Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sato finishes last

In the just completed annual family Indy 500 pool I managed to pick the last place finisher - the driver of the first car to crash out - Takuma Sato of Japan. However Danica Patrick, my last-second third choice led for a while before finishing tenth. I congratulate Mr Moohoo for his astute pick of the lucky, last-second winner, Dan Wheldon.

After the race, because the bridge to Pike Island is closed, I decided to go to Webster, Wisconsin. Tomorrow is Memorial day and I decided that it was maybe my year to spruce up the family's burial plots. Dad was always one for marking Memorial Day and always put flowers on the graves. So I bought some flowers and top soil in a bag and drove to Wisconsin.

Lillie's grave was in need of the most work. I trimmed the pine tree that is growing there and planted my own yellow flowers to complement the red ones that someone had planted some time recently. I even raked up the leaves and spread some grass seed on the soil that I brought along. I'm not sure who I was doing this maintenance for, but I felt better for it. Maybe I was doing it for me. It looks better, good enough to warrant a photo. A woman who was there doing her own maintenance for the usual Memorial Day rites, stopped and said that it looked nice. I thanked her and said that it was much in need of some work.

It was a little rainy on the way back and the total drive time was about four hours, but it was the right thing to do today.

Novak Djokovic continued his winning streak in Paris today, beating Frenchman Richard Gasquet pretty handily. He's in the quarterfinals, where he must play an Italian guy, Fabio Fognini. I think Fabio has run out of luck. Roger Federer and Raffa Nadal await Novak in the semis and finals. If he makes the finals he will displace Raffa Nadal as number one in the world.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Not Paris

Last year about this time I was in Paris for the French Open Tennis Tournament. While Paris was quite nice, I remember at least one memorably rainy day spent in the stands on Court One, waiting for the drizzle to dissipate. Bad weather happens. The photo below of Gino and me was taken on one of the nice days we spent at Roland Garros, a day on which there was a lot of walking around, watching great tennis and fighting the crowds of tennis fans. Paris was beautiful. St Paul is pretty nice, too.

Today in Minnesota the weather was nice much of the day, except for the couple of hours in the afternoon when it rained and the weather creatures took over the local TV stations to warn about impending tornados - and interrupting the broadcast of the UEFA Champions League Final soccer game between Manchester United and Barcelona from Wembley Stadium. (Barcelona won 3-1.) The morning weather was nice enough to demand a walk around the neighborhood and the photo below records the day from the top of the St. Clair stairs near the new tennis courts.

Then it rained really hard.

After the game and the rain, I went back to Como to appreciate the return of the sun. It turned to sunny and pleasant in a hurry. The sun brought back the wildlife, including this great white heron - maybe the same one I've caught there in the past. This guy is perched on a fallen tree's branch and seems to be at peace with its world. There were also wood ducks, mallards, geese, turtles and muskrats using the lake today, while the citizens of St Paul used the walking paths, mostly unaware of much of the wildlife's activities.

There was tennis again today at Roland Garros. I was in St Paul, but, by the miracle of the modern internet, I know that Novak Djokovic won his 40th consecutive match of the year and 42nd overall by beating Juan-Martin del Potro in four sets. Next he gets Gasquet, then probably Federer, followed by Raffa Nadal, if the historic streak is to continue. Things are getting tougher.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Nicest Day

It was a very nice day in May, a little cooler than normal, but the sun was out and a sweatshirt was enough to keep the chill away. The geese and the other water birds are in the midst of new baby season. The geese were congregated together, watching the antics of the newbies. These were on the banks of Lake Como near the pavilion. They're just now learning to stay together and follow the big bird. They're born swimming, I think.  They'll soon be fouling (fowling?) the walks at a lake near you.

This big white water bird seems to be a great white heron.  He's standing in the Mississippi River just off the shore of Harriet Island, probably looking for food.

To be truthful, these photos were taken yesterday, but they look very much like they could have been taken today.  I've been out in the parklands quite a bit lately and the birds are very active and much in evidence.

Today I was hoping to get photos at Pike Island to post, but when I arrived at the bridge to gain access to the island, I discovered high water and "access denied."  The island is still isolated by the high waters of the Minnesota-Mississippi River below the fort.  I spent a couple of hours on the mainland side of the park, hoping to surprise a deer or two, but all I saw was a set of fairly fresh deer hoof prints.  The deer were probably taking a nap.  It was a pleasant stroll, however, and I was happy to be out in nature.

The Prairie Princess is going to be in town this weekend, partly because it's Memorial Day and that means a long weekend.  Her schedule (rather her dance card) is pretty full, but I'm hoping to learn the names of a few more wild plants while she's here.  I figured out garlic mustard and catnip the last time she was in town.

