Saturday, March 28, 2020

Took a mile walk this morning, still in the COVID-19 quarantine.  Our schedules are all off -- I am up at 3 am making soup, Mark is just getting to bed, and Esme won't wake up until 10:30 in the morning.  This is not like us.. but we have about two weeks more until school starts back up.. unless they cancel it for the rest of the year.

I ;am still deemed an 'essential' worker in both of my jobs - postal worker and medical technology service - but the actual hours are few and far between.  I do not see many people.  So, there's that.  I went out to two medical tech jobs the other day and wore gloves for both.  I'm doing what I can for those patients - even though I can't stay entirely at home.

I love the stages of the hickory trees, and the redbuds, and the dogwoods.  The sarvis (serviceberry) trees have finished now with their flowers, falling away to green leaves only.  The dogwoods that are blooming now are a green color and large flowered.  The more delicate white flowered ones will be popping in the woods soon I'm sure.  It seems like it was just a few months ago I was photographing them -- but I know it has been nearly a year.

Time has been so odd this year, even before the coronavirus, with changing jobs and getting through the anxiety of that - then Dad died in October - and I had a lot more anxiety and PTSD type epiphanies.  But  that is a human response, and I am feeling like I've swum to the other side of the shore.

I made soup, following my nose.
I'm a champion at thinking up weird combinations in my sleep... woke up and decided to make onion soup at about 3 am.  Then, as I grabbed for ingredients, things fell together to this.  The actual soup looks awful - kind of like the shiitake mushroom tapenade someone once tried to make with me - and it was so awful the cats and dogs wouldn't touch it..  But, this was amazingly good.

Lentil Seaweed Soup with Onion

About 2 to three cups of water
About 2 tbsp olive oil
celery salt, black pepper, garlic powder, ginger powder
1 medium onion, diced small
about 1/2 cup of brown lentils (washed)
1 sheet of Kombui seaweed
2 cubes of chicken boullion
1 packet of miso tofu (red style) soup
Some leftover packets of tofu cubes and green onion flakes from another bag of miso where they come separate from the paste

It started with waking up thinking about onion soup.  I have eaten a couple of cans of French Onion soup the past week and found them very satisfying.  But - looking at the recipes for how to make it from scratch did nothing for me.  It wasn't right for me.  So, this morning I was thinking I would just start with olive oil and onions and see where it took me.

I put in the spices, and then I knew I wanted the brown lentils.  Then the thought filtered in about the bouillon.  After all of that was together and bubbling nicely, the miso soup that came in the mail the other day entered into the edge of my mind and I added that in.  It was when I put the tofu soup packet in that I smelled the little bits of seaweed that are in it, and it made me think - I bought sheets of kombu last year for soba soup making.. which I've only made a couple of times since.  They were still in the cupboard, waiting.  They add a lot of salt, along with the bouillon, so NO need to add any extra.

After I had let that entire combination boil then simmer for an hour or so, I took the stick blender and gave it a few careful pulses.  You could pour the whole thing in a blender and do the same thing.  I am always careful about hot soup - volcanic bursts onto skin if you do it wrong etc.  But a few pulses was all it took to wake up Esme, too - she had slept through our entire conversation about 'soup at 3 am' but the stick blender woke her up.  She came out and looked at it, made some comments about games she had been playing, and went back to bed.

To serve the soup I put in an extra fresh grind of black pepper and a full teaspoon of hot madras curry powder right into my bowl.  It was one of the best things I've eaten in a while - but yes - it LOOKED gross.  Nova dog highly approved when I woke up at 8 am and had more for breakfast.

This camera has better eyes than I do - it almost gets down to the grain of the wood and the 'feather and fur' of each little leaf.

There was an ant crawling in the redbuds, and bees buzzing everywhere.  I couldn't get any of the insects in focus, but I wanted to remember that they were there.  The sun was coming up over the trees behind me and it made the redbud glow.

My right ankle gave out on me, as well, this morning.  It sent me crumping to the ground just like that time I was pregnant with Esme.  I remember that one often because I was so scared for her.  I fall down in this way quite a bit - just the other week in the garden, as well, but that was the time I had to worry for more than myself.  I was also thankful this morning I wasn't carrying the camera yet.  But, because I was now bleeding from my hand and knee - I was even more determined to capture some images of the things that were unique about this morning, the things that turned a walk to the mailbox into an expedition.

The red brown brush beside the road always piques my attention.  I wonder if there are many other people who find it as beautiful as I do.  This, and the red gold grasses bring me back to a time in the field at Arbo Road - standing in the middle of the sky, one tree to my back and a full circle clearing farther than I could run in one breath to all sides.  I was alone with the sky and the tree there.  I spent a lot of time there, far beyond the garden, but not too far Mom couldn't hear me when she yelled.  I sat at the base of that tree and thought about my ancestors, about my future, about the woods around me.  I was a deep little nine year old.. but there was something about that place - something it imbued me with - that comes back to me when I am out in the grasses.  It is one of the reasons I like to drive up by Martin, TN, too - the wide open sky, like an eyeball looking down on me from above, and the grasses, and the trees like eyelashes at the edges, waiting to blink.

Red brown feathers, delicate structures.  They seem to shine almost pink and looking through them is like looking many strings and webworks repeating over and over to infinity.  When it rains, they collect shining drops of water in their branches and intersections.  When it frosts, they collect tiny crystals of ice.

