Tuesday, July 29, 2008


This evening an ordinary moment turned into something special.

The Hermit and I were sitting in the family room in the new house, sipping a beer and enjoying the cool breeze that had come in the evening to take the edge off a hot day. (85 is hot? We have not seen 90 this year! I love it!) I had my binoculars with me, determined to get a good look at all the little brown birds I see through the patio door while we sit there.

A flutter of movement caught my attention, in the grasses beyond the garden, and I focused the binoculars. There, in plain view, was a little bird that was definitely NOT brown. It was a beautiful shade of blue all over, kind of like our new roof. Indigo bunting! I watched it for about ten minutes as it swooped among the grasses, probably foraging for insects.

Duty called, and I went in to get our Sams Club frozen lasagna out of the oven and to get some water for the chicks. As I was carrying water and food out to our future egg producers, I saw Indigo again, in my little overgrown wildflower garden! Twice in one day! Sweet!

Winterwoman had a post recently about how blue birds aren't really blue. Yeah, light refraction and all that. Still, the prettiest birds I've ever seen are blue, refraction or not.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sand Creek meets Hasty Brook

I suppose I could theoretically get to Hasty Brook from here by water. All I would have to do would be to paddle down Sand Creek to the St. Croix River, about fifty river miles, then cruise down the St. Croix to Hastings, MN, where it meets up with the mighty Mississippi, then paddle upstream, through several locks and dams and then over a hundred river miles to where the Prairie River meets the Mississippi, then it would be just a short paddle upstream and across Prairie Lake to the inlet of Hasty Brook, then upstream just a short distance.

Of course, it's easiest to just log on to the virtual Hasty Brook. But yesterday I decided it was time to take a drive and see Hasty Brook, and Lynne and her family, in person. It's just under sixty miles from my place, about an hour's drive across a mix of hayfields, aspen woods, and tamarack bogs. The drive went quickly, and with Lynne's able directions I easily found out that Hasty Brook is indeed a real, wonderful place.

When Starflower and I arrived, Lynne and her husband Art had just left to drive to Cloquet, but their teenage daughter greeted us and contacted them by cell phone; they couldn't have been more than a few miles away because they turned around and arrived quickly.

What a fun, relaxing visit. We lounged in chairs, chatting while we watched pine siskins and chipmunks at the bird feeders. Lynne had put out a hummingbird feeder, and we were delighted to see that the hummingbirds had found it. Starflower told Lynne about our rabbits, and they compared rabbit stories. We went for a short walk, going up the driveway to the road where there were fewer mosquitoes and deerflies, and walked to where a bridge crosses Hasty Brook.

Now I know why Lynne is so in love with this place. It reminded me of what our Sand Creek cabin was like before it was home, when we used to live seventy miles away on the outskirts of the city in a subdivision. It was our refuge, and Hasty Brook is a beautiful, quiet refuge. Thanks Lynne, for the directions! I'll stop by again sometime!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

new bird of the day

My job today was to drive a boat around the shoreline of a large, wonderfully clear lake and map and identify the emergent vegetation. All this in partly cloudy, 80 degree weather. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Even if you have to work with the intern. (No really, he's a great guy, I just don't like having "teaching others what their future job may entail" as part of my own job description, for more than a day or two. That's just how I am. Oh well.)

In the process, we encountered this bird, and I happened to have my camera ready! How often does that happen? I knew right away it wasn't one of the usual ring billed gulls, but my mistake was thinking it was still a gull. After getting back to the office, and comparing the picture to my Sibley's guide, it turned out to be...a Forster's tern, adult non-breeding plumage. I don't think they occur around here, in late July, too often. Anyway, it was maybe a first for me and a great chance to show the intern about looking at the whole picture. I don't know anyone else around my office who takes the time to identify birds.

Monday, July 21, 2008

the fireweed days of summer

First of all, thank you Richard, for showing me how to make big pictures!

I can tell the time of summer here by the roadside flowers. The buttercups and trillium are long gone, being May residents: lupines, if any, passed by in June. Ox eye daisies and black eyed Susan started making their appearance in late June. I saw my first Turks cap lily a few days ago. And these seasonal beauties have been painting roadsides for the last week or so. Fireweed is named for its propensity to bloom in recently burned-over areas. As far as I know, no fires have occurred recently around here, but yet here and there I find a patch of these Primrose family relatives.

I spotted this beauty first opening up on my morning run a week ago, and returned with camera yesterday to photograph it while I was taking a short walking break. I have been running nearly every morning for four weeks now, and I have noticed some subtle differences. I no longer labor to run nearly half a mile, like I did when I started. I have added a bit of distance to my routine, and even some hills. I was hoping to see some weight loss, but the scale needle has not been showing a major downward trend, although it has not been approaching former high weights so that is good. I think I'm building muscle, which weighs more than fat, because I definitely feel slimmer.

