Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year to all!

It looks like I won't have any more blogging time until next year, so I wanted to take this opportunity to wish a happy new year to all who visit this site. Some of you I know, and I'm thankful for the friendships we've managed to create online. I would list names, but I don't want to leave anyone out! Some of you I don't know, yet, and I'm thankful that I have this way of sharing a bit of my world with you.

We're off to my brother's house to celebrate a belated Christmas with my family. I'll try to not underestimate how difficult it may be without my mom there for the first time. But then after that we will be in the company of friends, music, and good cheer as we ring in the new year at Fred & Missy's. The friendships we've made this year have been a real gift.

Happy New Year! :)

Friday, December 30, 2005

a walk by the river

here's to the new snow that led me to the river

here's to the sound of flowing water in the stillness of winter

here's to the beauty that is everywhere when we look for it. This river just happens to be just a few steps away from my office.

These bugs are good for something

Every winter we end up with a few of these Asian beetles flying around the house. No matter how many I suck up with the Shop Vac, there are always more. They are kind of a nuisance; they have a habit of drowning themselves in my water glass at night, and they don't taste very good. But the other day I noticed this one apparently feasting on the bugs (aphids maybe?) that infest this poor bedraggled spiderplant. That plant may live despite my best efforts at neglect!

Really I just took this photo to test the macro capabilities of my camera. I am not disappointed! By the way, The Hermit (aka Mr. Analog Kodachrome) is so impressed with digital photography that he ordered his own digital camera on eBay last night. Always having to outdo me, he went for one with 10x optical zoom, at only slightly greater cost. By the way, Hermit, Merry Christmas, I guess that saved me a trip to the store to buy you a present! Sorry it's a bit late.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

now THIS brightened my day!

This bald eagle behaved wonderfully for the camera, first announcing his/her presence by soaring over the car, then lighting in the top of a spruce tree and posing. This is with the full optical and digital zoom capabilities, 14x total zoom.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

robin dreams

Ever have one of those experiences where you can't quite remember later if it was a dream or if it was reality?

I thought I saw a robin here at home on Christmas day. I remember the exact place I saw it, at the beginning of the trail that leads from the cabin out to the front of our property. But later, thinking back about it, I could not remember if I had actually seen it, in which case I think I would have gone running inside, yelling like a lunatic. A robin on Christmas Day! Usually they are gone until the first day of spring, which is also my birthday. Days later, I still cannot determine if it was dream or reality.

But yesterday, it was reality. I definitely saw a robin, and even have The Hermit as witness. It was not where I saw it in my dream/Christmas vision; it was along a road about a mile and a half from our house. We even saw it twice; at about 10:30 AM and 4 PM.

So where does that leave the Christmas robin? Was it a dream? If so, was my dream actually a foretelling of the sighting yesterday? If it was, was it purely coincidence, or do some of my dreams come to me as visions of the future? That could be scary; it means I may be going back to high school, being late for class, and somehow forgetting I was taking a particular class (Physics or Calculus) until the week before finals. I have that one often.

Note: This post is an example of what gray, dreary weather, staying indoors all day with the kids, and taking Tylenol with codeine can do to a person. I apologize, and promise to do some real writing soon.

Monday, December 26, 2005

My axe

1987 Lloyd LaPlant, number 26. The top is spruce, and the back is tiger maple from Washington state. The fretboard is ebony. It sounds as good as it looks!

well, I almost survived Christmas unhurt

As I was signing off the Internet for the night, Mr. Attitude came up to me in his pajamas, ready to go to bed. As he reached up to give me a hug, he accidentally poked a finger into my left eye. Ouch. The same thing has happened to me before, involving Starflower and the other eye. This time it hurts much more. So on my holiday I'm off to urgent care, with The Hermit driving.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

wild + crazy = christmas

Well, it's on the downside/relaxation stage. The kids are playing with new toys, fighting with each other, the stepkids have come and gone, and we enjoyed a delicious meal and company. Here's the whole crew:

From left to right: Sarah (my stepdaughter, age 23), Joe (Mr. Attitude, sleeping), Tom (my stepson, age 21), Abby (Tom's longtime girlfriend, age 20) Nina (Starflower), Vincent (Calvin), and Ryan (my stepson, age 26). Nice looking group, aren't they?

