Sunday, December 09, 2012

Testing Blogger's new iPad app

In my never ending quest for the ideal way to blog from the iPad (Computer? I believe we have one of those, but I rarely see it!), I found an upgrade for Blogger's own app, which was difficult to use before. I'm not seeing options to change photo size, but then again the Blogger app did not have that before.

Vinny and Nina wanted to get a Christmas tree yesterday, so they went out and chose a young balsam from our land. It's nice to not have to go too far to find a nice tree, and not to have to pay $30 or more for one.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

In praise of big pines

Longtime readers of Sand Creek Almanac probably know that my land has many white pines ranging in age from seedlings to old growth. This recent post shows a nice view of part of the pine forest. The old growth pines were a big part of our decision to buy this land in 1994. I still enjoy the voice of the wind as it whispers through the high boughs.

In the 1890's, at the height of the pine logging boom in Minnesota, this land was the site of a logging railroad siding, most likely with some structures, and possibly a logging camp. While the logging companies managed to do a remarkably thorough job in removing the old growth pines and permanently altering the landscape, loggers tended to leave a few big pines at camp and operational sites. A 1939 aerial photo of this land shows a dramatically cleared landscape, but a few large white pines are clearly visible. I have often wondered how long those pines had been standing before the logging era, and how old the largest pines are today.

A few weeks ago, during deer hunting season, Vinny wanted me to come out and see a large white pine he had found while scouting for deer sign. The pine is at the southern border of our 40 acres, and an old strand of barbed wire still meanders among the trees, some of which have completely grown around it. I do not make it to this part of the property as often as I should.

The sky was overcast, not good lighting for a photo, especially one taken with an iPhone, but if you look closely you can see my 6'2 son up in the branches of this massive tree. I knew there were giants here, and I had probably seen this one, but only that day did I realize this was probably the largest. It is still a picture of health, with a full crown and thick growth of soft green needles.

Over Thanksgiving weekend I borrowed a flexible tape measure from work. I had found a formula online for estimating the age of a white pine based on its diameter. The circumference of this tree measured a full 11 feet, which gives it a diameter of 42 inches. Multiply this by the "growth factor" of 5 for this species, and you get...

210 years.

Wow. I knew this tree, and several others were old, but I had never quite grasped the idea that this tree began its life around the year 1800, 58 years before Minnesota became a state, 90 years before the logging railroad came through, roughly 170 years before I was born.

I have a great respect for these elders, who have stood for generations, bearing quiet witness to the changes our civilization has brought upon the land.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

November sunset

It is that time of year when sunset brings a rosy glow to the eastern sky. Cold morning temperatures this past week made small lakes freeze over with a skim of ice, but some unseasonably warm, sunny days yesterday and today will no doubt reverse that.

Nevertheless, cold winds from the northwest have been driving flocks of tundra swans southeast to their wintering grounds. On Monday, a day off from work, I counted no less than five flocks flying overhead. They were flying low enough, giving their eerie low whistling calls, that I could hear them from indoors. The larger trumpeter swans have also flown, leaving their breeding lakes in search of open water. The trumpeter swans do not travel as far as tundra swans; they spend the winter at various places along the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota.

Some people find this time of year in Minnesota unsettling, with the onset of short days and freezing nights. Their thoughts turn to warmer, sunnier places. But I enjoy the stark beauty of bare trees, the green of pines and spruces that seems greener in the absence of brighter colors.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The view from above

A coworker went flying in a helicopter the other day to check the condition of trout streams in the area. Since Sand Creek is one of our few functional brook trout streams, I knew he would be flying by my house. I have always thought it would be fun to fly over my land at low altitude, just to get a feel for the area and see it from a different perspective. My coworker was nice enough to get some great pictures of my house!

This is looking from the northeast, with the swamp in the foreground. Vinny recently made that trail across the swamp with the help of the four wheeler and some of the planks that used to be my raised garden beds. He has a deer stand over there, and he has used it a couple times during deer season. Still no deer though, but a friend gave us a deer he shot today; it was an extra one for him. I am looking forward to venison in the freezer! And still hoping Vinny gets one.


The main reason for my lack of regular posts lately is that I have been struggling to find an iPad app that will do what I want it to. I thought BlogPress was okay, but I realized when I tried to make photos publish the size I wanted them, it would just enlarge a thumbnail and the result was blurry photos.

I didn't think I could post photos by going into Safari and using the regular Blogger interface, but apparently that has changed. All I had to do was download the Google Plus app, and upload the photos from my iPad into a Google Plus album. Uploading is a slow process, but it's about halfway through the photos now.

As a test, here is a photo I took at Edisto Beach, South Carolina in August. On a damp, chilly November day it makes me smile.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Swans on Grace Lake

I knew when I zoomed in on this pair of trumpeter swans with my iPhone camera, the results would not be that good. However, I kind of like the soft, artistic quality. A little PhotoShop might make it even better. If I had the time and inclination to mess with things.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tenth anniversaries

Ten years ago tomorrow, I received a call from my mom, probably late morning. "Did you hear the news? Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash."

