What We've Been Up To....

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Last Year in Pictures

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Usually updated monthly

Karen at Bruny Island, Tasmania

First Cardinal here

Recovering Grump

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13 December 2017
Finally getting some snow that is staying. Will be able to sled things out of the woods soon, maybe get some skiing/snow shoeing in. Some aerobic exercise moving snow for now. Finished splitting and stacking next years wood (year+old) to dry over the year. Have a couple piles of maple and birch to move out of the woods yet. Still enjoying the process; give it another ten years, I hope.

Yesterday was Gene's 70th birhday. Doesn't feel as old as I'd imagined it awhile ago. We went out to Scenic Cafe for lunch to celebrate.

Cloudy again, so not much happening in the greenhouse. Feeling cloudy, too, with the recent political shenanigans and unsure how we can regain control of our government and re-establish democracy. Looking for some sunshine. But we are still ripening tomatoes and have lots of produce stored; freezers are virtually full. We got our pork and lamb from the farmer, made sausage, and smoking bacon with our friend Susan Scherer tomorrow. Thankful for the abundance.

.......... Australia Trip Report is now posted.

21 November 2017
OK we've been back for some time now, but the trip report is still in process; come back soon.

University for Seniors is over and we need to do our own Tai Chi, but winter quarter will start after the holidays. Still find lots of reasons to go into town.

Karen's Report
We've been enjoying really good meals at home. The bakeoven in the masonry heater is going again, so that helps. Also lots of great birds: redpolls, red crossbills, a cardinal (a first this far north), grouse in the yard, and the usual suspects. Had a wonderful concert singing the Deutches Requiem with DSSOC. Now looking forward to more snow so we can sled in wood from the woods; maybe do some snow shoeing and skiiing.
Gene's Report

Lots of green and ripening tomatoes on the table. Finally got the greenhouse turned over to the winter regime of greens, raab, and garlic. Tomatoes were very late as we didn't have the warm nights this late-summer to ripen them. But the vines are compost now and the sun shines on the water bag that keeps the greenhouse warm at night. We had a good gardening year though: kabocha squash and cabbage beyond what we can use, great onions, leeks, zukes, brussel sprouts, and carrots. Cooking all this up is major fun!

Watch for that trip report coming out real soon.

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02 October 2017
Busy, busy doing things before freeze-up. We're off on a trip soon despite October being my favorite time here. Leaves are changing and some falling. Tourists are mostly gone and hunters not here yet besides neighbors with guns. Warblers and hummingbirds are gone and winter denizens (siskins, juncos,...) are starting to show up. Brought potted chard, fennel, celery and herbs into the greenhouse and harvesting the kabocha. We haven't had a frost yet, but it's soon. Brought firewood in but no fires yet; will be good to be using the bakeoven again. Sweeping the chimney each Fall is always interesting. Got my new chipper so beginning to take care of the dead balsam to reduce fire hazard.

Karen has started practice for DSSOC and choir again. We are both doing University for Seniors at UMD on Tuesdays (Tai Chi, Nordic history, and others); good time to use fast wifi, too. Always seems to be something drawing us away from this place that I love.

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26 September 2017
An odd year. Lots of percipitation and warm weather. Storms have mostly left us unscathed. The garden is lush and slugs plentiful. More cabbage than I can possibly use. But tomatoes were a month behind ripening; I'm told because of a lack of warm nights and indeed it has been a lovely summer for sleeping, maybe one or two days in the 90's.

But mushrooms are acting strange. A few morels and aspen oysters were good, but not much since then. No lobsters at all on my land. Leccinum or Suillus either. Some Russulas and Amanitas, but not a lot. Had a late flush of Armillaria/Honey mushrooms, but not much else besides waxy caps and Laccaria. The rain continues but we have no flooding on our land (hey, it could be a gravel pit).

Pleased that Karen was able to drive to the city for a concert and to see her sister, and even pick up our fall chickens from the farmer on the return trip; and then go to DSSOC practice tonight, too. We're talking iron maiden here. Me, I just cook, garden, and do trees now and then.

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11 September 2017
It's been anything but a quite month out in the woods. One car change, phone changes, computer died and replaced, Karen's health challenged (better), and existential angst to match. At least the garden is doing well although the tomatoes are just now ripening (a month late). Much more cabbage than we can use and giving it away. Good squash, beans, and greens. Mushrooms are being uncooperative despite all the rain.

Lots of rain. 2.75" one day, and lots more; dry this week. Had an error on the greenhouse watering timer and drained that cistern; mostly refilled. Lots of rain is good. I'm looking at thinning our balsam firs due to spruce bud worm damage and the fire hazard that presents.

Getting ready for Winter. Wood is mostly in the shed, and we have lots of nice dry wood. Still have some other tasks to do.