Oh, and this is Boner, Ryan's bulldog. Yeah I know, nice name. All I know is, his hair is way too short for Minnesota winters.

The kids are all thrilled with toys, which to my great delight include a baseball/video game which involves swinging a bat dangerously close to the TV and Christmas tree, a Furby, electronic stuffed toy that talks and actually learns your name, and a Nerf dart gun game (projectiles in close quarters...Yay!) Starflower also got her own digital camera. The prize present, in my opinion, was a personalized Louisville Slugger baseball bat that Calvin got from his grandparents. He is rapidly becoming Mr. Baseball.

I've decided that Christmas Day is for the kids. The day after Christmas is my relaxation day. :)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas eve

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope the family gatherings and such are tolerable !

Sorry I don't have any pictures from last night's gig. My designated photographer decided not to show, and I forgot to give the camera to someone during our break. It went well, although the vibe was somehow different than the first gig--fewer people, less response. We also didn't follow the order of the set list, which was basically the same as last time, so there was some hesitation between songs as we decided what to play next. But I think we played better together; there were a few songs where my guitar playing felt automatic, like I didn't have to think. I even got brave and took a guitar break on a song or two; I can't say what I did was great, but it was there, if it mattered. I don't care; I absolutely love doing this, and I want to be good at it. Every experience is a stepping stone.

So today I cleaned house, we cut a scrawny Charlie Brown balsam from our land, and decorated. I made a few cookies, not as many as I'd hoped to. It seems like there's never enough time, but Christmas happens anyway.

note-I wrote this when I was in a bit of a funk, so I edited a few things on Christmas morning. I'm feeling much better now.

Friday, December 23, 2005

It's a gray, dreary day, but I wanted to go out and play with my new toy. This is the view looking across the swamp from my garden area.

And now for some Friday cat blogging:

Whiter Biter

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My Christmas vacation has begun

I'm taking the day off tomorrow (Friday). For sanity's sake, I think it is the best option; after all, my to-do list before Christmas is way too long, and if Christmas preparations aren't enough, I have the music gig with Fred tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to it, because I feel some of the songs are starting to come together nicely, which can only come through practice and repetition. I'm also doing some nice things with the guitar that I have not been able to do before, mostly because I have not had a reason to push myself to learn them. I'll try to have The Hermit take some digital photos tomorrow night. ;) Supposedly he could also record a short video, complete with audio, but taking still photos will be enough new technology as it is for one night.

So my to-do list includes the following:

Clean house (never ending job)
Bake Christmas cookies
Get Christmas ornaments from storage shed; decorate
Practice music a little
Shovel snow off the pond
Try to do something with my hair, which is not cooperating lately
Begin preparations for the Christmas feast
Manage three offspring on their first day of Christmas vacation (praying for nice outside weather here!)

I haven't had the chance to play with the new camera much; hopefully I will get a few photos taken in the daylight tomorrow and share them here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

testing 123

Calvin, Starflower, and Mr. Attitude

Starflower, Puffball, and Whiter Biter

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Deb goes digital!!!

I got it today, my digital camera! Woo-hoo! For those wondering, it's a Canon Powershot A-520. In an incredibly out-of-character move for me, I braved the crowds at Best Buy Co. in Duluth, although I was glad I had researched things ahead of time and didn't have to stand at the counter trying to compare models. So far it's incredibly easy to operate, although it has manual controls for when I'm feeling more creative. As soon as I got home of course the kids wanted to play with it, so we have some miscellaneous kid and cat photos taken, all appearing to be very good. And why is it that the kids can figure out more controls and features than I can? I don't have what it takes tonight to load the software and upload photos, but I'll try tomorrow. My first impression: digital photography is a lot more fun than film, because you have instant results. I've already erased a few less-than-flattering self portraits. ;)

This is different for me. I have not experienced wanting to buy something, for a long time, then actually going out and buying it. I just don't buy things if I can help it!

Monday, December 19, 2005

early Christmas blessings

What a surprise there was waiting in the mailbox today. I've come to dread opening the mailbox lately, as it seems nothing good falls out into my hands. We've been in a bit of a financial tight spot lately, what with trying to build the house and even just keep warm without going into serious debt, and just this morning we ran out of propane for the cook shed and payday's not until Friday. I had given up on entertaining any thoughts of Christmas presents, big or small.

