Friday, December 30, 2011

Goin' wireless!

Testing 123... At long last, I have a pretty good WiFi signal in the house and I'm using the Blogger for iPad app. Oh yeah, THAT was my big Christmas present! So what better subject for a test photo than Frisky.

Monday, December 19, 2011

dreaming of a brown Christmas

Has it been over a month already since I've posted? 2011 will certainly not go down as a big blogging year for me. Yes, I'm still thinking of ideas for blog posts all the time, and there is always something interesting going on here to write about. But then there's this big disconnect between experiencing something, forming the words to describe it, getting to a medium where I can jot those words down for later use, and actually sitting down at the computer and connecting with Blogger. I've been going through my archives, and from what I see there it didn't used to be this difficult. Of course back then I didn't have teenage kids monopolizing the computer, and I didn't have Facebook for those moments I would have jotted down a quick blog post just to let the world know something.

This morning I have the computer to myself, finally. I stayed home from work with a bit of a sore throat and cold, just enough that work would have been somewhat miserable. I'm kind of glad to have a "me" day. The Hermit was out of town all last week, and between tending the wood stove and driving to various kids' activities, I didn't have much spare time. Fortunately the weather was very mild for December, even though some of the days were dark and gray, so heating was not a major issue. This has been one of the mildest Decembers I can remember, and what little snow we have has come an inch or so at a time. That means occasionally conditions on the pond have been perfect for ice skating, something I did not get to enjoy last year.

Christmas spirit is running at perhaps an all time high this year. Vinny found a very nice balsam fir on our property, and took it upon himself to cut it, bring it inside, and set it up by himself. Nina and Joe joined in for the decorating. I decided to make up for all the years I thought about making Christmas cookies but didn't get any further than that. Three batches done so far, about eight to go.

Brewing is also being done at the rate of about one five gallon batch a week. You'd think I'd have a lot of beer sitting around ready for consumption at that rate, but oddly enough it seems to disappear as soon as it has sat in bottles long enough to build carbonation.

Here's Frisky, official mascot of "Sixteen Pound Siamese Brewery", overseeing the transfer of a wheat beer from fermenter to carboy.

That's the news from Sand Creek for now. Come to think of it, it feels pretty good to be blogging again. I'll be back soon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

birding skills

It's been a long time since I've done a birding-oriented blog post. It's not that I have not seen birds, but being the opportunistic birder that I am, as well as the lazy blogger, I haven't taken many bird photos this year, or taken the time to report my findings. Today, however, I had a birding moment that not only resulted in a new Year Bird, it also gave me reason to reflect on what makes a good birder and how every experience is a teacher.

In a work-related errand, I went to a small dirt road that had been built over a bog many years ago. This road had been flooded over and washed out many times in recent years. Well duh, you build a road on a wetland, what do you expect? But nevertheless, the township wants to clean out an old ditch to see if it will alleviate the flooding. Truthfully, I'm not the right person to make that determination. I'm not a hydrologist. But even without those credentials, I can tell you I really don't think clearing a little brush and silt out of a ditch will make much of a difference in the drainage of a hundred or more acre bog, especially when the land (bog) is flat and the next stop is a 35 foot deep bog lake. But whatever.

This is the road. The water level is about a foot below the road bed. Something tells me that this road should never have been built here. But again, that's not mine to judge. I liked how it looked though; with all the tamaracks and spruces, and the understory of unique bog plants, this looked like great bird habitat.

As I paused to look at the side of the road in search of a culvert, I heard the sound of little bits of something dropping from a nearby tamarack. Birding skill #1: Use your ears. I immediately scanned the tree branches for the source, likely a bird or red squirrel feeding on tamarack cones.It took a while, but I finally picked out a flock of about six smallish birds, occasionally flitting from branch to branch as they fed on buds or cones. Birding skill #2: Think habitat. What kind of bird would be using tamarack as a food source? Something told me these weren't chickadees, or goldfinches; they just weren't acting that way. Birding skill #3: Watch for behavioral cues.

I was regretting not having a pair of binoculars with me. Birding skill #4: Always carry your binoculars! The birds were just dark silhouettes against the midday sky. But I had the work camera with me, with its limited zoom, so I thought maybe I could take a few photos and examine them in greater detail later. Birding skill #5: Always carry your camera! I was also thinking for some reason that my iPhone, which has the cool Sibley bird app, was still in the car. Birding skill #6: Carry a field guide! So I decided to head back to the car and get my phone. But before I did that, I decided to try "pishing" to see if that would bring any of the birds closer. Birding skill #7: "Pishing" comes in handy. In no time the entire flock took notice and flew across the road. I, of course, saw little dark flying silhouettes. But I did hear some vocalizations, and that was enough to rule out a few common species. Birding skill #8: See #1. I got back to the car only to realize my iPhone had been in my pocket the entire time. I opened up Sibley's and scrolled to what was becoming a likely suspect.

Recognize these silhouettes yet? The audio calls in the app matched up with what I had heard. And when I zoomed in on this photo, I was able to see some distinctive white wing patches.

White winged crossbills! My first in a long time. But along with the satisfaction of seeing a species that is only seen irregularly, I noticed that my birding skills were becoming more sharp. Perhaps the best way to develop identification skills is not by being told what species is in front of you and then watching it, but by being presented with an unfamiliar species and figuring out what cues might distinguish it from other species.

And, the Sibley iPhone app comes in very handy. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Changes in attitudes

Remember how I used to rant about all terrain vehicles?

We own one now. And that very grown up looking young man, and one very capable driver, is my son Vinny. Now 5'11 or so.