At the time, I was living, and beginning the process of leaving, a temporary home, high on a ridge top overlooking the vineyards near Philo, California, in what is known as Anderson Valley, about a hundred miles north of the Bay Area. Vinny had just begun kindergarten, Nina had just turned three, and Joe was less than a year old.

We had moved there, four months earlier, when The Hermit took a job with a "green" company. It was supposed to be a new beginning, a remaking of our lives. But somehow I knew it from the start, we had not planned this well, I had not said enough, and the numbers were not adding up.

Some nights I sat awake, listening to the eerie human-like scream of the mountain lion. My only pleasures were the beach, and Hop Ottin' IPA from Anderson Valley Brewing Company, the local brewery. And my kids, and the white tailed kites that soared in the valley sometimes.

We had already conceded, and were on the edge of leaving, when I got the call from my mom. I had never known her to be politically outspoken, or to even express any view one way or another. My dad's family was very Republican-leaning; I had heard an uncle of his rant against "that liberal, Wellstone". But on that day, ten years ago, I could hear the sadness in her voice. I realized, somehow she identified with that goofball that rode around in a refurbished green school bus. She may have even voted for him. I did, once.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that phone call may have revealed more about my mother than anything else. We were a family that didn't talk much. I'm still getting over that.

A few days later, with all of our belongings packed up in two vehicles and two trailers, we were headed back east, to the cabin, the land that has been our home ever since. We passed through Lusk, Wyoming at dusk on October 31st, and grabbed some Halloween treats from a convenience store.

I still wonder how this world would have been different, if Wellstone had not died. I still wonder if his death, and the deaths of his wife, staffers, and pilots, were truly an accident. And I wonder, if we hadn't taken the chance out in Anderson Valley, how my life might be different. But, it works.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

I have been working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Section of Fisheries for a total of nineteen years now. My career wasn't continuous; I was hired in November 1991, but there were a couple breaks when we moved out of state to follow The Hermit's career path. But I have been back working as a Fisheries Specialist since 2003.

I had pretty much resigned myself to working as a specialist at Hinckley for the rest of my career. I am pretty much stuck to this place, which limits my upward mobility. Not that I minded, because this is a pretty good place to be, and the job is pretty darn good considering the alternatives.

Ah, as a writer I annoy myself by using the word "pretty" four times in one paragraph!

Recently, however, I had a chance for moving up while staying in the same place. Our assistant area fisheries manager was offered a job as an area manager in Finland, MN, in a beautiful area of northeastern Minnesota. After much thoughtful consideration he accepted it, an as far as I know, has no regrets.

They posted the job vacancy right away. I applied. So did two of my coworkers, and a couple others from within the department. Interviews were scheduled. My first interview in what, twelve years or so?

The interview process was probably the most rigorous I'd ever gone through. It consisted of making an oral/Power Point presentation with 30 minutes prep time, six interview questions, and afterwards, a writing assignment. Whew. But all went well, I though, or at least as well as I could do. I had no worries about the writing part, since I'd been editing my coworkers' writing for years. But by the time I got to the writing part I was kind of in a crazy stress mode. The assignment involved a hypothetical invasive species situation. So I invented a new invasive species, the Icelandic Squid. I hope the interview committee got a laugh out of it!

Then the waiting, from Tuesday until Friday. The awkwardness of being with coworkers who were competing for the job. Then finally on Friday, my boss, going home early with a bad cold, saying: "I'm not supposed to say this, but you got the top score on the interview. You will be getting a call."

I got the call. I am now the Assistant Area Fisheries Manager! Wow! I guess I deserve this after nearly twenty years, but I never would have thought, when I started my career, that I would out-interview several people who were well qualified candidates. I love working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with many great people, and I look forward to this new opportunity!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On the cusp of the season

This has been a balmy Sunday here, with a high in the mid 70's. It was sunny, and as usual lately, dry. The grass is so dry you could snap the blades off. The birch and aspen trees have long ago given up the ghost, and are shedding brown, crinkled leaves without much fanfare.

Tomorrow, however, the high is only expected to reach the mid fifties, with perhaps some much needed rain in the forecast. I may have to transition from wearing Teva flip flops, which have lasted amazingly well throughout the summer, to some more warming footwear. Which, according to the latest count, I have none of. Nina took my running shoes for volleyball, and I haven't bothered to buy a decent pair of "real" shoes for years. I don't even like the thought of wearing "real" shoes!

We have made it through half of September without supplementary heat, even though night temperatures have gotten into the thirties. That will change tomorrow. The wood stove is ready. I think I am too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My temporary residence

I am here, at Edisto Beach, South Carolina for a week. This is my first real vacation in many years, and I think I needed it! Our rental house feels like a palace to me, and it is just a block away from the beach. I am sitting on that upper porch right now. Nina is taking a candlelight Jacuzzi; I have not found the time to try out that fancy tub yet!

Edisto Beach is probably one of the most laid back beach communities anywhere. No big hotels or condos, no noisy strip with college bars, just houses ranging from minimal to luxury, and a nice beach. They do a really good job of marking loggerhead sea turtle nests and educating people about what these turtle babies need to make it to the sea.

