Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ah, the luxury

This is my tiny living room, in my tiny house. Notice the happy kids, the Christmas tree, the TV with satellite and antenna connections coming through the wall, that a Rinnai 1004 direct vent LP heater?

Suddenly we don't have to bring in wood, and restart the fire at 3 am. Unless we want to. And we can go away for the day, or even overnight, and the house won't freeze or be inefficiently heated by a heater with no thermostat. And no exposed flame, no hot surfaces, very safe. The best part is we can move this baby into the new house, and it should be able to heat the whole place. That is, if we choose not to heat with wood. I still think wood is more renewable, more sustainable, if not a whole lot more work and mess. And nothing feels like a wood fire sometimes.

Still, nothing feels like waking up at 3 am and not having to worry about whether your spouse has been awake to stoke the stove.

Edited to add: I forgot to thank Chris Brockman, who spent his whole Saturday helping with the installation! Chris, you're wonderful!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 Pine County Christmas Bird Count

Today was my second time participating in my local Christmas Bird Count. I had such a fun time last year, I was eager to sign up for this year's count. I ended up assigned to a group with two birders I had counted with last year, Jim and Steve, and one birder, Diana, who lives near where I work and is very familiar with this area.

This is typical of the roads we traveled on our quarter of the count circle. We had had a few inches of snow in recent days, so it was good we were traveling in an all wheel drive Subaru (not mine). The only problem with this particular road was that in most parts it was twisty and curvy and there were big scary logging trucks traveling at unsafe speeds. But another group did spot a Great Gray Owl along this road in the afternoon, and I tried unsuccessfully to see it in the twilight after the count was over. I think I will be driving this road some late afternoon this weekend...I love those owls. They are a big part of the reason I started this blog.

This was one of the highlights of our day; a ruffed grouse within thirty feet of the road, looking perfectly content in a crabapple tree.

Other highlights came mostly early in the day; within the first hour we came upon a house with feeder that hosted numerous Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. I had not seen large numbers of Evening grosbeaks in a few years, so this sighting was special. We also saw a bald eagle and rough legged hawk in that first hour. I had the excitement of calling a Pileated woodpecker who I only saw because I was scanning a monotonous aspen stand as we were driving by. It presented itself perfectly, bright red crest up. Later in the day we saw a large flock of wild turkeys take flight into some tamaracks as we tried to count them.

But this was special. How often do you see a young bovine dining at a bird feeder?

This happened to be just up the road from my house, a half mile away. My kids are friends with the kids who live there. I thought about calling them and letting them know there was a cow on the loose, but it stayed close by and I think they took care of it.

We also saw more rough legged hawks, bald eagles, and most of the birds you would expect to see here. But even if we hadn't seen anything significant all day, I have to say I totally enjoyed the company of the group I was with. We all got along, cracked jokes, told stories, shared Christmas cookies, and shared the excitement of every bird we saw. So thank you Jim, Steve, and Diana, for a wonderful day birding in my "stomping grounds".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas quote of the day

Mr. Attitude: Hey Mom, could you help me out with this Transformer?

Me: I'd love to, but I'm really Mommed out for the night. (hours of wrestling with plastic, wires, computer software, and winter driving)

Mr. Attitude: Okay; Hey Mommed Out For the Night, will you please help me?

Me: :) You bet.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

another look

A mile down the road, a minute later...

the afterglow

Yesterday, Calvin and I selected a small spruce (not my first choice of species, but I didn't want to go trudging through knee deep snow being too picky), and the kids and I (mostly the kids) decorated. Their Christmas spirit is such an inspiration.

I usually don't get much into most of the popular Christmas music, just because it's so overplayed, but Saturday after my banjo lesson I needed something festive to listen to on the long drive home. I picked up Peter Ostroushko's Heartland Holiday and noticed among the tracks was Dylan's Girl From The North Country. Any holiday album with a Bob Dylan track has to be way cool!

Heartland Holiday was exactly what I was looking for. It contains familiar carols such as "Carol of the Drum" and "Stille Nacht", but also ranges into Dylan, Ukranian folk songs, Ostroushko originals, Appalachian carols, and an amazing version of "Carol of the Bells". If anyone can pull off a high energy, extended mandolin jam with this tune, it's Peter Ostroushko. Brilliant.

Today will be spent baking, cleaning, wrapping, and all the usual stuff. I wish all you readers a very happy holiday and all the blessings of the season.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Solstice sunset

Sun, I welcome you back in your journey to the Northern Hemisphere.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thinking John Denver

I had a great musical moment with Starflower and Mr. Attitude tonight. They had the last in a series of after school cooking classes sponsored by Community Ed, so I left work a little early to pick them up.

