Monday, December 28, 2009


So many other highlights from today's Christmas Bird Count, but I love this photo. I should probably crop it a little, but I'm not too fussy that way.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Another snowy walk

Thanks to my Christmas boots, I have a renewed interest in getting outdoors as often as possible. When I am walking or running on the roads near my house, my mood is good. When I'm stuck indoors, not so much. So for the sake of those who have to put up with me, as well as for my own well being, I have vowed to get outdoors as often as possible, even in the winter months.

Today I went for an unprecedented three mile walk along snowy roads. The weather was great, and I really needed to get out of the house. Along the way I saw turkey, deer, and snowshoe hare tracks, enjoyed the company of a few chickadees I coaxed out of the spruce thickets by "pishing", and enjoyed just walking to where I had run in the summer. I will start running outdoors again soon, just have to get these boots broken in a bit more and figure out the whole time schedule...

I also tried out Wii Fit Plus. It was Starflower's big present, but everyone is enjoying it. I don't think I'll have the time in front of the TV to make it a regular thing, but I do like the center of balance indicators they have for the yoga exercises. That could maybe take the place of an instructor. But for the most part, I would rather take a good long walk or run outdoors.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

After the Christmas Blizzard

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we received a total of about a foot of snow. With weather forecasts being what they are these days, this storm was not unexpected; one would have had to have been completely cut off from modern communications to not know it was coming. So most folks, ourselves included, stayed in for the night and day and enjoyed being together and playing with some pretty cool new toys. ;)

This morning I tried out my Christmas present: a lightweight pair of waterproof, Thinsulated hiking boots. I hadn't thought about it, but my old clunky, felt-lined Sorel pac boots were over twenty years old, and while they work just fine for trudging outdoors, they are, well, clunky. I can't walk fast or run in them. Decked in fleece lined cross country ski pants, long underwear shirt, down parka, hat, mittens, wool socks, and new boots, I set out for a walk. We hadn't taken the snow blower to the driveway yet (it's being done as I speak), but I followed one set of packed down tire tracks. The snow plow had been by on the road, so the end of the driveway had a nearly impassable mound of snow, and there was about another two inches of fresh snow on the road. A light snow was still falling, but it's not supposed to amount to more than an inch or so today.

Sand Creek was mostly open, due to yesterday's warm (nearly 40 degree) temperatures. I walked north across the creek for a while, then turned around and headed south past our driveway and down the road a quarter mile or so. After spending the better part of the last two days indoors, the fresh air felt good to me. I paused once in a while to hear the bird activity in the woods, the chatter of chickadees, the yawping of a pileated woodpecker, and the raucous cries of blue jays. I heard and saw a flock of white winged crossbills as I was walking back up the driveway.

My new boots worked very well. They kept my feet toasty warm, and there's nothing worse than having cold feet on a winter's day. I could even run in them, and I ran a short distance, but I think I'll break them in a little more before I do some serious winter running. One of our cool Christmas toys was Wii Fit Plus, and if I can book a time slot in front of the cool new TV I may try it out, but I think my Wii Fitness program will mostly be outdoors. :)

The warm house felt inviting when I came back indoors, and I spent a few minutes drinking coffee (flavored with a splash of Bailey's) and watching birds at the feeder. The snowstorm has brought flocks of goldfinches to the feeders, but there were a couple of birds that were more acustomed to hopping around on the ground, scratching for seeds:

American tree sparrow

The pictures don't do justice to their exquisite markings and subtle colors.

The holiday is over, and I still have a whole lazy weekend ahead of me! Time to finally pick up a musical instrument or two. Monday is the Pine County Christmas Bird Count, and I'm looking forward to a great day with some good birding friends.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas eve visitor

This little black capped chickadee decided to perch on the screen of the living room window for a few minutes, long enough for Starflower to grab the camera and take a few photos!

I also had a flock of white winged crossbills visiting a spruce tree, feasting on cones. A light snow is falling, and we have decided to stay in for the night lest the weather take a turn for the worse. Sounds like a good Christmas Eve to me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the thing about Christmas

The movie Christmas Vacation gets it right. No matter how hard we try to have a good old fashioned family Christmas, reality gets in the way of illusion. Clark Griswold, the ever well meaning family man, finds himself tempted by a seductive store clerk, shafted by corporate cutbacks, caught in the middle of squabbles between in-laws, becoming the unwilling benefactor to down and out relatives, and physically endangering himself trying to make the ultimate light show. Yet somehow at the end he finds the true meaning of Christmas.

This "true meaning" thing has eluded me every year. I somehow know what it is, I can feel some kind of longing for it, but yet I never come away from a Christmas holiday with a renewed hope and faith in humanity through the birth of Jesus Christ. And is that not what it is supposed to be all about? New hope for the world from the birth of a child?

Now I'm not one to believe that Christmas was ever a purely Christian holiday. There are so many customs that have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, yet have been with us for ages. That's why I disagree with all the "reason for the season" folks out there who think Nativity scenes should be mandatory in front of every public building, and that the phrase "Happy Holidays" should be banned.

The whole Nativity tradition seems to me...well I hate to snuff out anyone's Christmas lights, but as far as traditions go, it seems so simplistic. So infantile. "And there was sweet Baby Jesus, lying in a manger, and all the angels singing above." We are taught that at an early age, if we experience Sunday school. We are even forced to sing "Away In A Manger" while the congregation coos. Yes, everyone loves the image of a baby.

And that is what it is to me, an image of a baby, an archetype. New hope for a fallen world. Yet, the unanswered question is, why doesn't it ever work? Why does good will only last until New Year's, then we all settle back into neighbor vs. neighbor, Republican vs. Democrat, us vs. them? Why do charitable donations peak around Christmas, then fall off? And why, in the words of John McCutcheon in his powerful song "Christmas in the Trenches", do we "settle back to war"?

Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year...(from one of my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas songs)

We all do need this holiday, or our spirits would sink in these days of darkness and cold. But somehow it always leaves me wanting for more, hoping that one day humanity finally gets it.

Despite all that, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday, or whatever you celebrate. It's the spirit of celebration that counts. I hope we can all keep that within us the entire year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

winter through a window that needs cleaning

This was the scene out of Calvin's window this afternoon, looking over my garden, across the swamp to the woods beyond. I thought today was strangely beautiful, with a light snow falling against the starkness of winter. I don't know how much of that is snowflakes and how much is fly droppings on the window. I must do some cleaning in there.

And this is our new area rug in the living room. The Hermit found it at Menard's on sale, and Calvin and his friend were more than willing to do all the hard work to remove the old rug, vacuum everything, and get this rug in place. Mr. Attitude likes it, as you can tell. Well, he would like anything that ensured his comfort playing video games. It looks like a new room, and I hope it stays that way! At any rate, Mr. Attitude should not have to be sitting so close to the TV come Christmas day...some oversizing may be in our future...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the grand entrance

I spent a great deal of time today decluttering our entry room, cleaning, and sorting mittens and gloves. I realized I had probably never blogged about this very essential room, so here it is.

The room is something like 8 x 12, and it sits on the southwest corner of the house, the corner you first see if you are coming up the driveway. There is an 8 x 8 deck outside the door. The room has one south facing window which, as you can see, lets in a great amount of heating light during the winter. There are a few storage boxes and bins under the window; sometimes we store firewood there. I have one box of onions there now, and that location seems to offer the right temperature to keep them.

That is a real church pew under all of our heavy winter jackets. The Hermit found it on Craig's list, and it fits in well there. Today was the first time in a long while that it wasn't all covered and cluttered with stuff. I cleaned it and gave it a generous rubbing with lemon oil, which it sucked up like a sponge.

In a climate where jackets and boots are a necessity a large part of the year, a room like this is nice. It serves as a nice transition between the outdoors and the indoors.