The indoor tennis season ends officially tomorrow.  The last prepaid indoor court time at Fort Snelling tennis center with the gang of geezers is at 1 p.m.  We're about to become an outdoor social club for the summer.  The size of the group increases, too, because there is more interest and some of the out of towner snowbirds are back for a summer of fun and competition.  And the outdoor courts are free.

The French Open continued today in Paris.  Kim Clijsters was upset, but mostly because she's been out because of an injury and came back without much preparation.  Clay court tennis is hard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tulips and Goldfinches

I had a pleasant walk around parts of Como Park that I don't usually blog about. It's getting close to summer and everything is getting green and pretty. I stopped by the butterfly garden to see what was blooming and encountered these fringed red tulips. The fringe is a feature that I haven't much noticed before, but adds an interesting twist to the image.  It's still early in the season for the other blossoms to be emerging, so the whole show is pretty much tulips.

There were also some goldfinches flying around. They're small, very yellow, and seem to stay on the wing most of the time, but I was able to catch one perched in a tree and got a reasonable photo with my telephoto lens. They are a chatty bird, doing a lot of singing and chirping to their friends.

This is Joyce Kilmer Fireplace in Como Park.   The city spent some time and money restoring it and it was just rededicated this spring.  It was built in the 1930's and I remember walking by it several times over the last few years and noting how run down it had become.  It's near Como Avenue and the soccer and baseball athletic fields.  There is still work to be done in the area, but the fireplace is ready for fires.

No tennis today for me but the tennis tournament at Roland Garros continues. Raffa Nadal had a tough five setter with American John Isner, but managed to win and move on to the next round.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Time of the Lilacs

I think the lilacs are late this year, but they have arrived in all their purpleness. And they have a lovely aroma.

It was a stormy weekend in the Saintly City, but not as bad as across the river where a huge tornado busted up north Minneapolis. That was a serious wind storm. The rain kept me off the tennis courts and away from the woodsy areas by the Mississippi. And it made the lawn grow and turn a trifle jungly. So today I mowed the grass and later after lunch I hit some tennis balls at Marie Park with another of the usual group. We often play doubles on Monday, but there were conflicts today. Practice is exercise and time spent outside. We settled for that.

The French Open is in progress in Paris this week. It's just a year since my presence at the tournament and watching it on television brings back some good memories of the time spent there. The favorite to win this year is still probably Nadal, but Djokovic has been on a tear, winning 40 matches in a row and he certainly deserves consideration. I think Federer has a chance win, too, but he must get by these two guys, not an easy task. I'll be watching. It'll be some entertaining tennis.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Doomsday Eve

It wasn't much of an outdoors day for most of the day, but I did have a walk around Lake Como again today in the morning before the rains came. The fruit trees are just showing off. The colors are bright and the aroma quite fruity. This beauty is just off the hiking path about a quarter of the way around. The turtles weren't basking - too cool perhaps -but the mallards and wood ducks were still about. The Ramsey county Sheriff's Department divers have stopped searching the lake, so they either found what they were looking for or perhaps gave up.

This is a crab apple tree, I believe.

Since the world ends tomorrow, I thought I should get in just one more blog and perhaps report on the activities of this last Friday. It was another day when my mostly inadequate planning resulted in two sessions of doubles. I may have to do some rejiggering of the schedule next week, but so far it hasn't been too onerous. The afternoon session with the gang of geezers went off without much wailing. We managed two fairly lopsided sets and began a third before we ran out of players. One of the guys was having a little trouble with his artificial hip in the third set, so we shut down the competition. It was okay by me, because I was scheduled for the USTA match that Jerry's mixed doubles team was playing in Wooddale at seven.

The Wooddale match was tight and pretty entertaining. Marsha and I were playing a married couple who were celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary today. You'd think that we would cut them some slack, but just because it was their anniversary and because they were well short of their 40th birthdays, we gave them as much competition as we were able. In the end they beat us in the third set tie breaker after we had split two 6-4 sets. We had two match points at 9-7 in the tie breaker, but they steadied and managed to beat us. They were nice "kids" and a lot of fun to play, too. After the match I wished them a happy anniversary and chatted a bit. They asked how old I am, and I was happy to claim 68. Brian, the guy, was kind enough to opine that he hoped he would be playing as well as me when he is 68, indeed said he in exaggeration, he hoped to still have as much game when he gets to 38. So I came home defeated but in a pretty good mood.

