Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Sand Creek

There is plenty of snow on the ground here to guarantee a white Christmas. The creek is very much open, enough to attract waterfowl that have lingered in the area. Yesterday The Hermit saw an unusual, slate-gray duck on the creek. I went out with binoculars and camera but I did not see it. However, I scared up a pair of mallards- the first December mallards I have ever seen here. Later I saw a mammal swimming; from the size and color I'd say it was a beaver. The Hermit, after consulting Sibley's bird guide, said the duck he saw  looked like a black scoter. That would be the most unusual "yard bird" ever! I'll be checking the creek often.

The tree is decorated, the stockings are hung from the stairway with care, but I have yet to bake Christmas cookies and wrap gifts. The Hermit will take the kids to town to go sledding while I do some "setup" on certain gift items...I am just itching to use mine, and it's my gift to myself so I would be allowed to do that, but that would give the whole thing away, you know! Then I'll make a Christmas eve dinner of ricotta stuffed pasta shells, not exactly traditional but it sounds yummy. Tomorrow after the big unwrapping we'll head to my brother's house for the family Christmas. I hope this holiday finds you surrounded by people you love, with many blessings to share!

(for those of you who saw this post BEFORE I edited the egregious spelling error, in the title no less, I apologize! I'm usually so obsessive about spelling!)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

my first Christmas bird count

'Tis the season, and while my count isn't until the 27th, I'll give you a little tale of my first attempt at being a serious birder...

I was in my first year of graduate school in South Dakota, and I had dated a guy in my undergraduate ichthyology class a couple times. He was already a passionate ornithologist, while I carried a more casual interest in birds from my childhood. I always wonder why I went into fisheries instead of birds...the tradeoff between more jobs and more fun I guess.

He asked me if I would like to go on the Brookings, SD Christmas bird count, and I agreed. (at this time I did not even own a pair of boots rated for South Dakota winters!) A neighbor in my well-preserved historical Classic house, that was now divided into apartments, was also going. We went to the bar the night before. That's where the fun began...

Let me tell you this: Never go on a Christmas bird count with a hangover! I sat all day in the back seat of a car with a poor heating system, my feet frozen, with my cheap K-mart Focal binoculars, trying not to throw up. I tried to be interested in a flock of horned larks, and I reluctantly got out of the car in a small rare hardwood forest to see a couple of great horned owls. I was mildly amused when the group got together at the end of the day and some of the older birders vehemently disputed our duck sightings. ("They were in OUR territory!")

I did not go on another Christmas bird count for over twenty years. I met The Hermit right around the time this count occurred, so my ornithologist guy got dumped, although I don't think it was serious at that point. I probably went back to my studio apartment in that beautiful old house, got under the covers on my futon, and shivered it off. I had a bird feeder outside my window, and I got an occasional red breasted nuthatch that winter. Life was good.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

action: music

Okay, it was a good idea at the time, but I'm having trouble keeping up with Reverb10. It's a time thing, mainly, but I'm also not feeling particularly inspired by the writing prompts. Maybe it's because I tend to be a reflective person, and the prompts are usually for thoughts I've already considered. Like this one:
December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)
I took that next step on Saturday (the 11th). My "aspiration" in this case is to DO something with my music- to send it out there for the universe to hear, to write, to perform. I've been dragging my heels with the "doing" part of it; my inner critic can be powerful at times. But on Saturday, for some reason I felt the urge to sit down with my guitar and record some songs. Recording has been intimidating to me, maybe because it makes me more conscious of the act of playing and singing, and as soon as I'm aware of what I'm doing, mistakes happen. The only way around it: get used to recording; I can always hit "erase".

I did manage to get used to it enough to record a few songs. I made myself listen to them, and for once I liked what I heard. I liked it enough, in fact, that I wanted to share it. I have shared music before by making YouTube videos and on MySpace, but both are pretty cumbersome to use for music sharing, and people can't download an mp3 from them. (or maybe you can on YouTube? I don't know) So I did some Googling, and found out there are all kinds of file sharing sites available, most of them offering a couple gigabytes of free storage space. I decided on Dropbox based on a few good reviews. It's pretty easy- just drag files to a special folder on your computer, and they appear online!

I now have the songs I did Saturday, plus an older recording of "Amazing Grace" on flute, on my sidebar. To listen, just click on the title (or right click to open in a new window). Depending on your default media player, you can download the song by right clicking in the player window, or by clicking on a pop up menu.

The songs are old favorites that I have been singing for years, except for "Pancho and Lefty", which I just started doing recently after hearing Emmylou Harris' version. More to come soon!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Catching up on Reverb10

My friend "rayfamily" at Tilting at Windmills has been participating in Reverb10, a daily series of writing prompts designed to help reflect on the year gone by and set goals for the year ahead. I've been following, thinking "Yeah, this might be good for me, BUT...(enter excuse here)". Well, today when I looked back on my blogging efforts for the year and found a measly 65 posts, I decided this might be a good thing to get me back into the habit of writing. So I'm jumping in, but I have nine days' worth of catching up to do. I won't go into each prompt as much as I'd perhaps like to, but they have stimulated some good introspection. And I won't take the time to write out the entire prompts in this catch-up post, so if you're interested in the whole story, please visit the Reverb10 website. And, if I can get into the game this late, you can too if you want.

December 1- (One word that describes 2010): Motion. It seems this year I have constantly been in motion. From the busy-ness of everyday life, job, and kids' activities, to moving forward with some much needed house projects, to the inner sense of motion. Motion = the opposite of standing still. In the past I have had a tendency to stagnate, to avoid action. I think I have been much more in motion this year, always seeking, growing, sometimes spinning in circles, sometimes trying uselessly to swim against the flow, but always in motion.

December 2- (What do you do every day that discourages writing): Basically getting caught up in everyday life, and NOT taking that time for myself that I know I need.

December 3- (Recall a moment in 2010 when you felt the most alive): Okay, this is one that deserved a blog post in itself, and I fully intended to do it, but I got too busy...

The evening of Halloween I took Calvin, Starflower, Mr. Attitude, and a couple of friends trick or treating in the town of Sandstone, about eighteen miles from home. Calvin had no intention of trick or treating, but he had hoped a friend would come along so they could lurk around and scare kids. (Teenagers!) That friend could not make it, so Calvin and I had an hour or so to ourselves. I decided to drive down to the Kettle River, to an old dam site and some cool trails that go through rock crevices and over the sandstone bedrock by the river. It was near sunset when we got there. The river was raging from the torrential rains that had happened earlier in the week. For a few minutes we stood at the water's edge, just listening to the power of the water. Then we walked around, hopping over crevices, noticing rocks carved by years of flowing water, but now well above the river bank. The sky was pink and indigo, the paths were covered with fallen leaves, and the air was crisp. Calvin and I were noticing the same things, and appreciating them in a way we seldom get to do. We lingered there in the twilight, mother and son. I think we even hugged once or twice.

(Then I got the wild idea to drive down this small road that follows the river. I didn't get too far, and almost got our 2007 Suburban stuck in a gigantic puddle. Calvin and I could not stop laughing.) NOW THAT'S LIVING!

December 4- (What have you done to cultivate a sense of wonder this year?) I have tried to catch myself "in the moment", aware of my surroundings, turning off the internal noise. I have tried to see the lesson and gift in every experience and every person I encounter. I have contemplated the Tao te Ching.

December 5- (What did you let go of?) Tough one. Some things are easier to let go than others. I can think of more thoughts/ideas that I should let go of than ones I have. Perhaps the big one was letting go of my disappointment in politics after the election, and turning to working towards what I believe in.

December 6- (What was the last thing you made?) Those of you who follow this blog have probably figured out I'm not a crafty person. The only things I make are food and the occasional home brew, and I don't consider those "made" by me since I am only a facilitator in natural processes. I am a musician, but again I don't "make" music so much as I facilitate it.

December 7- (What have you done this year to connect with community?) That's easy. Surprisingly, Facebook has helped me connect with people, even a couple new local friends. That, and participating in community theater. It's been a good year for community.

December 8- (How are you "beautifully different"?) I'll take a rain check and give this one a think.

