Archive for the ‘General News’ Category
With Labor Day almost upon us, it’s time for a video of Garrison and Dinah from this summer.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a movie of the kids to post. Primarily, that’s because we haven’t done a good job of taking movies of the kids so I’ve had little to offer.
However, we finally cobbled together enough footage to make a new movie. See it on YouTube or below.
This year I kept track of every book I read during the calendar year. The list isn’t terribly long, unfortunately, but there are some decent reads on here. I started this project in mid-2011 because I realized that I couldn’t remember the names or authors of many of the books I’d read. I’d wanted to tell someone about a book I’d read in the past and all I could do was vaguely sketch out the plot, which wasn’t much help to them if they wanted to find the book. I didn’t post the 2011 list because it was partial so this is my first complete calendar year list.
- Spook Country – William Gibson
- A sci-fi novel that I didn’t remember at all until I read the synopsis just now. It was OK.
- Imperial Life in the Emerald City – Rajiv Chandrasekaran
- A non-fiction book recounting life in the Green Zone of Iraq during the US occupation. Only interesting if you enjoy second guessing bad decisions. I found it tedious.
- The Passage – Justin Cronin
- Very compelling read. Sci-fi but not marketed as such in what seems an attempt to broaden the market appeal of the book.
- Shadows in the Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines in World War II – Larry Alexander
- An interesting account of one of the units to which most modern special forces can trace their lineage.
- Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
- The best book I read this year. Sci-fi that will probably appeal most to people who played video games in the 80s.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell – Susanna Clarke
- Long. Very long. And a less than satisfying ending. Sort of an alternate history of England where magic actually does work but where only two real magicians exist.
- We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance – David Howarth
- Got this for our Kindle because Amazon was selling it cheaply. An moderately compelling story of survival in the Norwegian backcountry during WWII.
- The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL – Eric Greitens
- Not a bad tale, generally. Gives something of a look into training, life, and duties of the Navy SEALs.
- The Coming – Joe Haldeman
- Another book I didn’t remember until I read two synposes. Sci-fi. Better than spending seven hours on a plane with nothing to do but stare at the head of the guy in front of you.
- A Week at the Airport – Alain de Botton
- One poets attempt to graft lyricism and meaning on to London Heathrow. Didn’t exactly move me to start flying more or specing a great share of my free-time at the airport.
- Dragons of the Dwarven Depths – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
- Fantasy. A very quick read that won’t challenge the reader. Seems to be part of a series but is really just a tangent off a larger series, which makes it occasionally frustrating.
- The Rise of the Iron Moon – Stephen Hunt
- Genre-bending novel with components of both fantasy and sci-fi with a does of alternate history. This was a good read, but not good enough that I’ve sought out other books by the same author or in the same series.
- Ask My Why I Hurt – Randy Christensen
- A very compelling, sad, and yet curiously uplifting non-fiction account of one doctor’s attempt to treat homeless kids in the Phoenix area.
- Mercury Falls – Robert Kroese
- A fantasy novel with a clear lineage extending back to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. The humor is much the same, even if the topic (beyond the Apocalypse) isn’t.
- A Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
- The classic book probably read my high school kids somewhere. Finally got around to reading this one after hearing about it years and years ago.
- Story of a Secret State – Jan Karski
- Recommended by a colleague at work, it’s the account of one man’s experience in the Polish Underground during WWII.
Dalla has been unusually successful hunting in the yard this summer. She hasn’t tallied any squirrels, but she’s gotten plenty of rabbits, voles, and mice. Here she is with her most recent kill.
Garrison’s one year video is now up on YouTube.
Garrison’s eleven month video is now up on YouTube.
Yes, I finally broke down and joined the accursed Facebook. For those of you wondering if my posting here will end as a result, the answer is a resounding “no.” I have no plans to make a habit of writing anything on my Facebook page.
The biggest problem with Facebook, from my perspective, is that it is a bit like a roach motel for personal data. That is, “Your data checks in; it never checks out.” I know of no good way to get pictures, postings, comments, etc. out of Facebook. While I have to suffer through the headache of maintaining software on my own website, I always know where my data is, and I can do whatever I want with it. In other words, by maintaining my own website, I own my data.
So, while I now have a Facebook account, the only reason is so that I can read the postings of other people who do write there.
As the Christmas Season ramps up to its climax, we’ve been busy with plenty of things that have nothing to do with the holiday.
The nursery is, for all practical purposes, ready for occupancy. Over the last month, Sarah repaired a rug her grandmother made. We got it cleaned by a local rug shop, and it is now on the floor in the nursery. The crib is assembled and in place. The blinds that came with the house have been replaced by new roman shades with blackout fabric. Sarah sewed new curtains and they’re up. The changing table is stock with wipes, diapers, rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, and the like. Baby clothes have been washed, folded, and put into drawers. The glider and footstool have been placed in the room and tested to ensure that they can move freely. A dim light is in place for late night changes, feedings, and pacings. In short, there isn’t much left to do in that room. We took some pictures a couple of weeks ago that you can see at the end of this post. They don’t show the new curtains or blinds, but you can see the placement of the furniture and the rug.
We’re ahead of last year’s record snowfall already. We got over ten inches on Thursday evening, and another 2.5″ on Saturday. Last year on this date we had 23.6″ inches in December; this year we’re up to 30.1″ already. The forecast is for another 6-14 inches on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Friday morning, one of our neighbors was kind enough to lend us her Toro snowblower to clean up the big Thursday snowfall. It was so much easier than shoveling that mess. We’d also had some conversations with someone at the curling club about their Toro snowblower and how easy and powerful it was. So, when we had a forecast of another six inches on Saturday night, I broke down and bought one of my own. We’re now the proud owners of a Toro snowblower of our own. I used it to clean up Saturday’s 2.5″ and the hardest part was getting it started the first time. Otherwise it cleared the walk and the drive like a champ. It even threw out the end-of-driveway drift that the city plows always helpfully leave us without a hitch. It wasn’t the cheapest thing I’ve ever purchased, but it will likely make winter a whole lot less punishing on my back.
