Monday, March 31, 2014

Marching On

March is almost over; my winter vacation is coming to an end.  The snow is melting very slowly and we have a bunch of confused and very hungry robins hopping around.  The early bird gets the snowbank this spring; there won't be worms until the frost is out of the ground.  Gosh, I'd hate to be a robin right about now.

I haven't planted any flower seeds yet.  Two weeks ago with Joel's help we managed to get the greenhouse out of the machine shed at Mom's and hauled down here.   We propped everything up against Willie the Willow waiting for spring.  There's still a good foot of snow to melt down before we can put the greenhouse up.  Joel had to snowblow drifts before we could get to the shed. We wanted to get the greenhouse out of the shed before the snow melted so we didn't cut deep ruts later on.  We usually have the greenhouse up in mid-March, but oh, well, ain't gonna happen this year.

While we are waiting for the big meltdown, we've been busy with the stained glass.  Carl finally finished soldering the big Wisteria this weekend.  I still have to go over it and clean it thoroughly before I patina it, but it's a relief to see it on the base.  This one was over a year in the making, though during the gardening season it sat untouched. 

These aren't the greatest pictures, I was sitting on my exercise ball and trying not to tip over.  Eventually we'll take some more formal, better lit portraits.  There are five repeats to this lamp and each side is a slight bit different.  I'm pretty much over obsessing about my glass choices.  If we ever make another one, I'll try something different.  Every lamp is a learning experience.

 While Carl was working on the Wisteria, I was working on the next shade, an Allamanda.  (More on that very soon.)

We're also working on a stained glass window for Castle Aaargh, too.

I put my skis and boots away this weekend with a heavy heart.  I only missed five days this winter went the weather was too frigid, it was a fantastic skiing season.

I went to help Carl shovel the snow out of Aaargh this afternoon and noticed how our evergreens have been damaged by dessication and the extreme cold.  I should have wrapped the trees last fall, but well, I didn't.   Truth be told, we've never wrapped any of the evergreens for the winter, and even if we would have, some of them are so large it would be almost impossible anyway.  The end result will probably find us culling out some specimens, but that's the way it goes.

 The problem was hit and miss, some trees came through perfectly.  Others not so much.

We're sad about this 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid' limber pine.  It's a big tree and very damaged.  Oh, well. 

It was a Long Winter.

(But it was Great Fun while it lasted!)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wisteria Hysteria

Today marks 56 years on this old farm.   You'd think I'd be sad about that number, wouldn't you, but to tell you the truth; I feel lucky to have made it this far.  After last summer's thyroid shenanigans, I was having my doubts.  We'll see what this year has in store.

In keeping with weather tradition for my birthday, today was very warm; well, what passes for warm in Wisconsin in March.  Having the temps in the upper 40's to low 50's was really nice.  I don't remember the last time the temperature was over 30.  Carl and I walked the dogs tonight for the first time since mid-December and they were both strutting their stuff happily.

 I was at the grocery store with my walking friend, Mary, after exercise class last week Thursday when Carl called my cellphone.  It was 11:15 in the morning, and the call was coming from our house, oh boy, that startled me.

 "I took a half a day off from work.  When will you be home?  I need some help putting the Wisteria shade back on the soldering stand.  And besides, it's your birthday weekend, too," Carl said cheerfully.

"You took vacation already?  That's a relief, I thought you might have gotten hurt at work," I said as I was unloading my cart at the checkout.

Carl always takes vacation on my birthday, but not his.  I always wondered why that was, but he always says his birthday isn't important.   I beg to differ, but he won't be swayed. I take his birthday off, wait, I don't work...but anyway, we do celebrate.

I came home with the groceries and helped him attach the Wisteria shade to the soldering stand so we can solder the inside of the shade.   Carl had finished soldering the outside on Wednesday and we went through the nerve-wracking process of releasing it from the mold. 

