Saturday, May 31, 2008

the garden beds are ready...almost



I think this may have been the worst year ever for getting the garden beds ready. Due to the cold, wet weather, I wasn't able to get into most of the beds as early as I would have liked. And due to an early frost last summer, and my neglect afterwards, some grasses crept in underneath the boards and established themselves. So it wasn't just seedling weeding, it was like turning over sod in some places. I had to edge the beds with a shovel and carry out huge clumps of grasses, and unfortunately, soil. I also carried out boulders the size of a cat from some beds.

I did manage to get the last seven beds weeded today, which means I'm almost ready to plant. Almost, that is, because some of these beds need a bit more soil, which I can get from the horse pasture once I pump up the tire on the wheelbarrow.

This last bed was done in a hurry, and the picture taken rather hastily, because I was being attacked by the most vicious, bloodthirsty mosquitoes I have ever seen here. I tried to escape them by bringing Sally and a tall cool drink to the beach, but there they were. Finally I went to the new house and had a little shade, peace, and quiet. Except for the occasional shouts from the kids and their three friends who were here for a while this afternoon.

In the morning I was serenaded by an elusive bird with a high, buzzing call. I think it may have been a savannah sparrow, which would be a lifer although I'm sure they've been here with me all this time.

Friday, May 30, 2008

bird antics

I dug deep in my pockets (checkbook) today and paid $22 for a 50 pound bag of black oil sunflower seeds. Ouch. I know full well the birds don't need my charity this time of year, and my feeder is in constant danger of being torn apart by a hungry black bear, BUT...I have a pair of rose breasted grosbeaks who may be nesting nearby, and who greatly appreciate the fast food. And I'm still getting chickadees, red breasted nuthatches, goldfinches, and purple finches, so of course I can't let them down now! And if a bear tears down the feeder, well, it's showing its age and not going to be in service that much longer anyways, and maybe that will be a big hint to my brother-in-law, who built the first one, that it's time for a new one.

Last night I was watching the male rose breasted grosbeak at the feeder. He was apparently very defensive of his space while at the feeder, and would not let even the tiniest red breasted nuthatch land near him. But then I witnessed a moment of bird brilliance. A black capped chickadee was watching the action from a dead spruce branch near the feeder. The male grosbeak was there, chasing other birds away. He briefly went to the other side of the feeder; apparently the whole feeder was off limits. But while he was doing this, the brave chickadee swooped down to the unguarded side of the feeder, grabbed a seed, and flew back into the dead spruce. Hooray for chickadee ingenuity!

The phoebes decided to move their nest. I guess they were getting nervous about their entry ways to the new house being closed up one by one. Anyway, the new nest is...a few feet from where I'm writing this, under the eaves of the cabin porch. This is the site of an old nest that had been abandoned for years. Some kind of phoebe memory going on there?

I have also discovered a blue jay nest, about thirty feet from the cabin, hidden in a young spruce about ten feet off the ground. It's amazing how they nest so close, given the number of cats around here. I guess they can sense that the cats, for the most part, are lazy beings who know there are easier ways to get a meal than to climb a tree and be pecked nearly to death by parent blue jays. When I was little, I had a Siamese cat, Mittens, who learned the hard way not to mess with blue jays. She survived, but used up at least one of her nine lives in the process.

And then there's our "other" State Bird. The mosquito. They are thicker than I've seen in years! We're using an herbal repellent made of catnip, lemongrass, and a couple other essential oils. It seems to work, but then the cats follow me around acting all goofy. :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

time for music

I had a very good banjo practice session today, in a very acoustically friendly place: the new house. After I planted sugar snap peas and weeded two beds, I decided to call it quits if I wanted to be able to move a muscle tomorrow morning. I just get incredibly fatigued and sore these days, to the point it cuts into what I can do. Not good.

Back to banjo, I was trying to explain to The Hermit today how different it is from any instrument I've played before. It's non-linear. To play a simple scale requires bouncing back and forth between strings in ways that don't make sense to a pianist or flutist. But in a strange way I kind of get it, I keep practicing these leaps of faith and they have become part of me, and I'm very happy with the sounds I have been making. I just enjoyed listening to the sound ringing off the cathedral ( or at least, small Minnesota Lutheran church) ceiling. I have to get out there every day.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New yard birds!