I think I spend more time looking at the tiny bits of plants around me than most people - it is something I find joy in, the changes, the differences, the transformations.

Mark found this out in the driveway yesterday, he says a woodpecker has been hard at work on it.  It was almost hollow inside - insect work that the woodpecker then went after the insects?

I'm sewing up the ends of dischloths, knitting on yet another lap blanket, bright green this time. Our black tortoiseshell Minion is truly enjoying where the pink one ended up I made over the last few months.

Besides that , more soup, maybe a bit more work in the garden.  It is supposed to rain today so I don't think it is right to put the seedlings out to day.. but it is so warm it is almost there.

We also finally downloaded the game GardenPaws, and it is very sweet.  Esme and I have been exploring that new world and discovering all of the creative things to do in it.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

South Carolina Scenic Route (essay)

This was written on a site for a writing prompt 'I remember the time I drove onto the gravel.'... well ,this is what I thought about.  It is a true story.  It happened in South Carolina, in October of 2019.

South Carolina Scenic Route
by Marie Lamb

I remember what it was like to drive into that gravel of the wrong turn, that wasn’t a turn. I drove straight ahead, right off the paved road with a huge jarring KERPLUNK and skidding into the sand and gravel of a quickly narrowing road. The directions hadn't said to turn right, and I hadn't turned.  But I had quickly regretted it.  This was the last place with a shoulder, but I was going too fast to take advantage of it. There was a big truck behind me, and it turned, the way I thought I should have gone. I skidded to a stop as the tree canopy above me closed in, turning the broad daylight to shadows.

My eleven year old daughter turned to me, her eyes widening, and asked ‘Mom, are you sure this is the right road?’ I couldn’t turn around. I couldn’t back up, with more small traffic coming in behind me. It was this way or the highway, now, and the highway was back there.

So we continued, along the tiny six foot wide road, going ten miles per hour around corners. We met three other cars coming the opposite direction, slowly thank God, just like we were traveling. There were even a few mailboxes with gated driveways along the way - tiny paths leading up and into the National Forest beyond. At one point, we came to a near stop on a 90 degree turn and saw the expanse of a lake stretching out for nearly as far as the eye could see, about twenty feet down from the surface of the road. It was one of the longest hours I have ever driven as a parent, not counting the first time I drove a stick shift to the post office with a month old infant in her carseat beside me.

We finally emerged from the forest cover, to a tiny four way stop beside a church. I was a little shaky at this time, and punched up my phone to find out where in the Sam Hill I was, and how badly I had gotten lost. And then I sat there and stared at Google for a good minute. I turned to my daughter and told her ‘That was the road. That tiny road was State Route 1536. That really was the road we were supposed to be on.’ I took a moment to see that the right hand turn I thought I missed actually went an hour out of the way along a perfectly normal highway and would have gotten us there eventually. But this had been the route printed up on the map we made before we left, and scary or not, it had gotten us here.

I still wonder what I learned that day. Not to follow Google directions without looking really hard at the map? That sometimes the road we are supposed to be on is scary, dark and looks entirely preposterous? Mostly, I learned on that trip to communicate with my daughter that I don’t always have all the answers to what is in front of us, but I’m working really hard to get where we need to be.  And, when things get worrisome we slow down, keep our wits about us, and keep going to the other side.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Build an Empire style play Minecraft - population and jobs

This is an extension of my original post 'Let's Play Build an Empire style Minecraft'

This is an example of a spawn point town, in  swamp, using the available resources.  The houses have a cohesive style, but they have some individuality, too.  This town is called Cantrall (after the courthouse Abe Lincoln stood his first case in, I don't know why, it popped up in my head and I ran with it) 

We Will Survive

The original 'house' is built into the side of the hill and becomes the city center.  It contains the mine down to bedrock, a bed, a loom, and the beginning storage chests.  This is played with Monsters ON, and Normal mode.  So, the player is going to get hurt (a lot) and need to eat (a lot).  Luckily, there were some sheep and chickens to the North.

 The very first thing is cut down a tree or two, make a crafting table, get a wooden pickaxe, mine some stone, build a shelter with a door, and build a furnace to burn some logs in to make charcoal for torches.  You might get lucky and find iron or coal but you want to be in a small shelter with a roof, a door, and torches before the Sun Goes Down.  Or, you're toast... in the middle of a zombie/spider/skeleton sandwich.

Make a sword.  You will need it before you want to need it.

Have extra torches, and an extra tree or two worth of logs to make more sticks for torches and tools.  Then go mine, and hope for iron.

Home Sweet Home

If you can't get a bed right away (and you probably won't, because unless you go killing your sheep you will need to mine iron to get shears).. then stay underground with lots of torches until daybreak, then go back out and collect wood, kill fish in the lakes for food, gather kelp (if you're by the ocean) and dry it, etc etc.. 

Start building your farm as soon as possible.  I killed four spiders right at the beginning, so was able to make a fishing rod.  I also collected every apple from every harvested tree.  Food is no joke.  Get your gardens and food sources producing and make sure some is stored for later.  It's just like a real town in that way.

When you are comfortable with surviving  - and have your necessities covered, you can burn some sand for glass and make a fancier shelter on top or beside your emergency shelter.  You can also begin to plan your town with roads, fields, and footprints for houses.  You will end up with lots of materials from mining, so use your creativity!