So I reluctantly opened the mailbox on my way home from picking Mr. Attitude up from preschool. Inside were three seed catalogs. Hooray, but I'm not in the mindset for looking at them until after the holidays. No bills; that's good news. And a Christmas card. From my Dad.

At first I thought, God bless him. I didn't expect him to even be in the frame of mind to send out cards this year; we just lost Mom two months ago. Mr. Attitude was anxious to open it, so I let him, reminding him to be gentle. As he opened the card, which was signed simply "Merry Christmas, Dad" I caught sight of something else. A check. I looked at the amount, and nearly fell over. This is the last thing I ever expected this Christmas.

I certainly didn't do anything to deserve this, but it is just what we needed, when we needed it. Not a windfall, but enough to get caught up on a few things and go ahead with more building. Enough so we can feast on Christmas day. And enough so tomorrow I'm going to order that digital camera I've had my eye on for way too long, and start sharing more of my world with all of you wonderful bloggers out there. God bless us one and all.

Just when I was ready to go bah humbug, I think I believe in Santa. I've received the gifts of friends, and the gift of grace.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A friend is a friend...

I met a new friend today, who lives a half mile down the road from us. Never mind that this new friend, and her husband and two daughters, have been here since we came here over three years ago, and we have met on several occasions. I just didn't realize until today that the potential for friendship existed.

Maybe I was being too judgmental, or maybe it was the inner hermit in me that wasn't keen on frequent contact. I didn't know what to think the first couple of times we met. Our kids didn't hit it off right away, a year or two ago, which cancelled the potential for playdates. The Bush/Cheney campaign sign at the end of their driveway certainly didn't help things, neither did the chop job forestry they had done on their land last year. Maybe I was making excuses why we could not find common ground. And for that I apologize.

Today the kids wanted to bring some eggs to Dick and Patty, but they weren't home, so The Hermit took them to the next house down the road. When they came back, the kids were excited; they had been invited to come over and go sledding and snowmobiling in the afternoon. Oh great, I thought at first. My weekends are precious, and I wanted to get some music practicing done. But don't I do that every weekend, and don't the kids just sit in here playing video games too much anyway? So we bundled up and headed over there after lunch. We ended up staying until after dark. The kids went sledding (their land is not flat like ours) and B took them riding in the sled behind the snowmobile on the trails they have through their 80 acres.

H and I ended up talking a lot. Mr. Attitude and their younger daughter are in the same preschool class, and it turns out they are best friends there. Their house is warm and cozy, with enough room for the kids to play when they came inside. We started out with tea, then graduated to spiked eggnog, then rum & Coke. It was hard to finally be the one to say we had to go home. I invited them over for ice skating when I get the snow cleared off the pond.

I realized something today. We are all reaching out, crying out for companionship. It can be tough sometimes out here in the country. Here we are outsiders; we don't have the privilege of having grown up here and having family ties. We are just "those new people that moved up from the city". B and H and daughters don't have friends with kids in the area; it was a treat for their daughters to have other kids over. It was a treat for my kids, to enjoy some time outdoors and play with other kids indoors. And it was a treat for me, to have some adult talk with a fellow mother.

I now have two friends who live within a mile of me. Not bad for living way out there in the country.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

snow, part 3

As promised, I spent some time enjoying the snow and the beauty of a sunny (almost) winter day today. My place here looked exactly like the photo I posted below; all of the spruces, balsams, and pines were draped in a blanket of snow; even the birch and aspen branches were outlined in white. Every time a chickadee landed on a branch, a shower of snowy crystals fell glittering in the sunlight. It was breathtaking.

In the afternoon I tied Togo up to our big Otter sled, and the kids took turns riding. It is amazing watching a breed of dog do what it does best; Togo looked like he was meant to pull a sled. Being the puppy he is, however, and not having been out enough lately, he didn't want to run a straight line, instead exploring all the scents and treasures buried in the snow. Still, when he took off running, even with a 60 pound child in the sled, he could outrun me. He pulled the sled, then I took him off the leash and let him run loose in the powdery snow on the pond. The kids made snow angels, I just looked at the sunlight on the snow-draped pines, breathed the cold air, and felt alive. My heart was pounding from running alongside the sled, and from laughing.

