Sunday, May 27, 2012

It's Snowing Cotton

When I opened the curtains this morning, Waimea excitedly exclaimed, "It's snowing!!"  It sure looked it.  But it can't snow in 90 degree weather.  Instead, it turns out that the enormous tree we have out front dumps leaves in the fall and sheds cotton in the spring.  Joy.  I'm okay with raking leaves, but how do you clean up cotton?  I wish the pictures could capture the effect, but they don't.
The tree that sheds cotton.  Cottonwood? We thought it was an oak.  And this picture does nothing to explain how enormous it is--these join at the base, and my arms can't even encircle half of one of them.  
Some of the cotton in our yard.  It's actually worse in the neighbors yard.  I'm sure they hate  us.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Camping Thoughts

 Before I lose your interest in my camping snobbery ramblings, here are some pictures from our weekend camping in southern Wisconsin:
We forgot to bring our marshmallow roaster, so we sent the kids off to find sticks--Waimea found this really long one to roast her hot dog and marshmallows on.  
Taking a rest from all the hiking we did.  The kids were troopers (by force)--over 5 miles of hiking.  
And now onto my camping ramblings.

I love camping.  Love it.  But I am a camping snob.  Blame it on all the camping I did growing up.  Every summer of my teens, my family flew to Utah or California, and then drove around camping for 2-3 weeks at a time, never staying more than 2-or 3 nights in one spot.  Almost always it was just one night.  It was a great way to see the country.  We went to hundreds of different campgrounds over the years, and needless to say, we got picky.  Unfortunately, ever since I got married, we haven't lived in good places for camping.

For starters, there was Texas.  Anyone who has lived a year in Texas knows that you don't camp there in the summer.  Even the spring and fall are iffy.  We went camping 3 times while we were there.  The first time, after scouring the internet for local campgrounds, found one that sounded really nice--on a stream, wooded, quiet.  It turns out that the "campground' was someone's front yard, and the "stream" was the run-off mud pit from the severe storms.  There were three picnic tables, and upon "checking in," the owner told us to make ourselves at home in the game room where we could watch movies and play games.  The "woods" were the glorified bushes that Texans call trees.

Texas camping trip #2:  At a state park on a lake.  Very few trees.  I felt like I was camping in a city park without the city.  And when we arrived it was 90+ degrees.  Overnight a storm blew in and knocked the temperatures down into the 40's.

Texas camping trip #3:  At another state park just outside of Austin.  We arrived in 90+ degree weather, and within a few hours we were camped out in our car while a severe thunderstorm raged around us, with tornadoes touching down nearby.

What we leaned:  If you must camp in Texas, make sure it's a state park.  But what's the point if you have to endure a storm.  So don't bother to camp in Texas.

New Jersey camping was a little better, but not by too much.  We went many times, but only in the spring and fall, because summer camping would be almost as unbearable as Texas.  Our favorite place nearby was the Delaware Water Gap, but only in the national forest campground that they have there.  Our only other favorite place was up in New Hampshire in the White Mountains national forests.

Which leads me to my ratings of campground types.  I classify campgrounds into 4 types:  private, state parks, national parks, and national forests.  I avoid the private at all costs.  They are more expensive, and cater to the people who want to camp without really camping--showers, pools, activities, etc.  KOA's are lumped in with these.  Hate them.  State parks are a little better, and widely varied--sometimes you are parking in what seems to be a city park, with some trees and privacy, but not guaranteed.  They also attract a lot of the non-real campers--people who need showers, college students out to do who-knows-what.  And they charge a fee just to be in the park, in addition to the camping fees.  National Parks also charge entrance fees, they don't have the greatest campgrounds, but they usually have the appeal of it being something you don't normally see--geysers, redwoods, glaciers, etc.  But the biggest problems with national parks is that they are CROWDED!  So my favorite, by a long shot, are the national forest campgrounds--they are typically secluded, primitive, not as crowded, non-commercialized, and almost always have what I need--forests!!  Plus, they have the cheapest camping fees.

Unfortunately there aren't really any national forests around us here, so we have to resort to state parks.  This weekend we went to Kettle Morraine South State Park.  It had its advantages--quite a bit of trees and underbrush (not my favorite kind, though--deciduous instead of coniferous), seemed private, lots of hiking and biking paths, even a lake with a beach.  And overall, we had a great time.  But like I said, I am a camping snob.  It was a state park, and too full of non-real campers.

While there, we went to the beach to let the kids go swimming to reward them for all their hiking.  We may as well have been at a college keg/sunbathing party.  (Supposedly alcoholic beverages are prohibited in state parks, but it seems no one enforces that).  The kids still had fun playing in the sand, but it didn't feel like we were at a campground.

Then, while cooking dinner at our campsite, we overheard a very loud conversation from a few sites away that went a little like this:
"Those Mormons and their secret temples where only *special* people can go.  What the f*** is that all about?  And they claim to have silver disks that were given to them from God...or aliens."  (Insert "f***-ing" before every adjective or noun, and it's almost verbatim).  I came very close to walking over to them and saying, "Hey, I'm a Mormon.  Ask me anything, and I'll tell you what it's really about."  I don't think they would've listened, though, drunk as they seemed.

