Sunday, June 30, 2013

Road Trip To Ely MN...First Ride In The Prius!

Everyone knows it's mandatory that the day after picking up a new car a road trip is the first order of business.

Keeping the tradition going is a responsibility we Minnesotan's take seriously.  Today's clear blue sky's, which by the way matched the color of the car perfectly, just made it all that better.

It's been many years since we drove the northern loop from Duluth to Ely MN, down to Lake Superior and back to Duluth.  It's a +200 mile ride that including stops will take up most of the day.

Promptly at 9:00 AM we pulled out of the driveway headed for hwy 4, the more scenic and back woods route north.  We hadn't made it more than 2 blocks when a loud Whop, Whop, Whop suddenly developed from the left front corner of the car.

I pulled over, thinking our luck had turned sour and that something was seriously wrong under the hood.  I raised the lid wondering if a fan belt had started to shred only to realize that even if there was a fan belt on this marvel of engineering I had know idea where it was.

While poking around my mind realized that the noise was in relation to the revolutions of the front wheel, not the engine.  As the tire was still fully inflated I ran my hand around the tread.  Sure enough, the new tire with it's nice deep tread grooves had snagged a 12" rubber band, possibly of the kind used to tie up newspaper bundles.

What I was hearing was the loose end of the piece of rubber whacking against the inside fender well with each revolution of the tire.  I chuckled,"One day old and we broke the rubber band drive that makes it go"!

Off we went with no further problems.  First stop was in the small town of Soudan, location of the first Iron Ore Mine in Minnesota and the last operating underground Iron Ore mine.  A quick potty break at the roadside memorial and on we went to Ely.

For those who aren't familiar with Northern Minnesota, Ely is home to Arctic Explorer Will Steager.

He has a store on the main drag where he sells Mukluks and other outdoor clothing.

Maybe because of his notoriety, being famous and all, you better have some deep pockets if you plan on doing any serious shopping here.

We looked around for a few minutes then had lunch at the DQ and headed on down the highway towards Lake Superior and Two Harbors.

Going north on Hwy 4 and returning on Hwy 2 one thing strikes you as pretty obvious.  The scenery in much of Northern Minnesota is the same.  Pine trees and aspen trees everywhere.

If you'd like to see what the view was like out the windshield, this short video will give you a peek.  Multiply this couple minuted by about 5 hours and you've lived the whole trip.  Beyond a few small towns along the route, you're surround by very dense wilderness, punctuated by supposedly 10,000 lakes.  Of course only 2 or 3 of those lakes are visible from the highway.


As for how the Prius did today, excellent!  One very quiet, nice riding car.  Corners like a sports car, probably because of the low center of gravity what with the battery bank under you.  The last leg of the trip, about 100 miles, we managed an average 67.2 mpg.  The car tells you second by second what mpg you're getting while you drive.  Then when you shut down, it recaps the trip from whence you last turned the key on.

Our whole day cost us +$11 for gas, and $10 plus tax for two $5 lunches at DQ.  That's a full days entertainment for 2 for just over $20.  We traveled 230 miles in the process.

This takes me back to my early twenties when I would fill the tank, drive until it was half full and head for home.  It's been many years since this was financially prudent.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How To Motivate Your Garden!

Motivation, that's what any good garden needs. Motivation to live up to expectations.

I've never been much of a motivational speaker.  At best, some might consider bits and pieces of me writings to be motivational.

I like to think  that at least one or two of my postings have inspired others to try something outside their comfort zone, but to be honest just having others enjoy what I write is good enough for me.

My garden on the other hand needs as much help as I can manage.  In years past I've had just enough success in producing my own vegetables that I keep coming back to try the next year.  Each time, improving my methods with knowledge gained by previous failures.

I had my best luck in Texas.  Tomatoes, cantaloupe, and yellow squash galore.  Who couldn't succeed when the growing season starts while the snow is still waist deep to a giraffe in these parts of Minnesota.

This year is looking good.  The strawberries are loving the special attention I gave them last fall.  Well prepared raised beds, I've got berries developing all over the place.

The quantity of plants tripled last fall with daughter plants sprouting right and left.  Here it's only June and the runners are already taking off for the next generation of plants for next year.

I can see two more raised beds before fall at this rate.

Green beans, corn, and onions are all looking good.  Because I went out of state for a couple weeks this spring, I started my tomatoes and other veggies too early.

They survived being transplanted right after the last frost, but I wouldn't say they're thriving.  The tomatoes look OK, the squash not so much.

