Friday, November 30, 2007


We saw the doctor today, and The Hermit will be having physical and speech therapy next week. I'm glad this new doctor finally got what he needed ordered, but I am still a little mad at his other doctor, who should have ordered these things upon discharge from the hospital two weeks ago today.

I am very drained right now, or I would write more. It is so damn cold here, I can hardly function. Not to mention, we are supposed to get a significant snow accumulation tomorrow. I do not know where my boots are, much less the shovels. We are way below normal in temperature. It does not help things here.

Forgot to add...I had a couple guys from the church we rarely attend come over and clean the chimney. I got nervous this morning when I saw sparks shooting from the chimney; that signals a minor chimney fire and I really don't want to go there. I don't want my house to burn down.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I feel like...umm...scum?

I may have met The Lunch Lady From Hell today. In the grocery store. And I feel like...ummm... the stuff amoebas scrape from between their toes, if they had toes.

I picked up Mr. Attitude from school today, because it is his birthday, but Starflower had piano lessons, so we had to hang around until 4. We went to the grocery store, where he was telling everyone it was his birthday. I don't know where he gets this, I was so shy when I was his age.

Anyway, Mr. Attitude started talking to this woman in the produce section. I did not recognize her, although by the way she talked it seemed she was familiar with our family. She asked me how my husband was doing. I thought this was strange, since very few people in the community know of our situation. But when she said she worked at the pool, and asked why I hadn't showed up lately, I knew she knew us a little, but still why would she ask...

It was not until later that I made the connection. Mr. Attitude told me she was one of the lunch ladies. A lunch lady...who asked me about my husband...oh sheeeet. I am very sure she was the one I sent a very nasty email to, about how we were sorry we hadn't paid the lunch bill due to recent circumstances...

Maybe she was nice to me out of kindness. I'm sure she knew I was the one who had blasted her in that email, yet she was so kind. I don't know if she knew if I knew wh0 she was. Oh well.

I will never, ever send an email out of pure anger again. I was just protecting my kids, but I guess it just wasn't right, now that I have met the recipient face to face.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the true cost of winter

I just placed an order for over a hundred clams to Land's End to outfit Starflower for the winter. I am glad we are able to do it, but what about all those families out there who don't have anything left over after groceries and heat? If they have money for groceries and heat, after a place to stay? You can get coats at the thrift store, and I plan to bring one of Starflower's old ones there tomorrow, but really it costs to stay warm. Heat isn't getting any cheaper, although we get by pretty easy with wood. But wood ain't easy either in some ways that I am appreciating a lot lately. Wood is heavy and messy. Wood does not come pre-cut into convenient shapes and sizes. And wood has to be carried in two or three times a day in a cold snap like this.

The Hermit got up around 4:30 this morning and started the fire (in the woodstove, that is). God bless him, he's so much better at it than I am, even now (starting a fire in the woodstove, that is, what were you thinking?).

And God bless my stepdaughter, who drove up from Nebraska just to be with her dad for a few days, and who put the plastic up on our porch windows (the computer is in the porch, and I am no longer freezing while blogging), got pizzas for dinner, took the laundry with her, brought in a dog size kennel so the rabbits could stay inside and warm, and was all around great to come home to tonight. She's staying at her mom's in Cloquet, but she will be bringing a cake on Thursday for Mr. Attitude's birthday.

not the coldest spot in Minnesota

I've blogged before about how I live in a strange cold spot that often rivals International Falls for low temperatures. I've had frost in every month of the year. I've questioned my thermometer's accuracy, but even if it reads a few degrees low there's no denying it was cold this morning! That thermometer read zero, my car thermometer read 4 when I drove Calvin out to meet the bus at 6:30.

But most cities north of here were reporting below zero temperatures. Whatever was correct, zero or 4, was downright tropical compared to other spots in Minnesotarctica.

Still, it's mornings like this that make me think indoor toilets are a good idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

in search of snow buntings

I am glad I have a spouse who will ask to go for a drive and look for snow buntings. That's one thing we can do, and I am glad to do.

Snow buntings, like their name suggests, are winter birds, visitors from the tundra, but I think their name more suggests their habits; a flock of them looks like a small snowstorm.

