Thursday, February 23, 2017

February Thaw

The first half of February brought a strange softening of the weather, a slow but steady warming-up and drying-out. This peaked over the last six days, with temps hitting the 50s and 60s.

I have mixed feelings about this. It's great to have a break from the cold, but weather like this, at this time of year, just feels wrong. It creates a sensation of limbo, a kind of displaced out-of-season-ness that confuses the senses and woos us into thinking that winter might actually be over. Trees are budding out, geese and sandhill cranes have returned, and there have been rumours of robin sightings. This is not a normal Wisconsin February, folks.

The environmentalist in me is uneasy, but the cyclist in me is thrilled....

Saturday Morning

Back on the bike for the first time since November. The air is mild and the ground mostly dry, but the sky retains the deep blue of winter:

I'm riding one of my favourite circuits, and checking up on all my favourite views. Here the willow trees have been putting out golden-green fronds:

It's strange to see so much open water about. The wild geese are loving it:

It's good to see my porcine friends again. They seem to have thrived over the winter:

What a sky!

What a treat to take a comfortable ride at this time of year. If the weather holds, I'll do it again tomorrow.

Sunday Afternoon

Though most of the snow has melted off, there is still some to be found on north-facing banks:

Can't seem to stop taking pictures of the water:

Not all the ice has melted yet:

While taking the above photos, I can hear sandhill cranes calling. What do they know that we don't? Can we really be going to have an early spring?

It's good to see my shadow on the bike again:

Wednesday Evening

The weather has held for several days now, allowing me to squeeze in another ride before temps begin to fall.

Tallulah is still wearing her winter hat (shame on me for not putting her helmet back on):

First blackbird sighting of the year:

Turkeys crossing the road:

What a treat to know that the sun won't go down until after 5:30. I can stay out a little longer and watch it getting ready to set....

A satisfying ride.


Today (Thursday) the temps began to drop. The forecast is for freezing rain and several inches of snow. February's back!

How's your weather?

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Quietest Walk of the Year

Hello, everyone! Tallulah the Turtle here. It's so long since I had a say on this blog, you've probably forgotten my very existence. I nearly forgot it myself until the other day, when I was rudely woken from my happy hibernation by the hand of Mrs. M.

There was I, all tucked up in my crochet handlebar basket, lost in pleasant dreams of cycling seasons past. The next thing I know, I'm being ruthlessly hauled out, and my cherished cycling helmet is being replaced with my (admittedly stylish) winter hat.

"Wake up, Tallulah," says the dulcet voice of Mrs. M. (It's not really dulcet. She made me put that word in.)

"Whassappenin?" say I, yawning like a cave. "Is it spring already?"

"No," says Mrs. M. "It's still winter. But it's time we got off our patooties and took a little exercise."

(Mrs. M would be loath to admit to anyone but me that she has been slacking off shamefully in terms of exercise, preferring instead to sit inside where it's warm and dry and non-icy and there's lots of yarn to play with. But the days, she tells me, are getting longer, and the great outdoors are calling. If you ask me, it's got nothing to do with the great outdoors, and everything to do with what happens to humans who do nothing but sleep and eat and crochet. They turn funny shapes and their clothes don't fit any more. But you didn't hear it from me.)

Minutes later, we're heading out the door.


It's awfully quiet outside. There are no cars on the street, and no people - just me and Mrs. M alone under the great winter sky. Even the dogs have stopped barking. It's kind of creepy.

"Where is everybody?" I ask.

Mrs. M says they're all inside, "watching the Superb Ohl".

"Ohl? Who's Ohl? And why is he superb?" I ask.

"Well, it's kind of hard to explain to a non-human," says Mrs. M, "but.... Wait a minute. What did you just say?"

"Never mind," I say kindly. "Don't strain yourself. I'll just Gurgle it."

So I pull out my T-phone. ("Where'd that come from? I don't remember crocheting you a phone," says Mrs. M. "I ordered it from The Amazon, of course," I say. "You mean Amazon?" she says. "THE Amazon," I say. "You know, the river? South America? It's where all the reptiles shop for devices.")