December 9- (What was the best party you attended this year?) I'm not a party person. I'd have to say camping out at the bluegrass festival, meeting up with some old friends and picking with Dick and Lloyd was my party event of the year.

Looking forward to tomorrow's prompt, and I will do my best to stick with this.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bragging about my bird watching son

When I arrived home some time after dark with my older two kids in tow (basketball practice), Mr. Attitude had some news for me. "Mom! I saw a big gray bird!" Cool! I asked him "Was it this big?", while approximating the size of a Gray Jay with my hands. That would have been a rare thing! "No", he said, making a smaller measurement with his hands. "But it was bigger than a chickadee?" "Oh yeah!"

Then he got out the camera. The boy, who just turned 9 on Monday, had taken PICTURES!

Even on the tiny screen of the camera, I recognized this Northern Shrike! I have been keeping an eye out while driving, hoping to see the first Northern Shrike of the winter, and my son sees one right out the window near the bird feeder. A lifer for him, and a proud birding mama moment for me.

Northern Shrikes are a rare, but pretty reliable winter visitor around here. We usually see one on the Christmas Bird Count, but they are solitary and you have to know what to look for. They are predators, and this one was probably scouting the bird feeder. I love their gray color and black mask.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday evening musings

I'm sitting here in the cabin, where the computer is located, watching a Lawrence Welk public TV pledge special. How nerdy is that? Actually, Lawrence Welk brings back warm fuzzy memories of evenings at my grandparents' house. There was an innocence and earnestness about those shows, along with a healthy dose of corniness, that sticks with me.

I've been kind of floundering this week, re-adjusting to having free time in the evenings again. Being in "Hello, Dolly!" with Starflower was a good experience. I'll never forget the energy the cast brought together, and the feeling of performing a quality show for local audiences. That's what I love about community theater- it's one thing to pay exorbitant prices for tickets to a traveling Broadway show, but a totally different, wonderful thing to see people you see regularly show their hidden talents and bring a Lawrence Welk-type earnestness to every show. That said, I don't know if I'll do it again. It's a huge time commitment, I have a few other musical projects I might rather work on, and it would have to be a show I really like. Please, Ms. Director, don't even consider "The Music Man!"

So I'm coming off that, the darkest part of winter is upon us (well, not the darkest yet, but the month leading up to the darkest day is pretty dreary), and for some reason my mind has been cluttered with random thoughts. I've found it hard to focus on anything lately. I've tried to remedy that by starting to do yoga, but so far whenever I get near the yoga mat I have three cats and a dog wanting to get in on the action. That, and I can't figure out how to hook up the Blu Ray player and there are no batteries in the remote so I haven't been able to watch a yoga DVD. So today I did probably a better thing...I went for a walk outdoors. The air was crisp, and a dusting of freshly fallen snow sparkled in the sunlight. I went out to the pond first, which had several inches of ice, enough to walk on. There was some slush above the ice on part of the pond though, so I'm going to wait a week or so and hopefully it will freeze enough to shovel for skating. Then I walked along a ridge which used to be the edge of a gravel pit in the 1930's. I saw lots of deer and rabbit tracks, and even a few snow free spots where the deer had bedded down for the night. I followed the old main railroad grade back to the railroad siding which leads back to the cabin. I noticed a lot of fallen trees since I had last walked that way; our big wind storm in late October may have brought down some dead and/or dying wood.

I came out of the woods with a new sense of clarity. Not completely clear, but it was what I needed to get back into living on this late November day.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

winter is here

I spent the morning taking care of unfinished summer business while the snow fell, like bailing water out of a canoe and kayak and turning them over on shore. I guess this is to be expected for this time of year, but last week's 60 degree weather had me thinking there would be more time.

This is going to be a busy week. Dress rehearsal for "Hello Dolly" is tomorrow evening, complete run-through rehearsals on Monday and Tuesday, and a morning performance for the elementary school on Wednesday. Then evening performances Thursday-Saturday, and a matinee on Sunday. So unless I find something really unusual to blog about, see you a week from tomorrow!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

under the blue roof

My other blog is back after a long hiatus. Check it out! (the link is on the sidebar)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

election reflections

Like many people yesterday, I was in a state of shock, anger, and despair at the election results. Not that I had any particular affinity for the Democrats that were defeated, but that mean-spirited divisiveness had once again prevailed. I think that many people voted with emotion, whipped into a frenzy by rallies and slogans, instead of reason. And I fear that many average people—working class neighbors, churchgoers, men and women who gather in Main Street diners across the nation—were manipulated. The media industry told them they were dissatisfied, and since people have a tendency to want to identify with a group (the tribal mentality), they started feeling more and more dissatisfied. And sincethat media industry has taught us we no longer need to be civil in public discourse, hateful words flew like never before.

I admit to getting caught up in that negative energy at times, letting it consume my thoughts. Last night I vented my despair on Facebook, which is good for purposes like that. What followed were some very thoughtful comments that helped me to put things in perspective. I will repost them here:

John: Actually, no one having a clear majority for a while might be good. I'm hearing some Republicans admitting that they do not have a mandate. Maybe that whole, "listen to the people" thing might happen. Yeah right, beer me.

Robin: It always blows my mind that there are powerful people who think destroying the environment is an acceptable way to make money. Like they don't have to drink clean water or breathe clean air. Short-sighted lunatics.

Will: Note to Deb: the federal govt is a lost cause. Has been for awhile. Not that they wont cause trouble (er.. not be honest about real troubles). Concentrate on local, on social networks. sustainable agriculture & culture. permaculture. Read up on Sharon Astyk, Transition Town, Nicole Foss ("Stoneleigh"), etc & other wise souls. listen to nature, forests, wildlife. work for peace.

Will: (quoting Chunyi Lin)

Hello my friends! Take everything easy. Whatever will be, will be. Don't make your own judgment. As long as you know you are doing good things for people, no matter what other people may think or say about you, just continue with ...what you are doing. Then you will find peace in your mind. Then you will live a happy life.

Laura: Easy there, Deb. I've been really down this week; I know, despair is so tempting, but remember this: we who are tempted to despair, we who notice, we who care: we need each other.

Vicki: Well, I've been blue today, too, finding it hard to believe that arrogance and self-interest continues to rule. Then I remember what my grandmother always said: Pride goes before a fall. I believe it.

Today is a new day. Life is too short to get caught up in despair and helplessness. So I will stop spending my precious energy raging against what I cannot change. I will do what I can to make my small part of the world a better place. I will smile and say hello to strangers. I will attempt to understand and listen to someone I do not like. I will sing and dance. I will play the flute. I will plant a garden. I will do crazy, fun, spontaneous things with my kids. I will teach what I can. I will always be learning. I will practice compassion. And, as Wendell Berry says in Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front: I will laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. I will be joyful, though I have considered all the facts.

Edited to add: There were actually some good things that happened on the local level. Our county elected a new sheriff, who I believe will make much-needed improvements to local law enforcement. My district re-elected two state legislators, both whom I know personally and I think are outstanding people. And they both have family members in "Hello, Dolly!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

"an extratropical cyclone of rare intensity"

We Minnesotans like to talk about the weather. At my workplace there is often an undeclared competition over who had the lowest overnight temperature, or the most rain in the rain gauge. But don’t think for a moment that we would dare call two days of gusty winds, heavy rain, and even snow by a name as exotic as “cyclone”. We get blizzards here, not hurricanes. This enhanced satellite picture, taken at about 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, sure looks like a hurricane, though! And I was just south of the eye.

I had been hearing since Monday that rain and heavy winds were expected starting Tuesday. The Hermit spent the day bringing wood in the house and putting tarps over outdoor wood piles. The rain began Tuesday morning, and all afternoon I had the strange sensation that my sinuses were about to explode. This was due to the record low air pressure that was making its way across northern Minnesota. By afternoon the wind was starting to pick up.

Starflower and I had play practice in the evening, and indoors we could hear the wind blasting the upper level of the auditorium as the rain pounded the roof. Meanwhile, out on the football field, our high school’s team was battling the extreme conditions and came out with a 48-0 victory in their first playoff game. Go Eagles!

