Monday, April 25, 2011

Signs of Spring

Last summer and fall, we saw a lot of solar-powered porcupines laying in fuel for the long winter. They do this by soaking up the sun, usually along roadways. It's a very exposed position, but they compensate for this by playing dead, a technique they learned from an enterprising oppossum. There's not enough solar production in the winter for them to be out, so today was the first time I saw one this season! Truly an awe-inspiring sight.

(The back of the porcupine is where the most exposed quills are. This porky's back was nearly bare, so I have a feeling that whatever car hit it was all the worse for the experience.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Important Life Skills for the Fledgling Male

Yesterday, Laura and I went to Minot to visit Caleb. It was the only vacation day of Easter break for her, which she didn't really want to spend in the car driving 5 hours, but toughsies for her! Tiggy also went, after an afternoon and evening the day before of helping me, giving me foot rubs, singing to me, and proclaiming her great affection for me. I began to suspect that her sentiments weren't completely heart-felt or genuine and that she was just trying to convince me to take her.

The only reason her little scheme worked was because I wanted to get some nice pictures of the family. We hadn't had any of all of us together since last June when Laura graduated from 8th grade. It was about time, but who would take the pictures? I'm very picky about my photos and make my unfortunate volunteer photographers suffer through lots of do-overs. I couldn't exactly do that to an obliging stranger, so Tiggy got her wish.

Sadly, it was a rainy day by the time we got there. No pictures outside, which meant that the light was going to be a little scarce and the camera would have to do a longer exposure, making the picture more susceptible to blurring. I managed to hold the camera still enough in my pictures, but the only ones Tiggy got in focus of the whole group were ones with someone's eyes shut, or my mouth open giving instructions. Grrrrrrrr. Still, they turned out OK, and I was glad to get nice pictures of the family, at least all of the family that's still here.

After we took the pictures, we left for an afternoon on the town. We cruised the main drag in Minot for a few minutes, looking for any fun looking shops, especially thrift stores. We found one, but--horror of horrors--it was closed for Good Friday. Our day was saved from complete defeat when we spotted a Goodwill down the road and it was open.

So as a special treat for Caleb on his visit day, he got to haul my new chair ($2.99 because of stains, but easy to reupholster!) up and down the aisles while I pulled clothes off the rack to try on, then he got to carry the clothes I ended up keeping. Since it was a visit, he was on his best behavior and had to act like he actually liked it. It was an excellent opportunity for him to practice for married life. I'm sure he will thank me properly later!

One nice thing about living out in the middle of nowhere is that people get so many of their clothes by mail order. That improved variety trickles down to the thrift stores and you can get much fancier stuff there than you'd be able to pick up back where we lived in California. (Love the thrift store in Jackson, but everyone there shopped at Walmart and everyone had the same clothes to donate)The girls and I each got a really cute dress, plus I got a whole bunch of tank tops to wear under all my shirts that are too low-cut. (It seems like that is the only kind of shirt they make these days!) Caleb didn't get anything because he already has more clothes than he knows what to do with. Of course, so does Laura, but not in the Sabbath dress category.

After that, we took the obligatory trip to Taco Bell, which was so short-staffed they had the door locked and everyone had to go through the drive-through. A small price to pay for such a delectable culinary treat! Next was a quick trip to the grocery store and gas station, then back to Caleb's school. We dropped him off and headed into the setting sun for the long, interminable, unending, monotonous, lengthy trip back home. All in all, it was a very nice day. I just really, REALLY think that Montana/North Dakota is a wide-open market for teleportation.

This picture was taken by my very own sister WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE as I tried to keep my dress from flying to my waist....again.

But it's kind of cute.

But don't tell her I said it...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Big Bird's Tragic End

It's not like I wasn't warned; I was told this was going to happen. I saw the evidence with my own eyes that it had happened in the past, but a girl can still hope that after a winter of heavier-than-usual snow, under my house would not fill with water. Or at least if I avoided looking at what lay beneath, what I didn't see couldn't exist. So much for that.

Yesterday I went to open up the house to take a look at the sewer line. I'd been under a couple of weeks ago, and besides a little muddy patch right at the door, everything was fine. Since then I hadn't been over to that side of the house, so when I got to the access ditch and saw it full of water, I held a faint hope that the water was just there in the entry. I grabbed a bucket and started to bail. After 4 bucketfuls of water failed to change the depth in the ditch at all, I began to suspect it might be a little dampish under my house.

Just a tad.

Now that Mom and Dad have running water in their house, the sump pump they used in their spare well has been languishing with nothing to do. How convenient that I could provide an opportunity for it to work once again. One emergency trip into Westby later, Laura and I were ready to hook it up.