We've been able to get together with friends quite a bit. Hope to see you soon.

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10 August 2017
Raining again, and that's a good thing. Although it delays some of my projects, the garden outside has been the best in some years. Still picking bulb fennel (with potatoes and fish!) and romaine lettuce (Caesar salads!) and beets and radiccio (with bleu cheese and walnuts!) and courgettes, squash blossom soup, napa cabbage with noodles and orangea and shurimi for lunch! And the tomatoes are still green, although the cucumbers have slowed a bit. Sigh! We have beginning green beans on the trellis on the outside of the woodshed and will be able to eat them soon. The slugs have even been tolerable. A great year for gardening.

It's baby bird time. Fun to watch the newbie birds being introduced to the feeder: purple finches, white-throated sparrows, chipping sparrows, nuthatches and others. Too bad the hermit thrush are finished singing for the year. Other birds (uncouth blue jays) are molting and sorta odd looking. Hummingbirds still vie with each other and linger at the feeder when unbothered.

Mushrooms are slow right now. Some chanterelles and a lobster elsewhere, and one edulis-like Bolete on our land, but others are slow to appear this summer. Lots of rain though so.....

We're pretty much stay-at-home for August except Karen is going up to visit Susan on the Gunflint this weekend. Lots of neighbors dogs staying with us. Gene's project is a shelter for the CT out at the teahouse/bird observatory; that's coming along.

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29 July 2017
For those of you not yet subscribing to High Country News the last issue had a Black Mountain article abut ecocidal angst, takers and makers, featuring the poetry and environmental philosophy of Robinson Jeffers. Have not read much of his; plan to do more of that.

Many changed plans this month. July is my least favorite up here with the noise and bugs. When I can, I slip away as the garden needs less care than earlier or later and not much is happening mushroom wise. Planned to travel to SE Ohio for a foray there; but other clubs out that way are not doing much and it's a long way; another time. I did get a basket of chanterelles on a trip to the city but they are still not up here. Karen joined me for a foray in NE Wisconsin last weekend; good people, long walks.

Garden and greenhouse are producing: garlic harvested, more cucumbers and earlier, carrots in the greenhouse beds, and in the garden good romaine lettuce for a change, beets and radicchio for salads, napa cabbage, mizuna, and zuccini now full tilt. Cabbage plants are huge with all the rain (not as much as SE MN).

Karen is running to the cities several times for music, friends, and her sister. We seem to be putting on some miles and hopefully we make up for the carbon footprint partly; put in a lot of trees this spring and composting actually does a lot of carbon sequestration.

Mostly I like my morning routine. Put on the coffee while Karen walks the dog. Walk through the greenhouse to tend the tomatoes and cukes, water the plants outside that need it, walk through the garden to see what's happening and attend to things. A bit of beauty to bring up the day.

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15 June 2017
Walking in the woods has been the theme this week: monitoring a lovely property for Minnesota Land Trust and walking out in the woods looking for oyster mushrooms. Also walks out to the shelter cum tea house mentioned below and now well on the way. Nice to be doing a bit of construction again. It's moist. The garden loves it, the mosquitoes think it's lovely and so is our blood, and thunderstorm season is upon us.

Mushrooms are here for the picking again. Morel season would have been meager except for Anna Gerenday sharing a southern MN spot, but oysters are coming on strong which is a major dried mushroom source through the winter. A lot of get togethers planned with mushrooming groups this summer in Wisconsin and Ohio as well as locally.

Always something to do in the woods.

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25 May 2017
Pleasant sitting watching the warblers in our shelter cum bird observatory and tea house sipping our kombucha. Not quite civilized, but fun. Need I say this is what we retired here to do. With nearly a week left in May, we have a new record for most species of birds seen on our land in a month: 42! We have seen warblers at both the shelter pond and by our feeder, an oriole, and many sparrows who have stayed for a week or so as the weather has warmed. Hummingbirds are back. We saw the first female on Tuesday, May 22nd, after the males had been here nearly a week. We often have five or six male rose-breasted grosbeaks, plus a couple females, at the feeders and on the platform. They’ve learned to use the seed feeders even though they are ground feeders and have large beaks. Sparrows, another ground-feeding bird, are eating from the feeders as well, adaptive behavior. The evening grosbeaks just showed up again today after being away for about a week; often both species of grosbeak are on the platform together. They seem to get along. A person can spend hours sitting at our breakfast table watching the feeders, platform, and bird activity in the surrounding woods!

We are also enjoying looking for morels at our “secret spot” up the road, and wherever we think they might be hiding; we’ve only found a few so far this year. They are very good as risotto and with pasta and on a pizza….. when we find more Gene will think of other creative ways to use them, as he’s done with the black trumpet mushrooms from last fall, which are incredibly flavorful. It has rained a lot this month and has seemed colder than usual; April was warmer than usual and we thought we were done with fires in the masonry heater, but we had a couple in the last week after several cloudy days and temperatures overnight in the high 30’s. Now that Gene has laid another fire in the heater, we will probably not need to use it until fall. That worked last year!

