember. The guitar. She told me more than once how she loved the sound of the guitar, that she wanted to learn how to play it, or at least wanted me to. I think she may have been a secret Joan Baez fan. At any rate, for my ninth birthday she bought me a secondhand guitar, a Stella classroom model, and we took lessons together, she playing her brother's old guitar. The lessons were free at a local church, group instruction, and probably only lasted about eight weeks. But in that time I learned the basic chords, learned to strum a few songs, and to sing along. She bought me a couple folk song books and a John Denver song book, which I still use.

Unfortunately, when I became a teenager, a few things got in the way of my guitar playing. Angst about all the things teenagers feel angst about, the desire to listen to the "right" music and be popular, and, ironically, the school band program which required I play their instrument, their way. I was good at flute, and I still enjoy it, but there was no place for a John Denver-playing guitar girl.

It was almost seventeen years from when I first started playing guitar that I found the kind of music that made me passionate enough to play guitar again. Leo Kottke was the beginning, and I can never hope to play like him, but I could teach myself fingerstyle and play John Prine and Kate Wolf and Greg Brown. ("Early" was one of the first songs I learned to sing and play.)

So if it wasn't for my mom, I may not have learned how to play guitar. If it wasn't for her encouragement of my interests, I may not have stuck with it long enough to be good, or even convinced myself that I ever could be good. The best I can do is to keep playing, enjoy it, and keep trying to do my best and better. And, I will try to pass some of that on to my own kids. Thank you, Mom.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

late season gardening

We are still harvesting ripe tomatoes. It got down to 20 degrees this morning, and yet under several layers of plastic it felt quite warm and tomatoes were still blooming and ripening.

I'm a big fan of Eliot Coleman and his "Four Season Harvest" concept of gardening. I think it has great potential here, and I would like to hear from anyone in Minnesota who has actually tried some of his extended harvest/crop protection methods. This is the first year that I have thought to do anything like plant a second crop of lettuce and other greens, and the first year that I (actually The Hermit) has employed hoop houses to extend the season on tomatoes.

However, that is where The Hermit and I differ. He seems to think that no tomato is to be wasted, and as long as we can maintain above-freezing temperatures in the hoop houses, the tomato harvest must continue. Me, I'm pretty much tomatoe'd out. I appreciate a good slicer, even this time of year, but the thought of having fifty or so more pounds to can just tires me at this point. Enough is enough. We've had a great season, and a great harvest, but it must end some time. But for now, as long as he does the covering and the harvest, I still have fresh tomatoes here at 46 degrees north latitude.

Still I'm intrigued by the concept, and if I wasn't so overwhelmed by other things at this point I might really be motivated to do something with this information. As soon as I get that digital camera next payday, I'm going to take pictures of the tomatoes thriving in their little beds. It might make a good article for Countryside or some other publication.

I did, however, transplant some lettuce, spinach and arugula into one of the potato beds that we harvested. It is just the right size to put two window panes over and make a cold frame. Maybe we'll be having fresh salads to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Maybe.

It was a good day to be gardening, although it was chilly, not topping 50 all day. We also had our first wood stove fire. We've had the kerosene heater on on chilly nights, but it takes a bit more work to build and maintain a fire in the stove. I love the warmth though. That stove has been our lifeline in the last three winters.

In other news, my brother called this morning. The funeral is on Wednesday. He asked if I wanted to have a part in the service, and I said I thought Mom would have wanted to hear me play flute, so I will. I can do it; I played "Amazing Grace" at my grandpa and my uncle Kermit's funerals, and it's the least I can do for this one.

My dad also called; it was good to hear from him. He sounds like he's doing okay as possible under the circumstances; he was going to go for a bike ride this afternoon. Biking is his thing. For the last 25 years, he has biked seven miles to work and back when weather permitted, usually March-October, and at least one longer bike ride on weekends. More power to him. I hope he had a good ride today; he deserves it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

let the mystery be

Singer-songwriter Iris DeMent, now the wife of one of my all time favorite singer-songwriters, Greg Brown, has a wonderful song with the chorus "No one knows for certain, and it's all the same to me, so I choose to let the mystery be."

I've been thinking about The Mystery a lot lately. Not that it's anything I've been drawn to by my own maturity, or my own chains of thought. Face it, I've been forced to confront death now like I've never known before. First with dogs, now with my mom, who may now have just days. She is in the hospice unit of the hospital now. I'm going there tomorrow.

I'm surprising myself with my attitude. It is not one of panic, of fear, of anger, of anything extreme. Actually, my dad, whom I talked with briefly on the phone today, summed it up best: "It is what it is." (I told you he's one of the most intelligent people I've ever known.)

I'm ready to accept this. I'm not praying for any lifesaving miracles, or anything that might prolong her stay here on this earth. I'm ready for her to leave this long-suffering life of hers, for whatever lies beyond there for her. I'm sure it can't be any worse.

