Monday, March 31, 2008

Even though March went out like a lion...

Even though it's snowing and blowing and 23 degrees outside...

We are watching the Twins season opener against the LA Angels. They are winning by one. I am really getting into this game. This is the first year we have been able to watch Twins games here (with satellite, of course.)

Yesterday I saw the first kingfisher of the season. And the first dark eyed junco.

Today I saw a fox sparrow to go along with the dark eyed junco.

Geese are calling everywhere.

And I have a few tomato seedlings that have just sprouted.

Life is good. It's the bottom of the 7th. Gotta return to the game.

Update...**THE TWINS WON!!** Carlos Gomez is pretty awesome. And Starflower and I agree, relief pitcher Joe Nathan is pretty hot. ;) It's a girl thing.

And my son, Mr. Attitude is asking about his Hall of Fame/relative namesake, Joe Sewell, who played for the Yankees and the Indians. My great uncle was also a minor league player for the Red Sox. It's in his blood.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I love Lake Superior!

Today I took the day off work so we could have a good family spring break time together. We had thought of going to the Science Museum in St. Paul, but decided for much less the cost we could do a day trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior. I think we made the right decision.

Our home is a two hour drive from Split Rock Lighthouse, one of the most scenic lighthouses in the world. Built in 1909, it served boats on Superior before it was retired in 1969. Since then it has been maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society and the Department of Natural Resources as a historic landmark. Right now, however, it is undergoing some much needed maintenance, thus the scaffolding and surrounding fabric. If you want to see the lighthouse as it looks without the stuff, Google it. It's been photographed many times.

The lighthouse is situated on a 130 foot basalt cliff hanging above the water. The barbed wire is justified, believe me. You just want that with kids running around. Oh, and look at that water. Have you ever seen that shade of blue? Only on Lake Superior.

Later, after purchasing our "second vehicle" State Park permit, which for $18 will allow us to explore any state park until October, we made our way down the shore to Gooseberry Falls State Park. The falls are lovely, but the trails were still icy to them so we spent our time on the beach. Above is where the Gooseberry River flows into Lake Superior.

Okay, this picture was taken at Split Rock. But I took many pictures of the kids on various rock formations, and I found myself lost in looking for rocks on the beach.

I love Lake Superior. I had not been this far up the shore in years. I did not want to leave. We saw 40 deer on the way home, and about 5 eagles throughout the day.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I have to say Robin in the singular, because I saw only one, but it was definitely a robin so it counts as an official Sign of Spring.

Also, on my way home I saw a male Northern Harrier, two kestrels, and one rough legged hawk. I saw two House Finches at the feeder at work, haven't seen them for a while, so it's a spring sighting.

Last year at this time we had one day that got up to 68 degrees, leaving my daughter in her swim suit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

return of the grackles

The grackles have returned, or at least, they got as far north as the town where I work. I went for a walk at noon and heard the familiar rusty hinge call from atop a tree, and it wasn't a starling imitating a grackle.

Why is it that I just cannot describe a grackle and make it sound as poetic as, say, a bluebird?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The tomato list

This morning I had the luxury of not rousing kids out of bed before I had to leave for work. I just wish I had spring break! My job is slow enough as it is... just waiting for the ice to melt off the lakes.

I took the time to go through my tomato seed stash and whittle the list down to 12 varieties to plant for the year. I had maybe sixteen or seventeen varieties, and I bought one new one which of course I will plant this year. So after much deliberation, the list is as follows:

Polish Linguisa 73 day paste (the one I bought new this year)
Grandma Mary's 68 day paste
Opalka 83 day paste (anything over 80 days is risky here)
Rose 80 day slicer (had really good luck with these the first year I had a garden here)
Black Cherry 76 day cherry (good luck with these two or three years ago)
Yellow pear 82 day pear (very prolific, and good)
Beaverlodge plum 55 day plum (I'll try anything under 60 days!)
Matina 75 day slicer
Siletz 70-75 day slicer (anything under 80 might work for me)
Brandywine over 80 day slicer...but it's always worked, and it's worth it
Sub Arctic Plenty- 50 day small slicer (we'll see)
Stupice 50 something day slicer that has always worked for me.

So 12 varieties means maybe 6 beds devoted to tomatoes. Which means I need more beds, although I may be cultivating part of the old horse pasture this year.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The spring that takes forever to arrive

I thought I would have been posting a lot more these last few days. Even after the excitement (?!) of my birthday, there should have been a few things to post about. Spring bird sightings, and all that.