Friday, December 18, 2009


We now have The Tree. In previous years, I have ventured out, saw in hand. looking for an acceptable wild specimen. I have been ridiculed for choosing a Charlie Brown tree. So this year The Hermit took it into his own hands to find The (Griswold) Family Christmas Tree. And find it he did. It is a beautifully shaped balsam fir. If you've never had a balsam fir in your house, let me tell you the fragrance is more than you would ever expect from a cut tree. Divine.

Adorning The Tree are two strands of blindingly electric blue LED lights. I like the idea of lights that use a fraction of the energy of traditional lights, but man! These lights are BRIGHT! Calvin said he could see the tree all the way from the road as The Hermit was bringing him home from basketball practice.

It was heartening to see all the kids working together to decorate The Tree. It is our most beautiful tree ever, okay I will admit some of my home cut Charlie Brown trees were pretty lame...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mr. Attitude in concert

Today was the big Christmas piano recital (yes, it was called that, no, no one is trying to steal CHRISTmas, at least around here). It was Mr. Attitude's first public solo musical performance, and he did a great job. He told me, in the car on the way home, "I was nervous for a bit, but then I told myself I CAN DO THIS!" What an attitude!

Starflower also performed wonderfully. This year she has really begun to figure out what piano is all about, and she has made some big advances in her playing.

The recital was fast paced, short and sweet and full of good humor. Our school band director (actually, the ONLY music faculty in the school) is the piano teacher, and we are so fortunate to have him as a teacher here. He is one of those dedicated teachers who really connects with the students and realizes the potential in each and every one of them.

Busy week. Tomorrow it's the elementary school music program in the afternoon, then I am driving Starflower and Mr. Attitude to my mom's home town, about 50 miles away, so we can watch Calvin's basketball game there with my 90 year old grandma and maybe my aunt and uncle. There is so little time between sunrise and sunset these days, as little as there ever is, and I guess that's why we need Christmas lights and music. It works for me, anyway.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Life is strange these days

We have two enormous boxes taking up space in our house right now. One is the Rinnai direct vent propane heater we bought last week, which will hopefully be installed by the end of the week so I will not have to get up at 3:30 AM as I did today to re-kindle the fire in the wood stove. We are finally moving towards winter, it will probably get down into the single digits tonight, and we need an alternative to wood once in a while.

The other box is the water heater we bought from our electric company. It is supposed to be amazingly efficient, and it heats water on off peak hours so we save on our electric bill, and the price is just added to our monthly electric bill, no big cash layout. Yeah, we have sacrificed a lot of our earlier idealism about going solar and being energy self sufficient, blah blah blah. I realize for a few that may be an option, but for a family trying to establish a home without a major endowment it is not an option for now. We are just doing the best we can to save on energy bills.

Our plumber, who is working on our house as a part time gig as he also has this thing called a REAL JOB, was here on Saturday and got the bare skeleton of our household plumbing started. Our main hope for this winter is that we get the well, pump, and pressure tank in, the water heater connected, and at least one fixture (a laundry sink probably) up and running hot and cold. With a drain.

With all this going on, I have had to devote some time to rearranging my utility room and I have not gotten around to any preparations for Christmas. Oh well, the lights and tree will wait until we have a spot for them. We are making progress on what we need in the house, finally.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Homegrown December

I never thought I would have a blog post with that title. For one thing, before this year I had never succeeded at growing even one watermelon (Although I don't remember if I had even given it a try). And, had I succeeded, I thought watermelon would be something to enjoy in the warm days of late summer. I had never heard of watermelons storing over two months!

It turns out I inadvertently stored a watermelon for more than two months after I brought it in from the garden when the first hard frost was threatening. I put it in with a crate of winter squash. It was not a very big watermelon, mind you, or I would have noticed it and perhaps consumed it earlier. It was about seven inches in diameter.

Today I had to rearrange my utility room/pantry to make room for the laundry sink drain that the plumber came over to install. (Hooray!) While in the midst of moving things here and there I noticed the watermelon among the squashes. I was tempted to just toss it out the back door, like I have with some winter squashes that have gone bad already, but I paused. This watermelon was still firm and gave a nice "thump" when I tapped it. So I brought it to the kitchen and sliced it open.

I was greeted with the most sweet smelling, tender ivory yellow watermelon flesh I had ever seen. I sliced off a thin piece and cautiously tasted it... wow. Best. watermelon. ever. This is not hyperbole. It really was divine.

To be eating homegrown watermelon in December is one miracle. To have found something so good it defies description and gives me hope for next year's garden is another. This was even better than eating a homegrown tomato in December!

The variety was "Cream of Saskatchewan", an 80-day watermelon we got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. With its incredible flavor and storage ability, I hope to grow lots of these next year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

why I hate walking

I have been "fitness walking" three out of four days this week; the day I missed was yesterday, when I had to pick Mr. Attitude up at school in the middle of the day, sick. The only reasons I walk are: 1) to kill time waiting for Calvin's basketball practice to end, and 2) because the last thing I want to do when I arrive home in total darkness at 6:00, with dinner yet to be prepared, is to go out for a run.

I much prefer running to walking. No matter how fast I walk, I just can't get that wonderful buzz, that mental clarity I get from running. And no matter how hard I try, I'm not burning nearly as many calories as if I had been running the same distance or time. I can barely get my pulse up into "the zone" by walking. And my shins hurt more from walking. Unfortunately, running is not an option at the school; even though a few people sneak some laps in, the floor is slippery enough that they allow walking only. And the hallway along part of the walkway can get congested at times; just the other day I was dodging little ballerinas and their parents. :)

I also wonder why so many women cannot seem to walk unless they are with someone else, walking two abreast on a track that is pretty narrow. I guess I'm just a lone wolf when it comes to exercise, but if you can carry on a conversation with someone while walking next to them, you are not working hard enough and you are obstructing the path for those who choose to walk at a faster pace. I applaud any effort anyone makes to exercise, but please show some common courtesy!

Alas this is the dark season, and the basketball season lasts until February. I will walk, iPod in my ears, but I don't think I'll like it.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

flying by night

The night before last, I awoke about 3:30 AM to a waxing gibbous moon shining in the window, and the sound of swans. Tundra swans. This was the first flock I'd heard all fall, although I know they have been migrating. It turns out I didn't know the window was open a crack, so that made me hear them better and possibly even wake up just to hear them. The window is now closed, cold weather is finally on its way.

Rather than lie awake and worry about things, as I often do when I wake up in the early hours of the morning, I felt a sense of peace from hearing the swans. All was well, at least for another night.

It amazes me that swans, and many other migratory birds, fly by night. Navigation must be an instinctual art, one that was not lost on our ancestors who navigated the high seas before radar and GPS.

Monday, November 30, 2009

so close, and I blew it!!!

I had faithfully been posting every single day during the month of November, as promised. And what did I do? I forgot to post yesterday! Duh! I guess I can offer the excuse that it was Mr. Attitude's birthday, and I was busy with that. I washed dishes, baked a cake and cleaned house in the morning, then in the afternoon one of the several friends he invited came over and they played video games and had a mini party. I was actually happy that even one kid showed up; I had not heard from anyone beforehand so I was afraid it would become a non-event. I think it was just about the right size as it was.

I think blogging (almost) every day in November was a good thing for me. I had some mediocre posts, of course, but I was thinking more about the whole discipline of blogging and I ended up re-kindling the initial enthusiasm I had for it. I realized that I had not run out of ideas, just discipline. When I challenged myself to come up with a post every day I actually had an overabundance of ideas, some of which will have to wait for a later date to come to fruition. But that is good too; some things just need a little time to develop.

My blog traffic has increased somewhat this month, but I do not know if I can attribute that to posting more frequently. A lot of it, I've noticed over the past couple of days, has come from image searches. That tells me I probably need to protect my images more, and I found out it is really easy to watermark them in Picasa.

It is likely that I will have a new blog post the majority of days in December. It is unlikely that I will post every day just because I feel I have to. As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A walk in the November woods

This morning I had an urge to go for a walk in our woods. Although the woods are practically at my doorstep, I do not get out there nearly as much as I should, and since during the week I leave at dawn and return in dark these days, today was a rare opportunity to explore.