When we first arrived here, after a 24+ hour drive, made possible by Vinny taking a couple driving shifts, after saying a quick hello to relatives staying nearby, the kids and I headed towards the beach. All of the stress of trip planning and being on the road melted away as soon as my feet felt the water rushing over them. Soon we were swimming, me and the kids, and body surfing as if we'd done it all our lives.

Today as we were swimming in the late afternoon, Joe told me he thought he had seen a shark's fin. I asked him, "are you sure it wasn't a dolphin?" Sure enough, we saw several more of them surfacing just out from where we were swimming. I am so glad my kids get to see the ocean like this. Vinny bought a surf fishing rod with money he has saved up from mowing the neighbors' lawn. And some frozen squid for bait. I bet he'll be out fishing all day tomorrow.

So much more to tell, but the lesson learned is this: Everyone needs a vacation. It is good to see places that are unfamiliar, especially if there is a beach involved. I think I must have been a surfer in a former lifetime. I have this thing for beaches.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A look at a typical day at the office

Recently I invited Greg Seitz, longtime blogging friend, to accompany me and a coworker on one of our electrofishing adventures on the St. Croix River. Greg was born and raised in Stillwater, Minnesota, on the shores of the St. Croix, and his appreciation of the river is so deep that he started a Web site,, to share news and stories about the river. I thought this would be a perfect outlet to highlight what my employer, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, does to monitor fish populations and manage fish on the St. Croix. I started talking with Greg last year about coming out with us; however, the state government shutdown in Minnesota last year also shut down our plans for sampling the St. Croix in 2011. This year, things came together and Greg was able to join us last week. You can read his account of the day here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The real work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

~ Wendell Berry ~

This poem was in my daily email from Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac". It is one of those inspirations that happened to show up just at the right time. The universe often works like that.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Kettle River, with a correction

A little over a month ago, the Kettle River crested at record stage, and I posted a video here Today I returned to the spot where I took that video, and with river levels at or below normal, I realized I had made a mistake; what I took for a roaring waterfall was really a placid side channel.

This is that side channel. Big Spring Falls is actually on the other side of that island to the left. What a difference from the roaring waters!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

This is why I love my job...sometimes

I have been spending lots of work time on a beautiful river these last couple of weeks. We had plans to sample the St. Croix River last year, but the totally partisan bickering and unnecessary government shutdown in MN got in the way. We are making up time this year. Above is a 39" lake sturgeon we caught today; this species is notoriously hard to catch by electrofishing, and it was thrilling to me to see this one roll up. No fish were harmed; the sturgeon swam off after we measured and weighed it. It had a tag from the state of Wisconsin; Minnesota and Green Bay Packer country have an agreement where we share information. :) Not much else.

I am amazed by the beauty of the river whenever I come out, and it more than makes up for the bumps and bruises from running into rocks.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 20, 2012

Baseball parent rant

I took a day off work today so I could watch Joe in his last baseball games of the summer. Life is too short to not see that. And Vinny volunteered to help coach the game. No incentive whatever, he just wanted to do it. The coach was certainly pleased about that, and now Vinny has a job next summer coaching the 5th and 6th grade team. Joe is not so sure about having his big brother as a coach. :)

They played three close games. Joe had some great plays as first baseman, and even crossed the infield to back up a throw from the outfield and throw out a runner at home plate! However, it came down to a coin toss on one game and an extra inning with a bonus starting runner on second in the other.

I witnessed some obnoxious behavior by parents and even coaches. Luckily none of it was from our team.

After the last close loss, our coach gathered the team together for the end of season speech. While acknowledging good plays, he also made one important point: Hitting suffers if you don't show up for practice. And we could have used more hits.

Which brings me to my rant. The main reason players do not show up for practice? Not that they don't care. Or even if they don't have a ride; there are parents who would drive thirty miles one way to pick up a kid so they could make it to practice. I have driven well out of my way to give kids rides home from various sports during the school year.

No, the main reason is this: Football and basketball proponents are now scheduling "camps" during the summer, to help the kids develop skills and presumably earn their place years to come as a varsity starter. These "camps" are scheduled without regard to baseball schedules, and Vinny's team has had to forfeit multiple games due to players being absent to attend "camp".

I don't fault the players. There is a lot of pressure on young athletes these days to train more, to go the extra mile.

But why is baseball, the American pastime, seen as the "disposable" sport? It used to be, summer was baseball season. Period. But now with football and basketball training encroaching on summer, those who lose are those who, like my son Vinny, put baseball as top priority and give 110% at every practice. Without the support of teammates, baseball gets marginalized, and the hard work of players goes unnoticed. Why is it that adults pay $7 to get into a football or basketball game, but baseball games ( and band concerts, but that's another story) are free?

The All Conference selections from our team this year received no press. How hard is it for a local paper to come out and do the SAME thing they would do for basketball or football? In the interest of giving them some coverage, here they are: Shannon Hansberry, senior shortstop, and of course, Honorable Mention Vinny Sewell, 1B and pitcher mostly. Freshman.

Baseball is the American pastime, folks. The parents that sign their kids up for a team, but make other commitments for their kids for other sports that have no business being played or practiced in the summer, I have this message for you: you are letting down, and stepping on the dreams, of every kid who loves baseball and wants to play on a team that gives a shit.

And that's all I have to say about that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Skink eggs!