Unfortunately, the weather is not getting better day by day. While I appreciate the above-freezing afternoons that sometimes appear, really there is nothing to show for it. No robins, phoebes, bluebirds, sandhill cranes, and whatever else marks the beginning of spring. I am settling into a "wait and see" mode myself, not feeling like actively going out and looking for things. The wind is howling tonight, with the temperature around 25, so it still feels cold.

I have a few signs of spring in my cook shed, namely seedlings. Red and white kale, spinach, and lately, a few adventurous eggplant and pepper seedlings have sprouted. I need to plant tomatoes soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My birthday present

I am now officially in the 21st century. I have an Ipod.

Now what do I do???? :)

UPDATE: I have now downloaded 1.2 gigabytes of music that I had on my work computer. I finally got iTunes installed at home, now I have to make some time to play with it.

Who was the first artist I listened to on my iPod? Me! Totally by chance, I had my recording of Greg Brown's "Early" already on iTunes, and it automatically downloaded to the Pod when I connected it. Sweet!

"We should have named you Spring"

That's what my dad says to me quite often on this day. After all, it is Spring now...and my birthday happens to fall on the vernal equinox more often than not.

However, I can't remember Easter ever being this close to my birthday. I suppose it's one of those once in a lifetime things.

Anyway, I am 41 and life has never been better!

My special bird sighting of the day: sharp tailed grouse. They like brushy habitat, of which we have plenty here, but they are rarely seen. They should be starting to dance on leks about now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wild geese

Their first raucous, joyful call on a frosty March morning is music at its best.

They are back. As it should be.

They announced their presence by flying low right over our house, honking loudly "We have returned!"

My heart soared.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Signs of spring

I forgot to mention: I saw my first kestrel of the year yesterday!

Other sightings: A pair of crows harassing a red tailed hawk, who seemed to be taking it pretty calmly.

A bald eagle soaring over Sand Creek.

Four inches of snow this morning. Oh well, three out of four ain't bad.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A parent teacher conference I'll remember...(warning, funny kid story ahead)

Leave it to my youngest to convince the kindergarten teacher that maybe it's time to retire.

We went over all the progress in reading and math, and Mr. Attitude is passing kindergarten with flying colors. I'm so proud of him, proud of all my children really.

So then the conversation drifts to other things. Mr. Attitude starts telling his teacher about our pet rabbits. We have Brownie, and Cocoa, and Cedar. And...We thought Cedar was a girl, but she likes to hump the other bunnies...

I could see Calvin off to the side giving the NO! NO! signal, but Mr. Attitude went on about bunny parts and all that, and bunnies humping...all the while my face turning forty shades of red.

His teacher just laughed and said, "Now there's a story you can tell at his graduation!"

Expedition to the Magic Island

If you click on the photo to enlarge, you can see Calvin (near the center of the photo), and Starflower (to the right, about halfway up).

With the snow cover down a bit, and somewhat of a crust over the remaining snow, Sunday was a good day to go exploring. We have a wetland on approximately the eastern 1/3 of our 40 acres that varies from a cattail marsh to an alder/willow shrub swamp with sedges in between. This is great habitat for sedge wrens, frogs, bitterns, and other critters that haven't emerged or returned yet for the spring.

As the name "wetland" implies, most of the time, except in extremely dry years, the ground is too wet to walk on, although it is possible with hip boots or waders. In the winter it is advisable to wear snowshoes to get through the deep snow. (There's a hint for next Christmas; we don't have any usable snowshoes around here!) But, no matter what time of year it is, the swamp makes for difficult walking due to the thick woody brush.

In the middle of all this is a slightly higher spot, indicated in the picture by a young thicket of jack pine and perhaps a white pine to the left. Neither of these are what you'd normally find growing in wetlands. We call it the "island", and it's naturally a good place for a ten year old boy (and eight year old girl) to explore. Calvin wants to build his own cabin out there some day.

I didn't get out there with the kids today, but then again they didn't need my supervision. I was out by the creek watching Mr. Attitude throwing stones. Again. :)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

life by the extension cord

This is what happens when The Hermit is out for a few days on important business (visiting parents along the way).

I woke up some time in the middle of the night; I do not know the exact time because the power was out and I could not see a clock. Furthermore, once I got out of bed and started searching around, I could not find a light. Any light. I managed to find a jacket and stumbled out into the night. Fortunately the temperature was mild, hovering just below freezing. Therein lies the problem.

