Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday evening peanut ride

1991 Ford F150. Hot Sunday afternoon, after obligatory pond swim. Truck ride mandatory. Peanuts and cold beverages available.

We passed the "local" bison herd. Cool to see these prairie animals being raised six miles away.

Our next stop was the old Danforth school and chapel, on a scenic oak hill. This was a traditional one room schoolhouse until about the 1960's. We go to church at the new chapel building downhill from here once in a while. They still maintain the playground.

It is said that a certain motherly figure even got in on the action. Calvin was anxiously checking the swingset structure for stability. But I can swing higher than anyone!

All in all, a great evening. :)

By the way, this morning we got an additional 1.4 inches of rain, to bring the total to 2 inches over the weekend! Awesome! The pond was noticeably higher, and cooler; I think as the water table goes lower, less groundwater seeps in.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A day in the garden

We got .6 inch of rain last night. Because it was hot, I tried to sleep out in the screen house by the garden, and Calvin accompanied me, but I awoke at 2 am and could not get back to sleep. The ground was just too uneven, no pillows, I was not basking in comfort. So shortly after I convinced Calvin to come inside with me, the wind and the rain started. Good timing. It was a joy to wake up listening to a long rain.

However, we could have used more. The ground is still bone dry just an inch under the surface. I'm hoping for one of those summer days when it just rains all day, and it stays cool.

We almost got an air conditioner today. If there had been a single air conditioner in stock at any of six stores in Duluth, we would have seriously considered it. So I guess the philosophical argument is moot. We live with what we have. We do have a pond with some righteous cool groundwater, so that will have to do.

filling in the blanks

It was overcast in the morning, so it stayed comfortably cool (below 80) for most of the day. I took advantage of the cool morning to do some gardening tasks I had thought about all week.

Shouldn't a carrot bed look better than this, two months after planting it? I don't know why it looks the way it does, I just planted more seeds in the empty spots and zapped the rest with a shot of fish emulsion. That might repel the rabbits, who have been selectively nibbling on carrot tops.

Same goes for the parsnips, middle of the bed immediately behind the carrots. I filled in the empty spaces with carrot seeds there too. I also replanted my greens bed, hoping for the usual cool August.

I ended up with 36 garlic heads, 23 good sized and 13 small. After I was done in the garden I cut the tops off and put the cloves in this wonderful hanging basket I got from the thrift store. Best garlic harvest ever.

And, I am now experimenting with fermented dill pickles. I had put some pickling cucumbers in a bucket of water in the refrigerator, but for some reason I had to take them out of the refrigerator to make room for something else. So today I noticed there were bubbles on the surface; they were already fermenting. I changed the water and added vinegar and salt to help the process along.

I kept checking back with the online weather radar all day, hoping some of the forecasted "scattered showers" would dump another 6/10ths of an inch. No such luck, but I'll take what we got last night. The locals are saying this is the worst drought we've had in recent memory.

Friday, July 28, 2006

the new fence

I took a walk out to the road and across the creek this morning. Our 40 acres includes a long, slightly wedge-shaped piece of land on the north side of the too-straight Sand Creek. The creek is hidden in the willows in the upper right side of the picture. Before we moved here we let the neighbors hay this area, as it is part of a much larger hayfield. Now that we live here, and have horses, it makes much more sense to fence our part and use it for pasture in the summer. The problem was finding the time, and money, to dig post holes and put up a proper fence. We ended up hiring out the job to someone with the right equipment, whose final bill was very reasonable. We still have to put up the electric fence webbing and install a gate, but that's just about a day's work and then the horses will have room to run.

I just wish that grass was a little greener!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

garden report, part 2

It's garlic time!!!

I had pulled a couple of garlic plants last week, because the stems were starting to turn brown, but I thought I'd hold off with the rest of the bed and see if the bulbs were going to get any bigger. This morning I pulled the nicest-looking garlic bulb I've ever grown, and tonight I'm going back for the rest. I should have 20-30 garlic bulbs altogether, probably not enough for the year at the rate we use garlic, but my best harvest ever nonetheless. The variety was "Music", a hardneck that was planted last October. I had also planted another variety, "Spanish Roja", that did not fare as well. I can't remember, but I think I ordered the bulbs from Seed Saver's Exchange.

