Facing an early bumper crop of strawberries, our CSA farm put them on “u-pick,” meaning we could go and pick as many as we wanted. We duly spent an hour and a half there this morning, picking at least six quarts of strawberries. We would have had more, but some members of the harvesting party operated on a “two for me, one for us” basis:

Strawberry Muncher - 1

At least she acted cute after getting caught!
Strawberry Muncher - 2

Where the Hell Are We?

Thursday morning, I headed out to the garage to get on my bike for the ride to work. As the garage door opened, I could hear someone outside, talking pretty loudly. This doesn’t happen in our neighborhood: (Rosewood Estates: Passersby Free Since 2001™), so I glanced out: two young reversed-cap bros, strolling down the sidewalk across the street. Whatever, I figured: someone’s grandkids visiting or kids home from college.

I took a minute to get myself ready to ride, and then headed out. I came to the end of the block just as the two perambulators did. I glanced over and gave them a hey-how’s-it-going nod. They were both pretty scruffy, but in an underemployed-hipster sorta way. On seeing me, one of them yanked his cigarette out of his mouth and blurted, “Dude, dude! Can you help us? Where the hell are we? Which way is downtown?”

I came to a full stop, studying them a little more carefully. Up closer, the misspent-minimum-wage scruffiness now looked like it was up-all-night-drinking scruffiness. “Downtown? It’s a couple miles, but the easiest way to just to head out to the walking path there and walk till you get to Division. Where downtown are you trying to go?”

The second one gave me a look that suggested that the all-night drinking might have been all-night smoking up. “To the, uh, Rueb ‘n’ Stein,” a restaurant-bar downtown which I kinda doubt is open at 7:45 a.m. “Oh, yeah, I know that street.” He sucked on his own cigarette, saying to No. 1, “Dude, I can totally know that street.”

At about this point, I got a powerful whiff of B.O. coming from one or both of them. “It’s a good morning for a walk!” I said, getting ready to roll again. They said, a little too cheerily, “Yeah, man, sure is! Thanks!” and crossed the street to find the walking path.

‘What the hell was that about?’ I wondered as I rode away. ‘How do you wind up in our residential subdivision on a Thursday morning and not know where you are?’

Welcome to the Rumble

As impressive as the sky can be on a breezy summer day, with towering clouds that – as my boss said the other day – look like something out of a Netherlandish painting, a prairie storm is even more impressive.

Around dinnertime today, we started following radio and TV coverage of the huge storms blowing north out of Iowa.* When the anchors on Minnesota Public Radio (motto: “We really are as calm as we sound, unless we want your money”) start sounding agitated about the weather, it might be time to start paying attention, even for a weather agnostic like me.

Sure enough, things went sideways fast – and not just the rain. The sky went purple-black, the wind started whipping our backyard trees in tight little circles, rain came and went, lightning, thunder. Name a summer weather condition short of hail and tornadoes, and we had it. We did get an alert siren, though, and dutifully headed into the closet, where Julia instantly complained of being bored and Vivi instantly started playing a game on my iPod.

After a few minutes, the siren went quiet and we came out, whereupon we played a long game of “mummy,” which involved me lying on the sofa under a blanket while the girls guarded me from tomb robbers. Later, during the extended bedtime routine, the weather went crazy again, sending in one of the scariest clouds I’ve ever seen. Now, more than an hour later, the wind is still whipping the trees around, rain is still flying laterally, and the sky is an amazingly weird shade of gray-orange. Summer in Minnesota!

Summer-Storm Sky
Summer-Storm Sky (courtesy of my friend Richard)

* Southern Minnesota Weather Rule: Bad cold-season weather comes from the Dakotas, bad hot-season weather comes from Iowa.

Money-Making $cheme$

In an effort to “juice” the endowment with cash revenues, the College has converted the upper level of the Rec Center into a greenhouse for producing Minnesota folding chairs (Chaairus folderol prairie). Conditions are perfect for growing, as you can see from this shot of the bumper crop. College officials hope to get three or even four crops from the greenhouse before it’s converted back to its intended purpose, holding ultimate frisbee tournaments.
Field House Farming

Riding Along on My Velocipede

I had a sweet gravel ride planned for this afternoon, a 34-mile affair that would’ve probably taken a couple hours in the cool humidity. Alas, eleven minutes into the ride, I suffered a pinch flat, which – since I’m not exactly a wizard with the bike repairs – took a good bit of time to fix.