Sarah and I bottled up another beer on Sunday morning. This one is my Mystery Spot Ale. We gave the uncarbonated beer a taste while we were bottling it and there is definitely some potential for a tasty brew in there.
As you might expect, we’ve also been busy with baking, cleaning the house, wrapping presents, and all the other holiday activities. Those of you expecting our regular Christmas card will have to wait until the baby is born. We’re going to send out both at the same time and save ourselves some postage and effort.
Ira died sometime on Monday.
He had been struggling for the better part of 18 months with losing weight. Sarah took him to the vet hospital last winter when I was at the Pole and they gave her some special food and care instructions. She followed all those instructions to the letter and he seemed to bounce back, but never put on the type of weight we hoped. Since the arrival of fall this year he continued losing weight despite soaks in warm water and all sorts of nutritious and tortoise-friendly foods being given to him. It’s as though he was tired of living in captivity and had given up on eating.
Sarah discovered his body on Tuesday morning and called me at work. I made him a shroud and that afternoon we hiked into a natural area that is special to us where we buried him in a copse of oaks. His grave is covered by a rock cairn that we built. We’re out there year round so I expect that we’ll think of him often.
If you want to read some of my past entries about Ira, here are some highlights:
With another weekend drawing to a close, I realized that it has been a while since I chronicled our adventures in this space.The big event in Sarah’s life over the last couple of weeks was her successful thesis defense. After a month of long, long hours she presented her thesis formally to her committee. Following the public portion of the defense, she was grilled in private for a time by her committee before they passed her work. She still needs to incorporate their changes and suggestions into her final thesis document, but that should all be done by the end of August. Regardless, the biggest hurdle that stood between Sarah and her Master’s degree has been passed. She is extremely happy to have that behind her.
We started scraping the paint off the south side of the house last week. The house painting project, which desperately needs to be completed, is moving slowly. The current plan is for both Sarah and I to take a week and concentrate solely on painting the house during that week. That seems to the course of action most likely to lead to a freshly painted house with a minimum amount of fuss.
My bid to join the titans of the retail world apparently went unnoticed by Wall Street as I haven’t had investment bankers lining up at my door. The Saturday before last I had a garage sale where I made…wait for it…$28.25. If you consider that I spent the better part of twelve hours pawing through our stuff looking for things to sell, pricing everything, hauling it to the garage, setting it up, and sitting there while most everyone in the world ignored it, I made less than $3.00/hour. That’s right, less than $3.00/hour. You’ll all want to pre-order my book on making big money in the fast-paced world of garage sales, I’m sure. Of course, if you don’t want the book now, you’ll probably want it after you see the late-night television advertisement.
Last Sunday, Dalla and I took a hike while Sarah prepped for her thesis defense. It was hot, but not uncomfortably so. There was a nice wind that kept most of the mosquitos away and we both enjoyed being surrounded by so much lush vegetation. There are some photos from our hiking trip in the photo gallery. I went out hoping that the wild black raspberries would be ripe enough to pick but it looks like it will be at least next weekend, and possibly longer, until they are ready to eat.
Friday night, we played softball with the curling club softball team. The team is reasonably good for the league in which it plays. We couldn’t hold a candle to any highly competitive team, but we play hard and have fun. On a play last week I was on first when a throw to the plate went wide and I decided to take second on the throw. It wasn’t until I was two-thirds of the way there that I noticed that I couldn’t take second because the runner in front of me was still standing on second base. So, I turned around and started churning hard for first. As I got close, it looked like the throw beat me to the base so and (for some reason I still don’t understand) I slid into first using a bent-leg slide. Well, something happened and I was declared safe. But, I couldn’t hear the ump (there’s only one and he’s around the plate), and since I saw the throw beat me to the base, I got up off the ground just past first base. It was then that I heard the two benches yelling. One was yelling “Tag him!” The other was yelling “Get back on base.” Doh. The tag beat my lunge to the base and I was out. It was then that I realized the folly of sliding into base when you’re wearing shorts. The entire front and side of my left leg below the knee was shredded and full of dirt. After the game, I washed out the wounds and applied some bandages in a particularly painful stretch of minutes before we went to the bar for the traditional post-game meal. After all, it’d be a shame to miss fish fry and pitchers of beer for a shredded shin.
If you’ve never had road rash, you can’t really appreciate how painful it is to have skin scraped away off a good sized chunk of your body in a shallow but comprehensive fashion. The wound left isn’t deep, but many many nerve endings are damaged and exposed to the air which means lots of stinging and burning sensations at all hours. In addition, because the area of the wound is large it’s difficult to buy bandages and the like at a pharmacy that won’t make the situation worse since most bandages are meant for small wounds. It is here that I should state unequivocally that so-called non-stick bandages are nothing of the sort.
When so many nerve endings are exposed, pretty much everything you do to the wound is extremely uncomfortable. Showering? Very painful. Taking bandages off? Very painful. Putting bandages on? Very painful. Letting just about anything of any weight, like clothing, touch the wound? Very painful. Applying antibiotic ointment or spray? Very, very painful. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have serious road rash over a large portion of your body. Even the bit of road rash that I have makes me quite serious about wearing motorcycle safety clothing if I were to ever ride a motorcycle. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have road rash all over my back or arms.
Sarah and I drove up near Baraboo yesterday where we picked about thirty-five pounds of strawberries and about five pounds of peas at a pick-your-own farm. The strawberries we got this year were really nice: big, red, and perfectly ripe. Saturday afternoon we spent hours making and preserving strawberry jam, freezing quart bags of chopped and whole strawberries, and drying strawberries in fruit leather form. It’s a hassle, but it means that we don’t ever need to buy jelly or jam at the grocery story and we know exactly where the fruit that went into it came from. In addition, homemade jam made out of local fruit picked at the peak of ripeness always tastes better than the stuff that Smuckers and Co. stuff into their jars. The kitchen is always a mess of red juice and whatnot when we’re done but the results are definitely worth it.
