Thursday, June 30, 2011

Democracy is messy

The weather prognosticators were right. It was a very hot and humid day in St Paul. I got in my tennis early, actually about the same time that the women's semifinals were being contested at Wimbledon. Curt and I met at 9:00 at the St Clair courts for some drills and recreational smacking of the tennis balls. As it turns out the courts are in use in the morning by the St Paul Urban Tennis group who are working with a lot of young people, teaching them tennis and life skills. We relocated our drill to a court on McKubin Street where we were able to use up an hour just hammering forehands and backhands. It wasn't hot yet when we finished, so I mowed the lawn and had some lunch.

Since Minnesota has pretty much stopped functioning because of a disfunctional political class, I thought I'd visit the state capitol and see what the rascals were up to. I heard on the radio that there were demonstrations and that the leaders of the opposing sides might be meeting this afternoon, so I drove through the heat and humidity to the building depicted below. It's a nice building and a place I've been many times before. There were a few demonstrators brandishing signs on the outside, but I discovered that the people's capitol was open to the people, and that it is air conditioned, so I went inside.

I know where the governor's office is and I went to check it out. Most of the Minnesota media were represented there with photographers and reporters waiting in front of the guv's office for the decision makers to show up and explain why they couldn't come to some agreement to keep the state from shutting down. No one came out to explain themselves while I was there. I talked to a photographer from one of the TV stations in town. We talked about the portraits of the governors on the walls and he said that the walls are full and there is no room for Pawlenty's portrait. Somehow it seemed fitting. I told him about Gov. Harold LeVander, whose last name is "red navel" spelled backwards, a fact that the photographer was too young to have noticed and something that continues to amuse me even after all these years.

So, while I was chatting a group of boisterous demonstrators came through and gathered near the office of the governor and started a loud responsive chant, calling on the leadership of the legislature and the guv to do their jobs and get the state back in operation. I'm not sure it had much of an effect, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The demonstrators eventually toned it down and most left. The local media stayed around to see if progress would be reported on a possible compromise. It's their job and they get paid pretty well for it, so they may still be down there. And the state officially shuts down at midnight. I hear that all the rest stops on the freeways are already closed.

Democracy is a messy business.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chocolate eclairs and almond croissants

A pretty good memory and one worth repeating.

It was a warm day, my car thermometer registered 87 after I finished tennis with the geezers at about 5 this afternoon. It was hot and a little windy, but I stayed hydrated as often advised and I finished the day feeling pretty good. We were eight players this afternoon. Bill, our current world traveler, is back from his trip to England to watch the Wimbledon tournament that is just now reaching the semifinals. He said the tennis was great, but the crowds on the grounds were stifling, almost like riding a subway in Tokyo, he said. Tennis Dennis was back from his operation to remove some minor skin cancer from one of his ears, but was playing pretty well in spite of it. My partner for the day was John, who has been spending some time at his place in downtown Chicago lately, but is back in town for a while. We managed to win two sets and also stay alive on a hot day. Jerry played, too. He's the captain of my USTA league mixed doubles team. He works for the state of Minnesota and it looks like he may be available for a lot of daytime tennis in the next month unless the legislature and the governor are able to compromise on a state budget by July first. The others were Cos, Eric, and Curt. It's a great group of guys. All geezers or honorary geezers.

And I'm starting to dream in French - some of the time about chocolate eclairs and almond croissants.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Some photos by a guest artist

It was a very nice day, perhaps one of the nicest days in the history of Tuesdays. I didn't play tennis, but managed quite a bit of time outside savoring the warm air and thinking about how nice it was. I had a walk this morning up to Summit Avenue and by the Governor's Mansion, hoping that I might get a glimpse of the governor perhaps shirking his duty as the state gets ready to shut down. That's just three days off. The governor must have been off somewhere negotiating with the other party, because he didn't appear to be at home. There were some workmen doing some work on the Mansion's flower gardens and another guy doing some touch-up painting. So I got this photo of some yellow flowers on the way home.

Unky Herb let me have some of the photos that he took on Father's Day in Madison and Janesville, Wisconsin. I like the photos and he said I could post a couple, so I am doing just that. The first is the Prairie Princess and an older gentleman sitting on a park bench just outside the state capitol building in Madison. It's late in the day on Saturday after we had dined at a Thai restaurant a few blocks away.

This is another photo by UH. It was taken Sunday at the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville. The characters on the crooked bridge are the Prairie Princess and the same older gentleman as previously, both wielding umbrellas, or, as they supposedly call them in England, bumbershoots.  It was raining a bit at the time.