When I wasn't outside, I made some time to practice guitar and mandolin. Yay! I also tried to play my flute, but decided the instrument is in need of mechanical attention. A keyed flute is slightly more technical than a stringed instrument; there are numerous screws and springs and pads that something could go wrong with, and I think some key is leaking air. I'm not getting the pure tone I'm capable of, and it is frustrating. Hopefully $50 worth of repairs will do the trick.

I made up for it on mandolin and guitar. I finally solved my pick dilemma by moving to a lighter pick that is easier to hold on to for both instruments. The mandolin duet tunes sounded good, and I finally worked out guitar solos for a couple of songs (Fred, if you're reading this, you can breathe a sigh of relief!). I have been playing guitar longer than any other instrument, going on 30 years this spring (!) but flatpicking is still something foreign to me. Like Townes Van Zandt once said, "I learned to play guitar at age 15, and ten years later I learned my second chord." Or something like that.

Friday, December 16, 2005

snow, part 2

We ended up with over a foot. That's if it is over, which judging by the forecast, is not clear. We're just close enough to Lake Superior (about 50 miles inland) to get the tail end of "lake effect" snow. I'm going out for that long-promised romp in the snow tomorrow with Togo.

The chickens are blissfully unaware that this is the darkest time of the year. We have a light in their coop that runs on a timer, so they think there's enough daylight to lay 15+ eggs a day. Even the Aracaunas are starting to lay their pale greenish-blue "Easter eggs". Can you say, "Fresh eggs 4 sale"?

The Hermit braved icy roads and Mr. Attitude today to drive to Duluth, to get a few necessities and pick up my earring. It probably isn't worth a lot monetarily, but I'm glad the staff at the auditorium saw fit to pick it up and hold it for me. Sentimental value is everything.

But the darkest time of the year will soon lose its grip. Tomorrow, according to the charts, the sun starts setting LATER in the day, by a minute. In a week it may even be noticeable.

I've been busy getting ready for my next music gig. Fred and I are playing a week from tonight at the Hanging Horn Inn near Moose Lake, the same place we played before. All I can say is, I've got some serious practicing to do this weekend. We've added some mandolin duets, which would sound nice if I could only loosen up and get over the feeling that the pick is about to fly right out of my clumsy hand. And my guitar solo ability leaves a lot to be desired. Just relax and have fun, I keep thinking. That's what it's all about.

Speaking musically, I really, really want to do some songwriting, and I have some vague ideas for songs, I just need to get beyond that point somehow. I get my best ideas when I'm driving home, without music playing in the car CD player, but by the time I get home and settled in, everything is diluted or gone.

Otherwise, I'm hanging in there. Not a lot of Christmas spirit to be found, at least yet. As if I'm supposed to somehow summon it up from the depths of myself, just because 'tis the season. I'm not big on Christmas spirit to begin with, but that's another post.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

baby steps in customizing

I've been experimenting with different color schemes for Sand Creek Almanac, hoping to come up with something that is more personal than a straight Blogger template, yet not too hard on the eyes. I'm no HTML wizard, but I thought this background color was nice.


This photo was taken last winter, but it shows what my backyard will look like when the sun comes out. We ended up with about 8 inches of fresh snowfall yesterday; some areas along the north shore of Lake Superior received up to 25 inches, and more is expected today.

The adult in me says, "Oh great. Shoveling to do, puddles of melting snow in the house and cook shed, and a dangerous, messy drive to work".

Shut up, adult. You'll never make it through the winter with that attitude.

The child in me says "Isn't this absolutely beautiful! I can't wait to put on my cross country skis, or just flop down and make a snow angel, or have a snowball fight!"

Togo is just bouncing up and down and rolling, delighted. Huskies live for this kind of weather. I can't wait to take him for a romp in the snow.

Last night, the clouds broke just enough to show a veiled full moon illuminating the freshly fallen snow. In the moonlight, I looked out and saw two deer right outside the window, by the bird feeder, digging for sunflower seeds. By the tracks I saw this morning, these same deer visited the chicken yard and the edge of the horse pasture, looking for any grain or hay they could find. If the snow continues to pile up, this could be a difficult winter for these deer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

moon of dark days

We have reached the point in the year where the sun sets at its earliest; 4:28 at my longitude, if the charts are right. It will remain this way for a week or so, then even before the winter solstice, the sun will start to set later. By New Year's, we will have a full ten minutes more on the afternoon side of daylight, although the sun will still be rising later and later in the morning.