What a way to start out a long holiday weekend: Not one but two new yard birds, one a lifer!

I was out by the new house with The Hermit, listening to him think out loud, when a brief flash of blue caught my eye. I saw it light in a dead birch tree. Without thinking, I exclaimed "There's an indigo bunting!" Of course I did not have my binoculars with me, but who could mistake that lovely blue? I think it matches my new roof.

Then, while we were eating breakfast, I looked out at the dead spruce and saw a warbler with a yellow breast streaked with black. It was a bird I had never seen in real life, but I had seen an excellent photo of one recently, on Lynne's blog, Hasty Brook. Magnolia warbler! Thanks Lynne, I didn't even need to get out my field guide for that one!

The great thing is, it's only 9 AM!

Friday, May 23, 2008

kindergarten graduation

The East Central Class of 2022 graduated from kindergarten today. They still have 5 1/2 days left of school, but I think they'll all pass. In celebration, they put on a fun Western themed show. Above is Mr. Attitude, of course, who delivered his lines with a finesse that makes me think he'll be starring in drama productions in high school. Afterwards, he pronounced to me that he had stage fright up there because he could not see me. I reassured him that if he felt any panic up there, I could not tell.

I gotta hand it to the teachers, they really went above and beyond to make this a great show, and to make all the kids feel special.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My stairs

I found out a valuable lesson today: whine a little, come up with a creative solution, and you will get your way. Well, maybe not all the time, but it sure worked this time!

The problem was the space we had left for a stairway. It was small enough that, to build a conventional, boxy stairway, we would have had to construct a landing and do a 180 degree U turn that would have taken up a lot of space. The other option was to move our bedroom doorway over a foot or so. I disapproved. I whined a little. And I put something else on the table.

I had started thinking, a while back, about a stairway based on this one I found at the blog Lichenology. I liked its conservation of space, and just the aesthetic pleasure of working a curve into a square corner. When we got into the hard realities of rise vs. run, I pointed out that the corner space could be used to create vertical drop instead of just a level turning point. I didn't know if our carpenter would approve.

He did, and I most definitely approve!

This really ties the room together. (yeah, another Big Lebowski quote.)

In exchange, I only had to agree to The Hermit's choice of exterior stain color. Actually, I think he made the best choice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

it's finally, officially, spring

The mosquitoes are out. I'm sure they will be more plentiful than in years past, with all the wet weather and standing water we have around.

But for now I have a wood tick bite on my neck, and it itches more than any mosquito bite I've had lately. I think I might be more or less immune to mosquitoes now. But I'll pick up some herbal bug spray tomorrow.

A couple of minor triumphs in an otherwise trying work day: I launched a huge boat (18 foot, and wider than our normal work boats) by myself at a very busy public landing, and I backed said boat into a very limited space in our boat storage garage, ON THE FIRST TRY! All by myself, I might add, everyone else had already left for the day, not that I would have gone to the office begging for help. I just need to reinforce in myself the idea that "I can do this!", once in a while.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A vision of the life I want. While real life just keeps getting strangled in the details. Nothing bad happening here, just the nagging thought that I'm spinning my wheels lately. My job is better than most, but I just hate the idea of a job right now. Especially when it's planting time.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

over the weekend

So the potatoes are not in yet. Neither are the peas. But, we are still getting below-freezing temperatures at night and we've been getting rain off and on, so the garden beds must wait.

I had other stuff to do today. As of June 7th, I will become a step-mother-in-law. I still think I'm way too young to be an in-law if any type! But today was my future step daughter-in-law's bridal shower, so I was obligated to go with Starflower. Beforehand, I had to shop with Starflower for a dress she will wear to both her piano recital this week and the wedding. Luckily she found something quickly at JC Penney. I did not have the same luck. I think it has to do with how I view the situation. If I'm buying a dress, I want it to be something I'll use. For at least ten years. Which makes it virtually impossible for me to buy myself a dress. Now I'm thinking I'll just save the money and wear a dress I already have. That way, I can splurge on accessories. :)

The shower was fine, but I could not help but thinking, "I could be home planting potatoes." I guess I'll be doing that some evening this week. Next weekend looks to be extremely busy, gardenwise.

