Saturday, June 30, 2007

on a quiet lake somewhere

We took our little boat and went fishing this evening. Calvin and Starflower were both sleeping over at friends' houses, so it was just the three of us, me, The Hermit, and Mr. Attitude. Hermit and I both independently came up with the idea of going fishing...once in a great while, our minds work together like that. The 25 horsepower Evinrude hadn't been run in...oh gosh, had it been two years?...but it started up right away.

So we were off to a little lake about fifteen miles away from home. This lake is surrounded by state forest land, so there are no docks, no "look at me" lake homes, no Jet Skis. Just a nice boat ramp, and some wildlife.

This Common loon picked a nice lake for the nest it undoubtedly has somewhere in the sedges.

Can you tell Mr. Attitude was absolutely thrilled? No big brother or sister to boss him around, and hey, we're cruising around in a boat!!!

Of course, fishing was on the agenda. Mr. Attitude's (or was it The Hermit's?) first cast was immediately hit on by a whopper (okay, six inch) bluegill sunfish.

I think he landed a total of eight. The Hermit tied on a crankbait for me and I tried bass fishing for a while, with no luck other than I got hooked on a very stubborn waterlily.

Actually, I was distracted and spent most of my time looking into the bog-stained water at the amazing diversity of vegetation present. I've been focusing on aquatic vegetation in my job lately, and I guess it has me fascinated enough that it leaks into my personal life. I was making comments like "Oh, there's a nice stand of Nuttall's pondweed!" I've become an aquabotanical nerd.

Nerd or not, I think we all had a good time. Although I can't help but think how small our boat seems. It's a 14 foot Bass Tracker, but I've grown accustomed to working in 16 or 18 foot boats. This boat is just right for two adults, but add one kid and we're already feeling cramped. The Hermit bought a lottery ticket tonight, so if we win, a family-size boat may be in order.

As we fished, we were serenaded by at least two hermit thrushes and a few veeries in the woods around the shore. Beautiful, flutelike calls from both.

And the bluegills...they found a new home, and it was not the frying pan. Maybe they'll help take care of the leech problem. ;)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Those crisp, cool days of...summer?

It's June 29th, right? At least the botanical calendar says it is. Fireweed is in bloom. Last weekend, we had temperatures in the 90's and high humidity. This morning the thermometer read 35. Fahrenheit, that is. Darn near freezing. As I have mentioned previously, I live in the unofficial coldest spot in Minnesota.

Not that I'm complaining. If the whole summer could be like this, I wouldn't mind, as long as we had some rain once in a while. High temperatures today are supposed to hit the mid seventies. Perfect.

And now, the not-so-daily, or even not very weekly lupine picture. Seeds should be popping soon, and it looks like there will be plenty for those of you who wanted some.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

How Minnesotans go to the beach

This is the best darn beach in Minnesota. Even though we have 10,000 plus lakes, it takes big water to make a good beach, and Lake Superior is as big as a freshwater lake gets. This beach is a narrow spit of land known as Park Point in Duluth; it separates Duluth Harbor from the open lake.

The water is nice and clear, if not a bit on the cool side. In fact, most beachgoers don't actually swim there. A quick dip in the 50something degree water is usually enough to satisfy anyone. I think Starflower set the record for time spent swimming; while teenage boys and young couples in love were hesitant, and very vocal about their hesitation about plunging into the water, Starflower was happily splashing away. I think her body temperature must have approached hypothermia.

While regaining body heat, sand burials were the popular thing of the day.

Our pond is nice, but sometimes we really need to get away and go to the beach.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

pond invaders

As we hit a period of slightly hot weather, with highs near 90 forecast for tomorrow, Starflower has at last been able to enjoy swimming in the pond. She got her cast off on Thursday, and her arm looks great; hardly even a tan line, and she was somehow able to keep good muscle tone.

However, there has been one obstacle to full pond enjoyment. Or, should I say, a bunch of annelid obstacles.

It seems every time we show up at the sandy edge of the pond, the leech patrol is there to meet us. I thought they hung out in the muckier end of the pond, but sometimes you can see seven or eight of them cruising the sand shallows. I don't mind them; I usually dash out to the deep hole before they can come near me. Mr. Attitude, being a tough guy, doesn't mind them. But Starflower minds them...a lot. So much that the poor girl hasn't had her usual carefree swim yet this year. I can't say I blame her.

The options are 1) Stock some kind of fish that will eat the leeches. But that will take time, and money, and the fish won't likely survive the winter and get big enough to eat. 2) make leech traps, and sell or give them away for fish bait. But that too would take a bit of time and effort, and adequate leech removal would not be guaranteed. So that leaves 3) obtain a small amount of copper sulfate and apply it to the pond. I don't like going the chemical kill route, and I'll have to make absolutely sure it won't harm frogs or turtles, but copper sulfate is a lot less harmful than a lot of the stuff that has been finding its way into the groundwater in Minnesota (not here, thankfully; we're near the top of a watershed with no agriculture or industry above us.)

