Monday, June 30, 2008

The End of June

The season is late. I looked at my tomato photos from last June and it is obvious that we are at least a week behind where we were on the same date in 2007. This is one of my tomato plants from this year. It's doing quite well, but it's a long way from producing those plump, red fruit that I'm waiting for - locally grown organic tomatoes.

It was a very nice afternoon on the tennis courts. I played ok, but I miss residing in the zone. We played two long sets - 6-7, 6-3 - and quit. Tennis Dennis showed up to watch and to chat. He's 67 and is 5 weeks past his hip replacement operation and was hoping to hit a few balls. I did some net volley drills with him, trying to keep the ball close so that he wouldn't have to move much. He still has good hand-eye coordination, but his lateral movement is missing. He says he has at least a month before he can start to play again. He needs to go slow, but also needs to keep moving forward. Getting old is not for the faint of heart.

Wimbledon has reached the quarterfinals and the two top seeds are still around. Federer may have to beat the unpredictable Marat Safin, and Raphael Nadal has the gritty Brit, Andy Murray in his path to the finals. In the women's tourney, both Venus and Serena are still in the draw. They could meet in the finals yet again. I'm still picking Venus.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Three Hundred

It is nearly July and the tiger lilies still look like this. There are no flowers on these plants. It was a late season and the tigers are still trying to catch up.

It was a rest day for the tennis part of tousan. I walked around the neighborhood for about an hour this morning, along Grand, up Victoria to Ashland, then to Oxford and home. It was a pleasant day in the 70's and there were a lot of people outside enjoying a very pretty day. There was a reasonably strong wind, but no problem for a pedestrian.

I kicked the soccer ball around with Herb after the Euro 2008 championship game on ABC. Watching the really skilled players seems to encourage me to see what skills I have in the game I have been watching. The same thing often happens after pro football games, an activity where I have a trifle more skills. The team from Spain beat Germany 1-0 in a very entertaining game to win the championship of Europe.

The Prairie Princess will be visiting again this weekend for Independence Day. It will give me an opportunity to learn some more about prairie vegetation, especially the kind that regularly shows up in city landscaping projects.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I was up early this morning and made my way down St Clair Avenue to a spot near the High Bridge. Xcel Energy decided to take down their 570 foot smokestack which has stood for 36 years near the Mississippi River. There were many other Minnesotans with the same idea, but I found a decent spot for the 20 second long spectacle. They dynamited a spot in the base of the structure at 7:30 a.m. and it toppled like a very tall pine tree. The smoke stack was constructed of poured concrete and I've wondered several times how they managed to get it built without a skyhook. There are thousands of pictures of this baby showing up on the internet today in picture and video form, but these images came from my camera. The first photo shows the smoke from the instigating explosion.

Photo two is a couple of seconds later as the topple begins.

The third photo is very near the actual contact with the earth. I managed to get the head of the guy in front of me in the photo. There was a loud noise and a big dust cloud emerged which chased the spectators on the High Bridge from their viewing positions as the big cloud came their way.

Photo four shows the beginning of the dust cloud spreading around the site of earth contact, a spot that had been prepared with several piles of sand, a target that they nearly hit.

The big smokestack has been part of the skyline for 36 years, but I'm not going to miss it.

After the spectacle I played some tennis with the geezer group. There was a smattering of rain as we began, but it passed by and blue sky appeared for a couple of hours. Later, after three sets were completed, the rains came again. I am in need of a day off from the game I play. I've managed to play six consecutive days, partly inspired by Wimby and partly due to my inability to say "no" to play opportunities. I played on a level somewhat south of average for me, but it was fun.

My predicted winners at Wimbledon, Venus Williams and Raphael Nadal are still in contention at the end of the first week of play.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Plant of the Day

The plant of the day is the red bell pepper plant that resides in a green pot in my backyard. I could have chosen milfoil, but I like this better. A member of the nightshade family, capsicum annuum, is edible and a native of North America.