We'd had the doorway full of insulation because it doesn't have a proper cover right now. In case you were wondering, insulation doesn't do well when it gets wet. It floats gently on the surface of the water right up until you start to take it out and the water is no longer supporting the insulation's weight. Then it's very heavy and looks like the body of a certain well-known and beloved giant feathered TV personality. Kind of gruesome, really.

The sump pump that I am borrowing from my wonderful and understanding father is a completely submersible model, so all I had to do was hang it from a clamp from the floor joists and hook up the extension cords. The only problem was I couldn't get anywhere near the joists because the water was too deep. I laid a couple of 2x4's across the opening and balanced my torso on them while I wriggled and twisted to fasten the clamp, oh, it must be a good 3 inches inside the door. Next spring I am so setting this up ahead of time!

Now the pump is out there busily working away, but I have a feeling it will take it just a little to get the water level down. I suppose I can keep my spirits up by pretending I live in Venice. I always wanted to go to Europe and think of the money I'm saving!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Ghost of Summer Past



"It is I, the Ghost of Summer Past."

So begins one of Charles Dickin's lesser known works, "A Summer Carol."

Last January, while still in California, we celebrated John's birthday with a day visiting various nature spots that have been special to us as a family through the years. One of them is a little spot by Sutter's Creek where we like to play in the water. It was a beautiful day, and while the kids didn't swim, they were perfectly comfortable splashing around and getting wet.

That was January. It is now April.

It is high time for spring weather to get here, and if the weather is staying stubbornly cold, that is no reason to let it dictate my actions! If I want it to be spring, I must BE the spring. Lead by example. Boldly pioneer. And that is how I came to be the Ghost of Summer Past.

Really, people, I was white before I came to North Dakota. The first time in a swim suit after a winter of living indoors, locked away from sun and warmth, is not a pretty thing. I looked like a beluga whale. An albino beluga whale. But what else would I wear to go swimming in?

Laura had made a solemn covenant with me. "We both have to go all the way under." That lasted right up until we were out by the "pool." Suddenly, even though she claimed to be perfectly warm, she decided to only go up to her knees. Chicken. We paused for a moment to do some sunbathing, ("Laura! Hurry up and take the picture. The snow is melting and soaking through!")then it was time for a refreshing dip.

Laura was all set up to take my picture because I did not anticipate staying in the water for a lengthy modeling session. I walked in, posed for a 'before' shot....

Like a beluga whale breaching, I dove into the water. Then tragedy struck. I emerged to hear Laura say, "I pushed the wrong button, Mom. I'm sorry."

Sorry. SORRY!? I'm the one that's SORRY!

I warmed up a moment or two with the blanket, then went back for round two. I was feeling very refreshed by then, because painful as it was, a cold bath followed by warm sun is very good for you. Not good enough to do twice and like it, but good for you. This time I played it safe and had her video it so she was bound to get some of the action. It sounds like she squeals when I go under, but that is actually me screaming underwater.

All in all, an educational experience. I came away very enriched with some useful lessons. #1: April is definitely too early for swimming, no matter how nice everything looks. #2: Mind over matter can only take you so far. #3: I am glad I was not on the Titanic when it went down in icy, arctic waters. #4 A little tanning before any public swimming outings would be a good thing. #5: Nothing like snow melt to bring a little color to the complexion. Red.

Chocolate Chip Cookies---Blech!

I don't see why, when it's my very own blog, that I get so much editorial advice, but I suppose that is the price of authoring great literary works. I, flawlessly aware of what makes a good quality reading experience, would not have subjected you to these pictures, but my mom insisted. Demanded, even. I knew you would not be interested.

I needed to make 10 dozen chocolate chip cookies on Monday. Take my advice. Don't try it. Just don't. At first you're happily munching away at the dough, rhapsodizing on how wonderfully you make cookies, but by the end you never want to meet another cookie in your life. Or at least until the next day. I didn't want to get any of my hair in the dough, so I tied it back with what was handy, in this case a dish towel.

There's nothing wrong with that. Nothing. But for some reason, my mom felt driven to take some pictures of me and tell me that they'd better show up on my blog. The very idea of telling me what is print-worthy! However, after the photos of my mom skiing were somehow leaked to the press (I suspect Wikileaks myself), I felt I shouldn't make too big of an issue of the matter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring's First Rainbow

This is a land that can't make up its mind on anything except being unpredictable. We had snow one day and the next we had thunderstorms. That was the first rainstorm we've had this spring during the right time of the day to make a rainbow. It's not the most impressive rainbow ever, but after a winter of ice crystals, it's still pretty exciting to have water refracting light again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Bike Ride of "Spring" (Loosely Speaking)

Yesterday there was finally enough road dry to make it worth the time of hauling the bikes out from Westby. They were still in storage since I somehow didn't find it worth my time to drag bicycles out during the 4 month snow storm we just had. While we were in there we picked up Tiggy and her bike since she is SO whiny if she doesn't get to visit every few days.