Most of the color of the woods is brown these days, save for pine and spruce needles and this mini forest of Lycopodium, a club moss, growing on the forest floor.

The low light of the winter sun hits everything as it would only in morning or evening during the summer. It accented this old paper birch bark nicely.

I started my walk from the cabin, heading southeast on a path along the old logging railroad siding, which still stands slightly raised from the rest of the forest floor. When I approached our property line I turned west and walked through the fairly open forest of white and red pine. I made my way to the rim of the old gravel pit, above, long overgrown with trees. From this angle it looks like a definite trail, and it is in most places, although I would have to cut a few limbs to make a ski trail out of it.

Along the gravel pit trail I saw curious signs of a culture that had been there before me. I do not know what the ice cream pail symbolizes. :)

I went out looking for signs of birds and deer, and I did see a few. My walk was cut short as I was headed behind the new house. I heard a flock of small birds fly over, and they sounded a lot like crossbills. I followed their direction, hoping to find them in a spruce tree eating cones, but I could not locate them. But the best sighting came after I was back at the house, sitting out on the deck enjoying the noonday sun and calm, mild weather. I heard the sound of swans flying from the north. At first I thought maybe I would see a flock of tundra swans, but these had the unmistakable voice of trumpeter swans. I watched a flock of about a dozen or so as they flew over the swamp on the east side of our land. My bird of 2009 will have to be the trumpeter swan; I have never seen so many of them!

I had expected some peace and quiet in the woods, but in reality it was quite noisy. Since all the leaves are off the deciduous trees, we hear traffic louder, although thankfully there is not much. There were two or three trains that passed on the railroad some four miles away during my walk, and the sound rumbled and thundered through the woods. There were a few gunshots, probably grouse hunters or muzzleloader deer hunters. And there was the sound of Starflower and Mr. Attitude playing on the empty trailer, shouting and making it tip like a teeter totter as they shifted their weight. I guess 3 AM may be better if I want silence.

Friday, November 27, 2009

four miles

Things were kind of busy around here today, what with the propane guy trying to dig a trench to the new house so we will have it ready when we get the new heater we are ordering. We have not had reliable backup heat in the new house yet, but with the new heater we are getting we should be able to go away for a while and not have to worry. Not that we have anywhere to go.

The Hermit also had a friend come over to help haul away a load of old tarps and other stuff that was sitting in a trailer. We need the trailer because tomorrow he is going to pick up a washer and dryer he found on Craigslist! The plumber was also here, figuring out how to get water up and running.

I was kind of overwhelmed by it all, so I went for a run in the middle of the afternoon. I think I went four miles. It is so difficult to schedule running time these days, but I think I may be walking at the school next week while I wait for Calvin to be done with basketball practice. They have a walkway that goes around the level above the gym. Too slippery for running, but if I have a half hour to spare anyway, walking will do.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone

I realize to my Canadian friends this is just a normal day, but it's always a good idea to give thanks. I am thankful that we have a roof over our heads, food in the pantry, and a source of income and health insurance. I am thankful for family and friends, and pets who bring so much joy into our lives. I am thankful for health. I am thankful for the Internet, for bringing wonderful people into my life and for making more information available to everyone.

After making the 100+ mile drive to the city and back to celebrate a wonderful meal at my brother's house, I am thankful I live where I do, that I don't have to put up with that kind of noise and traffic every day! I am thankful that piling the family into the car and making that drive is even an option.

Yes, this world is imperfect, and sometimes I wonder with all the suffering and oppression how I deserve this good life I have. But if I resolve to live a life of grace and compassion, to share the gifts I have and raise my children to be good people, I hope to have made a difference.

Grace and peace to all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sally's not so big adventure

My name is Deb, and I am a bad dog mom.

It all started last night, when I let Sally outside to do her business. I don't remember what time it was. Somehow I got distracted, human kids have a way of doing that to me, and before I knew it I was upstairs in bed reading the first pages of The Hobbit and trying to decide if I wanted to take the plunge into fantasy world and read the whole thing. The jury is still out. Testimony is still welcome.

The next thing I knew it was 1:30 AM. I usually wake up briefly around that time. Only something was wrong. I could move my legs freely. There was not a dog curled up at the foot of the bed. Uh-oh. At 1:30, Sally is never anywhere else but curled up at the foot of the bed. I got up and walked around the house, checking every place she might be. No Sally. I went outside and called her name. No Sally.

I had a thought that she may have sought refuge at the Cabin/Man Cave. The Hermit and Calvin have been sleeping there lately, just because they can. I went out there, opening the door carefully because I did not want to wake anyone. Sally is a light sleeper, and I thought for sure she would wake up if I so much as touched the door. And I thought the last place she would be was in bed with The Hermit; I thought she avoided him. I looked everywhere else. No Sally.

I was starting to worry, but for some reason I never jumped to grim conclusions. Sally would turn up somewhere, even if she had to sleep out in the 45 degree drizzly night, which was warm for this time of year.

I finally drifted off into sleep again, and woke around 6 AM. Shortly thereafter, there was a voice on our just-arrived intercom: "What's Sally doing out here?"


It turns out Sally went over to the cabin after I totally forgot she was outside. She went into the cabin when The Hermit woke up in the middle of the night, and slept with him in the twin bed. I did not even think of looking there.

But all is okay, I am thankful Sally is here, and she seems to harbor no ill feelings towards me for my act of outright neglect. I promise I will do better as a dog mom!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Post redirection

My daily post is up at Under the Blue Roof. I don't know if I will post here today, but I just wanted to let you know!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

in the company of swans, part 2

Trumpeter swans are very vocal birds. Even when they are loafing around on the water, they seem to constantly be talking to each other. I took this video mainly to record their sounds. Turn up the sound and enjoy!

Friday, November 20, 2009

in the company of swans, part 1

I am having problems uploading videos today. For now, let me tell y0u it was good. Nearly 50 trumpeter swans on a lake within ten miles of my house. Beautiful. I took tons of pictures, so beware!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the need for stillness

How many people these days have daily moments of stillness in their lives? Moments when the phones are off, nothing is urgent, thoughts of today's or tomorrow's problems are silenced, and even the ever uttering words in the mind stop for a while?

What do you mean? You don't have words going through your mind every waking minute? Tell me what world you live in. I would love to be there.

At this moment I am simultaneously telling Mr. Attitude how to organize the contents of his backpack and find his homework, going over the details of parent teacher conferences in my mind (they were pretty good!), planning meals, thinking about bills to be paid (it's payday tomorrow), blogging, thinking about how lame this post is rapidly becoming, and hearing the noise of the TV in the background. I need to clear my head.

I did go running this afternoon around sunset, since I arrived home a bit earlier than normal. I wore a blaze orange fleece jacket just in case. Three more days of deer season. Running, besides all its great physical effects, helps me to get into a more meditative state and quiets my thoughts a bit. There was no wind, and I stopped once or twice so I would not hear my shoes on the gravel, and just listened to the stillness.

The Hermit went to Crooked Lake today, where a couple dozen trumpeter swans are still resting, and he said it was so still he could hear it whenever one of them fluffed its wings.

That's it, I am taking off early tomorrow and going there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Every day I see them. Two, maybe three, maybe five starlings. Perched on a wire where I turn onto the freeway, after dropping kids off at school, just another part of my daily commute.

I wonder what the starlings find attractive about that place. Maybe they like the noise of the freeway; they are noisy, mimicking birds themselves. I wonder if they wonder what all the traffic is for.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ack, I've been found out!

I have known for quite a while, from looking at hits on my Site Meter and doing my own test searches, that this site is one of the top sources for info on Lloyd LaPlant musical instruments, thanks to this post. LaPlant does not have his own Web site, nor does he need one; his reputation as a quality craftsman speaks for itself.

I'm still not used to the idea of people I know in "real life", whatever that means anymore, knowing my blogging side. Especially when I find out in rather unexpected ways. Like when today I picked up an incoming call at the office. I answered in my usual voice, and the caller hesitated, then asked "Do you know where I can find a LaPlant guitar?"