A few years ago I posted about a northern prairie skink the kids found on the gravel beach near the pond. We have since discovered that the skinks have an elaborate series of tunnels under the rocks in a fire pit on the beach. That fire pit has not been used for over a year, and if we ever feel like having a bonfire I think we'll build a new fire pit. I do not want to inadvertently roast some of the few lizards that inhabit this area.

A few weeks ago, Joe and I were turning the rocks, looking for skinks. We saw one or two adults, but we also saw what is in the photo- eggs! There are nests under at least two rocks, with about eighteen eggs total. I have been checking on them occasionally, not wanting to disturb the eggs or adults too much. I don't know how long they take to hatch, but I hope to see the old fire pit crawling with little skinks soon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 16, 2012

Driver's permit!

Yes, I am now relegated to the passenger seat of my Ford Focus as Vinny takes the wheel any chance he gets for practice. My 6'1-1/2 (last check, though he's eating like crazy so be prepared for more growth!) son passed his permit test with flying colors. He is very conscious of driving rules while he is driving, and though I have to remind him of a few things, I am confident he will be a good driver.

Today went like this: He had to be at the school at 7:45 for a baseball game that had been rescheduled at the last minute to the town where I work. Nina, as newly appointed co-manager with her friend Brittany, attended the game as well. Vinny didn't feel like driving so early in the morning, so I picked up Brittany and Keith, her brother and starting pitcher, a half mile up the road from our house. I dropped the crew off at school on my way to work.

With the forecast in the nineties, luckily I had some flexibility with my work schedule. I did not want to spend a day out in a boat, and the interns had other work to do. So at 9:00 I was able to take a couple hours off and go to the game, just a few blocks away.

The game didn't go so well for our team. I won't even repeat the score, but Vinny had a couple good plays at first base. After the game I headed back to the office, but soon I got a call from Vinny: the bus would be a while, and he was walking over to my office. His real motive: lunch at Taco Bell! He drove there, of course, ended up driving the wrong way and parking in the Subway parking lot, but as I told him, parking is more complicated than driving.

After lunch I did a few administrative things that needed to be done, then decided to leave work early. As we drove by the ball field, we saw Vinny's coach, Nina, Brittany, Keith, and a couple others still there; apparently they had to wait for a summer school bus to finish a route. So with Vinny at the wheel, we loaded the Focus with one more teenager than it was intended for and headed towards home. On the way Vinny got to experience actually seeing a train up close at a minimally marked crossing (we survived) and driving our road when the grader had been by one side but hadn't come back, leaving a pile of loose gravel in the middle.

I think I felt a few more gray hairs sprouting.

We made it back, and I got to drive Nina to volleyball practice, she and Brittany and two other friends. Somehow the gas gauge registered near empty after that; that seems to happen a lot lately!

Sorry if I'm rambling; this 90 degree weather has me felling a bit crazy. Cooler temps on tap for here tomorrow. That, and I may have to make sure Joe makes it to his saxophone lesson. Following in the footsteps of his brother.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roaring waters

The Kettle River, which is in the Upper St. Croix watershed in Minnesota, peaked at a record gauge height of 17.93 feet early in the morning of June 22. Normal height is probably around 6-7 feet. I had some time the evening before to check out the river at one of my favorite spots, the old Sandstone dam site. A hydroelectric dam created a reservoir upstream before it was removed in 1994. The removal of the dam revealed a waterfall, Big Spring Falls, which is shown in the first video. The second video shows the actual site of the old dam.

When the dam was removed, the sediment that had built up behind the dam for nearly a hundred years washed downstream. While dam removal is generally a good thing for river ecosystems, the sediment in this case filled up deep holes downstream that were once habitat for lake sturgeon, which is listed as a species of special concern in Minnesota. While this record river level was not a good thing for some people who lived near the river upstream (people who never had any reason to believe their homes would ever be threatened by the river), this surge of water just may wash out some of the fine sediment and restore some of the sturgeon holes.

At Big Spring Falls, I saw reminders of when water levels were even higher, thousands of years ago, creating cuts and kettles in the sandstone bedrock. The roar of water on rock drowned out every other sound and engulfed me, much like the roar of ocean waves. A dreadful and amazing sound.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More high water in Minnesota

Less than a month ago I was writing about the local flood we had here on Sand Creek. Now it seems like nothing; one road washed out in one place, and was fixed by noon the next day. Compare that with what happened last week in Duluth, MN, just fifty miles north of here. With up to ten inches of rain Tuesday night, the city's streets, creeks, and storm sewers were overwhelmed. If you are not familiar with Duluth, it is a beautiful city located at the westernmost point of Lake Superior. Much of the city is on a hillside that drops over 600 feet from the edge of the hill to the lakeshore. When you live on a hill with a marvelous lake view, you don't think about floods too much. Hardly anyone saw this coming. Streets are collapsed or washed away, houses are moved off foundations, and a couple of seals from the Duluth Zoo almost had the chance to make Lake Superior their home.

We go to Duluth once a month or more for shopping or more fun stuff. I have not been there since the flood; our main route into the city runs next to the St. Louis River and was under water for a while.