Give your Towns Unique Identity - with Names and City Colors

Each town needs to have at least one custom banner, and a wooden sign saying the name of the village.  So one of the first goals of the city center, beyond food sources, is to have shears, a bucket and a loom.  Iron and string - not easy things to get for each village.  It's the basic 'iron age' technology.

Let your town have 'roads' and fences and a real flow of moving around from place to place within the village.  You might build it into the side of a hill and use the natural landscape, or flatten it out and start from a big square plane.  It's up to you.  And you can do something different for each place, evolving over time.

A Real Town would have Population

Villager mobs can be very annoying and take up CPU power, slowing the game.  We will experiment with those in another 'style' of Minecraft, where we don't expand across the entire world - which by itself takes up CPU power.  For now, we will just pretend that we have people in these houses, and that these people are here for a reason.  Each one will have a working house (as if you wanted to spend a Minecraft weekend there) and a 'job' that makes sense with the town.

For each 'imaginary villager' in a home there will be a separate bed, and a separate chest.  That means wool, and wood is needed for those things.  There will also be a crafting table and furnace for every house, usually near the entrance.  Each house needs torches for lighting, and glass for windows.

The kinds of 'jobs' you will be doing indicates what kind of population the real 'town' would need.  Farmers - the more fields, the more houses you might need to build.  A fisherman?  A woodcutter?  This town also has a paperworks (for the sugar cane farms) and a baker (where do you get your bread?)  It will need a sheep paddock and housing for the sheep farmer.

When you can - Specialize

Have lots of wool and a field of colorful dye-producing flowers?  How about an artist shop with paintings? 

In one of my towns there was a large amount of gold and redstone found deep underground.  That town became the first (And only, so far) town to have a clock tower building, sort of like a miniature Big Ben.

The Hard Way

If you REALLY wanted to get bones about it - you would provide in the 'villager' chest food, tools and clothing or armor.  But THAT would be going pretty far.  In a richer village, each chest would have some example of that to show someone 'lives' there - and the floors would be decorated with wood, carpets, glazed terracotta, brick etc - with item frames and paintings on the walls, terracotta flower pots and cauldrons - all the trappings of a town.

Get Yourself a Great View

One of the great things about Minecraft is the uniqueness of the places that are created - sometimes you just have to stand back and say 'Wow' - like the image above.  Try it out for yourself - version 1.15.2 Vanilla
seed# 2144314632329636425
and the coordinates for this plateau are -543.563, 77, -141.453
find an ocean monument at -880.396, 62, 255.962

How do you Win?

The joy is in the journey - but you will know you're making progress by expanding your territory.  When a village is self-sustaining, make yourself an 'export' building and chest - and begin to put excess food, materials and special items in there to 'seed' a new colony.   You may build roads in each direction trying to find a new place with unique resources, or a pretty view, or a different biome etc, to build the next town. Once you have scouted out a place - or before (if you're brave), head out with only what you can carry and build the next 'city center' to expand your Empire.

This World is an Island
Like to play islands?  This one spawns on a small island that may or may not have enough sheep to breed a population from.  There are a few trees, and some ores in the ground nearby.  If you really can't make the island work for you there is another larger flower-field landmass a distance due East... 
Try it out - version 1.15.2 Vanilla
seed# 8746182473153761204 

Note  If your town is an island, you have a unique opportunity to learn to reserve, multiply and expand your resources.  Trees are precious, as are wheat seeds and animals.  Beware creepers don't destroy everything!  How much space do you use for fields, and for buildings -- do you pull dirt from underground to expand your landmass in the water?  Don't spring a leak in your underground buildings while you mine!

To navigate away from your island (without just writing down coordinates at each place) - build a spire 20 blocks or more high and place a torch on top of it.  If you jump down into the water (and not onto the land) you will not hurt yourself.  Then, when you have built your boat, you can place your back to the spire and head off in a direction, and - if you build a spire on your newfound opposite shore, you have a landmark that will allow you to return back home 'easily'.


Goal : Self-sustaining villages that provide protection from monsters, and food for the player.  Iron and other resources.  'Domesticate' and breed flocks and herds of animals.  Create roads, signs and / or landmarks to allow you to navigate your Empire from place to place.  Export materials to other colonies and share materials and resources like a real Empire would - a system of 'trade'.  Explore!  Try to collect as many unique materials as you can and distribute them across the 'known' world.

Monday, March 23, 2020

bits and pieces

I have been knitting more dishcloths, finished one net bag and halfway through another.  The first one was too big for books but probably just right for beach towels.  I miss those sweet days going to the Carroll Lake beach with Esme last summer, sitting with my big floppy hat and knitting while she played in the sand and water, trying out her new swimming skills.  Back then, I was stressed out but had no idea exactly what was coming in the next few months, June, July and then August - which as when everything hit the fan - Tony ramping up his intimidation thing at work, and Dad getting sicker, and my teeth... all of it came into play.  And of course, if anyone had told me about everything that has happened with the coronavirus even last November, I would have told them that it sounded like a science fiction story plot for a B rated movie.

Today I have been playing Minecraft survival mode with monsters, Normal Mode (get hungry from walking, swimming, jumping, and need to eat or start to lose health).. and binge watching Stargate SG-1.  Esme played some Skyrim, and then went to her room to play Minecraft server mode with her online friends.  Mark and I talked a lot about the news.  Paid some bills.  Ready to run my postal route tomorrow.  Not sure about the medical supply/ device job - they say it is essential but the supplies are not 'essential' for most people.  But it would be for some.  Trying to think how to phrase that when calling my customer to ask if they need the item now or want to wait a few days...