After I picked my jaw up off the floor I smiled. Someone was on to me. After a second or two, the caller identified himself; he is someone from our agency whom we work with fairly often, and I have talked with him on the phone many times. "You're on to me!" I said. He proceeded to explain how he'd been to a couple concerts recently, and heard about LaPlant instruments, and decided to look for information online, which led him to this blog. He somehow put two and two together and figured out it was me. I did not know he was into bluegrass, and we had a good conversation.

Call it coincidence, synchronicity, or whatever. As Albert Einstein said, "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." At any rate, that call sure made my day at work a bit more fun!

Monday, November 16, 2009

November driving home

There is something lonely about driving home from work this time of year. Work is, for me, a pretty lonely place in itself, so I spend the long day looking forward to going home. Then when I actually do go home, sunset arrives within minutes and the gray and dead grass landscape takes on the shades of twilight. I drive through town looking for comfort in the lights; if I stop at the grocery store maybe I see someone I know, maybe the guy who has bagged my groceries for seven years now, who has watched my kids grow up, the guy who will yell hello from across the parking lot. He does not know, some days I live for that kind of friendliness, and I am grateful that he gives it so freely.

I arrive home as the last of the light fades, greeted by the welcoming lights of the house and a fire in the wood stove. But I sit in the car for another minute or two because there is a song on the radio, an orchestral piece for which I once played the essential flute part. Faure's Pavane. I have had part of this tune in my head for a while now, and I am glad to finally hear the whole thing again!

Darkness falls so early in November. I retreat quickly to comfort, to pajamas and my rocking chair by the wood stove and flannel sheets. It's the longest time until spring, and for now we must seek warmth and light and the company of others.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

herbal tip of the day

So Mr. Attitude had a little meltdown yesterday morning. Actually I should say Mr. Attitude and I, because when all was said and done I was worn out and feeling like the most incompetent parent ever. It began over his tendency to be overly dramatic when he is losing at a video game. I reminded him to keep his voice down. He argued that I never yell at Calvin when Calvin overreacts to video games. Right then and there I should have realized it was a lose-lose situation. But I yelled too much, tried to reason too much, and probably only ended up escalating the situation.

Chamomile tea is known for its calming effects. I have given it to Mr. Attitude on one occasion, with impressive results. However, he is not particularly fond of drinking tea (what almost 8 year old boy is?). So try and make him drink tea, even if it is liberally sweetened with honey, when he is already in an agitated turned into another power struggle in itself. I should have spiked the cup with vodka and drunk it myself; we both would have been happier.

It eventually was resolved, as these things are, and he is back to loving me in his alarmingly Oedipus way. But today I related my story in a comment on Madcap's blog, and she suggested maybe I should have used a "topical" application (with the wink smilie). Maybe it was too early, I was clueless, until a commenter from Scotland translated it into terms I could relate to:

"Chuck the tea on the wee bugger's head!"

Ha! That almost sounds like a line from one of those Irish tunes I've been playing on flute lately!

So, the lesson learned is: Chamomile tea is calming and relaxing. Especially when administered topically with excessive force! ;)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday the 14th

Not much new to say. I am not at the symphony tonight. I am not very used to driving out after dark, and I decided I am a homebody. I did get some flute practice in, and even got my octave mandolin out of its case. Now I'm just listening to some very good music on the radio.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

It just occurred to me that I did not see one media reference today to the superstition-riddled date. Finally they may be catching on to the idea that we have grown beyond that fear. Or maybe it's just that our attention spans are so short that we don't even make the connection anymore.

Starflower was born very early in the morning on a Friday the 13th of August. She spent another sick day home from school, as did Mr. Attitude. The Hermit took Starflower to the doctor, where she received yet another strep throat diagnosis and penicillin shot. She seems to get strep pretty often. I'm glad she's feeling better now. As for Mr. Attitude, he was already on the mend but just needed one more day. Both of them will be spending a bit of time this weekend catching up on homework.

I worked late tonight making sure another Minnesota lake was well stocked with walleye fingerlings. I wonder about the efficacy of such an effort, but then again I like my paycheck enough to question too much for now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

the power of dreams

Lately I'd like to know just when it was that I stopped believing anything was possible and started telling myself I wasn't good at stuff. What if I hadn't listened to myself at that point?

My mind is working differently these days. There's an energy now, something that tells me I can understand way more than I thought I ever could. I am reading books and essays that would have passed way over my head when I was in college. I am listening to in depth radio news programs and starting to comprehend the complex situations in nations like Afghanistan. I am thinking that even had I chosen an improbable career like investment banking, I could have been good at it. I could have been good at anything, with the possible exception of organic chemistry. And I may have even developed some intuitive understanding of molecules that I did not have before.

I have been listening to classical public radio more and more lately, and it has felt like a reunion with my old college flute playing days, even my young adult community orchestra days. I miss being a part of a Mahler or Schubert symphony. I entered college as one of the best flutists in the freshman class, but I lacked the confidence that I needed to take it to the next level. But I still have the skill. Now that I play mostly for fun, I'm sounding better than ever.

So now I have this crazy dream. There is a symphony orchestra in the nearest medium size city. Not a huge status thing for a classical musician, I think they probably all have day jobs as well, but they do have a pretty good reputation. I was just wondering...maybe if I start seriously practicing again, the next time they have auditions for a flute player...I could have what it takes. I just have to take myself seriously enough. But not too seriously; not being chosen would not be the end of the world. I don't have anything to lose by trying!

This orchestra also happens to be playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Saturday night. I found this out just a few days after I declared to myself that I want to hear an orchestra and choir perform that symphony live some day. Coincidence? Tickets start at $25, and I just might be taking myself to the symphony this weekend. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crooked Lake

We went there looking for the swans. They were there, but hidden. November has its own kind of melancholy beauty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

warm November days

The pond has had a skim of ice on it a couple of mornings, maybe even today, although I did not take a close look on the way back from bringing Starflower to meet the bus. It was 24 degrees, so it could have happened. But by afternoon, with the temperature approaching 60, the ice was most certainly gone. Sally enjoyed it.

I stayed home with Mr. Attitude today, since he had a fever and sore throat. It was one of those throats that makes you wince when you hear him cough or try to talk. He seemed better after I gave him a Ricola cough drop. (Can you hear the alpenhorn in the distance?) I made him homemade chicken soup for lunch, with fresh sage, garlic and thyme. I am becoming a firm believer in the healing powers of herbs and chicken soup. I'm sure no small part of it is the care and love that goes into making the soup. He is napping now. I'll probably keep him home tomorrow as well, since I have the day off anyway.

update- it looks as if Starflower and possibly Calvin may be joining us at home tomorrow. More chicken soup is on order!

Monday, November 09, 2009

homegrown spaghetti squash

Doesn't have the ring to it like "homegrown tomatoes", does it? But this is probably the week where I'll enjoy the last of the homegrown tomatoes and move on to more durable storage things, like squash.

I did not end up with a lot of winter squash from my garden this year. However, a coworker started leaving bags of produce at my desk, by my car, everywhere, and among them was an abundance of winter squash. Mostly butternut and acorn, which are delectable and good keepers. I have probably over fifty pounds of edible squash flesh in my pantry and I am grateful.

I did manage, however, to produce a few spaghetti squash. This was my first year growing them, and considering the other varieties I planted didn't justify their space in the garden, I am impressed at the productivity of the spaghetti variety.

I must take issue with the name thing. While, when cooked, they do produce strands of flesh that may resemble a pasta product, the flavor is much more sublime than noodles, which are really just an excuse to pour on the sauce. I would never overwhelm the delicate flavor of spaghetti squash with a heavy pasta sauce. A little butter and salt and pepper, maybe garlic will do just fine, thank you.