Friday, May 16, 2008 must be spring

Today, at long last, we had a sunny day with temperatures that reached 75 on my car thermometer. Sweet, if only all of summer could be like today! The Hermit emailed me this morning, saying he had seen a hummingbird checking out the empty feeder I had left up last fall. I emailed back, promising to activate the feeder when I got home. The Hermit had to leave on work related stuff. Sigh.

For lunch, I picked up a sandwich at the grocery store and headed to the muskie ponds to hopefully see some bird action. The warblers were a bit slow, I only saw a small flock of palm warblers and one yellow, but I was treated to one steamy erotic reptilian scene...yes, I saw a pair of snapping turtles in the act of mating! Okay, it wasn't that exciting, but it was kind of cool if you're a wildlife nerd like me.

When I reluctantly arrived back at the office after my slightly extended lunch (hey, you don't see snapping turtles mating every day!) my boss was trying to find me. The school nurse had called, Starflower was feeling ill. :( I felt bad for her, but at the same time...who wants to stay at work until 4:30 on the first decent warm day of spring! So I picked her up and arrived home early, although I still had to drive back to school to pick up the boys because Calvin had a music concert in the afternoon and I had promised I would drive them home afterwards. And I had planned on stopping at the grocery store, which I could not do when I picked Starflower up.

She's feeling a bit better now, but there is definitely something wrong there. I'm wondering if it's Lyme disease, since she has had about four episodes like this in the past school year. And I'm feeling a bit achy myself.

I did get the hummingbird feeder cleaned, nectar made (with organic sugar!), and feeder put into place, and at dinnertime I was rewarded with the sight of my first male ruby throated hummingbird of the year.

Pictures? My camera is not getting along with my computer tonight. Hopefully I'll get that fixed soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

shorebirds and warblers

I was getting envious. Some folks on the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union listserv were going out and seeing fourteen species of warblers in their backyard and reporting shorebirds I've never even heard of from sewage ponds somewhere. It was time for action.

So this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway I noticed some activity across the road. Our neighbors have a wetland in their cow pasture which is really nothing more than a mudhole. In that mudhole, however, I saw two shorebirds. I was running late as usual, but I stopped, pulled out the binoculars, and identified two Lesser Yellowlegs, pretty much by their yellow legs and process of elimination from the bird guide. Tonight as I was waiting for the kids to be dropped off from their ride from church, I was ready. I had the binoculars, and I counted eight Lesser Yellowlegs actively foraging in that tiny mudhole of a pond. I guess this is a lifer for me, since I don't think I have positively ID'd Lesser Yellowlegs before, although I'm sure they have been here every year.

It was finally warm and sunny at noon, and I was in the office, not out pulling nets on a lake, so I decided to go for a walk around our fish rearing ponds. This is usually a pretty good bird walk; part of it is on a berm between one pond and the Grindstone River, and I have seen a Scarlet Tanager there. Sometimes there are even shorebirds. Today I saw what I think was a Northern waterthrush, although I don't remember enough for positive ID. Anyway, when I rounded the corner and came into a grove of pines and mature aspens, I was suddenly in warbler heaven. I saw lots of little birds flitting in the top branches of the trees, and they all looked different from each other. I'm pretty sure I saw a pair of Northern Parula warblers, and I definitely saw a Golden winged warbler. Both lifers for me.

These experiences remind me that it's all out there; you just gotta pay attention!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

proud mama moments

#1- Calvin informed us, quite nonchalantly, that he got the best score on the standardized math test for the entire elementary school!

#2- Starflower is, at this moment, engrossed in reading Edward Abbey's A Voice Crying In The Wilderness, which is a collection of short quotes from his longer works. She picked it up herself from our abbreviated library we keep here in the cabin. Dang, I didn't get a proper introduction to Abbey until I was 19! And, I have not seen her look so involved in her reading for a long time. I hope we can have some great discussions about this!