I spent some time hiking around Lake Como this afternoon. It is badly overrun with milfoil. I have pictures, but they are uggglly. The park board has hired a company to come in and "harvest" the milfoil and truck it off to a landfill or maybe to become mulch. They were at work when I circled the lake. They have a home built vessel that reels in the weed on a treadmill like device and carries it to shore for transport elsewhere. The lake is overrun. It's kind of sad. But there is money to be made when bad times strike.

It was a bad day for Americans and American wannabes at Wimby. Andy Roddick, James Blake, Maria Sharapova, and Lindsey Davenport all lost their second round matches to people I have not heard of. And I follow tennis action more closely than most Americans, I suspect. Venus and Serena are still in it, but most of the American competitors are now spectators.

It was also a bad day for US investors. Dow Jones was down 358 points to 11453, the low point on the Dow for the year. And the price of oil finished at $139+, another record high.

But here in St Paul, I discovered a hoard of goat cheese in the fridge, left there by PP when she left to return to the Big Blue Stem Prairie up by Moorhead. Brunost. Brown cheese from Norway. Herb and I have been feasting on the pungent Norski treat.

I put in about 45 minutes on a tennis court on McKubin street here in St Paul, crushing forehands in the general direction of one of the other geezers - the one who purports to be 100% Swedish (a little too much, I think.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Singles in the Heat

I was looking through last year's photos and realized how late the flowers are this year. This photo, taken on this date last year, has tiger lilies in the background. The 2008 tiger lilies have not yet emerged from the case they come in. But today was the warmest day of the year. It hasn't been to 90 degrees yet, but I saw 89 on my car thermometer on the way to crushing tennis balls, and the TV weather creatures affirmed 90. The grasses in the photo could qualify as "plant of the week" if I knew what they are. The Prairie Princess probably knows and I'll try to consult with her to find out. They are part of her ongoing project to turn my backyard into prairie.

I watched sports on the tube today. There was a lot of European activity. Germany eked out a victory over Turkey in one of the Euro 2008 semifinal games. Tomorrow the other semifinal pits Spain against Russia. The tennis action from Wimby was shown on ESPN. Novak Djokavic, the number 3 seed from Serbia, was upset by the unpredictable Marat Safin, and the number one woman player in the world, Ana Ivanovic, was nearly upset in the second round by a French woman. Lots of drama with match points reached and lost by both women, 6-7, 7-6, 10-8.

By 5 pm I was ready to play some tennis myself. The group of geezers numbered six tonight, so I was called upon to play a set of singles in the heat. It was my first attempt at singles in several months and it took me a while to remember how to play to win that version of the grand game. At my level of play it pays to go to the net at every opportunity and challenge the guy on the other side of the net to hit the ball past you. But it's pretty hard work for a retired guy when the temperature is 88. After a successful set, I played a set of doubles and called it a night. I think that I'll sleep well tonight.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Down by the River

It was one of those beautiful days that make you love summer, It was so nice that I took the old Trek and rode down to the Mississippi, across the 35E bridge and along the river to Harriet Island. There were a lot of people with similar aims for the day and I saw a lot of bikers and hikers along the way. This photo came out better than I remembered it when I snapped it off. It's taken from the west bank of the Mississippi along Lilydale Regional Park. The building is old and probably not in use, but it appears to be one of the buildings put up along the river by Northern States Power Company - now Xcel Energy - sometime early in the 20th century. The river was moving along pretty well and the water is higher than usual because of our recent rains, but it supplied a nice reflection of the structure.

On the way back i took a few pictures of the bike path across the 35E bridge. It's a busy bridge with a full load of freeway traffic zooming by separated from the bike path by a concrete barrier. At the point where I took the picture there is a railroad track going under the bridge and, of course riverboat and barge traffic occasionally going up and down the big river. It was a nice ride, culminating with the Benhill Street hill. And at the top of Benhill the carved likeness of Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear to greet me into my own neighborhood. I logged 15.5 miles of uneventful miles on the old Trek.