I still feel, especially on gray cloudy days like today, that the sun makes at best a token appearance. When I leave for work at 7:30, it is just starting to get light. When I leave work at 4:30, it is just starting to get dark. Which means I don't get much of a chance to look for wildlife or enjoy the beauty of snow on bogs while I am driving. I keep my car CD player well stocked with good music to pass the time.

Today, on the way home, I wondered about the driving habits, and what it says about character, of so many. A pickup truck, presumably driven by a young male, pulled out off the freeway exit ahead of me, not bothering to stop for the intersection. No danger to me, but the way the engine revved through the nonexistent muffler left me to think: This guy probably lives for driving like this. Nothing else matters, nothing else can fill the void in his soul like revving that engine. That kind of despair is what we are dealing with.

I was looking at the full moon early this morning, about 2:30 or so, veiled in wisps of clouds that backlit the silhouettes of white pine branches. I thought about how the moon, far away as it looks, still pulls on the oceans, controlling the tides, controlling the blood within all of us. I thought about how it is the same old moon that all of us see, and how that somehow brings us together.

It is a time for huddling around a wood fire, for enjoying the warmth of a cup of tea during the day and a warm comforter at night. The earth is waiting for the return of the light. How important that must have seemed in the days before the perpetual light of electricity.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mr. Attitude goes to the ballet

(subtitled: Mom needs another beer. NOW!)

Wow, what a day. Dick and Patty, our neighbors whom I've decided I'm adopting as surrogate parents/grandparents, they're that wonderful, offered to take any or all of us to see "The Nutcracker" in Duluth this afternoon. Calvin and Starflower had gone with them two years ago; at the request of Starflower at the time, I did not accompany them then. But today I decided Mr. Attitude was maybe old enough to get something out of it and not drive anyone crazy in the process, so he went. I went along, because I had never seen "The Nutcracker" performed live, and because I wanted to remain on speaking terms with Dick and Patty re: Mr. Attitude. Since we all would not fit in their Escort sedan, I offered to drive in our Astro van.

It was a beautiful day for the drive up Highway 23, the back route to Duluth. I kept my eyes open for owls, hoping to see a snowy, great gray, or hawk owl. The Hermit claims to have seen a hawk owl yesterday; Patty thought she had seen a great gray recently, and another friend of ours saw a great gray yesterday. I have not had much luck with owls so far this year, although there have been reports of snowys throughout the state. We saw beautiful sunlit forests, but no owls.

I'll start by saying the performance was brilliant. It amazes me that a city the size of Duluth (95,000 or so, not counting the other Twin Port of Superior, WI and outlying "suburbs") can support a ballet company of such caliber. The scenery and effects were wonderful, and the talent of the dancers amazed me.

That said, Mr. Attitude's performance was less than stellar. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt; it was a completely new situation, and he can be sensitive to aspects others of us may not notice, such as light level (he didn't like being in the darkness of the audience), noise level (he said the orchestra was too loud), and overall juju. Perhaps he takes after me; I have been in some situations where I just get a bad vibe somewhere, and all I want to do is bolt for the door at the nearest available opportunity.

So I sat through the performance with a noticeably uncomfortable, very squirmy Mr. Attitude. After the first five minutes he started repeating "Mom, I don't like BEING HERE!" Just as I had feared. I managed to hold him, reassuring him when necessary, and keep him from disturbing others too much. I had to drag him in after intermission.

I only had to take him out once during the second act, during the Waltz of the Flowers. We were back before the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Grand Pas De Deux, which I did not want to miss. But in the process, I noticed I had lost one of my earrings. They were the largest earrings I owned, hand crafted titanium with a forest scene, that The Hermit had bought me in Vermont. I was sick. I own more single earrings, that had once been part of a pair, than I care to mention. But I decided to be positive; perhaps we would find it, or we would notify the facility and perhaps they would find it while cleaning up. Or maybe it was gone forever, and that would not be too bad. Whatever.

As it turns out, we notified an usher, who was more than kind, and I left my phone number and a description of the earring should anyone turn it in. By the time I got home, there was a message on the answering machine; they had found it!

