Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What I've really been thinking about lately

My catch phrase for everything these days is "When we get into the new house..." For example: "Starflower, you'll be able to have a friend sleep over without infringing on Mom and Dad's privacy." As if we have any. And I tell myself: "You'll have a place to play music, do yoga, even umm...have some fun with your spouse!"

It all hinges on that. Living in small quarters with children (not to mention dogs) without indoor plumbing has got to be one of the most chronically stressful situations I have encountered. College dorm life seems comparatively attractive. I feel like I'm about ready to lose it more often than I care to admit. We need that space!

But, since that has been the situation for four years and counting, I have found other things to divert my attention. I have, I've decided, been overly obsessed with my health. True, I have gained more weight that I would like to these last few years, but I find myself obsessing over every little ache, taking more supplements than I probably need, spending hours on the Web reading what is mostly nonsense.

But can a woman who is as hopelessly out of shape as I keep tellimg myself I am, hop into the pool and swim forty laps in an hour after years of non-swimming? And even push myself into interval training? And meticulously avoid refined sugars, trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, the Evil Trinity of the modern diet?

Maybe I have more inner strength than I give myself credit for.

There's more. But it's late.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Return of The Thinking Deb

Okay, you've probably been wondering what happened to her. Deb's brain seems to have been on autopilot as of late, producing a post here and there, but nothing too substantial. It's still there, far as I can tell, but it seems to be on hiatus lately. I mean, it was a mental struggle to write about the last snowfall. I was tempted to just post a picture, write "we got snow", and leave it at that. Pretty lame.

February in Minnesota does that to a person. As Dar Williams puts it in her song "February", :

first we forgot where we planted those bulbs last year
and then we forgot that we planted at all
then we forgot what plants are altogether
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting..

But the first smell of partially thawed ground last week stirred something in me, that is, before the foot of snow covered it up. So did the sound of Canada geese, which I'm wondering wasn't just a dream. We haven't heard them since. In a month, they will definitely be a presence, as well as red winged blackbirds and robins. And I will celebrate a milestone birthday on the equinox.

A lot to think about there. I think my mind will awaken from hibernation. I hope.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

a typical Minnesota morning

Looks like I won't be going anywhere soon.

Finally, after over a month of looking at the same dirty crust of snow, we had some decent snowfall overnight. We got about eight inches; further south the total was a foot or more. Combined with strong east winds, snow piled up in drifts up to 3 feet high. I think it's beautiful, but then again I'm not the one out there clearing our long driveway with the snowblower.

The heavy snow began yesterday afternoon, while we were at the pool for our usual Saturday afternoon swim. We almost had the place to ourselves; others must not have wanted to venture out on the roads. I don't know who had the most fun, the kids and three of their friends or me. It felt so good being in the water; I had a great time splashing around, giving Mr. Attitude piggy back rides across the pool, diving off the board, and just floating in the deep end.

After swimming I had to drop kids off. Two of the friends live just a half mile up the road, but the other one, at whose house Calvin was spending the night, is about ten miles away on gravel roads. By then we had maybe three inches of snow and I had to shift into winter driving mode. Driving on snow-covered roads really isn't that difficult if you just take it slow. The difficult part comes when you encounter other drivers who don't remember to take it slow. Luckily I pretty much had the roads to myself.

So today it looks like I'll be at home. I have plenty of jobs to keep me busy out in the cookshed.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The latest "Attitude-ism"

Mr. Attitude has been watching episodes of "Rawhide" and Clint Eastwood movies with The Hermit lately. So, with that setup, it should come as no surprise that his latest line is:

"Did someone say .45?"

At which time he brandishes his toy pistol, if available.

At Gander Mountain, the big chain sporting goods store, he walked up to the gun counter and said:

I need to see a 45. Come on, I don't got all day!

That's my son.

blog remodeling

I'm finally going to try the new Blogger template editing features today, so things may look strange for a while. I have a copy of the old template saved, just in case things get ugly.

Snow and freezing drizzle today.

UPDATE: Editing completed. Say what you want about the new Blogger, but I really enjoyed not having to be an html wizard to get this look. Now I'm labeling archive posts.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

garden planning

I stayed home from work today recovering from a brief stomach flu bug that hit last night. I was feeling better but not well enough to sit through a meeting that was scheduled. I'm so disappointed! :) I was feeling well enough, however, to gather all my seed catalogs and sit by the table overlooking the bird feeder, and do some serious garden and seed order planning.