The garlic was planted in a bed that hosted a proliferate growth of Yellow Pear tomatoes last year. I found out that yes, you can get volunteer tomato plants re-seeding themselves even in this cold climate; there is one Yellow Pear plant that is now flowering and producing tiny yellow pears among the garlic. Which gives me a space-saving idea to gnaw on over the winter: why not use the same bed for tomatoes and garlic? The garlic will be well on its way by the time tomatoes are transplanted in, and by the time the tomato plants are large enough to compete with the garlic, the garlic is ready to harvest.

In the next bed over, I'm getting serious zucchini envy. My secretary gave me a bag of zucchini yesterday, and I don't even have any little green ones on the way! I may have some tiny yellow ones, but usually by now it's zucchini time. My pole beans are finally starting to climb up the poles, and my Roma bush beans are flowering with pretty purple flowers. However, some of the plants look like they succumbed to some sort of blight. I got a late start with beans; the bush bean seed from seven years ago that I tried to plant did not sprout, and the Roma beans sprouted very erratically, perhaps due to the cold weather in early June.

Speaking of erratic sprouting, my carrot bed is looking pretty pathetic. I have some plants that are almost normal size for this time of year, but there was almost a month's variation in sprouting times for the carrots. Some did not sprout at all. I'm thinking of doing some fill-in planting in the bare spots to get a later carrot crop.

Same goes for parsnips, even more so. I don't even know if they're worth messing around with.

I'm re-thinking what I said yesterday about Daikon radish. Maybe if Daikons flourish, something is telling me to quit fretting about everything else, and feast on Daikons! I have found some recipes online for relish, and they are good in stir fry with my sugar snap peas and broccoli. We like grilled vegetables; maybe they would be good with a little Teriyaki marinade. I just have to start looking beyond the limited uses of fresh garden produce that I grew up with.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

the garden report

It has been foggy in the low areas the last couple of mornings, even though low temperatures have been warmer lately, 50's and 60's. The fog makes me think of September, when it more typically occurs. Despite the apparent abundance of moisture in the air, we could still use more of it on the ground. There was a brief but drenching rain last night; we received a quarter inch. On the surface everything was wet but an inch into the raised beds it was still bone dry.

I've been picking pickling cucumbers, hoping to get to them before they get too big. I have maybe enough for a quart of pickles so far, but there are lots of flowers. Bring 'em on, I have plenty of dill and garlic this year!

I'm thinking maybe it's time to give up on the sugar snap peas; a week ago when nighttime temperatures dipped into the low 40's they responded by sending out new leaves and flowers at the tips of the yellowing vines, but I don't know if that will amount to anything. Perhaps I could get a fall crop in if I plant new seeds now; the hottest part of the summer should (I hope) soon be behind us.

My pepper and eggplant bed has made an amazing turn for the better. Just a week or so ago most of the plants were looking sickly. Many of the peppers lost almost all of their leaves in a late frost in June, but I kept them in the garden partly as an experiment to see if they would recover. It took some time, but now the stems are covered with shiny green leaves. They are loving the heat and apparently not minding the drought.

Tomatilloes are looking wonderful as well. The two I planted from large transplants would be about four feet high if they cooperated and stood up, and I have about eight of them from tiny transplants or seeds that are about two feet high. All are blooming.

Tomatoes are covered with flowers and green tomatoes. Now is the annual time of anticipation; it seems to take forever for tiny green tomatoes to turn into red, or pink, or yellow, ripe ones. My earliest varieties said 55 days; it's been almost that long since they were planted. The trick with tomatoes is to keep them evenly watered, and not overwater them. Not a problem this year.

I need to get out some evening and rejuvenate my greens bed; spinach and cilantro have bolted, the second planting of lettuce is looking tired, the mizuna is getting more bitter and tough, and the rabbits nibbled off the beet greens. Funny; I see rabbits furtively hopping from the garden as I approach, but they don't seem to eat enough to be a problem.

Note to self: Daikon radishes are easy to grow, they get large, and they taste better than red radishes. That said, you really don't enjoy radishes enough to plant 3 or 4 rows of them!