Brought some eggs up to Irene today.  Did lots of laundry that needed doing.  It was getting much nicer outside, sunny but still cold.  The seedlings in the window have to be transplanted to new bigger pots soon or put outside - and with the hard downpours we've been having I'm reluctant to put them out.  I need to plant the kale, lettuces and mustard , too - and maybe some radishes.

Had French onion soup for breakfast and that was excellent.. then rice pudding with zante currants and cinnamon for lunch.  Been thinking about getting more supply of my miso soup and green tea that I like but they were hard to find even before everyone started panic buying... and I don't want to make a trip out to find them.  I have other green tea, and have been drinking that and my citrus vitamin C rosehips tea. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Lving in the Forest in the Arbo township

A picture of our daughter in her 'forest house'

The place we live in now in Tennessee is a bit removed from the city, twenty minutes drive in any direction.  We are isolated, sometimes involuntarily by the weather and icy roads, but mostly because we like it out here, away from the noise and population centers.  There are 'ghost towns' nearby, little villages that once were, and are now no more than names on the map.  That has been like that for many years - they still have railroad stops and empty grocery stores on their empty main streets.  When I moved down here in Minnesota, the closest I had seen to a 'ghost town' was the non-existant 'Zemple' on the map near Deer River, or famously, the old location of Hibbing in the hills which was moved during the blastings in the mines in 1919.

Relocation of Hibbing Minnesota

Most of the area around where I grew up was just 'blank' on the  map, compared to here.  It was much more than twenty miles (about thirteen minutes today) between cities.  The farm I grew up on, from about the age of 9 until it burned in a sweeping fire in my teenage years - was in Arbo Twonship in Minnesota, down Arbo Road, just south of the Prairie River bridge.  It had a collection of small houses on it, a garage, a huge barn, and a field full of cars, machines, tractors, semis and logging equipment.  When we lived there, it felt truly remote, like going back in time or into a national forest reserve.  I had thoughts, while I was there, of how far it must have been to get to by horse and buggy, and then by Model-A car, and now, in the back of a suburban or pickup truck, carrying tools and animal feed and sleeping bags.

A Different World, in Technology and Time

I think about the cast iron barrel stove, with its cooking racks on top, and kindle supply of branches and logs in a coalshed beside the brick wall.  The entire little house was built onto, tar paper shack built over a small brick house, merging the two into one.  There was the room with the big clawfoot bathtub, a hand-pump for water mounted on stone beside it, and a plastic five gallon bucket beside it for pumping water and then pouring down the toilet attached to a modern septic tank, installed at a later date in the small room to the side.  At nine, I had never seen anything like it - and the novelty soon wore off on that part, I tell you.  When it was cold, the water would be carried in big spaghetti pots from the kitchen to add to the cold water from the pump.  Now that I am older, and have some plumbing knowledge, I am truly amazed I cannot remember a single time the interior pump froze.

We learned to light the fire - while being taught to be extremely afraid of it.  We used Coleman lanterns in the rooms that didn't have electricity, and in the underground dirt-cellar, which was accessed through a trap door in the middle of the living room - just a square hole under the living room rug with a tight-fitting plank door.  There were no stairs, no ladder down, and that was also unlike anything I had ever seen.  In the summertime- we would can in huge kettles on the stove, and line the jars up in the cellar, beans, tomatoes, corn - my mom knew how to do it all from our garden in town. 

We cut grass with an old fashioned push mower.  We made toys, walking sticks, learned sewing and crochet (which I had already started to learn in town), and washed and dried some of our clothes outside, using an old fashioned wringer.  I learned washboards weren't just for making music, and that they tore up your knuckles, pretty badly!   We strung wire fences and chopped wood and fished in the creek from a huge webwork iron bridge (which sadly, no longer exists).  We walked down old railroad tracks and crossed wooden foot bridges and were scared to death by ghost stories of an abandoned house miles down the road.  I marvelled in the mathematical structures of the old things, and the wilds, and the right-in-front-of-me examples of how things had changed over time.  I felt a closeness to the idea that some things last long after we are gone, and some things are fleeting, and that one of the reasons we live is to see the difference.

But a World full of Detail and Wonders

I was already a kid that didn't quite fit in with the others at my school.  My parents had divorced, and I took it very hard for several years.  Then, my mother remarried, and we 'inherited' this new world - the farm - paths through the woods, old barns, tractors, junk piles, cats with kittens trailing behind them, fields of corn and pumpkins - more gardening space than I ever had in our little town plot, and the garden in town had always been as big as the house.  I remember in particular seeing trees I never saw in town - huge yellow basswood leaves, the tiny blue and purple flowers of creeping charlie.  There were so many things I had never seen - and weren't accessible by going to pick up a library book really... I remember getting up close and personal with bear, deer and a porcupine that wouldn't take 'No' for an answer and chased me -s l o w l y - for over a mile down the dirt road between my uncle's house and ours.  It was a terrible feeling of dread to know he wasn't giving up, and it was a long way home!