I did not play tennis today, but they did in Wimbledon. It was the women's quarters and my predicted winner of the tourney, Caroline Wozniaki, has already lost. I'm switching to Sabine Lisicki, because of the obvious rhyme - and because she's through to the semis. On the men's side, Raffa Nadal is playing the only remaining American man left in the contest - a guy who was born in Minnesota - Mardy Fish. But I still think Novak Djokovic has a good shot at the title.

The women's World Cup of soccer is well into the first week, Today the American women beat North Korea 2-0. It's a busy sports week in Europe.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lake Phalen

I hadn't been around Lake Phalen yet this summer, and because I had a day off from the tennis wars, I decided I could walk the three miles or so that is needed to circumnavigate the lake. And it was a nice enough day to appreciate the weather. The main attraction for me at the lake, at least as a subject to photograph is the stone sculpture from the Minnesota Rocks project from a couple of years ago. The face is decidedly an Asian face and well done. It's situated near the water and the whole area is attractive this time of year.

And another angle of the same sculpture.

I walked around the lake and the smaller Round Lake adjacent to Phalen. There were lots of people out and exercising - running, walking, biking and even a few fishermen.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Worm Juice

The tomato plants are growing fast in the back yard aided by the output of the red worms that spend day and night recycling kitchen waste in their home in the basement. The dark liquid produced is "worm juice," or so we call it. Unky Herb has been fertilizing the tomato bushes with it regularly. The plants have also been aided by an exceptionally rainy, but coolish summer thus far. Today was predicted to be a nice warm sunny day, but it was cloudy and sprinkled on and off all day.

My Saturday morning tennis outing was cut short - after about two hours - by the arrival of rain. We shortened the second set and played a tiebreaker at 5-5, instead of risking a leg breaker. The courts were starting to get slippery and we didn't want any more injuries or people might accuse us of mimicking the Minnesota Twins. There should be plenty of summer-like weather before the fall season descends and we'll have plenty of tennis action before then.

There also seems to be a lot of albino squirrels around this summer. I'm not sure if that means a new breed is moving in or that it's a passing fancy of the squirrels. I saw three of them in one block of Osceola in a five minute stretch. So I took a photo to put on this blog.  There are actually two of them in this shot.

Wimbledon has reached the half way point and only one American man is left in the draw - Mardy Fish. On the women's side, Venus and Serena are still in the hunt. My two favorites - Djokovic and Wozniacki are still progressing through the draw, too.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On the Road to the Farmer's Market

After a long stretch of not so good days, we had a nice one today. I managed to spend a lot of it outside, including mowing the tall grass in my yard and toting some grass and weed refuse to to the grass recycle place on Pleasant Avenue. This afternoon I remembered that the Farmer's Market is Friday at St Thomas More church on Summit. I decided to walk up there and see what sort of veggies and goodies they were selling. On the way I have to walk by the governor's mansion. I know he wasn't there, because he was in a meeting with the legislature's leaders, trying to figure out how to not shut down the state on July first. Across from the guv's place is this line of boulevard trees, including one disguised as a woman settler from the early days of the state. She's standing in her usual place in line with the other trees.

Across the street is the place where Mark Dayton is living. He's our current governor, and he is the first guv in quite a while to actually live in the Governor's Mansion.

The farmer's market was pretty busy as the photo tries to show. There were spring veggies - lettuce, green onions, a few cukes, little potatoes, even some beets - and fresh strawberries. I bought some green onions and also strawberries after being assured that they were fresh and sweet. The berries were okay, but did not compare favorably with the ones we bought at the Paris farmer's market last May. But fresh strawberries are always welcome, even if they taste more like straw than berries

I played USTA mixed doubles in the league again tonight, this time at the Lifetime Fitness in St Louis Park. Kathy was my partner again this week. Although we again failed to win, the match was a bit closer than last week and I felt like I played some better. Time on the tennis court is almost always well worth the effort.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Janesville and Madison

It was Father's Day, so Unky Herb and I went to Janesville, Wisconsin to visit the Prairie Princess at her place of summer employment. It's a five plus hour journey, so we spent more than ten hours in a car this weekend. The extra hours were spent visiting Madison (Mad Town) and a couple of scenic locations in Janesville (Jane's Vegas).

Saturday afternoon we stopped at the Wisconsin State Capitol, the place where all the big demonstrations have been happening the last few months where the legislature and the governor are passing laws that are intensely disliked by the unions in the state. There were no demonstrations while we were there, but there were signs and bumper stickers galore expressing political opinions. We spent some time circling the capitol and taking photos. The first photo is PP at the capitol up on a wall at the capitol where she probably wasn't supposed to be, but no one cared and it's a nice photo. She's mugging for Unky Herb as he takes a photo.

