Tuesday, April 26, 2011

rain walk

It's raining again. All this cold wet weather is kind of making me crazy, but until the sun comes out to shine again, the best we can do is throw on the rain gear and take a walk in the wet, wet woods.

We splash in puddles along the way:

The park with a hiking trail also has a merry-go-round. What is it about kids and spinning around? I'd be dizzy and nauseous on this thing after about 5 seconds, but my kids love it:

By now, of course, the regular climbing equipment is boring (and slippery), so Daniel goes in search of something else to climb. He finds a fallen tree:

Anya, of course, isn't far behind:

Daniel sets about finding out what's underneath all that dead, loose bark.

Hey look! A bug nest with a bunch of grubs of some kind! (I suspect they had something to do with the reason the tree died and fell over, judging from how everything was eaten away under the bark):

The biology lesson ends abruptly when we find a grown-up bug with what might be a nasty-looking stinger! It doesn't have wings and acts sluggish, but the business end of it is menacing enough we decide to go back to the merry-go-round for a while.

Then home for cocoa and popcorn! All in all, a nice afternoon.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

more basement pictures

Basement work continues to progress. It feels like things are really ramping up now! This week the drywall goes in, which means Stuart and I have a lot of painting ahead of us - the one task we don't feel completely inadequate doing ourselves. I think I've finally settled on colors for the walls and ceiling. I'm not looking forward to painting the ceiling. Or the stairwell, for that matter.

I've spent a lot of time staring at these:

Stuart put in several evening hours running network cable, pulling it out when he realized it was too close to the electrical wiring, and re-running it. He's almost done:

Hey, we have a partial shower! Stuart has already called dibs on its inaugural use when the bathroom's all done:

This is what the back yard looks like from the egress window:

Daniel loves the windows. They have a nice deep sill to sit on and a fun crank to turn for opening:

You may notice in some of these pictures that it looks like someone took a giant can of Readi-Whip to the walls. That's actually sprayed-on insulation, and it's the weirdest stuff, like rock-hard foam. It's supposed to make the house much more energy-efficient. We had to vacate the house for a whole day earlier this week to escape the fumes and the noise!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

in memoriam

I learned this week of the passing of one of my high school teachers. Emma "Let's graph that pup!" K was certainly one of the most memorable teachers I ever had. She taught me trigonometry and entry-level physics. These were not subjects that came particularly easily to me, but she made them interesting and I was certainly motivated to do as well as I could with them. I will never forget her her spitfire personality, her enthusiasm, or her enduring energy. May she rest in peace.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday 5: earth day edition

You know that old expression "Think Globally, Act Locally"? More and more, I have come to believe those are words to live by.

It's Earth Day today, and pausing to write this blog post is really the only thing I'm doing to make note of it. Forgive me for the cliché, but I truly believe every day should be Earth Day. I can't single-handedly save the environment or influence the U.S. Congress to do the same, but my family and I are doing our part. That's all we can do, really.

Here are Five Cheap and Simple Things we are doing to make our household more green-friendly:

1. Composting. Seriously, this is a biggie. I'm sure we would be generating about twice as much trash if we didn't compost all of the vegetable matter from the kitchen. Admittedly, I've had my issues with composting before and evidently I've got some things to learn about how to do it properly, but even last year's slimy, stinky mess has finally aired out and turned into nice, dark soil to add to the garden. It's cool how nature takes care of things when you let it. And by the way, you don't have to have a garden to justify having a compost pile. It just turns into dirt, so you can use it to feed your shrubs or give it to a neighbor who's got a garden, or whatever.

2. Clothesline. I love hanging laundry on the line to dry outside. It smells good and saves a bundle on energy when we're not using the dryer. Obviously in Wisconsin we can't hang laundry outside year-round, but it works for 5-6 months out of the year.

3. Ceiling Fans. We already try and use the a/c as little as possible in the summer, but we're looking forward to using it even less this year after having a ceiling fan installed in the living room. It'll cost a couple hundred dollars up front, but that will pay for itself very quickly if we're using the air conditioner less as a result.

