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.