Then I open the Turtle Wiki app to see what it says about "Superb Ohl". Here's what I find:
The Superb Ohl is generally considered to be chief in the pantheon of American "sporting" deities. According to popular legend, he appears one Sunday every winter at a chosen temple (or "stadium") to preside over rites of celebration and receive the praise of his worshippers ("fans"). During the sacred ceremonies, two groups of acolytes (called "teams"), who have striven for months to be judged worthy of attending, enact a fierce mock battle which includes the passing about of a holy object ("the pigskin"), while the assembled worshippers shout their approval.
These celebrations are not limited to the "stadium" and its environs; worshippers may bow from afar at one of the many electronic altars erected in houses, feeding places, and watering holes across the nation. Indeed, the annual appearance of Superb Ohl is an occasion of national rejoicing, and American humans generally honor his presence by devoting an entire day to the consumption of ritual food and drink (such as chicken wings, pizza, and beer). This feasting is often accompanied by lively discussion and/or dispute regarding the comparative worthiness of the acolytes partaking in the ceremony.
There's plenty more where that came from, but I've seen enough.

"Wow," I say. "Humans are weird."

"Yes," says Mrs M. "Yes. We are."


We reach the end of the street, turn a corner, climb over a snowbank, and we're on the trail. I don't know why Mrs. M likes this view so much - it just looks like snow and tree branches to me - but she does. So she takes a picture of it:

Aaand more snow - Mrs. M says it reminds her of mountain ranges seen from an airplane window:

Speaking of airplane journeys: "How far are we going?" I ask.

"A good long ways," she says. ("And I thought this would be a quiet walk," she mutters to herself. "Hey! I heard that!" I say.)

Here's a group of tree trunks she seems to find fascinating:

And here's a nice muddy section of trail:

"Why are you taking a picture of a muddy trail?" I say.

"It's not about the mud," she says. "It's about the way the trail curves through the woods, beckoning us on to places unknown."

(I know what's on the other side of that wood. A field. A big, empty field. But I try not to burst her bubble.)

She looks up and catches a glimpse of the moon, and stares at it like she's never seen it before. Then (you guessed it) out comes the camera:

On we trudge, for hours it seems. ("That's because you run on turtle time," says Mrs. M.)

"How about a photo of ME for a change?" I say. "You might let me climb that branch over there."

I strike a noble pose:

"Now let me take your photo," I say.

"No offense, Tallulah," she says, "but how can you hold the camera? It's bigger than you are, and kind of heavy...."

Turns out she's right. But I give it my best shot (photography pun!):

(Okay, so it's not an award-winning photo. What can I say? The sun was in my eyes.) And onwards we go.

One thing about Mrs. M - she knows what she likes. And she really likes this line of trees, especially with the sun going down behind them:

Which is why she takes their photo for about the thousandth time.

We cross the last field, turn right at the fence, walk under the bare branches and over the snowbank, and find ourselves back on the neighborhood streets. Then (finally) we're home, where I resolve to stay awake long enough to write this blog post before turning in for some well-deserved shuteye.

And that's it for the Quietest Walk of the Year.


P.S. Yes, it did take me two days to write this post. Tiny turtle + human size keyboard = very slow writing.

P.P.S. The walk didn't seem all that quiet to me (apart from the first few minutes or so), and I said as much to Mrs. M when she tucked me into my basket this evening. "I thought it would be quiet," she said. "Superb Ohl Sunday walks usually are. But for some reason this year was different." Then she gave me kind of a funny look, but I was yawning too hard to care. Goodnight, everyb....

(sound of turtle snoring)

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Recycling Socks and Sugar Bags

When I started this blog nearly six years ago, its tagline was "Living Graciously on Limited Means". I meant to write about simple living - making do, mending, purchasing with an eye to the environment, cooking from scratch, and the like. But blogs, like books, have a way of ignoring the author's intentions and going in their own direction.

Apparently this blog really wanted to be a kind of country diary with cycling and crochet accents - and that's okay. But we're still living as simply as we did six years ago, and recent income changes have meant that we're earning even less than we did then. The upside is, we've had years of practice at tightening our belts. Our current situation is just a good reminder to drop some excess life-weight and find ways to slip that belt over another notch or two.