It is serious business. Face it, I've got perhaps forty more chances in this lifetime to grow a garden, and I intend to make the best use of the opportunity. Why grow a few industrial hybrid veggies distributed by a subsidiary of the most evil corporation known to humanity (ummm, I guess that would be pretty much all of them) when I can be subversive and grow heirlooms, choosing from an almost infinite number of varieties, even save my own seed if I find something that works well here?

The number one reason, perhaps, is time. With so many varieties to choose from, it takes some careful study to decide what is best for my area and my needs. Take for example tomatoes. I have a pitifully short, unpredictable growing season, and with rainfall it may be feast or famine. I am looking for something that will produce before August, a couple interesting cherry type tomatoes for snacking and possibly marketing, some productive paste varieties for salsa and canning, and some heavenly slicing varieties. So far my list stands at twenty varieties, several in each of the above categories. Most of them I have already, but I still feel the need to experiment and hopefully stumble on THE perfect variety.

In past years I have mostly confined my exacting selection process to tomatoes. However, this year I am giving each other vegetable careful thought. So far I'm growing three or four different kinds of carrots, several beans (both pole and bush), and I'm staying up nights debating the perfect pickling cucumber. Not to mention winter squashes (between my stash and what I want to order I could have eight or more types!) and peppers (which, fortunately I closed the book on; I already have an order of four varieties from Seed Savers Exchange, plus a stash of three).

This ain't just a hobby, however. This is food. This is life. This is pretty serious business. But it is a lot of fun, imagining and dreaming the possibilities.

While I was pondering the possibilities, the pine grosbeaks showed up promptly at 10:15, not more than two minutes after I thought to myself "the pine grosbeaks usually show up right about now." And, I won the bet from yesterday, I heard Canada geese this morning! Spring is not too far off now.

thawing earth and melting snow

We're getting an early, teasing taste of spring here for the last few days in Minnesota, with daytime highs nearing 40 (does the thermometer go that high? I forgot!) in some areas. Snow is melting, ice slicks are becoming slicker with meltwater on the surface, and mud is forming where the ground is bare but still frozen underneath. It's really not pretty to look at, especially when the skies are gray, it's a sign that winter is losing its grip.

I had a whiff of a road killed skunk yesterday, evidence that the longer days and weather have critters moving around. Togo and the horses are even starting to shed their winter coats.

Togo's wild relatives are on the move as well. The night before last I was jolted out of my sleep by the wild laughter of coyotes. They were closer than I've ever heard them, perhaps not a hundred yards from the house.

The Hermit, Calvin and I have a bet on which will show up first: Canada geese, red winged blackbirds, or sandhill cranes. My money's on the geese.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

stuff going thru my mind

Where's the suet feeder? I went out to fill it this afternoon, since we have an abundance of suet in the freezer from the beef we bought, but when I got out to the old spruce tree the feeder was nowhere to be found. Apparently it was knocked down, by a cat or a red squirrel, and when the dogs were out they dragged it into the woods somewhere. I will try to improvise with an onion bag tomorrow until I can find something better.

I was in the new house today for a few minutes, dreaming and visualizing where stuff is going to be. It's hard to think too much when it's below freezing in there, but I do this just to keep sane. We're on track. It[s going to happen. And then I got to thinking about how my generation, and all subsequent ones, have been taught this instant gratification thing, that everything has to be completed all at once. But it's a given that, when we move in here the drywall won't all be up, the flooring will be the plywood that is there now, and there will be a lot of work to do. After three years living in a tiny cabin, I can deal with that. But about the indoor plumbing...let's put that on the fast track...

I made a soul-satisfying soup and caraway rye bread for dinner. Yes, I dragged the bread machine out from a long hiatus, and the results were wonderful. I think I could live on whole wheat caraway rye, with a little anise and fennel thrown in. I also transferred our Baltic Porter from the primary fermenting bucket, where it has been a little bit too long, to the glass carboy. The reason being, I've been trying to clean the carboy but every time I set it on its side on the floor of the cookshed, the water freezes. There's this crust of hops and yeast from the last beer (Belgian Witbier) on the shoulders of the carboy that would only go away by soaking, which meant I had to lay the carboy on its side in the cookshed. But when it's twenty below outside, everything on the floor of the cookshed freezes. But today I finally cleaned off the crust enough, but not completely. I sampled the beer as it went in, and all was well. Now I just have to get a case or two more bottles...