This afternoon we put the bikes on the back of the car and drove down to New Glarus so that we could ride twenty or so miles on the Sugar River Trail. We tried riding this trail last year on our long-distance road bikes with skinny tires and the results were less than ideal. The Sugar River Trail is covered in very soft gravel in spots and is quite slick with moss and wetness in others. In between, the trail is a packed, crushed limestone. We struggled to stay upright and in motion on the deep patches of soft gravel and did our best to keep our tires from sliding out from underneath us on the slick sections of the trail. It didn’t take long for Sarah’s bike to lose friction under a tire and drop her hard to the ground.
Determined not to make that our last experience with the Sugar River Trail, we gave it another go this year. We brought our bikes with wide road tires and mountain bike frames and had a much, much better ride. We rode a bit over twenty miles and enjoyed the scenery even though the weather was a bit warm. We both made it out and back without taking a digger.
The wheat beer I started a month or so ago should be ready for drinking by now but it seems quite reluctant to carbonate. I tried a bottle on Thursday night, and it was completely flat. I thought the basement would be warm enough for the yeast to carbonate the beer at this time of year, but apparently I was wrong. So, I’ve got nearly fifty bottles of beer stacked up in the office (where the temps. are much warmer) in an attempt to get those lazy yeasties off their keisters and churning out carbon dioxide. The beer tastes good, but without carbonation it isn’t much fun to drink.
The house wren in our backyard is still singing his heart out and looking for a mate. It would be nice if a female wren answered his call so that the pair would return next year. The house sparrows that built a nest near our patio have at least two nestlings that they’re feeding. It’s likely that I’ll try to do something to that house when they’ve moved on to discourage them from coming back next year.
Some interesting sites I’ve seen of late:
- The 2007 Monthly Doos calendar is perfect for the, umm, doo lover on your Christmas shopping list.
- If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fly “sultan class,” check out these photos of the Sultan of Brunei’s plane.
For your daily dose of outrage, I suggest the following: TSA confiscates a geologist’s rock. Yes, a rock. They claim it is a “dual-use” item.
It’s January 2006. What on Earth have we been doing with our time?Sarah is in Arkansas this week at Buffalo River National River. She is working for the National Park Service gathering data as part of a larger project. She’ll be back Friday afternoon.
Ira is still in the fridge.
Dalla is grumpy because Sarah is gone.
We’ve been shopping for a new (to us) car the last few weeks. It’s been a slow and rather bothersome process that will probably be finished sometime in March. We’ve set an upper limit on how much we want to spend, and what features we want in the car, so that has limited our list of potential vehicles somewhat. While we’d like to purchase another wagon, there simply aren’t many wagons being manufactured any longer. Also, we aren’t yet sure if we’ll buy new or used. Ultimately, buying a late-model used car may save us a fair chunk of change.
Winter in Madison this January has been unbelievably mild. We’ve had a couple of days with temperatures in the forties and one day where we even saw the thermometer hit fifty. There is, of course, almost no snow left on the ground.
Sarah’s curling team from the first half of the seaon finished in a tie for first place. Now they have to play a championship game to determine an outright winner. She is playing on a new team in the second half of the season. In addition, we are curling together on a league team that plays on Sunday night. So far, that team is 1-1. My curling team won the first half of the season after compiling an 8-1 record which puts us into the playoffs regardless of our second half record.
Sarah bought me a trainer for my bicycle as part of my Christmas gift. The idea was that I would ride the trainer on days when the winter weather was just plain unpleasant for bicycling. However, since the trainer arrived I’ve only ridden it once because the weather has been so kind.
We bought our house a little over two years ago and now we know several other couples or families that want to move into our neighborhood. In addition, home prices around us have climbed quite a bit the last couple of years. It’s odd to be living in a suddenly desirable neighborhood. We love our location and weren’t in any hurry to move even before this area became popular.
Tonight I biked over the university to hear E.O. Wilson speak. It’s clear that his eighty years on this planet have taken something of a toll on his speaking ability. He still is sharp and has plenty to say, he just has a bit more trouble saying it.
Before we left to visit Sarah’s family, we put Ira in the vegetable crisper drawer in the fridge so he could start his hibernation.
According to a recent article in The Onion, Ira should count himself lucky to be hibernating this winter.
Sarah is back from her stint volunteering with the Red Cross in New Orleans and life has returned to a semblance of normal in our household.While Sarah was gone, Dalla, Ira, and myself were left to hold down the fort. Dalla made sure there was no squirrel uprising. Ira made sure his heat lamp came on every day. I looked after Dalla, Ira, the house plants, the house, and everything else. Despite leaving the three of us in charge, the house was still standing and none of the house plants died when Sarah returned.
That’s not to say that everything was business as usual. My diet deteriorated rapidly and dramatically. The only fresh vegetables in the house were a handful of carrots and an avocado. There was a an array of frozen vegetables in the freezer, but I only ate them once. The rest of the time I ate meatloaf, fishwiches, pasta, pizza, eggs, and other staples of the single male diet. It isn’t that I can’t cook. Rather, I was simply uninspired to cook for just myself.
The Wednesday before Sarah came back, I restocked the fridge with a variety of fresh vegetables from the grocery store. While the Red Cross fed her often in Louisiana, there was a definite shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables in her diet.
Sarah returned to Madison the evening of 02 Dec 2005. When she left, temperatures were in the forties. When she returned, the thermometer was doing its best impression of winter in Calgary. Regardless, she was happy to be back.
While she was in Louisiana, she worked a variety of jobs for the Red Cross. She helped to manage one of their offices, scheduling people to ride on food distribution trucks, scheduling days off, distributing information to workers and clients, and generally doing whatever needed to be done. She worked in what they termed the warehouse, as well. The warehouse, in this case, was nothing more than a circus tent and a collection of semi-truck trailers stocked with boxes sitting in a parking lot. In addition, she worked on the food distribution vehicles all over New Orleans and the surrounding area. The work was sometimes hard, but it was always rewarding. Rather than tell her story myself, I would suggest that you contact her if you have specific questions about the work she did.