On Wednesday I was shocked to hear the news from Duluth. What I did not realize was that a lot of rain also fell on the headwaters of two local rivers, the Moose Horn and the Kettle. We "only" had about two inches of rain that night; Sand Creek was high but not nearly as high as it was three weeks ago. But there was a huge gradient in rainfall in less than thirty miles to the northwest, with six to eight inches falling in places with the ground already saturated from previous storms.

The Kettle River, pictured above at Highway 23 near the kids' school, crested Friday morning at a level that beat the previous record, set in 1972, by two feet. The bridge in the picture is the one I sit under sometimes and play flute, with the water a good six feet below me.

I have some friends who live on the shores of the Kettle River. I'm sure they never imagined water reaching the tops of their kitchen cabinets; after all, it had never even been close. While they will keep their house, they are faced with a long and expensive cleanup. There are people in the town of Moose Lake who are not so lucky; their homes are beyond repair. No one thought this would ever happen.

So many weird weather events, so little time, and lives are changed in an instant. Is this the new normal?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Welcome, summer!

With the last day of school over as of last Tuesday, summer has officially begun here. I still have to go to work, of course, but my work involves going out on lakes in a boat, so I can at least have some fun.

The kids and I, plus two of their friends, had our third annual camping weekend at the MN Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association's Homegrown Kickoff Festival last weekend. The weather was perfect, we all had fun, plus we got to see some of Minnesota's talented musicians. The Hermit stayed home, tended to household things, and that ended up being okay for everyone. Camping with extra kids is not for everyone.

The schedule looks brutal for the next couple of weeks. Vinny and Joe are both in baseball, with practices and games during the day. Did I mention Vinny was named All Conference Honorable Mention in baseball, as a freshman? I see good things in the years ahead.

Vinny is also taking Driver's Ed in the afternoon. Yes. Where did the time go? He will be fifteen a week from today, and is growing taller by the second.

Nina is in a volleyball league on Sunday nights. She and her teammates looked like they were having a lot of fun tonight, while playing some good ball. They won three 25 point games.

Me, I am really bummed that I totally missed the starflower bloom this year. They are everywhere in the woods, but they bloomed earlier than normal, and I did not get out where they were to see them.

And I have to tell you about St. John's wort. If you are mildly aware of herbology you have probably heard about its antidepressant effects. Let me tell you, it works. I started taking it just over a week ago, right before the camping trip, and I have not felt this balanced, this happy, in a long time.

So there you have it. My favorite time of year!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Sand Creek crosses our road in two 8 foot concrete culverts. Most of the time they provide more than adequate room for water to flow. Yesterday they were a bottleneck. At least water was not flowing over the road, as it was in several locations on a nearby dead end road. The vortices look cool but deadly.

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Great Flood of 2012

Just when you think you've seen everything and you think your day will be perfectly normal... walk outside in the morning and your driveway looks like this!

It rained a lot last night. The Hermit and I were home alone, the older two kids were camping about 20 miles east of here, and Joe was at a friend's house about ten miles downstream on Sand Creek. We were worried at times about the campers, with severe thunderstorm warnings all around, but they texted us that they were okay.

It had also rained a lot last Wednesday night, 3-4 inches. The creek was up, and Vinny's baseball playoff game got postponed from Thursday to Friday due to wet baseball fields.

I think we got about 4 inches last night too, but I never put two and two together until I saw the driveway this morning. The creek had overflown its banks, and was flowing through the old horse pasture to the right in the photo, the very place where I was going to put a garden but decided not to. The pond, meanwhile, had risen to meet the creek.

After I put on waders to investigate, I found myself wading through above knee deep water on the driveway. Wow, I thought, as reality started to sink in. We were flooded in!

The house is high and dry, so we are okay there. However, Sand Creek has to be a good 4 or 5 feet above normal. No one around here has ever seen it like this. We had to load bales of hay in the canoe and take the canoe out to the road and have a neighbor drive out to the horse pasture to feed the horses.

The horses had a small area of high ground to stand on. And see the baby horse in the photo? That is one of the many things I need to blog about.

The water rose a bit throughout the morning, and I used the canoe to bring a bicycle out to the road so I could survey the area. The road a half mile north of here was washed out in a low spot between two old gravel pits. There were county workers hauling loads of gravel and working on this holiday to make the road passable. Sort of. That same road is under water in at least four places.

One of our canoes had been parked along the creek bank, a good two feet above normal water level. As I was riding in the back of the neighbors' pickup truck to feed the horses, I noticed the canoe, on the other side of the road, lodged in some alders on what used to be the creek bank. Vinny and Nina were able to rescue the canoe, and the paddles were still inside!

It looks like the kids and I will be having a day off from work and school tomorrow. It rained and hailed again this afternoon, and I doubt we will be able to get out of the driveway until late tomorrow at the earliest. Joe is staying another night at his friend's house; they are having flooding issues there too. But I am thankful everyone is okay, and that the house is on high ground!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You don't need a big river... have big fun. At least that's what my kids were finding out over the weekend.