An Expanse of Time, shared 

I was a voracious reader, and consumed old newspapers, books and comics that were in the rooms of the house, learning archaic words and reading advertisements and submerging into a new world that had already gone away - but had seemingly left open a window.  I didn't feel as 'odd' among those books, among Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, and the heroines of Mary Jane Holmes and the street urchins of Horatio Alger- I read the Count of Monte Cristo, and Edgar Allen Poe and the Three Musketeers and the Daughter of Dracula, and knew that the world was so much larger than the pop culture I had seen up to then.  There were gorgeously illustrated children's books on American History and animals and plants and also some pretty dark tales of horror and science fiction that my brain turned over and over in the night.  I could feel the difference in how in previous eras they had thought of children, and women, and jobs and everything else reading those words.  I read different languages, and antique ideas of astronomy, geography, math and science, and then tried to shore them up against what I saw around me.  I also read a ton of 1940s science fiction, Asimov, Norton, Niven, A.E. Van Vogt and others - and compared their past thoughts of a future that had and had not yet come to be.

Also we had no phone (our uncle did) and being 1980s Minnesota, we only had a few channels coming in on the rabbit-ears.  When we were out there - it felt like we were disconnected from what was going on in the town, and time seemed to pass slower, so a week away could feel like more.  It was more - it was FULL of so much more detail and change, plants, animals, seasons ... like a space of time within a space.

Living at the Edge of the Wilderness
far off of Hwy 38 

We would spend weekends, breaks, whole summers out there - and there would be other days that as soon as we came home from school in town it was time to shoot out to the farm, feed the animals and so forth, and then come back home.  It took hours, but they were good hours.  I also remember how we would stop halfway at the God's Country gas station, where they had everything, toys, candy, clothes, food, ammunition, gas cans, fishing rods, nets and duck decoys, animal traps, medicines, pots and pans - it was a waypoint for those living out there so they didn't have to get all the way to town for everything they needed.  I remember the lady Cathy would spend time talking with me and looking at the bait in big tanks, and we would catch up on news and what everyone was doing.  I had read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder in first and second grade with my teacher, and the God's Country was my version of the Nelson's store - brought to life, and fulfilling all of those same purposes.

We worried about sharp objects, nails, tetanus, snakes - any sort of accident, because t would take a very long time - time we might not have - to get into town for help.  I remember one day we were out in the woods cutting a tree and my stepfather's lopper tool came down awkwardly and hit him in the side of the head - my older sister and I tied a bandana around his bleeding head and she drove him into the emergency room.  We were lucky it wasn't worse, but it was scary.  I could only imagine what might have happened in an even earlier era, when the doctor had to be sent for and found, and almost everything was taken care of 'at home'.

I remember one day it was early summer and we had all gathered to go pick plums in an orchard down the road, with another family.  We brought baskets and buckets and filled them up with the ripe fruit.  There were mosquitoes everywhere.  I was bitten so many times I actually got nauseous and had to lay down for most of the rest of the day.  There were days and days of plum jam-making after that, which I got to skip.  Another summer, the day after I turned eleven, I was swept down a culvert and trapped underwater for a short terrifying time, caught up on the straps of my life jacket.  We had went swimming with a few cousins in a large rushing creek, and I had made a misstep.  My sister's boyfriend, yanked me up from the debris under the water and luckily I made a fully recovery - but for days and days I felt vertigo, like the water would take me away while I was sitting still.

And Memories.. still.. and living in this world having seen that one up close...

So now I think back on all of those little vignettes.  They seem so clear to me still, and I know they shaped how I looked at the world from there to come.  When I lived in Fargo in a tiny apartment, I saw no huge problem with washing my clothes in the bathtub and hanging them to dry, if the one washing machine for the complex was broken or in use.  I get out in my garden on a regular basis with only a hoe and a bucket - even though my husband reminds me about the tiller in the garage (such a hassle sometimes!) and the hose twenty feet away on the pump...  I can't explain the water in a bucket thing.. it just has a different feel to it - the weight of the water, the flow from the cup... I know it in my bones better than the hose and sprinklers, even though they are faster and more 'efficient'.

I'm often out there in my garden with a camera and a drawing pad looking at plants, tracking growth, collecting seeds and drawing the development of leaves.  And yet, I am no botanist.  I'm just interested, and find this fun.   I can sit on the shore or in a chair in the garden and just watch everything happening around me and be happier than an hour in a movie theater.  I only wish others could share it quite the same way.  My husband, Mark, has this rare ability and 'eyes'.. but so many others are in a hurry or look but don't see the wonder in the details.  It is really hard sometimes because I am so excited and there is no one to share that moment with except Nature itself... time in a bucket, revolutions, cycles of regeneration and so forth.

That is why I put detail photography and charts and track things over the years here on this blog.  It is only a droplet in the sea of time that brims in my memory, but over the years I am seeking some bigger picture, what am I missing, what have I found, what should I be recording and saving.. who will read about or see or experience this land after we are gone? 

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Post Office
When I was out on the route last week or so both my door handles broke - both of them! I was doing 'Dukes of Hazzard' for the last half hour of my route after the driver's side one froze up. The mechanic fixed them soon after. I just finished rebuilding the shelf for the mail trays, as it was too fragile. Tomorrow we'll get the stickers and the lights put on and the 'taco truck' (it is a tacoma) will be ready to roll for the mail Saturday and Tuesday, The mail still has to go through, so people can get the things that will keep them through these weeks!

I went out and planted some green onions today and broke up sod in three beds, clearing weeds and leaves.  The chickens got some more greens - they are very happy it is almost Spring

My empire now has five cities.  This is the one I started on the  14th.  Each city has crops and fishing, multiple houses with beds, furnaces and so forth.  There are two that will need sheep transported to them.  I am quite proud of the island nation city I built in the middle of four glaciers.  It was mostly sand and a little dirt - and I built a huge castle, three houses and a big crop field there with Spruce saplings that I imported and some seeds.  I brought 25 wool with me to that city from the original colony, too.  There are roads connecting every city except the island one, and it has a dock on both sides.