That said, I replanted a bunch of things only slightly late and everything from this second planting is jumping out of the ground.  

Lessons learned:  Only start the tomatoes early, and don't start them until the 1st of May.  Squash and such don't need to be planted until about June 15th.
We've had a ton of rain lately but I've still got my garden sprinkler set on a daily timer for when I'm not at the cabin to monitor.

I'm looking forward to next month.  The grass is starting to fill out and a month from now the garden should be full and lush.

I'm sure it's my new garden sign that's doing the trick.  With all this motivation I'm working to instill, I should have a bumper crop this year.  There's only one problem with success in gardening...

I have no idea how to can food.   Time to do some more research!

Monday, June 24, 2013

My New Spare Tire!

Well this was either the smartest idea or the dumbest, it shouldn't take much time to figure out which.

I'm retired.  That means I have a fair amount of time on my hands, and I get bored easily.

Nothing puts my mood into the dumps faster than having a bright sunny day going to waste for lack of constructive ideas to pass the time.

In my youth, those kind of days meant filling the gas tank and pointing the car in a new direction.  Drive until the gauge says 1/2 tank, turn around and head for home.  Whatever adventures, or new sites happened along in the process just made the day all that much better.

Ya, like I can do that kind of aimless driving anymore.  If I was to take the full sized van we're talking over $100 in gas.  Even with the new mini-van a tank of gas amounts to over $60.  That's a pricey afternoon's entertainment in my book.

My other rationalization for this little get about is those rare trips in the motorhome.  It doesn't matter if I'm going 25 miles or 250 miles.  If that behemoth of a rig breaks down, there really isn't much I can do to remedy the situation.  My old arthritic joints are going to have a pretty hard time walking any distance in search of assistance.  Counting on my cell phone won't work as, more often than not I'm reading "No Service" on the screen.

Today was one of those perfect sunny and warm days.  I chose the Yamaha 125cc Zuma scooter because I thought my 230 lb frame might be a little taxing for the 50cc version.

Talk about spunky, this thing zips around town with the greatest of ease.  Duluth is a city on a hillside...Can you say San Francisco ain't got nothing on us?

I headed for Park Point and enjoyed a break looking out over the harbor.  Stopped at Coney Island and picked up a coney with everything to go.

Up the hill to the Skyline Dr., and had a mini-picnic at a scenic pull off.

Then it was off into the country.  Making a big circle, I headed toward the east side of the city, and meandered through the rural parts back toward the west end of the city.

Before I knew it I was heading back towards home with 75 miles under my belt.  Let's see now, at 95 mpg, that amounts to less than 1 gallon of gas.  
My afternoon's entertainment cost me shy of $3.50 in gas and $1.75 plus tax for my lunch.

Now that takes me back to a time almost 40 years ago when any thought about the cost of gas, or food for that matter, just wasn't on my radar.

If I only use this thing on sunny days when I'm bored, it will serve a very useful purpose.  I think it was a good idea!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Own Archaeological Dig! Remnants Of An Earlier Time!

One of the more fascinating aspects of owning land is that we’re not the first.  No matter where you are in this country, someone else preceded you.

This is Northwest Wisconsin, home to the Chippewa and probably many other nations before them.  To think that we are the first to tread through our well forested property would be rather pompous in my opinion.

As generations pass, small seemingly insignificant pieces of everyday life get left behind.  Broken or discarded items get lost in the dirt.  Children’s trinkets are dropped, or misplaced.  Life goes on but these left behind tokens tell the story of those who came before us.

In the process of cleaning and remodeling our cabin in the woods, bits and pieces long lost, by those our ancestors in humanity, keep popping to the surface.  Like some archaeological dig, the simple task of putting in a garden surprisingly brings all sorts of treasures to the surface.

How they entertained themselves, the toys and games from such early times, all made clear by the trinkets that we've found.  Their day to day life, how they hunted and gathered food for the tribe, we’ve easily been able to decipher their culture through the parts of tools and weapons left behind.

We even learned about their pets, how they domesticated and brought them into the family.  Some of our research was confirmed by elders still living nearby, even the internet provided some interesting documentation of previous dwellers of this little 5 acre piece of land.

By now you’re probably sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what fascinating relics from the past we’ve discovered.  Indian arrowheads?  Maybe an old stone foundation, or shards of ancient pottery.  Indian mounds are a popular indication of times long ago.

