Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ingenuity 3

There have been some big storms recently, and one tore off half of the very tall tree and dumped it squarely on the box of the black pickup truck, crushing the box. Some of the giant logs left from when that half-tree was cut up can be seen in the background on the lawn at the right. The owner of the truck wasted no time in replacing the crushed pickup box with a new one made of . . . wood.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Taking It With You

Daylilies last a day. No amount of water in a vase is going to make them last any longer than the day. If no one is going to be in the garden to see them, you may as well bring them inside. If they are still pretty at dusk, you may as well bring them inside. If you snap each flower off carefully at its base, you can leave all the buds there to develop and open another day. You can just lay them anywhere, but after coming to my office the next day to find wilty maroon or orange or yellow stains on my paperwork, I took to laying them on a plate. And if your day is not in the office but on the road? Take them along. Line the dashbaord. Enjoy them as you drive. Take the beauty with you!

And if you are stuck behind a slow moving traffic? Daylilies are still there and still beautiful.

Waiting behind a giant truck at a busy intersection? Daylilies still there, still beautiful!
What a way to make a great day nicer!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rights We Should Have and Should Give Each Other

1) Everyone has a right to things they are good at.
2) Everyone has a right to things they are bad at.
That means that every person has a right to try things until they find things they are good at, that they have a right to spend time on those things they are good at, that they have a right to be recognized for being good at the things they are good at, to be appreciated for the things they are good at.

That means that every person has the right to try things even at the risk of being bad at them, that they have a right to not be great at everything, that they don't have to work until they get good at everything, meaning they can stay bad at some things, that they have a right to not be picked on for the things they are bad at, to be forgiven for things they are bad at and left to be bad at them.

Everybody is good at some things.
Nobody is great at everything.
Some people are luckier than others in the number of things they are good at, but people who are unlucky in the number of things they are good in should be allowed just as much pride and satisfaction in the things they are good in as anyone else. Everyone has worth.
Everyone has to take up some slack for the things others aren't good at if they are good at those things. Without resenting it. That is how we are there for each other and make it okay for each of us to be what each of us is.
And we should appreciate the things other people are good at and do to help us out. That is how we celebrate each other.

Ingenuity 2

Let's say you live in a relatively small town in a rural area but you care about the environment and want to participate in recycling. You probably aren't going to have a fancy sorting center for your recyclables and you probably don't want to invest in one of those giant recyclables sorting trucks. So you retrofit a horse trailer into a recycling trailer. Screen the openings so you don't lose your load, divide up the inside with low partitions, make a shelf to hold the recycle bins while you sort through the window, and what a great idea! Recycle the trailer itself into something newly useful!

Ingenuity 1

Let's say you have a little restaurant and you figure out that is it more cost effective and actually more tasty to make your own french fries than to buy them in frozen? So you cut off the sides of the potatoes to square them up, the slice the potato both ways to get your french fries. What about the part with the skin that you cut off? Your mom said that is where most of the nutrition is. You COULD throw them away or oh, compost them. You could use them in soup. But if you are in possession of a certain kind of ingenuity, you deep fry them, call them potato skins, and serve them instead of fries with your fanciest sandwiches.

Two Sunsets

It is pretty wonderful to head down to the dock for bit of relaxing after a hard day's work at the 'eventual house'. You can take a cool dip and rinse the sawdust off your skin. You can sit on the dock and enjoy the sunset over the trees across our little bay of the lake. Then you can take your time climbing the 107 steps to the top, where you can turn back to look toward the lake and enjoy the sun setting again! Now isn't that spiffy, nifty, and a fine thing indeed?

