Friday, December 20, 2013

Don't you care about the environment?

I have this grocery store semi-near to my work.   I often go there on my lunch break for their rocking salad bar, and to pick up a few things.

And as I was crossing the street (in the middle of a block, and climbing over a snowbank), I noticed someone standing on the corner outside the store.  She was wearing a heavy jacket and then a green reflective vest over that.   And I thought...."is she directing traffic?  what's up with the green vest?".

She caught me looking at her.  She waved me over.

"Hi, I noticed you climbing over that snowbank."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't difficult."

"I'm with Greenpeace and I'd like to ask you, do you care about the environment?"

What am I supposed to say about that?   Of course, I care about the environment.  

She went on and on, and I do agree with a lot of the very good work that they do.   They work with vendors to improve their sustainability and they protect areas of the Indonesia rain forest that are largely unprotected.   I remembered a documentary about the decline of Indoneisan orangatangs due to overlogging and it just made me sad.

"And so, why don't we just fill out the paperwork to make you a member?"

She flipped over her notebook and I scanned the paperwork.  I didn't want to pay a monthly fee.   I didn't want to give anyone my credit card number.  Especially since it was the same day the huge Target credit card breech was announced.

"Don't you have a form or brochure or something I could take instead?"

"It will take 60 seconds.   We can call the call center and then you give them your credit card and it goes really quick, I promise."

"Do you have a website?  I'd really feel more comfortable with a website and I don't have a lot of time."

I'm not going to dig out my credit card in the middle of a street corner and use a stranger's cell phone to talk to someone at a phone number that I haven't dialed myself and fill out a committment to give money to anyone, especially a monthly payment.

What the hell was Greenpeace thinking?   We've moved beyond this sort of thing.   Even if it is legit, it's dumb from a security standpoint.  If you are freaked out that Target might have spilled your credit card numbers to a hacker, think about all of the ways that hackers can get your credit card numbers in other ways, including things like this.

I made my "I'm out of time" excuse until she left me alone, hurried into the store, was completely discombobulated, bought a bunch of stuff without bothering to grab a basket, lost my gloves, checked out, tried to find my gloves, thinking I might have not brought them, and then retraced my steps and found them.   When I snuck out, she was accosting another person.

Greenpeace, really.    It's Madison.   We like you.  Get with the program and give us some security and we'll give you money.    You just can't do the hard sell.  Not anymore.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Influx

Each year, about this time, are state football championships.   And if you are out walking around, you'll notice crowds of high school kids walking around the big city.

I did it, when my high school came down to "State" for basketball.  I made sure to dress "cool" because I wanted to fit in.   I didn't realize how futile that is.

And what I'm sure they don't realize is how easily spotted they are.  Sure, they put on their best jeans and sweats, but they just don't blend in.

  • the UW students walking around are by and large alone.  There are probably a couple people talking and walking, but class change means "I need to get somewhere."
  • the UW students walking around either have a cell phone to their ear or a pair of ear buds in.   
  • the UW students wear a backpack, or carry a bag, or are laden with something.
  • the UW students don't care what they look like.  They've got on whatever they've rolled out of bed in.   
  • the UW students are wearing clothing for the elements.  By this time in the semester, it's getting cold, and that means you can't just wear anything you wish.  It's 2nd midterm time, so they are tired, cranky and just want to get to Thanksgiving without flunking their calculus exam.   Comfort is king.  That means mittens, hats and appropriate jackets.   
  • the UW students aren't hanging out by Camp Randall.   
  • the UW students don't wear high school sweats and letter jackets.   
  • there's a lot of glazed looking drivers trying to find parking. Oh, that could be anyone, really, but they are extra confused.  If it says no parking, but then it says 2 hour parking, but then it has a number on it, can I park there?  Yes, say the city folk, but no, you probably shouldn't.
Don't get me wrong; I welcome our visitors to our fair city and hope their team does well.   It's just that you've been spotted.   We know you aren't from around here.   We will smile extra wide at you and give you directions gleefully.   Enjoy your stay.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


When you find yourself with a dead tree, don't break out the saws quite yet!

