Sunday Funday

Every Sunday in Annie world is Sunday Funday– a day for doing something special for yourself.  For this Sunday Funday we decided to go up to La Crosse for some hiking and coffee shop time. La Crosse is snuggled between the Mississippi River and these beautiful, towering bluffs.  The hiking trails, obviously, are located either near the river or up on the bluffs.  For our first La Crosse hiking adventure we decided to try the bluffs.  Before hiking, however, we stopped at Grandad bluff.  From the top we could see all of La Crosse and the Mississippi!  We even had the good fortune to have a train go through town while we were up there so La Crosse looked like a tiny train set!

After Grandad Bluff we headed over towards the Hixon Forest Trails where we went on some long windy hikes on the Human Powered Trails.  There was no one else out there so we got to enjoy it at our own pace. The best part was playing Nature Detective.
Who’s poop is this? [Definitely deer. There are tracks everywhere]
Who dug these little holes? [Probably squirrels]
Why? [Digging out their winter nut caches!]
Why are these so many berries over here but not over there? [Birds eat the berries then sit on the powerlines and poop out the seeds!]
Why are all the tree pointed in this direction? [That hill over there cuts off most of their daily sunshine so they have to crane this way for late day light!]

We hiked for a few miles and then after getting sufficiently turned around we found a trail that lead us back to the parking lot.  These trails and the land they are on is very cool because it is home to a prairie restoration project. The Driftless region used to be mainly oak savanna and prairie and prairie restoration projects are popping up all over the place.  I definitely plan on going back there in the Spring.

Before reaching the trailhead we stopped to take some cheesy perspective pictures.  In the parking lot there is a NOAA doppler station. The instrument used for doppler radar looks like a giant volleyball sitting atop a metal stand. When you are near it you can hear it hum.  My brother and I were weather nerds when we were kids– okay just plain nerds– and read all these junior meteorologist books. We loved our barometer and would always predict the upcoming weather.  We would have loved this giant volley ball station as children!

Post hiking we descended the bluff into town and read for a while at Jule’s Coffee Shop.  Jamie is currently reading the Harry Potter series (which he originally started to appease me and has since gotten really into) and I am reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.  We read for a hour or two, ate some dinner, and then headed home.

All and all it was a fabulous day and a Sunday Funday success!

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Super Scrabble and Squirrel House

Big adventures today so I’ll write a big post later this week.  Until then, enjoy these photos of recent excitements. 

Super Scrabble!  It’s like normal Scrabble but with more letter tiles and more spaces to play!

Squirrel House!  The squirrels have been very active lately and it’s fun to watch them hop around the yard.  I have noticed that they tend to use the same tracks over and over again.  Our back yard looks like a maze of trails but in the front yard all roads lead to the maple.

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Nature + Magic + Science = Environmental Education

The other day my friends Jon, Alee, and I went on a moonlit cross country skiing adventure at Sidie Hollow Park.  The bank in town said it was 11°F outside but at Sidie Hollow, by the lake, it was most certainly colder. As we skied the trail alongside the lake,  it was easy to feel like we were out in the deep wilderness.  Rarely do I feel that way since moving to SW Wisconsin, a place with very little public land for hiking, so I was taking it all in.  I was struck by how incredibly bright it was outside with the near full moon and layer of snow on the ground.  Thanks to the wind during the recent blizzard there was no snow on the lake which made it look eery and still.  As we rounded the first bend in the lake I was introduced to the phenomenon of lake singing and, for lack of better words right now, my mind was absolutely freaking blown.  Seriously.