I have encountered a few other nuisance critters, both four and six legged, in my garden. A little natural chemical warfare may be in order. But that's another post.

Oh, and notice the reflection blob on the top of the picture. Any ID guesses?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

catbird, posthumous

While I was working this morning, I heard something go "thunk" against the window. I didn't think too much of it; our windows aren't huge, and there had never been birds killed by flying into them. But when our esteemed secretary Jean stepped outside to get the mail, she alerted me to the presence of a dead bird. Sigh. I am the official bird identifier/coroner in my office.

I think this bird may have been victim to the high winds that prevailed today. Normally a bird would have no reason to fly anywhere near our office, which is a dreary blue and white pole building. But this bird could have been flying from one thicket to another, and happened to have been caught in a sudden downdraft.

What beautiful, subtle gray feathers, and rusty undertail feathers. I like catbirds for their mimicking ability. May this one rest in peace.

Monday, June 18, 2007

great garlic!

This has been a great year for growing garlic. I planted two beds last fall, and the plants are now all robust, over three feet tall. I'll probably be harvesting in a month. The garlic cloves I planted came from Seed Saver's Exchange; Music and German Extra Hardy white. This year I hope to save a few heads of each, and not have to buy it to plant.

You may be asking yourself, "What is that tall, leafy weed growing among the garlic? And is Deb too lazy to pull it?"

That is parsnip. Several plants actually, volunteers that came up from the tops I cut off the few parsnips I harvested last year. I discarded the tops in the garden, and I think I may have found a new strategy for growing parsnips, or maybe at least getting seed from them!

This evening I cut off the first scapes, which are the curled flower stalks of garlic. I've heard if they are cut off, the plant will put more energy into making bigger bulbs. And the scapes are pretty tasty, if used in moderation. I had some tonight in a lettuce salad, and sauteed with kale and spinach from the garden.

ten facts

1. He was born at 4:31 AM.

2. He was really into Thomas the Tank Engine in his younger days.

3. Nowadays he's more into video games, especially Need for Speed and other racing games.

4. He wants to save up to buy a '67 Shelby Mustang for his sixteenth birthday.

5. He's an aspiring saxophone player. His first lesson is tomorrow.

6. He is over five feet tall, and weighs 85 pounds. His feet are about as big as mine.

7. His best friends are Keith, Red, and Wyatt, who all live on small farms.

8. He is a fellow fan of The Pink Panther and The Ant and the Aardvark. ("I hate you, Instant Hole!")

9. He knows how to download songs from CD to the mp3 player he got as a birthday present.

10. His mom thinks he's great.

Calvin, I love your sense of humor, your intense interest in things, your sensitivity to the world around you, your thoughtfulness, and most of all your love. Happy tenth birthday (yesterday)!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

having way too much fun

If I haven't posted regularly this last week, it's because I alternated between days when I was hyper busy and days when I hung out around the homestead and had some fun.

The Hermit had a business meeting in Pittsburgh, PA the first part of the week, and when that was over he spent a couple of days with his parents near the shore of Lake Erie, Ohio. So I was in charge of kids and the herd of animals that make up our pseudo-farm here. But The Hermit had hired a neighbor to look after at least part of the herd; this neighbor requires some supervision, but I was happy to see he really was diligent at feeding and watering horses, sheep, and the like.

I had made arrangements for the kids on Tuesday and Thursday, the only days I had work commitments. I took the other days off, without regret. Although we have been fortunate to have a good daycare center nearby, we decided, for various reasons, to avoid it for this summer. Instead, Calvin was able to go to a friend's house the days I had to work, and Tuesday I had someone I knew from church watch Starflower and Mr. Attitude. Thursday was one of those serendipity things; we had arrangements for the kids at another church member's house, but it turned out a neighbor who lives less than two miles away, whose husband is pastor at another church, and who has picked up the kids every Wednesday night for Bible study, agreed to watch S and Mr. A. Thursday. She's a really terrific person, and I'm glad to know her now as a neighbor and friend. What a community we have around here.

It really is not realistic to think that one can work a full time job and care for the animals that make up a homestead. The only other people I know of that are "homesteading" around here have one full-time breadwinner, interestingly the woman in each case, who spends a huge amount of time away from the homestead to earn the money to keep that kind of lifestyle going. In our case, we both have full time jobs, and we don't really have any farm income. The Hermit works from home, allowing a bit more time flexibility than would be available in most two-income households. But when he has to be gone, I really notice just how much of a partnership this is.