They are really easy to cook too. The hardest part is cutting one in half, which I may have to resort to a kitchen size chain saw for. Once it is cut, by whatever means, scoop out the seeds, then spread a little butter or olive oil over the halves, put some water in the bottom of the pan, and bake at 375 for about an hour. Then take a fork and tease out the strands of cooked squash. Season as desired. That's it. We had them with boneless pork chops and rotini tonight (just because Mr. Attitude will eat more of anything when it is served with pasta!)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

November woods

This morning, after the end of a brief rain storm that had interrupted Calvin's deer hunting, he asked me if I would like to see his hunting spot. I had absolutely nothing more important going on, so off we went.

I really don't get out in our woods often enough these days. This is a spot just south of the cabin, in a grove of white and red pine. There were signs of deer everywhere in the carpet of pine needles. Calvin was thinking of using the fallen pine as a blind.

Since I had last been to this area, which was roughly one or two months ago, this long deceased pine trunk had broken and fallen to the ground. I'm guessing it made quite a loud noise, if anyone was around to hear it. This tree had been dead for nearly as long as we have owned this land (15 years). Now the fungi and invertebrates and single celled creatures will do their work of turning the wood back into topsoil.

The air was still among the pines, fairly warm for November, and as we stood there silently a feeling of peace came over me. I wanted to just sit there, find a dry spot and sit with the trees for some time, try and reclaim some of what is lost when we stay away from the trees for too long. I want to go hunting now, if for nothing else than to just be outside.

While Calvin and I were enjoying the moment, I noticed this little spruce with a very obvious antler rub! Some of the branches were even sheared off. Calvin can't wait to get out there later this afternoon.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

rites of passage

Calvin finally went deer hunting today. He saw a doe, but knew she was too far away for him to get a good shot. He is sleeping over at the Man Cave tonight, going out first thing in the morning. I think he's hooked.

I think this is a very significant thing in the life of a young man. Far from being some kind of "get more kids exposed to hunting" thing, this is personal. He will always remember his first hunting experience.

I never had exposure to a hunting tradition in my family. My grandpa went deer hunting occasionally, but it was not a tradition that was passed along. I don't recall any hunting on my dad's side. I have only carried a gun occasionally, and I don't think I have ever successfully shot anything, though I have walked grouse trails and sat in a deer blind. I would like to shoot maybe one deer, for the meat, but perhaps that is something for another day.

As for another rite of passage, I took Starflower to Wal Mart (yuck) today to get some supplies for a school project. While we were there, she reminded me that maybe we needed to start looking at bras, since some of the girls in her class wear them and all that. Yeah. So when did they stop making "training bras" and start making push up bras for ten year olds? I did let her buy one, though I really don't think she needs it yet.

So why was I not in the deer stand with Starflower today? Tradition I guess. I can't expect her to learn what I never learned myself.

Friday, November 06, 2009

a few more walleye, and deer season

I'll admit, I did not sit down at the computer knowing what I was going to post, and I really don't feel like writing anything. I came home early with the vague feeling that something wasn't quite right with me. I even went into the living room and turned on Emeril, just because I could and I certainly wasn't going to go running. I took my temperature and it registered at 98.6, which for me is a full degree above normal. I don't even feel like drinking beer. Why does this have to happen on the weekend?

Maybe it's the mom guilt. Calvin was complaining of a scratchy throat when he woke up, which I reassured him would be fine once he drank something. Wood stoves tend to promote dry atmospheres. I insisted he go to school, partly because I was second guessing my decision to leave Mr. Attitude home yesterday, and partly because Calvin had spent a couple questionable sick days home already. I told him he could always go to the nurse's office if he wasn't feeling right.

Of course the school nurse called me at work a little after 9 AM. I had a work thing I could not get out of, but I called The Hermit and he could pick Calvin up. They ended up going to Duluth, getting Calvin's first ever deer license and eating a 1/3 pound burger for lunch. Sore throat indeed. But did I mention our immune systems seem to be functioning pretty well.

Meanwhile, I ended up driving over a hundred miles following a fish stocking truck around to several lakes. The state contracts out some of its walleye stocking to vendors now, but authorized personnel (me) have to be around when the fish go into the lake. I don't know what to think about fish stocking anymore, but I kind of like my paycheck. Which came today, hooray.

No music tonight. I'm thinking if I can just drag myself up to bed that will be enough. It is nice that we don't need a fire in the wood stove tonight since the temperature almost made 60 in the afternoon. It is nice that the weekend forecast shows more of the same. Of course, I never enjoy the first weekend of deer season around here. During my travels today I passed several bars, and the parking lots were extremely crowded for the time of day. The freeway was busy with citdiots and their trailers with four wheelers, and I'm even thinking running this weekend might be a bad idea. Ah, deer season.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

musical moments

I realized a long time ago that I am way over my head with musical instruments. Flute, mandolin, guitar, octave mandolin, banjo, and keyboard although I gave that to the kids. If I have an hour of consciousness between dinner and bedtime I am lucky to get some practice in. That is, if Starflower or Mr. Attitude are not practicing piano; then I try not to disturb them with my own plunkings. I really need to reclaim part of the MAN CAVE as my musical practice area.

Today I had an unexpected day home as Mr. Attitude had a sore throat, and I had promised him last night I would stay home with him if he was sick today. He wasn't that sick, and I have decided we must have superior immune systems around here, since the kids are never very sick! But still, I believe a day at home is better than a day at school if there is any doubt.

I took advantage of the morning by playing my flute. For some reason I felt like playing a tune I had heard, but never seen written in music. I found out quickly I could play the tune well. Then I listened to the recording I had first heard that tune on, and learned a couple more tunes. By the end of my practice session I had mastered a set of three tunes: Rosie Finn, Sean Bui, and The Kid On The Mountain. My thanks to The Bothy Band for the inspiration.

We also put up a new bird feeder hanger. Hopefully the feeders are up high enough now that cats can't get to them.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

updates about our house

I have not posted any updates about progress we have made on finishing our house lately. Mainly being because there have not been any. Financial stuff and all that. I don't think I ever posted about The Hermit being laid off in April. I saw it as a silver lining thing. After he accepted the job, things changed with the organization, and the job he was hired for was not the one he was expected to do under new management, which caused a great deal of stress. If he would have quit on his own, he would not be collecting the unemployment benefits, which last I heard are expected to be extended another 20 weeks.

So we are getting along with the unfinished way things are, grateful to have a roof over our heads with no mortgage. It will all happen eventually, and really I think we are so fortunate to be living where we are.

But the cabin is what I need to talk about. I never imagined that, after we moved out, it would become a MAN CAVE! Duck decoys everywhere, two bird dogs sleeping in kennels, and Major League Baseball channel on 24 hours a day. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

entering the dark days

The one thing I like about the "fall back" to standard time is waking up after morning has broken. To me, there is something unnatural about waking in the wee hours of the morning when everything is dark.

Maybe that is just an issue of mine that goes back to the days when they still let kids have newspaper routes, and my brother subcontracted part of his route to me. The alarm would ring at 4:30 or some ungodly hour like that, and by 5 I would have my papers counted and loaded into a canvas delivery sack, and I hit the street. In the summer it wasn't so bad, but in the dark of fall and winter I don't know how I did it. Houses that looked questionable during daylight hours were terrifying in the dark. And Lord knows, if the wrong person knew that a sixteen year old girl was walking a paper route, showing up at the same place at a predictable time...the thought didn't cross my naive mind then, but I swear there must have been an angel watching over me.

I never think about the paper route days any more. Funny how something that was so much a part of my consciousness back then never even shows up in my dreams. But I still don't like getting out of bed before the break of dawn.

This morning there was a beautiful moon shining through the huge west-facing window by my bed. The nice thing about the dark side of the year is that the moon does not hide itself behind the pines in our southern view.

I forgot to mention in my beach post, during the Wednesday drive I saw my first small flock of snow buntings for the season.

And now, totally off topic, why am I suddenly getting so many blog hits for the search terms "ugliest flower ever"?

