Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Random Thoughts From Sula

  • It gets late too early in the wintertime.
  • When my internet service was out, I had to look up a word in an actual dictionary (!), and it reminded me of elementary school, when we learned that L is in the center of the dictionary.  Then that flashback made me want to go out and buy one of those big first-grade pencils.
  • Tetanus would seem scarier if they still called it lockjaw.
  • I find it confusing when someone writes something is happening “as we speak,” because if they’re writing, we’re not speaking.  And I always have to wonder if it's happening right then, or back when they were writing.
  • Why do people say tuna-fish?  You never hear anybody say “I’m having a turkey-bird sandwich.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Turn Around, Bright Eyes

That Bonnie Tyler song kept playing in my head during the total eclipse of the moon.  But the temperature dropped down to 6° by the time the total eclipse began, so I had to sing the alternative verse that goes "Every now and then I get a little bit freezing and I have to go inside to get warm," which I followed with the somewhat inconsistent "Every now and then I have a beer!"  I couldn't do the chorus because it just wouldn't be right without the operatic group of backup singers.

These are the best pics I could get with my point-and-shoot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jack Frost Nipping at Your . . . Internet

Last Tuesday (the 14th) continued an unusual (for Sula) period of above-freezing temperatures combined with heavy snow, forming a thick layer of slush on the roads and on my roof.  As soon as the sun dropped behind the ridge line to the west, the slush on my roof froze into a big sheet of unstable ice, a piece of which broke, slid off and forcibly repositioned my satellite dish.  I called Dish Network, and the guy told me internet satellites have to be set exactly right to pick up a signal, so I needed to get the dish set back at precisely 37.1°.  Oh, is that all?  So I went out and loosened the bracket on the dish and moved it to where I thought 37.1° would be, which I located by finding 45° with my calibrated eyeball and then backing off about 7.9°.  Piece of cake.  But no signal.  Then I spent about an hour making minor shifts up and down figuring I had to be close, but nada.

So I got all edumacated and figured I could use a little trigonometry.  If I knew the tangent of 37.1°, I could define the base of the triangle and compute the height of the vertical side and use that to set the dish.  But I didn't have a scientific calculator, or an internet connection, so Mari had to find the tangent for me, which she did (but with a lot of protestations along the lines of "I don't know nothin' bout no trig").  We knew she got it right when BMac confirmed her answer.  I computed the height I needed, and then there I was, out in the snow, with my level and square, trying to keep an eye on two measurements and one bubble to get the thing set.  But still no signal.  So I hung up my level and called Dish Network back and told them to send out an expert.

The expert came out this morning and set the dish in about 10 minutes, but he had a fancy signal meter with a little graphics screen and a beeper and everything.  He said the iceberg had shifted the mast of my dish, so my angle now needs to be 42°.  And not only that, but the dish was shifted laterally, so even if I had gotten the right angle, I didn't have the right azimuth.  But here's the real capper: on the far side of the bracket holding the dish, the side that's up against the house where no normal person would ever notice it, there's a little protractor that you can use to set the angle so you don't have to use any trig or squares or levels.  Now they tell me.  But now I know that if another iceberg should happen to fall on my dish, all I have to do is go out and reset it back on 42°.  And hope it didn't shift the mast or throw off the azimuth again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tundra swans (and a few skittish mallards)

These birds were hanging out on a small pond on the East Fork Road, not far from the Sula Post Office. I'm pretty sure the swans are tundra swans because they have the small yellow patch on the corner of their dark bills, near their eyes (it's too small to show up in the pic).

A closer look at the mallards.

Just swans.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Not just a bird feeder

 Some people say the deer know when hunting season ends.  This white-tailed doe has just recently started dropping by every evening to pick up seeds the steller's jays sling out of the feeder.

This red squirrel stops during lunch hours to dig in the snow for seeds dropped in the morning rush.

Can a brother get a bowl of chili up in here?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Blogger: LDB!

Here are some humorous updates from LDB, who is otherwise a mature and contributing member of society:

Lizzie and I always fight when we put up Christmas decorations. She thinks a nativity scene should look like a "Jesus campfire." And we usually spend the month of December going behind each other moving the figurines in and out of campfire formation.  One year, we had a huge fight in Garden Ridge because she didn't like the Christmas Tree balls I picked out--they matched the colors of the living room, which she thought was stupid. So get this...Well this year, she was all pissed off because all of our Christmas ornaments don't match.