I don't know what lies beyond. I can't know for a fact that as long as she has proclaimed Jesus Chrits as her personal Savior, that it will make any difference. I don't know that any personal beliefs will make a difference. I don't need any pretty pictures of Heaven and gospel songs about meeting Jesus and all of the family who's gone before, to assuage my fear of the great unknown. I just know that she's a beautiful woman who has suffered a lot. God have mercy on her.

Maybe it is, after all, just nothingness. I can't comprehend nothingness, so I don't know what to say about it. But maybe, just maybe, all of the miracles I witness here daily in the natural world, all of the miracles that I too often take for granted, are just a glimpse of what lies ahead. Maybe a world full of these miracles, without all of the suffering, is in store. And that is nothing to fear.

This unknowingness is what keeps us alive. We strive to stay alive because we do not know what is ahead. Some take their own lives because, unfortunately, life here on Earth does not seem to be a better alternative than the unknown. I'll side with the here and now. I love my life here with my husband and kids. I love the beauty the world has to offer every day. I think I saw a wolf today, in the road. Maybe it was a coyote, I didn't stop to look at the tracks it left, but for now I'll believe it was a wolf. But I did definitely see a bald eagle soaring over Sand Creek.

I'm afraid what I fear most is the human way of dealing with all of this. I just want everyone to know and accept the great peace, the peace that has somehow made its way into my consciousness.

update: my mom passed away late last night. I got the call from my brother at 5 am Friday. I was not there at the end, but I guess it really doesn't matter. Thank God her suffering is over.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

ain't the evening light pretty...

It is evening. The light is getting shorter day by day, and I must treasure it while I can. I come home an hour earlier than normal, and see that my dog, Togo, is absolutely dying for me to take him for a walk. I oblige, thinking if I sneak off quietly enough, I can enjoy this walk just between Togo and myself. I grab Togo's ultra heavyweight leash, snap it on, and off we go down the long driveway. Togo is lunging and sniffing at everything; I keep him away from the chickens, much as I know he'd love a good poultry dinner.

We are headed north on the road, past the creek and to the field on the other side. I hear the creek as we walk by; it is still rushing by full of the recent heavy rains. I hear a noise behind us; I turn to see Calvin on his bike, racing towards us; I was not quiet enough, but I don't mind his company. Then I see The Hermit coming up the road in our Sport Honda; he is making a beer and sunset watching run to Sturgeon Lake.

We turn onto a drive that leads us into the field north of the creek. As soon as we are into the hayfield, I release Togo's leash and he is off running, happy to be free of the chain. Calvin follows him, off his bike, running and jumping and laughing as Togo runs circles around him. They make a pair, those two, jumping and laughing and running like the wind.

I turn my gaze across the creek. The low afternoon sunlight is turning the tamarack woods a brilliant gold. Gold of tamarack meets dark green and uplifting outline of white pine, straight and conical outline of spruce, all bathed in a mystical golden light. The sky is crystal blue, the blue only found in late fall when the nights get crisp and cold. Crystal blue meets gold meets forest green. I lose my breath for one moment.

(At this point I really, really wish I had that digital camera in my hands right now. One more week!)

Dog and boy come running back to me. Dog, happy to have had his moment of freedom, does not move as I snap the leash back on. Slowly we come back, through the field, across the creek, down the road. Starflower is now pedaling towards us on her bike. She found out our secret. We make our way up the driveway, past the pond, past the chickens, into our home place.

Later, The Hermit drives in with a 30 pack of the gold, bubbly stuff. He tells me of the awesome angle of the light, how beautiful Sturgeon Lake looked all surrounded by the gold and russet and empty cabins and beached boats. I imagine the indigo colored water under an early evening sky. We saw the same wonderful thing, just in slightly different ways. Somehow tonight seems less mundane.

left hand-icapped

And now for something completely trivial...or not.

Fact of the day about me: I am very left handed. Or right-brained, however you want to look at it. About the only things I do right handed are bowling and archery, and since I haven't done either for a long time, I am pretty much 100% lefty. My political tendencies are maybe not 100% but they do lean that way. My brother and dad are also left handed, as is The Hermit, although not to the degree that I am. I thought it was a genetic thing, but so far all three of my offspring favor their right hands.

For the most part, it's not a problem in a world that is predominantly right handed. By the time I went to grade school, fortunately teachers had gotten past the urge to "correct" left handedness. It may take some minor mental adjustments when learning a task, but for the most part I can adapt. I learned how to play guitar the "normal" way, and I could never understand why Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, both lefties, set up their guitars the opposite way. After all, it takes two hands to play guitar, and both are equally important.