While she spent Thanksgiving in Louisiana, Dalla and I left Ira in charge of the ranch while we journeyed to South Dakota for the holiday. We spent Thanksgiving night and the following night in Watertown visiting my parents. While we were there, I helped out with some jobs around the house and met up with an old friend from high school who is now living in Colorado. My friend, Kris, and I went out for dinner and drinks on Friday night. We stopped in at a local brew pub to start the evening. I ordered a pasta dish, jambalaya, and a brew. The pasta was awful; the beer was good; the jambalaya was fantastic. If I had known the jambalaya was going to be that good, I would have ordered a double helping and skipped the pasta. After that, I made a classic mistake. Instead of having another beer (it was a brew pub, remember), I decided to have a mixed drink. To pile idiocy on stupidity, I decided to order a mixed drink usually only made in Wisconsin. Dumb, dumb, dumb. As you can probably predict, the drink was awful. Lesson learned: stick with beer in a brew pub.
On our way back to Wisconsin, Dalla and I stopped off for a night in St. Paul to visit with another old friend and his wife. Josh and Sarah Ann were gracious hosts to myself and Dalla on the Saturday night following Thanksgiving. We went out and had some good Mexican food at a restaurant in St. Paul. I ordered a whole catfish cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, and I asked the waitress if she could get the head chopped off the fish before bringing it to the table. After all, what on Earth was I going to do with a cooked fish head at the table? The waitress laughed out loud at my request, but the fish did arrive sans head.
The serving of fish with the head still attached is one of the weirdest food customs. You don’t get steak or hamburgers with the head of a cow. You don’t get pork chops with the head of the pig. Nobody serves a roasted chicken or turkey with the head of the bird. Why then, are many fish served with the head?
Anyway, since Sarah has been back, we’ve jumped right into preparations for Christmas. I baked some Christmas cookies yesterday while Sarah made almond bark pretzels. We have the cards for our Christmas cards, but have yet to write, address, or send a single one.
We got our Christmas tree last weekend after no small amount of searching. This year, we decided to bite the bullet and buy an artificial tree. Since we were going to be gone for the better part of a week around Christmas and New Years, we didn’t want a tree that required constant watering. In the course of our searching, we discovered that if you’re looking for a realistic, high-quality artificial tree, you need to start looking no later than Thanksgiving weekend. We ended up buying the floor model of a tree that we liked. It wasn’t the cheapest tree, but it does actually resemble a real tree and you can’t easily see the metal structure that holds it up. Many of the less expensive trees look unabashedly artificial, and many seemed cheaply made. We decided to pay a bit more for a tree that might last twenty or thirty years.
If you’re buying an artificial tree, you also need to get used to the idea that it will likely be prelit. We looked for a tree that wasn’t prelit because we have plenty of light strings and we don’t find lighting the tree to be a particularly onerous task. In addition, if the tree isn’t prelit, you can easily switch from having clear lights one year to multicolored lights the next. In the end, we bought a prelit tree with clear lights where we could easily see how to take the lights off the tree structure if we so chose in the future.
Dalla really got into the tree decorating flow. After we finished decorating, she crawled under the tree and looked out at us like she approved of our efforts to create a dog-friendly den in the living room.
To help us get into the Christmas spirit, Mother Nature helpfully dumped several inches of snow onto Madison over the last week. Unlike last December when we had no snow and brown lawns, there are white lawns and plenty of shoveling to go around this year.
Sarah and I are both curling this year. She started curling in November before taking off for New Orleans. She curls in a women’s league on Tuesday nights; I’m curling on Thursday nights in my regular league. Both of our teams are doing well.
Sarah has been in Louisiana for several days now. She worked her first full-time shift on Sunday.When she arrived in Louisiana on Friday, she spent a night in a gym at a school in New Orleans. The Red Cross HQ was closed by the time she and other recently arrived volunteers arrived in the city from the airport, so they were deposited at that Red Cross staff shelter and told how to report to HQ in the morning for in-processing. The staff shelter had a hundred cots in a gym and a kitchen facility. She spent the first night there after helping in the kitchen to prepare meals for the volunteers.
Early the next morning, she caught the first bus to Red Cross HQ where she was assigned to a group that worked in New Orleans but stayed in a town outside of New Orleans proper named Harvey, LA. In addition, she was given a bed in a hotel room with one other lady. So, Saturday, she spent most of the day going through in-processing and getting some sort of transportation to her new digs. The hotel was an upgrade over the shelter since she had a bed to herself, a bathroom shared with just one other person, a place to plug-in her cell phone, and the like.
Sunday, Sarah worked her first day on an ERV. An ERV is a Red Cross acronym for an Emergency Response Vehicle. ERVs in New Orleans are primarily used to distribute meals and water to people living and working in the city. She said they spent most of the day distributing roughly four hundred meals to people in middle-class neighborhoods. Many of the people who recieved meals were spending their first weekends back in New Orleans. Most people seemed extremely grateful for the food.
New Orleans itself is still an ungodly mess. There is trash everywhere, including an army of silent monoliths: discarded refrigerators at the curb in front of nearly every house. Sarah said that when front doors are open, mold is almost always visible from the street inside a house. Imagine the size of a mold infestation inside a house that is visible from the street! Now imagine that mold colony replicated thousands upon thousands of times. That is the state of housing in New Orleans. People who have second floors are living there; others are living with the mold on the first floor.
There are quite a few Hispanic workers working there who are doing many of the hot, backbreaking jobs. Her Spanish language skills have already come in handy as she can tell these workers just what sort of food the Red Cross is distributing.
Apparently, most of the food is prepared by the Southern Baptists, and the Red Cross is the distribution end of the chain. While the Red Cross has a few kitchens operating in the area, her ERV picks up its food from a Southern Baptist kitchen.