It was an evolution in attitude. I used to be a Thoreau-driven, Luddite kind of person. But when you have 40 acres, and the acreage tends to get grown up in brush if you ignore it, and trees fall across established trails, it's hard to maintain the land without horsepower. Or gasoline power. And given that snow falls in the winter, and we have a very long driveway, and it's hard to do with a city-dweller snowblower...well, enough excuses. And Vinny doesn't need excuses. At 14, he's ready to ride!

The best thing is, we will use it to plow my new garden spot. After a lot of frustration, and deliberation, I have decided to move my garden out to the old horse pasture in the front part of our land.

I was getting tired of grasses and other weeds constantly getting into my raised beds. Which weren't really raised beds, considering I tilled down below the boards every spring, and pulled up new rocks all the time. Many of the beds were rotten and needed replacing. Added to that is the fact that some aspens are growing just south of the garden, and will shade it in the near future. The old horse pasture has less rocks, and has been enriched by manure for a while. I plan to do a more "traditional" garden, plowing up an area instead of maintaining individual beds.

Besides, the kids needed additional space in the outfield of our backyard baseball field.

Vinny and I saw this porcupine while he was taking me on a 4 wheeler tour. Not the best picture, but it was fun to see after a bumpy ride across the swamp on the old railroad grade.

This has been a very mild November thus far. We had a couple of inches of snow the other day but it has disappeared, and the pond has frozen over and thawed, and Sally can still go for a swim. She is beginning to dislike going out in the deep water; I imagine when the water is in the 30's, even a Labrador will give it a second thought.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

photo comparison, and Brew Cat

Just sayin'. I snapped this with my iPhone with its micro lens, and ended up with a much better exposure than what I took later with my Kodak Z740.

While I'm at it, here's Best Cat Ever (aka Frisky), looking on with interest as my St. Paul Porter is being transferred to the carboy for an excruciatingly long waiting period of secondary fermentation. This is my first brew in a few years, and I must say it is about time!

Whether snow, sleet, hail, or rain...

Sally will go to the pond. And though this looks like a picture I would have taken on my iPhone, it was actually taken on my current working digital camera. What this photo does not show, and what I could not find a quick, easy fix for, is that at the time there was a very dramatic sky. Those little bolts you may see above the pond are blobs of sleet falling. Oh Kodak Easyshare Z740, you could have done so much better! You overexposed!

Anyway, the sky was dramatic as I was driving home, and I could tell there was some sort of precipitation falling nearby, although the sun was shining all the time. And since Vinny and Nina are done with sports for now, I was able to get home before the sun set. Two weeks from now when Standard Time kicks in, I will be lucky to see my home in daylight. The pond will freeze over, and Sally will just have to dream for a few months.

So the question now is...which do I want more? New digital camera, or iPad?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

fall is happening

And I am doing my best to stay awake for it. Life seems more hectic here than ever; I haven't even had the time to stop at my refuge, Banning State Park, for over a week. These are photos from my last visit there, and my, things have changed in a few days.

It has been unseasonably warm and very dry here. The fall colors are beautiful, but I enjoy them more on a crisp, cool day.

My life mostly revolves around driving to work, and driving my kids to and from sports. My 2006 Subaru Outback just hit the 100,000 mile mark two days ago, which is not out of the question considering we live 15 miles from school and 30 miles from my job, but still it is a sobering reminder that I am, for now, dependent on driving. I love these fall days, but sometimes I wish the progression of the seasons, and the events in my life, would just slow down for once so I could enjoy them a little.

I mean, how in the heck did my kids end up so old already? :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I found a rock ledge today, perched on a slope some 50 feet above the Kettle River. It is just yards away from a major trail, but yet it is hidden from view. It was just me and the rock and the river. I sat in a sort of meditation for a while, then I wrote. I will share what I wrote, unedited.

I am hidden from the world of humans. Down a rocky slope towards the river, underneath a sandstone ledge that long ago broke away from the hillside. It was the work of the water, the water that carved the valley, the water that now rushes far below. The leaves, beginning to show hues of soft yellow and blushes of red, come and go. Trees anchor their roots in rock crevices. The water still does its work. I feel its energy in the sound. If there were no sound, that is if I had no ears to hear, I would still feel the dull roar as it echoes off the sandstone behind me. The leaves turn sunlight into energy, the water finds power in the pull of gravity, even the bonds that hold the rock together are energy on another scale. 

Here I am rock. I am leaf. I am water.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I have been easing back in to the routine of kids going to school, and me picking kids up from various activities. Vinny decided to play football after all, and Nina is playing volleyball, so after I get off work at 4:30 I usually end up doing errands and then waiting until about 6 when they are done with practice. When the weather is nice, and there are no games to watch, I've been spending my time at Banning State Park, which surrounds the school grounds. This has become one of my favorite places. The Kettle River cuts through a sandstone gorge, creating amazing rock formations. I like to walk down by the river, or sometimes I find a rock outcrop high above the river and I sit and read, write, or just unwind. I would hesitate to call what I do meditation, although I am trying to learn meditation and make it a part of my life. Life is just so noisy, so chaotic, sometimes I need to quiet the thoughts that keep racing around in my mind. The river, with its constant rushing and tumbling on rocks, helps.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Totally effortless compost garden, revisited

Remember the stuff I had growing in my compost bin? Take a look now. I love this kind of gardening!

 Yeah, there's a compost bin in there, somewhere. But it has been overtaken by squash, tomatillos, corn, and a tomato plant, although like most of my other tomatoes this year, it is not faring well. I don't know what it is with me and tomatoes this year. Oh well.

I have at least five of these acorn type squash ripening on the vine. The funny thing is, they do not look like any acorn squash I have ever planted before. The coloration looks a lot like Delicata squash, which I did plant last year, in the same bed as acorn squash. I think they somehow cross-pollinated, and the seeds I scraped out of one and tossed in the compost bucket grew into this. I can't wait to try the result; maybe I have come up with a new heirloom! Delicata are delicious, acorn squash are delicious. A cross between them....we'll see!