The other day, however, I was stymied by, of all things, a kitchen tool. A vegetable peeler, to be exact. My old vegetable peeler, which I had been using with my left hand for at least as long as I've been married (13 years), finally broke, so The Hermit bought a similar-looking one to replace it. On Sunday I was going to peel potatoes for a pot roast. Normally I wouldn't bother peeling them, I think they're more nutritious with the peelings on, but these homegrown potatoes had scab that wouldn't wash off. So I picked up the peeler in my left hand, potato in my right and...nothing happened. The peeler slid over the skin without digging in or slicing. I was feeling rather clumsy in the kitchen that day to begin with, so at first I thought it was just me. I tried it with a carrot. Same thing. Then I did something different; I tried drawing the peeler towards myself instead of away. A nice slice of potato skin came off. Then I tried holding the peeler in my right hand. It worked, but it didn't feel right. I was completely disoriented, and I ended up cutting the potatoes into chunks and cutting off the scabby parts with a knife.

How simple would it be to make a vegetable peeler with blades on both sides of the little groove in the middle? Obviously they did it years ago when my old peeler was made. I hope I can find one like my old one somewhere, because I'm a bit too set in my ways to relearn something as basic as peeling potatoes. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Our yellow lab, Lady, enjoying a summer afternoon at the pond. (see Why I hate dogs) I don't know why I took this photo, but now I'm glad I did.

Monday, October 17, 2005

the rest of the day (or: Good Beer Discussed Here)

As always after a trip to the cities, I was relieved and comforted to return home to Sand Creek on Saturday night. However, I did not make such a hasty retreat from civilization as to neglect some of the pleasures the city has to offer. I took the kids to a bookstore and they had about as much fun browsing as I did; I bought a book I had been wanting to read for some time that the local library does not have in their collection. This was perhaps the first book I have bought new in years. Then I braved downtown Minneapolis and thousands of slightly inebriated Gopher and Badger fans, the latter camp celebrating, to make a stop at my favorite liquor store. Why is it my favorite? Sierra Nevada, $9.97 a 12 pack, Two Hearted Ale $6.57 a six pack. At those prices, I can afford to drink better beer than the usual.

With the traffic jam trying to head out along Washington Avenue, I had no hope of jumping on the freeway quickly, so I turned the other direction and escaped Minneapolis right through the heart of the city on Central Avenue going north. I had been thinking about how they recently converted the four lane highway near my parents' house to a full-fledged freeway, tearing out two blocks of houses and a lakeside park in the process, and how much that seemed to change the drive there. The road no longer is a part of the community, but just a high speed vein to bypass it. Do we all need to be that much in a hurry? And what do we miss along the way?

I drove past old industrial complexes, grain elevators, railroad tracks, and Northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods that still seemed to have a life of their own. I had to stop at the stop lights and look at the businesses on the street corners. Cozy bars. Ethnic markets. Coffee houses. People walking, stopping to chat on the sidewalk.

I didn't rejoin the freeway until Central Avenue had given way to miles of strip malls, auto dealerships, and hot rod parts stores. Just get me out of here quickly now that the best part is behind me. I set the cruise control on 69 and watched as nearly every other car passed me. Why? What's the rush? Is this freeway just a competition, like everything else? I glanced out the window occasionally, knowing just where to look to see an eagle's nest, catching a glimpse of my old house on the pond where a pair of loons used to nest. I used to hear the drone of the traffic all night, everyone busy going somewhere.

I only passed one car the whole way back; as I approached from behind I saw a familiar-looking black Escort sedan going just slightly slower than I was. As I passed I glanced and saw my neighbors D & P. I tried to wave, to catch their attention; I don't know if they saw.

When we returned home, weary from the road, The Hermit had a lasagna waiting in the oven (store-bought, but at that point it tasted pretty good). A friend had called, inviting us to a bonfire at his place. We took one case of Sierra Nevada and headed over with the kids. In the cool night air, with a waxing moon shining in the sky, we amazed at the warmth generated by a pile of pine boughs. It was the kind of bonfire where your back is freezing, but your front is blistering, and there's no in between.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

rivers of ice

I didn't want this to be a blog wherein I purge all of my own inner personal stuff. I wanted this to be about place, about nature, about the life I live and love here. But that life inevitably includes some things that happen that affect me deeply. I can't divorce the person I am from the story I present here.

I went to The Cities today. The Twin Cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul. One hundred miles away from the only place I'll ever call home. God, I hate the traffic. I had not driven in traffic like that in many months. And it wasn't all that bad, for the cities. I had Norman Blake in the CD player; good traveling music. I can now drive freeway to within five blocks of the destination, the home I grew up in in a suburb nestled on the northwest edge of Minneapolis. God, I hate that new freeway.

I went to see my parents. My mom is dying of cancer, and may not have too long to live. She was first diagnosed nearly seven years ago; the same day I found out I was pregnant with Starflower. Stage IV ovarian cancer; they said she maybe had a few months at best. Many months later, and occasional chemotherapy treatments later, she now has inoperable complications. It's in God's hands.