I have been on a bit of a John Denver kick lately, spurred by hearing one of his songs on the radio. John Denver was my musical hero when I was a kid; I learned a few of his songs when I first learned how to play guitar.

So I was enjoying a John Denver Greatest Hits CD in my car this afternoon. After the kids joined me in the car, we continued to listen to it. When "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" came on, I thought about giving my monologue about how JD and that song meant a lot to me when I was growing up. But I didn't.

When the song came to an end, Starflower said, "I like that song! Can we listen to it again?"

I obliged, of course. Four times. :)

I cannot tell them what to like; that is up to them to figure out. But I am beaming with pride when my kids pick up on a song I really enjoyed as a kid. Of course, it's the song; it is a classic. It has that appeal that reaches across generations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seven Random Things meme

I've been tagged for this meme by one of my oldest blogging buddies, Lene at Counting Petals. Well actually she's not old, she's younger than I am, but you know what I'm saying! :)

When I started thinking of things that would be remotely unique or interesting about myself, I had a sneaking suspicion: "Hey, haven't I done this before?" Sure enough, back in August, I did the Eight Random Facts meme, and even listed two extra things. This made it more difficult; I was careful to not duplicate anything.

So here goes:

1. Like Barefoot Gardener, I often have very epic, vivid dreams with the most outrageous characters and storylines. Sometimes I even compose complex prose and poetry in the dreams. If I don't wake up too quickly, sometimes I'm consciously aware of what I'm dreaming. It's way more entertaining than TV!

2. When I was little, I wanted to have a Jeep or a van and drive around the country, especially the Rocky Mountains, camping and singing John Denver-like songs. I heard "Rocky Mountain High" on the radio yesterday and I had major flashbacks to that dream of my youth.

3. I don't "get" a lot of poetry or visual art. I "get" some classical music, but it helps if I've played it. Like Beethoven's First Symphony, Mahler's First (last movement), and Schubert's "Unfinished".

4. I used to absolutely love water skiing. I haven't done it for about twenty years. I was also into wind surfing for a while. I still have the sailboard at my dad's garage. I would like to try it again someday.

5. I absolutely hate making phone calls, especially at work. If I can get work business done by email, I will.

6. I just Googled some key words from my Master's thesis, and to my knowledge it has been referenced in just one publication in 14 years. I'm glad I'm not a scientific posterity junkie. I'm just glad I passed.

7. I haven't even started doing Christmas cards yet. Sigh.

I am now headed out to the cook shed to make some gourmet Swedish meatballs for my office potluck Christmas party, and for our dinner tomorrow. I figured, we have lots of ground beef in the freezer, might as well make something with it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

just so you know

We had a much better day, for the most part. I rearranged the woodpile again, then we took the kids and a couple friends to see "Alvin and the Chipmunks". We did not stay with them, we drove around until the movie was over. I somehow thought my bottle of Swix ski wax remover was in our storage shed, so we drove there, but it was not there. I want to get my cross country skis in shape, but I'll have to find a new bottle of wax remover I guess. There is a layer of dirt about a sixteenth of an inch thick on my skis. Not good.

I played banjo again, even dug into a downloaded tablature version of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett". I am going to try to schedule a lesson at Homestead Pickin' Parlor next Saturday, I feel it is necessary for me to make the next quantum leap in my playing.

So we're doing okay. The Hermit wants to return to work after the first of the year, just for something to do. That's a good sign.

I finally saw a nice light morph rough legged hawk today, on the way home from the movie. I had been wondering where the rough leggeds were. And we saw three bald eagles, at different places. Very nice. The pine grosbeak flock is still hanging around.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

lonely Saturday night

Skip this post if you want to. I have absolutely nothing to say, I've had a couple vodka cranberry grapefruit juices, and I'm just killing time before my "official" bedtime of 9 something. I already practiced my banjo, and even the mandolin. After the banjo warmup, I really sounded better than ever on mandolin for some reason. Still, whenever I play a musical instrument, it seems like it's never enough. I don't want to be a mediocre musician.

It got down to 20 below again last night, although tonight it's cloudy so it will be warmer. I will have to fill the bird feeder first thing in the morning, the chickadees and pine grosbeaks have managed to clean out about five pounds of seed in a day or two. It still amazes me, having this flock of about a dozen pine grosbeaks hanging around here all day. Maybe I'll try to take pictures tomorrow.