Enough said for now; gotta go start doing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

morning in the garden

reading material

I took some lovely pictures last night and this morning, but I have what is looking like a very long meeting to attend today and won't be able to get them posted until later. In the meantime, for a good read, check out James Howard Kunstler's latest essay, The Twilight of Lumpenleisure. It's a bit long, but it eloquently and poignantly describes the apex and decline of suburbia and middle class affluence in America. He especially takes on gasoline-powered forms of recreation that I have serious issues with. And, stay with it to the end, the last paragraph offers a twist, a glimpse of hope, a world that I would love to see for my children.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Anyone have a G-mail invite?

My Care2 e-mail account is on the fritz again, for the second time in a month. Their service is virtually inaccessible, and I'm getting tired of all the feel-good "click to make a difference!" promos on the home page. So I'm shopping around for a new free e-mail account. We had one through our Internet provider, but it kind of got lost and I don't know how to resurrect it. I haven't heard many good things about Hotmail, and I just don't know about Yahoo...So does anyone have any suggestions? I'm looking at Gmail, and tried to get an invitation code thru my cell phone, but either they haven't responded or I don't have good enough reception out here to receive text messages. I tried climbing up to the second floor of the new house, phone in hand! So if you have a spare invitation code...well, now here's the quandary. My regular personal e-mail is not working, and I don't want to hand out my work e-mail on this site. So if you have one, maybe leave a comment and email address (you can write it cryptically, like soandso AT freemail DOT com) and I'll give you my work e-mail so you can send the code to me there. Sound like a plan?

UPDATE- Never mind, all taken care of. The funny thing is, I got a message on my Care2 account, which was apparently up and running again, with a direct link to a page set up to create an account, no code necessary. Hmmm...Well, Google does = Blogger. They must have textbots looking for what I posted.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

chicken surprise

eggs- not just for breakfast anymore

I knew we had some broody hens sitting on eggs, I just never imagined they would be successful! So far only one chick has hatched, but there are lots more eggs.

Witnessing first hand the cycles of life, birth and death, never fails to amaze me.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

sandhill cranes

This time I was ready, and my subjects were a bit farther away and more willing.

Like bald eagles, sandhill cranes were a relatively uncommon sight in this area until within the last fifteen years. Farming practices and hunting in the early 1900's pushed the crane population further north and west until only a few nesting pairs remained in northwestern Minnesota. A single captive male crane held at a game farm/wildlife research facility in east central Minnesota in the 1960's may be responsible for bringing sandhill cranes back to the area. According to this article , the male would call in migrating females and successfully fledged several broods over a few years. These cranes returned to the same area and established a breeding population that has since been expanding its range into marshes and hayfields throughout east central Minnesota.

Every spring I hear a pair of sandhill cranes return to the marsh behind my house, their raucous, prehistoric call echoing through the tamaracks. That is music to me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

the bird photo you won't see here

This morning I had just turned onto the blacktop road on my way to work. About a quarter mile down the road, my attention was caught by a curious upright shape on the left side of the road. As I got closer, it suddenly clicked in my mind; this was a bittern in the "freezing" position, bill pointed straight up in the air. I slammed on the brakes and ended up ten feet away from the bird. It did not move. Automatically I reached into my backpack for my camera, found it after a little shuffling, got it out of the case, turned on, and was just about to open my window to take the picture when... flew away. Of course, the tease. But it was an amazing sight. Next time I'll have my camera out of the case and sitting on the seat next to me for easier access. After all, I've had several missed opportunities at pictures of sandhill cranes lately; they are standing out in the incredibly dry hayfields, eating who knows what.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

everything back to normal

And yes, this is normal around here but I thought it was a little bit surreal. The Barbie swim party.

Low temperature got down to 39 last night, proving once again we are in a cold spot. And I say hooray! We had two nights where the nighttime lows only reached the upper sixties or seventies, and that was enough for me. 24 hour sweating may be natural, but I'd rather be in a climate where I can avoid it. This place seems to fit the bill for me. It's all that buried glacial supercooled ice block...