 It was beautiful weather for May, with highs in the 70's both Saturday and Sunday. Nina and I spent Saturday at the wedding of an old friend of mine. Vinny had a couple friends over, and while much time was spent playing video games, the lure of Sand Creek and a kayak were too much to resist. They paddled upstream, occasionally having to pull the kayak over small beaver dams, until they found what Vinny described as "the mother of all beaver dams". It was built at the confluence of Sand Creek and a tributary, and was so large and had been there for such a long time that the creek had changed course, flowing around one end of the long dam and creating a waterfall.

On Sunday morning, Vinny and Devin (pictured above), along with Devin's brother Calvin, Joe, and Nina in our 17 foot Old Town canoe, held the first ever Sand Creek Canoe Race. Everyone paddled upstream to the beaver dam, which was the starting line. From there the length of the race was a good quarter mile or more. I went out to the horse pasture to watch them go by, and they were making pretty good time. Devin and Vinny were in the lead when I took this picture, but apparently there was a dispute over where the finish line was, and the three in the canoe claimed victory. A good time was had by all.

I always dreamed of living on a big lake, or a river big enough to canoe. Apparently my dream has come true and I never realized it until now. That kayak is calling my name sometime this weekend.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

To garden, or not to garden

I never thought this would actually be a question. In 20 plus years of adulthood and marriage, I have always had some kind of a vegetable garden. Some years it was smaller than others, but I always felt I had to have something. With all the space I have here, to not use a good amount of it for growing food seems like, well, a waste.

This spring, however, I am re-thinking things, at least for this year. We have a number of things that need to be done on the house. Bathroom. Kitchen cabinets and sink. Deck. Flooring. Garage. The garage will be built by professionals, but I expect I will have to put in a considerable amount of time on the other projects. This full time job thing of mine gets in the way, and despite my desire to get everything done AND have a large garden, it does not appear to be realistic. Especially when I had planned on moving the garden to a new location this year, and the ground is not even tilled yet.

Relax, I tell myself. Abide. I will still have the garlic I planted last year, and maybe some plants in containers. But do I really want to go all out planting, only to feel guilty later about not tending weeds? Next year, when my house is a lot more finished than it is this year, I'll get back into it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Play ball!

Warning: Shameless Mom bragging ahead! :)

It is now baseball and softball season here, which means I can just as well forget about cooking dinner or being home before eight two or three nights a week. Vinny and Nina love these sports the best, and I am more than willing to sacrifice time at home to see them play.

Yes, that is my #23 gracing the cover of the local newspaper this week. Of course I was just beaming when I saw it. After the starting pitcher gave up a few runs in the first inning of their first game, Vinny came in and did a good job for the rest of the game. And Thursday night he was starting pitcher and went the full game. They lost 6-2, but it was a good game and the opposing coach even complimented our coach about Vinny's performance.

A few notes about this team. We are a small, rural school, and there are only about 13 players out for baseball this year. They were sub section champions last year, but they lost a few good seniors. Of the 13 players, four are freshmen. There is no junior varsity team. Just about everyone on the team can pitch. BUT- Vinny has been to pitching camp, and has had many hours of practice in the back yard (we have worn out one pitch back, just ordered a new one). He takes his time, thinks the situation through, and mixes things up with a few different pitches. Which is why Vinny has quickly established himself as the eminent starting pitcher for the Eagles. Oh yeah, he can hit too. I haven't kept track of his batting average, but it is pretty darn good. He has been asked to play American Legion baseball this summer for a nearby town. More good games to watch.

I think I have a fun four seasons ahead of me. Wait, Joe is in fourth grade, so I have a good eight baseball/softball seasons ahead of me. Good thing I invested in a good folding chair.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New post up on "Under the Blue Roof"

Announcing the resurrection of my food/domestic blog after a long hiatus (that's a fancy term for laziness)! I was so happy with how my fried rice turned out last night I just had to share the recipe.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Life is good

Joe has a new bike. The older kids are headed home from their amazing trip to Washington DC. Peepers and western chorus frogs are singing, and woodcock are displaying. The road is finally dry enough that I don't fear my new car getting swallowed up by a gigantic mud hole. Said car is averaging over 35 mpg. My new kitchen cabinets, and bath fixtures, will be delivered soon.

No complaints here. :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Was this month really March?

For having a blog that includes "phenology" in the description, one would think that I would have been faithfully updating posts these last few weeks, chronicling the unfolding of the warmest March on record. In an ideal world, that is.

Sorry folks. In reality it seems this month has gone by in a blur, busier than ever doing I don't even know what. Getting kids ready for the band trip. Helping Joe with his Science Fair project. Putting the first 3,000 miles on the new car shuttling kids to baseball and volleyball practices and shopping in Duluth. Working. et cetera.

However, those of you who are on Facebook know that it is much easier to write a quick status update than it is to compose a coherent blog post. And if we're Facebook friends, you know that I manage to update my status fairly often. That is, if you haven't hidden me from your feed because you're tired of hearing about my life! :) So, I have reviewed my last month of status updates and put together a phenology of sorts:

March began with about a foot of snow on the ground, the first significant snowfall we'd had all winter. On the evening of the 3rd, we had a visit from a friend who was out snowmobiling, perhaps for the first time this winter. The next day a warm spring wind blew in. I traveled to the southern part of Minnesota for a work meeting on the 5th and saw my first ducks and geese. On the 7th I saw my first kestrel. On the 8th we had a mini blizzard, but that snow quickly disappeared. Early the morning of the 9th, I saw the aurora borealis; I have been waiting to see this for years!