Part of the reason for the trip to Madison was to find a good Vietnamese restaurant, a lack in Janesville. I had an address of one from my internet searching and we started to walk in that direction. It was a longer walk than I expected, but just after passing a gathering of young people with a sign announcing "Fruit fest" we encountered Bahn Thai, a pretty good Thai restaurant where we stopped and ate. Sweet and sticky brown rice with mangos were the topping delicacy. As we waited for the food I took a picture of my kids. Not really kids any more, but still mine.

We also visited the Madison Arboretum later as the sun went down. There's a native prairie restoration of several acres that was lit by lightning bugs and infested with tiny rabbits. Not a bad first day.

On Sunday it rained in the morning. We went to the Botanical Gardens in Janesville. It's quite an impressive array of various forms of international flavored gardens - European, Japanese and even a grove of larch trees. We took umbrellas and stayed pretty dry. We were about the only people who visited Sunday morning. This next photo is UH and PP in an arch in front of a formal garden, trying to stay dry.

This is is Herb, with his camera in the midst of the foliage in the Japanese Garden.

And PP peering into a small structure that is part of the Japanese Garden where I was having a sit down.  She's looking cute and wistful for the camera.

In the afternoon, after lunch at a Noodle Factory, we went to the 150 acre prairie at the place that PP works. We walked through knee high grass, scaring up butterflies and wood ticks in abundance. I even learned some new plant names - wild white indigo and spider wort to name two - from the wild plant expert who was showing us around. That was the Prairie Princess.

Then we had a snack at the world's largest Culver's (no photo exists to prove it) and hit the road for Minnesota. By the time we reached Hudson, UH and I had spent 33 consecutive hours in the People's Republic of Wisconsin. A nice trip.  A nice Father's Day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Trees Grow in the Park

I had a walk around Como Park to get ready for the Friday night USTA mixed doubles match. A prematch walk helps to loosen my joints and get the blood flowing to the aching parts of my body. It didn't help the quality of my match, but I managed to get a photo or two. It was a busy day by the lake. There was some sort of banquet and a private golf outing for the Chamber of Commerce and they were using the pavilion and loudspeakers. I crossed to the Conservatory side of Lexington and found this stand of pine trees in a less visited part of the park.

On my walk around the lake, I once again encountered the heron or egret or whatever it is. There are actually multiple individuals of this ilk hanging around and eating the fish in the lake. I find them attractive and can't seem to resist taking a snapshot and adding it to my blog for decoration. I really like the upgrades to Como Park in the last few years, and I thank the citizens of St Paul for footing the bill for it. That population of St Paul taxpayers also includes me. I'm always glad to do my part.

Tennis was played at baseline tennis center at the U of Minnesota. We played outside on courts 16-18. It was a nice early evening with little wind, but we played poorly and lost. The team as a whole went down 2-1, but we had a nice night to be outside smacking those little yellow balls. The rain held off until we quit, but I guess we getting some thunderstorms later tonight.

Tomorrow, I'm going to visit the Prairie Princess in her new environs. She's only about six weeks from her grad school adventure in the old country.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


It was a rainy day most of the day, but it did clear up at about three and I was able to get in two quick sets of tennis with the geezer guys. Tennis Dennis showed up early and swept the court of standing water and we were able to play until about five when another rain cloud interrupted play.

After I got home I decided to record the current state of my backyard veggies. That means basically my two tomato plants, although there are other edible veggies on the grounds: some carrots, just now sprouting through the dirt; chives and rhubarb in the Prairie Princess's native plant garden; volunteer lettuce and cilantro in the dirt pots, onion seeds planted in another pot that I'm hoping to get to sprout, and a bed of fresh oregano, going wild by the back steps. It's a veritable salad bowl.

These are the two tomatoes. They are well fertilized using the juice from Unky Herb's worm farm. I'm expecting great things from these two plants, great things arriving sometime in late July, I suspect.

This is a close-up of the one on the right. There are also some volunteer heirlooms in the dirt that seeded themselves and that I'm going to let grow and see what develops. They are the progeny of the heirlooms that last year produced blueberry sized tomatoes. I'm starting to feel like that Gregor Mendel guy, who messed with pea plants between 1856 and 1863 and founded the science of genetics.

The tennis tournament at Wimbledon starts next Monday and Venus and Serena are entered, but Kim Clijsters has withdrawn because of injury. I'm picking Wozniacki on the women's side and Novak Djokovic for the men.  Maybe Roger Federer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A-Rod hit

Sometimes the Minneapolis Fishwrap has a headline that makes me laugh out loud. This one from Sunday did the trick. Do you think the headline writers knew what they were doing when they composed this one????