And this evening I was back across the bridge in my auto to play some geezer tennis at Marie Park. It was a mostly windless evening and the tennis was pretty good. We played three sets, and there were at least two shots that were compared to the skill level of Roger Federer. They pretty and unexpected but weren't really that good, but we do what we can, and later embellish it. There is no sense in spoiling a good story just for the sake of the truth, someone's dad used to say.

The major tennis tournament played in Wimbledon on grass began today. My picks for the singles winners - Raphael Nadal and Venus Williams.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summer Sunday

The Prairie Princess is on her way back to the Blue Stem Prairie after a long weekend in the city. It was good to see her and spend some time together, but the prairie job beckons. I took her photo with Herb in front of the house just before she left.

The flower of the week. I should know the name of this flower. It's growing just outside my back door so it's familiar. I'll see if google images helps any. I used the macro setting on my camera to get the dimensions to stand out a little bit.

It was also a lazy tennis day for me. It was a day off from the courts - the first since Tuesday of last week. I managed to sneak a nap this afternoon before I transplanted PP's cucumber plant to a much larger pot. It'll be fun to see what produce flows from the backyard garden.

Spain beat Italy in a shootout to advance to the semis of Euro 2008. I think that they are now the favorite to win.

Wimby starts tomorrow in England. Federer is seeded one among the men and Raphael Nadal is number 2 as he continues to be a threat to take over the top slot in men's tennis. He has yet to hold that position, but has been number two for a very long time. It should be fun.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Visitor From the Prairie

It's the solstice today, and so summer begins. The Prairie Princess came to visit for the weekend and to check on her native plant garden. She arrived last night about 11:30 and even that late we turned on the yard light so that she could have a look at the plants she planted before she left for the prairie. Only one of her specially selected plants failed to thrive, and most look really good. She put in some time this morning thinning the weeds and the more aggressive of the natives. Here is a photo of her standing among the prairie plantings.

Herb was around most of the day, too. He was a little under the weather, but was willing to pose next to the tomato plants he helped me plant some weeks ago. They are growing pretty fast now that the weather has decided to be summery. The weather creatures are predicting a string of rainless 80 degree days

It was a very nice morning in the city. I hit tennis balls for about 45 minutes at the court near the curling club and then visited the farmer's market by St Luke's Church. The veggies are still sparse at the vendor tables. No tomatoes for sale yet. There were onions, lettuce, pea pods, rhubarb and asparagus. And there were flower plants for sale for late season planting. It seems like the season is late. The tomatoes should be coming to market soon. My own attempt at urban tomato production is still some weeks away from fruition, and the national sources of tomatoes seem to be having salmonella problems, so I'm hoping for the local growers to start getting those sweet ripe tomatoes to market.

Incidentally, my tennis stroke was not anywhere near zone-hood today. The zone comes and the zone goes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


It was another fine day in Minnesota. We had some wind, but I played tennis anyhow. After suffering my first bagel loss in many a month at the hands of two white hot geezers, I decided that I need to take a day off. Tomorrow will be the day. Probably.

Bill C., one of the guys who inflicted the bagel on me, had an interesting weekend. He performed in a 15 minute solo play as Mark Twain. He used the words of the famous author and was a pretty big hit, he said. It was easy because the words were written by Mr. Samuel Clemens himself. Bill has had a pretty good week, but I'll get him on the courts again next week. His relationship with Mr Clemens won't be of much use then.

WIldlife of the week. These would be mallards. Well, actually they are mallards.

Incidentally, there is a rumor that Jesse Ventura, our former governor is seriously considering a run for U.S. Senate, against Norm Coleman and Al Franken. In a recent poll he was favored by 24% of the Minnesota voters in such a race, but not too far behind the "satirist" Al Franken. There's never a dull month in the North Star State.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Celtics beat the Lakers

A good day in Beantown. And a good day for the T-Wolves former superstar. I'm happy for the six foot 12 inch kid, KG.