4. Eat local vegetables. I know it seems like buying your produce from the farmers' market feels more expensive than buying the cheaper stuff at the grocery store. But think about this: every dollar you spend at a local farmers' market is going right back into the local economy. Plus, it's better for the environment for all kinds of reasons. Even farmers who aren't certified organic almost always use fewer pesticides than large industrial farms and their vegetables/fruits don't have to travel as far to get to you. Locally-grown produce is usually more nutrient-dense and therefore healthier for you, too. Isn't that worth a few extra dollars? If you're willing to commit to an entire season of locally-grown vegetables, consider signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture). You save money in the long run, and CSA subscriptions provide economic security to those local farms we should be working so hard to preserve.

5. Re-using bags. The amount of plastic filling our landfills, where it will never decompose, is staggering and disturbs me greatly. I have fabric shopping bags that I take grocery shopping (most supermarkets and places like Target sell these now for a dollar or two), and I even have some smaller fabric bags I made out of flour-sack tea towels for produce. I have a pattern somewhere for smaller drawstring bags you can use for bulk dry goods. I even wash out zip-loc bags and re-use them until they tear and have to be thrown away.

Some of this stuff might seem obvious. Some of it might not seem like a big deal. But I still think it's important.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

frozen precipitation

Snow in April makes me cranky.

Snow in April during Daniel's spring break for which I had planned all manner of outside activities including, but not limited to: playing outside, going on picnics, visiting the zoo, playing outside, working in the garden, starting a new vegetable plot in the front yard, and did I mention playing outside? makes me extra cranky.

But we didn't just get snow. We got everything. I complained about this in passing to my parents (on the phone, or in an email, or both - I don't remember now) and I got an email from my dad with an entire glossary of terms describing frozen precipitation (if you know my dad, this shouldn't surprise you):

From "Glossary of Weather and Climate":

frozen precipitation--Any form of precipitation that reaches the ground in frozen form (e.g., snow, snow pellets, snow grains, ice crystals, ice pellets, hail).

snow pellets (formerly called soft hail or graupel)--A type of frozen precipitation consisting of soft spherical (or sometimes conical) particles of opaque, white ice having diameters of 2-5 millimeters. They often break up when striking a hard surface and are distinguished from snow grains in being softer and larger.

snow grains (also known as granular snow)--A form of frozen precipitation consisting of white, opaque particles of ice that are flat or elongated and have diameters of less then 1 millimeter; the solid equivalent of drizzle.

ice pellets (also called sleet)--A type of frozen precipitation consisting of transparent or translucent pellets of ice 5 millimeters or less in diameter. They may be spherical, irregular, or (rarely) conical in shaped. Ice pellets usually bounce when hitting hard ground and make a sound upon impact. There are two types of ice pellets; (a) frozen rain, drizzle, or largely melted then refrozen snowflakes; (b) snow pellets encased in a thin layer of ice.

sleet (also known as ice pellets)--In the United States, frozen raindrops that bounce on impact with the ground or other objects. Elsewhere, may refer to a mix of rain and snow, a mix of rain and hail, or melting snow

Every kind of ice that can fall from the sky did so yesterday except hail, which is defined as follows: hail--A type of frozen precipitation in the form of balls or irregular lumps of ice, usually consisting of concentric layers of ice. Hailstones come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Hail is always produced by convective clouds, nearly always cumulonimbus. Thunderstorms that are characterized by strong updrafts, an abundant supply of supercooled water droplets, and great vertical development are favorable to hail formation. Large hail, with diameter of 3/4 inch or greater, is a criterion for a severe thunderstorm. (Not: this criterion was changed to 1" just a couple years ago.)

Daniel and Anya and I had the particular privilege of experiencing firsthand just how uncomfortable and painful it is to walk outside during a heavy downfall of graupel (aka "snow pellets" as noted above). We were trying to exit a large home improvement store with a newly purchased ceiling fan (that we thought would be installed today, hence the hurry to buy one, but then it turned out the electrician was running on a tight schedule and will get to it in a few weeks), but after about three seconds of being pummeled with bits of ice that felt like someone fired a shotgun from the heavens, we turned right around and decided to wait it out inside the store. I won't tell you which of my children thought it would be a good idea to pick up one of the ice pellets from the filthy floor and lick it.