Starflower and I saw a bobolink today as we were driving home from work and volleyball. First of year for me, and still very unexpected every time I see one around here. When I was driving Mr. Attitude to school this morning we saw a bittern "freezing" by the side of the road. So much life around here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Mother's Day

I spent my special day at Menard's, looking at paint colors and countertop options and electric ranges. For those of you outside the Upper Midwest, Menard's is the first big box retail lumber building supply store here, like Lowe's or Home Depot. But much better, in my opinion.

I am happy to be finally looking at finishing house details! I am leaning towards an electric ceramic cook top and oven, because the price of propane is going up faster than the price of electricity, and we are getting more of our electricity from wind and other sustainable sources these days. If the power goes out, I can always fall back on cooking on top of the wood stove.

My presents were: marigold seedlings, from Starflower and Mr. Attitude; a sun-proof, breathable LL Bean shirt, and a tank top emblazoned with the logo of my favorite local band, The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. They even sent a couple demo CD's and a DVD as a bonus. And the package was postmarked Bruno, MN. Can't get any more local than that.

After Menard's, we went to Grandma's Sports Garden on the waterfront in Duluth for pizza and video games (and Leinenkugels for Mom), then a quick drive out on Park Point to look for birds. I saw a few flocks of bluebills, but I was too sleepy to really get out of the car and look for anything.

By the way, if you've been looking for a great recipe for black bean soup, please visit my other blog, The Deliberate Homemaker, link to the right. I don't post there as often as I'd like, so this is an event.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The house is occupied...

If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall that Eastern phoebes have been nesting in the new house each spring. This year is no exception, even with all the roofing activity. There are still openings under the eaves for them to fly in and out, and this year they decided to nest right under the peak of the roof.

Don't worry, even if the eaves get closed in, which should happen within a week or so, I will take the screen off an upper window and leave it open for the birds. But once those little nestlings fledge, it will hopefully be the end of bird occupation and the beginning of human occupation in the house. I have tried to explain to the phoebes that we did not build this fabulous structure just so they could have a wonderfully protected nesting area. So far they are not listening.

Friday, May 09, 2008

New blue

This is the finished product. The roof I have been waiting for. I better not change my mind about the color, I'm stuck with it for life! But if you know me, I like any color, as long as it's blue.

The electrician will be here next week to run the main line in from the electric box out front, about 250 feet. From there we'll have it wired room by room, paying as we go. No more heavy duty extension cord, no more going outside on a rainy or snowy night trying to find where something flooded and shorted out the power!

I was granted a much-needed reprieve from net lifting duty today at work. My boss told me there were a couple of permits for exotic aquatic plant control that needed to be inspected ASAP, so of course I jumped on that project right away! I saw my first spring oriole in the process, and a robin sitting on a nest. And my weekend is free; no need to work! Maybe those potatoes will finally get planted.

I forgot to add...when I was inspecting one lakeshore property, when I returned from the dock the family dog, a black lab, ran up to me and dropped a tennis ball at my feet. Play ball with me! I obliged and threw the ball a few times, the dog eagerly retrieving it and returning it to me each time. I was a complete stranger, yet this dog trusted me. Dogs are funny and sweet that way.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

sights and sounds

in bloom: marsh marigold, spring beauty, bloodroot, maple

leaves appearing: aspen

bird arrivals: house wren, sedge wren, ovenbird (and probably a few warblers)

frog chorus: spring peepers, Western chorus frogs, wood frogs, toads (well, not here, but 30 miles south of here)

I wish I had more time to write poetically about all these happenings, but lately I feel like George Jetson caught on that treadmill during the closing credits. Life is too busy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

biggest tadpole ever

Calvin made me go all the way out to the pond this afternoon to see this. A monster size tadpole! It had hind frog legs already, but no front legs yet. I think it's a green frog, but he was wondering if we had bullfrogs around here. Not that I know of.