I am proud to say I ate overwhelmingly locally and organically today! Breakfast...well I don't do breakfast much and I am entitled to my two cups of fair trade, organically grown coffee per day, but I did eat one hard boiled egg, from our own chickens, mid morning. Lunch was a hand picked salad, lots of fresh greens and a few herbs from the garden, augmented by two more hard boiled eggs and Seeds of Change organic vinaigrette dressing. Delightful! And for dinner, stir fry of fresh sugar snap peas, broccoli (first head from the garden!), mizuna, Daikon radish, green onion, garlic, and some julienned organic carrots thrown in. The rice was Lundberg organic brown basmati, the only "distance" indulgence. As far as I know, you can't grow rice any closer to Minnesota, except for wild rice which really isn't rice at all. All in all, very satisfying, and of note I have not consumed a single wheat product today and I feel great. Not jumping to conclusions, just keeping a food diary here.

The night temperature is dipping nicely again as I write. More good sleeping weather. I love this place.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

pupdate: six months

I've been trying to get a good picture of Sally for weeks now, and this is the best I can do. Can you tell she loves the water?

More than once I've caught myself calling her Lady, while at the same time having complete mental block to the name Sally. The personalities are remarkably similar. You don't suppose...?

and who says kids don't like yucky lake weeds?

I should show this photo to everyone who applies for a permit to dump chemicals in a lake to kill aquatic vegatation. Their main complaint is: "But the kids won't swim if there are weeds around!"

These kids, two of my three nieces and Mr. Attitude and Starflower, had a great time hurling clunps of Ceratophyllum and Elodea at each other. Give them a day in the water, there would be no vegetation left, anywhere (of course, all vegetation mechanically removed must be removed above the OHWL of the language there)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The heat is on!

I don't know what the unofficial high was here today; when I looked at the thermometer it read 98 or 99, but there was some sun shining on it so it could have been reading high. At any rate, it was too hot. But for some reason, it didn't bother me too much. I spent the morning doing household chores, like finally blanching and freezing the peas I picked last week. Yes, I just didn't have enough of a window of time to get to them before this, and I was worried sick that they would have all spoiled by now in the cooler I was keeping them in. I lost maybe a pound or so that had gotten too ripe or started to rot, but I still managed to get a few meals' worth put away.

In the early afternoon, I got a call from my aunt who was having an impromptu family get together at their lake home. Now, on my side of the family spontaneity is almost unheard of, but in Minnesota on the hottest day in ten years you'd be a fool to turn down an invitation to a lake place, even if it was a sixty mile drive one way. Especially when tubing is on the agenda!

This was Calvin and Starflower's first time, and they had a blast. Mr. Attitude wasn't overly anxious to try it, which was fine with me. And my uncle, he was just beaming. He only has one step granddaughter who lives in another state, so I think he was proud to take my brother's and my kids tubing, with his father's old pontoon boat and new motor, at the lake place his parents (my grandparents) had for many years. I have many great memories of weekends spent there, waterskiing and tubing and swimming. I didn't get in the water today; it was a bit green for my tastes and I'm allergic to the green stuff. It was just fun watching my kids have fun.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The heat is on

We Minnesotarcticans are pretty wimpy when it comes to heat. We get it, for a precious few days each year the thermometer rises above 90 and we say the old platitude: "It's not the heat, it's the humidity..." Actually it's not that humid this year. We could use some rain big time.

It used to be (back in the good old days when I was growing up) hot weather was a fact of life. You didn't go do stupid things like try to run a triathalon, but if you were in marching band and in a parade, which proliferate this time of year, you just expected to have a lot of sweat lubricating the space between your lips and your mouthpiece. And you went to a lake somewhere at 11 pm, after the parade, to go skinny dipping afterwards, and hoped the police didn't come by.

Now, if the temperature is forecast to rise above 90, "heat advisories" are issued. People are urged to not exert themselves outside, to stay indoors in air conditioning and watch out for signs of heat stroke. Give me a break, I don't do heat well myself but I don't need a weatherboy telling me the weather is "dangerous"! What do you folks in southern climes do? I mean, I spent a little less than a year in Pablo's country, and it was unbearable for me but normal for there. And I remember traveling to my grandparents place in Florida, a place Floridacracker is somewhat familiar with, and upon returning to Minnesota I was acclimated to high temperatures even when they were experiencing a 90 degree heat wave.

