Archive for the 'personal' Category

My New Favorite Magazine & Our New Planting Zone

You guys it’s like Christmas over here! Why? Because Erin just informed me the USDA has just come out with some new planting zone classifications and we have been bumped up from a Zone 4 to a Zone 5!! What no one else sees that as a big deal? Well it is because that opens up a whole new world of plants I can pick from. Between Zone 5 and Zone 4 there is a huge drop off in plant selection. Until I got into gardening I had no idea the limited options that are available to gardeners up here in the frigid north…OK it’s not that bad but seriously it’s hard being in Zone 4. It’s so frustrating looking through plant catalogs and gardening magazines when everything I like is Zone 5 or higher. This is how it often goes when I open my Fine Gardening Magazines:

    I open the magazine and some across a gorgeous garden picture. The title reads “Hardy Shade Garden.”

    “OMG that is perfect!” I think. “I have lots of shade and I need hardy plants for our colder climate.”

    I get excited and start to think of where I could incorporate those plants into my garden.

    Then I read through the fine print of what kind of plants they are.

    Hmm…a bunch of names I don’t recognize but I’m still learning so that could be the reason.

    So I skip the scientific names and go right to the zone range listed for each plant.

    Every single thing is listed for zone 5 or higher!

    I get annoyed that I can’t own a single plant pictured and have to stop reading the magazine.

    Repeat every month as gorgeous garden magazines fill my mail box.


Why tempt myself by reading about awesome plants that won’t grow in my area? I know, I know I could have tried zone 5 plants out before and see if I had any luck with them but I’m a new gardener and I’m not confident enough that I could keep them alive. That’s not to say I haven’t accidentally bought a couple zone 5 perennials before. For the most part they have all survived (what can I say it’s survival of the fittest over here in my garden) but I tried to stick to perennials I knew could survive many winters in my zone. Garden centers like to buy outside of the zone they are in and often the tags are pretty liberal in what zones they say the plant can grow in. You have to be smarter than the tag or find someone at the garden center to tell you how likely that plant is to survive/thrive in your zone (that is at the real nurseries you can find knowledgeable people not at Home Depot all of you fellow renovators).

Note: If you don’t know your planting zone check out the USDA’s website and enter in your zipcode.


The icing on the cake is for Christmas I asked for a subscription to a gardening magazine that I’ve fallen in love with after only one magazine! It’s a new state specific magazine that just started this month called Wisconsin Gardening. They write about local garden topics, photograph beautiful gardens around the state, suggest the best performing vegetables for your area, show how to design flower beds with plants you can actually grow , and give out seasonal advice that is timely to your area (national magazines try to do this but because they cover so many areas it’s often past the ideal time to do these things by the time I get the magazine).

This new magazine has breathed a whole new life in my itch to garden. In each issue they have separate columns for each area of the state the north, the southwest and central, and the southeast which more or less is how the state is divided by zone. They have recruited some prominent figures in the gardening community including Edward Lyon, director of Allen Centennial Gardens on the UW-Madison campus; Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension employee who trains master gardeners and is a frequent guest on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Garden Talk;” Sharon Morrisey, who appears weekly on FOX6-TV’s “Wake-Up News,” writes the garden calendar for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and trains master gardeners in the Milwaukee area. In this first issue they discuss how to create a four season garden, hot new plant varieties, how to build and use raised beds, unusual tomatoes to start from seed, organic lawn care, landscape design with hostas, pruning, invasive plants, and protecting ancient trees. It has something for every gardeners’ interest. I can’t wait for the next issue to come!

If you’re a gardener in Wisconsin I highly suggest you go check this magazine out. If you’re in a different state you should check out the State-by-State Gardening website to see if they have a magazine for your state.


In other non-garden related news I’ve added another thing to juggle in my busy schedule. Studying! I’m studying for a big professional test I’m hoping to take in April. A co-worker and good friend of mine is studying with me. We started right after the first of the year and have been studying 6 days a week! We have to learn/know/be fast at so much material in a short amount of time it’s mind boggling. It’s essentially 9 years of my life crammed into an 8 hour test. With the bonus of stuff I’ve never learned but I guess am supposed to have to be a well rounded engineer. The 3″ thick study book we’re using suggests we study for 300 hours before the test. 300 hours in 3.5 months! We’re doing about 16 hours a week right now so we’ll be more at 250 hours by the time the test comes around. I think that’s all I can do so hopefully it’s enough.