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10 May 2017
Glad I've been planting trees to balance some of the carbon dioxide we've been pumping out from our trips. Gene met with the Wisconsin Myco people in the Kettle Moraine area (very nice) and running to the Cities for the mycoflora project meetings, while Karen has been meeting friends for music and more in the Cities on other days. Ships passing.... Actually transplanting trees; white pines seem to like our 'lawn' near the house to grow where we don't want them. So each spring the better ones get put out in the woods. Unfortunately there they need protection from the deer; we've invested what seems like a small fortune in cages and trying the cheaper plastic tubes.

Dunked the a-few-years-ago-innoculated birch logs and now getting great shiitakes. Not much fungal action besides molds outside: a false morel Gyromitra, some polypores. Found a pheasant back Polyporus squamosus on the WI foray; no headlines about the taste, but edible.

Got the first few things out in the garden now that there is no frost in the forecast. Soon need to get the greenhouse turned over to the summer regime: tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. The garlic is near ready but no scapes yet.

Maybe Spring has arrived?

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28 Apr 2017
We've probably prattled on to you about how we are converting the shelter we lived in while we built our house into a bird observatory and tea house. Today we used it for the first time this Spring although ther is still slush on the trail out there. Good thing. We added the Brown Creeper to this month's list bringing the month's total species to 38, a new high for a month. We also had a nice tea with a sample from the Snooty Fox tea store in Duluth; very nice. This could become a habit.

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26 Apr 2017
Yesterday morning we watched our resident Cooper's Hawk have breakfast near the bird feeder....well, it's breakfast had been at the feeder, anyway. Natural systems. The deer are moving around with the snow now gone and a bit of green coming up. Birding is an activity that makes it hard to get up from the breakfast table; usually 35 species in May, but April is approaching that this year. Sparrows coming through (Fox, White-throated, Tree, Chipping), the first warblers, and the Grosbeaks are back. Purple Finch, Pine Sisskins and Junkos are hanging around later than usual.

Spent several days recently innoculating logs with mushroom spawn; a long term investment, but usually a good one. Potting up sets for the garden and happy to have a neighbor offer some that failed this year for me. Nice that way. Still getting some greens from the greenhouse; ready to plant the summer tomatoes soon; cucumbers and peppers later. Chomping at the bit to get going in the garden, but--chill--it's still way to early here.

We enjoyed a dinner with our neighbors Scott & Chris at Clyde Iron, a converted foundary to restaurant and music establishment in Westside Duluth. Although we live so close, we have to make the effort to get together. And the hyper-energetic mandolin player was Karen's opthomologic surgeon (cataracts; much better, thank you)!

Also got the new double kayak repainted (much better) and waiting for some wax to look for water. As if. Freezing rain and snow today and later this week. But paddling soon. Just enjoying a weather induced inside day.

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17 Apr 2017
Karen was inspired by a trip up the North Shore (really the west shore as the Canadian would be the 'north' shore). So we went again last week, taking advantage of the proximity to meet Susan Scherer. A nice walk; Karen is doing well walking, but the ice was challenging. Nice lunch and talk, as always.

Gene is repairing the new double kayak; looks good so far. Also innoculated more logs with shiitake for later. One shiitake on a log in the greenhouse so far. Sets are growing for the garden and we are eating kale sprouts like crazy to keep up with them in the greenhouse. Garlic is looking good for May harvest. Feels good to be making the list of spring things and checking them off.

We had our annual training for Minnesota Land Trust monitoring and planned the first visit this month, which is earlier than usual. Will be bringing some white pine seedlings for Terrance Smith as our yard seems to be a nursery for volunteers just where we don't want them.

As I write, a few little flakes are falling....it's not done yet!

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29 Mar 2017
Down to crusty snowbanks in the morning separated by soft mud in the afternoon. Geese flying north and the purple finch and goldfinch are in bright breeding plumage; Evening Grosbeaks are back, too. Heading for the time of year that it's hard to get up from the breakfast table for watching the birds.

Time to start more garden sets. Cooked up our last kabocha squash from last year's garden yesterday; lots still in the freezer. The kale in the greenhouse is bolting and I struggle to keep up with trimming it; it eventually goes back to vegetative growth....my immortal kale. The tiny heads are a raab replacement as those sets failed last fall in the greenhouse; not as tasty, but good. With lamb sausage, potato/turnip mash, and a bottle of good pinot noir we celebrated Karen's clean scan.

Already planning trips for the summer.

Just a week back from NZ. Check out our trip report.

