Saturday, January 31, 2009

January Thaw

It's been weeks since this thermometer has registered any temps above freezing, but here's what I saw this afternoon--OK, the sun is shining directly on it, but the actual air temperature was in the upper 30's. WOW! In Minnesota, this is sweatshirt weather! We're even planning to roll out the grill and cook some venison steaks outside for supper tonight.

It was so warm, the possum even woke up and came to dine underneath my bird feeders. I was happy to see its ears, toes, and tail were intact (not frozen off during this frigid winter). I thought the possum lived under my brush pile, but just a few minutes ago when I was downstairs doing some laundry, I saw this possum slowly walking towards the utility shed in my neighbor's backyard, so now I know for sure where this one is living.

Even Sophie and Penny enjoyed a little nap in the sunshine this afternoon.

The weather service is predicting another nice day tomorrow and then back into the deep freeze again for a few days. I was glad to hear tomorrow's going to be nice because we're going to search for a snowy owl that's been spotted in nearby Dodge County. That's going to be way more interesting than any old Super Bowl pre-game show (at least in my humble opinion!)

Gone to the Birds

For your viewing pleasure, please click on this link (then click on the title next to the little video camera icon) to see the local news story that Steph Anderson did last night about her birdwatching visit to my backyard.

Thanks Steph, you did a really swell job with this story!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thank You

Thank you, dear blogging friends for your kinds words, thoughts and prayers. It's humbling and heart-warming to know how much you care.

A week ago, I made an appointment that meant I would have to take today off from work. How fortuitous--I really didn't feel like going to work today anyway.

It's sunny, but cold this morning. My birdfeeders are filled and at 11:00, my friend Steph Anderson, our local weekend meteorologist and co-author at the KTTC weather blog is coming out to our house for a look at my birds and backyard habitat. I'm looking forward to her visit and hopefully will have her story and videos to share with all of you in a few days or so. There's nothing like birds and nature to take a person's mind off the unhappy current events (and maybe Steph's story will provide one of those "windows of opportunity" that opens to a new career!)

I've already applied for another job, and will also be looking at the opportunities being offered by the census bureau, and if I don't hear anything from them, there's always the unemployment option which will provide me loads of time to spend in the backyard this spring and summer for birding, gardening, and improving the backyard habitat.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Resource Action

Today I officially became a "statistic" -- part of the small, but rapidly increasing numbers of the unemployed!

You know it's never a good sign when you open your work e-mail and see a notice for a "mandatory" meeting first thing in the morning and the only other people attending the meeting are your supervisor and her supervisor.

After receiving the expected bad news, they were quick to point out that my termination has nothing whatsoever to do with my performance--the people I provided admin support for here all gave me glowing reviews. And the other thing they pointed out is that I'll still be a part of "the Manpower family." Oh yeah, that made me feel a whole lot better too.

My last day will be February 27th. I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet, we'll just wait and see what happens. What I do know is that the McDonald's out by my house is always looking for help and I think I'd look pretty hot in that red McDonald's polo shirt and a hairnet, don't you think??

I'm trying to see the humorous side of this because the alternative isn't even worth thinking about. But, I gotta tell you it really sucks when you get "let go" versus quitting on your own. I've quit a few jobs over my work lifetime and in most cases it was for something better. This Manpower job was the second lowest-paying job I ever had, but of all my jobs, it was the one I liked the best. The hours were perfect, I could ride with and eat lunch with Mr. Johnson every day, the work wasn't hard and I enjoyed it, and I made some REALLY GOOD FRIENDS here. That's what I'm really going to miss......and now I've gotta go because I'm starting to cry.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness

Remember last week when I told you I was sending that afghan to some folks whose house had burned down? Well, I got a thank you note from them already the other day, and here's what it said:

"Dear Ruth,
What a wonderful lady you must be to send a handmade afghan to people that you don't know. We love handmade things and will always cherish this afghan.
We send our love and blessings to you.
Bob & Alice Johnson"

Isn't that a nice note? I thought so too, but it made me think about a couple of different things. First of all, am I some kind of freak? Is it really odd that I would make something for someone I don't know? I'm not going to stop doing it, but maybe people just don't do this kind of thing anymore?

Getting a note like this makes me wish that everyone was just a little bit nicer to each other again. Remember back after the September 11th terrorist attacks how much nicer people were? While I certainly don't wish something like the terrorist attacks would happen again, I DO wish that people would start behaving like they did back then--being courteous, patient, and more appreciative of each other.