Monday, March 16, 2020

How to play Build an Empire style Minecraft Survival 1.15.2

This is another flavor of Minecraft I play in Survival, by myself, or on multiplayer LAN.  If you are playing multiplayer you will have to make some considerations for destruction or anti-griefing.. but this game can be a challenge against yourself if you do not have others to play along.

The biggest thing is that you are expanding from your spawn point, not dying from monsters (much), and increasing resources from 'town' to 'town' as you build across the map.  And roads.  I build roads in all directions eventually, leading to each new 'town' with its own resources, mines, crops and animals.  Each village not only become self-sustaining, but also provides 'exports' to other villages of things it specializes in, or has been lucky enough to have a lot of in its area. 

For example, when you find a village with carrots and beetroot etc that is the time to send those 'exports' to the gardens of other 'towns' you have built, and bring some of their excess materials back to this 'town'.  It is kind of like the Spanish explorers bringing tomatoes back to Europe after finding them in the New World.

Be sure to light all new structures, as you can see there is a skeleton in the unfinished building in this town!  This town was lucky to have a black sheep that could be caught, and the black banners then get different dyes put on them that are available all around the building site.

Start with a single house and garden in each location, for survival.  Build up your tools, your food supplies (We're on MONSTERS mode, and we have to eat!), your bed, your mine etc.  Each additional house you build in the area gets a small stock of food, resources and tools, as well as the furnace, chest, minecraft table, doors, windows and bed. 

Why more than one building?  To make it a town.  To store more stuff.  If you were on Creative you could throw a few villager spawns in each one, but really - I just imagine that the more resources I can build up, the greater the buildings expand, crops, streets - and that town starts exporting colonists (me) to another location via another road, and building again.

Experiment with each 'town' having its own building style, and using natural resources from the area.  See how your own building style develops as you progress building your Empire.

 Some basic supplies in a chest

 A second garden in this town expanding more wheat, sweet berries and sugar cane.

Each town also gets a sign on its main building telling the name of  the town and its own banner motif to tell it apart from others.  In 15.1 you will need to kill a spider or two and build a loom - as well as have sheep and dyes, to make the banners.   The colors of the pattern should represent whatever sheep and dyes are available in that area.  This town was pretty rich to start - so each building got a copy of the banner.


As resources increase, the rooms get fancier, buildings might get taller or rebuilt, and specialty buildings like a town hall, library, blacksmith or magician might be built.  Really really rich areas might have a castle surrounded by several small peasant village homes.

 A castle being built with the resources from two towns

This town had three completed buildings after a week of Minecraft days since the 'colonists' moved from the main complex.   When I set off from the other complex I had some food, my tools and armor, 3 wool and some wood.  Everything else at this complex came from the land surrounding it.

The road from the original town, with an unfinished building three houses and the start of a tower.

The original town also had a pen full of sheep

The second town has a road continuing off into another biome, and ready to start again or continue to build in either one.  I might go finish the tower now, or add two more buildings to this one and a sheep pen before I continue on.

The nice thing about the Build an Empire style is that the road is endless, the accomplishments are what you decide on for yourself and over time, it rises and falls at each place.  Just imagine - what happens when a creeper destroys half your village?  Do you build again?  Do you make another colony?  Can you transfer your livestock between towns, or your riches to some central castle?

After a while, what is the history of your Empire?  There is one - you were there.  Form a story in an actual Minecraft book or signs saying what happened where and when, and come back later to read it.  In what year did the Illagers come and attack?  When did you build the cathedral with the stained glass?  When did you set off on your first ship across the ocean?  etc.

Biomes o Plenty 1.12

I really like to play this style of Minecraft in Biomes o Plenty as well, with HarvestCraft - except that it just keeps adding so many windy gardens and so forth that the landscape gets flooded (I've heard there is a settiug to town that down but then I hear there isn't...)   Biomes o Plenty really lends itself well becasue there are SO many different region-specific resources, and different kinds of food etc ..try really hard to get oyster sauce as an export good!  It takes so many ingredients it is difficult to even have one to put in an item frame - if you are doing it all on survival!

I had one game of this style that had more than twenty different towns , each with more to offer, different crops etc.  Eventually, when 1.13 came along, I tried to play this way there but it just wasn't as fun in Vanilla 1.13.  Now with 1.15 they have fixed a bit more with bees, fishing, turtles, ocean environments and more villager things that I have started to play vanilla again. 

some handicrafts

I could get the better camera, but these are not fancy things.  I've been knitting to keep my boredom and thoughts calm while I watch TV the past week or so - even before the panic really started with everyone and the coronavirus...

Esme stayed home from school.  I gave her the choice, as Benton county, McKenzie and Paris all shut down for the week but Huntingdon was holding out.  Everyone says Huntingdon will do it as well this week -- they have Spring Break next week but so did everyone else who closed.  I'll see what the news rolls in over the course of the day.