Two sets of tennis today at Marie Park on a drop dead gorgeous day. One of the nicest Mondays in the history of Mondays. My partner, Tennis Dennis, and I split sets 4-6, 6-4 with two different friendly competitors. There were eight players on two courts, geezers all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

White tailed deer at Crosby Farm

Crosby Farm Park is in the flood plain. The Mississippi River is still high enough to flood the low lying parts of the flood plain. There used to be a pretty good bike trail that ran through Crosby Farm, but that trail is still closed. High Water. Actually it's more than high water. It's mud and sand and tree trunks across the trail that keep the trail closed. It's possible to walk the trail, if one is willing to get mud on one's shoes and is also willing to go off path now and then to go around downed trees.  That's what I did.

The lack of a bike or hiking trail has kept the visitors to a minimum and that seems to have encouraged the deer herd to take back some territory, even if it's a temporary recapture. I was walking on one of the muddier sections when I encountered this white tailed deer. It was was tame enough to let me take several photos with my telephoto lens, and then he sauntered off stage right.

The flood waters elevated this tree trunk high enough to get between two healthy trees and it stayed put when the water level dropped. Now the position looks pretty permanent. I forget sometimes the power of water to raise objects and strand them in unexpected spots.  That's the Mississippi River in the background.

After two straight days of tennis, I took today off.  I needed the rest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Schiller's ova

It was forty degrees cooler than three days ago, only registering 62 for a high today. But I felt like I needed to get some walking in to loosen my bones for the USTA tennis match later on in the day. Como Park is always a good place to roam about and there always seems to be something going on. After circling the lake I thought that I'd try the area by the Conservatory to find out if there were any flowers to be seen or any adventures to be had.

As I was walking by the statue of the famous German poet, Friedrich Schiller, I was startled by a noise and some motion amongst the rose bushes.

I looked down and a mostly camouflaged female mallard was crawling along, looking weak and tired.  I wondered what was going on, but then noticed her nest.

A whole cache-load of duck eggs. I took the picture and carefully backed away. I think I'll revisit the area to see if the eggs hatch in the next few days. It must be about time, because there are multiple litters of ducklings following their mothers around over by the lake.

Incidentally, I got another photo of the great white heron, or perhaps one just like the one I photographed a couple of days ago. He seems to have settled in at Como Lake and taken out a mortgage.

The USTA mixed doubles match this evening was at Lifetime Fitness in Lakeville. Marsha and I played number one doubles against a pretty good team and managed to prevail 7-6, 6-2. Yet again our opponents asked me how old I am. I guess I must be starting to look ancient or something, but they are always quite complimentary when I tell them I'm 68. I guess I'm supposed to be creaking a bit more than I am so far, but I'm pretty sure I'll be creaking around tomorrow after the early Saturday morning session with the group from Geezerville at Marie Park. They seek nor grant no quarter.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back to Pike Island

We've had topsy-turvy weather this week. After extreme heat, we are now getting cloudy and cool. And who says "topsy-turvy" any more? I wanted to check out whether Pike Island has become accessible yet. The Minnesota River and the Mississippi have been high in the flood plain and the bridge to Pike Island has been cut off by high water. And, too, I needed to get some exercise on a day without tennis.

I drove to the entrance of Fort Snelling State PArk and bought my $25 state park permit to get me into all the Minnesota State Parks for the next year. I chatted a bit with the state employees there, a park ranger and the permit seller - both of whom may be laid off when the state shutdown occurs on the first of July. That's another sad tale, one about politicians who can't compromise and will likely cause average citizens some pain and discomfort, but one I didn't discuss with the state employees. I just asked if Pike Island was open and they told me that it was accessible via the bridge, but the paths on the island are still closed by high water. It's been a wet year and there seems to be a couple more weeks of waiting before the island will open completely. I decided to see for myself.

I was able to get to Pike Island okay and I was able to get to about 50% of the island. It was enough to find the Fort Snelling deer herd. They kept their distance, but I was able to get a couple of blurry photos of them as they foraged for food.

And I got a photo of one of the benches along the Mississippi to add to the collection of bench photos. There weren't many visitors to the bench today, but it'll get more action as the rivers subside.

This is what the area around the bridge looks like today. The trees are standing in water, but the water adds a reflecting surface to enhance photos.

I managed to get some exercise, while at the same time spending some quality time in a natural setting. And I was able to accomplish these things without accumulating any ticks - wood or deer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nicest Wednesday of the week

After yesterday almost any weather would have been pretty nice, but today was cool enough without humidity to qualify in one of those nicest days comparisons.