I washed dishes this morning, which is about a three hour ordeal, well, counting the time I spend cleaning and organizing the cook shed. I can't wait to have a kitchen sink. And a real kitchen that is the center of the house, as my new kitchen will be. The Hermit asked what I had spent my day doing, and I said washing dishes, and he replied as if it were something to not be proud of, an empty chore. My reply was this: "It's a necessary task, and it is kind of satisfying to get it done. It gives me some time to think and listen to music. Why complain about it?"

My attitude is the only one I can change. But maybe it can be an influence.

I did my first Christmas shopping yesterday, and it could not have gone any better for someone like me. I knew what I wanted, I went into a store I thought would have it and they did, the whole transaction took under five minutes. Now if the rest of it can only go as well...I'm not good at this.

The Hermit is doing as well as can be expected, improving slowly, although he is frustrated at improving so slowly. We had a doctor's appointment yesterday that, in my opinion, was totally worthless. Just checking the numbers. We did tell the doctor that, after some careful consideration, he is not taking one of the prescribed medications (statin for cholesterol that really isn't that high). She tried to use scare tactics ("you don't want him to have another stroke, do you?") to which I could have replied "Hmmm...yes, it is interesting that he developed this condition a couple weeks after STARTING this medication that is supposed to protect him." I've done my homework, and I ain't no fool. Treating the symptoms does NOT equal restoring equilibrium and wellness. Especially when someone's making big bucks off of treating the symptoms. My Grandma is 88 years old, and not on any prescription medication.

He's in bed now. I'm lonely. I want my husband back, the one I was walking on the beach with a little over a month ago. I know we'll get there again, but it can't happen soon enough.

Maybe I'd better get that banjo out again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

my lovely daughter

This is my beautiful Starflower after her Christmas piano recital this afternoon. She played wonderfully; in my (biased) ear I would rank her as one of the top performers. She did not miss a note, her timing was brilliant, and she even had some expression.

The dress is retribution for my mommy guilt over not buying her more pretty girl stuff over the years. I'm just not that good at shopping, but I promise to get better, and, when you have to drive about sixty miles to get to the shopping places, that's another factor. But she needed a pretty dress for tonight, so I drove to Wal Mart, fifteen miles the wrong way from where I work, last night and found the prettiest dress they had in her size, and some tights, shoes, necklace, and some hair clips. She was thrilled.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simplifying ain't easy

The horses are no longer here. The sheep will be gone by the end of the week. Gone, to good homes. We can no longer take care of them.

It's a huge admission to make. The Hermit was always more the animal caregiver than I was. I do not have the will, nor the energy and time, to take over bringing water and hay and feed across the creek, not to mention to the small pasture on this side of the creek. The sheep are easier, but the effort we put into caring for them is still too much at this point. We need to get down to the basics, and build from there as we are ready. Which is maybe what we should have done from the start. I think we got into too many animals too soon, and it distracted from our main goals.

I asked The Hermit about the horses tonight, and he didn't even want to talk about it. The horses were his thing. I respect that.

We still have chickens and geese and rabbits and dogs and cats. That is more than enough.

I am relieved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ice ferns

Now here's something really cool you only get to see when it's really cold!

This is one of Togo's water buckets, after it froze overnight. The fern-like, pennate aggregations of ice crystals actually extend out from the sides of the bucket, although it doesn't show up well in this photo. As the water rapidly froze, water molecules released heat, driving water vapor into the air where it rapidly condensed. That, or the ice fairies were at work.

A little bit of chilly beauty. Today the high temperature is supposed to approach a tropical 20 degrees F.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

cabin fever

This cold and snow came on so fast and furious, a period of adjustment is inevitable. Not that we're not adjusting to other things...but sometimes I wake up in the morning and almost cry when I think of what has to be done.

But I get over it. And tomorrow, a couple friends are coming over to organize the woodpile, cut down pieces that are too long for our small stove, split the pieces that need another splitting, and maybe pick up another cord while we wait for our propane heater. I'm tired of stumbling out to the woodpile at 7 AM and finding only round pieces, especially birch, or too- long pieces, or rotten wood. We need some good, 5-6 inch split pieces of oak and/or maple, no longer than 14 inches.

Today I went into town to do laundry, and was surprised to find I was the only one there. A man pulled in a few minutes after me, but we talked and laughed about how we had the place to ourselves. A few people came in later, but all in all it was very tolerable for a laundromat day.

Later in the afternoon we headed for the school pool. Although the kids enjoyed the recreation, my primary goal was showers. Hot showers, as long as we wanted. Even The Hermit took advantage of the showers, although he did not swim. I have been feeling a pulled tendon in my leg, but it felt much better after swimming and gentle stretching in the water.