I made about eight washcloths (not all shown here) in cotton and linen.  They will be used in the bathtub and the kitchen sink, depending on the material and texture.  And I worked more on the lap blanket I began in December and finished it.  It was made of one huge skein of hot neon pink yarn and stripes of bits and bobs I had lying around.  It is very warm - but not much more than covering your lap while reading or knitting on the couch.

 picture is blurry, but they're already in the washing machine now, so this is what we got.  I found some really nice color combinations at Hobby Lobby the other day, and I also made up some plain cotton ones and some two-tone linen ones.

 this is a really bright neon pink Esme and/or Mark gave me for Christmas one year.. and there was so much of it I wasn't sure what to do.. so I broke it up with bits of other scraps in stripes.  I still have to weave in all the ends now - one bad thing about stripes!  It is very warm - sitting under it will half cook your feet.  Which, lately, is what we need.  It has been just so cold.

We doctored Minerva's eye yesterday, our sweet 'mama' dog who adopted Rex.  We couldn't find a cut or scrape either there or on her ears or neck or anywhere - but she had a bump near it and the eye was swelling  and weeping.  After a few hours the swelling had gone down.  This morning she looks almost better, just a little redness in that eye still.  I hope it stays okay now.  We bought a bit more medicine in Tractor Supply in case it starts up again after all this crazy is going on in the markets.

I am working on a green net market bag, that is coming close to getting to the top band and handle.  It has been sitting in my desk drawer for months at an odd stage .. something wasn't working.. I ripped it back last night and started it again, seems to be doing properly now.

Haven't been out to the garden today yet.. the cabbage seedlings seemed to do okay with their sun yesterday, no burning showing.  I picked up extra kale and mustard seed at the co-op while we were there picking up two bags of dog food. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

March 15th Square One Garden

5 eggs today, and some daffodils from a few days ago

The garden doesn't look like much right now.  I haven't tilled - I've barely cleared last year's dead grass and leaves and started to uncover the things that are there.  So, this is Square One.

In case you're wondering - the garden gets beautiful come May and June.  But it always has to start somewhere.  I love to look at the difference the months make.  It reminds me what is possible when I get out there and it looks like it does today.  Take a look at this 2014 garden post or the bounty in this 2012 produce post.  I'm looking at some more of that two-tone Zephyr squash.  It always did so well.

It is 43 degrees outside, and I am really feeling the itch to get away from this Coronavirus news and work in my garden.  I've been planting in my indoor greenhouse, but at some point I know the cold crops have to go OUT, and the garden needs to be cleared and tilled.  It is planning to rain all next week, too - which means it will be too wet to do anything.  It is a tough call between not getting sick with a normal cold and getting the garden out....

Although it is cold, I thought - I have these thermal clothes for riding in the post office route, so let's put them to work.  I took out the cabbage seedlings and pea seedlings to get some real sunlight for about 15 minutes.  Then I went out and cleared a few little bricked-in sections with the hoe.  I dug up a bit of soil from the base of some trees behind the garden and mixed it into the second pea area.  I did that last year as well, and ended up with some beautiful results.  I've planted peas already along the pole garden fence, just a few days ago before the rain.

 I did a very very minimal corn and beans garden last year, and a few tomatoes.  I put up this fence to keep the deer out of it.  It was a bad time last year - the deer and rabbits were eating almost anything they could find because the weather was just so fluctuating.  It is doing the same this Spring, as well, and I might have to makeshift measures again to keep them out.

I was looking through the garden the other morning and I scared two large deer nosing around the back fence.  They barked and ran away looking back at me like 'you're not supposed to be here yet!'

I also heard Canada Geese down at the lake, a mile down the road.  They were very noisy and I could hear them flying back and forth across the swamp to the dam and back again.  I will have to make some time to get down there and see what is going on soon.

 the goat and our chickens.  The chickens have really been enjoying all of the little bits of green I bring to them out of the garden.

 This is apparently kale that overwintered in my flower bed.  I have read that the flowers are edible, and it might also reseed itself if left to its own devices.  I'll just plant more kale around it.

 Hard to tell but this is the same beautiful area as in one of the posts above.  There is asparagus coming up in there, and lemon balm, and a stray daffodil that helps me know where the gladiolus is going to come up later.  I need to clear all of the bricks so they are visible and dig in the three beds that will be radishes and kale and cabbage, carrots and herbs.  I had a pepper plant and two tomato plants in here last year, as well.  It will look so much better after it is cleared and truly started on.

 the raised bed we planted with the Jones and Irene a few years ago.  I cleared out a lot of weeds out of the foreground one, and I know that lemon basil and purslane will grow in there as the weather gets warmer.  I usually put some cold crops in as well and a few carrots.  Last year I put six jalapeno plants and radishes in the very front area and had jalapenos all summer.

The back section also has strawberries and an Amish dianthus plant that Esme bought.  It has kept coming back as a perennial and has beautiful two-toned flowers.  I also had arugula and kale in there.

 the white daffodils with peach centers, and a bed I am digging to put Good King Henry and Sorrel in.

 the viburnum (snowball) bush.  The goat was munching on it the other day when she broke her string - but we got her repositioned away from it now.

pole garden where I have planted peas against the fence.

Almanac work today 
conditions: 43 degrees, light rain expected
dug out round brick with fence in main garden (old snow pea fence), added forest soil
weeded one half of the raised bed
dug out and prepared new brick bed by white daffodils for sorrel
planted sorrel seed in six rows, 3 inches apart
transplanted cucumber seedlings in house, planted more seed
seed started lemon basil (1 pot) and red marrow squash (1 pot) and blue hubbard squash (1 pot)
tried to save garlic bulbs in indoor greenhouse, will see if they grow
aired cabbage seedlings outside for 15 minutes
planted clover seed over area outside chicken yard and in all walkways in the main garden

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Almost Spring

I'm reading 'The Hidden Reality' by Brian Greene, and 'The Night Country' by Melissa Albert.  Both of them are just gorgeous books physically - metallic inks, iridescent covers... it is a treat for the sense to pick them up as well as to read the words.