Her:    "Mom, why can't we have one of those nice matching trees where everything is color coordinated?"
Me: "Because part of the fun of Christmas is putting up the different ornaments and remembering where you got them or who gave them to you. It's nice memories." 
Her: "No it's not."
Her: "Can we move, I hate our house."
Me: (quietly pouring a gin and tonic)

She is a hoot and a half.  I did not get mad at her, because I totally understand.  Women each have their own way of decorating and running a household. Even though I love my G'ma, Mom, Sister, and girlfriends, I wouldn't want them deciding how my house looks or where I put my stuff.  Even the lady who helps me clean my house rearranges stuff to the way she thinks it looks better.  I am really excited to see what kind of house Lizzie will have when she's grown up.  I hope it's something that my grandchildren, Laurie, Maggie and Frank, will love growing up in.  But I am pretty sure Laurie and Maggie will complain at her all the time.  Bitches.

We got Adele’s (LDB’s dog) picture taken with Santa this weekend.  She was a little bit scared of him, but we managed to get it.  Santa is straining with one eye closed to keep her under his arm and she's busy shimmying out the back side.

Went to my Mom's Beer Friday friend's house on Thanksgiving night to drink wine and chit chat after dinner(s).  Someone was complaining about not being able to reliably go "number 2."  It's a common problem for women (as you know, Cliff). The solution, we got out the Miralax and everyone stirred it into their wine, bourbon/coke, etc.... Turns out, it dissolves totally and you can't taste it.  That was a first.

Buddy, my cat, peed on Lizzie's backpack and ruined her French book.  Lizzie asked me to e-mail the teacher and ask her for a new book, but said I should not tell her what happened.  It's embarrassing.  So I emailed the teacher: "Dear Mrs. Hill, Elizabeth's French book got ruined over the holiday.  It's something like the "dog ate it" only much grosser. Can we buy a new one? Sorry for the inconvenience."  Mrs. Hill's response:  "No worries.  A new one is $3." Thanks Mrs. Hill, but I've got some worries, like "when's this peeing cat going to kitty heaven?"

Spent 8 hours on Sunday making a model of a cell in a shoe box with Lizzie.  A plant cell, not a prison cell. It's pretty nice if we do say so ourselves.  Will try to get you a picture.  I know you are dying to see it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No strings attached

To help with my outdoor travels this winter I ordered a set of crampons.  I got a lightweight aluminum set, which are not quite as durable as the heavier steel ones, but you only need that extra durability if you wear them for long periods and walk over a lot of rocks as in serious mountaineering, which ain't what I'm doing.

One of my Texas friends, who is otherwise a mature and contributing member of society, cannot hear the word "crampons" without breaking into giggles because of its similarity to another word.  When I told him I was going to get some crampons for this winter, he was helpful enough to suggest I get the maxi size and with wings, in case I fell off a mountain.  I am rich in friends.

But, despite any unfortunate association with the name, crampons are excellent for getting traction on ice and snow slopes.  With these babies I can stay free to snowshoe up the ridge behind my cabin and still be able to get back without bouncing down it like I did last year.

The snow is not really deep enough yet for snowshoeing, but I figured it would be good exercise to snowshoe back to the ridge so I could try out my new toys.  While snowshoeing, I carried the crampons in a nondescript bag in my day pack.

Snowshoes really sink in the dry powder snow we get up here.

Looking up the ridge.  The temps have gotten above freezing a few times, so there is a little ice under all the new powder, which is what caused all my traction problems last year.  I stopped here to switch from snowshoes to crampons.

I only went about a third of the way up the ridge since this was just a test drive.  Crampons are much easier to walk in than snowshoes, and the traction was excellent.  You really can't see anything in this pic, but I was standing on a steep downhill slope and the crampons' points were well dug in.  It was a successful test drive.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Assorted Snow Pics and Stuff

Okay, I'm a little late with these. . .

About five inches of snow fell overnight last Thursday.  We kept hearing it slide off the roof in clumps.  This is how the deck looked Friday morning.

This squirrel has made a little trail in the snow to get from its safe haven shrub to the bird feeder.

Here's the squirrel's hidey-hole under the shrub.

A closer look.