The house I spent most of my youth in was not designed for air circulation. That was not helped by the facts that a) my parents did not believe in air conditioning (too much money) and b) if windows were opened at all, it was just a one inch crack at most. Burglars love open windows you know. So we had a fan, one loud, inefficient fan, that my parents believed would do wonders in cooling if they placed it in the window at the top of the stairs and had it set to not suck in cool air, but blow out warm air. Ummmm...if you don't have any windows open enough to let in the cool night air, well...but I was young, and it was my parents' house, who was I to argue? I think a window air conditioner would have been quieter and more efficient. I have memories of hot sweaty nights lying on top of my sheets, my own windows open wide enough to invite danger.

My parents changed their mind a little when my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just after I left for college. MS and heat just do not mix. So they broke down and bought two window air conditioners, one for the bedroom and one for the living room. But a mindset of extreme frugality kept my mom from enjoying any of the relief they might have offered. She absolutely refused to turn the air conditioner on until it was about 85 degrees in the house, at which time it was too late, and she only turned it on low anyway. These are the same folks who have an inefficient 1940's era furnace, converted from a coal burner, just because if it works, why spend the money to change it. Sigh.

So maybe that is why I personally don't like air conditioning; I was raised to be tough and live without it. I really don't think it's a necessity here. People lived without it for hundreds of years (gotta include the Anishinabe here, European settlers have been here for maybe 150 years), and I think instead of recommending an energy-intense solution they should maybe design buildings to accomodate heat as well as cold, and require less energy to remediate either. And, the air conditioning is currently not working in my car; much as I would love to have it fixed, I can tolerate driving with the windows and sunroof open. That gives me an excuse to enjoy a cold beverage along the way. ;)

At least here on my little homestead we have the advantage that I complain about sometimes; we are in a low spot and cool air settles here at night. Until a few days ago it was it the 40's at night--good "sleeping weather"! And we have the pond, and a creek that is fed from some really cold springs upstream. And I am not adverse to keeping the windows wide open, except that our cat Puffball likes to climb on the screens...bad kitty! And on the hottest nights, we do have a screen tent that might be nice to sleep in. We briefly discussed buying a window air conditioner today; I still contend that we would only use it one week out of the year.

Hot weather is forecasted to last into the middle of next week. And we will survive it.

Update- the low temperature here last night was 54, while at official weather stations to the north it was in the low seventies. The Hermit and I slept indoors, but woke at 5 am and went out to the screen tent to sleep another hour or so- nice!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

movies that make me bawl like a baby

Field of Dreams

I just watched this with the kids tonight. I totally lost it, especially the scene where Archie Graham has to choose between being a baseball player in eternity and saving the girl's life. And where Ray says "Hey Dad! Wanna play some catch?"

Why? I've seen this a few times! I was already in love with Kevin Costner from Dances with Wolves, but it wasn't him. Really. Just something about the story, the cinematography, really got to me.

Okay, my eyes are still damp. This is crazy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Turks cap lily

This flower is perhaps the most exotic-looking bloom that graces the roadsides and ditches of northern Minnesota. While everything else whispers in shades of purple, white and gold, the Turks cap lily screams deep orange with leopard spots. It also signals July, middle of the summer, long hot days and short, cool, quiet nights.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

busy and in pain

Sorry to disappoint all you bloggers who click in eager anticipation of finding a new post (and I know who at least two of you are! ;) ) I have been Busy lately. Busy as in driving to the cities, which I already blogged about, which takes up a whole day. Busy as in taking Calvin to a sleepover party and being invited to stay for dinner on Monday night. We arrived back home at ten minus Calvin and Starflower, who stayed overnight also with her best friend. This is the first summer that our kids have had such an active social life. Busy, as in staying today for the after work retirement party of a coworker whom I will miss. In the fifteen years I have known him, today was the first time I ever saw him drink a beer. Thirty five years given to the State, I guess he's earned it.

And, in pain. Mr. Attitude's Lyme disease got me thinking about my own health. The doctor called today and said his blood test definitely confirmed Lyme disease. Which is significant, because from what I've read the test gives over 50% false negatives. I got on the Web, and started reading up on Lyme, because lately, well, I just haven't been 100%. It turns out that many of the symptoms I have had over the last seven years are consistent with a chronic case of Lyme disease. I realized today that I have some sort of pain more often than not. Sometimes I get pain in my hips so sharp I have difficulty walking. Am I just supposed to accept that, at 39 I'm getting older and this is the way it's supposed to be? I think there's something more to it. Does everyone out there live with a certain degree of pain? If not, what is life like without it?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

a trip to the city

I drove through my old neighborhood today, three blocks from where I grew up. I did so at sixty miles an hour. And I never saw a thing. Didn't feel much nostalgia either.