I never started seeing snow buntings until I lived here, five years now. Now I look for them every time I drive along roadsides in open areas. They act very much like horned larks, but we don't have many larks around here. Their flocks may be interspersed with a few Lapland longspurs; I have not positively ID'd one yet, but I hope to see one this year.

So we went driving at about 10 AM on a sunny morning, but we did not see any snow buntings. We did have a great look at a bald eagle, met another locally renowned hermit, husband to a former gubernatorial candidate, on the road and exchanged a casual wave, and saw a gorgeous lake stirred up by wind (wish I had brought the camera!). We also saw some geese, along with some hooded mergansers on a small lake that was strangely unfrozen. And numerous ravens.

Later, we had a re-heated Thanksgiving dinner with my stepson and his girlfriend and her son. I should be doing dishes, but they can wait. I just had to play banjo.

We're getting satellite TV tomorrow, which should be a good diversion for The Hermit, and my stepdaughter postponed her M.S. thesis defense for a while so she could be here Monday or Tuesday for a while. A neighbor who once got a ticket for shooting on our land (almost hit The Hermit) has offered to help out any way he could. Community is a good thing. :)

Oh, and we found a home for one of our outdoor kittens. My stepson and his girlfriend adopted one of them, which leaves us with a herd of one less cats around here. I would take them to a shelter, but that would only be transferring the problem.

November road

Friday, November 23, 2007

where the rivers freeze, and the summer ends

Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline...

I went for a long walk this morning. November is a strange time of change here in Minnesota; the first half of the month I just want to huddle in front of a warm fire, then gradually I come out of my shell and take on the below freezing temperatures and the howling winds.

Please see she has a coat so warm...

I still have to get our serious winter gear out of storage bins in the garage. I was a bit under dressed for my walk, but I survived. Even ran a little. It was good to get out and breathe fresh air and feel my body move. And have some time to myself where I could just get lost in movement and the air around me.

I was greeted this morning by a redhead on the large dead spruce that is just outside my window. I have been seeing lots of Pileated woodpeckers, they are actually pretty common around here, but their size and red crest just leaves me in awe every time I see one.

And we were visited by as many as a dozen chickadees at a time at the feeder. Since they see chickadees at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, I assume some of them must migrate from areas further north. I really don't think our resident population is this huge! I've already gone through one 50 pound bag of black oil sunflower, and it's not even winter yet.

We had to get out today, so I drove The Hermit and Starflower and Mr. Attitude (Calvin was at a friend's house) to Duluth, where we ate at McDonald's (I even had a double cheeseburger-yikes!) and did a little grocery shopping and booze shopping in Wisconsin. :) We drove over the two high bridges over Duluth Harbor and saw a few ships. It was partly sunny for a change, and it was nice to be driving around, although I'm not used to being the driver. Just one of the many changes in our lives recently.

On our drive we saw a robin (late for here), a turkey vulture (ditto), and one bald eagle. There are places in Duluth where I could have seen some rare gull species, but I didn't get to them today. Unless a rare gull shows up in the Super One Market parking lot in West Duluth, I have little chance of seeing it.

(song quotes from a native Duluthian, Bob Dylan of course. )

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

our medical system

I left a message with The Hermit's doctor's nurse this morning, at about 9:30 AM. I, as a spouse, have been left out of the loop of his diagnosis and treatment, and I just wanted to know what's going on.

As of 9 pm, I have not had a response.


UPDATE-- see my comment. Good news.

banjo therapy

Learning, and playing, the banjo has gotten me through these rough times more than once already.

Today I got to the point where my hands were on auto pilot, for a couple brief moments, and it was such a great feeling. I am so far away from where I want to be with this instrument, but I realize it's a long process, maybe shortened by my experience with music in general and other stringed instruments.

Banjo is different, though. My experience is mostly with melody instruments, ones that play only one note at a time. Playing banjo means coloring the melody with a cloud of notes, which I am not used to. But I will get used to it.

I just love the sound. So haunting, so raw. So living. Okay, I am addicted to banjo. And mandolin.

I admit, there are times when I just sit there and strum an open chord, and get lost in the sound.
For you non music philes, I apologize. But I have to do this once in a while.

November gray

November has to be the bleakest month of the year around here. The leaves are all gone from the trees, the sky is usually dreary gray, and it's dark. No snow on the ground either to hide all the yard clutter and bare spots and leaves.