It's been kind of a long week, is all I'm saying.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

garden wish list

Man, the weather here stinks, it really does. Yesterday it was actually snowing, which is a weather event I don't mind at all in the middle of January, but April? Come on. There was one consolation, though: Sarah Palin came to town for a Tea Party tax day rally, and she had to give her rambling, incoherent 16-minute speech in the snow. I wasn't downtown yesterday for the counter-protest (or rather, counter-counter-protest, since the anti-Walker protesters are the original bunch), but I spoke with several people who were, and they all said the same thing: Palin's speech was drowned out by anti-Walker protesters, who outnumbered the Palin fans about 10:1. You can read what John Nichols had to say about it here.

But believe it or not, I didn't sit down to write about Wisconsin politics. It just sort of happened.

I actually sat down to write a garden wish list for my yard. It's too chilly and windy outside to work, so instead I'm trying to do a little mental planning - or maybe it's just ambitious daydreaming.

1. Here's a small part of my front yard:

Not so exciting, huh? The dirt patch you see is where I plant several varieties of basil every year. My goal is always to make lots of pesto from it, but it also smells and looks nice. What I'd really like to do with the front yard, though, is convert more of the lawn to a garden of edible plants. I'm waiting for this book from the library, but there's a rather long wait list, so I might just spring for my own copy.

I've already got a nice little patch of herbs and perennial flowers up front, but there's quite a bit of lawn that is patchy and pathetic because we refuse to treat it with chemicals. I know there are environmentally friendly ways to maintain a lawn, but if I'm going to go to a lot of trouble with yard work, I'd much rather spend that effort on growing plants we can eat and admire than keeping the grass green. The tricky part is accomplishing this without making a mess of things and sabotaging curb appeal, and that's where I'm stumped. I'm not a landscape artist, or even that great of a gardener (though I'm determined to learn), but I have hope. I also refuse to buy into the notion that as middle-class homeowners, we are somehow required to have a perfect, green lawn. I know I don't look the part of the rebel, but I am.

2. We're going to get a rain barrel this year. I'm not sure why it's taken us this long, honestly. Inertia (or lack thereof)? Anyway, the impetus this year is that we're getting a new roof and gutters thanks to a bad hailstorm last fall, so it seems as good a time as any.

3. Here's a view of our basement windows from the outside:

I'm not sure what to do with that space right now. Eventually we want to put a patio there, but since we're spending so much money finishing the basement this spring, it might be better to put off that expense for a year and plant some flowers instead.

4. This isn't a coffin:

No, this prize piece of carpentry is a rickety old cupboard that was pulled out of the basement in preparation for the renovation work going on. We were just going to put it out on the curb for the garbage truck to haul away, but then I came up with a better idea: recycle it! I want to turn it into a planter. I'll take off the door, drill some holes in the bottom for drainage and clean it up. Then I'll put a layer of primer over the whole thing, and once that's dry, let the kids paint it to their hearts' content. I'm not comfortable letting them use outdoor paint (rather toxic and not washable), so I'll just let them go wild with all colors of poster paint and cover it later with a protective sealant of some kind. Then we'll fill it with soil and plant some lettuce in it, or flowers, or whatever they want. We need a couple days in a row of warm, dry weather because this is definitely an outdoor project, and unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's in the forecast any time soon.

5. I'm determined to compost successfully this year. So far nothing smells like a rotten diaper, so we're off to a good start.

What about you? What do you dream of doing in the great outdoors?

Monday, April 11, 2011

random monday

1. Yesterday almost felt like summer. It was bizarre; after weeks of cold, wet, dreary weather, all of a sudden it was sunny and almost 80 degrees. Stuart and I both went running, we did some work in our community garden plot, and we ate dinner outside.

2. Unfortunately, Daniel was not able to enjoy the nice weekend as much as he would have liked, since he is on his third round of antibiotics for a stubborn ear infection that's been bothering him off and on for six weeks now. He's no longer taking the tasty pink stuff, but some chalky white stuff that looks (and smells) much less appealing. Let's hope it does the job.