Our main electric box is a couple hundred feet from the cabin (I use the term cabin to refer to the five year "temporary" dwelling we live in while building the new house). We are connected to it by...three heavy duty extension cords plugged together. From the electrical epicenter, which is located in the generator box, power is distributed to the house, the cook shed, the garage (the freezer is there), and the back yard. Remember the last one; it would have saved me a lot of trouble this morning.

In my first dark stumblings, tromping through about two inches of new snow which is gone as of this writing, I checked the connection at the generator box, determined the problem was at least out at the main box, hiked out there, noticed the neighbors' security light was on, which meant the problem was within our own system. I hit the "reset" button on the main connection...and it tripped again within seconds.

I was too tired at that point to try and figure things out, and I had a headache. Without a light, what could I do? I went back to bed, but hardly slept. It was a little chilly without our electric controlled heater, but that's what down comforters are for.

An hour or so later I woke to the sound of some animal running (hopping) across the living room floor. Cats are quieter, dogs are bigger and louder. What the...rabbit?

I had the presence of mind to find my cell phone and turn it on. It was 5 AM. By the display light I saw one wayward rabbit who had managed to bust out of the side door and escape from the cage. I put the rabbit in, and also found a DeWalt rechargeable light, which I desperately needed at that point.

I went back outside. With snow melting, any junction of plugs could accumulate water and short the system out. I walked along the couple hundred feet of cords from the main box, pulling cords up out of the snow and making sure junctions were dry. When I hit the button on the main box, it still tripped.

I thought maybe there was a problem with the cord to the garage, where the freezer is, or another auxiliary cord. I unplugged a couple cords and hiked back out to the main box. I hit the switch, and it tripped again.

It was then I remembered... There is an old, rather frayed extension cord running to the back yard for when I use the wringer washer. It is plugged into the cabin's main power supply. Usually we unplug it when it is not in use, because if it gets wet it MAKES THE POWER GO OUT. I had thought it had been unplugged, since obviously I haven't used the wringer washer in months. But as a last resort, I checked it. It was still plugged in.

Unplugging it meant crawling, no, slithering, over new, wet snow and dirt about three feet under the cabin in my tank top and pajama pants. But, it was getting darned cold inside and it was also almost time to make coffee. So I slithered and unplugged the cord, then hiked back out to the electric box and pushed the magic button.

I saw the Winter Cheer lights come on. They stayed on, and the button didn't trip. Success.

By then it was 5:30, too late to go back to bed. But at least I was not going to work, for the unfortunate reason that Starflower was feeling under the weather. I had stayed home with Calvin the day before. Poor kids, I think March is the worst for illness. But I took advantage of my free time, after all they are both at the age where they're not too demanding. I practiced banjo and flute.

For you flute players out there, I decided maybe the problem wasn't with my flute, but with my out of shape embouchure. Amazing what two days' practice in a row can do for that. I've learned a bunch of reels, including "The Laurel Tree" and "The Noisy Curlew".

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A walk in the thaw

That strange shadow is...The Mom. Mr. Attitude was perfectly happy throwing stones into the creek. I've found that's a universal boy thing. Us girls tend to pick up pretty stones and put them in our pockets. I found one Lake Superior agate.

On the way back along the driveway, we saw lots of these black globs in puddles. Dirt? No. Actually, they are little bugs, not insects but in the same phylum Arthropoda, called springtails, or snow fleas, or family Collembola. I was amazed, no matter what they are called.

Whenever the temperature gets above 20 or so, these little black jumpy things come out and pepper the white snow with their presence. I just they survive the next winter evening low temperatures? I don't know...

Some of them get caught in water flows. I think hundreds of thousands of them just happened to be caught in this flow, which runs off our driveway and ultimately ends up in the pond. So maybe they are food for insects, invertebrates, maybe even turtles and small fish.

Life never ceases to amaze me.

Now this is more like it!

The Hermit called me at work to tell me our ill-tempered, pessimistic thermometer was finally reading 40 degrees!

I spent my afternoon break standing with my back against a south facing wall, soaking up the sun, and listening to the dripping of melt water from the eaves and the rush of breeze through a small grove of jack pines.

Let the mud season begin!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The goose is in, and other news

I finally got that darned goose back in the pen. Today's sun was strong enough that it softened the snow around the gate so I could dig it out enough to open the gate about one foot. Then I threw some feed inside the pen, and chased the offending goose towards the gate with the shovel. Success! But did the goose thank me? It acted like it was happy to be in, but it still hissed at me. Oh well.

Why do we keep geese, anyway?

I finally saw a few snow buntings today. I had to take Calvin to a friend's house, and on the way home I took a detour to a road where snow buntings are often seen. We had traveled that road yesterday with no buntings. Today I had better luck, with a small flock of about six snow buntings sighted. They will be heading for the Arctic tundra soon.