Our drive home was interrupted by a large spruce that had fallen and was blocking the road. It had to be a good two feet in diameter at the base. I had to take a three mile detour, all the while thinking about trees, wind, and power lines. I was happy to see the lights still on at my house when I finally pulled into the driveway.

The rain fell late into the night, occasionally driven like nails drumming on the steel roof. I found out the highest wind gusts were over 40 miles per hour here, and may have even hit fifty. However, the strong frame of the house barely shook. Some time over night the rain turned into sleet, then snow, and I woke to an inch or two covering the ground, and still coming down. When I looked out at the rain gauge in the morning I could tell there was already more than two inches of rain.

By the time the rain stopped Wednesday afternoon, there was five inches in the rain gauge. I found out on the National Weather Service Web site that Askov, the town where the spruce fell, had the highest total precipitation for the storm, at 4.94 inches.

The Kettle River and all the local creeks were swollen like I'd never seen them before. Not even in the spring has the water ever been this high on Sand Creek since I've lived here. This photo, a mile upstream from my house was taken yesterday, after the water had gone down a bit.

The water was so high the three 3-foot culverts under the road were completely submerged. The flow created vortexes like this one on the upstream side at each culvert. One dead end road to the east of my house was completely under water.

And I have a new pond, for now! The water had already gone down quite a bit when I took this photo yesterday. Needless to say, Sally's Pond is as full as it gets, but it was already in the shadows and I could not get a good photo of it.

The good news is, we did not lose any of our large white pines in the wind, and the house is still high and dry. A cyclone in Minnesota...What will they think of next?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Well! It's about time for an update!

Has it really been over two weeks since my last post? Life has been THAT busy. Between the normal work busy-ness, Calvin's football games, Starflower's volleyball games, Mr. Attitude's piano lessons, play rehearsals that sometimes last until 10 pm, and a weekend trip to Nebraska, I have hardly had time to breathe. But for me, that's a good thing. Sometimes I have a tendency to get mired in stillness and reflection. In a month, after the final curtain call, I will have more than enough time to sit in front of the wood stove and contemplate life. Hopefully I'll have the energy at night to pick up a musical instrument and do what I love.

We had a wonderful, if all too short, trip to Lincoln, Nebraska for my stepdaughter Sarah's wedding two weeks ago. It was fun to be "on the road again", fun to see my extended family all there, and fun to have a reason to get dressed up and curl my hair! Lincoln seems like a nice city, and I hope to visit there again when I have more time to see the area.

When we returned home all road weary at 9 pm that Sunday, I went out to the well to get a jug of drinking water. When I turned on the faucet, nothing happened. No water, no pump turning on, nothing. The Hermit and I drove that shallow sand point well by ourselves about fifteen years ago when this place was just our weekend getaway. It originally had a hand pump, but when we moved here nearly eight years ago we installed an electric pump and pressure tank, which were run by generator power until we got electricity. The well had given us years of reliable, clear water, but in the last couple of weeks something had changed. The pump would no longer hold its prime, and the water had sediment in it. I don't know exactly what happened, but it was a bit disconcerting, to say the least, to suddenly be without a source of water.

Our plan had always been to drive a new shallow well in the 8 x 8 basement in the house. The Hermit and a neighbor worked on it this summer without success; funny how water can be about 12 feet down by the cabin, but not by the house 200 feet away. But I think The Hermit shares my feelings of having had enough of this do-it-yourself-ness. We wanted water, and we wanted it now. So we borrowed some money from my dad, and had a well professionally drilled. With the economy as it is, the guy was available to come out and drill just two days after we called, on a Friday, and the water line to the house was completed the following Monday. We now have running water in the house, even if it is only a hose with a valve on the end. It makes all the difference!

It turns out we are sitting on a dream of an aquifer. Just 37 feet below the surface, in sandstone bedrock, the water flows at over 40 gallons per minute. If we lived just a mile to the south or east, across the Douglas Fault, the bedrock would be basalt and water would perhaps be much further down. There are no sources of pollution that I know of in our watershed, and the water is crystal clear.

I can't wait to get the plumbing finished, and water heater up and running! No more hillbilly showers

When the guy came with the backhoe to dig the water line to the house, he smoothed out a lot of the back yard. Starflower is contemplating a regulation-sized volleyball court there next summer. I'm all for it; from what I saw in her games, she has a lot of potential as a player. Her middle school team consisted of all sixth graders with little or no experience, yet they held their own and even won a few matches.

Here's Calvin, who is now officially as tall as me (5'7). He lives for football and pep band (and X box). He will be traveling to New York City in March for the St. Patrick's Day parade--our small town marching band was selected, the first band from Minnesota in many years! But today he was doing a necessary chore, hauling wood from the big pile out front to the house. We had our first fire in the wood stove a week ago, and while the fall has been mild, I know cold weather will come soon.

I have survived the first month of rehearsals for "Hello, Dolly!" It has been a lot more fun than I expected, mainly because of the people involved. I have made new friends and reconnected with a couple old friends. I have a new appreciation for all of the work that goes into a theatrical production. My favorite part is singing; just the other night I was very tired and not wanting to go to rehearsal, but after a few minutes of singing I found a new energy, and I was hitting all the high notes and getting into the whole stage character thing. But, for the time commitment reason, I won't be sad when it's over.

So there you have it. I didn't get to certain things, like my garden harvest, but I have the next two days free, so...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?

I could write about the wonderful fall colors that are quickly disappearing. I could even take some photos. I could write about the beautiful weather we're having, how we've gone nearly two weeks without rain (which, by the way, is a good thing). I could write about the multitude of green tomatoes I harvested nearly two weeks ago before the first big frost hit, which have been sitting on a table top in the entry way and have now suddenly decided to ripen, the day before we leave for Nebraska to attend The Hermit's daughter's wedding. That's right, I'm actually crossing state lines, and not just a quick foray into Wisconsin, which doesn't really count. I don't remember the last time I have been so far from home!

But, speaking of tomatoes, I wanted to share a culinary discovery I made last night. Of course I most likely did not discover it, there are probably a million recipes out there on the Internet, but I thought it was pretty cool. As I was preparing our baseball playoff celebratory meal (Go Twins!) of hot dogs, I suddenly realized we were almost OUT OF KETCHUP! Surrounded by ripe tomatoes, but no ketchup! I can stand a hot dog with mustard only, but when you're watching baseball it just ain't right.

While I was weighing the options, the least appealing of which was driving ten miles to the store, I recalled that I usually keep a small can of tomato paste in the pantry. Hmmm....What is ketchup, but tomato paste plus a few other flavorings? Using the ingredient list from the near-empty bottle of Annie's organic ketchup as my guide, I started mixing. A little vinegar here, a little Worcestershire sauce there, onion powder...Voila! Ketchup! I don't have an exact recipe to share, but those are the essential ingredients. Most commercial ketchups contain a lot more sugar or high fructose corn syrup than they actually need; I added a tiny pinch of sugar but it would have been fine without.

I don't have a laptop so I won't be blogging from the road, but maybe I'll have some time to compose some rough drafts with pen and paper. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

my newest adventure- musical theater!

I was never a theater person in high school. When you're in a graduating class of 600+, activities like "sports", "band", "drama", and "industrial arts" quickly get allocated to those students who claim them first and make their mark, and there is not the opportunity for everyone like there is in a small, rural school district. Like where I live now.

I was a "band" person, and I was happy with that. I also dabbled in cross country and cross country skiing, but I made my mark in band. Not to brag, but I was voted "Outstanding Senior Band Member" the year I graduated. Okay, so I was bragging a bit there.

Anyway, I never had the desire to get into theatrical productions. Nor did I have the encouragement. I was just a shy teenager, with at least the encouragement that I was good at playing the flute.

Fast forward 25+ years. I know I have an aptitude for music, I have a desire to become more involved in the community, and...Starflower expressed an interest in trying out for our local school/community production of "Hello Dolly" this fall. So what did I do? At first I wanted to be in the orchestra, but I found out they had two flute players last year, and only one of every other instrument, so my services would probably not be needed. But, I thought, if I would be driving Starflower to late night rehearsals, I might as well be involved onstage! So I auditioned, and Starflower and I got parts in the chorus.