I grew up in a suburb on the northwest corner of Minneapolis, MN. The suburb was perhaps unique in that it was one of the "first ring" suburbs that had a downtown area, not a strip mall, and a community identity. It still has one of the finest little meat markets to be found in the state. It used to have a Ben Franklin store which was close enough for my brother and I and my mom to ride our bikes there. I bought Topps baseball cards, along with the hard thin slab of bubblegum, just because my brother did. I didn't know most of the players, and looking back at them today most of the players I had are long forgotten.

Today the community is hardly recongnizable. The junior high school, just across the bridge over the former four lane highway which is now freeway, where we used to ride our bikes for swimming lessons, is gone, townhomes and condominiums in its place. I never went to that junior high, although my brother did for two years. They closed it for budget reasons and bussed us to one a few miles away. This after they closed my elementary school when I had one year left there, and then proceeded to close the high school I was supposed to graduate from. With each closing, a circle of friends was broken, a young girl's thoughts on community and permanence shaken and altered in some way.

Today a freeway runs through it. You can drive through and see nothing but the walls they have built. You hardly know you are driving through a place where still somebody lives, a place somebody still comes home to. My dad still lives a few blocks away from the freeway, in the house I grew up in. He is the last person on the block that was there when I was growing up. It used to be a white, workingclass neighborhood; now the white working class lives thirty miles out and commutes, while the neighborhood is much more ethnically diverse and still working class. I'm not judging one way or the other; that is the fate of cities I guess.

Like I said, I don't hold much nostalgia for that place. I tried to live there a few years ago, and it was a terrible mistake. I am much happier here out in the country, thank you. And I was much happier when the family obligation at my brother's new house in an upscale neighborhood was over, when we had been to the new first Trader Joe's in Minnesota, which was overcrowded and understocked and no Two Buck Chuck sales on Sunday, damn antiquated Prohibition blue laws and that. I was much happier a hundred miles to the north, in my own little slice of heaven.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

the first bountiful harvest

I am blessed with peas this year.

I did my first major harvest today; I've been picking a pod here, a leaf there for salad, but I hadn't picked anything in bulk yet. I knew there were peas out there that were starting to get a bit too big, so it was now or never. After a gentle morning rain, much appreciated, I went out and picked two gallons of sugar snap peas, weighing in over ten pounds.

I'm glad these are sugar snaps and not pod peas. That would be a lot of shelling to do for maybe one or two meals of peas.

I also picked a daikon radish that was starting to push itself out of the ground. These have a mildly spicy flavor and are great raw, in salads, or in stir fry. This is the first year I've planted them, and they seem to do very well.

And, here's the "garden art" of the day. I'm really starting to like Swiss chard, which was also a new vegetable for me this year. This is the "bright lights" variety. I planted another variety from seed, Fordhook I think, but it wasn't germinating very well so I got these transplants from the garden center. Then the seeds started to sprout under cover of these big leaves.

The Hermit and I were drinking our coffee in the screen house this morning as it was starting to rain. He remarked that plants seem to respond better to rain than they do to being watered, and I agreed. I wonder why that is? Perhaps the barometric pressure changes right before a rainfall stimulate the stomata in the leaves to open up more and be receptive to the rain? I don't know. I may have a degree in biology, but there is so much I do not know.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

more Lyme disease

Edited to add: This is what a bullseye rash, the most obvious symptom of Lyme disease, looks like. I saw three of these in the morning; by afternoon there were a dozen or so all over him. However, not everyone who gets Lyme disease shows such an obvious rash; I didn't. But once the doc got his eyes on this, there was a prescription in my hands in ninety seconds flat!

Yes, it's almost official; everyone in this family has now been afflicted with Lyme disease or erlichiosis, another tick-borne illness. Mr. Attitude was showing some strange symptoms last week, spiking a moderate fever every evening and one night writhing with pain in one leg. We had an appointment set up a week ago, then cancelled because he was starting to feel better. Today as I was waking him up, I noticed a small round red rash with a lighter center on his arm. I checked him over and found two more similar rashes. This was an exact repeat of the sequence of symptoms Starflower had two years ago. So today instead of going to daycare and work, we have a 10:30 appointment with the doctor.