Monday, November 02, 2009

November daily blog challenge

It's Madcap's fault. My longtime blogging friend from Alberta decided to challenge herself to post every day in November. That was good news to me, since I enjoy her writing and her bold determination to go after the life she and her family want. So I commented with my approval, and added the idea that maybe I should take up the challenge myself. She was enthusiastic about the idea, so I'm in!

It's not that I have a paucity of ideas to write about. On the contrary, my brain has been in overdrive lately. Call it an awakening, a spiritual shift in consciousness, or whatever. My main obstacle to writing lately has been the need to wrestle my preteen kids for computer time. Oh for a laptop.

Tonight I capped off my 2009 gardening effort by canning 7 pints of salsa. When you consider I harvested most of my tomatoes in the fully green stage since they didn't ripen on schedule in this incredibly cool summer and I had to rescue them from frost, 7 pints plus a lot of slicers is a respectable yield. Overall I had a good gardening year, considering it was cooler than normal AND I had a doe who was attracted to certain crops. Payback time is coming... But I had great harvests of garlic and onions, carrots did well, and I grew more kale and Swiss chard than I could eat. I even had a fairly good crop of potatoes, though I decided my 4x4 raised potato beds need to go for two reasons: I can grow potatoes just as well in the 4x8 beds, and the kids need more space for their baseball field. :) As for canned goods, I have blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry jam, crabapple jelly, chicken broth, and zucchini pickles. I canned more this year than I have in a long time.

We are entering the season of long dark, accentuated by the change back to standard time. It's nice to wake up to a setting full moon in the first rays of daylight, but depressing to realize sunset happens when I arrive home.

Well, this is a start. If I'm going to be rambling about stuff every day this month, I better not let too much out at once. :)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

lonely beach in October

On Wednesday and Friday of last week I was out of the office and on the road for work. I don't mind a 100 mile drive by myself once in a while. It's a chance to turn on the public radio news channel, or sometimes turn the radio off and just enjoy the quiet and the scenery. In order to get to and from where I was going, I had to drive around the shore of Mille Lacs, one of Minnesota's largest lakes.

On Wednesday the wind was out of the southeast, creating waves that splashed against the shore. I listened to the soothing sound for a few minutes, and I was reminded of other shores, other waters.

This beach on the north shore of the lake is a state-owned Aquatic Management Area, open to public fishing, swimming, birding, walking, contemplating, or whatever. Mille Lacs is one of the few lakes in this part of Minnesota that is big enough to have the wave action to form a natural beach, and there are very few stretches of beach along the lake that are undeveloped, in a natural state.

On Friday I drove through light rain for the first part of the day. When I stopped at the beach, the sun was just beginning to break through the clouds and mist. After I had turned away from the lake and was headed east, the wind came up, sending a storm of oak leaves and tamarack needles through the sky.

I saw very few shorebirds or waterfowl, but I did get this photo. I was carrying only my camera, not my binoculars, so I did not even see the details of this gull until I downloaded the photos. Bonaparte's?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

running on a carpet of golden needles

I went for a beautiful 5.2 mile run this morning. For various reasons, most of them probably no more than lame excuses, I had not run for more than a month. No time. Sick. Raining, cold weather. Snow. I know that physically I go through a very real transition from summer to fall. For a couple of weeks when temperatures get below freezing overnight, and especially if clouds dominate the day, the thought of going outside and subjecting myself to physical exertion seems, well...unthinkable. But this is much better than the state I was in a couple of years ago, where the thought of any physical exertion any time of year was, well...unthinkable. Can I tell you all of the wonderful things running has done for me?

My usual route goes from my driveway north on our road a half mile, then taking a right turn down a dead end road that continues a little over two miles east, then coming back. It's a gorgeous route any time of year, fairly level and covering mixed woods, wetlands, and open fields, with Sand Creek and a tributary along much of the way. But today my view was accented by the gold of tamaracks, which are in their full fall glory. One stretch of road has a dense tamarack forest on either side, and yesterday's wind had brought down a carpet of golden needles on the road.

The above photo is the view out my back door. Glorious! But back to my run...I was worried about the effects of not having run for a few weeks. But my legs just flew on their own, it seemed so effortless. So effortless, in fact, that on the way back I took my pulse and decided I must be getting too good at running at a snail's pace, I was barely in "the zone". I increased my pace off and on for the remainder of the run, pushing myself towards breathless. I returned home exhilarated.

The blue sky is fleeting. We are looking at more rain starting tonight. The tamarack gold will probably not last much longer, just as the birch, aspen, and even some of the oak leaves have quietly released to the forest floor. The nights are getting longer and darker, and a rocking chair and a wool blanket near the wood stove are looking better all the time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A philosophical discussion with Mr. Attitude

Reposted from Facebook, for all you technophobes out there who think dial phones are still the standard of communication. ;) I still believe there is room for both Blogger and Facebook. Obviously the proprietor of The Ethereal Garage doesn't think so. Too bad for everyone. ;)

Son#2: Mom, what is real?

Me, getting philosophical: The present moment. The past is memory, the future is uncertain.

Son#2: So if I hit you in the head, a moment later it wouldn't be real?

Me: resolving to never have philosophical discussions with a kid whom even his piano teacher calls "Mr. Attitude." :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ubiquitous attitude

Starflower informed me today that her and Mr. Attitude's piano teacher, the school band director, has, independent of any knowledge of this blog, dubbed him "Mr. Attitude!"

Friday, October 16, 2009

sandhill staging

In a field about six miles south of my house, an amazing meeting is going on:

The sandhill cranes found this particular location desirable for all the reasons cranes like: plentiful food (from recently harvested corn fields), grassy fields, and marshes nearby.

It is worth noting that in my lifetime, sandhill cranes have gone from being a nearly extirpated oddity in Minnesota to a yearly spectacle. Kind of like bald eagles in that regard. I am so fortunate to have a pair of them nesting in the swamp near my home every year.

I left work early today and took a special drive just to see the cranes. On the way I noticed the tamaracks are turning golden, a sure sign of the end days of fall.


Yesterday may have been the first time ever that I bought a six pack of beer just for its label. I'm not normally a big fan of brown ale, but who could resist the saw whet owl?

I've been hearing barred and great horned owls lately, and even saw a great horned owl being mobbed by crows the other morning. Bald eagles must be migrating through; I have been seeing two or three of them a day! The sightings and sounds almost make up for the dismal dark wet snowy weather we've been having.

The kids have a mini break school yesterday and today for the annual Minnesota teachers' union convention. I wish I could be sleeping in this morning!

CORRECTION/UPDATE: OMG, I'm a pretty bad birder if I can't even properly identify an owl on a beer label! I checked my Sibley's tonight, just to be sure, and wouldn't you know it, that is a BOREAL owl, not a saw whet! Of course, I have seen neither of them in real life, but they are both pretty darn cute.

As long as I'm updating, I might as well say I saw a pair of trumpeter swans flying near the Kettle River this morning on my way to work. And stay tuned for sandhill cranes, lots of them...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Minnesota fall colors

I am so not ready for white. And if the behavior of the juvenile members of this household today is any indication, we're in for a LONG winter indoors. Sigh.

I did see some amazing sights today on my way home from some errands in town: a flock of 50+ ravens and one bald eagle (must have been some great road kill!), and a couple large flocks of sandhill cranes resting in a marsh and a pasture.

This snow has completely sucked out whatever motivation I had to do things today. I'm even thinking a nap sounds good right about now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


This afternoon, after the nail-bitingly wonderful ball game last night, I wasn't quite ready to sit in the school parking lot and listen to the beginning of the Twins/Yankees playoff game. It was sunny and in the fifties and not raining, as it has so often lately, and part of me was missing engaging in any form of exercise for the last couple of weeks. So I drove to a trail I had been to once before, last spring or maybe even before that. It's a snowmobile trail on state park land that is not heavily advertised or used when there is no snow. It winds downhill, across a couple dry ravines leading to the Kettle River, then uphill again. Off the beaten trail I had heard there was a creek that cut through some rock outcrops, but the last time I was there I did not know where to get off the trail. I'm a sucker for water and rock outcrops, so I was determined to find the creek this time.