Today's post was written in that spirit.

Note: Simple living and recycling aren't always pretty; sometimes they're merely practical. So none of the photos here are intended to be Pinterest-worthy - but I do hope that someone may find them helpful.

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"Drizzle with icing" must be one of the most delicious phrases in the English language. ("Top with chocolate" is a close contender.) If you like to drizzle icing on your baked goodies (who doesn't?), here's a quick tip for a reusable icing bag.

Take an empty confectioner's sugar (or other sturdy plastic) bag, and cut a large quarter-circle around one of the lower corners, like this:

Fill half-way with icing, twist top to close, and snip a very small piece off the corner:

Squeeze to drizzle the icing. Perfect for jazzing up some birthday breakfast scones:

This little bag can be washed and re-used many times over. I've been using mine for a couple of years now - the plastic seems indestructible.


Other uses for sturdy plastic food bags (or used freezer zip bags):
  • They make a wonderful non-stick barrier between a rolling pin and sticky dough (e.g. tortilla dough or pie crust). Cut away any zippered portion, then cut carefully along one side and across the bottom of the bag so you can open it out flat. Roll your dough, repositioning the plastic as needed. When you're done, wash the plastic and save it to use again.
  • Cut bag open as above, and use to line smaller pans (in place of butter, foil, or waxed paper) for easy release of non-baked bars and treats. (Don't put anything hot on the plastic.)
  • When shaping hamburgers, center the meat on one half of a plastic bag piece, fold the other half over it, and press with a plate. The plate will stay cleaner, and the burgers peel right off the plastic.
  • To make a bowl of leftovers airtight, drape the plastic over the bowl and hold it in place with a plate or a rubber band. (You can also use a towel and a plate.)
Best way to dry a just-washed piece of floppy plastic bag: Lay it out flat on one half of a dish towel. Fold the other half of the towel over the plastic. Press gently on the towel with one hand while drawing the plastic out with the other. The towel will absorb most of those peskily persistent water drops. Drape the plastic over a rack to finish air-drying.

(This technique also works for intact zipper bags. Dry the outer surfaces first, then turn them inside out and repeat with the inner surfaces. Air-dry until no moisture lurks in the corners.)

Some might say that all this repurposing of plastic wouldn't be necessary if we didn't buy plastic-packaged things in the first place - and they would be right. It's something we're working on. But I'm happy to state that we haven't bought any plastic wrap for at least five years. This may not save the planet, but it's one small step towards simpler and more sustainable living practices. And it saves us money. Kind of a win-win.

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What can you do with a hole-y sock?

I've learned to darn my pricey merino wool socks, but cheaper cotton and bamboo socks don't seem to mend as well. Yet I don't like to throw them away - so here are some ways I keep worn socks out of landfills.

Above-the-ankle socks:
  • Cut off the feet and use them for dusting or cleaning (just slip one over your hand)
  • Use the ribbed cuffs to protect long sleeved tee shirts when cooking or slicing things that splatter. I keep a stash of cut-off sock cuffs in the drawer next to the stove, and slip them on as needed. (Many people would just push up their sleeves, but my wrists get cold in winter. The cuffs therefore serve a double purpose: they protect my sleeve hems from getting stretched out while keeping splatters off my sleeves.)
  • Speaking of cold wrists: sock cuffs, while not pretty, make great wrist warmers in a pinch. Mr. M has even been known to cut the toes from worn woolen socks, cut a slit for the thumb, and make rough-duty mitts for himself.
New Life for an Old Sock: Mrs. M's Cooking Cuff

Knee socks:
  • Cut off the toe and/or foot section and use as above for cleaning or dusting.
  • Wear the leg section as leg warmers - this works especially well under shorter socks in winter time.
Don't be afraid to cut up your old socks, by the way - the cut edges may curl, but they won't fray.

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Do you have any tips for repurposing socks, sugar bags, or any other items that might otherwise be thrown away?

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