I have another bird photo, but after this I may find another subject for a while - perhaps benches, or snow piles (although the St Paul fish rap reported today that the huge snow pile at the Rice Street Sears store finally melted in yesterday's 103 degree heat), or maybe traffic signs. The two adult geese are herding around a brood of new geese, goslings, I think they're called. They'll soon be fans of that Beach Boys hit, "Little Deuce Coupe."  At any rate, goslings are pretty cute until they get bigger, ornery and messy.  One of the big ones hissed at me as I went by, a trifle too close for the boundaries of its personal space.  I kept walking.

There was geezer tennis at Marie Park this afternoon and eight guys showed up for the fun.  It was windy enough to cause some stress and some mis-hits, but otherwise a fine day.  I was playing with one of the regulars as a partner and we were nearly bageled in the first set, before regaining equilibrium and getting two games before succumbing.   I haven't been bageled in a while and had forgotten how sometimes no matter what you hit over the net, it comes back just a little nastier than it left, and sometimes it'll even bounce off the top of the net and fall straight down your your side of the net.  I think there is karma - good and  bad - involved these plays, but they are sometimes unavoidable.  I'll have my good days, too.  I'm not complaining.

It's nice that it's June and the tomatoes are growing rapidly by my back door.  What's nicer than that?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

One hundred degrees

For the first time in five years the temperature reached triple digits. I guess 103 was the official high and it was the hottest day in 23 years here in the Saintly City. It was too hot to repeat yesterday's tennis ordeal, and it was too hot for biking, but it was okay for a walk around the lake. It's only 1.6 miles - a distance that I can handle even at 20 below zero.  Happily the humidity was only around 25%, so I took my camera and went for a stroll. The Black Bear Inn is right by the parking lot where I start, and is a friendly air conditioned coffee shop.

Amazingly (or not), there were very few walkers or runners using the trail around the lake. I counted for a while and half way around the count was eight people, including a roller blader. I encountered the neighborhood heron again. He was spooked by my closeness I guess, but I was able to get a decent photo of his flying style.

About the time I got the photo of the heron, I apparently spooked a pair of red wing blackbirds. They screeched at me and made some aggressive moves in my direction. They were agitated.  The male has an orange-red splotch on his wing next to a yellow splotch.

The female was less colorful, but just as wary. I looked around and took several photos of their behavior. They hung around and seemed to be protecting a nest.

After scanning the trees in the area, I noticed the reason for their distress. The new born birds in this nest are very likely closely related to the two birds above.

I continued the walk, not wanting to cause any more stress to the wildlife on such a hot day. Near the end point of my circumnavigation I found mallards again. I know I've posted a lot of mallard photos lately, but I like this one well enough to repeat. The ducks seemed unaffected by the heat and happy to be next to a decent size body of water.

Our heat wave is expected to end tomorrow. It was short but intense. I plan to be smacking tennis balls again tomorrow with the geezers on a mostly comfortable day. Another day in the endless string of present moments.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sleeping Ducks, Tomatoes and Hot Day Tennis

I caught these mallard males napping on the shore of Lake Como. They're so tame that they didn't look up or budge as I took the photo. Como is a busy lake with lots of people walking and running around it nearly every day, so I guess they've grown accustomed to activity. They seem like they're feeling secure.

It was too hot for tennis today. There were health warnings for the aged amongst us, who were advised to find an air conditioner and hang around it all afternoon. But, since the geezers were scheduled for an afternoon session of tennis ball whacking, I played some tennis at Marie Park. Besides Curt was back from his winter haven in Arkansas, and I hadn't exchanged witticisms with him for months. There were six of us older gents there, determined to play some tennis and also to survive the first day in the nineties this year. We played some abbreviated sets and finished off most of our water before calling it a day. When I got into my car, the on board thermometer falsely reported 107. After five minutes of driving it had dropped back to a more likely 95. I stopped at Subway for a sandwich, Gatorade and a walk though the air conditioned convenience store attached to the Subway.

I have planted my tomato plants by the back door. They're well established already and beginning to grow. Last year, if you remember, I tried to grow heirloom tomatoes from seeds. It was pretty much a failure, because the heirloom tomatoes that survived yielded blueberry size tomatoes, so small that I didn't even harvest them. And, of course, my planting was delayed by a trip to Paris and Roland Garros stadium. This year I bought Early Girls from the garden center on Randolph. I'm much encouraged. This is the tomato plant to the left of the other one.

Raffa Nadal is the champion again at Roland Garros in Paris for the sixth time. The championship match against Roger Federer was classic clay court tennis. I spent about four hours Sunday watching them beat each other up and counted it good use of my time.