Calvin had a friend over today, and together they figured out how to hook up Sally and Togo for sled rides. Good for them, and good for the dogs, who really needed to get out and play. Now I need to look up some info on how to train dogs to run a straight line...

I have the day off tomorrow, President's Day holiday! My last Monday holiday for a few months. Maybe I'll spend some time giving this blog some overdue attention...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

fifteen years ago...

We said our vows in a small Lutheran church just outside of Minneapolis. It was a mild but gray day, typical February. The wedding was far from elaborate; handmade bridesmaids dresses and simple flower arrangements. A friend from college played flute solos before the service. I don't remember that much; it all went so quickly.

Next was the reception at an old worn-out Legion hall nearby. But we had given in to hiring a great caterer, and the menu was outstanding. Also, we had hired a musical duo we had listened to many times and liked, keyboards and guitar. They played slow music throughout dinner, but then after the tables cleared we broke into an impromptu wedding dance. We only had the hall until nine, no real dance planned, but we just went with the flow and had some memorable dances. Then we departed for our decorated Ford Escort wagon, and headed to downtown Minneapolis for our wedding night on the 13th floor overlooking downtown. Still fully clad in wedding attire, we went down to the bar and danced, celebrated. On your wedding night, people give a lot of free drinks!

The next day it was a long drive from Minneapolis up to the Canadian border, at a lodge we will never forget. Although we only were able to stay two nights for our honeymoon, that place will always stay with us. We cross country skiied, and enjoyed some fabulous meals in the dining room.

Fifteen years. Wow. Of course it hasn't been perfect, but we are now on the course of our dreams, and we have managed to endure many hardships...together. All things considered, I like being married, and The Hermit is probably the only man in the world who could put up with me for so long :) !

We celebrated tonight with a meal of grilled ocean scallops, crab stuffed mushroom caps, roasted asparagus, and boiled new potatoes. Too much of a feast for me!

Monday, February 12, 2007

catching up

I'll likely be out of the blogosphere the next few days; I'm attending our biennial statewide fisheries employees meeting. It's kind of nice to see what others are up to around the state, and there is talk of a music jam after hours...nuff said!

I took the day off work today, because Starflower had been running a fever all weekend and still wasn't up to going to school. Well, really, I wasn't feeling all that good myself. Sunday it was so balmy out I practically spent the day outside, first clearing a good amount of snow off the pond, then skating. I kept eyeing the snow I had left behind, but it would have been a lot of work for adding a few feet of width to the already ample skating area. As it turns out, I had already overtaxed my muscles to the point of severe day-after pain. But that wasn't all. While skating, I attempted to execute a two-foot spin, which I've done a zillion times; I'm even working on a one foot version now. But for some inexplicable reason, both my skates suddenly slid out to one side and I ended up crashing to the ice, with the full impact on my left hip. I immediately ascertained that I was okay, nothing broken, but I also knew that there was future pain to be felt. I was right. Amazingly, a lot of it was in my neck; apparently my neck muscles, in order to protect my head, contracted violently. They did the job, but I'm left with the after effects. This would have been nothing twenty years ago!

Dream mandala update: One more sighting last night. But I wonder if all my pondering of the first dream may have reinforced the image enough that it had a greater chance of showing up. I love that ten minutes or so when I'm waking up, trying to make sense of what I've seen internally.

The male pine grosbeak made a brief appearance again today, not nearly as long as I would have liked.

Ever notice how, as the days get longer, the twilight lingers for a longer time as well? When the sun sets on winter solstice, it is dark almost immediately. Now I can go out nearly an hour after sunset and still see a light in the western sky. The thermometer may not agree, but dark winter is losing its grip.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

pine grosbeak

Just after breakfast this morning, during which I commented that, while I love chickadees, it would be nice to see something different for a change, this guy showed up.

Male pine grosbeaks have the most lovely rose-red feathers; they are a little bit smaller than a robin. The females are mostly gray with the same wing markings, but their heads are accented with colors that range from greenish yellow to rust, depending on the individual. One female showed up along with the male, but I did not get a good photo of her.

I had not seen pine grosbeaks here for two years. What a treat! The whole family got a look at them. Mr. Attitude exclaimed "It's a red jay!" Good description, even if he had the wrong bird family.