You can inoculate it with mushroom spores instead!  Now, don't look at me like that.  It is dead simple, and all you really need is a freshly dead tree.  We happened to have a dead spruce that did not recover after the drought last year, and it totally died this year.  It so happens that there is a type of mushroom that loves spruce, called Chicken of the Woods.

Hen of the Woods
 When J and I first visited a friend's cabin up north, and we found a beautiful hen of the woods but were scared to eat it.  But when you inoculate the dead wood around your home, you know what you are getting.  

Of course, the "domesticated" version of this is a bit is orange.

So if successful, we might be having some orange mushrooms on our pizza!

First you need your gear.

And you will need your dead wood.

It needs to be recently dead, with no other mushrooms on it.

Yup, that is dead.

Then you drill some holes.  Dead wood is sometimes a little punky, so it takes patience.

The plug spawn are just dowels covered in white goo.  That
white goo is mushroom gold, I tell ya.

Pound 'em in.

Gaze upon your handiwork.

Instant Mushroom!  (Well, in about 9-12 months or so.)

Hopefully, it will be more successful than my beets!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mashup in my Head

For some reason I have a mashup of these two songs in my head.

Weezer: Island in the sun

Cheap Trick:  Dream Police

And in my head it works.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Up to...


That's composting with worms.  I got a worm compost kit for Christmas from J.  It's okay, that's what I asked for!
the compost bin, shoved into a corner in the workshop. What you feed the worms in the compost bin. So what does a tray of composting materials and worms look like?
This is what a compost bin looks like...a commercial one anyway. This is what you feed your worms; they like most compostable material with some exceptions like citrus. This is what a sea of worms making compost looks like. Note that it's okay to use your shredded junk mail as fiber. Woot!

...making grape trellises.

This is a work in progress. I've got 3 more wine grape vines coming and 3 eating variety vines coming, so sometime I've got to have 9 complete trellises. Not for a while though...the first year is spent getting roots in the soil.

I planted 3 last year, and those trellises are my winter project this year, along with 4 more raised bed frames.

...playing nurse to my sick dog. Maggie's favorite pastime.

Maggie's got cancer. She's on a lot of pills right now, and they make her alternatively sleepy and thirsty. So there's a lot of sleep, get up and drink, sleep, get up and drink, pee, sleep. She doesn't eat much, so I've been making her absolute favorites, like chicken thighs and liver. I made her bacon rice even, trying to get some calories into her.

I think we've settled that we'll be making her comfortable until I can bear to walk by the dog food aisle at the grocery store without bursting into tears. Then we'll have to do the right thing by her. So sad, but she is old. All I can hope is all that time sleeping is full of her dreaming of catching bunnies.

That's what I've been up to.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Not Remembering, but Reliving

My dad has problems with his memory.  It's probably more severe than that, but it's not something you can explain in a few sentences.

He forgets people who have died, among other things, like the fact he's married to my mom or that he has lived in their house for 25 years.

I think that there's a certain place that the brain retreats to.  A place where there are memories about the happiness of youth. A place about a place where he felt useful and needed.  Those other memories....the unfortunate deaths we all see, the painful parts, the feeling of being useless; they are pushed away.  Dropped.  The brain decides to live in the now though the memories of the present.  Those happy memories push their way through and manifest themselves before their eyes.

This is why he asks about his sisters and his mother (long dead).  This is why he talks about work like he was just there. This is why he insists that he must go home.  There's a place he knows existed at one point and he's not there now.  He wants to go back to that place, even though it's just a memory.

The brain is a funny thing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Storm, Part 2.

IMG_3275 Some part of me knew the power wouldn't come back in two hours.  Call it intuition.
I had a pot of stew to cook and no power.  I went out and tried to collect the grill
from the garage.  The garage door wouldn't open, because there was no power, and I didn't
remember (yet) how to get it open.  We tried to carry it outside in the swirling snow,
and the legs came off of it.