The first noises we heard were like a low humming.  Never having heard such a thing before, I think I just tuned it out and didn’t give it much though.  But Nature didn’t want me to tune this fantastic sound out and the next sounds were LOUD and startling.  The only way I can describe it is like a low humpback whale song combined with loud vibrations and cracking noises.  We continued skiing around the lake, stopping every once in a while to warm our hands and take in the beauty and stillness of the night. At one point when we had stopped to listen to the noises, one was so loud that we all jumped.  A crack or shift in the ice happened directly in the front of us while we were watching.  I could feel the vibrations in my body.  A dozen owls hooted in the distance as if responding to the ice.  Alee made a joke that in Wisconsin we stand around and listen to the lake freeze.  We all laughed because we knew there would be no way to ever explain this phenomenon to anyone who had never experienced it.  It was seriously one of the most fascinating and magical things I have ever experienced.

Upon hearing the noises I was first met with wonder and awe.   It was absolutely magical and completely mysterious.  My next thoughts turned to science– why is this happening?  Did it have to do with expansion?  Water is less dense as a solid so maybe it has to do with that.  Or maybe it has to do with the low temperature outside. Does the lack of snow cover on the lake make then louder?  It amazed me how quick my mind went from magic to science and in a way it bothered me.  Am I unable to see the magic in nature now? Has science ruined me?  Of course not!  It is my background in science and my love of the outdoors that made this all the more exciting the me!  Of course the noises were absolutely mind blowing but knowing how nature does it is also mind blowing.  This is why I love outdoor and environmental education!  Because it’s all about teaching folks to see magic in the outdoors! It’s about facilitating an experience that inspires wonder and awe and encouraging them to ask meaningful and insightful questions.  It’s about encouraging curiosity about nature and the world around us.   I would argue that environmental education can’t exist without both magic and science in some combination.

So why is it that the ice sings on a frozen lake?  The answer has been harder to find than I expected and many of the answers are actually just theoretical.  It could be changes in atmospheric pressure or temperature fluctuations.  It might have to do with the moon. Whatever scientific answer is it will not change this one fact to me:  skiing under a full moon and listening to the lake sing was absolutely magical.

If you are interested in learning more Dispersion of Sound Waves in Ice Sheets by Andreas Bick has great information as well as links and sound recordings.  The best way to learn more is to get outside and experience it for yourself if you can.  It will definitely be worth braving the cold!

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Oh Christmas Carboy, oh Christmas Carboy….

Please enjoy some last minute crafting additions to our house for a little festive holiday cheer!

 

For the Christmas Carboy I simply decorated Jamie’s gnome hat from Halloween with evergreen sprigs and a nice garland I made by gluing pinecones and stringing beads on a piece of fat yarn.  I then plopped it on one of our carboys that isn’t in use, and placed it with another spruce sprig on Jamie’s tiny chair over a coffee sack.  I also taped a flashlight in the opening of the carboy so you can light it up at night and added a stained glass decoration that came with our house. Voila– now we have a place for gifts!

For the Canning Jar Snowman I stuffed an old lacy curtain that came with the house into a half gallon jar.  I then made a little top hat with cardboard, glue, and some pinecones and spruce sprigs.  I fitted the hat onto a regular mouth pint jar, tucked some of the lace into that jar too and lightly glued the jars together so he won’t fall apart but I will be able to peel them apart after the holidays.  I added a chunky yarn scarf and some pinecone buttons and I had myself a snowman!  It took no more than 20 minutes from dreaming it up to final product.

Happy Holidays!

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Photos and Ice Cream!

In the News:

Remember last winter when I posted about making snow ice cream?  Well compare my blog post (from January) to this post on NPR.org  today and I think you will be amused like I am– the pictures are practically the same!  Different recipes but same general idea.

The verdict is out: Snow ice cream is awesome and best eaten out of glasses with blue rims!

Photos of Draco and Solstice fun:

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Where are all the snow children?

From playing in the snow we so desperately wanted to celebrating Winter Solstice in our own way, the last few days have been a really special time for Jamie and me.  On Thursday we spent most of the day either outside in the snow (hiking, sledding, playing) or inside enjoying eachothers company.  Yesterday we had an unplugged day with no computers, radio, or other things until after sunset so we could fully enjoy the shortest day of the year.  We went hiking at Hubbard Hills, gathered fallen branches and pine cones from around town to decorate our house, played several games of Scrabble, and exchanged gifts by candle light as the sun was setting.  Last night we had friends over for more Scrabble, beer, pickled green beans and carrots, potato soup, and brownies.  We wanted to have a party but when only two people showed up it ended up being exactly what we wanted all along.