I don't know what made me more happy, the tadpole, or the thought that my son still enjoys going out and catching tadpoles.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

today's at-home birding

I am once again playing with the idea of opening my cabin as a birds 'n bloggers bed 'n breakfast once we're moved into the new house. Because what city dwelling birder wouldn't relish waking up to the sounds of sandhill cranes, snipe, woodcock, ruffed grouse, spring peepers, ravens, purple finches, etc. AND, to walk out before breakfast, hearing a woodpecker tapping in the woods, and having it turn out to be a female black backed woodpecker! I should have had my camera, I was within twenty feet of her.

I was feeling a bit under the weather this morning with a cold bug, which was no doubt exacerbated by my going out on a lake Friday and Saturday in less than tolerable weather conditions to sample The Muskellunge. My butt hurts from being bounced over waves and hitting the steel platform bow of the boat, my arms hurt from bracing myself so my butt would not hit the bow of the boat so hard. I am now seriously considering a career change, possibly to a bed and breakfast keeper or market farmer, because I honestly cannot see myself doing this same job ten years from now. Not to mention, I just cannot tolerate working with men who make jokes about incidentally killing a horned grebe in a net, or nearly killing a common loon in a net. All to "assess the population" of a species that is only in that particular lake through stocking, and probably should not be there to begin with. Next time I pull a 50 inch muskie out of a net, I just may drop it on its head. Intentionally. And then step on its head. But no, answering violence with violence never solves anything.

Of course, these are my personal opinions and do not reflect the official opinion of the agency I work for. :)

So after a long overdue recycling run with The Hermit, long overdue because we were waiting for our driveway to dry out a little, we took a noontime nap, and then I tried to straighten out the bedroom a little. It was a huge effort to do anything. It was warm (if you call 55 warm, I'll take it) and sunny, and CALM (the wind has picked up as I type this, of course), so I decided to take Sally out for a little frolic in the pond.

When we arrived on the path over the outlet culvert, a large brown bird suddenly flew up from the vegetation in front of the culvert. My first bittern of the year! It settled just across the pond, and tried hard to camouflage itself. I knew better.

Ha ha, you can't see me! I'll just keep my bill in the air, and I'll look like a cattail...

Finally, when it thought the coast was clear and we weren't much of a threat, it flew.

As usual, Sally enjoyed her pond frolic.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

roofing progress

Finally I am seeing blue! The "back" half of the roof is mostly covered with steel roofing, and the "front" half will be done Monday. This is a big step, one we've been waiting for for a long time.

Under that pretty blue steel are two layers of foam board insulation, which should add up to an R value of 30 or so, important here in Minnesotarctica. Over the foam insulation are horizontal rows of 2 x 4's screwed through the insulation and roof boards to the rafters with 8 or 10 inch screws. The roofing is screwed to the 2 x 4's .

I stayed home to help out whenever possible, which meant I moved piles of boards and foam insulation here and there and helped carry the long sheets of steel roofing and lift them up to the crew. No, my feet never once touched a ladder. The combination of height and steep pitched roof
is not for me.

It was nice in the morning, partly cloudy and breezy, but as the day wore on it grew more breezy and cloudy. By late afternoon I was chilly and tired and ready for a hot shower. But we are a big step closer to moving in!

My fifteen minutes of birding fame are over

I have not seen the Western tanager since Tuesday evening. Tuesday night was clear and calm, so I'm suspecting the bird may have resumed his journey to wherever it was he was headed. I hope he makes it there.

That's what bird watching is like. There is always the possibility that something rare and unique might show up, but then again the "ordinary" birds could provide a lifetime of learning by observation. Birds bring great joy and excitement to life, and if you pay enough attention there is a reward at every encounter.

Then there is the joy of sharing birding experiences. After carefully considering the ramifications, I decided to post my sighting to the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union listserv, with a link to this blog for pictures. I had a record 178 visits to Sand Creek Almanac the day I posted to MOU, and a few emails from birders around the state. There were a few requests from people who wanted to come and see the tanager, and I had to debate whether I wanted strangers coming and seeing the mess that is my yard...anyway, that question was decided by the bird's absence on Wednesday. It would have been fun to meet some more bird folks though.

I'm off to go help with the roofing job- from the ground of course, I'm not getting up there! Photos tonight.