The wind was really howling now and we decided to reassemble it outside the back door of the
workshop, outside of the biting wind.  J held the main body as I guided the legs back into
place, cursing this wind, cursing winter, and cursing Wisconsin.

Slowly, we got everything situated, and got a fire started.  It was strange to watch snowflakes
melt on hot coals in the middle of a snowstorm.  The stew had been started in a cast iron
dutch oven, so we were able to place it right over the fire and let it continue cooking.

Inside, we pulled the curtains shut to conserve heat, and got out a board game.

We've had power outages before.  We had prepared for this; with buckets of fresh water in case
the pump stopped working, extra charcoal and boxes of camping food.  We were ready, but every
other outage we'd had was in the summer.  The result of a summer storm.  This was the middle
of a blizzard.

When we finished our game, and ate some pretty tasty stew, it was getting dark.  We had
flashlights galore, so we retreated to our respective spots to read, or to sleep, or to use up
what little battery power we had left on our respective devices.  Without the internet, it
was really weird.  I kept turning on power switches when I entered a room.

I read with a headlamp for a while; in retrospect, a book about a post-apocolyptic world
devasted by a virus where the main character had to forage to survive was probably not the
best choice.

And then, at an embarrassing early time, I simply went to bed.  There isn't much to do
without power, and we'd worked all day to try to keep the snow at bay.  We simply went to
bed and listened to the wind howling against the house, and pulled more covers over us as
the temperatures in the rest of the house slowly fell.

The next morning, the thermostat read 58 degrees.  We'd gotten lucky it wasn't worse.  My
cell still had a charge, and I was able to email my work with my note saying I wouldn't be
in.  J was able to call in to his work, but no one answered; either they were deluged with
calls or no one was there.

We waited a bit, ate cold stew, and drank cold coffee, then walked out to see how bad it was.   The initial snowblowing had helped; there were areas nearly blown clear.  But there were also several 3 foot tall drifts.

We decided on a plan.  Get the truck out of the garage.  Drive as far as we could with it over whatever drifts there were, and when it got stuck, dig it out.  If we could get the truck out, we weren't stranded forever ...  just until we could get someone out here to plow us out.

The truck is an old Ford F150.  It's probably the least powerful truck in its series, but it is a truck and it has a high clearance for going over piles of snow.  It would have to do.

We'd start forward and J would gun it.  He'd go until he couldn't go any farther and then try backing up and ramming forward to see if he could do it.  It only got stuck in a couple places so badly that we had to dig it out.  Some of the drifts dissolved in a giant explosion of white.  And some just stopped us cold.  Our driveway is just gravel and the ruts are just our best guesses about where the driveway actually is; I'm sure we are driving on some grass here and there.   A couple of places were just masses of ruts as we had to keep backing up and trying to steer more left to stay on track.

At noon, we left the truck at the top of the driveway and traipsed in to make some food.  We dug out J's old camp stove, powered by kerosene, and made a giant vat of mac and cheese, and hot chocolate.  I noticed the battery on my cell was dying, and the people that I'd called for help weren't responding.

So I did a quick search on the yellowpages on my smartphone, and just started calling up snow removal people.  The first woman who answered laughed at me when I told her how long my driveway was.  The second guy agreed to some out and give it a shot.

Then, as if the clouds were lifting, the power came back on.   And shortly thereafter, the snowplow guy came and we got a good plowing to clear the driveway.  (But not after a couple of hours of waiting and some miscommunications...and an extra fee...).  It's done.

We went into town today, and got groceries, and breakfast and saw the Hobbit.  I feel almost normal again...

I still don't feel terribly happy about 14.5" inches of snow though, and I still don't like Wisconsin winters.   But I have power and a clear driveway, so I guess we just have to count our blessings.  We aren't so off the grid....but J and I will be moving forward in getting that generator hookup for future situations like this.