Lyme disease is nothing to mess with. It is entirely treatable with a course of antibiotics if caught early, as Mr. Attitude's case probably is, but left untreated all kinds of chronic problems can occur. They say prevention is the best cure; wear repellant, long pants tucked in socks, and check for ticks daily. Yeah right. With three kids playing outdoors constantly, and the ticks the size of a pinhead or smaller, prevention is next to impossible.

Mr. Attitude, by the way, is feeling just fine right now.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fourth of July melancholy

Despite the ominous title of this post, for the most part yesterday was far from melancholy. I awoke with no particular plans; The Hermit was away on business and we had not received any invitations to family functions (I would not have minded spending the Fourth where I spent so many other July days growing up, my grandparents' lake place that now belongs to my uncle but...never mind. another post for another day.) It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I decided to singlehandedly decimate every single spotted knapweed plant on our property before it got too hot; then I could have an excuse for goofing off the rest of the day. I did not quite achieve my goal, but I have greatly reduced the potential for flowering and seed production of this invasive weed.

Starflower came out looking for me at the end of the driveway; she said Fred had called and that he and Missy invited us over for an afternoon picnic. Perfect! It was a fun, relaxing afternoon with good food and beer as per usual. Calvin and Starflower played with their best friends, Sally frolicked with Fred and Missy's two German shepherds, and we played a few tunes along with Chris, guitarist from the Whistlepigs. We probably started the music too late, however; musical ability, although perhaps enhanced by one beer, seems to have an inverse relationship with the number of beers consumed subsequently.

The kids had decided they wanted to go see the fireworks in a nearby town with their friends that evening, so instead of heading home, which I was ready for, we followed them to their house. Despite my fatigue at that point, when Mr. Attitude was jumping on the trampoline I joined in because it looked like fun. It was, too much fun for a 39 year old! I found out I can still do a split jump and touch my outstretched arms to my toes. I stopped short of jumping off the upper rungs of the twelve foot stepladder the kids had placed next to the trampoline. My heart skipped a beat as I watched Calvin and Starflower do just that.

All too soon it was time to drive into town. By the looks of things, the normal population of the town had increased at least tenfold for this event, a definite challenge for a crowd-impaired person like myself. By the time we found our friends and sat down, I was feeling tense and jittery and wishing it was all over and dreading the exodus, the long drive home, and all that lay in between. Even though we were with friends, I was missing being with The Hermit. I felt lost and alone in the darkness and the crowd.

The fireworks started, the usual resounding cannon noises and crackling stardust and screaming comets and momentary bursts of color, larger than life, a nice show all in all but I kept thinking "Why am I here? Why is everyone here? Why is anyone here?" Here we are, celebrating excess, celebrating ideals and prosperity and victory, celebrating with flashes and loud noises. Hooray for us. Hooray for freedom. Hooray for the appearance of freedom. Hooray for the thousand idling, petroleum burning cars that brought us here. Hooray for our children; we take for granted it will always be like this for them. God help us. God help them.

Sitting in the van, waiting for traffic to inch along afterwards, I felt trapped, tired, and alone. Alone in the glare of a thousand headlights. Alone with my near-sleeping children. Finally, inch by inch I arrived at the main street and turned east out of town, still in a long line of cars, still alone. The cars dropped off with each cross street and the freeway, until at last, after the next town I turned down the dark road leading ten miles to our house, alone, yet feeling oddly safer and more calm out of the crowd.

We returned to the midnight stillness of our dark house; I had not thought to leave a light on. I got everyone in and into bed, but still I could not sleep. I went out to the cook shed and poured myself a glass of chardonnay, then sat alone in the silence.

I can't quite put words to what it was I was feeling; something ominous, something uneasy. The significance of the day was not lost on me; on this day when we reflect and celebrate our nation's independence, I can't help but look around and see it slipping away. Unless. Things can never stay the same; that is a given. But in what direction are we headed?

This is why I take solace in my garden, in the woods, in music, in the natural gifts of each passing day.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Monday morning musings

First, some blogging housekeeping. If you are getting bounced email notifications of your comments here, you are not alone. I don't know what's going on; I even turned off the spam filter entirely, and oddly enough I'm not even getting spam. I wonder what else I'm not getting.