As if that isn't suffering enough, she has multiple sclerosis. She has had it for at least twenty years, her most acute symptoms coming on at the time I left home to start my freshman year at college. Gradually I saw her capacities dwindle, until now when she is in a wheelchair and has barely the strength to walk a few steps anywhere.

I could talk about what a stong person she is, to endure all this. But I can't, because, well, she isn't. In fact, she is not that strong. She has let her disease take her prisoner, or at least use it as an excuse to NOT LIVE. Let me be frank here. She is afraid. Of everything. She wouldn't even get a goddamn wheelchair ramp built on the house because she was afraid of intruders looking in the windows. So she's been in the house, wiht no way to get out, for a long time, and not even asking to get out. Not even thinking about asking.

My dad...well, let me start by saying he's one of the most intelligent people I've ever known. He was going to college to be a history professor before he met my mother. But as soon as he found out he fathered my brother, he settled down. Found a job, and stuck with it. A low-paying, demeaning job for someone of his caliber, but I guess security was more important than anything. I can't decide whether to be grateful to him or to hate him.

My parents don't talk about things. When my mom was first diagnosed with MS, she spent a week in the hospital and I didn't hear about it until I came home for Christmas break at college, a month later. I have issues with acceptance; I'm glad the number of times I check my Site Meter each day isn't public information. I was in tears when I left my parents' house today. I mean, they REALLY don't talk about things. My dad got all mad when Mr. Attitude spilled a Sprite on the carpet. There's way much more than this, I just can't say it all right now.

I don't know where I'm going with this post. I feel so sad, so enraged, so...disappointed. I really don't know right now.

Friday, October 14, 2005

you asked for it

And here it is! Music by Deb & Fred

To listen, please right click on the link and choose the "Save As" option, rather than listening directly from the server.

The song is "Early" written by Iowa songwriter Greg Brown; I'm playing guitar, and Fred (aka Mando Man) is on mandolin. Unfortunately, he opted out of singing harmony on this one, since it was our first time through it; improvising harmony can be risky business! This was from a recording Fred made at our first practice session; sorry, copies of the whole session will NOT be made available to the general public due to my limited guitar flatpicking ability. ;)

Many, many thanks to my good blogging friend the dharma bum for agreeing to host this on his server.

Picture Friday

Puff Kitty, boss of the house and "paws of death" to flying rodents. He's grown a lot since this picture was taken.

Building a Bigger Hermitage; The Hermit is standing in the opening for a large sliding glass door that will open into the great room. The hearth and wood stove will be about eight feet back from the door. Directly behind The hermit is the kitchen/dining area of the great room. The great room will be open up to the roof rafters some 25 feet up at the peak. To either side will be bedrooms below and loft bedrooms above. Since this picture was taken, supporting beams and floor joists for the second story have been put in place, and floorboards on one side. Note the nice tamarack woods directly behind the house!
Edited to add: I thought something else was missing in these pictures: THE SIDING! We now have grooved plywood siding! How could I forget that?

first harvest; many tomatoes ago

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I've been deceived!!!

Turns out the eggs Hermit found are...guinea eggs. He saw a female guinea sitting on the corner spot where he found all nine eggs before. I was wondering why they were so small and pointy. Not that guinea eggs are bad; with all the cases of Lyme disease we've had around here, and the suspicion that Lady did, in fact, die of Lyme disease, a few more guineas to eat the deer ticks would not hurt anything. Add that to the paranoid terror that because of the perceived threat of avian flu, we might have to isolate our flock and raise chicks on our's a good thing. But I want eggs I can eat!

In other totally unrelated news, I stocked our pond today. Off the record. A few crappies that were incidental to the muskellunge rearing pond at work. Don't tell anyone...;)

AND, and this is the most exciting news of all...stay tuned for PICTURES! The Hermit just picked up five rolls from Evil Sam's today, along with photo CD's. And: next payday I will get not only a small raise, but also retroactive pay from when the contract including the raise was July. So I should have enough to purchase the Olympus digital camera The Hermit saw at Evil Sam's, the one with 5x digital zoom and 5.1 megapixels! Woo-hoo! I'll be a real blog!

I And The Bird #8 is up!

Troutgrrrl at Science and Sarcasm is the host of this edition of I And The Bird, the biweekly carnival of bird-related blogging. I am very privileged to be a first-time participant in this extravaganzaa, with my post about...well, you'll have to check it out for yourself; you'll find some very good reading material and photos by some of the most talented bloggers around, including Lene, Rurality, Pamela, Rexroth's Daughter, Nuthatch, and Troutgrrrl herself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

not real writing, just timely observations

The tamaracks began to change color overnight. I didn't notice any change in the stand behind the new house, but down the road I saw several stands that were turning a light lime green, starting at the bottom. Some aspens across the shrub swamp had turned golden yesterday; I thought this year the leaves would fall without turning any brilliant color.

