Sunday, July 31, 2011

End of July... Beginning of Travel

Well, it's the end of July... and it's the end of our summer stay in Wisconsin for 2011. If I don't push myself along a little and get this short post published in the next hour or two, there's a danger it'll be my first August post instead of the last July post. Hmmm... there's that dang time thing again.

I always find saying "good-bye" to family (and friends too) a hard thing to do. And tonight was no exception. We had a very nice dinner and family get-together... we laughed, told stories, feasted on delicious food, commented on current events, and bantered about until the inevitable time came and we had to head back to the bus-house. Then long hugs, deep emotional eye contact, and a touch of more humor to ward off the welling tears as we slowly backed out the driveway and into the next chapter in our sabbatical. We may not be back for almost a year... but heck, at our age... a year goes by in a flash.

Earlier today we prep'd the bus-house for travel... to the point that we're ready to leave early in the morning with only two items left on the check-list... mounting the bikes on the car and hooking the car up to the bus-house.  That's it. Ok, we do have to retract one slide... but we should be able to be on the road by 8am.?!!? An early departure is important as we're heading mostly west and it's going to be mostly sunny and very warm the next few days.  And that means morning travel is preferred with slightly cooler temps and keeping the sun at our backs (and off the big 4 acre windshield).

The objective tomorrow is Lake City, Minnesota right along the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.

Stay tuned as our travel resumes and adventure awaits.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Christmas In July

Both Dar and my families come from Wisconsin. We both grew up here. Our parents, all four of them, still live here. And despite the ravages of Winter, cold sub-zero temperatures, icy roads and sidewalks, piles of snow we lovingly refer to as "banks", and the love/hate relationship most of us have with salt (it melts ice on the roads, but it also "melts"... perhaps corrodes is a better word... the metal bodies of our cars and trucks)... despite all that, most of the family still lives here. Sure, some have escaped.  Our own two kids have escaped to the west coast... other nieces and nephews are scattered about the USA... my brother Bill traded all this for Bozeman Montana, which quite possibly has an even longer and more brutal Winter than Wisconsin (go figure!). Dar has a brother that traded Wisconsin for the Upper Penninsula of Michigan... so questionable decisions have been made on both sides of this conjoined family.

Because Dar and I are on this "Sabbatical" (now more than 4 years long), we've been missing the December holiday family gatherings. While we're lost in a Southwest desert someplace, much of the family is celebrating Christmas with cheer (lots of cheer!) and good will toward anyone within earshot of a hearty "Merry Christmas". They all gather and exchange serious gifts, watch a little football, and eat traditional meals of ham and turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes. They have a great time. And Dar and I do miss the together-ness of it all.

So this year we decided to take matters into our own hands and host a "Christmas in July" party so we could, in a small way, try to capture the feeling and spirit of the big holiday. Sunday the 17th was the selected date for the big outdoor gathering. Dar went overboard and decorated with Christmas lights, ornaments, glitter, garland, and a gift tree. The good news is that it didn't rain. The bad news is that it turned out to be one of the hottest and most oppressively humid days of the summer... temps in the mid 90's and dew points in the mid 70's... heat index of 105... in other words, tropical. But because we're hearty northerners and because weather is always messing with us in some way, we made the best of it and had a great time anyway. Did I mention that this was an outdoor picnic-like affair??  It was warm (Dar says "frickin HOT) but manageable.

We talked, we ate, we had fun. Here's a sampling:  a "sleigh ride" (hay ride) through the fields singing Christmas carrols as we traveled to and from the magnificent and very secret nearby WRP research facility. We had gotten approval (paperwork, signatures, fingerprints, background checks, and more ...) from the Director for one quick pass past the normally secluded and well-hidden complex. The heat may have been stifling but the spirit endured as everyone was giddy with enthusiasm for the opportunity for a brief view, a mere glimpse really, of the cutting edge science that's going on here. Let me tell you, the cameras were clicking like crazy during the quick drive-by pass. I've probably said too much already... but let me just say the sequestered WRP occupants really enjoyed the holiday spirit as much as we enjoyed sending it their way. We all hope that some of them will be set free during the upcoming year... and will be able to find peace, independently, on their own... without the imposed order and institutional constraints of a facility like this.