Saturday night, the owner of the hotel where she is staying cooked the Red Cross volunteers at the hotel a Cajun dinner complete with red beans and rice; shrimp etouffee; shrimp gumbo; and other cajun specialties.
Monday night, she has the option of going to the Navy base for dinner with other Red Cross volunteers, or eating again at the hotel (where they were promised crawfish pie). Apparently she has already tried the crawfish pie and it is good enough serve as an enticement away from Navy food.
She said that the work she did distributing food on Sunday was hot, hard work, but rewarding.
By this time tomorrow, Sarah will be on her way to the Gulf Coast to volunteer for three weeks with the American Red Cross.So far, all we know is that she is going to “New Orleans.” Of course, she could get there and immediately get shipped off to Baton Rouge, Texas, or some other location where the Red Cross needs help. Apparently, most of the Red Cross work at this point revolves around feeding people displaced by the hurricanes and what they call “bulk distribution.” According to Sarah, bulk distribution means driving a truck full of donated food, water, pots, pans, or anything else donated to the Red Cross in large numbers. Once the truck reaches a designated location, volunteers unload the truck and its contents are distributed to the needy.
She doesn’t know yet if she’ll have a cot in a gymnasium, a hotel room, or something in between. Apparently, Red Cross accomodations for volunteers run the gamut.
Generally, people have been supportive of Sarah. Her co-workers, teachers, and fellow students have all accomodated her sudden departure in gracious, helpful ways.
Others, however, have been full of doom and gloom towards some mysterious end. They insist that crime is rampant on the Gulf Coast and that she’ll be going to a location only slightly safer than downtown Baghdad. They remind and badger her about constantly minding her safety, traveling in groups, and trusting no one. In short, they treat her like she’s a naive 15 year-old off to the Big City for the first time, rather than a mature woman who has been all over the US and the world. They seem to forget that the Red Cross isn’t necessarily in the business of sending its volunteers into dangerous locations. In addition, what is the point of telling her that she’ll be walking into an urban Vietnam? To make the ones sitting safely at home feel better about themselves? “Well, we’re not going, but we did our part by telling her unsubstantiated horror stories.”
Nice. Real nice.
It’s good to know that you can always count on some people for deconstructive moral support.
While she’s gone, Dalla, Ira, and I will hold down the fort in Madison. I’m sure that the two of us who aren’t reptiles will miss her. The house will certainly be quieter as a result.
You’re probably wondering, “In what sorts of subversive activities have David and Sarah been engaged these last couple of weeks?”
Well, I can’t spill those secrets here. What I can do is tell you how we filled some our hours.The week before last, we left Madison a bit early on a Friday and went hiking at Brooklyn Wildlife Area. There must be some good reason why the Wildlife Area is named after the town of Brooklyn, rather than the town of Belleville, but I don’t see it. Belleville is right around the corner. The Town of Brooklyn is reasonably far away. It makes no sense. Sarah and I have even gone so far as to abbreviate the name to “Belleville.” If we talk about going hiking in Belleville, we’re certainly not about to lace up our boots and hit the mean streets of Belleville, the city, but rather the Brooklyn Wildlife Area.
Now that that’s clear, I can write about our most recent trip. For a change, the weather turned crisp and sunny that day. We were both itching to hit the trail and Dalla is always more than willing to go along. We hiked for a while over hill and dale and marshy trail. A new pump has been installed at the confluence of two trails so we sampled the water. I was pleasantly surprised that the water had little to no metallic taste. After drinking from the pump, we gathered some flowers and leaves. We were seeking inspiration from nature to help us decide what colors to paint on the outside of our house. On the way back to the trailhead, we stopped and ate apples from a tree growing near the trail. Dalla likes apples, so she got to sample one, too. By the time we were nearing the trailhead, the sun was sinking below the distant hills, so a wonderful light was cast over everything. It was a great end to a good hike.
If you’re interested, we took a few photos of our hike.
Thursday of last week, I accompanied Sarah to Effigy Mounds National Monument to help her with part of the field work for her Masters thesis. She is attempting to find out the pre-historical fire frequency for the park so that the park’s naturalists can use fire to help return the park’s vegetation to a pre-colonization state. To get this fire data, she pulls mud cores out of a pond at the park, radiocarbon dates the mud in the cores, counts the charcoal and pollen in the cores, and then calculates dates and fire frequency from those numbers. Her previous coring expedition in 2004 failed to get deep enough into the ground to get pre-historical mud; we were going back with more and better equipment to drill deeper into the earth.
Sarah needed to core Founder’s Pond, which is a good-sized pond located inside the Monument. Founder’s Pond can only be reached by two methods:
- Put canoes into the Yellow River and paddle downstream for a 1/2 mile or so. Portage the canoes across an isthmus roughly 50 yards wide and covered with stinging nettles that separates the two bodies of water.
- Drive an all-terrain vehicle down something that only vaguely fits the definition of “road.” Then, either scramble down a short but steep and slippery slope to reach the water or walk several hundred yards of gently sloping but nettle-infested woods to the pond.
We needed two canoes for the coring work itself, so we needed to use method one. However, we had several hundred pounds of gear and we didn’t want to portage all of that gear. So, six people took the two canoes down the stream and portaged them across the isthmus. The NPS naturalist working with Sarah drove an all-terrain vehicle down the so-called road. We met him at the bottom of the hill on the opposite side of the pond. We then shuttled all the gear down the slippery slope from the road and into the canoes before paddling out on to the ponds.
We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to work on a pond. The weather was in the upper sixties and lower seventies; there was a periodic gentle breeze; the sun was shining but not oppressive. We didn’t even see any mosquitos until the sun was nearly down and we were packing up to go home.
Sarah had a platform that we used to bridge the two canoes which created something like a pontoon boat. The platform was made out of wood which was clamped to each canoe’s gunwales. The platform also has a hole in its middle that allows the corer to be driven down between the two canoes. I was very skeptical of this arrangement as it seemed likely to cause both boats to swamp. However, the platform was extremely sturdy and stable. At one point, we had five adults on the platform (three men; two women), with four of us straining mightily against the corer in an effort to get it unstuck from a thick, uncooperative clay layer. Nobody had any worries that the platform was going to fail and dump us all in the drink; we were far more worried about how we were going to get that corer out of the clay layer in which it was stuck.