I played some tennis tonight at Sibley High School with the hard core girls and Jerry. We managed to finish three sets of competition. It was windy, but it was a beautiful night. I supplied a photo of the courts a few posts ago. It looked about the same tonight.

The Prairie Princess will visit the Saintly City this weekend to check out her own native plantings in the backyard. There may or may not be photos. Stay vigilant.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Maple Helicopters

I played tennis. After a day off and a bike ride my skill level came up a bit and there were moments of near zonedom. This time we played geezer doubles at Marie Park again. Those pesky maple seed helicopters were all over the court. Luckily, we had brooms. Curt brought his kitchen broom and I had my barn broom, so we were able to clear off most of the debris in a matter of minutes. The wind kept bringing new seeds to the court and brings back some that have been swept off. Even the newspapers have commented on the spate of maple seeds this year. It's been a strange year and the maple trees seemed spooked, expecting and planning for a bad year. And now the cottonwood trees are joining the fun. The air as we played was filled with woolly cottonseed fiber.

The back yard before the sweet smell of grass being mowed was created by the electric mower attached to the long yellow cord and pushed resolutely around the premises by one Tennis Tousan earlier today. A beautiful day in the Saintly City.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Little Ride on the Ides

It was an off day from the tennis wars. I needed the day off because the aches and pains are mounting up. I needed some cross training, however, so I took a bike ride to Como Park. It was Father's Day and Como is a popular site for F-Day festivities. You might say that Como Park was a zoo.

I took this Old Main-ish picture on the way back from the park at Hamline U. to prove that I had been out and about. There were very few people hanging around on campus, not surprising for a beautiful June Sunday. I finished the ride at about 1:30. I put another 13 miles on my total for the month.

Celtics against the Lakers tonight in game 5 of the finals. They are still playing basketball in June, but it could end tonight because the Celtics are up 3-1. It would nice for Kevin Garnett to win a championship, even it's not with the T-Wolves.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Plant of the Week

The plant of the week in the Capital City is the tomato. While not a native plant to Minnesota, it is widely grown here, often in my backyard. This one is of the Celebrity variety and will be bearing fruit in a couple of months.

The tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum, syn. Solanum lycopersicum) is an herbaceous, usually sprawling plant in the Solanaceae or nightshade family, as are its close cousins tobacco, chili peppers, potato, and eggplant. The tomato is native to Central, South, and southern North America from Mexico to Argentina. It is a perennial, often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual. [from Wikipedia]

There was tennis this morning at Sibley High School in the wind. We had eight senior guys fighting the variable gusts and used two courts. It was inconsistent and frustrating at times, but the sun was shining and we were outside having fun in a kid's game. I went home tired and happy to have spent some quality time outside.

The Bianchi Cutie(BC), previously known as KS, is getting a name change to Prairie Princess (PP). After spending about a week in her new job saving the prairie and driving a big truck, she has embraced her new moniker.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Virtual Rainbow

The day was pretty nice until this afternoon, when it clouded up and then about six p.m it started to rain. It rained as I drove to my USTA tennis match inside at Wooddale. There was a very beautiful double rainbow in the sky as I drove east towards Woodbury, but the camera was at home. It was the very best rainbow that I've seen in a very long time. The pictures that I have today are not rainbows, but are pictures of Minnehaha Creek, upstream of the falls. I trekked over there to see how Minnehaha Falls was doing after our rainy spell of the last few days. It was roaring and a lot of folks were there to appreciate it. I have pictures, but they are very like some that I've posted over the last months, so I'm posting these photos of less seen areas of the creek. The first is a pool upstream of the falls where a couple of ducks were hanging out on a floating log with some kind of lilies in the foreground. Quite picturesque.

Then a little further down stream, towards the falls, I encountered some crane-like bird hanging around looking for dinner. It was a pretty spot, too.