On the 11th, The Hermit and I went shopping at Menard's in Duluth (for those of you outside of Minnesota and Wisconsin, that is like Home Depot or Lowes) and picked out base kitchen cabinets, a tub/shower enclosure, and bathroom vanity- all on sale! Let's just say I love my new Discover card...

First bluebirds on the 13th; on the 18th we put up four bluebird houses in the horse pasture, with the hope that at least one of them will be occupied by bluebirds. I didn't even record when I saw my first robin, but it was well ahead of the usual schedule. First blooming dandelion on the 16th. Lots of tundra swans flying over the 17th and 18th. Woodcock have been displaying morning and evening since the 18th; I even saw a female woodcock approach a male when he landed from his sky dance in the back yard. First spring peepers on the 19th.

Oh yeah, I seem to recall something happening on the 20th. Something to do with the number 45...

So now the ice is out on the pond, which makes Sally one happy Labrador, and the ice is even out on the big lakes. Of course, with my job that means I am out on the lakes too, pulling nets as we attempt to get an idea of the health of various fish populations. I don't think I had ever been out in a boat in March. Northern pike are spawning, and walleye are getting ready.

The lake I am working on just happens to be the lake where my grandma and grandpa lived, where I spent many weekends in and on the water. My grandma, 92, lives in town now, but my uncle still has the lake home. It is fun to be back; that lake will always be special to me.

So there's what happened in the March that felt more like April or May.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Band trip 2012

My two oldest kids are now somewhere between here and Washington, DC. I last heard that they were eating dinner at the Cracker Barrel in Rockford, Illinois. Vinny ordered the catfish. :) Nina convinced me to swap iPhones and sim cards with her, because her phone is having some serious issues. I hope she is enjoying my phone, because I am cursing hers.

Really, I think this band trip, to our nation's Capitol, is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them. I traveled to DC when I was seventeen, with 4-H club, and it really changed my perspective. Actually, I liked shopping in Georgetown. But that was where I was at. I think my kids will see so much more.

The band director has created a blog: . i am having trouble copying and pasting this link on my iPad, but if you are interested, please follow it!

I still have Joe here, but the house feels so quiet. I wish the ice hadn't gone out on lakes so early this year, because that means a lot of work for me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 04, 2012

An un-lazy Sunday afternoon update

Okay, so my plans to use the iPad to increase my writing and blogging frequency so far have not panned out. But like everything else, it takes time to break old habits and settle into new ones.

This last month found me unexpectedly car shopping. The Subaru ended up totaled; apparently taking a ride over tree stumps, saplings and rocks was too much for it. But all in all I think I came out ahead on this one. The Subaru was worth more than I still owed on it, just enough money to make a down payment on a new 2012 Ford Focus.

For the same monthly payment, I now have a vehicle that does not have 106,000 miles on it, does not make strange noises, and that annoying "Check Engine" light is not constantly on. Perhaps more importantly these days, I can get up to 40 miles per gallon, over ten more mpg than the Subaru. And I can plug my iPod into the sound system. I will miss the heated seats though.

Notice the snow in the picture. Until Wednesday, snow was something that was missing from this winter around here. Between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, however, we received over a foot of snow. and the kids and I were delighted to have a day off from work and school (my office was officially closed, something that rarely happens). I always think Leap Day should be a bonus day anyway.

The boys are at baseball camp this afternoon; I am enjoying a quiet day in the house with Nina, Sally, and the cats. I plan to get out a musical instrument in a while, but for now I have an Extra Pale Ale brewing on the stove, and bread in the bread machine. I have decided recently to try and make more essentials, like bread and beer, at home. I can save a little money that way, especially on the bread, but more importantly, it's hard to find a loaf of store bought bread that doesn't have all kinds of strange ingredients, and too much sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Well, it's time to put the brew pot out in the snow to chill. But hey, I blogged! :)
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Wolf Creek Rd,Bruno,United States

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Three reminders

Life has gone by fast lately. It seems the last four or five years have been nothing but a blur. There have been good times, that's for sure, but they seem to get lost in the whirl of day to day living.

But, in the last few weeks, I have found some remembrances of an earlier life. The kids were very young, I was probably in a state of perpetual confusion, but each one of them gave me their own views on life, words that kept me going even when I thought i did not even know myself.

Vinny- When he was in his twos and we had recently moved to Missouri for a job The Hermit took, I found myself floundering in depression, from living far away from family, from moving away from the life we'd built early in our marriage, and maybe some postpartum depression after giving birth to Nina. She was, by the way, a very challenging infant. Which will probably explain the quote from her.

in the midst of all this, I had an extremely intelligent and perceptive two year old son, who took it all in stride. One night when I was not at my best, he took one of those drawing tablets they have, the plastic ones where you draw things with a stylus and it can be erased wi a swipe. He drew a spider. An oval, eight legs radiating from it like sunbeams, and a smile on its face.

"I drew you a 'pider, Mom. I hope it makes you happy."

Oh Vinny, if you only knew. That spider probably saved me.