The Hermit found nine eggs in the chicken house yesterday! We still haven't cleaned out the nest boxes, but I will personally do it if it means not having to buy eggs from the store. Plus with the number of hens we have, we could get a mini egg business going.

We're seeing huge flocks of dark eyed (slate colored) juncos everywhere. I hate to admit it, but I haven't taken the time to observe migrants; I'm sure I could see many more species if I just look. I'm still seeing kestrels; it seems like there are many more than there are over the summer, probably migrants. The Hermit saw a golden eagle yesterday; he said the guineas were squawking as they herded the chickens into the chicken house while it flew overhead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Something's fishy here...

Sorry in advance for the bad pun. Here's the continuing saga of the new Minnesota state record largemouth bass, weighing in at 8 pounds, 15 ounces (Don't laugh, you Floridians!), one pound more than the heaviest of my offspring weighed at birth.

The lunker was caught by a professional tournament angler, although he was not fishing a tournament at the time, on October 3rd in a small lake on the western edge of the ever-sprawling suburbs of Minneapolis. Unlike other state record candidate fish, which generally give the ultimate sacrifice in the name of personal glory for the angler, this bass was transported in a live well to a DNR office for verification ("Yup, that's a largemouth all right!") and on to a private aquarium in Brainerd, some 120 miles away. However, Big Mouth Billy Bass died on Sunday of "unknown causes".

Unknown causes? Let's see here...if I remember correctly from my Ichthyology courses in college, and my considerable experience in legally hauling live fish, that bass had an awfully stressful experience. Taken from it's home waters, where it had grown and evaded harvest by anglers for probably 10 years or more (and this bass was probably helped by the fact that most Minnesotans equate eating bass with eating carp...or sheephead...or bullhead), this fish was put into a live well and hauled, first to a DNR office that is a good twenty minute drive away from the lake, stopping by a bait store for weigh-in along the way. Then it was on to Brainerd, with an alleged stop at a new Cabela's store in Rogers to see if the fish could be displayed there. Now considering the professional status of the angler, this live well was probably state-of-the-art. His boat probably cost more than the house we're building. But live wells are not meant for long over-the-road fish hauling. As a matter of fact, transporting a fish in such a manner is illegal in Minnesota, although there are no plans to charge this angler with any violations. Boat trailers bounce over rough roads, agitating the live well and its inhabitants, possibly causing bruising and abrasions. Being placed in an aquarium, with possibly different water temperature and pH than the fish was acclimated to, is another stressor. Add all of these cumulative stress factors, and you get a fish that is highly susceptible to any fungus, virus or bacteria that may not pose a problem under normal circumstances.

That the bass died does not surprise me. What surprises me is this comment by the angler: "I felt sick about it. I wanted the fish to survive."

Hmmm...If I caught a huge, once-in-a-lifetime fish, and wanted it to survive, what would I do? Probably take a couple pictures, and release it. But that's just me.

I have some professional experience with the state record fish program. I personally verified the state record lake sturgeon, a 94 pound, 4 ounce behemoth that was three inches longer than I am tall. before the season on the Kettle River was closed for sturgeon. In our years of sampling sturgeon on the Kettle and St. Croix rivers since then, we have not run across a sturgeon near that size. I hated to see that fish die. But to claim the prize, the fish dies.

I could say more, but...and as usual, the comments on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organization I work for.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

I've got a gig!

My friend, I'll call him "Mando Man" just called up. He, being a much more professional and accomplished musician than I am, actually music is his only job, wants to do some local gigs. His band, however (see link on right, The WhistlePigs) is mainly from the Twin Cities and not always available for stuff around here. So he asked me if I might want to play with him on the 28th at a local restaurant. I, always seeking for excuses to practice and improve my musicianship, said yes, so it's happening! The pay is tips and a meal, which is probably more than enough compensation for me pursuing something that I enjoy. If I can only get my stiff and rusty fingers and my voice in gear. Like Mando Man said, "We could be the most interesting acoustic act in the county!" Which isn't saying much...anyway, I'm excited at the opportunity to have something to practice for and look forward to!

Update 10/12: We had our first practice session last night, and it went fairly well in addition to being a heck of a lot of fun for me. We recorded nine songs on CD and came up with a few more ideas; what we're playing is a mix of fiddle tunes, bluegrass, and acoustic folk, some instrumentals and some vocals. I'm trying to figure out how to upload a music file; I don't want to do the AudioBlogger phone thing, but it looks like the only other way is to upload the mp3 file to another Web site and link to it. I don't have a website other than my blog, which is the catch-22. Any ideas would be welcome. :)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Over morning coffee

Morning coffee is one of my most comforting rituals around here, especially on Saturday morning when I'm not trying to get myself and two kids out the door in time for school and work. Today, when it is still below 30 degrees outside, it is a time for reading, for reflection and sometimes deep conversation.

