St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Newsletter

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2009!
Hope your year was a good one and wishing you a great 2010!

Starting off with the bad news, Nov 12th Russ was working on the roof of the Hanson sawmill shed and fell off a ladder breaking his right leg shattering the lower knee bone and ankle. He is on the mend, but has 3 months of hobbling around with no weight bearing on the leg before being allowed to gradually use it again. Makes it look like a long inactive winter ahead for him, a Hobbly Wobbly Christmas

January of 2009, Margo and Russ took to the road with the pop-up camper and parked almost a month in Natchez, Mississippi. We escaped a very cold MN and WI winter month. We visited lots of old pre-civil war mansions, museums, and had a lot of fun being south for the month. The goal of the trip was to retrace the Civil War battles that our great great uncle, Alanson J. Beebe participated in during 1864 and 1865 in the TN, MS and AL border area. Shortly after the war was over, he got kicked by a mule while on duty and it totally wrecked he back. He came home to WI and then lived a couple of years and died at age 22 and is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery on Hwy 25 south of Menomonee. We found most of the places he was at. The Natchez Trace, a national parkway goes through the area and is a wonderful slow drive. We are not sure we will go south this winter depending on Russ’ leg. He thinks we will go anyway so he can do his recuperating where it is warmer!

We were back to start maple syrup season in Wisconsin in early March. I opened up the cabin, and tapped the trees about March 15th as usual. This year’s maple syrup production for WI producers was almost double the normal. We made the most we ever got at 70 gallons of great quality syrup. We sold half of it directly to a wholesaler and bottled and sold the rest. The price last year was about $30 wholesale and $50 retail per gallon, a very good price. It has dropped some since that as the economy has deteriorated.

Margo’s mom, Myrtle, has Alzheimer’s and rarely recognizes her husband or children. She has been in a nursing home where she does reasonably well. She is a walker, walks up and down the halls continuously. Merlin visits her several times a week to help her eat lunch. Margo has spent a week or two each month all year down there staying with her dad and visiting her mom. It is a tough for the family, but visiting and trying to help out does make it feel a little better. Once in a while, Myrtle will show some signs that she recognizes Margo and that helps.

Russ spent most of the year at the Orr Lake Cabin, opening it March 1st and closing it after his fall in November. He loves the outdoors, woods, fields, farm, and family around the area. He spent a lot of time this year helping out at the new Luck, WI museum. It went from concept to reality over the past three years and this year was a real success. We managed to get a full time summer employee to keep it open every day. It was a lot of fun and I have gotten to know many new friends from the experience.

Russ is also in a group of retired men in the Luck area who meet every other Wednesday afternoon to discuss issues of the day. It is a nice break from other things and is good for stimulating the brain. Each of us take turns hosting the meeting (coffee and cookies and a place) and sets a topic. Sometimes we go for a tour too. Sort of a social break during the month. Luck, WI is about 10 miles east of the Cabin.

This fall, Russ built a brand new maple sap-cooking shed. He was using his old garage to double as a cooking room. It was getting too filled with garage type stuff, and so, using a bunch of old doors and windows given to him by a home remodeler, he put together a new shed for this coming season. If his leg gets better, and Scott and Margo are available to help, he hopes to use it this spring!

Margo and Russ got the urge to travel and decided to take September as a trip West. Cousin Sally lives in Seattle Washington and had invited us to visit if we could get out there. We decided to take our new 1991 Olds on the trip. We also decided that we would have no deadlines and could go as slowly or fast as we wanted to. We also planned to look up cousin Chrystal in Medford Oregon and some other cousins along the way.

The Olds did fine except for needing a new drive belt and idler and vacuum hose repair in ND. Just stuff getting old, said the repairman. We took a tent and decided that we would go as cheaply as possible, staying in state parks unless the weather was wet. We had a wonderful time! We took US Highway 2 out across MN, ND, MT and into Seattle. It was a nice quiet old comfortable highway with little traffic and lots of interesting stops. We wandered up and through Glacier park on the way. At age 62 or older, you can buy a US pass that lets you in free to the national parks and federal places (only costs $10). We visited Cousin Sally and stayed with her for 2 weeks (she was a wonderful host and we managed to get along fine even staying that long!). We headed south to Medford Oregon and visited a couple days with Cousin Chrystal (her husband Rey and my father Vivian were first cousins). She took us on a wild cruise up the Rogue River there on some really fast jet boats with a lovely dinner. It was great!