It's just kind of sad that doomsday is tomorrow. I was hoping to get in another week of so of tennis before it all comes crashing down. And maybe a game or two of scrabble.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Excitement at the lake

It was a busy day, although I didn't plan for that to happen. Most of it was pretty mundane, but I did manage to recycle one of my old computers at Best Buy. They charge ten bucks, but they give you a gift card for ten bucks to spend in the store and that got me to buy a Bruce Springsteen CD and a bag of Snickers in their Robert Street store. Who knew that they sell Snickers at Best Buy.

The day was cloudy, but warm, in anticipation of tomorrow's all day rain - so says the weather wizards, but since doomsday is Saturday, I decided to make as good use as I could of a nice May day. [As an aside and one I'd like to have Chad's owner verify, "m'aider" in French seems to mean "help me" and is pronounced "May Day" which is the universal call for help. Coincidence??]

Lots was going on at Como Lake, where I stopped for a circumnavigation after a brief stop at Goodwill to give away some old clothes and toys. The lake shore restoration has encouraged wildlife to find the lake quite enticing. Today, and some of these are pictured here, I saw an egret, multiple mallards, several wood ducks, a black headed duck, a muskrat, and about a thousand turtles basking on logs. The shore line restoration has been going on for a couple of years and there are cat tails and lots of vegetation along the shore for wild life cover. This egret was kind enough to let me get close enough for a photo. And stayed around for several.

There was also some sort of turtle census or tagging going on today. These city employees (I think they work for the city) captured this giant turtle and were tagging him or perhaps taking a blood sample or who knows what. They released him back into the lake and he didn't end today as soup. It was a big guy and he was not happy about the process. Of course, the turtle may be female - I don't know how to tell the difference.

There were myriads of smaller turtles basking on logs in the lake. I guess they are just happy to be past the harsh winter and are probably getting ready for the summer and a lot more basking.

On the other side of the lake the Sheriff's department had divers in the lake. They were searching for something, but one of the other passersby said they have been doing it for about three days. With the help of google news when I got home, I ascertained that they were probably searching for a weapon that had been used in a shooting over on Dale Street last week. The news article said that the perp had disposed of the gun in question, by throwing it into Como Lake. It was not a dull day around Como Lake.

And then when I finally got home I made a loaf of raisin bread in the bread machine and played some scrabble.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Crosby Farm trails still closed

Wednesday dawned as a very promising day. The sun was shining and the weather forecasters were predicting a fine day. I had a couple of hours before the scheduled tennis session with the guys I play with, and I do have my new camera to learn about. I haven't been to Crosby Farm to scope out the level of the water and to find out the status of the bike paths along the river that I sometimes frequent. As I was to find out, the water is still high and the biking and hiking paths are closed. That's what the sign says.

And the water is still up over the path in many places. There are also large tree trunks in spots that have washed up onto the trail and were stranded there when the river receded. In this photo, it's only mud and water that are troublesome.

People have been using the park anyhow. There are new paths worn into the brush where people have walked on their way to the river's often used fishing holes. This is one of them. It almost looks like wilderness.

This last photo is of the river. The trees are standing in water and have been for weeks. I think it happens most springs, so I'm thinking that the trees have adapted to standing in water for part of their lives.

Tennis was a little shabby today. Not one of the available geezers was playing too well, maybe because of a gentle zephyr blowing around at Marie Park, but it was a really nice day and I'm not about to start complaining about the weather so soon after this last epic winter. We played two sets - very even sets - and then went home. A day on the courts outside is almost always a good day.

Only three days until the end of the world. Saturday, which is the day a religious sect leader has predicted as doomsday, is soon to be upon us. Get out the good wine that you've been saving and drink it before it's too late.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Eight Hundred

It was a beautiful day in May, a day in the early 70's. Nice enough to play some extra tennis with the gang of geezers. We play at Marie Park, which is right next to a pond that seems more bog than pond. I went to the park early to get some photos, mostly for blog material. This is the court we usually play on and you can see the pond/bog in the background.

I walked to the pond and discovered some mallards paddling around. They seemed like they were comfortable in their world, so I snapped a photo and left them alone. Mallards seem to be plentiful in Minnesota this time of year. They inhabit Lake Como, too, in fairly large numbers.

When the other geezers arrived, some time later, we chatted a bit about Novak Djokavic's streak (he just beat Raffa in the Italian Open final for his 39th consecutive win), the Bulls-Heat game, and the loss of Trump in the presidential sweepstakes, to the bitter disappointment of the comedians of America. Then we warmed up in a swirling wind and played a couple of sets. It was uneven tennis and the wind caused some bad errors, mishits and double faults. But it was tennis and competition at the usual geezer level. We had some fun and resolved to do it again on Wednesday. The outdoor season looks like it might stick.