Progress and Status

What's been done:
Timber Frame Raising
Stud and sheathing walls
External joists
Roof insulation
Metal roofing
Interior wall framing
Rear Deck Building
Window and Door installation

What's in progress:
Frame sanding




What's to come:
Wall insulation
Frame and ceiling varnishing
Stairs building
Kitchen cabinets, faucet, appliances
Bathroom cabinets, fixtures, faucets
Light fixture installation
Front Entry Deck
Railing inside house
Railing on back deck

To do external to house:
Septic Tank
Gas Tank
Party Patio


Here's something I would not want to do, but you gotta love that there are people out there who do! These guys are carrying their world on their bikes, including a guitar, like we do on our backpacking trips when we carry our world on our backs and walk. The upside is they can go farther and see more countryside but the downside is they have to risk life and limb in car and truck traffic! Good luck on your journey, guys, and I am glad people like you are out there!

Friday, July 25, 2008


To save money on the house project, we are the subs for a few of the tasks. Sanding is the current seemingly non-ending procedure. All the posts and beams and arch braces of the frame must be sanded and all the floor joists and rafters must be sanded. This would usually be a light once over sort of thing, except the house sat open waiting for a roof for about 10 days of rains so there is surface mildew and there are water marks that need a deeper sanding. As a recovering acrophobic, I am doing only what I can reach from a 6 or 8 foot ladder and other family members are doing the rafters and those beautiful arch trusses with the carved acorns from 10 foot ladders and scaffolding. I have been sanding for weeks. I dream about sanding. Not literally, but I have those dreams where I walk and walk and walk and get nowhere then another where I drive and drive and drive and get nowhere. After I had one where I was eating pasta and the bowl was not getting emptier, I realized they were more than the usual unending movement dreams: They were about sanding and my feeling that by the time we get to the end, the wood where we started will have yellowed and we will need to start all over again . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guests in Town

My guests were impressed with the story of how the women who run the gallery two doors down had saved an historically significant area in town to make it into an art school, so they wanted to see it. We headed down the hill to walk around the place. It took us many times longer than I expected because I had forgotten that in addition to being historic and pretty and quaint and interesting, the place was also a botanical wonderland to my nurseryman friend, with its many species of native plants and old fashioned perennials and landscape shrubs. We sniffed the dayliles and lillies, brushing bright orange pollen on our noses and cheeks. We ate the jewel weed seeds and the wild black rasberries, staining our lips and hands with purple juice. What a sight we three must have been when we emerged back onto the sidewalk. I hope we didn't frighten any passersby!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One Crow

There is a crow alone tonight. We were headed south on 23 with long shadows crossing the road. As we crested a hill, we saw them there, near the center line. feasting on some very flat roadkill. She took flight, arcing over the trees. He flapped his wings, rose, then dropped back to the pavement. Why? Did he misjudge the angle of the wind, did he take our little car as too small to be a threat, did the low angle of the sun confuse him? At the last second, he rose again to be slammed into our grill. I saw a tumble of wings in the rearview mirror. Did she know and fly on away? Or did she come back and linger near the lifeless body to make sure? There is a crow alone out there tonight.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer's Best!

Fresh berries! Ripe berries. Locally picked and not transported very far. Not those tough kind like the stores have year around, but sweet ripe soft translucent glowing fresh strawberries. Summer at its finest!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Olfactory Tour

Anyone spending any time near me lately knows full well that my van air conditioner is broken and how much I hate to drive in the heat and oh, the whining. But leaving early before the day heats up and returning late is one solution. And windows down do allow more senses to be alive to the route. The odors all certainly were there this morning, though due to the daylight I must have been focused on the visual inputs of the stunning Wisconsin scenery. But this evening, in the moonlight, there was the swampy mustiness of the valley where the stream overflowed its banks onto the floodplain last weekend, the sharp green freshness of hay mown just today, the organic smell of the dairy farm, the
musky odor of a skunk that I lately find myself liking, the sweet greasiness of meat cooking at the small town's tavern, another mowing of hay but older and richer, an odd floral fragrance of another small town that must be some chemical byproduct of industry, the sandy smell of the big river, wood smoke from the state park campground, and at last, the sweet fresh wet of the clear flowing creek that flows under the last stretch of road to home.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Weather Happens