The tennis match tonight was the fourth of the season for the 8.0 Mixed Doubles team. We have been winning for the most part, but lately I have been somewhat out of the zone, so I decided to try some different prematch strategy. Usually, if I have food before the match, I don't play so well, but if I don't eat, I get tired near the end of the match. Usually for early evening matches I have a cup of tea and gut it out. Tonight, I tried a Boost Smoothie, a energy drink, about 45 minutes before the match, hoping that it would be easily digestible and not interefere with my balance and timing. As it turned out, it didn't make much difference as our opponents were off their game and Barb and I won 6-2, 6-3, but my game was on the edge of tentative and I had very little touch. I guess that the Boost wasn't the answer to my absence from the much vaunted zone. The team match score was 3-0 to us.

That sure was a pretty rainbow on the way to Woodbury.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Three Tennis Courts

It was a very nice day in Minnesota. There wasn't much wind either, so the tennis was easier, but my rhythm is still a little off. It seems to get worse as the number of sets piles up, so tomorrow is going to be a day off. As it happens the weather creatures are predicting a lot of water falling from the sky, so it's an easy decision to be idle. Below are the courts where I played mixed doubles tonight. 6-3, 6-0, 4-4 - then I went home to iChat with the Prairie Princess, who is practicing her craft in Glyndon. She seems to be doing well and learning quite a bit about prairies and scientific sampling techniques. The internet capabilities where she is residing, however, leave a lot to be desired. The iChatting was curtailed prematurely due to technical difficulties.

Last nights doubles was interesting, because we played on a court at Marie Park that was strewn with maple seeds - those flat seeds that helicopter as they fall from the tree. There seems to be a scourge of these seeds in the area. When a maple tree produces this many seeds it supposedly means that the tree is under stress and is doing its best to reproduce before it goes to its final reward. We tried to sweep the courts to get the seeds off, but the wind kept blowing them back. We ended up playing and ignoring the seeds, but it provided some interesting bounces. Before we play at Marie Park again, I'm planning to bring my big barn broom and getting the surface clean.

Herb biked to work again today. There seems to be quite a few more bikers out in the morning with backpacks containing extra clothes, on their way to work and trying to preserve some capital. Gas is going for $4.099 in many stations.

I see that some tomatoes in the stores are afflicted with salmonella. Minnesota grown tomatoes and cherry tomatoes are safe. The FDA doesn't even think that the afflicted tomatoes can be salvaged by cooking them into sauce. I find that odd. I always thought that heat would kill nearly any microbe. My backyard tomatoes are still about two months from bearing edible fruit. I'm pretty sure that they will be safe.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

June sets in

The French Open is history again. Raphael Nadal beat Roger Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in Paris today. That's four in a row for the boy wonder Spaniard.

In honor of the day, I hit some tennis balls for about an hour with Curt to try to get my swing back. It was a pretty good effort and I think I found out what my problems have been lately. I'll see if it translates into better results tomorrow.

BC, the prairie specialist, sent me some photos lifted from a web site that posted photos from a planting session at Crosby farm last Saturday. She and Herb look pretty industrious putting native plants into the earth.

These youngsters come from a long line of dirt farmers.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


It was a busy Saturday. The rain finished in time so that I could play some tennis with the older gentlemen. It was necessary to sweep the water from the courts, but luckily Curt showed up early with a broom and did the job. We managed to play three sets, but my level of play was affected by the gusty winds, and my general lack of inspired play meant that I was on the winning side of only one of the sets. The zone has fled from my life, but I'm hoping for its return.

The French Open is completing this weekend. The Serb youngster, Anna Ivanovic beat Marat Safin's little sister, Dinara Safina, 6-4, 6-3 to win her first major. She takes over as number one woman player in the world from Maria Sharapova. The French has been owned by Justine Henin the last few years, but she unexpectedly retired this year and didn't play at Roland Garros. Tomorrow Raphael Nadal tries for his fourth consecutive win in the Open. He's contesting the finals again with Roger Federer, the world's number one man. It's on broadcast TV at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, live.