It was getting on towards sundown by the time we started out and the weather, which had been a balmy 50+ degrees the day before, was considerably cooler and windier. It still held enough of the promise of spring for me to wear the first shows-some-leg trousers of the season, a pair of capri sweats I got for gardening. And two sweatshirts because I'm not crazy.

The girls dragged behind and didn't see when I took a side jaunt onto a field road. They passed by, singing at the top of their lungs, and never heard me call them. And call them. I finally gave up and went back to the house, got the van, and found them headed into Westby because, "we thought you must have ridden your bike that direction." Are you kidding? I was tired before I left the driveway! They couldn't figure out how I got behind them without them seeing me.

Finley had a wonderful time. He had all his favorite activities---running along while I ride my bike, swimming, chasing birds, getting dirty---combined into one event of supreme euphoria. He was somewhat frousled by the time we went home. He thinks nothing of galloping across floating snow and plunging into the waters beneath; it's all part of the fun for him. He was so full of burrs he looked like he had his ears up in curlers. Someone's sleeping on the couch if he does that too many more times!

For anyone who wonders what anyone could possibly see in such desolate, empty country, here is a photographic sampling of a prairie bike ride during thaw.

And the Waters Keep Rising

Spring in this area of the country seldom inspires poetic works, but does often inspire creative and colorful use of the English language (or so I'm told). It is a season of earth tones---blues and shades of brown---and everywhere is mud, mud, mud. I happen to think it's very nice, but I am somewhat alone in that opinion.

Of course things eventually green up around here, sometime in mid-to-late May. "Spring", as it is commonly thought of in most of the country, in this area is simply a week they schedule in between the end of blizzard season and the beginning of tornado season. Until then spring remains somewhat of a mind-set and less of a reality, but it is still recognized by some of the same signs---wearing the first pair of shorts, seeing the first robin, finding the first blade of grass...seeing H20 that isn't frozen solid.

And that is one of the most ever-present signs in these parts. Of course it's no where near as bad as the parts of North Dakota to the east of us, but when a whole winter's worth of snow melts in a week or two, it makes a lot of water with not very many places to go. We've experienced that in our own small way as the snow surrounding the house has been melting. It's not coming close to the house at all, which is a blessing, but it has made getting to and from the car more of an adventure.

Things melt impressively fast, too, even though the temperatures hover not-very-far above freezing some of the time. There is hardly any snow left in the fields; only in the sheltered places, such as our little farmlet, are there any major deposits. Seemingly solid masses of snow will be small ponds the next time you look at them, but that is good news for all the intrepid waterfowl migrating north. They're happy the ponds have finally gotten big enough to stop freezing over each night. I always felt sorry for them, just standing around on the frozen surfaces every morning, waiting for the sun to melt the ice.

These pictures by our driveway were taken a day apart. I feel so special having my own private lake, or as they're known around here, "mosquito breeding facilities".

Friday, April 8, 2011

Graduation and the Ninja Porcupine

Another group of books that I grew up reading were all the stories by Jim Kjelgaard. They are mainly dog stories--Big Red is one of his books--dogs that are wise, cunning, and a part of nature. His dogs meet porcupines and suffer the inevitable results, but they NEVER go close to one again. This pleasant fictional kingdom did little to prepare me for the real world.

In the real world dogs are stupid. Very stupid.

"There is that slow moving earth pig again. THIS time I shall prevail!

Surely, THIS time!

The earth pig is slow. And stupid. There is no way I can't catch it if I try again.

OK, that didn't work for some reason. Maybe THIS time!"

Graduation party day, zero hour: I dashed out to the house to drop something off before I went in to my parents' house for my graduation party. (We waited for my dad to get back from California, so we were just having it) Anika had spent the afternoon outside since the weather was so mild and once she came inside I saw she had a few quills around her lips.

Oh, well, better than last time. She must be learning.

But she kept pawing at her mouth, so I grabbed her jaws (carefully!) for a closer look. I didn't see much, but enough to know that her latest strategy must have been to bite the porcupine, and now her tongue was poked full of quills. They were stabbing the top of her mouth when she moved or scratched frantically, and bloody saliva dripped from her jaws.

I grabbed Anika and headed into town while my mom called to find out about vet options. Turns out they weren't good. The local vet was busy and the Williston vet was after-hours and it would have cost $300-$500 to get her repaired. When I got there, my mom and I took a closer look so we could decide what to do.