My son has helped sand the timber frame for two days now with nary a complaint, so I let him off about 3 today to go paddle his kayak. At about 4 or so it got kinda darkish and I asked the packing-up-their-things-to-go workers if they thought he'd have the sense to come in - as if they'd know. I returned to my sanding after they left. Then all hell broke loose. Lightning crashed close from many directions and gusty twisty wind sent branches flying and raindrops the size of bumble bees pounded the bare ground of the construction site. I stood on the back deck and stared down the cliff at the dock as if I could wish him safely there. I figured the best place for me at that point was near my cell phone in case he had the good sense to be in someones house after having the good sense to pull the kayak up on their dock. I sat in the car alternately confident he would do just that and hysterical that he was swamped in the middle of the lake with a life jacket not belted on properly because they never think they will need them and with those giant pants they wear now with a dozen pockets and layers of extra fabric and that are way too long dragging him down into the lake. Confident in his competence; Hysterical that he was in danger. Pretty soon, he came running up the road wet as an otter and thinking it was all the funniest thing since the bad jokes in Boy's Life magazine. The kayak was indeed on someones dock but they weren't home and of course he had memorized neither the house number nor the street name, so we set off counter clockwise around the lake in the van. Of course, none of the landmarks were recognizable to him since he'd ran it in pouring rain and from the other direction, so we took a couple false runs down some cul de sacs and he took a false run down someones back yard before pronouncing it the wrong one, and we eventually found the right cul de sac and the right house. While he ran down for the boat and paddle, I knocked on the door of the now well-lit house - and who should answer but the woman who sold us the lot. She had been working on her house next door and had run to her neighbor's to wait out the rain. We roped the kayak on top of the car in the still pouring rain and drove it back to our lot and dumped it behind some construction materials in the front yard. He made me trip-odometer the route back - one mile! We drove back to Mineral Point cold and wet while he typed phrases into my navigational device and had Jennifer, as we call her, say them in English and British. Now we are back and all the wet stuff is in the washer and we are dry and it is quiet.

A Tiny Elegant Prairie Flower

And I have no idea what it is either.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

White Freezer Paper Time

I just got wind that the Dickey County Fair is about to begin, and for many years of my childhood and adolescence that meant certain things: A mad scramble to finish the 4-H project record books with paper and pencils and markers and tape and photos spread out all over the kitchen table and meals taken in little patches of it so as not to disturb the ongoing work as my sister and I documented a year of progress on many projects in just a day or two. And early morning through late night long days spent finishing up the last touches on the sewing, the crafts, the dried floral arrangements, the photography album, and various other projects. And last minute preparations for the early morning baking of the foods project. And my personal favorite, the annual covering of the peach crate or cardboard box of similar size with glossy white freezer paper and masking tape. You see, the garden vegetables had to be displayed in a white box, and freezer paper, the kind that was white with a glossy waxy side, was durable and thick enough to make a sturdy display box. It was called freezer paper because butchers and homemakers wrapped meat in it for freezing, in the days before thick plastic bags with zipper seals. Masking tape worked best on the glossy paper, but you had to fold ends in and use loops of tape behind them so that the brown tape was concealed. There were specific rules for these vegetable displays: In a lean year, you needed 3 kinds of vegetables and in a year of abundance, you needed 5 kinds, so there was last minute consulting of the fair booklet to see what the officials would be looking for this year. And for each kind of vegetable, you needed to display a specific number. Maybe 5 string beans, maybe 5 peapods, maybe 5 radishes, maybe 3 tomatoes, maybe 3 carrots, maybe only one muskmelon or one cabbage. So when you chose what from your garden to display, there was some strategy involved, because if you only had 4 good beans, that 5th bad one was going to count heavily against you, so better to go with the carrots that only required 3. And when you gardened with your sister, you had to fill two boxes so that you would show equally well but you did not want to have identical selections that would make it obvious you shared a garden, so there was some strategy to work out there too. Then, before the judging, you had to wander past all the vegetable boxes and assess how yours stood up to the rest, and after judging, you had to see if you got a blue, red, or white ribbon, but especially in the later years, you needed to be casual about it so as not to let on that you cared. Ah, it was a complicated time, but it was the metrics that defined failure or success as a 4-Her for the year, so it was a Pretty Big Deal. And it all represented one more thing too: The end of serious summer when you worked on projects and the beginning of fun summer when you only had to weed the garden if you wanted to work on your tan.