These last two days have really gotten me thinking about our connection to the seasons and nature.  Taking note of the moon cycles, changing of seasons, and changing of the light is something I make a point of paying attention to– and something I know a lot of people take for granted.  Winter storm Draco brought Viroqua a beautiful snow cover and while walking around town through the snow on a beautiful sunny day, I couldn’t help but notice how few other people were out there enjoying it.  On Thursday we went to the park for sledding and there was about a dozen or so kids and their adults there having a blast but I still feel like there should have been more.  Where is everyone on these days?  Are they inside reading and playing Scrabble or are they sitting in front of the TV, zoning out.  My guess would be the latter.

In the after school program for middle schools where I work we recently had the kids make Keynote presentations about themselves to present to the class. We gave them free reign to put whatever they wanted on it.  Almost every kid talked about music videos they like, songs they listen to, video games they play, and tv shows they watch.  On their “Things I like” page no one mentioned hiking or play outside or making snowmen or anything of the sort.   I think part of the reason is because it is way cooler to say you like “Gangam style” than it is to say you like building fairy houses but how much of it is because the kids spend most of their time indoors?

If you walk past Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School in Viroqua on almost school day whether it is raining or snowing or perfectly sunny, you will see kids outside playing and having an absolute blast.  The importance of being outside and playing trumps the fear that they could get a cold or get hurt. They are taught to dress for the weather. If you pass by the public school when it is raining or super cold out then you would think school must have been canceled that day because it is deserted outside. What does this teach children? What doesn’t it teach children?

I don’t have answers to these questions right now.  All I have are my observations and opinions.  My gut tells me that the teachers in the Waldorf school are doing something right here though.  I strongly believe when it snows there should be kids outside playing in it.  We should be teaching children to notice the changing of the light and encouraging imaginative play.  And adults should be out there too.  Get outside if you can or at least take note of when the sun rises and sets each day if you can’t actually get out there.  Keep the heat in your house lower than you normal and simply wear more clothes because it’s winter and unless you live in Texas you don’t need to be wearing a tank top this time of year.  Take 10 minutes with which you would be distracting yourself on the computer and look out the window instead. Watch what the squirrels are doing. Notice what types of birds are around, what ones aren’t.  And if you are up for an added challenge, try to only eat things that are in season.  Strawberries in December is ridiculous unless you live someone that grows them that time of year.

The world didn’t end yesterday which means there is still plenty of time to get the know the earth if you aren’t friends already!

Now stop reading blogs and go play outside!

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A Place Just for Me

Around the corner and down a hill from my house, is a fabulous tract of woods on the edge of town called Hubbard Hills.  The woods are owned (as much as any woods are owned) by a family on the street who have built many trails through the land and allow people to use them for recreational purposes.  It’s a really spectacular place and is beautiful in all seasons.  On one of those trails, at a specific spot, is my super secret special place I like to go to ponder life, work through things, and just be with nature.  It is a place just for me.  It is so secret that this is the first time I have ever mentioned it to anyone. That’s right interwebs, I’m telling the whole world before I ever say it out loud.

Today is a very special day.  It is the 3 year anniversary of the day I graduated from college, the day I stopped religiously editing my grad school application and finally put it in the mail, it is the day I had my first snow day off from work, and the day I almost got shot at my sit spot!  To celebrate and reflect on my accomplishments, adventures, and misadventures over the past 3 years I decided to go on a hike through the snowy woods to my sit spot.  I hiked and I hiked through the magical woods.  It was peaceful and beautiful. I saw fun little tracks in the snow and followed them around for a while. Eventually I came to beloved sit spot.  I’ve been going to this spot since June and this is the first time I have ever been there in snow.  I took out a plastic bag for a seat and settled in for a while.  The trees I have grown so used to gazing upon looked extra enchanting with inches covered in snow on them.  I thought for a while about all that has happened and made some wishes for the next three years. Then the magic exploded.