Here's another thing that happened this morning that I want to tell you about. We had to run into Rochester for a couple errands. We live along a busy 4-lane highway and there's sometimes quite a bit of traffic, sometimes people will pull over into the left lane and let us on, but this morning after we pulled onto the highway, I was watching in the rearview mirror as a car came speeding up behind us. He got closer and closer and I realized he was about to hit us, but just in the nick of time, the driver apparently realized how close he was and quickly jerked his car to the right shoulder to pass us. Holy crap! I was shaking when I realized how close we had come to getting rear-ended. That almost ruined my morning until we got to Wal-Mart and I saw a car drive into the parking lot that was covered with yellow smiley faces (inside and out). Her license plate was even SMILEE1. She came into the store right after us and I stopped her to tell her I loved her car. You should have seen the smile on her face--she's spreading the "smiley joy" wherever she goes and even stuck a smiley sticker on my coat. A simple act of kindness, but it changed my entire outlook on the day.

So, dear blogging friends, I challenge you to perform random acts of kindness--one a month, once a week, or whenever the opportunity presents itself. I think we all have the power to make a positive difference, no matter how small, every day of our lives. As citizens of the United States of America, I think (hope) we're all looking to the administration of President Obama as a new and positive step forward in the path America is embarking on. But President Obama isn't going to be able to do it all by himself, so let's use these words from his inaugural address as a guide (or challenge) to help make our country strong and caring again--one random act of kindness at a time!

"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny."

President Barack H. Obama
January 20, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tracks in the snow

Mr. Johnson found these cool tracks in the backyard the other day. I'm not sure what bird might have left these, but I can tell for sure that it was a large bird to have sunk down that far in the snow. I think a crow is probably the most likely suspect--especially since it seems to have walked a bit and the crows in my yard do that.
I know there's a Cooper's Hawk who frequents the backyard and I also saw a Red-Tailed Hawk land on a utility pole at the edge of the yard last Saturday. I think both birds would be big enough to leave tracks like this too, but I didn't see any evidence of a deeper spot where a raptor would have plunged in for capturing prey.
I guess I'll never know for sure, but the tracks are still neat and give me another reason to be thankful for snow! (hey, I'm trying to be optimistic here.....)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

37 Random Things

OK Lynne, I accept your invitation and here's my version of ---

37 Random Things About Me

1. Do you like blue cheese? Only in salad dressing (preferably French)
2. Have you ever smoked? Nope
3. Do you own a gun? 1 gun and 1 compound bow (I won't tell you how many guns are owned by Mr. Johnson though)
4. What flavor Kool Aid is your favorite? Cherry
5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? No (dentist-yes!)
6. What do you think of hot dogs? I like them best as a corn dog
7. Favorite Christmas movie? The Nativity Story
8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Coffee
9. Can you do push-ups? Not with these boobs!
10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? I have LOTS of jewelry--too hard to pick just one fave.
11. Favorite hobby? Duh! Knitting!
12. Do you have A.D.D? Yes, probably a mild form
13. Do you wear glasses/contacts? Glasses with bifocals (no-line)
14. Middle name? Elizabeth
15. Name thoughts at this moment? My hands and feet are freezing, it's time to go to bed!
16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink? Coffee, herb tea, crystal light drink mix (from those little packets you add to a bottle of water)
17. Current worry? Lay-offs.
18. Current hate right now? Not having enough time to do everything I want to after work.
19. Favorite place to be? in the woods (preferably when it's about 50 degrees warmer than today!)
20. How did you bring in the New Year? Early supper and then watched a movie--almost stayed awake till the 10:00 news!
21. Where would you like to go? Alaska
22. Name three people who will complete this? not sure--Mama Pea? Barefoot?
23. Do you own slippers? Do Crocs count too? then I have 6 pairs.
24 What color shirt are you wearing? It's cold in my house, so I'm wearing 4 shirts: white undershirt, olive green Life is Good long-sleeved t-shirt, grey sweatshirt, red fleece pullover
25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? Nope--too slippery and cold
26. Can you whistle? Not at all--my whistler became non-functional after jaw surgery 20+ years ago.
27. Favorite Color? Purple
28. What songs do you sing in the shower? none--I don't sing in the shower.
29. Would you be a pirate? No
30. Favorite Girl's Name? Sophie
31. Favorite boy's name? Charlie
32. What's in your pocket right now? no pockets but if I did have one, there would be a kleenex in there
33. Last thing that made you laugh? A funny email from one of my co-workers
34. What vehicle do you drive? Honda VTX 1300
35. Worst injury you've ever had? I cut my hand once with a kitchen knife trying to pry apart frozen hamburger patties--after the ER doctor cut off the chunk of fat I gouged out of my palm, it only took 3 stitches to fix me back up.
36. Do you love where you live? Yes
37. How many TVs do you have in your house? Three (none if it was only me living here)

OK, blog readers, here's an easy and fun way to share information that we probably don't usually reveal, so feel free to copy these 37 random facts into your next blog post and share your answers with the rest of us. (it was fun--really!)