The theater bug is getting to me. I am mildly obsessed with the musical parts I am singing, getting the parts embedded in my head, and I actually look forward to learning choreography and everything else that goes with a stage production. So we'll see how it goes, and if nothing else, I'll emerge as a better singer!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

here's the problem

I've been trying to fix this header photo thing for a couple days now. Whenever I upload a header photo, no matter what the original size, it is automatically scaled to 300 pixels wide! Anyone have any ideas?

UPDATE: I have found a way around it. I just have to make sure the original photo is 920 pixels wide, no more, no less, and be sure to uncheck the "shrink to fit" box. For some reason "shrink to fit" is shrinking the original photo to 300 pixels, not 920. Ahh, Blogger...But, I get what I pay for. And it's still a bargain!

By the way, the new header photo is actually an old one, taken in September 2007 at one of my favorite places, Banning State Park. Our school is just across the road from the entrance to the park; in fact, the school's land is pretty much surrounded by park land. The cross country team practices on the park trails. I recently purchased a new parking sticker for $25 so I can go to the park while waiting for kids to be done with football AND volleyball practice. That's right. Starflower is now on the junior high volleyball team! She's in sixth grade, and they need all the players they can get so they allow sixth graders to play. They won their first match Thursday afternoon against my mom's alma mater.

Things just keep getting busier and busier...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

new look

I finally had some free time this morning to mess with the blog. Unfortunately, Blogger's response time was kind of spotty so it was frustrating getting what I wanted done. Anyway, I like the new design features, and the ability to have pages that are linked right below the header. I mean, that concept is how many years old??? And this afternoon, when I had taken some pictures and wanted to write a post about my never-ripening but oh so abundant tomatoes, my computer would not read the SD card. Sigh.

Leaping into another activity-filled week here. Calvin has football, Starflower is now entering the world of middle school sports in volleyball, and Starflower and I are auditioning for our school/community theater production of "Hello Dolly" tomorrow--wish us luck! I was just going to volunteer for the orchestra, but I found out they had two flutes last year and one each of several other instruments, so my services would probably not be needed. If they need a flute player I would by all means do it, but I'm thinking my first ever onstage role might be kind of fun...

UPDATE 9/15- Suddenly my header photo appears to have been re-sized. WTF??? I will not have a header photo until I can figure this out....

Thursday, September 02, 2010

tales from the river

It was an interesting day at work, so interesting I would rather post it here than on Facebook...where I already have an interesting status for the day...let's just say my daughter and I will be testing our wings in local musical theater...

Anyway, rain was predicted, so we headed to the closest electrofishing sampling station, which happened to be full of fifteen pound carp. I absolutely refuse to suffer a work related injury bringing these things into the boat; I'm too old for heroics. So I did more of a graceful dance with them, and somehow it all worked out.

We decided we had enough time to go down river and sample another station. The access for this one was barely a dirt track down to the riverbank, which was not sloped for convenience. We got in okay, and actually saw some amazing fish, including several 18" smallmouth bass, before rain shut us out.

Perhaps we should have exercised some judgment in launching. After all, there had been a half inch of rain in the area the night before, and the ground was kind of soggy. But since this is not really my project, I went along with the decisions of the crew leader. In this case, that led us to backing a heavy boat and trailer down into a place where it was not immediately possible to get the whole rig up over the river bank and out of the water again. Not to mention, there were mosquitoes. Lots of them.

After an hour and a half, and lots of ideas, and lots of mosquitoes, we got the trailer and boat out of the water with minimal damage. We arrived at work about ten minutes after quitting time. I was about seven miles away from home when I got the cell phone call: "Mom, are you going to pick me up at Kenna's house? We have sixth grade orientation tonight!" So I turned around, so close to home but yet so far and still reeking of fish slime, and brought Starflower to her orientation and taught her how to open her locker and all that. We arrived at home, long enough for me to cook a quick spaghetti dinner, before I had to drive back to school to pick up Calvin from his day at the Minnesota State Fair with the marching band. Whew.

Tomorrow is school clothes shopping. The adventure never ends!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

About that other trout stream...

If you recall, last week I gave a little teaser about sampling a trout stream along the St. Croix. We made it there on Thursday, and it was NOTHING like that meadow-meandering stream I wrote about last week. This stream was nothing short of mystical.

If you're looking for it from the river, all I can tell you is good luck. We could hardly find the mouth; it was a narrow flowage barely visible in the grass. But once you get out of the river plain and start walking into the woods, this stream takes on a life of its own. It rushes over rocks and sand, twisting and turning through floodplain forest. As soon as we took the first turn into the woods, armed with backpack electrofisher, my coworker and I found our first brook trout.

A bit about is the accepted way to sample small streams. The fish are stunned by an electrical current, but not enough to kill them. They are netted, usually put into a bucket, and when there are a good number of fish we stop sampling to measure them, take scale samples (to determine ages), and release them. Of course, it is more effective than rod and reel fishing, which is probably why I hardly fish any more. The action is just too slow. :)

Back to this small it wound its way up the St. Croix bluffs, we shocked up brook trout after brook trout, and hardly anything else. There were hardly any pools more than a foot deep, but still they were there in the cool spring water. Most of them were small, averaging about 4 inches, but we did get a couple 8 inchers. We ended up with over a hundred brook trout, from the mouth of the stream to where the water got too shallow to find any more.

Brook trout amaze me. They survive in the smallest of streams, as long as water temperatures are right. They are beautiful fish.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

morning in the garden

I can't decide if this looks like a garden, or like all the other neglected areas of our yard. But believe me, a bountiful harvest lies within. The sun was breaking through the morning mist.

The jeweled orbs of web weavers were everywhere.

My tomato plants have been going absolutely crazy in the combination of abundant rain and high temperatures. I have not had to water the garden since I planted it. And for the first time in years, we have not had frost in June, July, or the first half of August! But still I have been impatient for RIPE tomatoes. Yesterday I found the first blush of red among the Stupice tomatoes. It's the beginning of a wonderful, crazy barrage I hope!

And my winter squash long outgrew the confines of their 4 x 8 bed. Vines are sprawling everywhere, and it appears as though I will have an abundance of several varieties. Including one pumpkin! This beauty is already the size of a basketball. I have never successfully grown a pumpkin before.

I have been picking green beans every few days, canned eight pints of dilly bean pickles, and froze about eight quarts of beans. I picked two more buckets of beans today, but the harvest may be winding down. That, and a deer has been eating the leaves.

I harvested onions this morning, and was kicking myself for buying the cheap onion sets at the grocery store instead of the tried and true starts from Territorial Seeds. The white onions did okay, not spectacular, but I didn't get any red onions bigger than a golf ball. Half of them flowered, and that means the plants put their energy into flowers, not bulbs.

Garlic did as well as ever, although I almost waited too long to harvest it; the bulbs were already starting to separate. I have not spent money on garlic, for eating or planting, in several years now.

Cucumbers and watermelons have had a slow start, but I may be on track for a record watermelon harvest this year. Just one sweet, juicy melon would be worth it!

Today is a cool day, with the high only around 70, and lows in the 40's predicted. It's supposed to be windy, so I don't need to worry about frost yet...I hope.

UPDATE: A second look reveals that I have TWO pumpkins, as well as some Guatemalan Blue squash!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

wild cardinal flower

I had another fish-seeking adventure at work today. The destination was a small, unnamed tributary to the St. Croix River that I first blogged about nearly four years ago. I can't believe it's been that long already. If you were following me at that time, you may recall that this stream had been dammed by beavers and was quite difficult to walk. This year it did not appear to have any active beaver dams, although remnant logs were scattered here and there and the stream was still challenging, especially on a humid 85 degree day. We only caught two trout by electrofishing, one of which may have been young-of-year, but several others were missed in the dense overhanging vegetation and swift current of this cold, clear stream.

I was at this stream about a month earlier than the last time, and there were more species of flowers in bloom along the stream and river banks than I remembered. Ironweed, blue gentian, Joe-Pye weed, goldenrod, and cardinal flower, which I have not seen any further north along the St. Croix River than this area. I took this picture on an island where we paused for lunch before walking the stream.