Herb and I planted some veggies in the backyard patch this afternoon - tomatoes and yellow peppers. We had a pretty good crop last year and I'm hoping for a repeat. It's been a late season, and I'm late planting by a week or so, but I think we'll have locally grown Early Girls in August. BC doesn't complain about non-native plants when they are edible. She's spending the summer working with prairie restoration and native plants in Glyndon and may not benefit much from the veggie largess.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Politics Sets In

It was an interesting day yesterday, but I was too tired to blog. BC and TT went to the "X" to see Barack Obama speak after the polls closed in Montana. Several thousand other people had the same idea and a lot of them got to the site long before we arrived at 5:15 (for a 9 p.m. speech). We walked seven or eight blocks to find the end of the line, but instead found a place where the line branched and widened. We couldn't decide which way to go, and ended up in a scrum. The police were there, but no one was in charge. About 6:30 the line began to move and we were inside by 7:15. News reports say that about 15,000 people failed to get into the building. We had a seat in the second deck with a pretty good view of the candidate.

When Obama was introduced at about 9 p.m., there was a loud roar in the building. He's like a rock star to many people and seems on a crusade to take back the country. He's an inspiring speaker in person. He talked for about a half hour and staked his claim that he would be the Democrat's nominee for President. And I guess he will be. BC and I had some other people take a photo of us with a search light behind us.

This afternoon BC left for her prairie job with the Nature Conservancy in Glyndon. A few minutes ago, she called and reported that she has arrived in the crew house there. She begins another adventure. She left her Bianchi at home, so she may have to get a new moniker. I'll see what develops.

I spent a couple of hours at the Minnesota State Tennis Tournament at Nicollet Tennis Center yesterday. I met Jim Holden who wrote the currently available book, "Tennis in the Northland." I bought a couple of the books and had them autographed by the author. His book chronicles the Minnesota High School Tennis Champs from 1929 to 2003. As it turns out, I am familiar with quite a number of the people mentioned in the book, and there is a fairly lengthy piece about the Greenway High School Team of 1961. It's quite a hefty tome and I haven't been all the way through it yet, but Jim Holden seems to have done a good job on researching and being thorough. There is even mention of a blogger known as Santini in one of the later chapters sharing an opinion of one John Wirtanen.

I played some tennis tonight at Sibley Hugh School with the gang of geezers. I played average tennis, well short of the zone, but managed to win one of the two sets we finished. My calf injury seems to have healed pretty well, but I'm wearing an ankle brace on my right ankle.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Grand Old Day

Grand Old Day is always the first Sunday in June. The city closes down Grand Avenue and they have a 10K race, a parade, and set up places to listen to music and drink a lot of beer. Today is the first Sunday in June and the street was packed from Fairview to Dale. BC and I went out to check out the parade this morning in the warm sunshine. I wanted to get some photos of politicians. Why? I don't really know. We walked nearly to Snelling Avenue - about a mile - to meet the parade. I liked this VW Art Car in the early part of the parade.

I waited for politicians to appear, but the only one who was out and about on Grand Avenue today was our U.S. Senator Norm Coleman. No Pawlenty. No Franken, No Ventura. But Norm is a reliable politician, glad to shake hands and have his picture taken. He's running for his own seat in November - the one once held by Paul Wellstone. You don't often hear boos at parades, but the were a smattering of catcalls when he appeared. He was a two time mayor of St Paul, but isn't all that popular as a Republican in this heavily Democratic city. He seems to be running pretty even with Al Franken at this early date in the process. Norm's the guy in the long white pants.

The grand Old Day festivities closed down at five pm, leaving only the drunkest and most belligerent revelers on the streets. I guess the business community on Grand likes the early June action, but it leaves a mess in the neighborhood.

No tennis today. I had a couple of hours of doubles yesterday and needed a day off. I played well early on, but I was on the losing end of an 8-0 streak near the time we were to quit. I credit my lack of "zone-hood" to fatigue, outdoor weather, and stellar play by some of my friendly geezer opponents. There will be other days when my play will be better.