Friday turned out clear and sunny (the road has already been plowed twice).

On Friday, Mari and I went to Moscow, Idaho to visit Laura the Cooking Photographer, her husband Jesse and their daughter.  They have a great family.  Laura is as much fun in person as she is on her blog, so I'm blaming her and saying we were having so much fun just hanging out, cooking and checking out the scene in Moscow that I didn't take any good pictures to post.  Bad Laura!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I waited until the end of hunting season to put up my Christmas decorations because I didn't want to encourage any yay-hoos to set up blinds out in the National Forest thinking Rudolph might drop by early.  But the general hunting season ended on Sunday night, so the population of Sula has decreased significantly, from about 500 orange-clad trophy chasers back down to the usual 28 misanthropic recluses.  Everything is back to normal.

In keeping with hallowed holiday tradition, I had a big argument with myself about where the decorations should go, and then I called myself a few unprintable names and stormed inside yelling "YOU do it!"  Good thing there were no neighbors to hear that.  (That reminds me of the old cartoon where a mother tells her young son "Stop that yelling! What will the neighbors think?"  "They'll think Dad's home!")

I've never been one to send out Christmas cards, but if I was, this would be it:

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's Beginning to Look

I'm thinking about dragging all my Christmas decorations out of the garage this weekend.

Friday, November 26, 2010

White Thanksgiving

Several inches of new snow fell over the course of the day.  Of course there was no snow in the forecast, but sometimes that dartboard the forecasters use is a little off.

All's well that ends well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Freezing River

The temperature was 15 below this morning and is now climbing its way toward a forecast high of 3.  The East Fork has thickened up nicely, though it's still flowing in little channels through the ice.  Tonight's temps should drop under 20 below, so it's just a matter of time before solid ice silences the river.  The silence is profound, after being accustomed to the sound of the river all year, to go out and hear nothing.

 A deer got a little impatient here and tried to walk across.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snow-Made Ice Cream

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  If life gives you day after day of snow, make ice cream.  The basic recipe is embarrassingly simple, but it makes good ice cream.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Snow (dry, powdery snow is best)
To make it richer, I used 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of half and half (which I suppose makes one cup of three quarters and one quarter, but that's not important).

In a large bowl, mix the milk, vanilla and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Carry the bowl and some sort of snow-scooping device (I used a 1 cup measuring cup) outside and find the cleanest snow you can (I scooped the top three inches of snow piled up on my deck railing).  Scoop snow into your mixture, stirring constantly.  Add snow until you get the thickness you want.  It should take about four or five cups. 

Ice Cream! (I know it looks more like mashed potatoes or tapioca in this pic, but it's ice cream)

Enjoy.  Try not to hurt yourself by eating the whole thing like I did.  I'm going to have to take up cross-country skiing.

This is just the beginning.  Imagine all the stuff you can add: berries, caramel, crumbled Reese's Cups.  You can take a hammer to a bag of Oreos and make cookies and cream.  And if you want to cut out the fat from all the dairy, there are plenty of good sorbet recipes on the internet.  That's what I'm making next, blueberry sorbet.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Arctic Express, Going Down

This is an excerpt from a story out of today's Missoulian, cleverly combing the weather forecast with talk of this weekend's big football game between the two in-state rivals.

"Coming out of one tunnel, your Montana Grizzlies. Out of another: the Montana State Bobcats.  And, coming out of Canada, an arctic cold front, accompanied by snow and winds gusting to 30 mph.  All of them should collide at about the same time Saturday. . . We're talking 15-below-zero in some places in western Montana by next week, according to the National Weather Service, which is warning of potentially dangerous wind-chill values in the days and nights leading up to Thanksgiving.  'It's not the coldest arctic front we've ever seen, but it's one of the colder,' said meteorologist Corby Dickerson, who reviewed the arctic fronts that have come through western Montana in November over the past century, and predicts 'this one will be in the top three or four.'  High temperatures in the single digits-to-teens Sunday and Monday are expected to plummet even further come Tuesday and Wednesday, with lows dipping well below zero."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It Sifts From Leaden Sieves

by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from Leaden Sieves —
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road —

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain —
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again —

It reaches to the Fence —
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces —
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack - and Stem —
A Summer’s empty Room —
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them —

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen —
Then stills its Artisans — like Ghosts —
Denying they have been —