I also have at least three Montana Jack pumpkins growing where I planted them last year, but where this year potatoes are ready to be harvested. And I will have a bumper crop of tomatillos from several garden beds, even though I did not get around to planting them this year. I love this kind of gardening.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

so what's up?

I don't know about my whole blog energy lately. This blog is such a part of me I will not quit it, ever, but I just have a hard time keeping up. Maybe it's the whole computer location thing. The computer is still in the cabin, which is just out of WiFi range of the house. I can't get used to blogging on my iPhone anyway, the computer needs to stay in the cabin for space and gaming reasons (the XBox is there, dammit!), and it is hard for me to come out the the cabin and write what I want to write. And I do really want to write.

So what does this mean? I don't know. I know that I want to write, and I have to keep working at it. I know that there are so many things I want to say that remain unsaid. I will work at it.

Did I mention my son Vinny is now at least 3 inches taller than me, and my daughter Nina is catching up fast? Wow. And Vinny made a pretty mature decision to not go out for football. Or basketball. He is a baseball guy. And I like that. Football takes so much time, what with two a days and all that, and I think as long as he concentrates on his talents, which include baseball, music, AND every topic in school, he will do all right. He actually told me "I will have more time to focus on academics." To hear this from a 14 year old kid is priceless. He told me his math teacher said he was probably the smartest kid in his class. And I believe it!!

Ah, time. Vinny drives the old truck like it's second nature. Next summer he will be taking driver's ed. Meanwhile, I stop and try to breathe in every last breath of August that I can...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

finally seeing blue

 I planted blueberries five years ago, anticipating that I would have huge harvests within a year or two. But as usual, things didn't work out as planned (do they ever?) Plants got nibbled by rabbits in winter, weeds competed in summer, and every year I was left with blueberry bushes about the size of the ones I had planted. But last fall, I took some time to weed the bed and pile on a heaping load of pine needle mulch (plenty of that around here). The response was very positive: good plant growth in spring, good flower set, and now, ripe berries. Yeah, they look imperfect, but they taste wonderful!

This is the entire harvest, and that's before tasting. Yeah, I know...but if I do what I did again this fall, things should just get better, right?

I saw another kind of blue in the blueberry patch- blue vervain. This wildflower is one of my favorites for its spikes of dainty purple-blue flowers. I'll let this weed stay.

The rest of the garden is coming along, although I have a resident deer who is quite fond of cucumber plants, bean leaves, Swiss chard, and even tomato plant tops. I managed to harvest enough snow peas and sugar snap peas for a couple meals, although I won't have enough to freeze. Despite the deer depredation, I may be harvesting green beans in a week or so. And my first summer squash is on its way.

I can't believe it's almost August. Every summer I have grandiose plans of accomplishing so many things that can only happen in the summer, and I always fall short. I have managed to restart my running this summer though, and I am feeling the benefits: 5 or so pounds lost, hopefully more to follow, and the exhilaration of jumping into the pond after a 5.8 mile run being chased by deer flies. I only saw one vehicle the whole time this morning.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

easing back in to work

It felt surreal driving into the parking lot by the strange looking blue and white pole building that has been my workplace for the past eight years, and where I worked for seven years before that. Before children, before the tough decision to follow my husband's job opportunity in a different state, before all of the strange path that led me back here. I had been off work for nearly three weeks due to the state government shutdown, my longest break from work at any time that I have been actively employed. I had found myself enjoying the time off, not worrying about the money I was not making, not being ruled by a time clock.

As a rule, I rarely show up to work "on time". It drives my boss crazy sometimes, and I'm sure it annoys others, but I think there is more to life than being punctual. I showed up my usual ten minutes or so late, and did not miss a thing. As usual.

I did not have a hundred emails waiting for reply. I did not have a "to do" list a mile long. Pretty much as I had left my desk three weeks ago. My job is like that, I don't have responsibility for many urgent things, but what I do has value in the long run. My boss was on vacation, there were no immediate plans, so I decided to do something that might be of value somewhere down the road. I hopped in a truck, hooked up "my" boat, and headed for a lake to take a leisurely cruise around the shoreline.

Now that may sound kind of like a luxury job, but I had a reason for my choice. This lake, on the border of Pine and Carlton counties, has had Eurasian watermilfoil in it for about six years. Being the person in the office responsible for aquatic plants, I have followed the progress of this species, considered invasive in certain situations, in this lake for about four years now. What I have found has been interesting: while for a year or so there was considerable growth of Eurasian watermilfoil, and some control efforts were undertaken, the plant all but disappeared from the lake a couple of years ago. Since then it has appeared here and there, but nowhere at a level I would call "invasive". I had not heard anything about milfoil in the lake this year; I considered no news to be good news, but I wanted to check it out for myself.

I was alone, I had "my" boat, the weather was nice, and I was headed for a good day. The solo launch went well; I am one of those rare women who can back a boat down a ramp and launch it myself! I was sidetracked momentarily by a battery connection problem. It turned out the connectors were pretty corroded, so I filed them off and got the boat started. I like being able to solve problems.

It was a good day out. I found Eurasian watermilfoil in a few spots, mostly where it had been before and not growing in any quantity. I found more lush growth of native plants, such as whitestem pondweed, largeleaf pondweed, variable leaf pondweed, and others. I have found that when a lake has a lot of native vegetation like that, invasive species find it harder to take hold.