We're having a much needed heat wave today. The temperature never got below zero last night, and it's 10 degrees out! I'm off to clear snow off the pond and go skating later.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

how not to load a woodstove

Glass windows are nice on woodstoves. They allow one to enjoy a view of the fire, and to easily know when it's time to add more wood.

However, if you're adding a particularly large piece of wood to the fire, and having a problem getting it in place with the poker or by hand, the glass window should not be used to push the wood into place. Particularly if one accidentally uses more than minimal force when closing the door. The glass is tough, but not that tough.

Oops. I didn't pick a good night to put the woodstove temporarily out of commission, as it was -12 F outside. Luckily we had the backup propane heater, but it's nothing compared to wood heat.

$60 and an 80 mile round trip to the nearest specialty glass store later, The Hermit successfully replaced the window.

I am getting very sick of winter.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

a couple things to celebrate

The odometer on my 1995 Honda Accord station wagon rolled over to 200,000 miles on my way home! As destiny would have it, the event occurred exactly as I was crossing the Kettle River, on the beautiful route (though it was dark) I drive so often. I am convinced those Accords never die; they just rust away slowly if you let 'em. We have another one, a 1990 manual transmission sedan, currently on loan to my stepson, with over 400,000 on it. Kilometers, that is. It originated in Canada. But no matter how you do the math, I'm pretty impressed with their record. And they do get up to 30 miles per gallon, which is easy on the bank account and easier on the environment than most other options. And it's paid for!

Another thing worth celebrating: I swam 1000 meters on Tuesday and today. It doesn't quite feel like swimming did when I was 14 and on the junior high swim team, but I'm not in as bad of shape as I thought I was. I can still sprint freestyle 50 yards, although it takes longer to recover.

dream mandala

Thanks to arcolaura, I now have a name for the pattern of lights I saw swirling in my dream: mandala. And thanks to Google image search and Photoshop, I was able to create this approximation from a simple spirograph image.

According to various sources on the Internet, seeing this in a dream means I have achieved higher consciousness, that I am one with the universe.

I don't feel that different.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

strange dream

I was at my aunt and uncle's lake place to celebrate my birthday. (This, in real life, was a very important place to me when I was growing up, when my grandparents lived there). I don't recall who all was there, but there was one aunt constantly fussing over food preparations, shoving more food on the table just as the previous meal was being cleared. I went outside, and my aunt had so many garden statues and other yard stuff lying around I could hardly walk around the house. When I looked out at the lake, which was frozen over because it was winter, I was dismayed to see a monster all-terrain vehicle rally on the lake right in front of the house! They were even using part of the hill for a starting ramp. I was the only one who seemed concerned about seeing it, and I went back inside the house to dig for my digital camera so I could blog about it. (Yes. Blogging has officially taken over my dreams.) It took a long time to find the camera in my backpack, and when I finally found it there was a small group of people standing on top of the hill watching the ATV rally.

This is where the most bizarre thing appeared. I looked up in the sky, and there was a comet or meteor-like object moving rapidly across the sky, leaving a trail of bright white lights behind. It was bigger and brighter than any meteor I've ever seen, though, and more like a cluster of lights. "Look!" I yelled. "Something's burning out across the sky!" Then the cluster of lights stopped moving, and fomed into a large vertical ring that was rotating like a wheel. After that, the lights arranged into a variety of kaleidoscope-like patterns. Then I realized they were moving towards me rapidly. I swear I felt them hit me right between the eyes. I awoke with a sudden expelling of breath, like I'd had the wind knocked out of me.

I don't recall feeling terror, or maybe I did not have time to react.

This is the most vivid, bizarre dream I've had in a long time. I cannot recall any real life display like those lights. No, I wasn't drinking. Not much, anyway.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