Sorry, though our finds have been interesting, they tell the story of more recent times.  There was a young boy who played with  small toys.  No, not what you would imagine for a member of a Native America tribe.

Hot Wheels, marbles, and rubber balls.  His companion, a dog.  First there was the well chewed tennis ball found at the edge of the yard.  The most recent discovery, a metal name tag with identification information that came to the surface behind the garden tiller.

Possibly someone in the family played golf.  To date three balls have been found on the property.  As for food gathering, they were hunters.

A deer stand remains now unused at the back of the property.  It can be assumed they were successful from the timber mounted between two trees for hanging their prey to age.  Empty shell casings are scattered piecemeal everywhere.  Shotgun shells, 30-06 rifle casings, all indicating a proliferation of game in the area.

It’s been a busy spring.  Weeks of work have been put in to clean up the mess left by those before us.  They weren’t very good stewards of the land.  Though we've kept some of the small trinkets we've found, by far the majority of what was left behind was garbage.  Trash, just tossed into the woods barely off the edge of the yard.  

Hopefully Mother Nature will be pleased.  Now we can look out our front window and see only the beauty of a pine forest.  The abandoned green dumpster is gone.  The rotting remnants of a crude ice fishing shack has been turned to smoke.  The decaying railroad ties that, for what ever reason, were screw anchored to the middle of the lawn  have been removed.

Hard work never hurt anyone.  What’s gained by restoring the beauty of the land is reward enough.

Mr. Magnuson.

His was a little shack.  Follow the Gothenburg Rd, past what was commonly considered the end.  Beyond the last intersection, a quarter mile further than any other driveway.  He was an elderly gentleman, suffering from maladies related to advanced age.  A quiet man, he kept to himself.  Most days his only contact with humanity being the 13 year old boy who delivered his evening paper.

He was shy, this young lad.  Never comfortable enough to initiate a real conversation with the lonely old guy.  Following instructions given when he took over the paper route, he would simply knock lightly and come into the little cabin of a home.

It appeared to be a two room building.  The front door brought you into the kitchen/ living area, with probably a sleeping room to the rear.  There was a simple kerosene space heater for warmth, and an old Motorola radio was always playing in the background.  It was his only entertainment.

Mr. Magnuson always sat in his rocker.  It was as if he never moved from this permanent position.  Sometimes when the shy boy came in they would exchange pleasantries, but more often than not he was sleeping in his chair.  His paper carrier had been instructed that when he was asleep, just lay the paper in his lap.

That was the daily routine.  Knock softly, but mostly just slip in and leave his beloved newspaper within easy reach.

He was a large man, how he was able to move about at all was a mystery.  The only sign of movement ever noticed was the narrow trail in the snow leading from the front door, about 25 ft to the edge of the surrounding woods, where the only other structure sat.

A little building that leaned a bit to one side.  As was the custom, there was a crescent moon cut in the flimsy door, indicating it‘s purpose.  A necessity of earlier times, the outhouse  was his only  plumbing.  There was a wash basin placed on the simple table, in his supposed kitchen, for washing up.  His water was supplied from a hand dug well, probably put in back when he was a younger man.

For an extra 50 cents a week, his paper carrier would take five gallon buckets out to the well for him and pump the rusty handle.  Often he would have to prime the pump by pouring some water into it, wetting the leathers so a suction would be established.

This was his simple life.  He had a son that lived out of town, and someone brought him groceries every so often, but for the most part he was a solitary figure.  This was his choice.  Of course there were nursing homes in the area, county facilities that accepted even those of no means.  This was the life he preferred.

For years, as the young lad grew from his pre-teen years, on through high school, this was the daily routine.  Walking a 5 mile route, year around.  Often in the dead silence of darkness, when the temperature was hovering close to -40 below, during the hardest months of winter.

In a strange way they were similar.  The boy, plodding along by himself.  Often deep in thought, there were times during the cold dark winter evenings when, past  being cold, he just wanted to lay down and go to sleep.   It was as if he was the only person on the planet.  The only sound he heard being his thin green garden boots crunching in the snow as he walked.  Double layers of wool socks  helped, but often his feet would ache in numbness from the bitter cold.

Faithfully, six days a week, the journal of daily events would be personally delivered.  Though there were rules requiring paper carriers to only deposit their product in the official paper tube mounted below the rural mailbox, Mr. Magnuson was a special exception.