Bob Dylan will be 70 on May 24. Is this at all possible? He's still six days older than Tommy. All questions and answers are "Blowin' in the Wind"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The ides of May

What is so fine as a day in May? It finally seems to be spring, so I mowed the lawn and trimmed the Japanese lilac bush a bit where the pesky rabbits feasted on it over the winter. It was nice to be outside and, even though it was in the marginal 60's, a nice day to go without shoes. Barefooted.

It's a tennis blog. So tennis should be at least mentioned. Friday was a nice tennis day, but only because I was able to play inside in the evening. I played twice, once with the gang of geezers at Marie Park in the early afternoon and again in the evening with Jerry's Mixed Doubles team at Wooddale. Outside was windy and cold enough to require long pants and a jacket. It was windy enough to require me to watch the tennis ball very carefully as it curved in my direction or very certainly to mis-hit the ball. That habit of watching the ball gave me an advantage in the evening match. I was able to hit nearly all shots in the sweet spot and my error count was pretty low, so Marsha and I were able to win handily at the number two doubles spot. The number one team won in a third set tie breaker and we went home a 2-1 victor in the first competition of the new season. A nice way to start the season.

I discovered on-line scrabble this weekend. It turns out that crossword puzzle solving is not good cross training for the board game. I was mauled twice by about a hundred points a game. I'm thinking that I may have to study the long list of two letter words to have a half a chance to prevail. Maybe I should just stick with the NYTimes Sunday Crossword puzzle as my "raison d'etre."

Incidentally, I checked my blogger counter and this is blog entry 799. There is no award for blog 800, but I seem to have settled into this sporadic blogging and posting of photos, so I think I'm going for a thousand. Maybe they'll start to improve in quality soon.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Running and biking

The Prairie Princess is now on her way back to southern Wisconsin. While she was here, this morning, she participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a breast cancer benefit that runs on Mother's Day each year at the Mall of America. She ran the 5K before 9 a.m. and came home in her outfit. She bought the t-shirt as part of the entry fee, and the number on her back helps indicate the size of the turnout in the Twin Cities. She was near the last to register, so 32,000 may be a reasonable guess for the number of runners.

She decided to run for Lillie, the grandmother she never knew, and wrote her name on the patch on her back. It was a nice thing to do and made me proud.

It wasn't the nicest May 8th on record, but it was nice enough that I tried out my bicycle for the first time this year. My tennis schedule is in a state of flux as the season changes, so I haven't played in a couple of days, so exercise seemed appropriate. So I pumped up the tires, checked the on board computer and set out to circle the neighborhood. As luck would have it, at the five mile mark the rain started to fall. I was close enough to home so that I was in no danger of dissolving or melting and I made it home full-size. But for the year I'm still about a thousand miles behind the truly hardcore. It's a beginning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A visitor from the east

The Prairie Princess is in town for the weekend and the schedule is a trifle changed when she's in town.  She and I went to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary to look at the progress of the trees and grasses that PP helped plant last year and the year before when she worked for MCC and PRI.  It was our first day with temperatures into the seventies and it felt like summer may actually come this year.  There were very few people at the sanctuary, I guess because it's still Friday and school is still in session.  There were some birds about.  I scared this blue heron (at least that's what I think it is) by getting too close for his comfort, but managed to snap off a photo with him on the wing.

The princess found the marsh marigolds, which are well into their blooming period and are looking healthy and beautiful.  I think she was bending down to smell the aroma.  A smell much nicer than that arising from the French guy she danced with last night (Sorry for that inside joke).

A better view of a patch of marsh marigolds.  They're standing next to one of the larger ponds in the park.

I always try to learn the names of some of the wild plants around when I go to wild areas with PP.  She knows a lot of the names of natives and invasives, and helps me with them when I forget.  This clump of garlic mustard is a big time invasive, imported into North America by European settlers for food, and they have since escaped into the wild.  They are no longer very much part of our diet, but still very much edible as long as you pick some that haven't been poisoned by the land owner.  I tasted these and they don't taste too bad at all, maybe tasty enough for a lunch time salad.

It was a fine day in May.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A bench older than me

I stumbled across this bench at Como Park (not literally). I hadn't really noticed it before, but I've been on the lookout for unique and historic benches in the last few months. This one had a plague which I have also pictured, dating it to 1933, about 78 years ago. It's a nice stone bench, backless, but in a nice shady spot not too far from the Conservatory.