Ohio Buckeye or Horse Chestnut?

When I was studying horticulture, my oldest son was a toddler. Quite frequently, we carried him about in a backpack. When I took my trees class in the fall, I went to a nearby park with him and was learning to tell various trees apart. Because I talked to him all the time about whatever I was doing, I showed him the trees and their leaves and told him the names. He got so he was better at that age at telling certain thing, such as distinguishing Ohio buckeye from horse chestnut. To this day, he can still tell them apart with more certainty than I, both from a distance and up close. And he claims to remember those rides around the park learning about trees, though he was barely 3 at the time. Oh, this one is Ohio buckeye. He is certain of that.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer Is Here!

At last summer. No, it is not baseball or 4th of July or swimming or picnics or any of the usual things one thinks of. It is the ripening of the wild raspberries! I had my first today! Out of the hand of my youngest boy who now towers above me. We stopped by a friend's house and she mentioned her wild raspberries were ripe, so the boy braved bramble thorns for me. It was afternoon, so they were warm from the sun, and a deep burgundy color, sweet as anything. Lovely! I remember when the boys were little, their delight at finding that edible things grew in the great outdoors and the sort of secretive way we ate them right off the canes without washing them. And in a few weeks, after the black raspberries are done, the blackberries will be ripe. Blackberries are sparser on the plant but each berry is larger and more succulent than black raspberries, making them well worth the wait. In the prairie, where oak trees stand wide to form swaths of savanna whose edges are ringed with shrubby things that can tolerate being burned to the ground without their roots being killed. This brambly band often contained hazelnut, elderberry, black raspberry, and blackberry. Imagine coming across the wide hot dry windy prairie and discovering a patch of this savanna and enjoying the sweet berries, then breaking through the thorny tangle to the cool dark shade within! I remember a prairie tour once years ago when I got left behind as I lingered to eat berries. It was mid morning and those at the top of the plant were warm with the sun and those lower under the foliage were still cool from the night. Ah, perfection.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Beautiful Oaks

Towering bur oaks, Quercus macrocarpa, are the signature tree of the tallgrass prairie, and in this Illinois prairie remnant, they can spread their limbs wide and grow to towering heights.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Oak Branches

What could words possibly add?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

True Patriotism?

Patriotism is defined as the expression of loyalty, support, and defense of ones country.

Sometimes, antiwar protesters are accused of being unpatriotic. Are we? Does one have to support all that ones nation is and is doing NOW in order to be patriotic? Is patriotism about blindly loving all things about ones nation at every moment in time? I do not think so.

I believe that what a nation is is the sum and substance of what is represents historically and culturally, and if that nation veers from that, it is ones patriotic duty to criticize the current actions and help steer the nation back on track for what it really was and what it should be again. When a nation is engaged in a wrong war or a wrong embargo or a wrong environmental practice or a wrong alliance or even a misguided and ineffective aid effort, it is the duty of the patriotic to recognize the damage being done to the long term overall culture and bring the actions of the nation back in line with that.