He didn’t subscribe to the Sunday paper.  He had no use for the large quantity of sales ads, and the price amounted to a whole weeks worth of daily chronicles.
One weekend  the inevitable happened.  Saturday evening his paper was carefully placed on his lap, as had been done for a number of years.  Come Monday evening, the door to the old cabin had a padlock securing it, Mr. Magnuson was gone.

It was later that evening, while I was reading the paper that should have been left in Mr. Magnuson’s lap,   a short entry in the obituary section stated:

Mr. Magnuson had quietly passed in his sleep.  He was found Sunday morning, sitting in his favorite rocker.  The radio quietly playing in the background , an unopened copy of the Saturday evening paper resting carefully in his lap.

What’s interesting about this story is, now some 50 years later, that last newspaper delivery is probably the reason I still remember the quiet old gentleman as if it was just last week.  That’s not such a bad thing.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lions & Tigers & Bears...OH MY!

One reason we love our cabin in the woods is the wildlife.  For the past year I've been collecting interesting pictures of all sort of critters.

Using a cheap plastic concrete mixing tub as a corn feeder, and a $5 block of salt, enticing animals both big and small into coming within camera shot has been a snap.

I leave the camera attached to a tree even when we're not there.  By the time we return there are often up to 75 pictures or so to sort through.

Occasionally everything from bears or a flock of wild turkeys will wander through while we're there to see them.  For that, the camera is always close at hand and we snap away from inside the house.
Whether large or small, all woodland creatures are welcome to pose for our cameras.

If I could keep the squirrels out of my motorhome, they would be welcome to hang around too.  They drive my little dog Max absolutely crazy, and the exercise he gets from chasing after them is good for his waist line.

Just last weekend there were 5 humming birds fighting over the three available ports in our new, antique style feeder.  It's amazing how much those tiny little birds can drink, they emptied a 16oz bottle in a matter of about 5 days.

This past week I tried  something new.  I set the trail camera for making short video clips.  Over that period I must have accumulated 150 one minute clips to pick through.

I picked out a few of the better ones so be sure to watch this video created by Mother Natures group of friends.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Was A Deck Hand On An Ore Boat Like This!

A bright sunny day requires a drive downtown to take some pictures.  Every time I drive by our resident ore boat, the S.S. William A. Irvin, that sits alongside our convention center, it takes me back to the summer of 1968.

Fresh out of high school, I was off to sail the high seas.  Actually the Great Lakes, but then you can't get much closer to an ocean than Lake Superior.

It was a wonderful summer of new adventures. This farm boy from Minnesota got his first taste of travel, and exciting new experiences away from home.

I like this view the best.  Do you see the twig of a 2x4 hanging from the rope?  About 20' off the side of the boat at deck level, hanging from the boom?

That's the makeshift bosun's chair that was the standard lowering device of the day.

As the boat approached the dock, a deck hand was lowered to the usually narrow catwalk  to handle the mooring cables.

On board, the watchman and deckwatch would lower away, without the benefit of a braking system in the event of emergency.  If they slipped, the poor deck hand was going swimming, and with all likely hood would be crushed between the boat and the dock.  If he managed to live through that, the 15' diameter propeller would chop him into fish bait, as without mooring cables in place to stop the boat it would continue into the slip until it ran aground.

As this has happened a few times, 20' seemed to be the average distance through the pier it would take to stop such a craft.

That summer of '68 I was lowered over the side more times than I can remember.  Every time we pulled into a dock, loading, unloading, taking on coal, or going through the Sue Locks, there I was dangling some +40' over the water.

At 18, I was certain of my immortality.  It never once occurred to me that I should question this arrangement.  I often wondered to this day, if that well worn 2x4 with a hole and a rope tied in a knot was an OSHA approved piece of lumber?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Couple More Projects For The Stealth Van Done!

Looks simple enough, the rack on the back.  Only problem, there was no hitch to attach it to.

Friday, naive as I was, I called U-Haul to see about having a hitch installed on my van.  Seemed simple enough, I was even willing to pay to have someone other than myself do the job.

After spending about 20 minutes talking to a full fledged idiot on the phone, I had an appointment for a week down the road.

It just didn't sit right with me.  He was quoting me a different price every two minutes with a labor rate of $70 an hour.  Once he was satisfied he finally had it right, the price had grown from less than $200 up to $360 or more.  Nah, this isn't going to work for me.

Since the actual price for the hitch was about $20 cheaper than what I could get on the internet, I drove up to U-Haul and bought the hitch outright and canceled my appointment.  I decided to do the work myself.