For the past 4 weeks my schedule has been three nights a week stay after work studying until 9pm. Two nights a week stay after work studying until 8pm, run home, let the dog out, change, and go work out with my mother in-law until 10:30pm. Saturdays and Sunday mornings I try to squeeze in all of my cleaning around the house, running errands, blog writing, and working on the remodel. Sunday afternoon we meet at a library and study for another 4-5 hours. This schedule doesn’t leave much room for anything else like say…relaxing. I’m eating every lunch and dinner at work, seeing Flannel Man even more rarely than I did before, the dog is left alone way too much, and I can barely keep up with the mess that is living in a construction zone. Of course I’m putting way too much pressure on myself to pass because I don’t want to do this twice and once this is out of the way it opens up a whole new set of opportunities both professional and personal. If I don’t have a melt down before my test in mid-April it will be a small miracle.


I Hope We Don’t Start Chronically Wasting

I have a quick update on Wednesday’s post. I got the call last night that the deer we butchered tested positive for CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease). The DNR collects brain tissue from deer in the area to test for CWD and track it’s movements and developments. My in-laws have been hunting in that area for years and this is the first time it’s ever been detected. Two out of the three deer they got tested positive. What is CWD? Well in super simplified and not so accurate terms it’s called the “mad cow disease for deer.” For a much better explanation see this site and to see a national map of where the disease has spread click here.

What does this all mean? Unlike mad cow, CWD has never been shown to be able to spread to humans. But because there is so little known about it the DNR recommends not eating the meat. The disease resides in the brain, spinal tissue, lymph nodes, tonsils, eyes, and spleen so there are a number of possible ways butchering could infect the meat. We are reluctantly throwing away all of the venison we worked so long and hard to process. (insert sad face here) When I was taking everything out of the freezer I counted that is roughly 42 pounds of meat! In fact when I got that call I was making a huge batch of venison chili that I had to throw out. Even worse we’ve already eaten some of the tenderloin because it tastes so much better fresh. I joking told FM if he starts losing excessive amounts of weight or having blank facial expressions I was going to take him in to get tested for the human form of the disease.

On a serious note this new threat is very disturbing. It’s upsetting to know that an uncontrollable and 100% fatal disease that is spreading throughout our deer population. It creates holes in their brains making them look like sponges. The first positive test for CWD in our state was not all that long ago in 2002 and it’s been rapidly spreading ever since. Scary stuff!

Seven Things

I was awarded the Versatile Blogger Award by Kyle at Roncesvalles Victorian Reno. Thanks Kyle! I’m now finally getting around to listing my seven things.

Instead of writing 7 random facts about me I was feeling more creative and thought I’d do 7 facts that relate to each other.

1) Its hunting season around here and we’ve been eating a lot of wild game. Neither of us went deer hunting this year but Flannel Man’s uncle, grandpa, and dad did and they ended up with more meat than they wanted. So we unexpectedly spent 20 hours butchering a deer in our garage. Fun times! You know you’re in the country when this is considered normal for this time of year. Then we borrowed a meat grinder and vacuum sealed about 40lb of venison hamburger and steaks. I can’t complain when our chest freezer is stuffed full of free lean meat. Did you know venison is leaner than skinless chicken breasts? Anyone have a good venison recipe they’d like to share?


2) Flannel Man just went on his first pheasant hunt at a local farm with a few of his friends. Well actually they went on one last year but it consisted of just walking through a grassy field and they didn’t see anything so that doesn’t count. They each got two birds but no one else wanted the meat so he brought home all six (after cleaning them up of course).

It’s hard to tell in this picture but Flannel Man (center) was using an antique shotgun made in 1910. Most people would consider it purely as an antique or collectable but Flannel Man doesn’t believe in collecting any firearm that doesn’t actually work.


3) We found the antique side-by-side shotgun in a pawn shop last year on our road trip to Miami. On our way from Miami to Key Largo we passed a pawn shop that was advertising firearms. Flannel Man begged me to turn around so we did and found this beauty inside.

Flannel Man instantly recognized how old this side-by-side shotgun was because all of the checkering and engraving was done by hand. He was intrigued but didn’t buy it on the spot. We continued on our trip to the Keys. But he just couldn’t stop thinking about it especially after calling some if his friends who are even bigger collectors and knew what it might be worth. So on the way back we kept a close eye out for the hole-in the wall pawn shop and bought it. It was shipped to our local gunsmith (federal regulations mandate this) and Flannel Man found out it wasn’t in working order. It had two broken parts. Of course because it’s handmade and so old you can’t buy replacement parts so he built new ones. After a lot of tinkering he had it up and working.


4) Did you read the last one closely? Yes I said road trip to Miami…from Wisconsin. I know I know we’re crazy, right? We drove non-stop from WI to FL each way (that is one big benefit of having a husband who works nights!). It was a really fun time with Flannel Man by my side. We visited the oldest fort in America in St. Augustine, went on a fan boat ride in the Everglades, stayed in a cute little vintage hotel in Miami, went SCUBA diving in Key Largo, and drove to Key West. We even stopped and turned around to help a turtle cross the road.