Loaded up and ready for the hay ride/sleigh ride.

There's an old, retired, (dead, really) motorhome out on the edge of the property here at the farm. Sadly, it will never see the road again... except for that last trip... to the scrap yard. Someone had the idea that we need to re-create a scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (with Chevy Chase, Dennis Quade, et. al.)... specifically, the "shitters full" scene. (If you haven't seen the movie, rent it... it's one of our favorite Christmas traditions.)

Merry Christmas Clark...  Shitter's full!

We exchanged gifts, grilled burgers and brats (hey, it's Wisconsin, don't yah know?) and lingered until near dark. Eventually everyone was driven off by mosquitoes... but I don't think our first annual Christmas in July will fade from anyone's memory anytime soon.

It's the gift that keeps on giving.


Not a bad looking group... eh?

Dar has a few more photos already uploaded to our online photo collection... check them out if you get a chance.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Midwest Holiday Corn

The first week of July has been good for us. And the weather has been marvelous.

First the 2011 Corn Report:  Last year, 2010, was an unusually good growing year around south central Wisconsin. You may or may not remember that I took a photo of myself with the corn in the field right next to the bus-house on the 4th of July... testing the old adage of "knee high by the 4th of July"... which was blown away by the reality of 7 foot high corn that had actually "tasseled" on that very day. It was an amazing thing.

This year started much slower. A cold and wet Spring slowed fieldwork and the planting process for most farmers, and was weeks behind last year's pace. But by July 4th, good moisture, some warm days, and those amazing corn hybrids farmers are planting these days produced robust corn plants that were almost 6 foot high. I did daily measurements for a few days leading up to the 4th... and found these things were growing between four and six inches per day.

2010


2011 -- just a little over knee high again!
Our Holiday weekend: The farm became a quasi-RV park over the 4th as family from Dar's side descended for a holiday party on Saturday. The weather was spectacular and, for the most part, that celebrated summer creature and siren of summer -- the Mosquito -- stayed in the wings until after dark. As usual, there was too much food (who am I to complain about that?) but reconnecting with folks we don't see but every year (or two or three) made it all an enjoyable day.


On Monday we joined family from my side at the nearby Columbus 4th of July parade. With only a handful of bands, most of the parade was a collection of antique cars, farm equipment, politicians, clubs, and businesses... all celebrating Independence Day and looking for a little recognition if not awareness among the throngs lining the street. Another warm sunny day, a few people over-heated or char-broiled in the bright sun, but the atmosphere was friendly, social, and fun.

Parade-goers waiting for festivities to begin.

Tractors as big as a house... certainly our house!
Wednesday night we joined family for the Beaver Dam Concert in the Park Series... a weekly free concert at Swan Park every Wednesday during the summer. The performing group this week was "Loco Vocals", an energetic collection of 10 local musicians who played and sang a wonderful selection of songs from almost any genre you can imagine... pop, rock and roll, country, blues, folk, and more. (but sorry rap fans... no rap.) The four main singers really wow'd the crowd with their excellent harmonization. It don't get much better than this on a Wednesday night in Beaver Dam!

Loco Vocals at Swan Park on July 6th.
Wanderlust: As my thoughts drift to the future and our upcoming journey westward, I checked one of the webcams at Crater Lake the other day. This image, taken on July 1, shows there's still a bunch of snow up there... more than I was expecting to see. Our visit there in October of last year was also in heavy snow. Summer really is very short phenomenon at these elevations.

July 1, 2011... Entrance to Crater Lake
 Getting "itchy" to hit the road again.