Now on to Nina, or as she was known in her infant years, Nina Sirena. She could grab your attention and drive babysitters to insanity. She was an independent gal from the start. When she was about the same age as Vinny was when he drew the sweet spider, I was trying to tell her to do something one day. I don't remember what it was. Anyway, she looked at me thoughtfully and said, "It's not MINE purpose. It's YOURS purpose!"


I did not expect that to kick in until the teenage years. And now that she is a teenager, well almost, it is kind of a relief that she got that out of her system early. We are pretty good at talking things out and negotiating.

And as for Joe, well, I have a photo of him, an analog, physical copy that I need to scan one of these days. In it, he is about two years old (why are all these stories seeming to converge on the Terrible Twos?), and he has a very thoughtful look on his face. His finger is crooked at the corner of his mouth, adding to the drama. "What shall I do next?" I wish I had it scanned now, so you could see the mischief on his face. It was about this same time in his life that he left a DeWalt lamp on the bed, face down turned on, and nearly burned the cabin down. The wool blanket saved us.

Three reminders, that, while I was going through times in my life that I thought were pretty tough, three reminders of what I was living for, and what kept me going.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

I'm still here...

Yes, I am still here in the blogging world, still trying to figure out the intricacies of blogging photos on the iPad. I've been meaning to post more often, tell about my birding trip to Sax Zim Bog with Lynne, my reunion with high school friends I hadn't seen in years. Et cetera. But what matters most to me, this morning, is that I am alive and well. And I am reminded that I am not invincible. Last night, when I was driving to the activity bus stop a mile and a half from home to pick up Nina and her friend, I skidded straight through a "T" intersection and ended up well beyond the ditch. I'm fine, the car took some serious hits from tree stumps and saplings and is not drivable. It all happened so fast, I am at a loss to explain what went wrong, why such an ordinary drive I make all the time ended up that way. I was a half mile away from home, approaching the intersection which is the north end of my road. I stepped on the brakes as usual, and...nothing happened. I kept going. There was fresh snow on the road, but nothing I'm not used to. I think my brakes failed. The whole thing was kind of a blur, but I don't remember hearing the anti lock brakes grind, I don't remember feeling any slowing down when I stepped on the brakes. I know I didn't accidentally hit the accelerator because I was pressing down hard and the engine didn't rev. Whatever it was, and I'm willing to admit I probably was not concentrating as much as I should have, but STILL...anyway, I'm pretty lucky to be alive and unhurt, except maybe for my ego. I am humbled and reminded that anything can happen, anytime, and life can change in an instant. I'm still here, and I am grateful.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Testing BlogPress

I got a nifty Apple wireless keyboard for my iPad yesterday. It is so small it could fit into a backpack, and the keys have just the right amount of action so it feels good typing. The iPad screen is okay for typing for a short time, but I want to be able to use the iPad for writing longer things. Like blog posts.

The problem with that is, apparently Blogger, WordPress, and other platforms have not kept up with the rapidly evolving world of apps. I can do limited writing and editing on the standard Web interface on Safari, but it does not want to add photos or hyperlinks. Blogger has an app for iPad, but again the functionality is very limited. So this morning I spent the $2.99 and downloaded BlogPress (thank goodness apps are cheap). It has tools to insert HTML so you don't have to write your own, and there is a tool to upload photos that are stored on the iPad. Apparently if I want to add a photo from Picasa I have to copy the location and insert the proper HTML. The downside is, there is no WYSIWYG interface, no previews. And when I went back and tried to complete a draft of a post I am working on, for some reason I could not start typing.

My prediction is that by the end of 2012 someone will have come up with an app that solves these issues. After all, if we can put a man on the moon...

Now for a test photo:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, January 02, 2012

A Monday holiday

I am sitting here in my rocking chair by the wood stove with a cat in my lap, another one on my shoulders. The third cat tried to get on my lap, but since Frisky takes up most of my lap space that was not possible.

I like it when holidays fall on Sundays, because that means I get the following Monday off work. Whatever observance of the holiday is behind me, and I get a "bonus" day to relax and regroup before getting back into the normal routine.

A week ago I spent my Monday holiday doing what has become a tradition for me: the Pine County Christmas Bird Count. It was the warmest count day ever, with temperatures in the 40's, and with the lack of snow it felt more like late October than the day after Christmas. There were also strong winds, which made birding more challenging. Nonetheless, my group came up with 24 species, including a rare treat for this area: a golden eagle! Bald eagles are fairly common around here, even throughout the winter now, but I had never positively identified a golden eagle in this area. Even the expert birders I was with had to consult their field guides, and they ended up having a lengthy discussion about what features distinguished it from a dark morph rough legged hawk. In the end the wind helped them make the distinction. Since a golden eagle is considerably heavier than a rough legged hawk, its flight is less buoyant. A rough legged hawk would have hovered more and soared more lightly in the wind. It was a good learning experience for me: good birders never assume anything and consider all the details.

This Monday holiday will be a bit more home-based. I will finish cutting up the turkey we had last night, maybe making a soup from the leftovers. Maybe I will finally make the time to play music, like I keep telling myself I will. At least I've already blogged, which is more than I can say for most days last year!