Simple patriotism is blindly loving and defending whatever a nation is now. True patriotism, the kind that requires constant vigilance, constant thinking, constant awareness of what is happening in and being done by ones nation, is loving your country for what it should be and making sure it keeps on track and remains as close to that as possible. Sometimes that requires criticizing ones nation and making a stink to get it redirected back to its true path. That kind of patriotism is more complicated and is more work. True patriotism is pride in the achievements and culture of ones nation, the desire to preserve the character and the basis of the culture of ones nation, for the long haul, and the willingness to recognize when those things are being compromised, and demanding that mistakes be fixed and errors remedied. Sometimes, protesting a bad war is the truest form of patriotism.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Signs of the Times

Which entry in the Independence Day parade got the most applause this morning?
Was it the firefighters in their death defying aerial acrobatics on tall ladders held aloft by opposing tension of ropes held by other firefighters on the ground, as they balanced in the blue sunny sky to unfurl their brilliant red, white, and blue flags to the cool breeze? Well, yes, okay, it was. They were their usual annual amazing show of daring, skill, and patriotism, and the crowd loved them.

But what drew the second largest applause from the audience lining each side of the street? It was the man carrying a sign that read "This war is not the answer." Everyone, store owners, business owners, office workers, construction workers, farmers, ranchers, students, retired people, all were united in their frustration with this too-long war and the ever-changing morphing slip-sliding reasons we have been given for getting into it and still being in it. Some years on 4th of July as we watch our parades and eat our barbeque chicken and corn and watch our softball games and our fireworks, we are proud of our nation. We used to be proud to be the nation who came to the aid of others in need, who found better means than war to get things done, who was too proud and ethical to use torture, who valued our constitution and the rights of our own people. Now we hang our heads in shame a little as a war we started drags on, as our privacy and other rights have been eroded in the name of preventing 'terror', as we are too distracted and war-impoverished to notice the starving and thirsty around the world.

The mass of those dissatisfied with this war grows, and that will be expressed in how we vote, and that perhaps can get our nation back on track so that what unites us in future patriotic gatherings is again pride and optimism.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wild Rose

When I rode my bike along the highway, they were there at the edges between the grassy ditch and the asphalt. When we took walks in the sand hills, they were nestled low to the grazed grass. When my dog and I rambled the little prairie between our house and the river, they were there among the waist high grass. Sometimes, we would pick one or two blossoms to float in a bowl and their fragrance would fill the room. Today after the rain at Bluff Fen Prairie, they were low among the other prairie plants and you could smell them before you could see them. Thier colors in this remnant priarie that has been freely pollinated for ten thousand years range from the palest of pink to a deep magenta. The raindrops and crisscrossing shadows of grasses just added layers to their precious beauty.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Common Daylilies

I know they are a dime a dozen and grow wild in the ditches and along fences and at old farm sites. I know they bloom for a very short time, unlike modern selections. I know they are considered common and coarse and weedy. But they reside in a soft spot in my heart and I find them beautiful and they hold many sweet memories for me. To me there is nothing common about common daylilies.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Coolest Plant in the World

Cup Plant
Silphium perfoliatum


0 - It is a prairie plant.

1 - It collects water around the stem where the oppsosing leaves are joined together.

2 - That water often hosts insects and spiders.

3 - That manner of the leaves being joined together and the stem coming through gives it the botanical name 'perfoliatum' - foliage is perforated. I love plants with botanical names that describe a characteristic.

4 - It is in the genus Silphium along with prairie dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, and compass plant, Silphium laciniatum, two of my very favorite and very deep rooted prairie plants.

5 - It grows to 7 feet tall!

6 - It has a square stem that gets to be over an inch across.

7 - That stem persists over winter into spring and is cool to find during spring clean-up.

8 - Later in the summer, the plant will be topped with brilliant yellow sunflower type blossoms about 3" across.

9 - A seed head will follow that is loved by songbirds.

10 - It makes a great plant for the background of a perennial garden or one each side of a path to for columns of a grand entrance to a lawn or living space.

11 - All that makes them a great plant to show to kids. There will usually be some bugs but if not, the size will be impressive and the way the leaves and stem are shaped will fascinate.