Removing a new lamp from the fiberglass mold is a tense procedure for me.   I know it is for Carl, too, but he won't admit it, he's a sunny optimist.  His workroom in the basement is tiny and cluttered and yet he somehow manages to work in the smallest of spaces.  The stained glass is attached to the fiberglass form with beeswax.  After the soldering on the outside is complete, the glass has to be heated enough to melt the wax which allows the lamp to fall off the form.  Ok, fall is a bad choice of words, we don't want it to fall...

Carl spins the soldering stand with one hand while holding the heat gun in the other, dispersing the heat all the way around the shade.  I ran upstairs to get my blow dryer and the camera and aimed the dryer into the bottom of the form to help speed the melting process.  In the rush of activity I forgot to put the camera on auto-focus, so the first few shots are blurry, as in 'what is happening here, I can't see a thing-blurry'.

Maybe it's a good thing the auto focus wasn't on, Carl does look rather alien-y here with his face mask on.  And dirty. 
The trick is to melt the wax without getting the glass too hot which might cause it to break.
I didn't set a timer, but at least twenty minutes of heat gun and blow dryer work went on before the shade suddenly slipped free.  (And yes, we caught it.)

 By this time, the shade was so hot Carl couldn't handle it with his bare hands.  Time for gloves.

 Ah, at last, I realized the camera was out of focus.  There, that's better.  We're both relieved, but the job is far from complete, Carl still has to solder the inside and add reinforcing wires to this massive beast.

But as we've done with all of the other shades, the Moment of Truth was upon us once again.  Even though it's not done and there is a massive buildup of wax and goo, let's grab a lightbulb and see what we have.

 Well, it's definitely blue.  But not what I expected.  It's not dreadful, but I was stumped.  I had chosen three slightly different shades of blue, each one a little darker than the other, and when I laid the pattern out on the light table before cutting glass, the differences were noticeable.  But this is pretty monochromatic.

There are five repeats of the pattern to make this shade and the look I was going for was subtle variation between the clusters.  I didn't want to go as crazy as I did on the Laburnum where the color variations are more abrupt:

 I wanted more subtle light and dark clusters on the Wisteria. 

But looking at the end result, I guess I erred too much on the side of caution.  All is not lost; Joel thinks it looks good.  I could have changed some of the clusters by melting the solder and removing sections and re-selecting new glass again but I wouldn't know where to start.  There are almost 2000 pieces of glass in total and I'd have to figure out which shade of blue to use and where, eh, it's a nightmare to contemplate.  Better to leave well enough alone I guess.

I'm consoling myself that with all the wax that is built up on the inside, things will look different when the shade is completed.  Maybe there is more definition between the clusters than shows up with one bare lightbulb held too close to the edge of the shade.  If not, I guess I can always make another one.  (What am I saying?? I must be delirious.)

I've run into this panicky feeling before, especially in sewing.  I would often sew a dress and try it on for alterations and be completely disenchanted with the garment.  Yuck, this sure doesn't look anything like the pattern envelope.  But after all the finishing touches are done and the hems are in place, some of my earlier optimism would return.  Nothing looks great when it's half-baked.

We'll see how it looks when Carl and I are done soldering the inside and it's had a nice bath and cleanup.  Maybe I'll like it better then. 

Once again, I've learned a lesson, like Goldilocks, my glass selection process can't be too bold or too tame, it has to be Just Right. 

 (I just finished laying out an Allamanda shade today.  I sure hope this ol' Graydilocks got it right this time.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Snow Games

Yes, it's me again, back with yet another skiing tale. We had three inches of snowfall overnight, more fluffy, light stuff.  I thought the sunset might be pretty, so I went out around 5:15PM armed with our old digital camera, a tiny click box that we bought years ago when digital photography was relatively new.

I followed the trail from our house up to the woods a quarter-mile north and then headed east into what was a corn field last summer.  I heard a bird singing in the woods and though I didn't see the songster, the call sure sounded like a Red-winged blackbird.  Poor thing, I'm sure he wasn't expecting this much snow anymore.  I don't know how migratory birds survive when they come back too early. 