I have been moving around in a surreal world; driving to the hospital for tests, driving home so exhausted I can hardly stay awake, coming home and having to chop kindling and feed animals and keep the fire burning (we are getting an efficient propane heater next week, which will help a lot in that regard). I'll probably go to work tomorrow, at least for a while, so that will be a break.

No news yet, although I put in a call to the doctor this morning while The Hermit was having a carotid ultrasound. I'm waiting for him to call back, and I have some serious questions for him.

But in a fit of perhaps insanity, or perhaps the reality that we aren't really up for driving sixty miles to Grandma's for Thanksgiving dinner, I bought a 20 pound turkey that may or may not fit in my small oven. We're having that, and a wild rice casserole that has become our tradition, stuffing, baked squash, mashed potatoes, and even homemade cranberry sauce. But not a home baked pumpkin pie; some nice lady named Mrs. Smith put it together for me. ;) Okay, I admit, I do like cooking, especially since I get to escape to my cook shed and listen to CD's or the radio. My stepsons might come over. It will be fun.

The chickadees are good therapy. They know how to stay busy and cheerful, even in November.

Forgot to add: we're getting satellite TV on Monday. Starflower's comment: "Hurray! Now we'll never be bored!" I just groaned.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


So, despite the optimism I have presented in the last couple of posts, we really don't know what is going on. We are going in for an MRI tomorrow, which may explain some things.

He is still very weak on his right side. Speech, though better, is not 100%.

I have not had an easy weekend. Besides getting through daily life, I have been wondering on all sorts of outcomes. But, I always come out with this easy feeling that, no matter what, we will get through this. Although I practically had a nervous breakdown last night, and I've hardly eaten for 2 days. I did have a good talk with the kids, who were understandably nervous about why Daddy isn't the way he usually is.

My stepson and his girlfriend and her 8 year old son came today to pick up a load of wood and stack it and help with the animal chores. I love them. They were making some jokes about D (her son) maybe having to buy beer someday for his uncle (Mr. Attitude, who is almost 6). The fact that that is being talked about blows my mind. But, everyone is way concerned about their Dad.

Friday, November 16, 2007


The Hermit is home now. They discharged him this morning, but he walked out before they had all the paperwork done. Oh well. His doctor said it was okay, so I guess that's good.

He's still kind of weak and a bit uncoordinated, but his speech is much better. He's on an antibiotic; the doctor was kind of skeptical about the Lyme connection, but I'm glad he at least agreed to try it.

I think he'll get better, but it really has me thinking, how quickly life could change. And the uncertainty; what is causing this, and will it get better?

We went out shopping for a few groceries, and when we came home we were greeted with this:

A male Pine grosbeak, actually two of them, paid a short visit to our feeder. This one looked so huge, his feathers were all fluffed out against the cold. The high temp was 35, but it was sunny. When we met the kids at the end of the driveway when the bus dropped them off, our shadows were about a hundred feet long.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

please send prayers, good thoughts, or whatever

The Hermit is in the hospital.

But first, the good news. I just talked with him and he sounds a lot better than he did before. So I don't think the situation is critical.

For the last day or so he had been having some difficulty with balance, and also with talking. He looked and sounded drunk, although I knew otherwise. The talking part was the weirdest. He said he was thinking normally, but he had a delay in retrieving the right words and his speech was slurred.

I told him he needed to see a doctor NOW. Typical male he is, he insisted "I'm fine!" He finally agreed to go to urgent care this morning and they admitted him.

His doctor initially thought he had had a stroke, but tests did not indicate it. We are convinced it is Lyme disease. He was treated for it about a month ago, with ten days of antibiotics. Which is NOT enough to wipe out an acute Lyme infection. Three weeks at the minimum, a month is better.

He is planning on checking himself out tomorrow, regardless of what the doc says. Like I said, he sounded way better, not 100%, but a lot better on the phone after taking one antibiotic pill.

I gotta go do chores and pick up kids from school and chop wood and start a fire and stuff. Be back later this evening.