I had half an hour to wander, so I quickly covered the half mile or so of marked trail. The tree canopy, mostly aspen and birch with some maple, was a brilliant, other-worldly shade of gold. I saw a scattered pile of feathers that looked like they once belonged to a goshawk or Cooper's hawk. I saw a large mushroom being consumed by a slug.

When I got to where I had to leave the beaten trail, I briefly considered the wisdom of what I was about to do. There was a chance I could get lost in the woods. However, the sun was out, I could hear the freeway from where I was, so I had a pretty good sense of direction. That, and the slope of the river valley was a good landmark.

I wandered downhill through some light undergrowth, and soon I found the stream and some sandstone outcrops. Unfortunately, I checked my iPod clock and realized I had about ten minutes to get back to the car and get to the school, directly across the river from where I was, to pick up Calvin. So I reluctantly saved serious rock exploration and meditation for another day. And I found my way back to the trail easily.

I saw my first rough legged hawk of the fall on the way home. Once I was home I headed out to the garden to gather green tomatoes. It's supposed to get pretty cold tomorrow night and I hope to bring in what I can before it freezes too hard. On my way out to the garden I heard a great horned owl; I had heard one early this morning too. I had not heard one since maybe last spring.

I picked two buckets of tomatoes, but there are still plenty more out there. I also picked a box of tomatillos. Strangely enough, I had my best crop of them in several years. Even stranger, after I had brought them in, Calvin, who did not know I had been out picking them, asked me if I could make some salsa verde this year! He has developed quite a taste for salsa lately, and he told me he loves salsa verde. I should have enough for four or five pints, which I suspect will go quickly. :)

The air is crisp, the multicolored landscape beautiful, and I wish it could stay like this for about two months longer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


They did it!!! From 3 games back just 4 GAMES AGO, they won the AL Central Division title!!! And they did it in classic fashion, 12 innings in front of 54,000 loud fans in the Metrodome, where the last Twins game was supposed to have been yesterday. And they did it in twelve hard fought innings, which left me EXHAUSTED!

Nothing will ever surprise me, ever again. And I will NEVER give up!!!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

rainy night ramblings

There's a fire in the wood stove, the rain is tapping (not pounding, not really tapping either...I can't find a good word for the sound rain makes) on the steel roof, supper is on the stove, and I have managed to find a time when the computer is not occupied by preteens. So I'm long overdue for one of my stream of consciousness, "thinking out loud" category posts, in which I attempt to say a little about a lot. Here goes.

The Hermit saw something that must have been hilarious today: Whiter Biter, our alpha tom cat, chasing an otter! Knowing Whiter Biter, he was probably trying to mate with it. Tomcats...

We closed out a record warm September with the season's first heavy frost Tuesday night. It got down to 29 degrees here, which is enough, we found out, to freeze tomatoes under mini hoop houses covered in plastic. The tomatoes that were directly under row cover fabric fared much better. Either way, we were blessed with an extra two weeks or so before frost, which wasn't quite enough to make up for the painfully slow growth and ripening of my tomatoes this year. As usual. I didn't get them in until the latter half of June, but still I was counting on varieties listed as under 80 days to actually produce ripe tomatoes within 90 days. I had some luck, with Stupice, Glacier, Yellow Pear, and a couple Black Cherry, but the rest were still in various stages of greenness. I really must look into a greenhouse if I expect to grow tomatoes here.

Growing tomatoes here is kind of like following Twins baseball. The odds are stacked against them (tomatoes and Twins), but still they show just enough promise in September to stay in the running. By the time the first hard frost (or late series with Detroit, the first place team) rolls around, you wish them the best, but are ready for them to just be out of playoff contention so you can relax a little and look forward to next year. Tonight the Twins still theoretically have a chance, but the stars have to be lined up perfectly. About the chance my tomatoes under the row covers have of ripening. Go Twins. Go Tomatoes.

Calvin is on his way home from an away football game tonight. I'm not that dedicated of a football parent that I would drive to a school 30 miles away to watch a game in the 50 degree rain. The Hermit is picking him up at the school. But last night Calvin casually asked me, "When do you think I'll have a girlfriend?" I stammered for a minute, thinking of what to say, then replied that when the time was ready, he was such a smart, fun, good looking guy I was sure the girls would be after him. Well, I guess they already are. Apparently he has been communicating with a girl, mostly via text messaging, who is a friend of a cousin of a girl in his class. Or something like that. Anyway, he wanted to know if he could go to her homecoming dance with her; her mom would drive. I asked what school she went to, and he wasn't really sure. He tried to put me on the phone with her mom last night, but I wasn't ready to be put on the spot like that. I have decided there are too many unknowns to even consider letting him go to the dance, not the least of which is the inherent nature of seventh graders to look unkindly on outsiders.

I am SO not ready for this!

Mr. Attitude is practicing his piano lesson now, and being interrupted by Whiter Biter (the otter chaser) who somehow sneaked inside. Mr. Attitude requested piano lessons this year because he wants to play drums in band when he gets to fifth grade, and you need at least two years of piano to be a percussionist (like Starflower). The piano teacher is the school band director, who is probably the best liked, most dedicated teacher in the whole school. I am glad my kids have these musical opportunities; after all, band was my big thing in high school, and music is a life long all around good thing. We can't live without it.

Speaking of music, I checked out Steve Martin's banjo album, The Crow, from the library. Yes, THAT Steve Martin, wild and crazy guy. Can he ever play the five string! Most of the songs on the album are original compositions, and his life long love of the banjo comes through in every one. Makes me want to sign off the computer and pick up my Deering Goodtime, if I can find the finger picks...kittens have been making them disappear from the table recently...

I was going to go further and deeper, covering topics like scientific skepticism, the meaning of life, and classical Western herbalism, but those all deserve their own posts soon when these ever lengthening nights find me with more time to ponder...that is, if I can get my preteens off the computer...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

pond evening

This September has been incredible, weatherwise. Tonight was just another golden evening.

This girl was happy to finally have some pond time. Week nights are just too hectic.

I have more words somewhere. But I also have a cold and the urge to just crawl under flannel sheets after the sun goes down. The words will be there soon, I promise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the crazy woman under the bridge

Here's the problem: I get off work at 4:30, and Calvin's 7th grade football practice is not over until 5:45. It' s a fifteen minute drive from work to school (which is on the way home) at best, and even if I kill time doing some grocery shopping along the way, I still have about a 45 minute wait. I don't want to drive home and back, even though I could, because that would use up a gallon of gas. Ah the price I pay for living in rural paradise. :) But I'll gladly pay it since Calvin seems to really like football, and band, and school in general so far this year. Seventh grade was hell for me, so I am happy he's having a better go of it.

I was considering running during the wait, since I could put in 3 miles or so in that time. But it's been an unseasonably hot September, and I just haven't been in the mood for it. I know, I'm a slacker. And there's reading; I have had some good books from the library on the topic of herbal medicine, which is another recent interest I need to blog about. That, and I can't believe I read and understood Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Self Reliance", all during lunch and break times yesterday. But no, it's hard to read Emerson in a school parking lot when there are parents all around looking either like the definitive argument for the obesity epidemic, or parading around in designer clothes and big hair and Hummers. Ugh.

So I've been doing something, twice now, that makes me feel like I'm being utterly subversive and nonconformist. I drive my car to a river bridge and boat access about a half mile east of the school. Usually there's no one there that time on a week day. I take my flute, along with O'Neill's book of Irish tunes, and a beer, and sit under the bridge and play music! The acoustics are great, although interrupted at about one minute intervals by traffic passing over the bridge. And today right before I set up camp, two canoeists went by, paddling upstream. I made sure they were out of earshot before I began.