The inscription,"Given by St Paul Ladies of G. A. R.,  National Encampment, 1933.  I assume that G.A.R. refers to Grand Army of the Republic, the Union side in the American Civil War.  The organization was composed of men who had served in the Civil War and it was dissolved in 1956 when the last survivor died.  They had a ladies' auxiliary.

It wasn't the nicest May day on record, but the flowers are beginning to show off, so our first day in the seventies cannot be far behind.  Can these be tulips?

No tennis today, but tomorrow is promised by the weather guessers to be the nicest day of the year thus far.  I may take a bike ride.  Or maybe not.   The Prairie Princess will be visiting for the weekend from her place of employment in southern Wisconsin.

Novak Djokovic won his 29th consecutive tennis match today, tying Ivan Lendl's record unbeaten streak at the beginning of the new year.  He is currently ranked number two in the world behind that Spanish guy.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A cardinal lives in my back yard

And it's not Cardinal Richelieu. He died in France in 1642. The cardinal in my yard is a bird, and he apparently has a mate, too. He may be the bird that's trying to build a bird's nest on the outdoor light fixture by the back door. I'm in a battle with whatever avian is doing that. Every morning I go out and demolish his overnight construction and put up my mini scarecrow - one of the action characters from the cartoon series "He Man." So far the bird has continued it's fruitless pursuit. I think I'm winning.

It was a very nice day, climbing into the 60's. The geezer guys I play tennis with decided that we'd play outside. It was a trifle too windy for effective play, and a little cooler than ideal, but it was only our second nice enough day for outside play. And it is May 4th already. So we played a couple of sets at Marie Park next to the duck pond and enjoyed coping with the wind currents. We split sets 6-2, 3-6. Over in the pond a couple of mallards swam back and forth, probably getting ready to raise a family of ducklings.

Bill C. brought to our attention that the Champions Tour - an exhibition competition featuring Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, and Chang - is coming to town - the Target Center - late in September. We decided to get tickets and go watch some "old timers" play tennis against each other. It's odd to call them old timers when I'm 25 years older than any of them. So it goes. I think it'll be fun.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Better sun

The sun came out and it looks like May will make an appearance. It gave me a chance to experiment with the new camera. I decided I'd like to find some wildlife to point and shoot at. Crosby Farm and Hidden Falls are still closed - high water. I drove by to verify the closed status and found it to be true. Thus Minnehaha Park seemed as good a place to find birds at least, if not a stray lion or unicorn.

The water has receded a bit, so it is now possible to get all the way to the merger of the creek with the Mississippi, but there is still a significant presence of mud. There are also a few temporary wetlands, as seen below, wetlands which will disappear later in the late arriving summer. The green grasses, probably sedges, are appearing near the creek and I think that I spotted some burdock. The stream in the background is Minnehaha Creek.

I found some small birds flitting about. There were also some geese, but they're easy to photograph and have appeared here enough as of late. This little guy hung around for several shots, partly because I was outside his zone of comfort. There were other birds around - no see'ums. I could hear their singing, but was unable to make visual contact.

Tomorrow is a tennis day, and it may be nice enough for some outside action. I hope so.

If it's warm enough we may have to change the chant to:

"Hurray, hurray the fourth of May, outdoor [name your previously indoor activity here] starts today."

Monday, May 2, 2011

May is supposed to be warmer than this

What is it, do you suppose, that causes an ice age to descend upon the earth? Does the sun give up on us for a few hundred years, until we learn our lesson. I think it's doing it again. Perhaps, only the trees can save us.

So today I baked another loaf of bread and waited for May to show up several days late.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Trail Closed

The first of May and a lot of outdoor activities usually start today. Most of them would be uncomfortable on a day like today, and some would result in possibly embarrassing frost bite. The temperature in the weather station nearest to me in the Saintly City topped out at 41 degrees. Freaking degrees.

I stayed home most of the day and baked some bread in my handy dandy bread baking machine. Oatmeal and rye with the basic white flower. It was great as dessert tonight after dinner.

In the middle of the afternoon, I thought I needed a walk about. Crosby Farm is usually a nice place to walk and get a first hand view of some nature as it emerges from its winter malaise. So I got myself down the bank to Crosby Farm and started to the hiking/biking path that goes along the mighty Mississippi. The path is closed. The Mississipi has not receded enough to relinquish the flood plain to the denizens of dry land. I took a pass on the walk about, but not until I took a picture for this blog.

Another picture of the chives in my backyard. They seem to thrive in the coolish temperatures that pass for spring in these parts. I'm still working on learning the capabilities of my new camera, and this is a test shot, just trying to get a feel for the photo quality. I like the sharpness of focus and the rendering of color. And the chives look good enough to add to my next batch of vegetable soup.