I also saw kids jumping of docks, smiling and laughing. I saw a dog swimming out to retrieve a tennis ball thrown by his human friend. I was reminded of my childhood days at the lake, swimming all afternoon and never getting tired. My job is a paradox: while "working" I experience all the fun things a Minnesota summer at the lake is supposed to be, but as an observer. I find myself wanting to be that girl on the sailboard again, finding joy on the water, on my own.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weather and politics are making me surly...

Another Monday at home. While I rather enjoyed the first couple weeks of the MN state government shutdown, I am getting a little antsy about my extended vacation. I can apply to get my first unemployment check this week, but if there is a budget agreement this week and it includes back pay to July 1st, I would just have to pay it back. So I'll wait another day or so...

It's not the money that's bothering me. I'm saving about $50 a week on gas, cutting back on household expenses, and making do with back pay and The Hermit's income. And while I basically like my job, I am not going stir crazy being away from it and my coworkers. I try to not let my job define my life. And if there is one thing this vacation period has shown me, I have a life outside of my job that is much more meaningful than earning a paycheck.

What bothers me is that, while Governor Mark Dayton pulled what I think was an incredibly savvy move and agreed last Thursday to the Republican legislative majority's budget plan, MINUS a few social agenda issues that I do not think should ever be part of a budget bill, the legislators have continued with business as usual, bickering, dragging their feet, and complaining about the legislation THEIR party drafted. They are basically holding 22,000 state employees hostage, not to mention those that depend on suspended services. Dayton will not call a special session to end the budget stalemate until all the ducks are in a row so to speak, which I think is wise governing, because with the pathetic toddlers we have in office, a special session without said ducks in a row could turn ugly. So I may return to work later this week. Or not. I never thought it could come to this.

By the way, my state senator and representative are both Democrats, very much involved in the community and good examples of responsible elected officials. I was in a school/community musical last fall with the wife of Senator Tony Lourey, their three children, and the granddaughter of Representative Bill Hilty. I am proud to know them and to have voted for them. I am glad that they are not part of the party that created this fiasco.

So here I sit at home. It's better, however, than being out working in chest waders on a lake this week. The whole state of Minnesota is experiencing a high pressure system producing heat and humidity that has not been seen in years. It is 91 degrees here now, with humidity off the charts. This is expected to last throughout this week. I have complained about frost in July before; this is just another turn of Minnesota weather. We even have an air conditioner now. I have never thought one would be of much use here, maybe one or two days a year. However, my stepson Ryan happened to have one that would not fit any of his windows, so he loaned it to us. It would not fit any windows in the house, so we put it in the cabin. It is a mixed blessing. It provides a thermal refuge, but it makes it that much harder to go outside or to the house and face the reality of summer. Summer here is so short anyway, I won't complain, but I can't even play my mandolin because of the humidity!

So I'll end on this note: When the going gets tough, the tough get Surly. Surly beer, that is. Perhaps the only good thing that came out of this year's MN legislative session was a bill that allowed this successful MN microbrew to sell their own beer at a proposed brewery/restaurant. Imagine that! That such a proposal had any opponents is living proof that we have not reached the age of political enlightenment. Yet. Until then, I'll sit back, enjoy the show, and sip a Surly CynicAle. Perfect. Or maybe I should just forget state work and apply for a job at Surly. :)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Abundance in the garden

 With my abundance of free time lately, I have been able to get some work done in the garden. Last year it seemed like I never had time to work in the garden; I was always busy doing home improvement projects when I was not at work. By the time I got around to the garden, the grassy weeds were so overgrown in some beds that I just gave up. It's nice to be able to look at neat, (mostly) weed free beds for a change.
 These Provider bush beans got a late start but they are growing like crazy now.

 Note to self: You can NEVER eat that much arugula! What were you thinking? Also in the bed are red russian kale, lettuce, and Swiss chard.

 My sugar snap peas got a late start in the spring, and for some reason did not germinate well. Nevertheless I spent yesterday morning weeding the beds and improvising trellises from old hay bale twine. I hope I get at least a few pea pods before these plants give in to hot weather. Not that the current very pleasant 81 degrees is relatively hot, I'm not complaining, but peas don't like it much. Perhaps I should throw a row cover over them for shade.

 While weeding the snow peas, I noticed several Asian green looking things growing. I think the above one is mizuna. I harvested one bunch, but left the others where they were. I thought I had peas in that bed last year, but who knows?

My garlic is growing well with little help from me. For several years now I have not had to buy garlic for planting or eating. I even have some left over from last year's crop; it keeps extremely well.

 And finally: This is NOT a garden bed, and I did NOT plant these. This is my compost bin! There are a couple of extremely well nourished tomato plants, one tomatillo, a few unknown squash, and even one corn plant. How's that for easy gardening? It will be interesting to see if these plants bear fruit, and what they will look like.

I have discovered that when I have enough time to not worry about the endless other household chores that must be done, gardening does not seem like work and I don't get tired of it. It is pleasant, actually, listening to the birds and letting my mind wander. It is a form of meditation, of worship.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


It is a Sunday afternoon, as lazy as Sunday afternoons get. In a rare stretch of time, I have the house/cabin/40 acre compound to myself (not counting dogs, cats, rabbits, and chickens). Vinny and Nina are both away for the weekend, camping with friends, and The Hermit and Joe headed to town to get away for a while. I can never get enough of being home, so I declined to accompany them.

Actually, I may be home for an extended weekend of indefinite length. The State of Minnesota is shut down, and I am in temporary layoff status since Friday. No new budget talks will happen until at least Tuesday, so Wednesday would be the earliest day for me to report back to work. I don't mind having a couple days off without pay; I'm enjoying relaxing around the house, getting a few things done. And realistically I don't think the shutdown can continue for more than a few days without serious consequences: the state is losing money, state parks and rest areas are closed, and vital services are not being provided. I didn't even think it would come to this, but the Republican leadership in the state legislature was not willing to negotiate in good faith. I had a lot of admiration for Democrat Governor Mark Dayton when I voted, and I have even more admiration for him now for sticking to his principles of doing what's best for the people of Minnesota.