3. The warm weather brought dire thunderstorm warnings. There was talk of storm "super-cells" that would almost certainly bring tornadoes and large hail. This worried Stuart enough that he took the nice car - the one that was just in the body shop for nearly a month getting repaired from the last big hailstorm - to the parking garage at his workplace to protect it from this weekend's predicted hail. The hail never came. In fact, we heard some rumblings of thunder, and it got pretty windy, but that was about it.

4. The outdoor farmers' markets open this coming weekend! There won't be much produce to buy aside from hoophouse salad greens, maybe some storage potatoes and mushrooms, but it's exciting all the same.

5. I've been knitting a sweater for Stuart, one he'll hopefully want to wear (unlike the last one I made him about ten years ago that was admittedly kind of horrible but I didn't realize it at the time!). I mistakenly made every piece too long, which required some sweater surgery and that's all fixed now. Alas, I've run into some more problems with the way the sleeves and shoulders fit together, and I don't know how to fix it. It's very frustrating. Note to self: AVOID SADDLE SHOULDERS IN THE FUTURE BECAUSE THEY ARE A HUGE PAIN IN THE ARSE AND NOT WORTH THE TROUBLE. Honestly, it's been a while since I've had a colossal knitting fail, so I should consider myself lucky. I just wish it wouldn't have happened on a man-sized sweater!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

jumping on the crazy train

Seriously, people, I could cry. Or start banging my head against the wall. Or maybe a little of both. Because what started two months ago as a massive protest movement against extreme legislation by Wisconsin Republicans has turned into a legal shitstorm and a supreme court election that has given me a 3-day headache so bad we're about to run out of Advil.

What's got me so frustrated aren't the details of the situation here, maddening and confusing as they all are. My problem here is that the discussion has the reasonable citizens of this state arguing for and defending the fundamental purpose of government. If you are a true believer in the democratic process - flawed as it may be - you probably share my view that we ARE the government. And what is government's role but to protect its own people? Our public institutions - our schools, libraries, parks, public institutions of higher education, access to healthcare for the poor, you name it - are under threat because a few people with a lot of power and without a whole lot of sense refuse to acknowledge the importance of these public institutions and organizations to the very fabric and well-being of our society as a whole.

Gutting public education benefits no one and promotes ignorance. Crippling municipalities by slashing their funding for things like mandated recycling programs and public transportation does NOT give them "flexibility" but forces them to eliminate basic services that people depend on. Severely limiting the rights of workers to collectively negotiate their own work conditions is degrading and demoralizing. It also pisses off a whole lot of people. I could go on here, but my point is that instead of engaging in civilized discourse about how our public systems should be run, we've degenerated into a ideological fight over whether the government should actually be responsible for the well-being of its own citizens.

This is, I think, at the heart of the potential federal shutdown looming before us as well. I'm not going to go on about corporate power controlling people in government because, well, it's there and it's a big problem and I don't have anything new to say about it...except that there just seems to be so little balance remaining on the side of citizenry. I truly fear for the future. I truly fear for what lies in store for my children when they are grown up and on their own. What world will they face? What sort of a country will they live in?

I'm not saying that if JoAnne Kloppenburg (whose name I can finally spell correctly, sheesh) ends up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court that the world will be saved somehow, or even Wisconsin. It's just that for a whole day I had hope that the actions (re: votes) of us ordinary citizens would make a difference and get us going back in the right direction.

Oh no.

Oh no.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Kloppenberg declares victory over Prosser with a razor-thin margin of 206 votes.

It may not seem like such a big victory for JoAnne Kloppenberg, considering the tiny majority with which she won, but there is much to celebrate today. For one thing, there was some serious voter turnout for yesterday's election. Some precincts ran out of ballots and had to order more. The vote-counting was a nail biter to the end. I've got a raging headache from it all, to be honest, though I tried not to stay glued to the computer too much following updates last night and today. For another thing, Kloppenberg was running against a well-established incumbent. Normally Prosser would have won the race by a landslide for no other reason than the fact that he's already held the position for more than a decade (he was appointed in the late 1990s, then elected in 2001).

Maybe it's the bit of unexpected sunshine this afternoon, or maybe it's the first crocus we found blooming in the front yard today, but my despair of the past few days is turning hopeful.