To be honest, I would much rather not be working the job I have full time. This week, the days I enjoyed most were the days that I spent out in the garden getting things planted, being attentive to the household and doing what needed to be done there, and planning and cooking good meals for my family. Last night we had venison sloppy joes, homemade potato salad with garden fresh green onions and arugula, garden kale pan fried in bacon grease, and watermelon. I could not have cooked that meal after a full day's work. And I had way too much fun planning and cooking it.

But for now, economics demand that I work. Personal sanity demands that I take some time off, like I did this week. I'm walking the fine line here, until I win the lottery. :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

let's call it a garden

I'm finally finished planting.

Well, not really. When you consider succession crops such as lettuce, and fall-planted crops like garlic, one is never quite finished planting. But I'm talking main season stuff, tomatoes and beans and peppers. There is a limited window of opportunity for planting these here, between the last spring frost and when it's too late to get a harvest before the first fall frost. I have yet to determine when exactly that is, but I know I'm on the late end of things even though we had overnight lows in the 30's a week ago.

For those of you who are curious: The four big square boxes on the left are potatoes, planted late April or early May. Another small box just to the top of the left potato boxes is the starting point for various winter squashes. I'll let them sprawl all over the grass when they get that big.

Left to right, top row: tomatoes; broccoli and cauliflower with one pumpkin plant, which will sprawl out of the bed; pickling cucumbers; summer squash; bush beans; bush beans; bush beans.

Middle row: tomatoes; garlic; garlic; sugar snap peas and Swiss chard; pole beans and Chinese asparagus beans; peppers and Diva (slicing) cucumbers; tomatoes.

Bottom row: tomatoes; tomatoes; onions; onions; greens; greens; and carrots (not visible).

At the right center is my blueberry bed, coming back after being grazed by rabbits this winter. Bottom center is a rock garden with various flowers, and I might plant basil in the as-yet unplanted part. So I guess I'm not done yet.

This is the view from the east loft window of the new house. By fall it will be looking out someone's bedroom window.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

someone brung me flowers

These are from the steep hillside leading down to the lake where I spent many of my childhood days. My grandpa used to mow the hill, thinking it just needed to be mowed, but now it's a riot of tall grass and wildflowers, and I think it looks just fine.

We went to visit my uncle and aunt, who now live there, on Sunday, to celebrate Grandma's 88th birthday (today), and Calvin's 10th. The latter birthday makes me pause for reflection more than the former, although I'm proud to have 88-year old genes in 1/4 of myself. Calvin will be ten next Sunday. Half of his path from infanthood to adulthood has passed. Yikes. I remember being ten. It was much better than being twelve, or thirteen, or fourteen. Fifteen was when things started to look better, maybe.

He got the usual birthday money, but my brother and his family gave him perhaps the best present, an electronics kit; just snap together various components, and voila: a circuit that does various things. My brother had one of these at about Calvin's age, and he ended up getting a Ph.D. in physics. Correlation? I don't know.

The corporation my brother works for is sending him off to Singapore again, starting late July. My sister in law and nieces will be joining him in November, and staying until May. They are excited about it, having been there already, but...that kind of life just would not be for me. I like being where I am, thank you.

So I'm just kind of trying to see the good things about our little community here. Like the friend of Calvin's and the friends from church who watched my brood today while I had to work. My work, by the way, was cruising the shoreline of a local lake, documenting vegetation. Not bad work if you can get it, although today's 80 degree heat was a bit stifling.

And like the preacher-neighbors of ours, across Sand Creek and the swamp, who will pick up the kids for Bible school tomorrow and even volunteered to watch Starflower and Mr. Attitude Thursday afternoon, when I will again be at work. They have shown nothing but kindness, and I have to get over this thing of "they will judge me by the strength of my beliefs, and how my beliefs align with theirs". Maybe our beliefs aren't that far apart. Anyway, thank God for neighbors.

So, in negotiating this week of life when The Hermit is away tending to business and aging parents, I'll take what flowers anyone brings me.

Oh, that reminds, between dropping Calvin off at his friend's house and dropping Starflower and Attitude off at a friend's from church, we saw a bald eagle taking off from the side of the road. I had to slow down to avoid it! BLESSING!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Totally awesome wildlife sighting

The kids and I went to church this morning, for the first time in...well, it's been a while. It seems like lately I get more inspiration from nature, and things like what I saw today, than from being inside listening to a sermon. But the people in our small rural church are wonderful, and it restores my faith in local humankind to worship there once in a while.

On the way there, I saw something big in the road. At first I thought it was a 4-wheeler, but it wasn't kicking up dust. As I drove closer, I made out the outline of an adult black bear. Cool. As many bear as there are around here, I rarely see them. Then, even closer, I saw two bear cubs, the size of small dogs. Way cool, I'd never seen bear cubs before! Mom and cubs made their way to the right side of the road and disappeared in the brush. But then, I spotted a third cub hesitantly making its way across the road, long after the others. Mama was probably desperately calling to it from the other side.