On Saturdays it is understood that I do not get out of bed until I smell the coffee; it's the Hermit's job. As soon as he gets out of bed, Starflower and Calvin come to take his place (Mr. Attitude is already next to me) along with one or more felines. Puff does "the neck warmer", but only on Starflower; she attracts cats for some reason.

The Hermit goes out to fill the blue speckled enamel camp coffee pot from the pump, then sets it on the stove in the cook shed to heat. Meanwhile he grinds the coffee (Alakef organic fair trade, Sumatran or French Roast) and puts it in the top of the coffee maker. When the water is nearly boiling, he brings it in and pours it in the coffee maker. Simplicity in coffee. We have a Cuisinart coffee maker that somehow got broken during the most recent move; we could get it fixed, but the ritual of making coffee this way somehow appeals to us now.

I roll out of bed, grabbing what I left off reading the night before; today it's Gary Snyder's Turtle Island collection of poems. (note to dharma bum--I read one out loud, whether anyone listened or not) The Hermit is browsing through the latest issue of Countryside magazine. Saturday morning cartoons are on TV; I don't particularly like them, but I know they are not necessarily going to do irreparable harm to my childrens' minds either. Everything in moderation.

Gradually a conversation begins, a thought here, an observation there; reading is set aside. Calvin observes how he can't understand why so many people buy their house when it's much more fun to make their own. Fun, maybe. Rewarding, definitely. Work, you bet.

We talk about this homesteading lifestyle. We are a lot different from many of the people who write in Countryside. For them, it's a lot about religion and frugality. For us, it's the search for what's right, for the Good Life. For living lightly on the land and being a part of it. Frugality can become a religion in itself; if the object is to spend as little money as possible, and brag in a magazine about how you did it, isn't that just a form of being controlled by money, just as much as making as much money as possible is? Everything in moderation. This ain't Folgers Decaf we're drinking here.

In another time, The Hermit would have been out in a duck blind on this frosty morning. I can tell he misses it sometimes. He talks about how it wasn't the act of hunting itself, the killing, but the mere purpose of living completely in the moment. And I agree. He says it's different, now that we live in the country, it is hard to comprehend having the time to engage in something like hunting, or cross country skiing, or anything else we used to do for recreation when we lived in the suburbs. Yes, but in a way living out here has somehow taught me to live in the moment, to look up from my work and see the light glistening in the branches of the white pine.

In an hour or two we will be working. But there is a time for work, and a time for morning coffee, and that time is never to be rushed.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Lazy afternoon

I'm taking it relatively easy this afternoon, at home. I had a doctor's appointment in the morning that I didn't get out of until noon, and by then I didn't feel like taking the time (or spending the gas money) to drive 30 miles to work. As for the appointment, I'm fine (I think), just getting older! :)

We finally got the computer fixed and at home. It's hard to get used to this dial up connection after getting spoiled by high speed Internet at work. Not that I spend any work time blogging...

The rain is over, and The Hermit is out at the new house with the Shop Vac clearing water off the tarps that cover the floor. Part of the second story floor is up, but no roof rafters or roof yet so it's very difficult to keep water off, especially when it rains six inches! The floor is plywood with a vapor barrier underneath that hopefully kept too much water from seeping in to the insulation below. It's cool (42) and windy here; the leaves that so miraculously burst into color over the weekend are blowing off the trees one by one.

On the way to my appointment I got a good look at a bald eagle perched on top of a tamarack in a bog. On the way home the sun had started to break through the clouds and I took the Sturgeon Lake route. The road curves around the south side of the lake, past cabins and campgrounds and cozy little Up North taverns. The lake today was steel blue, with whitecaps coming from the northwest. I didn't see any boats out, and the boats and docks are gradually disappearing from the shoreline. It was beautiful, in a wistful kind of way. Summer is over.

Calvin is doing a lot of writing in school these days (third grade). I came across this little essay as I was going through the pile of papers that he and Starflower bring home daily:

My mom

Two days ago my mom made homemade salsa and homemade pasta sauce. She also
made crab apple jelly. A few days ago she canned pickles. Last spring she helped
me make my raspberry jam. I like my mom.

That's a definite keeper, although I wonder if he's trying to tell me that I've been spending a little too much time in the cook shed these days?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

St. Louis River Estuary, Duluth MN, October 2004

rain, and more rain

I'm sitting in the office instead of going out doing field work because for about the 26th hour straight, it's raining. I have never seen this much rain in Minnesota at one time, especially this time of year. Some parts to the south recorded 9 inches! Interstate 35, the main corridor from the Twin Cities to Duluth, is closed in some areas due to flooding. The Hermit, who is now the official Keeper of the Rain Gauge for our township, recorded 1.95 inches from 5 pm Monday to 5 pm Tuesday; I don't know what the running total is thus far for today because the gauge has an outer chamber that empties into the inner chamber that has the measuring marks. The outer chamber appears to be nearly full, and it's still raining.