So we got home, and the kids started immediately into their usual efforts to dismember each other despite my loud vocal protestations. I informed them I would not be taking any sides, not offering any sympathy should one be hurt. I had had enough. Bedtime is in ten minutes; I am counting the seconds.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

what I've learned from Site Meter

There are a LOT of people out there wanting to learn how to make a snowball launcher. I should have Calvin draw up some bona fide plans and sell them on Ebay...;)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Whorled Leaves

I just realized I have not made any mention on this blog about a new cooperative blogging venture I am involved in, Whorled Leaves. Lene at Counting Petals had the wonderful idea of getting together a few bloggers who share a common interest in the outdoors and nature writing. We all feel pretty much like old friends anyway, we read and comment on each others' blogs fairly often. But Whorled Leaves gives us a chance to explore the craft of writing, share info, tips, and writing exercises, and once a month one member chooses (with some group consensus) a book that we all read and discuss. This month, courtesy of the dharma bum, it's Sigurd Olson's The Lonely Land. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, as a Minnesotan and fan of nature writing, I had only read one other book by Olson, Listening Point. I am several chapters into The Lonely Land now, a fascinating account of a canoe expedition down the Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, and I am rediscovering Olson's powerful prose. My reading today inspired some thoughts which I posted on Whorled Leaves; check it out!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

the ultimate irony (well maybe not the ultimate, but irony nonetheless)

100% organic cotton "yoga pants", $15 at Sam's Club (aka Evil Sam's).

I am now wearing a pair, and darn it if they aren't the most comfortable pants I've worn in a while.

Hermit and Attitude went to Sam's today. Glad I wasn't there. We maintain a membership at Sam's, just because their prices on perceived staples for us (milk, cheese, and bacon) are too low to beat. For anything else, I maintain Sam's is a ripoff. Being forced to buy in bulk quantity, with all the excess packaging, for something I don't need a huge amount of, is robbery.

However, there are certain offers that are too tempting to resist. Starflower needed a winter jacket ASAP, and there were none to be found at the local thrift stores. Sam's had one for less than $30. It has a zipper that is less than to be desired sometimes, but where else can you outfit kids for Arctic cold for less?

And my yoga pants. And my Jones jeans. Durable, comfortable, and by my standards, stylish (very loose standards there!) What am I supposed to do, wait until someone gets tired of theirs and donates them to the thrift store? A thrift store is a crap shoot at best. I have found great values there (REI Polarfleece vest for Starflower, $2) but the selection leaves something to be desired in my size.

So here I am. Maybe I'll take up yoga now that I'm outfitted. :)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

mandolin breakthrough

I just had the best mandolin practice session I've had in a long time, perhaps in years. That I had a practice session on a week night is a miracle itself, especially since I had to locate myself in the dark and sometimes cold porch, in front of the computer which is on top of a low dresser because that's what we have space for.

Maybe it was because I was relaxed. I wasn't thinking "I NEED to practice, I have x number of songs to work through and I need to learn them note for note." Instead, I had a couple of ideas of songs that I'd been listening to in the last few days, songs I somehow knew I could do. And I'm still riding high on the Mike Compton/David Long workshop and concert I attended two weeks ago; I keep listening to their style, keep grooving on it, keep thinking "oh so this is how it's done!" And their way of doing it comes a lot more naturally than memorizing a bunch of notes on sheet music and trying to expand from there.

And maybe it was because I found a very happy song. It's an old time fiddle tune called "Johnny Don't Get Drunk", potentially a very unhappy topic, but it's a very uplifting, upbeat melody. Anyway, I really got into the melody, and variations thereof, in a free manner that I hadn't experienced while playing in quite a long time. I decided to end the practice session while I was still on top of things.

There's so much music I want to do these days, and so little time. But if I could have a time like this every day, which is every bit as good as meditation for me, I would look forward to these long winter evenings!