Maybe some other time I’ll share the beach, sunset, alligator, and underwater SCUBA pictures but this one summed up our trip the best.


5) My little Saturn has been everywhere! From Key West to Canada (where my in-laws have a cabin). It’s one awesome little car and rare too. See I don’t have just any old Saturn oh no I have a Homecoming addition! WTH is a Homecoming you say? Well it was a national gathering Saturn owners used to have every four years and the company would make 5,000 special addition cars to celebrate. What is the difference? Well this addition has a combination of fabric and leather seating, a spoiler (you know to go fast), a two toned paint color (gold with light green over the top that is impossible to match BTW), and a backlit speedometer that says “Homecoming” in curly cue (how very 90’s of them) lettering. LOL! And the guy who sold this to me wanted me to pay extra for all of these features. Um no.


6) Back when I bought this car mpg was not on everyone’s mind as it is today. But I’ve always been all about efficiency so it was my number one concern. Plus at the time I was moving 100 miles away for nine months. Which meant I was driving home almost every weekend to see Flannel Man. On a regular basis my car gets up to 33 mpg. This worked out well for us later when we bought our house because I drive 25 minutes to work in my more fuel efficient car and FM drives only 5 minutes to work in his handy but not so efficient truck. We need the truck for hauling both of our shooting gear, pulling the trailer, carrying our extra long kayaks, and for our many home improvement trips but it’s nice that Flannel Man doesn’t have to waste gas driving a long distance to work!


7) And that is why I love the Madison area. We can live 20 minutes from the city but still own a few acres of land in the country. You can’t do that in a big city! We’re only 5 minutes from town which has the essentials or 20 minutes from the edge of the city aka. Menard’s…which is really all that matters. We’re far enough in the country we can’t see any other houses out of our windows.* It’s the perfect combination if you ask me!

This is a quick morning shot from a few weeks ago.


Now I get to pass on this award to 15 of my favorite house bloggers:
DIY Diva
The Turtle House
Russet Street Reno
The Impatient Gardener
Picardy Project
86’n It
At Home Alterations
Sweet Chaos
The Ugly Duckling House
Holyoke Home
Hazardous Design
One Ugly House
First Time Fancy
Now go check out their awesome blogs!


*In the summer that is. In the winter when the trees are bare we can see part of our neighbor’s house out of two bedroom windows.

Walking on Water

This time of year the amount of usable space we have nearly doubles. Why you ask? Because our pond is frozen over. What you didn’t know we had a pond? Well we do. 1 ½ ponds actually…and an island.


Anyway, we like to take full advantage of all the extra walkable area and the access we have to the island in the winter. Since we live in the country we don’t have any sidewalks. This isn’t a big deal most of the year we just walk out dog in the ditch where she enjoys sniffing out critters. But in the winter the ditch is full of snow and the roads are sprinkled with salt that gets between her toes and cuts them up. So we walk her on the ponds instead. It might seem strange but she loves it because there are lots of places to smell that are normally inaccessible and because there is typically less snow on the ponds (she hates walking in deep snow). It’s a win – win!


I always love walking under this huge willow tree in the winter. Eventually we hope to clear a trail and put a bench under the willow branches on the land side.



Exploring the island. Something must have smelt interesting to warrant walking in the deep snow.

After some freakishly warm temperatures and freezing rain this past weekend the ponds were very slick and would have been perfect for ice skating. We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they used to ice skate on our ponds actually. They were popular winter hang out spots back in the 70’s. We don’t have any ice skates but we were out sliding around in our boots with Sophie. She was taking Flannel Man for a ride:


Also this year with his new snow plowing ATV Flannel Man cleared off part of the pond so we could play broom ball. Flannel Man had is two younger brothers come over to test it out and we had a brutal battle.

DSC_0012 copy

DSC_0015 copy

DSC_0016 copy

DSC_0017 copy

DSC_0021 copy

DSC_0036 copy2

In the end we had one broom that survived. Apparently they don’t make brooms like they used to!

Happy Holidays

This year for our family Christmas cards Mama Flannel came over to take our picture. Since I had some new “girly” flannel we thought it was only appropriate to make flannel/plaid the theme of our cards. With some quick Photoshoping even the dog got some flannel.

For the front our cards I went lines from the classic Christmas song:

It took a while to get that shot because Sophie kept standing up after we told her it was OK to eat the treat inside the stocking but we finally got it. I ordered them from Mpix this year and I highly recommend them. Great products, quick turn around, and awesome customer service! They even let me return and get a refund for a mistake I made. They let you design the back of the card too. It looked so blank with just the plaid border I made so I threw on a few pictures from our road trip to Florida this year:

And just for fun here are some of our old Christmas cards:

Warmest wishes from our family to yours!