Given that delay, I figured I had to cut the ride a bit short, which I accomplished far more effectively than intended by taking a wrong turn and cutting a few miles off the route. Whoops. Still, the ride ended up being a solid 80-some minutes and 25 miles in length, and crossing parts of Rice, Dakota, and Goodhue counties. Not epic, but better than good. I came home equally sweaty, tired, and gritty, having absorbed into my kit, skin, and hair about 10% of all the gravel I rode over (plus or minus): two days of rain increases the tackiness of the roads quite a bit.

In all that time, I didn’t meet a single other rider, and only a few cars (except for brief stretches when I had to zip down this or that highway). I did see some oddities, such as this overturned sofa bed in the ditch near the Goodhue County line.
Fagen Sofa Bed

This was a far more typical scene:
Cannon Falls Cows - 1

Aren’t they pretty? I honestly don’t know how cows, or the bovine gaze, became synonymous with stupidity or indolence. I think they look placidly curious. If I could muster that combination of interest and calm, I’d be a better person.
Cannon Falls Cows - 2

Summer, 1981

A while ago, I waxed nostalgic for the woods, and specifically, for the evergreen swamps of the Upper Michigan, forests that made my hometowns – Daggett, Ironwood, and Hancock – into tiny islands in a sea of taiga.

Right next to those forests, and no more than a few miles away from any of my hometowns, is a real sea: Lake Superior. And it’s Lake Superior that really says “summer” to me. As long as I can remember, my family (such as it was) went to the lake for picnics, cookouts, even, once in a while, camping in a tent or in our cousins’ tiny cottage. For me, the defining image of my childhood’s summers is hanging out with those beloved cousins, the Mattsons, who came up from Ohio a couple times a year to stay in that cottage, which was near Little Girl’s Point, outside Ironwood and just a few miles from the Wisconsin border.

In this photo from summer 1981 (or so), my sister (age four or five) and I (about age eight) are sitting on our cousin Andy’s lap on the shoreline below their cottage. That’s my grandpa right behind Andy, wearing the wool cap, flannel shirt, wool pants, and undoubtedly the longjohns that were the unofficial attire of “Finlanders” like him. It takes sisu to wear longjohns in August.
Summer 1981 1

Some “beach,” huh? We called it that because we didn’t know any better: I’d only been to a sandy beach a few times, so this rocky shoreline was far more familiar. All those wave-scoured stones were brilliant for rockskipping, a skill which Andy and his brothers practiced frequently. Sitting here, we were almost literally below the cottage. You had to use steep, slippery wooden steps to go up or down the sheer cliff between the cottage and this “beach.”

Here I am again, sometime that same summer (I think), dressed for swimming in the lake. The shirtless guy behind me is my dad, then about the same age I am now. My grandpa, his dad, is the enflanneled man between us. While you totally dig my swimsuit, keep in mind that Lake Superior’s average August temperature is around 55°F – not exactly bathwater. Note also the swimming goggles. Even back then, I loved the gear.
Summer 1981 3

So did we swim? We did swim. Though the cousins would go some distance from shore, to some rocky outcrops, I stuck closer in – and enjoyed it a lot, as this shot (again, from sometime in the 1981-82 period) shows. Yes, my pecs now look exactly like my pecs then.
Summer 1981

When the sun started to set, the real beauty of the lake emerged. The sunsets were so gripping that even little kids like my sister and I would pause to admire them:
Summer 1981 9

Those were good times.

Summer Giddiness

I had an oddly happy, satisfied, excited feeling all day today. Absurdly, I initially chalked it up to having a quiet, meeting-free day at work in which to get a lot done. I did, and I did, but after dinner, playing outside with the girls, I realized that the sensation was much more due to the fact that today’s really the start of summer, complete with typical crazy summer weather that ranged from deafening thundershowers this morning to hazy, humid sunshine this afternoon.

Narcissistically, summer is full of things to anticipate with eagerness. In a month, I’ll take a work-related trip to a professional meeting that is always valuable and that leaves me energized for the rest of the summer’s work. July is dominated by my second-most-favorite sporting event, the Tour de France, which is as complicated, excessive, and political as it is impressive. The long summer evenings leave plenty of time for sitting out on the patio with a beer and a book – including several good ones that are coming out this summer. And as much as I love being outside in the winter, I also love being outside in the summer: it’s the best season for working out. The heat and humidity (“What does not kill me…”), the sudden squalls, the dusty roads, the greening fields… I plan to take a couple workday afternoons off to do some long bike rides, for instance.