more brr

This black capped chickadee is utilizing several strategies to keep warm in this bout of subzero weather we've been having. Some have said, and I can't remember exactly where I've heard this, that according to the laws of physics, chickadees should not be able to survive extremely cold weather. Obviously, this bird is not a law student.
One, it is eating. Luckily it is part of a flock that has found a reliable seed source (that would be me). The chicks get the bonus of what to them is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I get the bonus of being able to watch them from my somewhat climate-controlled shelter.
Two, it is fluffed out to the max. Those down feathers, with their amazing air-pocket trapping capacities, are the equivalent of a good down comforter or parka. Goose, that is, not chickadee.
Three, it is sitting in the sunlight, in an area sheltered from the wind. Microclimate makes all the difference. I wonder if the black cap helps it to absorb more heat from the sun in its cranial area.
Four, it spent the night roosting, probably in an old woodpecker nest in a dead tree (leave 'em standing!), with a bunch of other chickadees. The bent tail feathers I see on some individuals attest to the fact that when it comes to sleepover parties, the more the merrier. The tail feathers sometimes get bent when things get crowded, but all benefit from the body heat and retention from all that chickadee down. But body heat isn't everything; I have heard chickadees can drop their internal temperature at night to save energy.
We humans have slightly different adaptive strategies. We build unnaturally shaped rectangular domiciles and fill the walls with glass fiber fluff. We burn wood inside these shelters, and even sometimes bottles of liquid propane. Sometimes both at the same time. We put on warm clothing. KIDS--REPEAT--WE PUT ON WARM CLOTHING!! Today we even took a few further adaptive measures, like putting plastic on the three porch windows that we'd been too lazy to do before. And The Hermit had to fix the propane heater, which somehow had gotten polluted by some foreign plastic object that somehow got in there. Both measures had measurable effects; I'm not freezing sitting here at the computer and the temperature at about 10 feet up in the main room topped 100. Again, microclimate is everything; on the floor under the bunk bed, a can of pop will still freeze.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

fun stuff to do when it's below zero

Did you know if you toss a pan of boiling water in the air when the temperature is 12 below zero (which, by the way, was our high temp for the day), this is what happens? Sorry for the off center photo; I did the tossing and the photography. Anyway, the water vaporizes, explodes, and freezes all at the same time. I have been pondering the physics behind this phenomenon all day, but I still can't quite figure out an explanation of why this happens. Maybe if there's a very good science teacher out there he might shed some light on this. Obviously from the trajectory of the water particles, some sort of energetic release is involved. I learned this trick from a fellow Minnesotan on the Homesteading Today forums.
Another fun thing to do, with the benefit of getting cleaned up without taking an outdoor shower: Family memberships at the school swimming pool are $48 a month. They have open swimming Saturday afternoons, so we enjoyed a swim today, followed by a long hot shower. I haven't relaxed so much or had so much fun in the water for a long time. I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to start swimming laps Tuesdays and Thursdays after work. The shower alone is worth it, not to mention the exercise!
I also spent some time this morning labeling my last 100 blog posts, since I now have this option. I have about 500 posts to go, so this will take a while, but I'm really liking this feature. The only problem is, the floor under the computer is about the least insulated floor in the house, not to mention we didn't get around to putting up plastic on all the porch windows. So I have cold feet.

and it's windy too

it's so cold...

I just found this out: Pop cans are really loud when they explode from freezing. Especially when they are ten feet away in the same porch where I am sitting here blogging at 4:30 AM.

It's gonna be a long weekend...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Opportunistic birding

I had a dreaded "planning" meeting the other day, in which we "professionals" discuss how a huge state park should be managed in the next ten years. My agenda, as a representative of Fisheries, was to eradicate beaver from the area and restore native brook trout streams. But I'm not by nature a persistent sort of person so I think what I may have accomplished, at best, was contributing an understanding of how native brook trout contribute to the ecosystem.

Oh well. I took every advantage of having a meetimg 20 miles away from work; I took the back roads on my way back to the office, and in doing so saw one rough legged hawk ( light morph), one goshawk (immature), a flock of about two hundred snow buntings (beautiful), and several ring necked pheasants. ( I know, exotic, but it was my 30th species for the year!) And, on the way home I saw a bald eagle. Sweet.

Groundhog Day in Minnnesota

First, and this was news to me, we do not have an official groudhog here in Minnesota. The task is taken up, by of all creatures, a porcupine.

Second, the porcupine saw its shadow and was scared, hence six more weeks of winter. Somehow, six weeks does not sound all that bad. But who defines "winter" anyway?

Third, it's way damn cold out and I have a hard time thinking about global warming when it is -15F outside.

Fourth, alcoholic beverages have a wonderful counteracting effect on cabin fever. I would suggest Svedka vodka, not just because of my Swedish heritage. But, enjoy in moderation.

Yeah right.

I done been switched!

After trying once to switch to the new Blogger, and being told, after countless implorings, that they could not do it for me at that time, I have, I guess, switched to the new Blogger. Whatever.