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.