Monday, December 05, 2005

John Barleycorn and Jack Frost

Here's a tragic but interesting account of life (and death) in the lumber camps that operated around Sand Creek in the 1890's. From the Pine County Courier, December 3rd, 1897:

John Barleycorn and Jack Frost conspired last Friday and took the life of Joe Fitzpatrick, a cook in McGraw’s lumber camp near Mansfield (Bruno). Joe had been to a neighboring camp where, in company with a few companions, he looked long up the bowl of cheers, the fiery liquid having been brought to camp by visitors. After spending some time at camp, he started back to his own quarters. About two miles from McGraw’s camp he laid down, or fell, and arose no more. He froze to death. He was found by the lumbermen the next day. To all appearances, the effect of the liquor made him drowsy and he laid down to sleep. His remains were sent to Stillwater for burial. He was well known in lumber circles in this district where he had been employed as cook for several winters by William O’Brien and other lumbermen.
Local newspapers must have been so much more entertaining to read in those days! I found this in a recently published local history: Courage in a Rugged Land: Bruno MN Old Settlers' Memories and Newspaper Stories, compiled by Edna Bjorkman and Robert David Olson.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

soul soup and cornbread

Forgive me; this post is not going to sound very Minnesotan. If you're looking for fruit soup and lefse, you'll have to go someplace else, ya sure you betcha.

It's a paradox we have around here these days; if we want to see sunlight for a few brief hours, we pay for it in bitter cold. Today the sun made an appearance, and it did not go unnoticed or unappreciated! However, the mercury dipped below zero before sunset. Madcapmum and all you other Canucks out there, thank you so very much for your air. We sure do like it this time of year! (Throwing another log on the fire)

Soup sure feels good lately. Tonight it was heaven; we had some leftover salmon from a few days ago, and some wild rice begging to be cooked. So voila, salmon wild rice soup. I sauteed some celery, onions, and carrots (Wish I could say these were all from my own garden, but alas no...) in butter, added some garlic, flour, salt and pepper, and a little chicken broth, then added the cooked wild rice and the flaked salmon (the outdoor cats got the skins...their lucky day indeed!) and cooked for a while. Then some half-and-half and a can of cream of chicken soup, and a little bit of the merlot we had left in a box (don't worry, it's all gone now!). Simmer for a while, and in the meantime, bake cornbread. Enjoy. And I will enjoy it tomorrow for lunch as well.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

evening grosbeaks

The evening grosbeaks have shown up on this wintery morning. A flock of three or four, all females, sat in the top of the dead spruce for about half an hour before approaching the feeder. While they were in the spruce top, they appeared to be eating something from the tips of the dead branches. Lichens maybe? Evening grosbeaks are birds of the boreal spruce forest, so our little woods probably seems like home to them.

The first time I saw evening grosbeaks was at my grandparents' lake home about fifty miles south of here. I was about nine years old at the time, and had been reading and memorizing the copy of Birds of North America that my other grandma had given me in Florida. The bird feeder was in front of a large picture window overlooking the frozen lake. I had spent many hours watching the feeder, seeing chickadees, nuthatches, and goldfinches. But on that day, suddenly a large flock of black, white and yellow birds descended, as evening grosbeaks do, dropping like leaves from the trees above. Without a moment's hesitation I cried out "Look! Evening grosbeaks!" I had such a definite picture in my young mind, from studying the bird book, that I instantly recognized them.

It is rare to see such large flocks these days, and so far south. Some years we have gone a whole winter with only seeing one or two, or none at all.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

heat, birds, and more gigs

Heat: The Hermit got another $35 load of wood today. He estimates that one load lasts us one month under these conditions, so it's a very economical source of heat. Also, our indoor propane heater arrived, the one The Hermit bought on Ebay, so if we're gone for a while the place won't freeze, it will be kept comfortably warm.

Birds: According to Hermit, and I wish I was here to see it, the pine grosbeaks arrived today. While he was unloading the wood from the truck, the grosbeaks perched above him, chirping, as if to say "We're here, and we've noticed the feeder is quite empty." He took care of it, and with any luck I will see a few grosbeaks before I have to leave for work tomorrow. Also, the deer made an appearance, as is becoming habit. The Hermit purposefully spilled a few sunflower seeds on the ground for them.

More gigs: I had the chance to play music with Fred today. Starflower had her school Christmas music program (and yes they did call it "Christmas"), and a Girl Scout meeting after school, so it made sense that I not waste gasoline driving back to work or home in between, since school, and Fred's house, are between work and home. My soul is always nourished by sharing music with others, particularly talented others. While we were playing, the owner of the place we played before called up and booked us for December 23rd and January 6th, both Friday nights. Awesome! That gives me something to look forward to in these dark pre-Solstice nights.