Sand Creek, usually a slow flowing stream, is a raging torrent, as are all of the other streams around here. Our pond, which had been down a foot or more from the drought in August, is full and flowing out through the overflow culvert; I'm not sure if there is a connection to Sand Creek but if there is, we may get some more fish colonizing the pond.

I'm wishing the rain would have held off a while yesterday, because my coworker, the Stream Guy, had the idea of taking the backpack electrofishing unit and sampling the small tributary that enters Sand Creek just upstream from our land. They have found brook trout there before, and this time of year adults could be moving into the tributaries to spawn. We drove up there but unfortunately were rained out.

As we were driving along the road near the tributary, I saw what I think may have been a great gray owl. I didn't have my binoculars with me, but I saw a large bird with the general silhouette of an owl perched in the top of a dead tamarack. It was still there ten minutes later when we drove by the spot again. This is near where I saw a great gray owl in May, indicating that it could have stayed around for breeding season.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

meme time

Thingfish23 at Taming of the band-aid tagged me with this meme, which I've seen floating around on a few blogs. It was very thought-provoking, especially the time questions, and a good exercise in divulging a little more information about myself.

10 years ago: The Hermit and I had been married for three years, and we were living in a subdivision too close to the freeway 30 miles north of St. Paul. I was working the same job I am now, fisheries specialist for the MN DNR in a town 45 miles to the north, while The Hermit worked for a nonprofit conservation organization in the northern suburbs. I think 1995 was the first year that I raised a large garden with about thirty varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and I began canning tomatoes and salsa…sound familiar? We had bought the land we now live on two years before, and just finished the first part of the cabin, a 16 x 12 one room structure. We had one teenage stepson living with us full time, and a stepson and stepdaughter living with us part time. Being a twenty something instant stepmom to teenagers is as good a definition as any for “flying blind”. However, I still dreamed of having children of my own, and ten years ago I became pregnant for the first time. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at twelve weeks; it was a big deal then but now, with three beautiful children, I realize everything happens for a reason.

5 years ago: I was living, for the month, in a rented lake cabin near Park Rapids, MN, with 3 year old Calvin and 1 year old Starflower. We had spent the previous month living in my parents’ tiny RV; we were waiting and hoping and praying for things to work out so we would have a place to stay for the winter. The Hermit was here off and on as he finished up details at his job in another state. We had been there for a year after leaving our subdivision and old jobs, but for various reasons it just wasn’t the right thing. I happened to be offered a job with my old employer at this new location. It was the most unorganized, stressful, uncertain, hectic, unsettled, weirdest time of my life. I felt bad for putting my kids through all of that, and not being able to offer comfort and stability. We were over two hundred miles from home.

1 year ago: We were finally home, having landed back here at our cabin and land on Sand Creek two years earlier, and had just made the decision to stay here instead of moving across the country yet again to chase a job, more money, etc. After all, we had a foundation built for a new home and stacks of lumber and building supplies everywhere. And I loved it here. Moving again, however soon we planned on returning, would have torn me apart. We hastily built an addition on the cabin; two winters in a 16 by 12 cabin, with an 8 x 16 porch, with three young children, had been enough already. When the addition, a 12 x 16 room, was done, it felt like a mansion to me.

Yesterday: It was too hot and humid for October. I was achy and tired all day, and didn’t get a lot done at work. The Hermit is getting frustrated about working on the house; he can’t get anything done when it rains every other day. The trees changed colors almost overnight.

5 songs I know all of the words to: Easy one for me; I collect songs. Even when I don’t make a conscious attempt to learn a song, the words stick in my mind. This is not always a good thing; remember every Top 40 song from 1980-1985? I do. So I’ll just give you a list of some of my FAVORITE songs that I know all of the words to:

  1. “Spring Wind” by Greg Brown
  2. “Across The Great Divide” by Kate Wolf
  3. “Hello In There” by John Prine
  4. “Tecumseh Valley” by Townes Van Zandt
  5. “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan

5 favorite television shows:

  1. Northern Exposure. Hands down, the best TV drama ever.
  2. Cheers. Great characters, great writing.
  3. M*A*S*H. Ditto.
  4. The Red Green Show
  5. The Lawrence Welk Show. Honestly. I’m addicted to the reruns on PBS! It’s a nostalgia thing I guess.