I would say more, but I don't want to go there on this beautiful afternoon. This too shall pass. I hope to spend some of my free time writing, playing music, trying new recipes, and living in balance. This morning I went for a 4.4 mile run, and while the last mile or so was not feeling so good, it was all worth it when I jumped into the cool waters of the pond at the end. It was like instant euphoria in every cell of my body. I'm still walking on air it seems. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Luna moth

Finally saw one of these beauties on the cook shed door. Exquisite.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blanding's turtle!

While I was driving home from work today at 55 mph, a turtle caught my eye. Turtles laying eggs by the side of the road are fairly common this time of year, but this one was DIFFERENT. It was the size of a small snapping turtle, maybe twelve inches long, but the shell was too round and helmet-like for a snapper, and it was too big to be a painted turtle. I eased to a stop (appointment for new brake pads is in place, don't want to overuse them at this point), turned around, and parked nearby. I took the above photo with my handy iPhone.

The Blanding's turtle is considered a threatened species here in Minnesota, and this was the first one I had ever seen. They live in wetlands, especially adjacent to running water, and nest in sparsely vegetated upland areas. Unfortunately, they seem to like roadsides for nesting. I'm guessing this one came from Bear Creek, which could mean she would cross the road when she is finished laying eggs. It is not a busy road, but I'm praying for her!

These eggs will probably hatch in August or September, and the young turtles will have a long journey to find a suitable wetland or Bear Creek to spend the winter. I marked the location on my phone, and I will be thinking about the mama turtle and her eggs every time I drive by.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

They're so grown up...

Vinny and Nina spent the afternoon at the neighbors' house, earning money for mowing and other chores. Now I just watched them take the truck, alone, out to the horse pasture to feed the horses.

WOW. And, I'm so glad we live out here where they can do this stuff!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Minnesota weather...just follow the bouncing ball

As I sit here in the very un-air conditioned cabin, it is probably about 90 degrees. The Twin Cities had a record high of at least 103 degrees for this date, so I should be thankful I'm at least in the outer reaches of the Lake Superior cooling effect. But if I remember correctly, and I do have a short memory when it comes to these things, we had frost last week. And, lows in the 30's are predicted by the end of the week. So it's a good thing half the garden is still a jungle and the beautiful heirloom tomato plants my neighbor Patty gave me are not in the ground yet.

Does anyone from Minnesota (Lynne?) remember the Northwestern National Bank Weatherball? In the days before the Internet and instant weather updates, the bank had a cool idea: build a gigantic neon ball atop your building, come up with some catchy slogans ("Blinking white- cold weather is in sight), and there--you're a Minneapolis icon! I remember I even had a plastic coin bank with a replica of the weatherball. Unfortunately, the bank building was damaged beyond repair in a Thanksgiving Day 1982 fire that was caused by arson in the neighboring vacant Donaldson's department store building. The bank became NorWest, then Wells Fargo, and the weather ball was no more.

I thought about the weather ball today and the wisdom it might hold. I would have had another code for it: Weather ball is pink--don't blink. The weather will change in a minute!

I do have a blog post in mind about a great weekend, which involved, among other things, the most ukuleles I have seen in one place at one time. But that will have to wait.

Monday, May 30, 2011

cedar waxwing

Seen while fishing a secret spot this evening with a favorite fishing buddy (Joe). No fish, just tangled lines and a few nibbles. And a few good birds.

Monday, May 23, 2011

guess who came to my feeder today?

I think I've just died and gone to heaven, except the TV is playing a tribute to Harmon Killebrew, who is there now, so I must still be here.

An Indigo Bunting! And I got a clear, croppable photo! Made my day. :)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

glorious days of spring

Calvin (Vinny) and Starflower (Nina) after the second to last ball games of the season
A lot of time has passed since my last post. Time filled with work on a lake in some cold, windy, rainy Minnesota spring weather, time filled with junior high baseball and softball games, a band concert, and little time for anything else. May is slipping by, and warmer weather is finally upon us after lots of waiting and false starts, Minnesota style. Things are running well behind last year; I just planted onions, potatoes, peas, and greens two days ago. Today it is 72 degrees and humid, with more rain on the way. It's a good day to catch up with indoor tasks, like playing music and blogging. I try not to do too much housework on Sundays. :)

Long time readers of this blog will probably barely recognize the pair in the above photo. I swear they have each grown several inches in the last month! For reference, I am 5'7 and between them in height. Yes, Calvin has surpassed me and I don't think he'll stop growing for a while. Starflower and I have been sharing footwear for some time, and I hope for her sake her feet are done growing, because it's hard to find shoes beyond size 10! I can't leave out Mr. Attitude; he's approaching five feet tall and just as full of attitude as ever.

When I started this blog six years ago, or at least some time shortly thereafter, I decided to use pseudonyms for my family members. I thought it only proper to protect their privacy online. A lot has changed since then. The kids now have iPhones and text messaging and Facebook accounts in their real names (after some good conversations about online privacy and some common sense reminders). Many of you who are on Facebook know them by their real names. So I think the time has come to start referring to them as such on this blog. Part of it is for my convenience; I have to stop and think about which names to use in which context. So may I now present to you: Calvin = Vinny (or Vincent), Starflower = Nina, and Mr. Attitude = Joe. The Hermit will remain The Hermit for the time being, because it fits him. ;)

I enjoyed watching Vinny and Nina play baseball and softball this year. Nina, sixth grade, was in her first year of school softball, and she decided early on she liked playing catcher and worked hard learning what can be a difficult position. Vinny, in his third and last year of junior high ball, was outstanding. I know, I sound like I'm bragging, but he has matured into a thoughtful pitcher, quick-reflexed infielder, and solid hitter. His coach told him and two other players that they could be playing some varsity games next year, as ninth graders!