The pool always puts me to sleep, however. I just want to slip into flannel jammies and crawl under the down comforter when I get home from the pool! But I had to bring in wood, feed and medicate Togo, etc.

Tomorrow I'm taking it easy (as possible).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Land of the Wind Chill Factor

(any John Prine fans out there who can name that tune?)

Is your local meteorologist the most highly paid member of your local news staff?

Does the weather merit more time and detail than the sports?

Do you know what a wind chill factor is, and does it affect your day to day activities?

At you latest church potluck, was there lutefisk and lefse? If not, was there at least one "hot dish" on the menu?

If you answered "yes" to all of the above, you are a Minnesotan.

Overnight temperatures here are expected to approach twenty below, and we are on the map for a "wind chill advisory" from the National Weather Service. But, as Bob Dylan put it, "it don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." I know it's cold out there. If you live here long enough, you know that when the day, and the evening, is clear, and there is snow cover on the ground, you'd better be ready for COLD.

I don't know if I am. I hope I brought in enough wood.

I am seriously hoping for a "January Thaw". In December, already.

I am also hoping that Sally, my yellow Labrador who is seriously in heat, will just get over it SOON. It's almost tragic, watching her prance around Togo while he turns to me and says, "what's up with that?" The bad part is, I have to go out there and literally drag her away from the newly uninterested party. Pathetic.

Speaking of Togo, added to my daily complicated routine is taking three pills of Doxycycline, burying them in a ball of hamburger, and giving them to Togo with the rest of his food. Twice a day. Only about 25 more days of that.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

today's bird count

Bald eagles- 2
Pine grosbeaks- everywhere. We're having a real irruption of them this year.
Snow buntings- 2 flocks
Mourning doves- one small flock, strange for so far north
Turkeys- one flock. I got to see two of them fly when my car got too close for comfort. With the snow on the road and the way I was skidding, even with anti lock brakes, I thought I'd have me a turkey dinner.
Chickadees- the constant of the winter.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

buried in snow...and life

We got another six inches today. I wasn't expecting so much, but what can one expect from the weather? That means we'll have to shell out another $30 for a guy to plow our long driveway. Just two days after the first snow. And there's no way I'll get the pond cleared unless we get the snow blower started. I'm counting on that pond for winter recreation. In case you haven't heard, I love skating.

I picked up Togo from the vet today, after he got neutered, just in time to keep Sally protected in this her time of heat. It turns out he has Lyme disease and one other tick borne disease I can't remember the name of. Might as well keep everyone, people and animals, on antibiotics around here. But why is it that humans have to jump through hoops and inaccurate tests to get a Lyme diagnosis, and then doctors are reluctant to prescribe more than 14-21 days of antibiotics, the minimum necessary to fight the disease, when a dog can get diagnosed in a day and get a month's worth of Doxycycline? And, Togo is usually in an area of minimal grass and dirt. If he can get Lyme disease, we all are at risk.

Then my dad called with the sad news that his sister, my aunt Cheri, age 62, died of a stroke while vacationing with her daughters in Amman, Jordan. Unbelievable. The last time I saw Cheri was at my mom's funeral, and I so wanted to reconnect with her. I guess it will never happen. Jordan seems like a strange vacation spot, but I guess she was always into Mideast politics. I hope I can contact her daughters, my first cousins I haven't seen in over twenty years, and connect somehow. The scary part is, both Cheri and my grandma, the only female family I know of on my dad's side (grandma was adopted), died suddenly in their early sixties.

Wow. Life is so unpredictable. I've had that lesson driven into me these last few weeks.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

winter scenes

Now that we've had some snow, things are looking like winter. I had the chance to take these photos after I took Calvin to a friend's house this afternoon. I love my Subaru; it handles winter conditions so well.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

200 some channels

First- I found my boots, and the snow shovels! just in time. I also found a down parka of mine that I haven't worn in several years, but I feel like bringing it out this year.

The DirecTV guy arrived today, despite howling winds and about eight inches of snow, and connected us with the world. The kids are going crazy with the remote, navigating the new TV-sphere. I will probably only get my chance at it at about 3 AM. I would really love to catch up with The Food Network.

It is a nesting kind of night around here. Don't know how I'll deal with the snow in the driveway yet, but it will happen somehow.

The pine grosbeaks were calling from the trees, but I don't know why they do not show up at the feeder.

Sorry if I sound so flat lately. I'm just kind of mentally wiped out. The weather does not help.