The quills weren't as extensive as I'd first thought, but still a thoroughly daunting prospect. There was no way we'd be able to do it with out some kind of sedation for Anika. I facetiously asked if we had any ether, and my dad pointed out that a common household product contained it. It wasn't medical grade, so no guarantee it wouldn't kill her, but unable to afford such a vet bill, I gave the go-ahead.

What followed was probably the most horrible thing I've ever had to do. My mom was so impressed I wasn't squeamish about the blood, but the quill removal part didn't bother me at all. The awful part was holding Anika down, forcing her to breathe in the ether while she fought us. Not knowing if the cure would kill her and that if she died she'd die scared and wondering why her people were doing this to her. THAT was hard.

As soon as her struggles quieted enough for me to work, I got busy with the needle-nosed pliers. Every so often we'd have to reapply the cloth and dull her down again, but we kept at it. At one point I pulled a quill out that had pierced a blood vessel and Anika's mouth filled with blood and she started drowning in it. I didn't even notice, but my mom and dad did and turned her so it would drain out. My hands were both covered in blood by this point, but no time to bother with it. The sooner the quills were out, the sooner Anika could get some untainted oxygen.

Finally I pulled the last quill I could see. It's entirely possible she has some that went in so deep they couldn't be seen, since she spent hours pawing at her mouth before I got home and found her, but nothing I can do about that except keep checking. Two of the quills I pulled had gone all the way through her lips and I pulled them out the other side.

The quill total for this encounter was 14, so one more than the other 2 times. By the time I've given Anika enough soft, easily chewed, tasty treats to assuage my conscience I will have been able to afford the vet bill! Finley is thinking seriously about finding his own porky to attack so he can regain his status as favorite dog and Anika is wondering why she didn't do this years ago.

The word on the street is that most dogs never learn about porcupines and the common technique is to call a hit on the innocent quilled rodent. Since another set of books I cut my teeth on were all of Sam Campbell's books on happy co-existence with nature friends (think "Inky, the porcupine pet, Salt and Pepper, the porcupine twin pets, etc."), I can't bring myself to wish this prickly wild creature harm. Can a porcupine round-up be far behind? Only time will tell.....

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Photo Fraud is Perpetrated

Maybe it is because I was the youngest child and received the gentle parenting a youngest deserves by birthright (my siblings might phrase it somewhat differently...spoiled rotten might be mentioned), but I usually get my own way. Of course I only want good and upright things, so those around me that do what I want will only be benefited by it!

Last week, I decided that what my mom needed to feel better from her illness was to get out of the house and see the kids frolic on the cemetery hill with their skis and snowboard. Of course, I had no intention of letting her back in the house without getting on them for a try.

After she'd watched the kids for a bit and was ready to go back in, I dashed down the slope with the pair of skis. My mom didn't have deep boots on, so she couldn't go very far off the path, but that was OK, because she couldn't do anything very exciting so far as slopes anyway. She walked about 8 feet up the gentle slope and I got her on the skis pointing back towards the road. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. She didn't move. I got my camera out to record the event and Devon had the brilliant idea of posing next to her to simulate actual movement. I think he did a fine job.

Then it was time for real forward momentum. The skis began to slide, and I think Mom made it, oh, 2 feet before she slid off and lost one of her skis. It was sheer poetry. I think we may have to wait until next winter for the snowboarding (baby steps, baby steps), but I'm sure when it happens that it will be just as magnificent as her skiing.

Planting Summer

I was an enthusiastic, if not technically perfect, gardener in California. When my house was built, years before I was around, they hauled in lot of dirt for some important construction reason. The happy result for me was I had better soil than all my neighbors and a very verdant garden. Oh, yeah, those were the days.

I grew my own seedlings every year. In late February or early March I would haul out all my salvaged seed trays, place them all over my cement slab like a giant puzzle, and plant way more than I needed. After a few years, I started selling the extra seedlings at a little stand at the end of my driveway. It was a nice racket.

The last two summers I have been without a garden of any substantial size. Summer before last, it didn't work out to put in a garden because of personal reasons, and last summer I was drifting around from pillar to post and had nowhere to plant one. So I have a serious head of gardening steam built up here, people. But now I have to face the challenge of re-learning all the experiential knowledge I've picked up through the years, on soil of unknown qualities.

The previous owners of my parents' house were great gardeners and left 3 bags of seed trays hanging from the rafters of their basement. Needless to say, those three bags are now at my house as I try to catch up with my perfidious sister who planted her seeds a whole week before I got mine in!

Still way, WAY too cold for seedlings outside, besides that at the moment we are having another blizzard and they would get blown into Montana. So my little babies are set up on a couple of folding tables in front of my living room window. They are only a day old and not very impressive to look at yet, but I am confident they will soon burst forth with little green sentinels of spring. At least they better, or I'm going to have to sneak over and pull up all Noni's while she's sleeping!