Tomorrow I am headed back to the river to sample another small brook trout stream just north of the Osceola landing. I am told that one is much easier to walk, and much more scenic, than this one was. I'll bring the camera!

Monday, August 02, 2010

No more ugly floor

(the view from Starflower's room; notice one very relaxed kitten in my rocker, and one perplexed looking flame point Siamese checking out the new floor)

Things are really coming together in the house now. I spent the weekend installing a laminate floor in the great room, to cover up the bare weathered plywood we have been living with for so long. I think it sets off the colors in the slate hearth nicely. I will be doing the same slate in the entry way some time soon.

This is the same flooring that I installed in the master bedroom last Sunday. Installation in both rooms went amazingly well. The hardest part was starting out, figuring out how to stagger 51 inch whole boards with cut pieces to span the length of the room. Once I worked out a scheme, The Hermit ran the table saw cutting boards to my specifications. I have found it's always dicey doing home improvement projects with a spouse, but we managed to work together somehow.

In other matters, I picked two ice cream pails full of green beans tonight, and I have three heads of broccoli ready to cut. Garlic is ready to harvest when I have the time, and if all goes well I will be in tomato heaven starting in about three weeks.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

life is full of twists and turns

I've been in a state of disbelief for the last 24 hours. Remember the girl down the road whom I ended up giving rides to school last winter? Her mom passed away last week. I don't know any more details. I didn't even know until last night, when Starflower wanted to spend the night with the girl at her grandparents' house, which is about a mile away from us. I was wondering why this girl was staying at her grandparents' house with her uncle. So I drove over there to check things out, and learned the sad news.

It's a double whammy. Her uncle was there because her grandparents were at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester; grandpa undergoing medical tests.

I don't know what's in the future for this girl and her sixteen year old sister. All I know is, I feel compelled to help out any way I can.

By the way, the mom was my age. Even had the same name: Deborah Ann.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

finding delight

Boredom is not the same as having too much time on our hands. Its root goes much what (can be described as) a failure to find the world and each other compelling or interesting. We find the world boring because we don't see very clearly why it is valuable and good or how and why we practically and beneficially belong to it. We are bored with ourselves because we don't think that what we do really matters much or is of life-giving interest to others. And so we become disengaged from each other, wandering about in a fog of diminished hopes and expectations. Not knowing what to do, and having become suspicious of what our society encourages us to do, we sit around, hoping to find some inspiration. What we have here are the ideal conditions for the entertainment industry to pump us up with artificial stimulation, excitement, and false hope...

If we remember that delight is made possible by our loving and deep affirmation and embrace of others..., then it is easier to see how our desire to possess or be entertained by others works against our joy in them...

-Norman Wirzba, Living The Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight

I realize my lack of posting lately may be due to being preoccupied with worldly matters and not taking the time to experience the delight that daily life has to offer. But without this sense of delight, we are the dead walking. Stay tuned for a renewed and refreshed sense of delight and wonder!!!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

we 'r Siamese, if you please

This may just be the cutest kitteh ever. Really.

I have always had a thing for Siamese cats. Even when I was not yet four years old, I guess I fell in love with a friend's Siamese and announced to my parents that I wanted a Siamese cat for my fourth birthday. Amazingly they obliged with Mittens, my first ever seal point Siamese. I was hooked.

We have a strange cat gene pool around here. There are a few outdoor cats that somehow showed up, and every year we get a few kittens. We have had a few blue eyed Siamese mixes over the years, including Puffball, a grey Siamese who died suddenly of a blood clot, and Boofy (a.k.a. Blue Flame), a flame point Siamese with the bluest eyes ever. He insists on sleeping with me every night.

But this year there was one litter, from a nondescript black and gray tabby, that included this very Siamese looking kitten. We brought it inside to protect it when it reached the exploring age. Our dog Togo would have had it for a plaything otherwise. We kept it in the rabbit cage for a while, to protect it from Sally and the adult indoor cats.

Originally, we were going to give this kitten to a friend of Starflower's. But as we cared for it, we somehow came to the decision we could not part with it. So Frisky, the Friskinator, whatever you want to call it, is our newest house kitty. Like we needed another one. But like I said, I have a thing for Siamese.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Welcome to the House of Color

I have spent my last 3 days priming and painting walls during one of Minnesota's rare hot and humid spells. I can't believe how much work it's been, and I can't believe I've done so much and how the house looks so different inside. But I'm done now, so I can sit back and enjoy the results.

This is the master bedroom, painted entirely in Budding Fern. Why so green? Because for six months of the year in Minnesota we don't see any green outside, so in January this will look really nice.
(The Taylor 512, sweetest sounding guitar ever, at least to me, is placed there just for effect.)

Here we have the monolith stair wall painted in Earthenware Orange. A daring color for someone like me, but I like it, and believe it or not it is a neutral color. I can't imagine any color that would not look good with that as a background. I plan to use a lot of blue accents in the great room for contrast. In the back hallway you can see a dark version of Peach Beach, which we used there and in the entry way. I could not get a good picture of the color in the light. In the kitchen you can see Lemon Balm, which again, I could not get a good picture of.

It was a long job, but I found I actually enjoy painting. Next job is the flooring, which will probably have to wait until next payday. Enough time for me to recover.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

summer days

Days filled with work...which means cruising around on a boat in lakes sampling plants, but also seeing pelicans, hawks, eagles, ospreys, ducks, obscene shoreline landscaping, and everything in between.

Gardening...peas are peaking, everything else is looking great thanks to the abundant rain in June.

House- projects are moving ahead. Drywall is up and mudded, and if everything is on schedule I should be spending my Fourth of July long weekend painting. Not just primer white mind you, but colors like Earthenware Orange, Lemon Balm, and Daybreak Fern for the master bedroom. We are living in color now.

But if I get a break from painting, I hope to be launching our family pontoon boat in a nearby lake, where we were able to get a dock slip at the golf course. We still have plenty of summer left to enjoy it. Although cruising around a lake in a boat sounds a lot like work to me...I'll be watching the aquatic vegetation closely.

Tomorrow is the first of July, and I somehow lament that fact. I love the month of June, and I wish it would never end. June in Minnesota is paradise, if you can handle a few mosquitoes. And sunrises at 5:30. And sunsets at 9:00. And intense greenness everywhere, punctuated with wildflowers. The other day I saw fireweed starting to bloom. No way, it's a July flower!

Wherever you are, enjoy the moment. It is, after all, everything.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This really ties the room together

My life is turned upside down for a few days, but we are finally getting drywall in the great room, master bedroom, and back hallway! When it is finished, this house will look pretty much finished inside. They just hung it yesterday and today, mudding and taping will probably start Tuesday.

It looks like a totally different house. Now I can envision what each individual space will look like, and I think I will make a run to Menard's this weekend to browse paint colors and maybe even price out kitchen cabinets.

Perhaps the most striking effect of the drywall is seen in the back hallway leading to the bathroom, utility room, and back door on the north side of the house. This space used to be so dark and undefined, now it is a space in itself that leads somewhere. We hope to add a deck outside this door yet this year so we don't have to bring firewood in the front door all the time.

It has been a long journey. To be honest, I would probably not do it again. Once in a lifetime is enough for a project like this.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

a new approach, wildlife, and such

This is a look down our new, much improved driveway. Before, it was a mess of ruts and holes left over from the mud season, basically the month of April. Now the crushed rock and gravel should stand up to rain and spring thaws without us having to go mud bogging. And it's a lot nicer to walk down without having to dodge mosquito breeding puddles.

There are big things happening around here, finally. The driveway, and this week we're getting the drywall done in much of the house. That will involve much upheaval, like not being able to cook in my kitchen on my electric range for a few days, but when I think about the road we took to get here, a few days shouldn't matter much.

I am finally running again on a regular basis, as of this weekend. For the last month or so I had been suffering from a severe case of not wanting to run, maybe related to the too many thoughts running through my brain and the lack of capacity to process it all. But it's an interesting feedback loop: When I get it into my mind that I don't want to, or don't have time to run, I get into this strange apathetic state that makes excuses for not running. Which is sad, because I feel 100 percent better, physically and mentally, when I run. I need to run, period. I am also looking for the fringe benefit of weight loss, which, I have found, only happens when I run regularly.