Monday, November 12, 2007

a day off, a day together

It was the perfect formula. I had the day off, The Hermit had the day off, all of the kids were in all day school (finally), and it was a gorgeous day, weather-wise, for November in Minnesota. We hadn't had a day alone together in oh so long, so the plans were made. We headed to Duluth, my absolute favorite city in the world, and Park Point, my favorite place in my favorite city. I have written about Park Point before, I'm too lazy to link, but we've had some good days there with the kids, went to a totally fun music festival there this summer, and did some awesome birding there this fall.

I so apologize for the tipsy horizon in what was to be a perfect study in blueness. It's my camera's fault; I swear I had the guidelines lined up with the horizon. Anyway, ain't it blue?

We hiked a long way down the beach until we came to near the end, where there is a nice pine forest on the dunes. It was hard walking on the loose sand, so we took a break and just took it all in.

The pine forest contains an incredible lichen micro-forest. It almost looks magical. There are also plants like wintergreen, which typically grow on acidic areas with little topsoil.

We hiked back on a hiking/ski trail that runs through the pine woods. I had never been on that trail before, but The Hermit, in another lifetime, used to spend a lot of time there. He has seen snowy owls out on the end of the point. I was keeping my eye out for gray jays, having heard a few of them were spotted around Duluth. I didn't see one; in fact, I saw almost squat for birds. A couple of American tree sparrows were the highlight of my day. The shorebirds are gone, the ducks were few, even ring billed gulls were rare. But I didn't mind.

We ate lunch at a little Mexican restaurant, and perhaps regretted it. The special of the day was two tacos with refried beans and rice, but both of us could barely eat one taco apiece. Not that it was bad food, we just felt so full. And sleepy afterwards. I just don't go for quantity foods anymore.

Then a quick stop at the food co-op for organic greens and coffee, then a scenic drive on the bridge over the St. Louis River estuary into Superior, Wisconsin, Wisconsin being the home of the Green Bay Packers who routed our hapless Vikings 34-0 on Sunday. I don't follow football much, but I know this will be a major topic of discussion at work tomorrow.

We saw domestic freighters waiting out along the shore, and "salties", seafaring freighters carrying exported grain. I just love the excitement of living so close to the furthest inland seaport in the United States, seeing ships come and go. Sometimes I think I could live in Duluth. Lake Superior has a life of its own, always changing and beautiful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

worldly thinking, among other stuff

We had parent teacher conferences the other night. Unfortunately, the Hermit was away on business, so he could not be there, but otherwise things went well. Very well. The teachers all had nothing but good things to say about my kids. I am beaming with pride, yet I do not understand how I am so blessed with such great kids! Even Mr. Attitude, who is much more "intense" than his brother and sister, got rave reviews from his teacher. I am so darn proud of them all.

Starflower started piano lessons this week. She had had lessons last year, but her teacher retired, and I had been lazy about finding her a new teacher. It just happened that I checked the school Web site last week, and found out that the band teacher was now teaching piano lessons. I called the Community Ed office and got her scheduled in. I am so impressed with the band teacher in this school; he goes above and beyond the call to create a great program with a limited budget. And he is giving his time after school to teach piano. Wonderful. And Starflower has been great about practicing since her lesson.

I have been practicing my musical instruments too. Mostly banjo, on which I have the most to learn, but today I also got out my guitar and octave mandolin. Heads up: I have a video planned, in which I sing and play octave mandolin at the same time. I still need to practice before this becomes a reality.

I have the day off tomorrow, Veterans' Day holiday! I don't know what to do with myself for a whole day off. Maybe catch up on blogging!

Sunday night dancing

It's a new tradition, at least these last couple of weeks. The Hermit goes on Rhapsody, searching out music, and we dance. Music like REM "It's the end of the world as we know it", and the song about Andy Kaufman "Man on the Moon". The Talking Heads (Once in a Lifetime), and The B-52's Love Shack. All great dancing stuff. I get a great aerobic workout, the kids have some fun, and hey, it's all good fun. Even Sally gets involved.

Oh, by the way, that is The Red Green Show in the background. Netflix rules.

Monday, November 05, 2007

today in Minnesota

The big fluffy flakes of snow are falling, interspersed with breaks in the clouds, even sunshine at times. Typical November day.

I'm taking the day off, since the kids had the day off from school (teacher workshops). I'm beginning to question the wisdom of that choice; everyone, including a friend, is inside playing video games. But I'll have the whole afternoon to get my mandolin, banjo or whatever out and have some "me" time. At least that's the plan.