Now for a couple random bird feeder photos. If you think that looks like wreckage behind those beautiful male goldfinches, you are right. We had one of those tarp-covered Quonset shelters, with perhaps too much random junk inside, but one March day it collapsed under heavy snow cover. It's pretty unsightly right now, but there hasn't been much time, or good weather, to sort out the mess. So it sits.

This has been the Year of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeders. For the last couple of weeks, we have had as many as six of them at one time. The front one in this photo is a first year male, and the other one is fully mature. In addition to these and the goldfinches, I have had purple finches, pine siskins, black capped chickadees, downy and hairy woodpeckers, red breasted and white breasted nuthatches, chipping sparrows, Baltimore orioles, male indigo bunting! A feeder first for me. Of course the camera was not available. Maybe some other time.

I have so much more to catch up on, and hopefully this post will break the ice and get me back in the habit of writing. For now, it's starting to rain and I think I hear a mandolin calling my name.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Annual exuberant pond opening post!

Today was the day. The pond is 99% ice free, and of course Sally had to celebrate. We humans will wait a while, at least until the water temperature is within 30 degrees of body temperature.

Spring is unfolding in the wondrous way it always does. Birds are returning, woodcock are doing their spectacular display, ruffed grouse are drumming, robins are singing, and in the last couple of days, frogs have started singing. It's a wonderful time here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Early spring evening at Sand Creek

The daily highs have inched up into the forties and sometimes fifties, but the wood stove is still a necessity. The major snow cover is gone, but snowbanks still persist on the north side of buildings and anywhere large amounts of snow were piled up. Road restrictions are in place, which means I can drive without meeting logging trucks. There will be no logging trucks until the frost is completely out of the ground.

Today I saw my first turkey vultures of the year, soaring over the Kettle River. Sand Creek has absorbed the majority of the snow melt, and may have reached its crest today; the banks are overflowing but are nowhere near reaching our house; that's the nice thing about having huge areas of low wetlands upstream.

The woodcock were putting on their show tonight, making their strange call before spiraling into the sky in a shower of twitters. What an amazing bird.

Still waiting for frogs, and it will be a week or so. But it will happen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Maladjusted Minnesotan kids on spring break


Starflower and Mr. Attitude are pretty close these days. They come up with all kinds of unique ideas to celebrate their week off from school. I had a well-deserved laugh when I came home tonight and saw this. Kinda reminds me of the Calvin & Hobbes snowmen!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

shirttail relatives

Calvin has a new friend at school. Last night they went to a movie, and today his friend went to baseball camp to be Calvin's catcher. What makes this friendship special is that Calvin and he are distantly related. Very distantly. Here's the deal: My aunt (mom's brother's wife) is a cousin of the kid's grandma. I don't even know if there is a technical term for that kind of relation. Tail of the shirttail maybe? Anyway, Calvin is kind of proud to hang out with his "cousin".

I think the reason Calvin enjoys this connection is because we don't have family in the immediate area. My dad and brother and his family are a hundred miles away, while my aunt and uncle and grandma are a bit closer at sixty miles away. The Hermit's family are all in Michigan and Ohio; one of our nephews is even an attorney in Ireland. I'd love to visit him some time! But there are a lot of families around here that have been here for a long time and have scores of relatives within a stone's throw; Calvin and Starflower's best friends up the road are an example. So finding a connection with someone in the area is probably important to them.

I grew up seeing my first cousins infrequently. They lived in Walla Walla, Washington, St. Augustine, Florida, and Newton, Massachusetts. I barely know them. I have a few second cousins I saw more frequently, but I am not that close to any of the family. So I can totally understand Calvin's enthusiasm at finding someone he is related to, however distantly. :)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The first of March (or, my annual optimistic spring-is-almost-here post)

The first day of March should be considered a holiday. I’m talking a full blown, no holds barred celebration complete with music, dancing, bonfires, and revelry!

Why, you may ask, especially if you live a lot closer to the equator than I do. Why? The official explanation is that the first of March is considered to be the first day of “meteorological spring”. That is, the typical coldest 90 days during the calendar year, December 1-February 28, are behind us.

In my mind, winter officially loses its death grip when the calendar page turns over. Yes, we may still have some nights of subzero temperatures, and you can expect a snowstorm or two. But when March arrives, whether as a lion or a lamb, the weather is guaranteed to get warmer. Sooner rather than later. Snow will melt on a sunny day and freeze with a solid crust at night. Patches of open ground will be revealed. The cool sweet smell of damp earth will permeate the air at twilight.

The warmth of the sun and the motion of flowing water will work together to break through the fragile ice on the Kettle River. The newly opened patches of water will attract a pair of trumpeter swans or Canada geese or hooded mergansers. Kestrels and red winged blackbirds will appear over every marsh and field as the tawny grasses emerge from their winter snow cover.

And I will emerge once again from what always seems like the long sleep of winter. I will plant seeds, which is after all one of the most optimistic acts in the world. I will bask in the warmth of a sunny afternoon at the south facing window by the wood stove, and not know which is warming me more. In my hands will be a musical instrument playing tunes that seem just a bit more lively than I played a month ago.

Then I will go outside, running, laughing, filling my lungs with cool air at sunset. And so it begins again, as it always does.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

woodpecker central

The pileated woodpecker has to be one of my favorite bird species. And this winter I've been fortunate to see one at the suet feeder fairly often. While this isn't the best picture, you can tell this one is a female by the absence of red on her face. She really did a number on this suet cake just today; the picture was taken this morning, and now in the afternoon there is barely any left.