So I went for my 4 mile run this morning, along my usual, beautiful route. It's so peaceful, I hardly ever see a car, and when I do it's usually nice people who wave. The only dogs I encounter are friendly dogs, from my kids' best friends' house. And I hear tons of birds; last week I came up with more than twenty species heard in three miles.

I was taking it easy this morning, having pushed myself yesterday with sprinting intervals, which was a form of self-torture. I just ran slow and steady. When I was approaching the point where I had decided I would turn around, I looked up and saw a doe and two fawns in the road ahead. I watched them for a while, but I did not want to scare them so I decided to turn around and begin the course back home.

I had only gone back maybe 2/10 of a mile when I saw something in the road ahead of me. A large black animal. BEAR! I stopped dead in my tracks. I was thinking, okay, usually black bears are pretty harmless, but I didn't want to take my chances. It was about 5oo feet away, maybe more, ambling across the road, taking its time. I watched it as it looked around, sniffing. I wonder if it sensed my presence. If it did, it didn't seem to care. Finally I watched it walk down a side road.

I approached that road cautiously. Then I remembered some advice from somewhere that said, when in bear country, talk loudly. Clap. Sing. So I sang whatever came into my head, told the bear that I did not mean any harm, and punctuated it with hand clapping. It must have worked, or else the bear didn't really care one way or the other, because when I reached the side road there was no sign of the bear. I started running again, then a couple hundred yards later I came across the still wet footprints where the bear had come out of the ditch onto the road.

I am most surprised about how not scared I was. I reacted with a sense of "Oh wow! A bear!" more than anything. I guess that comes with living out here; you develop an appropriate sense of caution. I don't think it will be necessary to carry a can of Mace on any future runs; after all, I have been running the same route so long, and this was the first bear encounter. I still worry more about humans, but on my running route I don't even have to worry about them too much.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

the summer look

I switched back to this header photo I used last year, because I think it captures a Minnesota summer better than any other photo I have ever taken.

Speaking of summer, it's coming by leaps and bounds here. The next three weeks or so will be the peak of daylight at 46 degrees north latitude, which means the last streaks of light disappear about five hours before they reappear in the eastern sky. I love June. I only wish I didn't feel so squeezed for time in my daily life.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

now, this is LIVING

I just returned home from a wonderful weekend away from home. The Hermit, kids and I packed up our new 1968 camping trailer and the Suburban (yeah I know, gas guzzler but it is really the ultimate family truckster) and headed about a hundred miles southwest to a beautiful campground on the shores of a central Minnesota lake. This campground was the site of the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association's annual Homegrown Kickoff Festival. (Kickoff meaning, the beginning of summer and the music festival season around here) This festival features all local acts representing the best in bluegrass and old time music in the region.

I was in a band that performed at this same festival, different location, eleven years ago. It seems almost unreal to say this. To think I was actually in a bluegrass band, singing lead vocals on a couple of songs that I taught to the band. But then we moved to another state, the couple that formed the heart of the band broke up, and that was that.

Enough about the past. I'm writing to tell about how I had an absolutely wonderful time in the almost 48 hours we were at the festival. It was not nearly long enough. We arrived Friday afternoon, after much packing and all the worry that accompanies a family camping trip, when you have not done anything like it in years. But we got the trailer in place, set up camp, cooked dinner, and gradually relaxed. I started having a musical itch, and walked around for a while after dark looking for a music jam I could fit in with. But being inexperienced and rather shy at this kind of thing, I returned to our family campsite with unfulfilled musical urges. It had been way too long since I had done this festival thing, walking up to a bunch of strangers playing music and jumping in.

It turns out I was just walking around the wrong part of the campground, and the best music was within earshot of our camp site. The next morning, as I was returning from the bath/shower house located near our site, I ran into an old friend of mine, Dick Kimmel, a very accomplished bluegrass musician who happened to be camped out less than a hundred yards away from us. His RV was parked next to Lloyd LaPlant's RV; Lloyd built my mandolin, and he is about as nice of a person as there is. I walked over there with my mandolin that morning, into a music jam already in full swing. I was welcomed, and I overcame whatever nerves I had and joined in.

It was the best thing ever, musically, for me. At the start I had a hard time even moving my fingers to find the right chords, but about an hour later I was amazing myself that I could actually play solos! All I needed was to get together with other people.

The kids had a blast. There were several families camped nearby with kids, and they played wiffleball and soccer together. It rained Saturday into the mid afternoon, so Calvin discovered the fun of playing X box video games on the 19" flat screen TV in the camper. (The Hermit is fully responsible for this, not me!!!) And the kids made numerous trips to the beach.

Saturday evening, after 24 hours of being there, I was overcome with a feeling of absolute happiness. All the nervousness about making this trip had disappeared, I had reconnected with some old friends and played music, just as I had hoped I would, the family was having a good time, the camper trailer was working out okay, and I was reclining in my new super lounge chair with a cold beer. I was even seeing some good birds: catbirds, phoebes and pileated woodpeckers around the camp site, and the pair of loons on the lake had two babies.

Sunday before we left, I played music again with my friend and a few other good musicians. As I was leaving the jam, Lloyd came up to me and said "You're sounding great on that mandolin!" Coming from him, that is a compliment I will cherish. And I believe it. I sounded better than ever, and it was just the effect of playing with other people. I am more ready and willing now to seek out every opportunity to play music. Aside from my family, music is what I live for.

But this isn't all about me. This is about my family, finally going out and doing fun things and living life in the moment! It's about letting go and living. And we had not done nearly enough of that for the last few years. Now I know we will.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nettle/dandelion beer tasting

The beer has been in bottles for a few days, so today was the time to taste the finished product. I imagine, as with all beers, it will only get better with a little aging in the bottles, but I don't have the patience of a wine maker, or a Scotch maker. As long as there is a little yeast sediment in the bottle, it's ready in my opinion.

I poured a well-chilled bottle into one of our best beer steins. Two things came to note right away: one, the beer is not clear. I'm not too particular about that, but some people are. Second, there is no head. The beer was carbonated enough, but it didn't have the proteins from malted barley that produce a head of foam. I have had home brews that are hard to pour because of all the foam, so I don't necessarily consider the head to be everything.

The first thing that comes to mind when tasting a home brew for the first time is: Is it drinkable? Drinkable meaning it is anything better than Budweiser. And yes, it was very drinkable, although if your taste buds are expecting a watered down malted beverage, this would be a shock.

The flavor is very complex. I don't know if my taste buds are sophisticated enough to know what the nettles or dandelion greens contribute, but there is a green depth there I cannot describe. Also a definite tartness from the lemons and lemon zest; I might cut back on those if I make this again. And the ginger shows up in a good way. So imagine drinking a spiked lemony ginger ale with green earthy undertones.

Alcohol content? I didn't go the scientific route and take a hygrometer reading before and after. So I can only guess. It is there, but not overpowering. It was like an average beer.

All in all, it goes down more like a champagne than a beer. It was very fizzy, which means I added enough sugar before bottling. It is very light bodied. It is a beer to be enjoyed in the shade after a hot day's work tilling garden beds (which I did). It was very refreshing, with probably less aftertaste than a Diet Coke. I would definitely make it again. I have plenty of nettles and dandelions around.

Friday, May 21, 2010

bike ride

I bought my bicycle in 1989, the year I graduated from college. I had had a succession of bikes before that, of course, but this was my first Serious Bike that cost around two hundred dollars. It's a Raleigh 12 speed with upright handlebars and semi-rugged tires.

That bike stayed locked to the porch outside my small apartment in a historical Classical house in Brookings, South Dakota where I attended graduate school. Except when I rode the bike daily to campus, a mere six blocks away, or took it on more adventurous outings, up to twenty miles and more.

Then there was the time in 1992 when a recently married couple drove nonstop from Minnesota to Telluride, Colorado for the Bluegrass Festival, and upon arriving in town, sleep deprived, 8500' altitude, hopped on the bikes and pedaled through town to festival headquarters. Major lightheaded rush!