Speaking of senses, I spoke about synesthesia with someone today and realized it is just so hard to explain it!  It would be comparing picking up this book and rubbing your fingers over the textured cover with the way German milk chocolate melts in your mouth, mixed with brass trumpets and cymbals and the feel of cold blue velvet crushing under your fingertips.  But how to you explain the ability to combine those ideas into a shared experience with someone?  I mentioned the movie Ratatouille, where Remy is telling his brother Emil about the combination of flavors in cooking being like light and sound and bumpy vs sharp blobs merging into one different thing... that is about the best I can explain it.  I feel very specific combinations often - one thing suggests two others etc.. but sometimes it really is completely indescribable.
 cabbage plants starting to get their second set of leaves .. I am wondering if they need fertilizer or if it is just the light levels... they are not progressing as fast as usual since their last stage

Also discussed that a lot of people are going to be trying to self-isolate and grow their own food and so forth after this virus scare.  It might be even more than that - we might go 'back to the land' etc as a society.  I don't know.  It takes time and resources and skills - and for me, the biggest part of that is Time.  You don't just step into a self-sustaining lifestyle.  It builds up over time, each thing in its season, learning as you go.  And at the very best, you have people living near each other who each are good generalists abut also specialists in their own things, herbs, wool, soap, meat animals, wild game... every single person can't have all the tools and knowledge and structure in place for everything at all times...

A garden doesn't begin to produce food until it has been planted at least a month.  Even radishes and kale and lettuce take about that long, and you need to keep resowing seed to keep the harvest coming.  If after a month you get distracted, and go elsewhere, the harvest goes unused.  If you can't wait a month before you need the supplies - you will have to find other things to do to meet your needs.  Corn and beans and tomatoes take time and planning as well.  And then there is preserving the harvest, and collecting enough good seed to plant for the next year.

People can start to learn the skills of planting seeds, hunting and fishing and recycling/repurposing things but during a health scare is not the time to expect instant results from it.  It is going to take continual gradual work to build up a life that is sustainable.  Even if you buy full grown chickens and cows and goats so forth, it takes time to get the skills to trust and produce food from those items.  Chickens lay eggs, goats give milk after having kids, etc.  It also takes fencing, housing, feed for the animals (where will that come if the feed store isn't accessible?) and favorable weather - starting each thing at the right time of year for it - not frozen or baking temperatures.  Your animals and gardens need water, as well.  There is just so much to think about in preparing.

Esme and I have been using recycled containers for a few weeks now to plant seeds to start for the garden.  It is more fun for her than just having pots available - because once she eats a yogurt, or I finish a bottle of tea I make it into a pot - and then it is 'what should go in THIS one?'  She planted lemon basil in hers today, and I planted marigolds in mine.  That way the container gets a second life, even though they don't recycle plastic at our center.

Mark had to take a picture of me making a liverwurst sandwih the other day, because he still can't believe people actually eat the stuff at all.  It's a Minnesota thing, and I only get the craving once in a while. We are making roasted pork loin tonight with potatoes and rolls - and got the idea for each of us to create our own spice rub.  I crushed fennel seeds and mixed it with garlic and onion powder and pepper for mine.  Mark used his 'dragon spice' ginger rub on his, as always.  Esme asked for onion powder and pepper for hers (and I threw some garlic in too because the onion powder is so strong I didn't want to use so much of it.)  We each get a different flavor experience in the same meal.  That's pretty neat!

Thursday, March 12, 2020


I planted the Wando peas today out by the pole garden fence, before the storm. I did not water them, and it was mostly wind and not rain - so I will have to bring a bucket out there tomorrow to water it down good.  The ground was a  bit cool to the touch, but some lukewarm water will help, and the air temperatures have been getting higher, which is good.  It was supposed to rain all day yesterday and today.. the ground was slightly wet, but not a lot.

The rose and the viburnum are starting to get new leaves.  The hollyhocks have come back up, as have the strawberries, the lemon balm and the lambs ear. 

I would like to dig out and plant the sorrel  - check ground temp info on that and I also don't want it to wash away as the seeds are so very small.  Green onions, and broccoli or kale, as well.  The thing growing in the garden leftover from last year has tiny little seeds on the top like I saw in the broccoli article... but it is a kale or something.

There was some asparagus today!  It is starting to come up.. and it is slightly purple?

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Peaches and peach daffodils

 Our peach-centered daffodils are looking more like orange - I am wondering if that is because they just opened?  The yellow ones have been open for weeks, but these are always late risers.

The peach trees are blossoming, as well - and the red globe variety was attracting a lot of bees.  I caught one of them sitting still enough to get the tiny details on its wings.  The larger pink blossoms are 'Loring' variety.

I took a look at the plum tree and it is not entirely dead - there are tiny bits of green here and there but it will be a while before I see any leaves from it, or buds, the same with the black cherry tree.

There are hyacinths and lambs ear showing, and I am hoping to have a few days this week to get out there in the sunshine and clear beds and put in some cold crops.  I've started some cabbage and tomato and pea seedlings inside, and am ready to plan what can be done this year.