When people show up in droves at the polls to exercise their democratic rights (I would go so far as to say "responsibility" but let's not go there for now) and be engaged in the election process, I am encouraged. Voting DOES matter. Elections DO have consequences.

And considering the unexpected dramatic turns and political finagling over the last few months...well, I expect things will continue to stay very, very interesting.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

voting day

If you live in Wisconsin, please remember to VOTE TODAY! We'll be leaving shortly after breakfast to do just that.

Today's election is the sort that normally flies under the radar, but the controversy and protests over Walker's collective bargaining bill and budget cuts have brought national attention to the supreme court race. Prosser, the incumbent, is a hotheaded (a couple weeks ago he called the chief justice a "bitch" in public) former Republican legislator who now claims impartiality, but until Walker's popularity plummeted, declared himself a proud conservative. I, of course, will be voting for his opponent, JoAnne Kloppenberg, a judge with 21 years of experience. ETA: Oops! I spoke too soon; Kloppenberg isn't a judge; she's an assistant attorney general.

Many see today's election as a referendum on Scott Walker. We can't recall him yet, but we can vote out the supreme court justice who stands at his side.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

basement progress

I haven't written a whole lot about the basement work here, but right now it's certainly a big part of our lives. Daniel is particularly enthralled with all the work being done. He likes to sit on the steps and watch the guys use those noisy tools. He asks a million questions and draws pictures in his notebook and is disappointed when he misses out on the goings-on because we have to leave for preschool or errands. Anya really couldn't care less about what's happening downstairs, but I don't know if it's because she's so shy or because she's not as interested in Things That Make Loud Noises, or both.

For fun, I thought I'd share a few pictures of this week's progress. We certainly have a ways to go before it's all finished, but it's exciting to see the project evolve.

Here are the new water lines. The red and blue plex lines replaced 60-year-old galvanized steel with so much crud and rust built up the water ran brown for several minutes out of every faucet. We had to vacate the house for a whole day while the water was off.

Here's a glimpse of where the bathroom will be.

The big windows that were installed last November:

And finally, Stuart trying his hand at installing network cables. We are a modern household, you know, and there must be good internet access both above ground and below! He had to get a bunch of equipment and cables and spent quite a bit of time this morning with a tape measure and stud finder before cutting into the drywall with a special little saw.

I was kind of nervous about the end result, but so far things look good! No gaping holes in the wall, at any rate. Of course, there is still time for things to go wrong, but at least we know a good drywall guy.

Friday, April 01, 2011

keep your eyes on the prize

ETA: Monday, April 4, is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as he stood in solidarity with sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. Events are planned around the country in honor of Dr. King and in solidarity with union workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Click here to see how you can join in.

First of all, we got snow on April Fools' Day, and I'm not joking about that!

Second, you know Wisconsin Republicans think they're above and outside of the law when the biggest headline of day is that they decided to follow the law. Walker's administration finally agreed to comply with a judge's order to halt implementation of the law while they sort out the legal mess created by the 1) senate vote, which violated open meetings laws, and 2) publication of the bill by the Legislative Reference Bureau after the temporary restraining order was issued.

So I took the kids downtown for a short visit to the Capitol Rotunda at noon today. Since the Walker administration has restricted access to the Capitol and ordered police to issue tickets to anyone holding signs in areas other than the designated "demonstration area", someone started sing-alongs every day from 12-1. That building has some really kick-ass acoustics, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to join in!

Here are some people courageously holding signs on the second floor balcony, well outside the "free speech zone":

The women holding that blue Wisconsin flag are from a group called the "Raging Grannies." They stated that the flag is upside down on purpose and is meant as a distress call for the state of Wisconsin:

And my kids? Well, I think they enjoy listening to the singing more than other types of protesting. At least, they didn't complain as much as usual!

I know a lot of you must be sick and tired of reading about this, but one reason I keep blogging about the political situation here is that IT IS NOT OVER. Far from it. It's going to be a long, hard fight. It's already a long, hard fight! But if Walker ultimately fails in his efforts gouge public services and strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, it will be well worth the effort. We must have hope. We must not lose interest or lose our way because there is too much at stake.