Work changes dramatically when – as it has – campus empties out: three-quarters of the students are long gone, and the seniors are only here through the weekend, with commencement occurring tomorrow. Come Monday, we’ll be in ghost town mode at Carleton. Which is, all things considered, pretty nice, both in its own right (fewer meetings! a less urgent pace! lots of time for projects! summer dress code!) and in comparison to the happy hubbub of campus during the school year.

At home, today was our first pick up at our CSA farm, Open Hands, the produce of which pretty much means “summer” to us. Shannon and the girls went out there this afternoon, caught up with the proprietors and their dog, and brought home a nice trove of produce, including lots of greens and some tiny, fantastically sweet strawberries – which we enjoyed with homemade pizza for dinner.

And most importantly, today was Julia’s last day of kindergarten. She’s a first grader now, ready to soak up her first true summer vacation (even if she doesn’t yet know just how lucky she is). Vivi’s been done with preschool for a while, but many things have been on hold until Julia finished up. With K now history, it’s on to summer: soccer and swimming lessons for Julia, summer “school” for Vivi, picnics, lots of outdoor play – all the things that Shannon excels at planning and carrying out. They’re going to have a lot of fun – at least as much fun as these yahoos who were in my yard last summer.
First Swim of the Season


Though the rain made today’s field trip to the Como Zoo a total miss as far as photography, the kids enjoyed themselves, and the cadre of chaperones had a pretty easy time of it. I only had to monitor Julia and her friend A., both of whom were perfectly fine – except, predictably, for tiring out and getting hungry. We did get to see most of the coolest animals, and saw some funny stuff like a keeper feeding the penguins, tamarins chasing each other around, and a giraffe using its long purple tongue to eat crackers. A few pictures…

Julia, tiredly (and distractedly)s sitting for pictures toward the end of the tour:

I liked the surname-pun possibilities of this sign:
Almost a Marketing  Sign for my Family

Kids loved the koi pond in the “Sunken Garden” flower area:
Kids and Koi

The garden itself was amazing:
The Sunken Garden at Como Conservatory

No (Competition for) Parking

Today was one of those days on which all the undergrads take themselves – along with their odd clothes, their work ethics, and their unusual hairstyles – away from campus on the big white Northfield Lines buses.


On the plus side, though, there’s no competition for space at the bike rack now. I think my bike’s a little lonely.
Bike Rack at the End of the Year

The High Point

Julia’s fairy-themed “friends” party – with six other girls from our neighborhood and/or her school – was a huge hit. Nobody fussed, much less melted down, and more positively, all of Shannon’s carefully-organized activities went smoothly, Julia was a gracious hostess, the guests’ presents were wonderful, and the rain (mostly) held off. Here are the crucial 34 seconds of the 90-minute event. (Yes, the cake tasted as good as it looked.)

Happy Birthday Julia! from Christopher Tassava on Vimeo.

Cows, Colleges, and Confines

Last week, I realized that – except for a short work meeting in the next town (a nice enough place, but hardly a destination) I’ve been outside Northfield only once since October 2009. No wonder I’m going stir crazy.

July 2009
July 8-10: took business trip to upstate New York
July 20: attended morning workshop in St. Paul, afternoon visit with friends in Minneapolis

August 2009
August 13-15: took family trip to Moorhead
August 26: biked to Faribault

September 2009
September 5: saw friends in Minneapolis
September 15: went to work meeting in St. Paul
September 18: biked to Kenyon, Minnesota

October 2009
October 4: saw friends in Rochester, Minnesota

November 2009
no trips outside Northfield

December 2009
no trips outside Northfield

January 2010
no trips outside Northfield

February 2010
February 7: raced the City of Lakes Loppet in Minneapolis
February 22: attended work meeting in Faribault

March 2010
no trips outside Northfield

April 2010
two work-related trips scheduled, to St. Paul and Collegeville, Minnesota

Against this backdrop, that possible business trip to Grinnell, Iowa, in July is looking awfully tempting.

Bee Hugger

As she was about to jump into our wading pool this afternoon, Julia discovered a bumblebee trying to climb up the slippery plastic walls. Without any real worry for herself, she scooped the little bug up with a plastic shovel and brought her over to me, asking, “What should we do with this poor bee?” I told her to gently put it down on the rocks around our patio, which she did. The bee wriggled for a few seconds, then crawled off the shovel and onto a warm rock, where she sunned herself for a while (extending one leg out perpendicularly from and then vertically above her thorax) before flying away. I’d say that, for a kindergartner, this was about a week’s worth of good deeds.
Wet Bee