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11 Feb 2017
Feeling thankful. We have carrots into February, celery and chard in the greenhouse, lots of dried and frozen mushrooms, meat in the freezer, making bread every few nights in the bakeoven. Life is better when you have some soup.

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02 Feb 2017
Pine Grosbeaks, Siskins, and Redpolls at the feeder on a sunny day. Hung the laundry outside. Even thought the temps are well below zero during the night, with sun we have energy to do what we need to do. Karen continues to recover from her hip replacement and had eye surgery (planned) so isn't driving (chafing at the bit...). Gene has managed to get a few sleds of cut and split wood out of piles left in the woods this Fall. Bea has recovered from losing Star and leads the way out to the pile and back; still likes the neighbor dogs visits.

Attended and joined the Sustainable Farming group locally, although most are CSA or otherwise productive; we produce for ourselves, mostly. A few dedicated people, but hurting for membership. Hard to get the message across to peoples mainstream lives....too easy to pick it up at the convenience store. Corporate food vertical monopolies, Fox and Twitter are the opiates of our culture. I'm trying hard to keep my balance with the political changes. If they were not so serious, they would be laughable. More serious still is that a huge chunk of USA people are actually cheerleading the prejudice and posturing. A Sedition Act could be around the corner to control the press. But I'm close to whining and will cut it out. Actually completing many house construction tasks that have been on my list for a long time; done is a null concept. Just enjoying the birds right now. That's good.

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18 Jan 2017
It was a bright and warm day, in many ways. In a week we went from double digits below zero to above temps, and now above freezing. For us who depend on solar heat, the sunny days count largely. We are far enough into Winter to know we have enough firewood for this year, and building for next. Also cheerier today for Karen who is two weeks post hip replacement. We saw her ortho doctor today got the go-ahead to travel with sister Sue to Florida. She'll have a walker for awhile, but getting around is getting easier, doing her exercises and doing well. Even Bea is happier and being a single dog, although she is happy for visiting dogs; Hillary and Leroy have stopped in a couple of times, and the Frisby dogs have stayed with us. Not sure about a replacement dog yet.

Susan Scherer was down for our bacon smoking and sausage making session. Always good to see her. Hope to get up to Grand Marais to see her in February.

Time already to start the slow garden sets: leeks and soon onions. The greenhouse will soon have more sunlight to boost plants. We're through the darkest days. Started sleding wood cut this Fall out of the woods to continue drying in the yard; a ways to go yet. And finally getting to some finish woodworking on the house....done is a null concept. Lots of stored mushrooms, meat, veges and people in the house in the woods.

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17 Dec 2016
The below zero days and snow are upon us. My task list includes bringing in wood, cleaning the snow off greenhouse and solar collector, shoveling a bit, and plowing us out. Things that us older folks tend to avoid. I admit to embracing them to stoke my internal furnace. The warm pleasure of an evening fire and using the bakeoven provide some balance.

Just pulled the last tomatoes from the greenhouse; let them go way long. We have an abundance of cabbage, brussel sprouts, carrots, and kabocha squash staying cool in the greenhouse. The chard, celery, parsley, and herbs moved in pots clutter the space a bit. November-December is the challenge for the greenhouse as it can be cold but cloudy. A little sun warms it right up and heats the big bag of water that keeps it pretty well; a small electric heater on a thermostat keeps things from freezing on the really cold nights. I didn't get raab and arugula sets planted soon enough and they are struggling now (sigh); reseeded but it could be February before they have enough sun to get any size. We have the last few tomatoes and peppers ripening on the table. Still looking forward to sausage-making and bacon smoking; we got our pork for the year and getting lamb soon. Using up the last bits of last year's meat with 'creative' recipes. The first batch of sauerkraut has been ready for awhile. Way lots of veggies in the freezer and lots of dried and frozen mushrooms. Truly a season of abundance.

A few weeks ago we lost a very good friend. Our dog Star has been struggling with an adrenal tumor for almost a year, retaining some joy for her and us. Thankfully, no great pain for her, she stopped eating and drinking, wanted to lay out on her hill in the yard; very stoic and a model for how to die. That evening it was threatening cold drizzle, so I carried her in next to us as we ate dinner; at the end of the meal when was gone and we toasted her life with us. We fostered her from NSGPC when she was six months old, our first dog. After adopting her, she excelled in training and was always a great companion.

We recently returned from a trip to Santa Cruz, CA for a foray at a site we like; their rainy season; good programs. On the way, we visited our friends who run Milliaire Winery in Murphys and toured the Central Valley including a couple of wildlife refuges (what's left of what the whole valley once was). Met some good people. We had help from our neighbors, the Frisbys but the house took a long time to warm up on our return. Thankful we are willing to cope with some variation to make a life out here.

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