I was so into making banjo videos yesterday that I completely forgot to mention I saw my first pine grosbeak of the fall! A beautiful male visited the feeder for about twenty minutes, but he did not cooperate for a photo. Then this morning, I heard some shrill whistling calls and saw three evening grosbeaks in a tree! They visited the feeder briefly. The winter birds have arrived, but I still have not seen any snow buntings.

On Saturday The Hermit and I took a drive to a little lake nearby to scout for duck hunting. We saw hundreds of ring necked ducks and bluebills, and three trumpeter swans! Beautiful. I hadn't seen a trumpeter in a while; they are rare but slowly making a comeback. The Hermit went back to the lake yesterday afternoon to hunt; the ducks were there but they were not enticed to come into the decoys. I don't think The Hermit was too disappointed.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Deb plays banjo!

Live from Sand's me!

It was a bit dark, and my cinematographer (Calvin) kept moving in front of the light, get the idea.

Friday, November 02, 2007

starlight boating adventures

My job consists of mostly predictable shifts, 8:00-4:30 unless we're running late. Occasionally we have special projects, like electrofishing for largemouth bass in late spring (the best way we know to quantify the population), or electrofishing for walleye young of year in fall (again, the best way we've found to evaluate spawning success). I mostly avoid these night shifts, partly because there are always willing others, and partly because, well, I'm a creature of routine. Bedtime is 10 PM at the latest.

Yesterday I was asked if I would be available to electrofish that evening; one guy's wife had bowling or some other lame excuse. :) It turns out I was available, and I didn't want to appear to be the only one at the office that did NOT go night electrofishing. But the thought entered my mind: When I was a neophyte fisheries specialist fifteen odd years ago, one of my first assignments at this place where I work (again, not still) was to electrofish that same lake at night. I think it was late September. All I remember was, we ended up paddling to shore in the dark due to some motor malfunction. It couldn't happen twice, on the same lake, now could it?

So we went to the lake, it was dark by seven, we scared a flock of a couple thousand ring billed gulls up off the water for a moment or two, and then we started pumping voltage into the water and stunning fish. The fish do recover from a momentary jolt, it just takes a minute. We were after walleye, particularly young of year although we would measure every size we caught. We found everything from 8 to 25 inch walleye, among other species.

After our last run, we could see the lights across the lake, about a mile, where we had the truck and trailer parked. It was about 9 PM, plenty early. We started to motor across, but suddenly our lights did not seem as bright. According to the designated driver, the voltage meter had been going lower all night, and now our batteries were critical. Uh-oh. Then the motor died. Double uh-oh. The motor was trimmed high, at about the surface, and we had no power to move it down, much less power start it.

Now, being an electofishing boat, this boat has a generator built in. But by some odd quirk of fate, it is wired so you cannot charge batteries or run lights off it! What genius! The motor apparently does not even have an alternator that charges the batteries. Double genius. We had a flashlight on board, but its D batteries were critical. Triple genius.

So there we were, about a mile from our destination (although I did not realize that at the time, thank God), without ANY power, completely in the dark. Apparently there is a way to start the motor manually, and one of my coworkers started working on that while one started paddling with an oar.

I eventually took over the oar as that coworker went back to look at the motor problem. I paddled with all my strength for about twenty minutes, maybe gaining about a hundred feet or so. It seemed like we were not getting any further away from the nearer shore. They finally got the motor started...sort of. After about a minute it sputtered and died. My two coworkers took over the oar and high-resistance dipnet (special Fisheries weapon) while I steered. Fifteen minutes later, we started the motor and ran it again for about two minutes before it died. Repeat process a few times. I should have been getting really worried, but somehow I kept a "we'll get through this, after all we did the same damn thing FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!" attitude. I am older and wiser now.

Finally we got to a point (literally) where the guys could walk the boat along shore (no sense having a third person messing things up.) It turned out they walked about two thirds of a mile, and we arrived at the access at a little after 11 PM. I arrived home a little after midnight, immediately settling into my computer chair and a glass of Shiraz. I got 5 1/2 hours of sleep, so I'm turning in early tonight.

I am never going to that lake again, especially at night. I must be jinxed. And, I hope I'm done with boat adventures for the year.

But the stars were nice. I did see one shooting star.