Monday, January 19, 2009


Do you recognize this birdie??

After weeks of seeing pictures of Common Redpolls at the birdfeeders of my Minnesota blogging friends, I finally saw one at my nyjer feeder this afternoon!

This is a female (no pink wash on the chest). What a cutie! This sighting made my day!

We had snow flurries for most of the weekend, so there was all kinds of bird activity at the backyard feeders. Here's a partially leucistic male House Finch I've been seeing around my feeders for most of the winter. I don't see him too frequently, but I managed to get this one photo of him yesterday afternoon while he was visiting one of the birdfeeders on my deck.

Check out this all-bird action at my dining room window feeder! I have a hull-less blend in there and once the bluejays have eaten all the peanuts, the little birdies flock in to eat the seeds in the tray. There are 3 goldfinches, 3 house finches and I'm always surprised when the juncos show up for seeds this close to the house.

I still have a pretty good sized flock of mourning doves every day at the feeders. Yesterday afternoon, I spotted 7 of them perched in the oak tree in the backyard. They sat there like this for a long time.

Here's a close-up look at the dove snoozing on the lowest branch. Apparently they must have a lot of faith in the bluejays who provide early warning shrieks when the hawk flies into the yard.

A little farther from my backyard comes the exciting news that the Operation Migration team was successful in finally leading the first 7 whooping crane chicks to St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. After departing Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on October 17, the OM team landed their ultralight aircraft and 7 whooper chicks at the refuge on January 17--exactly 3 months since leaving Wisconsin! What an incredible journey. If you're interested in learning more, click on this link to read the field journal reports and see photos from the migration. You can also subscribe to the "Whooper Happenings" podcasts through the iTunes store.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

This and That

A good year for cardinals at my backyard birdfeeders! I have seen at least 6 pairs recently.

Well, we survived the coldest week this area's seen since the last century (1996 to be exact). On our way to work yesterday morning, the truck thermometer registered -30 degrees! But yesterday's "official" low was -26. This morning when we left the house to do our weekly grocery shopping and errands, the temperature was almost 20 degrees (above zero!) -- it's amazing what a difference 50 degrees makes!

We're all surviving the Manpower "work reduction" at work with everyone pitching in all over the place. Mr. Johnson's "official" request to use me as additional help in his extremely short-handed work area was denied--the PO that pays me is not the same PO that pays his Manpower employees. Well, I'm sorry, but that's a load of BS as far as I'm concerned.....and I'm not going to stand my and watch my husband stress out when I can do something about it! So my solution has been to get as much work done in my area in the mornings and then I go down and help him out for a couple of hours after lunch. The job was fairly quick and easy to learn ("so easy a monkey could do it" according to the always complimentary Mr. Johnson!). I'm happy that I'm able to help out and he's relieved that they're keeping up with the workload pretty well. (His manager showed up unexpectedly the other day while I was down there working, but when Mr. Johnson called to admit what was going on, the manager's response was "I don't know what you're talking about, because I didn't see a thing." Whew, what a relief!)

The biggest problem with this whole process is that we're going in to work later and therefore getting home almost an hour later than what I'm used to, so I'm having a really hard time getting stuff done anymore. It seems like I've barely gotten home and it's 5:00 and time to start supper. And because I'm really not used to working quite so hard, I'm generally asleep on the couch by 8:30 (or maybe I can blame it on the cold weather?) Anyway, my blogging activities have suffered, so this is going to be an extra long post, just in case I don't have a chance to get another one ready in the next week.