For that matter, I don't know how any animals are surviving this winter.  With snow this deep, hunting for food must be a tremendous chore.  I have noticed the rabbit tracks are dwindling rapidly and I've seen an increase of fox traffic on my ski trails.  Mom has had a flock of turkeys coming to her bird feeder this week, too.  They're usually kinda shy but hunger has forced them to take what they can get.

As I skied along, I came upon a bunch of fresh tracks in the forty-acre field that reminded me of something from my childhood:

What happened here?
 When I was in grade school back in prehistoric times, ok, the 1960's, in the winter at recess we would play a game of tag similar to 'Fox and Geese'.  The person who was 'It' (or the Fox) would select a large area of fresh fallen snow and make a series of trails, usually in a  circle with other maze-like trails branching off.   

The 'Geese' or in our case, the kids who weren't 'It' would run around on the trails trying to elude the Fox.  The rules were everyone had to stay within the confines of the trails no matter what and if you stepped outside the trail to avoid being tagged, you'd be It.  When the Fox tagged a Goose, the Fox would yell, "You're IT!" and everyone would then run away from the new Fox.  

 Now, now, don't judge us by our games.  It's cold up here in the Great White North.  The silly game of tag kept us warm and was good exercise.

After looking more closely at the tracks in the snow, I realized I was looking at a real game of Life and Death.
The tracks puzzled me at first, but then it made sense when I saw the feather imprints in the soft snow.  This must have been an owl or a hawk, hunting for voles in the deep snow of the corn field.

It was getting quite dark and my camera isn't very fancy, so I didn't get a terrific picture here, but the imprint above reminds me of an owl.  It looks as if the owl dive-bombed the field and plowed right into the snow face first.

There were tracks all over the field, this must have gone on for quite some time. 

I've read that owls (or maybe hawks, too) can hear the mice and voles under the snow and have to drive their talons as deep as they can in the snow to catch their prey.  
In some places, it looked as if the bird of prey had dug in the snow every few feet, probably trying to reach the rodent.
This track was puzzling, looks like the feathers brushed the ground on either take-off or landing.
This was a Battle Royale, by the looks of things.
The tracks were spread out over five acres.  I wonder who won the game?  My money is on the raptor.

By now my hands were cold and the camera battery was going dead and the sun was already down, so it was time to make tracks of my own.

I'm grateful to have a warm house to return to and food on the table. 

P. S.   Thanks for putting up with me and these repetitive skiing posts, by the way.   I did order my flower seeds last night, so in a few months I'll be posting something other than my Albino Landscaping.  In a few weeks, I'll be posting dirty pictures because once this snow all melts, we'll be wallowing in mud.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thanks for the Snow

I asked for more snow, and Mother Nature provided another five inches of fluffy stuff for my skiing enjoyment.
I know, I sound certifiably insane when everyone else is lamenting the fact we're all in the deep freeze, but this is the best skiing I've had all season.  

The days are getting increasingly longer; tonight I went out at 5PM and when I got back in at 6:35PM it wasn't completely dark out yet. 

The incessant wind we had all last week has finally subsided.  It was 15 degrees when I went out tonight which was really pleasant.  Last night we hit a record low, -24F which is the coldest it has been in eighteen years.  Watching the weather tonight there was an impressive graph up on the screen about this being the coldest winter since the 1800's.  

I only missed one day of skiing this winter.  As I've admitted before, this is my break from gardening and my favorite time of year when being outside is guilt-free. So what if Aaargh isn't done and there are weeds under mountains of snow?  Can't do anything about it right now, so let's party.  Or ski.
I'm headed north in these photos, across the Back Eight on my ski route.   I follow the same route for the most part unless the prevailing winds make life too miserable.  In that case, I stick to making laps around and through the white pines which have formed a substantial windbreak.  

Making headway here, the snowmobile trail is almost completely covered in fresh snow, but forms a nice solid base.  

Cross-country skiing is labor intensive (well, at least for me) and a high calorie burner.  When I come in at night, the back of my coat is often frost-covered from my sweat.  Estimates range from 500-700 calories per hour based on weight, and that's only for slow ski walking, light effort.  