In the end, it was a long, but very productive day. Sarah got the corer something like 25 feet into the ground on this latest expedition. Her first trip only got a bit over six. Just looking at the cores coming out of the ground with the naked eye showed how much there was for her to discover. The ground changed colors and textures several times. As we got the later and deeper cores out of the ground, we started to see more and more shells in the cores. The last core was that tough clay layer which we penetrated only with hard work and the help of a post driver. It took the better part of a half-hour to then get the corer out of the clay layer and back to the surface.
We took some photos of the trip for those interested parties.
Over the weekend, we picked apples at a local pick-your-own apple farm. Between the two of us, we picked somewhere around 28 pounds of apples. I made an apple crisp last night. I’ll probably make another one tomorrow night. We’re eating apples after every meal and the piles don’t seem much smaller. The proverbial doctor will not be visiting our house any time soon.
We’ve also been struggling to give away some of the produce from our community garden plot. The hot pepper plants we planted absolutely loved the hot summer we had. I’ve given hot peppers away to everyone I know will take them and I still have more than I can eat. I even took them to a local dog park and tried to give them away there. As you can see in the picture to the left, I still have plenty of hot peppers. And, when I get rid of those that are pictured, at least twice as many will be ripe on the plants at our garden.
The drought we had over the course of the summer has slackened a bit in recent weeks. While we are now getting more rain, the temperatures have not relented much. Today, the temperature is 85°(!) with plenty of humidity to thicken the oppressive air. For someone like myself who prefers fall much more than summer, this extended summer weather is particularly galling.
Sarah and I have been very busy the two weeks.The last weekend in July, I rented a car and drove out to Watertown to visit my parents and help them with a few projects.
For a change, I drove through northern Iowa on State Highway 9. As a general rule, I find Interstate travel really boring, so I often try to find a few highways and byways to spice up the trip a bit. Since Watertown is a minimum of nine hours from Madison, plenty of spicing is necessary.
I can’t say northern Iowa is most scenic place I’ve ever been. In fact, it’s not even close. However, it forces central Illinois to bend over a take a kick in the rump. You don’t know boring until you’ve driven an Interstate highway through central Illinois. At least I got to see interesting towns like Decorah, Carasco, and the like on the trip. Many of those small Iowa towns have obviously spent no small amount of time, money, and effort keeping their downtowns from completely dying by sprucing up buildings, lightposts, and sidewalks. I even got to see the home office of the company we all know and love, North Iowa Boar Semen.
Once I was in Watertown, I spent a fair amount of time helping my father with the computers at his business. In addition, I replaced the bike tires on my mother’s bicycle (the tires were so drived out that they were probably one good bump away from completely disintegrating) and gave it a general tune-up. We shopped at the Watertown Farmer’s Market, watched a few Twins games on TV, and generally kept things low-key.
I stayed in Watertown until Sunday afternoon, at which time I climbed behind the wheel of my rental car and pointed it east towards Madison. That was earlier than my original plan but I was ready to get back to Madison and I wanted to surprise Sarah. I tried a different route back to Madison on my return. I drove the Interstate highway south out of Watertown and east out of Sioux Falls. Just before I-90 turns north to go through Rochester, MN, I started traveling state and county highways southeast through Minnesota. I was aiming for the bridge across the Mississippi River between McGregor, IA and Prairie du Chien, WI.
As I traveled SE through southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa, I traveled through some fantasically pretty country. The sun was casting a warm, cool glow across the land, the air temperature was pleasant, the the surrounding country was rolling. Though I occasionally passed a hog barn or two (the smell is unmistakable), that only seemed to add to the ambience.
About 23:30 I rolled back into Madison. I rang the door bell, and Dalla came flying out of the bedroom in full roar. She isn’t used to someone ringing the doorbell that late at night and gave me the full alarm bark routine. Sarah wasn’t expecting me until the evening of the next day, so she was mildly surprised as well. In the end, it was good to be back because we were dog-sitting for another dog starting early the next morning, and Dalla needed to get her cut checked out at the vet.
We had just a few days to get our house in order because Sarah’s parents, Mike and Tina, were coming to visit on Thursday afternoon. We did prosaic but necessary things like mowing the lawn, weeding, laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.
Wednesday night, Sarah and I took in a Madison Mallards game at Warner Park in Madison. While attempting to order tickets for Sarah, her parents, and myself to see the Thursday game, I stupidly ordered tickets for the Wednesday night game instead. So, Sarah and I attended the Wednesday night game, rather than let the tickets go to waste. The weather was quite hot and humid, but we had good seats and the beer wasn’t too expensive. The Mallards nominate one opposing player each game to be the so-called Great Dane Beer Batter (the Great Dane is a local, popular brewpub). If the Great Dane Beer Batter strikes out, all beer is half-price for the next half-inning. That night, the Beer Batter struck out twice, so we had plenty of opportunity to cool off with half-price beers.
Thursday, Mike and Tina arrived. We made fish tacos on the grill before heading out to the Mallards game. While the Beer Batter that night failed to strike out, the game was exciting and the Mallards won. A good time was had by all.
I should mention that Mike and Tina arrived on a plane and rented a car to get them around town. They ended up with the last car on the lot, a 2005 Dodge Magnum. I have to admit that the Magnum is a stylish car, but I would never buy one. The transmission, first of all, transmitted no power to the wheels when the car was put into reverse and no feet were applied to the gas pedal. That was pretty much the opposite of every car I’ve ever driven. The back window is not just small, but far away from the rear view mirror. That made looking in the rear view mirror somewhat like looking through a ship’s porthole. In addition, all the windows except the windshield and the two front windows were deeply tinted. That made the back seat and cargo area really, really dark, even when the sun was out. That was somewhat disconcerting to see when I looked in the rear view mirror. Neither Mike nor I was able to find a comfortable position for the headrest on the front seats. It’s as the headrests were designed for a different species of animal. The car had plenty of power, even with a V-6, but it also had its share of hesitation on the highway when trying to move quickly in a passing situation. All in all, I now understand why I don’t see many of these cars on the road.