BANG! BANG!  Gun shots. I’ve been there so many times and never encountered anyone that it never even occurred to me that it would be a great place to go hunting.  How silly of me.  I live in Wisconsin and it’s hunting season! My first instinct for some reason was the jump up and scream , “PERSON! I’M A PERSON!”  Seriously, Annie? I got no response, heard no snow crunching near me, and saw no other footsteps so most likely the person wasn’t even near me but I said good bye to my spot anyway and left immediately.

Next time I go out there, I will remember to wear orange.

[Note: None of these pictures are off my sit spot but simply from my walk around my neighborhood.  I refuse to take any pictures there because it is my sacred ground.]

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Taking Stock of the Pantry

Today as I was eating some salsa from the pantry I stopped to really look at all we accomplished this summer in terms of food preservation.  Here is a good run down and some photos of how much we have now after a couple months eating from our stash.

  • Pickled Carrots and Cucumbers of all varieties
  • Dilly beans
  • Pickled Beats
  • Apple sauce
  • Strawberry, raspberry, strawberry rhubarb, and grape jams with different levels and kidnds of pectin and sweeteners
  • Several varieties of tomato sauce
  • Spicy salsa, corn salsa, tomatillo salsa, green tomato salsa..
  • Frozen tomato sauce
  • Frozen corn
  • Frozen pesto in ice cube dries
  • Dried tomatoes
  • Dried Hot Peppers
  • Dry beans
  • Frozen peppers
  • Pickled peppers
  • Fermented hot sauce
  • Several varieties of hard cider, some better than others
  • Infused oils
  • Tinctures
  • Ferment Krauts
  • Saved seeds for next year
  • Storage squash and potatoes
  • Dried herbs for spices and tea

That’s all I can think of right now but that is a pretty awesome list.  If we had done a little something every week then we could have even more.

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Snow in Viroqua!

Jamie and I woke up at 4am to see the snow as it started falling. At a much more reasonable hour we went to the co-op for hot drinks and snacks.  Viroqua is beautiful in the snow!

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Country Roads, Take Me Home

When we moved in this house in April, Jamie gave me the best present ever… a bicycle.  My trusty Schwinn and I have traveled all over this town and regularly take trips to the outskirts.  Never having gotten my driver’s license, I have always relied on either my feet or others’ kindness for getting to and from.  Riding my bike everyday has given me a new sense of independence and freedom.  I imagine it is similar to how a 16 year old feels when they first get behind the wheel without an adult in the car.  I cruise down the hilly roads of Viroqua, zoom past those on foot, and become intimate with the changing of the seasons.

My bike has given me the confidence to explore corners of town I never would have seen otherwise and to even head out of town to explore the beauty of country roads.  The Driftless Region, known for its ridges and valleys is a surprisingly bike friendly place.  I have never felt threatened or unsafe while riding on the roads here.  I like the attribute this to the high volume of Amish in the area.  I think that people are used to being on the look out for slower vehicles and know how to give ample space, etc.  With the shorter days I find myself riding in the dark a lot so I picked up some fancy blinky lights from the Halloween clearance section in November and keep my headlamp strapped to my helmet and on high in front on me.

With an uncertain future of oil scarcity or extreme gas prices, it seems smart to me that everyone has a bike.  A couple weeks ago I went to an event sponsored by Transition Viroqua where Mike Frank said [something along the lines of] every step we take towards resilience and away from oil dependence is making a transition. I really like that and sometimes reflect upon it while on long solo rides. How are you making transitions? Riding a bike or walking whenever possible is not only healthy but taking an active step towards weaning ourselves from oil dependency. It’s also super fun, low impact on your muscles, and pretty freaking hip as well!

 

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