Does anybody out there have some good pellet ID skillz? I found these two in one of my ground feeder trays this afternoon. The biggest one is about as big around as my index finger and they appear to be made up of mainly seeds and seed shells. I'm pretty sure the possums are not responsible for these because it's been too cold lately for them to venture out. I sometimes see the crows sitting and picking seeds from this tray. Does anyone know whether crows will cough up a pellet?
Here's a look at the bigger pellet broken in half. There's a whole sunflower heart in there along with all the other partial stuff. I always associate pellets with owls, but owls don't eat seeds, do they? Another backyard mystery......
Here's a fun picture. I bought this big mineral block for the deer that visit my backyard. Of course, the deer have shown no interest in it whatsoever, but the birds really seem to like it. It's not unusual to see sparrows and juncos perched on top picking at it, but I was surpised to see this Red-Bellied Woodpecker clinging to the side and pecking at it also. (See all those sticks in the background? I started trimming my apple trees a couple weeks ago and just threw the trimmings on the ground until the snow melts. The bunnies are really enjoying chewing on these as you can see from the lighter colored portions where they've nibbled all the bark off.)
I got a nice e-mail from Julie (October Eves blog) yesterday wondering if I had any good book recommendations and here are a couple I've enjoyed lately. If you're interested in reading another good book about life in Alaska, check out Heather Lende's "If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name," about daily life and residents in Haines, Alaska. If you were a fan of the "Northern Exposure" TV series a few years back, then you will definitely enjoy this book.
I'm currently reading "In Beauty May She Walk" by Leslie Mass. This is Leslie's story about hiking the Appalachian Trail at age 60. I'm really enjoying this book. Hiking the entire AT is not for sissies or slackers and it's interesting to read about her experiences during this hike. I'm not sure I could do it--her descriptions of the trail sound very similar to some of the trails I hike getting to my deer hunting stands and imagining myself hiking those trails with a 45-pound backpack all day long seems pretty overwhelming. But I truly admire the fact that she's an older woman and taking on the physical and mental challenge of this hike and sharing it with the rest of us.
As soon as I'm finished with "In Beauty May She Walk," the story of "Dewey, The Small-Town Library Cat" is waiting for me. This was another recommendation from Amazon and I can't wait to start it! (Cute cover, don't you think?)
My birdJam software was delivered a couple weeks ago. I also ordered a little external speaker with a rechargable battery that I can just plug my iPod into if I want to play the birdsongs for someone else or to try attracting birds in the field. Unfortunately, everything's still sitting in the box on my desk until I find some time to sit down and read the instructions for loading everything onto my iPod.
Here's a fun picture of Sophie enjoying some afternoon sun on the couch. I think she was half asleep and didn't even realize I was taking a picture of her.
I'm about half done knitting Sophie's sweater -- I got some dirty looks this past week when it was so cold and she was wishing she could wear it! I'm not going to have enough yarn to finish it, so I'll have to check sometime this week and see if I can buy another skein that's close to matching this dye lot.
I've finished a couple of other projects in the last couple weeks also (one of my New Year's resolutions was to finish at least 2 "old" projects every month). Here's that stupid scarf I've been working on for 4 years! I do not like this scarf and forced myself to finally finish it. I hope the person I was knitting it for still wants it! After I got it washed and hung up to dry, I noticed an "irregularity" in the pattern that made me dislike this scarf even more. (If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you may be able to notice the irregularity also, but if you don't, then that makes me feel better!)
I finished this afghan too. It's huge and very warm and I hope to donate it to an elderly couple in Rochester whose home burned to the ground last Thursday.

I also want to send special congratulations along to two of my blogging friends: Troutbirder and Richard (At the Water). In the January/February issue of Minnesota Birding that just arrived in my mailbox today, I was pleasantly surprised to see that both of them had bird photos published. Way to go, guys!

Well, that's pretty much all that's been going on in my life for the last week. I hope you're all staying warm and for all you folks in the eastern U.S. who are still shivering, I want to assure you that warmer weather IS on the way!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Come to the woods with me!

Today wasn't quite as nice as yesterday, but it was still pretty decent compared to what's predicted, so after we got out chores done at home this morning, Mr. Johnson wanted to head out to the woods and get some of our deer stands taken down. We left around noon and only got a couple miles down the road when we saw this -- holy moley, look at all those turkeys! This was worth stopping the car for. I didn't use the wide angle shot, but there were even more turkeys to the right of this shot! We guessed probably close to 75 total and a bunch of them were big ol' longbeards. Now that deer hunting is over, Mr. Johnson is really looking forward to turkey season again this year. Poor guy, he'll have to wait at least 3 more months :-(

When we got to the deer hunting woods, we split up. My job was to take down the little seats from our permanent stands and loosen up the bindings holding the ladder stand to the tree (to avoid damaging the tree when it grows more in the spring). I wanted to be home by 3 PM, but of course, I'm always the one who gets sidetracked and today was no exception. I headed towards the first stand through deer's known bedding area. I saw lots of tracks and finally spotted this area on a south-facing slope under a big cedar tree where some deer had laid down.