I had to take a break today, although it was surprisingly hard to do so. The outer sides of my ankles have been hurting since yesterday, enough to, along with my plantar fasciitis, make it uncomfortable to walk or run anywhere. So I thought it was maybe just muscle fatigue from adding distance to my routine lately. At least I hope so. I'll try again tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2008

baseball day

I did my motherly duty today, on a day I took off from work. I rode the team bus to Pine City, a good 40 miles away from our house, to watch the last day of Little League play. The kids work hard; they play three games from 9 till noon with hardly any break in between. Today was the playoffs, as if in three games they could determine a league champion. I think all the kids are champions for their dedication to the game. Each play is a learning experience.

Calvin made some memorable plays in left field, never letting the ball get by him. And, in the third game, he hit a strong double out into center field and had an unexpected RBI when an anticipated power hit turned into a quasi-bunt which got him on base and scored a runner.

I don't know if I could have done this every Friday of the season. It's a long time to sit outside, and the noise and people got to me. There are eight teams from seven towns, in a cloverleaf of four fields. But it's great to see the determination in those young mens' eyes as they play the best sport in America. God bless Little League baseball. And God bless the coaches who give so much of their time to make it all happen.

Calvin's teammate and friend Keith is spending the night. I had a great time with them when Calvin asked me if I could teach them how to play guitar. Of course, that cannot be done instantaneously, but I sat and jammed with them for about half an hour and got out some basic books for them to look at. At one point we had a guitar/bouzouki/alto saxophone thing going. I also told them, if they are serious about this, I will try to be a good teacher and give them real lessons. This could be good for them. And me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

moving in

I'm having a little problem with my default photo program, so this photo might be excessively huge and slow to load. Sorry.

We have started the process of moving in to the new house, at least spiritually if not physically, and we've done some of that too. We slept in the new house last night. And the night before. We have these wonderful king size inflatable mattresses that are way more comfortable and supportive than our old sagging bed. I can tell the difference; I wake up so much more refreshed. Or maybe it's not having a dog at my feet and a cat in my face at 5 AM.

The mattresses are set up in one of the upper bedrooms, under the beautiful slope of the roof. Last night we had two thunderstorms, one about two-ish, the other at 4:07 (checked the time on my iPod.) The thing about sleeping under that roof is, you can hear every nuance of the rain, even under two layers of foam board insulation. You can tell when it's coming down hard and heavy, and you can tell the second that it lets up a bit. But even with the awakenings, I had a more refreshing sleep on that air mattress than I've had in a long time.

During the day, when I'm home, I don't like being inside in the cabin any more; it's just too dark and cluttered and confining. I am either outdoors, or inside relaxing in a plastic chair or on the air mattress in the new house, feeling the sense of space. The air flows much better there too. And sometimes you can even find me with bouzouki in hand, playing whatever comes to mind lately, and what comes to mind lately is very Scandinavian, with a little American roots music thrown in.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

exterior stain: a preview

When I first saw it, I thought, "This is dark. And red!"

But I was used to the light natural color of pine siding, a color that I knew would not stand the test of time. And I had agreed, even enthusiatically, to the choice of California Rustic.

It's growing on me. I know we made the right choice, and it looks great with the blue roof, but I just have to bid farewell to "natural aging pine".

I've seen that color before. I think it was in Arches National Park in Utah, late January 21 years ago, the rocks were that color and the sky was just that blue. I'll scan and post a photo for comparison, when I dig that album out of storage.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

umm...this nest is getting kinda tight here...

...and I'm ready to fly.

These are our baby phoebes I've been watching out the cabin window these last couple of weeks. They have been notoriously difficult to photograph, since the nest is in a very shaded area and my camera wants to flash when I don't. I let it flash this time.

I can't help but think ahead...teenagers. Well, the first is two years away from that, but already stretching his wings.

UPDATE: The young phoebes did leave the nest yesterday, successfully, although not quite in the way we'd envisioned. One parent phoebe ended up being killed by a cat. :( So the little phoebes were peeping for food, nobody was showing up at the nest, and The Hermit and the kids were worried that the little birds needed food. (I was at work) So The Hermit was going to give them some bread crumbs or something, and when he got near the nest he said they took off like a covey of quail, into the trees. There were five of them.

From what I read online about phoebes today, if one parent is around they will feed the fledged birds. I'm hoping that is the case. I also read that if these birds could fly so well, they were at least fifteen days old and ready to leave the nest. Anyway, I guess I can only wish them the best.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

My unique contribution to the house

Since we can't seem to let a day go by lately without making some progress on the house, today I laid the slate tile floor that will be the hearth area around the wood stove. We chose natural cut slate over ceramic tile, partly because ceramic tile requires more processing and thus more energy to produce, and partly because it looks beautiful and natural! I didn't realize there would be so much color variation, but I love how it all looks like a subtle patchwork quilt. Do you see the symmetrical tiles, bottom center? I think, with the eye spots, it looks like a moth.