5 things I’d never wear:

  1. High heels
  2. Pantyhose
  3. Anything just because it was the latest fashion
  4. A full “park ranger” style uniform. I cheered when they finally made it optional for my job class.
  5. A glitzy evening gown

5 places I’d run away to:

  1. I’m thinking of a beautiful stretch of beach at Manchester State Park, near Point Arena in northern California. There is no sound but the pounding of the surf, as I lie there with a cooler full of Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA.
  2. Rural Ireland. I like the idea of playing music and drinking a good stout in a local pub.
  3. Norway and Sweden. To discover some of my roots.
  4. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area in MN
  5. This isn’t exactly one place, but I’ve been thinking it would be fun to do a road trip to the homes of all the interesting people I’ve met blogging.

5 snacks I like:

  1. Fresh tortilla chips and salsa
  2. Homemade chocolate chip cookies
  3. Chicken flautas with guacamole
  4. Fresh cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce
  5. Does beer count?

5 things I would do with 100 million dollars

  1. Finish building our house and equip it with state of the art solar and/or wind power.
  2. Buy up as much land as I can around here to keep it out of the hands of loggers, ATV riders, and rich city bastards who think this is their playground. I would pay local people a living wage to manage the land in a sustainable manner and restore ecosystems.
  3. Start a nonprofit organization that teaches people country living skills and self sufficiency while preserving folk traditions and crafts and encouraging a sense of local community and independence from national/global systems.
  4. Oh yeah, the college fund for the kids.
  5. And I would quit my job so I could spend more time with my family, homeschooling the kids and not trying to cram all of my domestic chores into the weekends.

5 greatest joys

  1. Being with my husband and kids
  2. Playing music with good friends
  3. Listening to the sounds, or the silence, of the wilderness
  4. Making love with the love of my life
  5. Drinking a truly great beer. (I had to work that one in, of course)

5 greatest toys

  1. My flute
  2. My mandolin
  3. My guitar
  4. My octave mandolin (bouzouki)
  5. The CD player. Life without music would be an intolerable insult (Edward Abbey)
I think I'll pass on passing this on. I just don't remember who has done this and who hasn't!

Monday, October 03, 2005

"girls day", Duluth MN, October 2004

This blog has been looking too drab lately with the absence of photos, so I dug into my photo archives and found this pretty, seasonally appropriate picture of Starflower on a "girls only" outing to Duluth last year. She is holding up catalogs from an art gallery she insisted on visiting, and maybe some tourist information from the scenic Thomson Hill information center/rest area. I caught a glimpse of the rainbow in the rear view mirror as we were driving up the hill on southbound I-35; luckily the exit to the rest area was coming up and I had just bought and loaded my camera with film.

I am still trying to make room in the budget for a digital camera; luckily I'm gradually selling The Hermit on the merits of digital photography. I also have about six rolls of film being processed at Evil Wal Mart; The Hermit will have to pick those up because I for one do not set foot in that place. Hopefully he will soon and I will be able to catch up on photo posting.

true confessions of a former tomato purist

I put some tomatoes in the freezer yesterday. Just washed them and put them whole into gallon freezer bags. Five full bags, probably at least 25 pounds of red ripe tomatoes.

There, that's off my chest. I'm no longer a canning purist. I tried freezing tomatoes once before, about ten years ago, but I wasn't too impressed with the results and vowed that from that day on, all of my tomatoes would be canned. But on Saturday, for some reason, my heart wasn't in canning. Every time I walked into the cookshed, all I saw was red, tomatoes lurking in buckets and boxes and grocery bags and covering up the counter, sorted into slicers, Roma/paste tomatoes, and canners. I cringed in fear at the thought of the task ahead of me. I was also fighting off some upper respiratory infection and feeling achy and tired, so I just left them for Sunday. Instead, I sat in a lounge chair on our beach in the 80 degree October heat and watched the kids, and even the Hermit, take what may be the final swim of the season.

But the tomatoes were still waiting on Sunday morning. Divide and conquer, I thought, would be the only way through this. So I started dividing, and saw that I would be canning until midnight Tuesday if I did it the usual way, blanching and skinning and packing and processing seven quarts at a time. So with a sigh I pulled out the Ziploc bags and began filling them. I always have the option to can them later.

I still had a five gallon bucket of good canners left over, so I juiced them and set them simmering down in a 12 quart stock pot for tomato sauce, with garlic, parsley, oregano and basil. Then I diced all of the Amish Paste tomatoes and made six pints of salsa plus some for fresh eating. I used just three Garden Chile peppers in the whole batch, and it was plenty hot. I still have a couple gallons of Romas for more salsa. You can never have enough homemade salsa.

The sauce cooked all afternoon, filling the air with the delicious aroma of tomato, garlic, and spices. When I took Togo for a walk, the wind was from the south and I thought I caught the aroma of sauce drifting over the field on the north side of Sand Creek. I ended up with ten full pints.

I'm starting to think I have enough, tomato-wise.