The Birkebeiner cross-country ski race was held in February in Hayward, WI.  I can't fathom how many calories those athletes must burn on the hilly 30+ mile course.  And I can't imagine 10,000 skiers all in one place.  I was listening to a radio interview of one participant who said she always wears a full face mask because there is a real possibility of getting a ski pole in the eye when you're in close proximity to a few hundred people trying to win a race.  

As far as I understand, athletes have to qualify for placement in the race and there are waves of skiers released at different time frames.  Starting all 10,000 at one time would be impossible.And in case you're wondering, no, I've never entered the contest and don't know anyone who has.   I would like to go and watch the race sometime, though.  

Back in the day, Carl and I would go to a park which had groomed trails and some hills and valleys to ski.  The groomed trails were wonderful, but they attract a lot of people.  Trail etiquette demands the slower skier get out of the way to let the elite skier pass.  We'd have to constantly get out of the way of Spandex-clad, helmeted and goggled athletes who would come up behind us at a rapid rate.  We were semi-annoying speed bumps to those folks who were probably training for the Birkebeiner or some other race.  

"Track OVER!" the shouts would come from behind us as we were happily moving along at a moderate pace.  We would dutifully step off the groomed trail and let them pass.  I always admired the Spandex People for their physical fitness and colorful outfits; they'd fly by us with grim determination and flailing poles and be long gone by the time we maneuvered our way back onto the groomed trail.  

About the time we'd get moving again, especially when we had our young sons with us, "Track OVER!! would be heard in the distance and we'd have to repeat the entire process again.  On some excursions we spent more time standing on the side of the trail then actually skiing in our efforts to stay out of the way.

We decided it was more fun and much more economical to simply stay home and ski on the farm and surrounding snowmobile trails.  I'm perfectly happy on the same course day in and day out.  There's no Spandex People to tick off and I have my own network of trails. 

 Having a machine-groomed trail is fantastic, but it takes more calories to break my own trail, which I figure is a benefit, too.  We did go skiing on the Rails to Trails system in January, but didn't encounter any other ski enthusiasts.  There were plenty of snowmobilers though, but they were much friendlier than the Spandex Crowd. 

I've often thought I should work on my skiing speed, and at times I vary my pace, but for the most part, I stick to a step, glide, step, glide metronome speed that I can sustain for fairly long distances.  One thing I always noticed about the Spandex People aside from their physical superiority was the apparent lack of joy in what they were doing.  It all seemed so Grim.  We are Competitors!  But are they having fun yet?

Cross-country skiing is a quiet, slow sport for me; the sparkling snow and dazzling reflections in every color of the rainbow, the animal tracks, the cloud patterns, the birds in the trees; there is so much beauty to be had if you look for it.  

I rarely cover more than four or five miles in an outing and always in big, looping circles with my cellphone tied to my head under my peasant scarf.  I usually always talk to Mom when I'm on my way home; she keeps me company while I huff and puff and I hear all about her day.

One of these days the snow will melt.  And we will enter the season of Mud aka Spring.  But until then, this is where you'll find me.
No Spandex Allowed.
 P.S. On Saturday night I skied up to Mom's to snow-blow her driveway and ours.  When I got home, I stepped out of my brand new skis and grabbed a shovel to remove some snow by the back porch that I couldn't get to with the tractor. 

Carl had stayed at Mom's to shovel off her porch and I was still busy shoveling when he drove in and put the car in the garage.  It was windy out and I hadn't noticed that my skis had decided to go on an outing of their own,  blown halfway across the driveway. 

And guess who drove right over my new skis?  There they were, just a week old, with two sets of car tracks going across them pushed down tight in the snow.  I was standing there with a sinking heart, staring at them when Carl got out of the car.

"Well, they were nice while they lasted," I said.

"What are you talking about......oh! Why did you leave them in the driveway?  I didn't see them when I drove in!" he said.

Luckily, he had driven over both skis directly on the flat part and not on the turned up tips or the bindings.  Unbelievably, they weren't broken or even scratched.  I'm sure the compression didn't do them any favors, but they seem fine.

I have learned my lesson: 
Always pick up your toys when you're done playing with them.