After Ms. Pileated left, I got a rare shot of a hairy and a downy woodpecker close to each other, taking turns gleaning from the remains of the suet cake. Yesterday afternoon when Mr. Attitude and I returned from our birding adventure, there were three downy woodpeckers and one hairy in this same tree at once!

Ms. Pileated has been busy around here. This is a dead white spruce that continues to provide wonderful habitat and food for woodpeckers and other birds. I am looking at it out the window right now as I write this at the computer, which is in the cabin. I have had the pleasure of watching a pileated woodpecker work on these holes throughout the winter, and yesterday The Hermit called me to tell me one was at it again. The long hole to the right is pretty deep, and I can't help but wonder if this will be a nest site this summer. If so, the location is perfect as I can get good views (and photos) from inside the cabin!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Birding the Bog with Mr. Attitude

 I had a couple of errands to do in Duluth today. Actually I was going to do one of them on Monday, my day off, but it was snowing pretty good that morning so I did not want to drive. I rescheduled my appointment at the Subaru dealership for today. Then Calvin's new iPhone went on the fritz yesterday, so I decided to, pardon the expression, kill two birds with one stone. But as long as I was driving that far, it was only about thirty more miles up the road to some of the best winter birding in Minnesota. And I had promised Mr. Attitude a special day.

We had not gone three miles from the house when we saw our first birds of the day: Two adult bald eagles! I had seen these eagles in the same location yesterday, and The Hermit has seen them. I'm wondering if there is a nest somewhere nearby; not that it's nesting season yet, but I have heard eagles are starting to return to their breeding grounds.

The car appointment was good in that I did not have to pay anything today, it was just for a strange noise that started right after I had my car serviced there last time. The noise turned out to be nothing major, although I noticed it is still there. On the other hand, I may be looking at replacing the catalytic converter in the near future. Ouch.

After a visit to the AT&T store, I ended up having to take Calvin's phone to the UPS store so it could be shipped to Apple to be replaced. I am shaking my head. Why can't AT&T and Apple get their act together so I can get a same day replacement? I could have, if there was an Apple store in Duluth, I was told, but the nearest one was in Minneapolis.

I was so ready for some quiet scenery and good birding after that. We stopped at Subway, and noticed a very vocal raven perched on top of a utility pole. Then we headed up Highway 53.

 The Sax Zim bog (named for two former town sites in the area) has an almost surreal quality to the landscape. Think the movie "Fargo", only more so.

 I couldn't resist taking this picture. Now this is Minnesota!

Our first stop was at a house with a feeder along County Road 7, where we saw a large flock of pine grosbeaks along with redpolls and black capped chickadees. The male pine grosbeaks are such an exquisite rosy red color.

Joe had the first raptor sighting of the day: a rough legged hawk! I usually see a few of them around in the winter, but I had not seen more than one or two this year.

We came to a recently bulldozed logging road that I had heard was a likely spot to see a black backed woodpecker. I drove in, and was surprised to see a congregation of vehicles at one spot. Some of them were birders, and some of them were locals cutting up recently felled tamaracks with chain saws. There were signs of black backed woodpecker activity everywhere, as bark was stripped from standing trees, but the birders were there to see this bird:

 Northern hawk owl! One of the very birds I had hoped to show Mr. Attitude! He was thrilled. My woefully inadequate camera could not capture a good shot, but I love this owl's sleek profile.

As we continued up the road, we saw a dark brown creature crossing the road ahead of us. From its size and shape, I think it was an otter, although it could have been a fisher. We were able to locate the tracks; they were spaced fairly far apart.

On the way down Admiral Road to a roadside feeder station, we were accosted by four domestic dogs who seemed determined to not let the car pass!

The Admiral Road feeders were bustling with activity. Pine grosbeaks (all female), redpolls, downy woodpeckers, black capped chickadees, and a couple of red squirrels were working the suet and seeds. Within a couple minutes, I was able to see another bird I was hoping for: a boreal chickadee! Most of the birds were not fazed by our presence. We got out of the car, and I was hoping to get a boreal chickadee picture. I did not get one, but I think this photo is far more precious:

Mr. Attitude was amazed that he could get so close to a pine grosbeak.

It was a big day for him, and an amazing day for me. Mr. Attitude is nine years old now, and of all my kids I think he shows the most affinity for nature. I was so glad I could share this day with him. He wants to go birding again next week! :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February thaw

Garrison Keillor had a great observation on "A Prairie Home Companion" yesterday. While I don't recall the exact wording, it went something like this:
It's a fact of human psychology. When you're someplace cold and the weather is warmer than what's expected, it always feels warmer than when you're someplace warm and it's colder than expected.
That would explain why I was sitting out on the deck in short sleeves yesterday drinking a Hop Ottin' and watching the afternoon sun disappear behind the pines. It was 35 degrees.

Of course, I was basking in the afterglow of some outdoor physical activity, brought on by the warm sunny weather. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon I had the urge to go running. I had not been running in oh, several months or so, at least since school started in September. Why? I don't really know. Lack of time I'm sure had something to do with it, but also lack of motivation. I wish I could explain the lack of motivation part. Running always feels incredibly good to me, and it has done great things for my body over the last three years. But for some reason, last summer and fall I wasn't really into it. Oh well. There's always a chance for a new beginning.

I only ran up to the corner and back, about 1.2 miles. I was going to go farther, but my rational brain told me that probably was not a good idea considering the above paragraph. So I went that far, and it felt just right. Pretty good, as a matter of fact. So good that when I got back I saw the big step ladder, and the shovel, and the foot and a half of snow on the cabin roof, and thought it would be a good time to get some of that snow weight off of there, before ice dams and leakage and all that good stuff set in. I went up, and actually had a good time. The part of the roof that needed shoveling is not steep at all, hence the need to shovel, so I was not worried about falling. Calvin joined me, which was a good thing because there was a LOT of snow up there, more than one person could comfortably handle. We got the job done in the afternoon sunlight and relative warmth, and it was nice being up on the roof, enjoying the view.