On the way back we decided to take another old US Hwy 12 back home. It was another interesting historic road, even quieter in places than Hwy 2. We stopped in NE Oregon to dig up thundereggs (a type of vocanic rock deposit) at a ranch. That was a lot of fun too. We brought a sack full back for our rock club to enjoy. While on the road, we mostly stayed in the tent. The biggest problem was our double sized air mattress sprung a leak. We got a replacement. The state parks are pretty nice and during the summer out west you mostly get cool enough nights to sleep OK. We normally had an electric hookup so brought both a fan and an electric blanket to cover temperature issues. Our tent is one we bought in 1973 for our very first camping trip. It still doesn’t leak! We had decided not to take the camper as towing it adds a lot to the complication of a trip where you are continually on the move.

We had a very dry spring and early summer in WI. Our sand garden was a total failure for the first time in years. Our garden at the cabin was all pumpkins and squash for sale at a fall even that we do in our neighborhood (the River Road Ramble) named after Russ’ weekly newspaper column. We had a full pickup load of pumpkins and squash and sold most of them. The deer are such a nuisance there that most gardens need big fences around them, but they seem to leave pumpkins and squash alone until very late in the season. A rabbit went in and nibbled on many of them, ruining their appearance, so next year we will fence that garden too.

Mom lives on the home farm nearby. She grows a big fenced garden with lots of tomatoes. We planted a row of raspberries and strawberries in her garden and they did quite well this year. She has a lot of apple trees. We sprayed them for her and had a pretty good yield this year. However, some of the later apples were wormy, especially near the top of the big old trees, so we have to do better with the sprayer getting the tops covered. Apples just don’t make it worm free without spraying them. We just use Sevin. Mom is doing quite well and is still very active. She will be 88 years old on Dec 18th. She did some doctoring at Mayo Clinic this year and the doctor told her she should make it to 100!

The most interesting thing happening in Wisconsin this year is that their famous old quarterback for the Green Bay Packers football team, Brett Farve, joined the team for MN. Wisconsin is wildly supportive of the Green Bay Packers team and Farve who had been their quarterback for 16 years, is now with the sworn enemy in MN. This year MN is winning everything including beating Green Bay twice. Now of course, being raised in WI we are avid Green Bay Packer fans, but having lived in MN for 30 years are finding that we are rooting for 40 year old Farve and the Vikings too. Russ thinks Green Bay is getting what it deserves from getting rid of him too quickly. Football is taken pretty seriously in Wisconsin and Minnesota! I am looking for purple #4 jerseys to give to my WI great nephews and nieces.

Living at the rustic cabin in Wisconsin from spring through fall is pretty nice. We do need to fix it up some to make it more comfortable. Hopefully we will get to that this year. Margo and I both started getting our Social Security retirement payments in 2009, making retirement finally affordable. We retired 4 years early with the idea we would live very cheaply so we could quit working early. We managed to do that and now will have it a little easier. We still pay a lot for health care and taxes etc, but are actually where we get enough to cover everything now. We are developing a little income from maple syrup, garden produce and apples and renting farmland out. Anyway we are matching income and outgo now and with careful spending will have a little money for inexpensive travel and updating the cabin a little. Of course, we will do the work ourselves.

The cabin sits on a high hillside overlooking a small lake to the west. The lake is fascinating to watch. This summer a pair of otter had two young. A pair of beaver built their house and tried to dam the road culvert that the stream draining the lake goes through. A pair of trumpeter swans had 5 young and managed to raise two of them to full size. A loon family lived there and sang their haunting song to us each night. Several does brought their fawns every morning to the spring trickling into the lake on our grassy front lawn and let them run and play together for our entertainment. The owl again nested nearby and hooted us to sleep. A bear came out of hibernation and slept under our bird feeder for a few days this spring before ambling off. He continued to let us know he was there by knocking down the bird feeders until we gave up feeding. A flock of turkeys lived across the lake and came to visit regularly sneaking through the woods past the cabin. A pair of sandhill cranes nested northeast of the lake and although we didn’t see the young ones this summer, we could hear the parents all summer. Most days one to three bald eagles came to the lake, usually one landing on the big oak right on the lake shore and catching a fish to take to their nest somewhere nearby. Very few fishermen try the lake out. There are panfish and northerns and bullheads, but they are hard to catch, so we just leave them alone.