I was sweating it out, literally and figuratively. It was about 85 degrees here, the hottest it's been all summer and maybe finally close to normal. The sweat was dripping from my forehead onto the tiles. And for some reason I was very nervous about starting this whole process. What if a row started going crooked, and by the time I found out, everything was literally set in stone? I might have to look at my error for the next thirty years or more. But my fears were really unfounded; natural slate tile has so many variations, not just in hue but in thickness and even size, that it does not need to be perfectly straight, and the tiles do not need to be spaced precisely. As long as I worked all 72 tiles into the prescribed area, all was well. And I think all ended well.

I can see myself sitting there in my rocking chair, staring at that stone. For a long, long time.

UPDATE- There have been many good questions in the comments about the placement of the stove, etc. So I'll give all the details. The stove is going to be on the left side of the tile floor. We are going to build a half wall at the back of the tile floor to enclose the stove and act as a heat collector. I will be finishing this half wall with thin stones collected from around here...some day.

For placing the tile, we put down a layer of cement board, bonded to the subfloor with Ultraflex mortar, and we used the same mortar for bonding the tiles to the cement board. I still have to grout the tiles to fill in the spaces.

We have been planning for this hearth since the beginning. All of the floor joists are doubled (4X10 instead of 2x10) and we added extra pillars under the floor where the stove will be.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

hillbilly laundromat

Yes, this is a real, unadulterated image from my Sand Creek estate. I am now the owner of a deluxe washer and dryer, and I tried out the washer today. It works beautifully! It's just waiting there outside until we get the long awaited indoor plumbing in the new house.

Our super handyman and friend Chris had a washer and dryer that needed a new home, and we needed a washer and dryer eventually. So he offered to us, absolutely free, a Staber washer and Maytag gas dryer. Wow. Stabers are not cheap, and they are the most energy and water efficient washers out there. And, judging from my first load of clothes, they do a pretty good job of washing dirty kid laundry.

Some of you long time readers may remember me waxing poetic about my Maytag wringer washer three years ago. Well, it still works, and will probably work forever, but it takes time to do laundry in that manner, time I simply do not have at this point. The Staber is automatic, and after I babysat the first load, making sure everything worked right, I realized I could put a load of clothes in and walk away! No wring, rinse, and wring again.

And, I calculated that going to the laundromat costs us maybe $80 a month. That's $960 a year just to keep our wardrobe clean and fresh! This new setup costs...practically nothing. I'm not using the dryer of course, since there's all kinds of free solar clothes drying energy available this time of year. That and hooking up gas is too involved for an outdoor setup like this. We may opt for an electric dryer, if necessary, in the new house.

So I like my outdoor washer; believe it or not it's a huge luxury for me!

Friday, July 04, 2008

I'm way in love...

...with our new house. Even though it's not finished, I think it's perfect in every way. My morning routine now includes (after, of course, my morning run, which I have been faithful to!) going out to the new house with a cup of coffee, meeting The Hermit there who has brought a Thermos of coffee, and just sitting there, listening and thinking and dreaming. Today I got my bouzouki out and just did some random playing on it, in between conversation, and it felt great.

Of course it helps that daylight comes by 5 AM these days, making me feel like a slacker if I sleep in until 6. Which I do.

Today Chris came over and did another coat of stuff on the drywall, then we put down cement board where I will soon be installing natural slate tiles for our hearth area.

I have a whole huge new thoughtful post in the works about our "green" choices we have been making lately for finishing the house. I hate to sound preachy about how we're doing things, because I am not the final authority on what works for everyone, I just know what has worked for us.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Kerrick Bog

This is how my evening went: Stay at work an extra 10 minutes (4:40) to chat with my overworked Aquatic Plant Management coworker on the phone, and download my day's data. Take a two block detour out of work because of a major sewer/road construction project in town. Stop at the grocery store in the next town to pick up a few things. Arrive at home just in time to turn around and take Mr. Attitude (and Starflower, along for the ride) to T-ball. Fifteen miles. Am I glad my Subaru has been averaging over 29 mpg.

Then, as I arrived home, I went to the new house with The Hermit to discuss flooring options. It's looking like local, rustic pine flooring is the way to go! Interrupted by Starflower, who came in to say that Calvin had left a voice message saying he was staying overnight at his friend's house and needed one of us to deliver his sleeping bag. I volunteered; it was a nice, cool night for a drive.
I took the state highway up to the little burb of Kerrick, then headed east. There is a magnificent bog there, on both sides of the narrow gravel road. It looked wonderful in the 8:30ish evening light of midsummer.

Along the way I saw a car pulled to the side of the road, and an older gentleman with a spotting scope set up by the car. Part of me wanted to stop and chat; this guy must be a serious birder! What was he looking for? But I just slowed down and waved as I drove by. I hope to see a report on the MOU listserv! I had to get the stuff to my son. I even brought him an extra sweatshirt; it is cool tonight.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

the daily moth collection

Since we installed a night light on the cook shed, we've seen an amazing array of moths on the cook shed door in the morning. There are about seven species here. Damned if I know any of them.