Then I had kids. And it all kind of stopped there, with short interludes, much like my music playing. I am happy to have hopped back on the bike today, after getting it tuned up at a local shop. I rode a bit less than five miles, and found out bike riding is not much like running. I'll know more when I ascertain which muscles are sore tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

broad winged hawk?

Posted by Picasa
Sometimes a bad picture is better than no picture at all.

I saw this raptor two days ago when I was out on a lake about 20 miles north of St. Paul, MN, doing a vegetation survey. The trash barrel the bird is perched on is about 100 feet from the water's edge at a campground/marina. At first I thought it was one of those owl decoys people sometimes put on their docks to keep the gulls away, but a look through the binoculars confirmed it was a real live bird! I snapped this photo with the office camera, which only has about 4x optical zoom. Even so, the photo turned out good enough with some zooming and cropping.

I didn't have a field guide with me, and my first thought was Cooper's hawk. But after looking at the photo, and comparing it with Sibley's, I knew it had to be something different. The facial markings did not match those of a Cooper's, and although the size was within range this bird seemed chunkier, not very accipiter-like. For size perspective, those seams on the side of the barrel are probably 15 or 16 inches apart.

I didn't even think of looking at the broad winged hawk in the field guide; I had only seen them in flight. But when I saw the illustration in Sibley's I thought, "That's IT!"

What do you think?

By the way, the weather was just as sunny and gorgeous as it looks in the photo. It's 80 degrees today. I just put the snow shovel away last weekend. That's Minnesota in May!

Friday, May 14, 2010

radical simplicity

Life has been interesting this last week or so. I was going through a crisis period where I found myself wishing I had me a sugar daddy, that money would just fall out of the sky, and then BAM. We got what we needed, and I realized my longing for money, which I had initially dismissed as inherently evil, causing even greater tension within myself, was just a normal human thing, nothing to worry about.

I mean, I was chastising myself for wanting things like a house that looks somewhat finished! Hot and cold running water indoors! Money to pay off the last propane tank fill so we could get the next one! And maybe, just maybe, new running shoes. I'm a materialistic, greedy wench! ;)

It doesn't help that my spouse and I have entirely different attitudes towards money, and the handling of it. By most standards we should have been doomed a long time ago. But somehow through our differences we still see the value that lies within our family, and it is precious. But it ain't easy.

In the midst of it all I started reading Elaine St. James' book, Simplify Your Life. It came in a box of books I received from a local Facebook/Blogger friend (not the same one who brought the yeast; social media has been very good to me locally!) After the first few hints, I was almost laughing hysterically, while I realized "How could I simplify my life any further? If simplicity means getting rid of high heels and frequent restaurant dinners, I'm already way beyond there!"

I realize there are people out there living an overbooked, overly materialistic life. And the book was written in 1994, long before the bubble burst. But still...The Hermit and I were discussing the other day about bathroom plans, and we both decided why bother with an indoor toilet if we can get by (as we have, for seven years now) without one? Why defecate indoors? Why waste water flushing waste to a septic system? (we still will run washing and kitchen water to a graywater system)

I know, it sounds radical. But would it have sounded radical less than a hundred years ago, when outhouses were the norm and $20,000 mound septic systems were not required by law? Who decided we should not be able to make that choice? (Our township is one of the few where you can still make the choice in some circumstances)

Life as we know it is bound to get "simpler" whether we like it or not. For many of us, it's a paycheck away from involuntary simplicity. I don't have much time for magazines that preach simplicity but devote pages to expensive interior design and gadgets designed to help us "simplify" things. Real simplicity comes from living without, and making hard choices.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Nettle/dandelion beer


She's crazy, I tell ya,

Beer from NETTLES? And I've heard of dandelion wine, but BEER? From the GREENS?

I did it. Today, because I was fascinated with the idea that in other times, other cultures, people (especially women) brewed beer from ingredients other than malted barley and hops, I brewed a beer from stinging nettles. And dandelions.

Of course, dandelions are in no short supply. And on my 40 acres, I have a couple reliable sources of stinging nettles, one of them being a flower bed right outside the house. Why nettles choose to grow there I do not know.

I did add a few non-locally harvested ingredients, among them lemons and ginger root. I also added some lime basil, because I had it, and because I thought it would add a good flavor.

Nettles, dandelion leaves, dandelion root, ginger root, and lemon zest were boiled for about half an hour, or until the leaves barely retained any leaf structure. Meanwhile, two pounds of brown sugar (that's one whole bag), and cream of tartar and the juice from the lemons (4 of them) were mixed together. When the whole mess was done boiling, I strained the liquid into the pot with the sugar and stuff, and let the sugar dissolve before pouring it into the fermenter (the 5 gallon glass carboy in the top picture). After a couple of hours, when it had cooled to slightly warm to the touch, I added the yeast.

The yeast is a story of its own. You can buy bread yeast in any store, and it might work for brewing beer, but if you want the kind of yeast that works best for brewing beer, you generally have to buy it from home brew supply stores. Being short of cash and not wanting to drive 100 miles to a brew store last week, I made an appeal over Facebook to see if anyone in my area was keeping any yeast cultures and could spare some. To my great surprise, a local Facebook friend and musician, whom I had only just recently met in real life in a chance encounter in line at the grocery store, contacted another friend of his, who had a packet of yeast to spare. Say what you will about social media, but I have gotten to know a few people locally through Facebook whom otherwise I would not have met.

A few hours later, carbon dioxide is happily bubbling through the air lock, a sign that fermentation is well on its way. We'll see how this experiment tastes in a few days. I don't expect it to be like any beer I've tasted before, and that is part of the fun of this whole project! I like that I didn't spend about 30 bucks on a pre-assembled beer kit. This is far more adventurous.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wildlife at Target Field

Thursday night's Twins game against Baltimore wasn't the most exciting game to watch on TV. A light rain was falling, and Joe Mauer was out of the lineup with a bruised heel. The Twins just couldn't seem to come through with hits when there were guys on base.

But there was one unlikely star of the show that night: a kestrel. Right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. This bird decided the right field foul pole was a great place to hang out. After all, there were lights, and where there are lights, there are moths. And that means EASY DINNER!

The announcers and camera operators caught on to this spectacle in the middle of the game, and soon close ups of the kestrel were shown on the scoreboard and broadcast on TV. When the bird caught a large moth and started eating it (shown above), the crowd went wild.

Of course, birds and baseball are two of my favorite things, and I was thrilled to see the attention being given to an avian guest at a ball game. Actually, I am intrigued by the phenomenon. Maybe it's part of the novelty of outdoor baseball for a team that has played over 25 years indoors, under a dome on a sterile Astro Turf field. Baseball was meant to be played outside. People were meant to be outside. And if a small falcon can cause so much excitement, there is hope for humanity.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

national day of...

warning...semi rant ahead...

First of all, I will make myself clear. If you spent today in prayer, alone or in the community of others, I respect that. And in the U.S. and a lot of other nations, we are fortunate to live where the act of prayer is allowed, even encouraged, and not driven underground.

That said, I do not feel it is the business of our government to go about promoting prayer. As much as I feel it is not the business of our government to promote meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, reading "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books, dancing naked around a bonfire, or any other practice that suggests spirituality.

I am not a praying person. I always felt strange petitioning some father figure Up There, who already was supposed to know my needs and have some Divine Plan for me, with my own needs and wants of the day. I learned at an early age that we do not always get what we pray for. So why pray? But if it brings you peace, that is good.

I would rather see a "National Day of Reconciliation". "National Day of Talking To Your Neighbors". "National Day Where Hate Is Forbidden". "National Day of Tearing Down Walls". Prayer is easy. Action, not so much.

You may say I'm a dreamer... but am I the only one?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Mr. Attitude called me outside to see this extraordinary scene this evening.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

spring metamorphosis

The big burst of spring color is happening. I love this time of year perhaps even more than fall, because these colors represent new growth and rebirth. In the spirit of personal growth and rebirth, I convinced myself to go for a run this morning, and I even made it over four miles. I had not been running for a while; for some reason I was not excited about it this spring and the excuses were flying everywhere. So instead of fighting it I gave myself a break, with the promise that I would return to running...when I was good and ready.