Saturday morning at the cabin, I had the car backed up on ramps and in less than an hour the hitch was mounted and the 4-wire flat trailer plug was wired.  Total price was about $175.  Much better, plus, as I've found out in the past, if you want it done right, do it yourself!

Now I can tow my ATV with ease, and if I stumble across the right deal on a small fishing boat I can buy it on the spot.

Since the van has been back in cargo mode for a few weeks, the new mattress I used on my recent trip has been stored under our bed at the cabin.  I discovered it was starting to wick up moisture from the concrete slab floor, even though there was carpeting on the floor.

I assume, where dampness in the carpet can evaporate, the mattress was acting like heavy insulation and trapping the moisture.  Time to put the bed back in the van.

The 72 hr emergency preparedness plan came to mind as well, when a thunderstorm Saturday evening put us in a power failure mode.  After sitting without the benefit of TV for half an hour, I remembered my power inverter and the spare battery sitting in the shed.

In 5 minutes I had TV back, and could follow the progress of the storm.  Thoughts of the 3 week power outage when we first got the cabin came to mind so I quickly made plans for getting a generator on line in the morning to protect the contents of our chest freezer.

Luckily within an hour the power was back on so I moved on to restocking the Stealth Van for both unscheduled quick trips, and any 72 hr emergency situation.

 First I re-installed the bed and interior fixtures making everything comfy and cozy again.

 Next I added a strengthening rib under the plywood that held the mattress.

On my recent trip the center of the bed sank because it wasn't supported well enough.  By fixing this problem I am now provided with a 3" deep storage area that runs the length of the bed.

The whole idea of a "Bug Out Bag" is the that you may find yourself a foot carrying your supplies.  Let's face it, if I have to carry this stuff, we're screwed!  I neatly packed our 3 day store of dry goods, and assorted survival paraphernalia in this storage space under the bed.  I also packed the now empty back packs there, so if needed we could still abandon our survival pod and hoof it to safety.

Once again the Stealth Van is ready to go.  Don't have a plan at the moment, but rest assured, I'm ready!

This Year's Garden Is Coming Along...No Thanks To The Weather Man!

Spring...Something we just didn't get this year.  By this time last year the lawn was lush, and the garden was looking really good.

We had a hard frost one night last weekend.  I had just put the tomatoes and squash in the ground, so  in a panic I built plastic tents over my fledgling garden.

The strawberries loved it.  Didn't do a thing to protect them, beyond netting to keep the birds out.  They're doing great, the first one has broken out in blossoms already, I have great hopes.

The tomatoes took a bit of a setback with maybe a half dozen no making it, even under the protection of a plastic tent.  Now a week later, the survivors are starting to take off.
This picture doesn't do them justice.  Two days later and they jumped up in height enough that I had to stake and tie up about half of them.

I added a good dose of composted manure and I think that made the difference.  Instead of trying to mix in compost into the whole bed, I mulched first with pine needles then composted on top around each plant.

I could dump a truck load of compost into the whole bed but I don't have it.

 Same goes for the squash, cucumbers, and even a couple watermelon plants.  They all perked right up after I added some compost.

I should have taken pictures just before I left to go home but didn't think of it.

As for the lush lawn of last year, I'm afraid it's a month off yet.  It's looking pretty thin right now.

I've mowed twice already, but it's more to make things look even and neat.

The onion sets are taking right off.  They're up almost 5 " already though you can hardly see them in this picture.

It's been less than a week since setting seeds so the corn, cantaloupe, and other things haven't popped up yet.  Of course the radishes jumped right up in a couple days but then I think you could grow radishes in concrete.  They sprout almost the day after you put the seeds in the soil.

One thing for sure though, the humming birds are thrilled with our new feeder.  Last years feeder leaked and we ended up tossing it.  This one cost us $18 but both looks good and should last for years.

At one point there were 6 humming birds fighting over the three holes.  Diving at each other trying to drive them away from the feeder.

Traffic to the feeder is constant.  From dawn until dark it's a steady stream of hungry birds.

Only one deer visited the corn feeder this trip.  I'll wait until I get one in the daylight before I post a video.

That's right, this year I'm trying videos on my trail camera instead of just still photos.

It was a good stay at the cabin.   Summer is coming, things are greening up real good.  At least having a pine forest I don't have to wait for the leaves to come out.

Here back home the leaves are only about half out.  Summer's coming, but it's not here yet!