Friday found us in said Magnum on our way to Dodgeville, WI and the annual Lands End warehouse clearance sale. Lands End is based in Dodgeville, and once a year they fill up a local hockey arena with all their unsold samples, catalog returns, and the like. Everything is priced with bargain basement prices and people drive from hundreds of miles away to shop there. When I was there, I found out that I wear the same size shirts as those ordered as samples. Sample clothes were the most deeply discounted, so I was able to get a fairly large number of clothes for a reasonably small sum of money. I got shoes, a terry cloth robe, a sport jacket, new swim trunks, and a passel of shirts. Some of the shirts sold for as little as $5.00 after discounts.
After the sale, we traveled back towards Madison along Highway 18/151. We stopped in Mount Horeb to see the world famous Mustard Museum. If you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to stop and see this unique attraction. Perhaps the best part of the Museum is tasting all the various mustards. We tasted a reasonably large number of mustards while we were there and left with a few mustards for the road. The Museum itself is one of the least self-conscious places you’ll ever visit. It may be corny, but it is unabashedly so.
What naturally follows the consumption of mustard? The consumption of lefse, of course! For those of you not familiar with lefse, it is a Scandanavian flatbread made out of potatoes. My mother makes a mean lefse and she usually shares some of the fruits of her labor with us around Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, once those holidays are gone, it can be a long dry spell before I get to taste good lefse again. Grocery store lefse doesn’t taste anything like homemade lefse, so I’ve given up on that source.
As we discovered on Friday, Schubert’s Old Fashioned Cafe and Bakery in Mount Horeb makes a mean lefse. Their lefse is slightly bigger than that made by my mother, but considering the cost, that’s a good thing. If you eat smaller lefse, you simply eat more of them to make up for the difference. Schubert’s lefse is about as close to homemade lefse as you’re going to find short of the real deal. Spread with butter and sugar it was a real treat and worth every penny.
Our bellies temporarily full of lefse and mustard samples, we headed back to Madison to ponder the eternal question: what to have for dinner. Given that we had more than a few jars of high-quality mustard in the car, naturally we decided on mustard friendly foods: bratwurst and Bavarian pretzels. We stopped at our local purveyor of fine German foods, Bavaria Sausage on our way back to the house. Once there, we bought some pretzels that had been made in Germany, 1/2 cooked, frozen, and then shipped to America. We also bought a array of wurst to fix on the grill.
So, for dinner, we had wurst, pretzels, kraut, mustard, German-style pilsner, German weiss beer, and a Reisling. It was a truly excellent Teutonic dinner.
Saturday, we jumped in the mighty Magnum again and headed west once again towards Spring Green. Once there, we had lunch at the General Store Cafe before heading off to our tour of Taliesin.
Taliesin is an interesting study in contrasts. Quite frankly, portions of the building were never meant to last and they are doing their best not to. You can see light under some of the walls (especially in Wright’s bedroom) where the walls and the foundation don’t really meet. The mitered glass panes that Wright invented in many cases no longer meet. The building has no heat so for all intents and purposes, it closes in the winter as temperatures inside the building reach 0°F. In addition, plenty of racoons, squirrels, and other varmints and rodents move into the house in the winter. After all, Wright spent his winters in Arizona, so why should he invest his time and money in winterizing his Wisconsin place? One of the other people on our tour kept badgering the tour guide to find out why the Taliesin Foundation didn’t install heating, insulate the walls, replace the windows with double panes of glass, etc. In short, why wasn’t the Foundation turning Taliesin into a modern building? The answer, of course, is that if you turn Taliesin into a modern building, it would no longer be Taliesin. Taliesin was never built to last forever.
The day we were there, a wedding (apparently quite a rare event) had taken place on the grounds earlier in the day. As such, we didn’t have to worry about wearing little booties over our shoes to protect the carpet and we got to take some pictures inside the studio (which is usually strictly verboten). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to take any pictures inside the house (apparently, tour groups earlier that day had gotten to do so; a nearly unheard of treat).
While I understand that Wright’s buildings have engineering problems, specifically with roofs leaking and foundations slipping, it is impossible to deny that the man was an artist. There is something about his buildings that is difficult for me to define, yet I can see it and feel it in the design. They seem incredibly well scaled to human dimensions. In addition, they seem to blend into their surroundings extremely well; better than almost any modern building I can name. Taliesin, the house, is 38,000 square feet. And yet, from various points around the hill, it doesn’t look much bigger than 5,000 square feet. From the outside, modern McMansions look ten times bigger and thousands of times less at home in their environment than Taliesin. The monstrosities that clutter our modern subdivisions are factory-produced concrete blocks compared to Wright’s hand-carved marble statues.
After touring Taliesin, we headed out for the grounds of American Players Theatre. Once where, we unpacked a picnic dinner that Sarah and Tina had made complete with beer, wine, and dessert. We sat at a picnic table in the woods in a nice picnic area enjoying the dinner before the show. We eventually walked up the trail to the theatre to see the play, The Play’s The Thing.
The show was very good. The first half the show dragged a bit, but the second half was gut-bustingly funny. It was great to sit in a nice outdoors theatre to watch professional theatre under the stars. At times during the show, a bat would zoom across the heads of the audience members in pursuit of some unseen bug or moth. The facilities that APT provides for their customers are reasonably good considering that they do all of their shows outdoors during just a few months of the year. I highly recommend catching a show at APT if you ever get the chance.
Sunday, we drove up to visit the International Crane Foundation just north of Baraboo, WI. Along the way, we rode the Merrimac Ferry across the Wisconsin River. The Merrimac Ferry is the last free ferry in Wisconsin and while the ride isn’t terribly long, it is a nice change from just riding in the car. You can get out, stretch your legs, and watch the water slide by.