I crawled under the tree for a closer look and found this huge, fresh pawprint. Another "holy moley moment!" Since I didn't have a tape measure in my pocket, my glove has to do as an indicator of the size of this print. I measured the glove when I got home and it's about 5 inches across at the widest point. Naturally my first thought was this was too huge to be a dog print, but there aren't any wolves in Southeastern Minnesota, are there??

OK, well, I'd better get going on what I'm supposed to be doing. Looking down the hill towards my stand, I was amazed at all the tracks in the woods.

I was so absorbed in looking at tracks that I almost walked past the deer stand and had to backtrack a little bit to find it. There it is! (good thing that pink arrow was there!) I was happy to see that the deer trails still go up and down the hill right next to this tree. Next year, I will definitely get a deer from this stand!

I got the little seat down and started hiking up the hill to the cornfield. Easier said than done for this out-of-shape, middle-aged biker woman! The snow was sofa king deep! How do the deer walk in this stuff and where are my feet?

I finally made it to the corn field where the snow was not quite so deep and found more tracks! If you read my post from yesterday, who do you think made these tracks? If you said "fox" that's exactly what I thought. I know there are foxes in these woods because Mr. Johnson and I both saw them while we were deer hunting here last fall.

Here are some more fun tracks--a mouse! And see its little hole next to the corn stalk? How do they dig through all this snow? It's probably at least 8 inches deep here.

I saw some 'almost fresh' turkey tracks in these woods too. Mr. Johnson was happy to see these and plans to place a blind in this vicinity for our turkey season in the spring.

Here's another big pawprint again--on another game trail in this woods. Same animal? I never did see find any hair, poop, or other clues, so I'll probably never know who made these tracks.

Who says squirrels don't remember where they bury their nuts? Looks like he found one here or was at least attempting to.

Oh gosh, I'd better get going, I still have to climb another tree and pull the seat down.

Thanks for coming along with me to the woods. Wasn't that fun? And you didn't even have to put on your coat or boots!

Have a great week everyone and stay warm!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Perfect Winter Day

Anybody reading this in the south or on the west coast is going to think I'm insane, but it's a perfectly gorgeous winter day here in Minnesota. OK, so our temps are only in the low teens, but the sun is shining brightly and there's very little wind, so we don't have a windchill to contend with. It's so nice I didn't even have to wear a hat or zip up my coat today! So nice that I was even able to hang laundry outside -- see the steam (it was 14 degrees when I hung these jeans on the line). The weather service is predicting a turn for the worse tomorrow and sub-zero temps next week, so that makes today really enjoyable.

We had a couple inches of light fluffy snow yesterday and no wind overnight to blow it around, so I was excited to see these tracks in the backyard this morning when I was filling the birdfeeders (on the weekend I don't have to get up early, so I can wait until it's light to fill my feeders--instead of the usual 4 AM!) Who do you think made these tracks?
Here's another clue--
I'm reasonably certain these tracks are from a Red Fox! Here's what I learned from Stan Tekiela's "Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide." The fox forepaw is 2" long, oval, with hind paw slightly smaller; and it makes a straight line of single tracks with the hind paw falling near or directly onto forepaw prints when walking. The stride when walking is 10-14 inches.

Here's one of Sophie's footprints for comparison.

And she sometimes drags her feet while she's walking

Because it was such a nice morning, I decided to follow these tracks and see where this fox was headed. It walked down the path between my wildflowers and dogwood shrubs. This area is heavily traveled by bunnies, so I'm sure it was quite interesting to the fox.

However, the fox continued further on in the yard--toward the sumac and some other larger evergreens.

The bunnies spend a lot of time under these large evergreens too--I've never trimmed the branches on the bottom, so it's a nice sheltered area for all kinds of critters. The fox tracks even crossed the bunnies in a few spots.

As I continued following, I noticed two sets of fox tracks crossing each other. Is this significant? Hmmmm.....

And then farther up the hill, I found this. I think I had TWO FOXES in my backyard last night!

I found two sets of tracks together--one set coming into the yard and another set going the other direction.

I continued following the tracks hoping to find some more significant evidence (like some fur or even better, poop!) but the only thing I was able to detect was a faint whiff of fox urine--a very distinct aroma that you don't forget once you've ever smelled it. I'll probably never get the chance to see these foxes because of their mainly nocturnal schedule, but I'm excited to know they were here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Another fun picture of an LOLDog from I Can Has Cheezburger. Don't know if this is photoshopped or not......I just thought it was pretty cute.