I rolled to a stop, eyeing the spot where the third cub had left the road, and suddenly I saw: it had climbed a tree, and was now eye level, twenty feet away! As the kids and I sat there, marveling at this little cub innocently looking at us, Calvin noticed another, curious cub who had made its way out of the woods. It climbed a tree near the cub we were watching! Two bear cubs, as cute as anything could be, frozen in place and watching our vehicle.

Of course, I did not have my camera with me. But if I had, and had been foolish enough to get out of the van to get a closer picture, I probably would have met face to face with Mama Bear, and the transaction would not have ended well for me. So we enjoyed the sight of the cubs for a moment longer, before continuing on to church.

I felt blessed, though I was only halfway to church. I felt the presence of a God, one who cares about bears and woodcock and all the lilies of the field, who makes sure they get by despite our vain human efforts to conquer all.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The not-so-daily lupine, among other things

Okay, I broke my promise. But, yesterday evening was windy and threatening stormy weather, which thankfully never happened here, but it was not the ideal lupine picture taking weather. So today I give you lupines against the early evening sun. Early evening is relative here, last light does not disappear until about 11 pm these days.

This is my first ever spring planting of kale. I'd always heard kale is more of a fall vegetable, something to be planted in late summer; it needs a frost to not taste bitter. But I decided to try it when I planted lettuce and other greens in April. From what I can tell, we probably have the ideal climate for growing kale in the spring here. We're still getting nighttime lows in the 30's. I harvested a bunch of the big leaves tonight, to saute with bacon (yum), along with some spinach, but there are still enough leaves for another harvest or two. And it was not bitter at all. I'm posting about the meal at my other blog.

Hoping to do some big gardening tomorrow; The Hermit is heading out for a week long business road trip, with a side trip to see his parents, so I'll have my hands full here. But I'll keep in touch.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


On my way to work this morning, about two miles down the road, I saw a group of odd-looking lumps in the middle of the road. They were too small to be grouse or turkeys, and they were moving just enough to convince me they were not odd clumps of dirt left by our novice road grading person, who needs a bit more practice.

The lumps were moving towards the edge of the road, but not too quickly, so I stopped the car and watched a brood of four or five young woodcock and an anxious mother. I've never seen a woodcock brood before! Usually woodcock are very secretive, and it's a rare thing to see even an adult bird out in the open. I watched as the little ones walked along, stopping to bob their heads after each couple of steps, as the mama called to them with soft high-pitched clucks. The babes were pretty good size already, a little bit smaller than robins. My camera was buried in my backpack, but I found it just in time to take one picture.

It's a bit blurry, but it didn't turn out all that bad for being a quick reflex shot. Woodcock really have beautiful, cryptic coloration. This is the mama; by the time I clicked the shutter, the babes were all off in the grass. She walked back and forth by my idling car, eyeing me and my camera suspiciously, before slipping off into the grass to join her brood.

That crazy sky dance the males do in the spring must really work! At least this gal was taken in by it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A June evening

First, the daily lupine, from a different angle. It looks like it's growing wild in a patch of grass, but really, it's a garden, ringed with field stones dug up nearby. I just haven't gotten around to weeding yet this year. So much else to do!

The chickens were enjoying the evening sun. We're down to just a few of them, some mink or raccoon has been picking them off one by one, but we're getting chicks in July. After I clean out and do some work in the chicken coop, of course.

Oh, the evening light on the pond. The sky looks washed out, when actually it was a brilliant blue.

I had to walk down to the pond with the kids for some frog catching and wading. The little green frogs were amazingly cooperative; this is Mr. Attitude's 5 year old hand, just to get an idea of relative size.

Starflower proved to be the frog magnet, however.

We were soon joined by a large, semi-aquatic mammal, so we tried to release the frogs in safe areas in the weeds. Sally needs a good swim once in a while.

I love our pond, I love having a place to relax, where the kids can be kids and catch frogs, where dogs can be dogs, and where the sky and pines meet in one glorious reflection.

Monday, June 04, 2007

the daily lupine, 6/04

If you didn't have a chance to see the comments on the last post, I have decided to try to post a daily photo of this lupine in bloom. And, since this plant seems so vigorous, I plan to keep seeds from it. Lupine seeds are pretty easy to harvest, if you get them just before the seed pods twist themselves and hurl them everywhere. So, if you would like some seeds from this plant, drop me an email at: flutemandolin AT gmail DOT com. I'd be more than happy to share.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

something to meditate upon...

...until I have the time and energy to produce a coherent post. It's a crucial gardening time here.