We stopped in Baraboo to have a bit of lunch, and arrived at the Crane Foundation in the afternoon. All in all, I would rate our time at the Crane Foundation as something of a mixed bag. The tour guide who showed us around drove Sarah and I crazy. We thought he was incredibly patronizing and unnecessarily loquacious. In addition, very little of what he had to say was very interesting. Quite frankly, if you are going to the Crane Foundation, don’t wait around for a tour; just wander the grounds and you can see all the same things at your own pace. In addition, there just isn’t that much to see. There are cranes behind fences but that’s about it. They aren’t busying doing crane-y things; they can’t fly around. They are pretty much limited to sticking their beaks through the chain link fences, eyeing tourists, and squawking periodically. So yeah, we got to see some unique and interesting birds, but the cost of doing so was quite high.
Sunday night, we broke new culinary ground at ate at Lombardinos, an Italian restaurant here in Madison. Neither Sarah nor I had eaten there even though we’ve been biking by it and its garish mural for years. Tina and Mike had never eaten there and they had stayed in the motel acrross the street several times.
Sarah and I were both unimpressed by the restaurant on the whole. We both thought that the staff could be described as dismissive at best, and rude at worst. Sarah and I thought the calamari were good, and the pizza we had as an appetizer was good. Mike seemed quite enamored with his eggplant and spaghetti dinner. Tina didn’t seem displeased with her scallops. Sarah didn’t exactly rave about her tuna steak. My dish was thoroughly forgettable, and hence, wildly overpriced. So, the food is passable, but the service stinks. If that’s the case, why not eat somewhere with passable food that is cheaper and the service is better?
My favorite moment of the meal came when Mike asked for pepper for the olive oil. The server came back with one of those pepper howitzers that often are used in restaurants. A pepper howitzer is three foot tall pepper grinder, usually made of wood, that allows the server to dispense pepper from several feet away. This particular pepper howitzer apparently needed servicing because it hardly dispensed any pepper before completely failing to dispense any more despite the server’s efforts. What is the point in having such a monstrous pepper grinder if it doesn’t work? In the end, we got more pepper out of the pepper shaker on the table than out of the pepper howitzer.
This is one heck of a long entry, but I’ve been working on it for a few days.
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Dalla had a bit of a misadventure in the not too distant past and she is still paying for it today.On the last day of July, which was a Sunday, Sarah and Dalla were out hiking on one of the local hiking trails. Dalla was running free since there weren’t any other people or dogs around, while Sarah hiked along the trail. After their hike, Sarah and Dalla got back into the car and came home to eat breakfast and get started on their day.
Shortly after arriving back at the house, Sarah noticed that Dalla had a good sized cut on the upper part of her right front leg. The cut wasn’t bleeding, but Dalla was licking at it. Sarah wasn’t sure if the cut rated emergency vet treatment, so she got in touch with one of our neighbors who is also a dog owner to get her opinion.
They huddled about the problem, and decided to disinfect the wound and bandage the leg with dog-friendly bandages since it didn’t seem to be bleeding and Dalla didn’t seem hampered in any way. Then, on Monday, Sarah would take Dalla in to the vet to get a professional opinion.
Monday morning rolled around, and Sarah took Dalla in to the vet. The vet decided that Dalla needed stiches to close the wound, which meant that Dalla needed to spend the day at the vet’s office because she would also get anesthesia to knock her out during the suturing.
When Monday afternoon rolled around, I stopped by the vet to pick up one slightly woozy Elkhound mix. The vet said that Dalla wasn’t allowed to lick the wound, so she needed to wear an Elizabethan collar. Dalla decided rather quickly that she wasn’t going to wear an Elizabethan collar, so the vet suggested that a kids size T-shirt might also fit the bill.
Well, we don’t have many kids size T-shirts around the house. Probably because we don’t have kids. Anyway, once we got home, I needed some way to fashion a T-shirt that Dalla could wear until Sarah came home. I couldn’t take Dalla to the store because it was hellishly hot that day and I couldn’t leave her in the car. At the same time, even if it had been cool, I couldn’t leave her in the car because she would lick at her wound while I was in the store. I couldn’t leave Dalla with Sarah because Sarah was on a long bike ride with her riding club. So, I took Dalla (and Maya, another dog we were dog sitting) into the basement for some T-shirt hacking.
First, I grabbed one of my old T-shirts that I got at MacWorld Boston 1995. I tried it on her to see how it fit. “Badly” is the word that best described its fit.
I’m not sure how much experience any one else has in modifying human clothing to fit a dog, but I had none. Looking at the T-shirt I could tell that it was too big in almost every direction, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how to fix it. Sure, I could cut off a bunch of fabric to shorten the shirt, but that wasn’t going to make it tighter around her chest. And, yeah, I could sew the shirt together in such a way to make the chest tighter, but then I had to deal with the fact that the arm holes and shoulders were still ten to twenty sizes too big. How was I going to fix that problem without sewing them or the head hole shut?
After some extensive fitting on my unwilling and uncooperative model, I managed to use scissors, sewing machine, and safety pins to produce a serviceable, but ugly dog T-shirt. I even managed to save enough of the front so that Dalla’s back (she wore the T-shirt backwards) still showed the MacWorld slogan from that year.
Eventually, Sarah got home, we had dinner, and went to the store to get some smaller shirts. Again, if you haven’t been shopping for dog T-shirts, it isn’t easy. Most kids clothes aren’t sold with suggestions for fitting them to dogs. All the kids clothes generally appeared to be about the same size, so it was a good thing that Sarah measured Dalla before we left. Using those measurements, we were able to determine that Dalla wears boys size small T-shirts.
For all of last week, and all of this week, Dalla wanders the house in a modified Hanes T-shirt. She seems completely oblivious to the whole affair. She scratches at it once in a while, but other than that, she seems resigned to her role in bringing the torn white T-shirt back into the American fashion mainstream.