While I drove around, I was listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Celtic Connections on KUMD out of Duluth. I just love Celtic music, and I enjoy playing it, but I'm afraid it's time to take the flute in for another tune up.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

red on white

He was back first thing in the morning.

It was only 18 below zero.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Treasures of a cold March day

The high temperature maybe got to 12 degrees F. Oh well, it still felt much warmer in the strong sunlight. And it's gotta end soon, right?

I didn't see my barred owl, although I made an effort. I did see a flock of Bohemian waxwings over the town of Hinckley, where I work. I hope they found the two crab apple trees that are still loaded with fruit.

There are two red tailed hawks now at the site where I've been seeing one. A pair maybe?

And, when I came home and went inside my warm house, what did I see perched in the dead spruce above the feeder? The most gorgeous red male cardinal. For those of you in more southern climes, even the Twin Cities of MN, cardinals are a rare treat around here. He just perched there in the spruce branch until sunset. I'm hoping he thought he found a good food source with good cover, and we'll see more of him. I had not seen a cardinal since December.

Today's weather: TFCFM*


*Too Freakin Cold For March

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The barred owl and I

....are now on almost a first name basis. I can almost be guaranteed now that, on a sunny afternoon, if I just look close, I WILL see it! Yes, I did see it today, a bit further from the road than normal in a skinny birch tree. I haven't been this excited about driving home from work since the great gray owl event of 2005.

On another note, I am so ready for the snow and ice to melt!! Today I was walking out to a dog kennel we use as covered storage except for the middle kennel, where The Brittany and The Chesapeake hang out together during the day. I was getting a bunch of hay for the rabbits. Just as I approached the hay, my legs gave way beneath me as I slid to the right on some ice. As I was going down the upper front of my left ear happened to meet up with the protruding latch to the kennel door. I now have a one inch gash which slightly slices my ear from my head. Just slightly, though. Lots of pain, but I think no need for stitches. But it's really hard to find a Band-aid that will fit, and not be stuck to hair.

It could have been worse. The latch could have hit just a bit lower and caught my earring, thus ripping my earlobe in two. But we won't dwell on the what if's.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Barred owl update

I saw it again today! It was about a half mile north of where I had seen it before, but in a tree next to the road as usual. Amazing!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

An ordinary Saturday, turned extraordinary

It was a pretty laid back day here at Sand Creek. I lounged in bed until the ridiculously late hour of 7:30, when a cat and dog tag team (Blue Flame and Sally) finally ousted me. I sipped coffee and watched the usual chickadees, nuthatches (white and red breasted), redpolls, blue jays, goldfinches, and pine grosbeaks at the feeder while I finalized my garden seed, potato, and onion orders and made them online. I have marked my calendar to plant tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds in three weeks! By then I just might be seeing pairs of Canada geese flying around, maybe even a robin or bluebird.

Then I had a great banjo practice session, although for some reason I found it difficult to actually sit down and start practicing. I don't know if it's that nagging thought in the back of my mind that something, somewhere, needs to be done, or the apprehension about the mental effort it takes to learn something, and be disciplined enough to keep repeating things until they become second nature to me. I think I succeeded in overcoming whatever mental hurdles there were.

It would have been easy to stay there in that room, bathed in sunlight, and making music. But there were a few things that needed to be done, and it was nice enough outside that I really didn't mind doing them. The Hermit came home from a three day business trip, and we put together a new rabbit cage we can use indoors or out. Much nicer than the dog kennel the rabbits were staying in.

Then two friends of Calvin and Starflower's came over, so The Hermit and I got away for a short drive. I had just mentioned to him that, along the road we were driving, I had seen a barred owl three or four times within the last month. Then, we almost drove right by THIS:

This barred owl was enjoying the afternoon sun so much it didn't seem to mind us backing up to gawk at it. What a beautiful sight! No, of course I did not have my camera with me at the time. But after we got home, The Hermit took Mr. Attitude to see if they could see it. And take photos. I would have gone along, but I was already shoveling the pond. Again.

The Hermit said he could not get a picture of the owl straight on; it kept turning its head in that amazing way owls do.

Mr. Attitude's excitement as he was telling me about the owl was precious. "It had a big round head, and he could turn it all the way around!" I am SO happy it was still there and they got such a good view, and pictures. I don't think Mr. Attitude had seen an owl before.

I'm not keeping a year list this year, but I will make note that I have never seen barred owls as frequently as I have this last month.

Great photos, Hermit.