It was one of those dramatic skies. Morning had dawned clear and blue and sunny, but the clouds started rolling in about the time I decided to go running. If I had waited ten minutes, I may have decided the wind was too much...which is of course another excuse. As it turned out, I had a great run despite the wind, and I even put up with holding the camera in one hand the entire way so I could take pictures of the ever changing skies and the spring color. These tamaracks are definitely a bit wind-tossed.

Marsh marigolds are blooming in profusion, a week or so earlier than normal. These were just up the road from my house, in an area where there are flowing springs in the ditches. I was wondering if that was watercress next to the marsh marigolds.

I have been feeling the spring metamorphosis in another aspect of life--my music. In the past month or so I have played my instruments more than in perhaps the last six months total. Sure I have talked a lot about my musical efforts on this blog, but until now something was missing, that personal commitment to make music a part of life rather than just a hobby I participated in once in a while. I always had reasons/excuses why I wasn't making it happen. But for whatever reason, that has changed. Yesterday I took the day off work and played guitar, banjo, and mandolin from about 9 AM-3 PM or longer. I worked through some fundamentals on guitar, learned some new chords and scale patterns, and learned another Greg Brown song (Billy From the Hills). I don't know where I'm going with this, but for now I don't care. I'm finally breaking down the personal barriers to doing what I love, and I think good things will happen with it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

springtime in the woods

This lovely island woods on a lake in east central Minnesota was where I spent my lunch break today. Alone. I like it that way.

The spring beauties and anemones were in bloom. Too bad the work camera wasn't focusing the best, but you get the idea.

And I found just what I had hoped to see. Trilliums were just coming out. I don't have any of these white trilliums in my woods, so it is nice when I can find one to photograph up close.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Adventures in overdubbing

Before you read any further, if you have a high speed connection, please open a new browser window, go to my new MySpace page, and listen to the uploaded song while you read the rest of this post.

Today was one of those wonderful musical days when one thing leads to another, and before I knew it I was in the midst of my biggest recording projects ever. It started innocently enough, with some intense arpeggio practice on mandolin. Then I happened to turn to the page in my music notebook that had the lyrics to a Bob Dylan song I really like, "Tomorrow Is A Long Time". I put down the mandolin, picked up the guitar, learned the chord pattern, and decided to do an impromptu recording of myself singing and playing the song on guitar, just a rough draft so I could work out a mandolin accompaniment later. My arrangement is based on Nickel Creek's recording of the song, and I did my best to sound somewhat like Sara Watkins. :)

The rough draft came complete with Sally's toenails on wood floor, and even a rawhide bone drop in the last chorus. But the guitar playing was pretty even, and I liked what I heard in the vocals. That's a rare thing; usually I have a hard time appreciating my own voice. So I kept the track. Then, in the early afternoon, I moved out to my new recording studio:

The Hermit traded for this camper trailer that's nearly as old as I am, and in almost better shape. Since Mr. Attitude was watching TV in the house and Calvin was video gaming in the cabin, this was the only choice for a quiet place (the flickers and sapsuckers were making way too much joyful spring noise outside). And quiet it was; with the door and windows closed it blocked out most outside noise.

I set up inside with my flute and mandolin, a glass of iced tea, and my Tascam GT-R1 portable recorder, on top of the cabinet in the middle. I spent a lot of time practicing flute with the base track, recorded one take, then found out I had set the input level so high the flute was overpowering everything else. So I adjusted levels, did a couple practice takes of about ten seconds each to make sure the levels were right, then I recorded the flute track. Right after I turned the recorder off, Mr. Attitude appeared and wanted to be my sound man. :)

The mandolin track took a lot longer, due to the need for iced tea refills, and interruptions from Calvin and Starflower. Not to mention my own developing sense of perfectionism; even if this was purely for my own recreation, I wanted this song to sound somewhat professional. So I practiced the mando with the dubbed guitar/vocal/flute track until I had an idea where I was going with it. I noticed the battery on the recorder was getting down a bit, so I hoped I could get something good recorded in one take. The first take sounded good enough for me.

I can now appreciate the process of audio recording. While this is a rough demo by any standards, I have learned what it takes to put a song together. My inner perfectionist would still be out in the camper, going for the perfect mix, and I know this song will evolve a bit as I work with it. But it's a big step for me, putting it up on MySpace for the world to see!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


This blog has been quieter than normal lately, and normally I would apologize. But just as the tides ebb and flow, so does my state of mind. I've come to accept that driving myself to blog every day, or reveal all of the latest changes of nature, which is in a constant state of change, when I am turned inward and distracted, is not normal and is fighting the flow of things. So there is nothing to apologize for. Rest assured, however, that this blog is a part of me and to quit altogether would be to commit a violent act of disregard for myself and all of you, the people I have come to know through this blog. So I will not apologize, but rest assured, when the quiet storm is over I will have stories to tell.

A mosquito is trying to bite my fingers as I type. Ah, the curses of an early spring!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Play ball!

Well, the Twins have now opened up their new baseball field with a victory over the Red Sox, but baseball season for me officially began today with the seventh and eighth grade teams' first games. They played on the home field against my mom's hometown. The seventh grade team (Calvin is in seventh, by the way) was scheduled for the second game so I took my time getting there after work. I ended up getting there just in time to see Calvin come in as relief pitcher for the EIGHTH GRADE team! I guess they are a couple players short so they fill in with seventh graders. Calvin started for them in right field.

Calvin pitched a good inning, not allowing any runs. He had very good form; I could tell all those miles I drove to and from pitching camp this winter were not in vain!

This baseball season is going to be fun to watch!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

My new license plates, and how to have a great birding day without really trying

Today after lifting twenty trap nets on a local lake and doing spleen and kidney-ectomies on a bunch of unfortunate fish (sampling for the latest fish disease, VHS, to come our way), I decided to leave work early. I had a book to pick up at the library, and when I pulled up to the combined library/city hall/license center I remembered my driver's license had expired on my birthday, and I needed to renew the license tabs on the Subaru. And it's payday tomorrow, so I could do that.

Minnesota has been issuing special habitat license plates for a while now, and last year they unveiled four new designs. I had decided a while back that when I had to buy license tabs I would get one of the new plates. I was torn between one that featured a chickadee, and one that featured a lady's slipper, our state flower. It was a close race, but the Hermit already had the chickadee plates, and a botanical plate just seems :) Although there is some pink overload in the background...why not bog green, like where these flowers grow?

When I arrived home I installed the new plates, then Sally was insisting that I take her to the pond. Of course I could not resist. After all that, I had exactly twenty minutes before I had to drive back to the school and pick up Calvin and his buddy from baseball practice. I had heard an unusual bird song from the (new and improved) back yard, so I grabbed the binoculars and a beer and sat at the table we had set up out there.

I don't think I saw the singer of the unusual (and still unidentified) bird song, but I did see something flitting around in a spruce tree. It was difficult to zero in on it because it was one of those little birds that is constantly flitting. I started thinking of possibilities in my head: Yellow rumped warbler? This early? Then I thought: Golden crowned kinglet. A possibility, and definitely in the size range. I finally saw the eye line, and a flash of yellow on top of the head. YES!!! I'm sure golden crowned kinglets are everywhere, especially in the spring, I had just never gotten a good look at one! LIFER!!!

Then it was time to make the fifteen mile drive to school. I must have been especially attuned to the look of the trees along the road a couple miles from our house, because I noticed a bird out of the corner of my left eye. It was sitting in an aspen tree near the road, but sitting differently than most birds: it was parallel, not perpendicular, to the tree branch it was on. It was also an unusual size, maybe blue jay size but definitely not blue jay. I had to slam on the brakes and back up.

I did not have my binoculars with me, so I'll have to rely on what I saw with my naked eyes. The sunlight was doing weird things with the bird's back, maybe highlighting some iridescence. But what I saw was dark, with a light front, and a woodpecker-like bill. Its level of wariness was also notable: it did not fly even when my car was about thirty feet away and stopped. I studied it from every angle I could, and I have to go with my gut feeling: Black backed woodpecker! They are uncommon, but definitely not improbable around here as I have seen them before.

Sometimes you see the best things when you're not really trying to see anything.