It has been wonderful for my soul. Today I just started improvising in D minor and G minor, and the sounds that echoed off the concrete were amazing. It still scares me, being there sending my music out to the world, and perhaps unwitting canoeists. But I'm feeling my inner crazy f'er, and that feels pretty damn good. :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Greg Brown in Duluth

I have been listening to Greg Brown's Dream Cafe album lately. It was his newest album when I first came to know his music, and it remains as one of his best. Which is a difficult choice. One of the songs from that album, "Laughing River", is among my choices for Best Song Ever Written By Anyone, Ever. It says so much in so few words, about the heartache of giving up on a dream, but all the promise a new life offers. Well, way more than that. That is how Greg Brown writes. He gets it man, he really gets it. And I found out on short notice last week, he was coming to play in my favorite small city in Minnesota, a short 50 mile drive from my house, for a mere $4 entrance fee to the Harvest Festival and Renewable Energy Fair. What could be better?

It was a perfect evening for an outdoor concert. In case you haven't heard, summer has finally arrived in Minnesota, and for a few days at least, polarfleece and sweatshirts are optional outdoor attire. The setting was a park on the waterfront in Duluth, near the landmark Aerial Lift Bridge. As the sun edged towards the hills to the west, recreational boats, tour boats, and the occasional Great Lakes freighter sailed by. Greg remarked that one's horn was tuned in D. I have a thing for musician nerd jokes like that. :)

I have to say, of all the Greg Brown concerts I have been to, which is more than a few since I first saw him in Hastings, MN in 1992, this was my favorite. He seemed so relaxed up there on stage, so in his element, and I was equally relaxed and taking it all in. He started off with "Home In The Sky", which I think is from his earliest album Iowa Waltz. Looking up at the sky and the seagulls circling over the harbor, I could agree that heaven is just about a thousand feet high.

Greg has a real knack for between-songs banter. With some self proclaimed "singer-songwriters", the between the songs thing can get a bit tedious. Not with Greg. As a matter of fact, what I liked best was how he denounced how self-absorbed some singer-songwriters these days seem to be. Ironic, considering how I thought the opening act belonged in that category hands down.

He did all the best. "Canned Goods", "Laughing River", "You Drive Me Crazy", and a whole bunch I was nodding and laughing along with. I was surprised he included "Kokomo", his very dark but humorous elegy to one night stands:

"You know she was just my kind, middle aged and crude
Nipples the size of jack balls and a real bad attitude
She wore my ass out so damn fast and left me nowhere to go
Just a sticky wicket and a Greyhound ticket on the road to Kokomo"

So there you have it. The Iowan poet, married to another musical poet Iris DeMent, father to musical poet Pieta Brown, and just all around perceptive, beat poet musician Greg Brown. I hope to see him again real soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

these are the colors I was talking about

A hastily taken picture about a half mile down the road. Maples are so dramatic, aren't they. They blush at the first sign of fall.

After I picked up a few necessities in town, I had about a half hour to spare before Calvin was done with football practice. So I drove around a little, and came upon this old barn. I am sure I have posted about it once before, but I cannot find it tonight. Anyway, it is still there, although I do not know for how long. Once it must have been an exciting thing, to build such a fine structure for the dairy herd you worked so hard to build. Somewhere along the line, expenses and farm programs did away with that dream.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

autumn creeping in

I really need to bring the camera with me to work tomorrow so I can share all the brilliant fall colors that are starting to appear. It sure doesn't feel like fall, though, with daytime temps approaching 80 and a humid, still night tonight.

Now that I'm taxi mom again for after school activities, I'm not getting home until after 6, which means less than two hours of daylight at home. Which I would be glad to have two months from now.

Monday, September 07, 2009

subtle changes

early July

early September

I took these two photos of the same scene purely by chance. (Or did I? Maybe there is no such thing as chance). I thought it would be a study in changes, but I am more struck by the similarities.

Labor Day weekend is a time of transition, with the kids starting back to school on Tuesday. I have found I probably take the transition harder than they do.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

of trout, and the aquatic mammals that eat them

I was in the midst of another adventurous day at work. Lately, due to a coworker's taking family leave, I have been out more than in, sampling one stream after another with electricity. And you know what, I'm enjoying it, more than I have enjoyed any other work I've done (at work that is) since I can remember. In the last couple of weeks I have seen some nice waters, gotten to know a lot more of the local plants, and even seen a few brook trout.

I heard my cell phone signal a new voice mail. 99 percent of the time my cell phone messages are anything but urgent, but even though I was not in a strong signal area I decided to check it.

"Mom! There's a family of otters in the pond!"

My battery was going low, or I would have called back just to make sure I heard right. Today indeed a family of four otters had taken over the pond and were frolicking wildly! I wish I could have been there to see them. New wildlife sighting at Sand Creek!

Of course, this probably explains why last Friday, when we finally got around to sampling the stretch of Sand Creek that flows through my land, there were no trout. Otters eat fish, and they can take down the population of a brook trout stream easily.

But it does not explain why today, in a shallow, alder choked stretch of stream about five miles south of here, we sampled thirteen small brook trout in about a 500 foot length of stream. By small I mean, you would not even think of taking them home for dinner, but they were there! We were totally not expecting to see them. I'm sure otters lurk there now and then, and yet brook trout survive against incredible odds.

Nature is wonderfully balanced that way.

Monday, August 31, 2009

last week of the summer

It's only the fourth inning of the Twins game, and it's getting dark. A waxing moon is rising, but still the kids are outside squeezing in another few pitches of homemade baseball.

I found a beautiful place today. Have you ever happened upon a place where you are immediately mesmerized, where you feel the need to come back and spend some time? I will, and I will bring a camera. Picture a stream cascading over ledges of sandstone in a small valley. I was there for work, but I will be back on my own time.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

extreme gardening and running

It's the last night of August, and there are frost advisories out for the area. Considering this garden's history of being stricken by frost even when no advisories are present, I thought it would be prudent to cover up the tender stuff. I put so much work into growing tomatoes, I would like to see more than one ripe one yet this year. And my one watermelon is now softball size, can't give up now!

I had a strange but delightful run this morning. Usually in five miles or more, I will only see one or two vehicles at the most. And usually at least one of those is someone I know. But this morning when I turned east on the dead end road I know so well, I was passed by pickup truck after pickup truck, all late model and shiny, all towing trailers with dirt bikes or 4 wheelers. Great. Where on this little dead end road could they possibly be headed? I thought about turning around and taking a different route, but hey, this is MY road, my run, and I'm not going to let a bunch of city kids with their toys chase me off of it.

It turned out they were all headed to one property about two miles down the road. I don't know the details, but there were dozens of vehicles parked there, dirt bikes revving up, the smell of exhaust and cigarettes. I ran past the property, to the end of the road, when I realized something: I felt strong. Maybe it was my disgust at seeing all these gasoline powered playthings in my territory, or maybe it was the silent prayer I said at the beginning of my run, asking for strength. Whatever it was, I felt like I could go on and on. I ended up running down a little side dead end road a half mile and back, and going strong the rest of the way home for a total of seven miles.

I can't recall ever running seven miles, not even in my more youthful days. And I felt like I could have gone for at least ten.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

nighthawks are flying

And taking with them the last days of summer. They swoop down low over the asters and goldenrods, hanging in the stillness of the evening air.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

blackbirds flying

We saw these red winged blackbirds flocked together and feasting on wild rice at a local lake on Friday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sand Creek becomes a raging river

Well, as much as a low gradient stream can rage. This is Sand Creek after a 2 day total of 6.25 inches of rain. Without a "before" picture it's hard to tell, but normally that island in the middle is not flooded.

This is the part of the stream I sampled by electrofishing about a week ago. Back then, the water in the foreground was about eight inches deep. Now it's almost to the tops of the three culverts under the road, which are about three feet high.

Here is the downstream end of the same road crossing. Last year when they replaced the culverts I thought three 3' round culverts was maybe overkill. The closest one in the photo had no water flowing through it on Saturday. A little overkill comes in handy in torrential rains.

Of course the pond is full and running out the overflow culvert. And of course, the kids left a canoe, kayak, and duck boat in the water; all are floating very low and since the kids are on vacation in Nebraska, I will be doing some bailing tomorrow.