Then a college-aged group showed up at the campsite next to us at 10:30 PM.  At 1:30 AM, they were still making a ruckus, and arguing about how un-drunk they were.  "I'm not drunk.  I knew I was falling and could've stopped myself, but decided not to.  It doesn't mean I'm drunk."  Finally, fed up at 1:50 because I couldn't get back to sleep, I went outside, shined the flashlight directly on them through the bushes, and shouted, "QUIET!!!!"  (I still can't believe I did it, non-confrontational as I am.  But that's how livid I was!)  After a chorus of "sorry's", car doors slamming over and over, and another 20 minutes or so, they still weren't very quiet.

And this is exactly what I dislike about state parks--they attract the unsavory crowds.  Later this summer we plan to venture up to northern Wisconsin to the national forests that are about 5 hours away.  I'm hoping they live up to my national forest standards.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Experimental Garden, Part 2

 We finally got our plants in the ground.  After dilly-dallying for a good month about what type of garden to make, and how to keep the wildlife out, we finally came up with what we hope is a good solution.

We opted not to do a real raised garden because we didn't want to have to pay for all the soil to fill it.  And when we move, the landlord may not want the raised garden beds.  So we just dug up the grass in a sunny corner of our yard, churned the soil, and used 2x4's as our barrier.  (We realize that the pine 2X4's aren't the best option--cedar would have been better for it's natural weather and rot resiliency, but we just need it to last for a few years and don't care if it doesn't last longer than that--plus, it was cheaper).

Then, to keep out the rodents and pests, we used a plastic poultry netting that we stapled to the 2X4's:
Again, not the most permanent of options, but we'll see how it holds up.  

Because it took us so long to get our baby plants outside, quite a few of the plants died--almost all the lettuce, a few of the broccoli plants, both watermelon plants, a cucumber plant, and all the corn. Oh well.  We didn't have room for it all, anyway. 

Wildlife in Suburban Chicago

On our nightly walk tonight, we had some interesting encounters with some wildlife.  About 100 yards from our home, we heard some rustling in the bushes about 5 feet away from us.  We looked over and saw something that looked like this:

We didn't know what it was at first, but it started chasing us.  We quickened our pace, but it was still coming at us.  Panicked, I asked Evan, "What do we do?"  He responded with the obvious:  "Run!"  We realized it was a possum after we stopped running, but who knew that they attacked?!  Freaky!  (It's almost cute in the daylight, but imagine it running at you at night!)

Then, almost a mile later, we started smelling a skunk.  We smell them quite frequently, and a few times we've seen them running away from us from a distance.  But tonight Evan happened to glance over and see one staring out at us from the bushes.  Needless to say, we ran pretty quickly.  Did you know that they can spray up to 20 feet?  We were definitely within 20 feet of that one!  

Ironically, we only saw a single rabbit.  Usually we see at least a dozen.

We're still trying to figure out what animal we saw about a month ago.  It ran across the street about 50 yards ahead of us, and it had a weird shape and run.  We know it wasn't a cat, dog, skunk, or rabbit.  It looked like the silhouette of an anteater, of all things, but we know it couldn't possibly have been one.  We've only seen a possum run at us head-on, so we don't know if it was that or not, but until tonight, we hadn't even considered the possibility.  If it was a possum, it was definitely a giant one--the size of a medium dog.  Any other ideas of what it could have been?  

Who knew that there was such weird wildlife in suburban Chicago?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What We've Been Doing A Lot Of

For our anniversary this year, Evan bought a bike attachment that enables Waimea to ride while being attached to my bike so that we don't have to worry about her going slow while we take bike rides.

It was the perfect gift...except that I didn't own a bike.  I had been looking for one since we moved here last August.  So for the time being, we attached the ride-a-long to Evan's bike and I took Waimea for bike rides when he wasn't at school.  (Evan has ridden his bike to school every day this year, save one, in rain, sleet, snow, wind, and sunshine--what a trooper).

Then, last Saturday as I was doing my daily check of Craigslist, I found a gem--an aluminum Specialized (that's the brand) hybrid bike, about 10 years old, in working condition, for only $49.  What a steal!  So we switched the ride-a-long to my bike, and we've been biking somewhere every day.  It's been great!  The ride-a-along is a great solution for kids aged 4-6--they still help you pedal, they feel what it's like to balance without training wheels without the fear of falling over, and if they get tired of pedaling, they can just sit and enjoy the ride.  And with Waimea, we don't have to worry about how slow she is or how oblivious she is to cars.  Love it!!!

(You can't really tell from the picture, but I lopped off a good 4-6 inches of my hair last Friday.  It was just getting way too long.  Now it's just below the chin, and I feel like myself again).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Conversation with Spencer

The other day, Evan and I were downstairs working on a project.  The kids were playing the Wii upstairs, and there was thunderstorm raging in the background.  It was dusk.  I came up to check on the kids, and we had a conversation that went a little like this:

S:  "Mom, the power went out!"
M:  "When?"
S:  "Just now."
M: (A little confused)  "Why do you think the power went out?"  
S:  "Because the lights went out."
M:  "Um...the lights were never turned on.  Besides, you're still playing the Wii..."
S:  "Oh... right."