Also, the Site Meter says sometime soon, probably in the next 24 hours, Sand Creek Almanac will have its 20,000th visitor. It's been about a year since I installed the meter, Thanks to everyone who visits here, especially the "regulars". :) Whether you leave comments or not, it always makes my day that you take the time to read this stuff.

Now on to the usual news from Sand Creek. 85 degrees and sunny yesterday, a little too hot for my tastes but it sure made that afternoon swim in the pond feel good! I'll have to post some pics of Sally (5 month old yellow lab) swimming if we go today; she's a natural in the water, and anyway someone has requested a "pupdate".

Before the swim, Calvin and I had a fishing adventure on the creek. He's been really getting into fishing lately, even though we've only caught creek chubs and common shiners so far. We usually fish from the north side of the creek, which is easier to get to, but I wanted to go to the south side to stay in the shade. Getting there required a shortcut through the horse pasture and some brush busting, but we found a spot that worked even though I had to break off a few alder branches that kept reaching out and snagging the hook.

In garden news, I don't have to water today; we got abouth 1/10 of an inch this morning, which was much needed. We had a meal last night that included barbecue pork sandwiches (we know who raised the pig), steamed sugar snap peas (yum! And there's plenty more where they came from!), and a new experiment, batter-fried garlic scapes. I just learned about garlic scapes this year. Supposedly you get larger bulbs if you cut off the flower shoots (scapes) before they open up, and they have a good mild garlic flavor. So I de-scaped all of the garlic, dipped them in beer batter, and fried. They were pretty good, a little tough in places but sort of like onion rings. I did wake up this morning reeking of garlic, though.

One thing I noticed when I was picking peas: Our garden has, as of yet, no fence around it. I have seen plenty of rabbits around here, even right in the garden walkways. There are some pea vines off the trellis, hanging over the edge of the raised bed, heavy with ripe pea pods just beckoning some critter to come along for an easy meal.

So far, no takers. I want to ask why, but when one is the recipient of such an act of grace, I feel questions are inappropriate. I'll just enjoy it for what it's worth.

Off to enjoy the day!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

too-cute-for-words kitten blogging

a midsummer evening

The lingering twilight of a northern evening beckons me outside, away from the small quarters I share with four other humans, one dog, and 1-3 cats. Tonight it is two cats for now; we have brought in the Cute Kitten Of The Year to be protected from the unknowns (probably tomcats) of the outdoors. Flame point Siamese with sapphire blue eyes. Pictures to come, of course.

Stillness surrounds me outside. Our area is remarkably quiet, even with a few people up to celebrate a holiday weekend at their cabins in the woods. A few 4- wheelers roared by as we lounged and swam at the pond; as they passed by I yelled "This ain't your playground you city bastards!" Of course they could not hear me, but it felt good.

But at twilight it is still; even the neighbors across the road have subsided their f'nheimer-laced family brawl, which they engage in once a month or so. A few roosters still break the silence with their barbaric yawp, and the ever-present veeries float forth a liquid, ethereral call. It's a toss-up between the Veery and the Ovenbird for official breeding bird of Sand Creek. Honorable mention goes to sedge wrens, song sparrows, catbirds, phoebes, and chipping sparrows. (no kingbirds here ;) )

I walk among the rectangular beds of my garden, noting the sugar snap peas which are ready for a genuine harvest and a substantial meal or two. When I plant, it never looks like it will be enough, but at harvest time, I am overwhelmed by the yield from a few square feet filled with horse manure.

I spent a great deal of time today just doing the basic tasks of living; putting away laundry and doing dishes, as well as ongoing straightening-up. It was hot enough to work up a sweat. I could be living in a subdivision with air conditioning and a dishwasher, but then I'd just need more expensive toys and golf club memberships and fast foods and alcohol to delude myself from the fact that the bank really owns my house, I'd have to call a professional if any of the mechanical things sustaining my level of blissful ignorance were to suddenly stop functioning, and my life wasn't really my own.

I pay the price in some ways, but to be serenaded by veeries and tree frogs on a cool summer night, to delight in fresh eggs and produce from the garden, to cool off with a swim in my own pond, is worth everything. This is the life.