After the roof was done, I rewarded myself with the Hop Ottin' IPA, from Anderson Valley Brewing Company in California (just up the road from that nice beach where the photo in the last post was taken). But I swear it wasn't the beer, even though it probably had something to do with it, but for the longest time that afternoon I felt better than I had in  LONG time. My whole body just felt warm and tingling and alive. That feeling lasted into the evening when at last I stepped inside, sat in front of the wood stove with another beverage, and listened to "A Prairie Home Companion" broadcasting live from Bemidji, MN, which is even more of an icebox than here.

Of course, payback is hell. Today I'm hurting in places I haven't hurt in a long time. I am so anxious to continue my running, to feel the way I felt yesterday, but as the earth thaws and the sunlight returns I know the time to do that will return also. Yesterday was just an appetizer.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A sunny scene for today

Navarro River Redwoods State Park, California, 2002

 This picture has been hanging in my office cubicle for a long time, and today I decided it would be good to scan it before it faded. Calvin and Starflower were 5 and 3 at the time. Mr. Attitude was less than a year old.

Calvin, by the way, won the school spelling bee Monday night! He gets a cash prize of $50, plus the chance to compete in the regional spelling bee in a couple of weeks. In his usual style, he didn't do much to prepare for the competition; he just told me afterwards "Spelling is easy!" He must get it from me. :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Now where was I?

It's depressing, really. I was looking at my blog posts from last year, about this time, and they sound too familiar. For someone who prides myself in personal growth, this year has been a bust. I'm right back where I started.

I even missed my sixth blogiversary, which happened on January 21st. But I can be excused, maybe, for not thinking of my own milestones that weekend. On Sunday morning, the 23rd, I nonchalantly checked my Facebook page on my iPhone, and found some devastating news. Jim, a friend from nearly the start of this blog, had passed away. It literally knocked the breath out of me.

When I started blogging, I never imagined that I could develop friendships that transcend place. And when I thought I had reached that level, I thought "oh no. you've never met them IN PERSON. You don't know what they're really like."

So why did I find myself feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me, crying uncontrollably, feeling such a loss for some old hippie from California who happened to have a blog, and who happened to write very well, and who happened to share my passion for good folk music and good beer? Because I felt as close to Jim as I have to any friend I have "in real life". And sometimes I question whether I have any close friends "in real life". Jim and I shared music and beer through the mail, and his comments on this blog were always warm and friendly and thoughtful. I felt Jim's love for his family, his rage against a world gone wrong, but yet his appreciation for all that was good with the world. I really wish I could have made it out to Big Bear Lake, CA and shared a couple of homebrewed beers and a few tunes with him.

Didn't see that coming. Tomorrow is not a guarantee for any of us.

So where was I? In the middle of a Minnesota winter, which hasn't been too terrible around here. I happen to live in a small area which has managed to dodge the bullet from all the major snowstorms that have happened to the north and south of here. We had one or two nights of -20 degree weather, which if I remember from my first year of blogging, isn't that bad.

Most of my time is spent going to work, and then going to basketball games or picking Calvin and Starflower up from practice. I am so proud of them. Calvin, 8th grade, has found his social niche through sports and band, and Starflower, only in 6th grade, has shown amazing dedication to becoming a volleyball and basketball player. I look back at my junior high career and think wow...these kids sure didn't get their social skills from me!

Now if I could only figure out a way to spend less money on auto maintenance. A series of oil leaks in the Subaru, followed by a blown tire today. Sigh. That tire was only two months old! Either logging debris or bad stuff in the road sand.

Sorry this is so disconnected. It's just my state of mind these days...but maybe if I wrote more, it would get better. It's worth a try.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

wintery weekend

It's been the kind of Sunday morning I enjoy most, waking up slowly, drinking coffee and reading and watching birds, making a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with locally processed maple syrup, and later playing some Irish tunes on flute. The birds have been very active this weekend--this morning I had two hairy woodpeckers, two downy woodpeckers, and one pileated! They're attacking the suet cake I have hanging from the birch tree in front of the house. Sorry no pictures--I can't find a pair of AA batteries for the regular camera, and my iPhone camera doesn't zoom.

The iPhone camera is nice for times like Friday afternoon when I took a few hours off work to go cross country skiing at a local state park. (Sorry for the blurriness; I emailed this to myself at low resolution). The trails were in great condition with two inches of fresh fluffy snow that was still falling. The trails were in better condition than me or my skis, which are in need of glide wax. Nevertheless I had a great time and enjoyed the scenery and the roar of the Kettle River rapids.

Apres ski, I went across the road to the school for Starflower's basketball game, then endured a slow crawl up I-35 fifteen miles in increasing snow for Calvin's game. Traffic was moving slowly, which was appropriate for tthe conditions, but I was getting nervous because my oil light was starting to flicker on. I made it to Willow River and purchased two quarts of oil. My Subaru is experiencing an oil leak that threatens to rival BP's. Appointment tomorrow at the dealership in Duluth; hopefully it's not a big thing.

The Willow River game is fun because Calvin played with these guys, including a best buddy of his, two years ago on a sixth grade traveling team. Funny, they all seem to have grown a foot in height! Here is Calvin shooting a free throw. His team ended up losing, although they fought long and hard.

It's the time of year when I start mulling over seed catalogs, planning my strategy for the growing season. Hopefully I'll get a chance to post about my plans soon.