Today I was going to post about the big storm we had over the weekend. I was going to write about how great our new-to-us ATV is at plowing snow. I was going to get the pictures uploaded for the post last night. But instead I was upload pictures of my grandmother who passed away unexpectedly yesterday.

Two days before Thanksgiving she fell and broke her hip. She had surgery to fix it and was at a rehab/nursing home for the past few weeks. My parents were there to see her in the middle of the big storm on Sunday and the doctor was telling them how she was fine and that she’d be coming home on the 22nd in time for Christmas. I was planning to visit her today on my weekly visit.

Yesterday, my grandpa was in to see her in the morning until she had her daily physical therapy session. As the nurse wheeled her off my grandma turned around to smile and wave goodbye. That would be the last time he’d ever see her. After her physical therapy session she said she felt weak so the nurse put her down for a nap. Ten minutes later the nurse came in to check on her and she had passed.


They are unsure of what exactly she died from but they suspect it was a blood clot. Besides the broken hip she had a number of other health issue. Four years ago she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Luckily she was in the very early stages. Two years ago she had a stroke and needed a triple bypass heart surgery. She was slowly losing her ability to do things but she was determined to try. She was in her exercise class for 29 years for example (which is how she broke her hip).

I feel bad for my aunt (her daughter) whose birthday was yesterday and my dad (her son) whose birthday is today. Their birthdays just won’t be the same. Neither will Christmas.

I spent last night with my family going through old pictures and helping pick out what her last outfit would be. I’ve always disliked how little time you have between a person’s death and when they are buried. There are too many things to do in such a little time and you get little to no time to really grieve. When I got home I went through all of the pictures I had on my computer of her. I realized that I had never printed out pictures from her 76th birthday. I must have been too busy…life got in the way and now she’s gone. In those never before seen photos I found this one which we plan to use for her obituary:

I remember taking that shot from the other end of the table with my zoom lens. She was laughing away with some old friends she hadn’t seen in a while. She always did laugh a lot.

Rest in peace grandma. You have forever left an imprint on my heart.

I’m A Cripple

And a very busy cripple at that. You see I’ve been on a computer vacation under the doctor’s orders. Yes, the doctor’s orders! I have had signs of carpel tunnel syndrome and tendentious in both wrists for years but with all the long hours I’m putting in for work and my blogging/internet addiction my hands are really acting up. Whereas I used to have numbness and tingling for an hour or two I now have it for days or weeks on end. Then the real pain kicks in when the tendons from my middle and pointer fingers shot pain all the way up my arm to my shoulder. Picking up a glass of water or grabbing the steering wheel driving home has now become difficult.

Carpel tunnel is not uncommon in my family. Both of my parents have had carpel tunnel surgery in one hand and plan to do the other in the future. Both of my sisters have also been diagnosed with carpel tunnel including my 14 year old sister. I guess weak wrists just runs in the family. Last fall I had my first EMG (electromyogram) test where they sent thousands of volts of electricity through my arm only to determine that my carpel tunnel wasn’t bad enough to have surgery. I had the pleasure of having a doctor who had never done the test before and the experienced nurse in the room had to keep reminding him that he should only have to send these painful shocks through my arm once instead of 6 times.

So in addition to taking anti-inflammatory steroids, I’ve done my best at staying off the computer the best I can. The problem with that is (1) I have a huge deadline I’m trying to meet for work and (2) I’m addicted to the internet. I’m working on an a whole building energy model for a 1.3 million sf hospital. It’s the largest energy model anyone in our company has ever done and this is my first energy model using this software. The model is so large it’s pushing the limits of the software and our computers. Last week I had a crash and lost two days worth of work! If I don’t get this model to work and have a 14% energy savings then the $750 million project can’t get LEED certified. Talk about pressure! And of course I have an impossible deadline to meet so I’ve been putting in overtime for 6 weeks now. Last week I put in over 60 hours which certainly doesn’t help my wrist problems. (I know this work babble probably didn’t make any sense but I was thinking of writing a post explaining energy modeling and LEED certification if you’re interested.)

Regarding # 2 yes, I know I’m pathetic but I have no social life. I’m on the internet at some point almost every night. That doctor’s order gave me a lump in my throat. But in my defense I come home to a big empty house every night what am I supposed to do for fun?

So I’m sorry I’ve been so absent.  Hopefully, I can get these wrist issues undercontrol so I can get back to blogging!


This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
DIY Savings