Archive for August, 2006

Basement progress!

Posted by Nate in Home Improvements, Homebrewing.
Monday, August 28th, 2006 at 11:01 pm

As I start this post, I can hear the nightly fireworks going off from the State Fair – all the way from St. Paul! Whoa. The bad news is I think I’ve heard them every night of the fair so far, which means I’ve been up later than I want for too many nights, now that Karen’s getting up at 5:15 again…

But I’ve been up late working on the basement! Yesterday I hung the remaining pieces of drywall (after figuring out the spacing for the door) and started to mud it. Man, that sucks. I’ve done it before, long ago, but it wasn’t my project – I think it was a garage, or work area – and it didn’t have to be good. This one I want to be good. I’m taking my time, doing 3 or 4 layers in all, but tonight I wanted to just forget about it. It kept "chunking up" on me on certain corners (and it’s almost all corners!!) and I couldn’t figure out why. Ah well. I pressed through it (literally) and got it close enough, I figure I’ll clean it up with a sponge tomorrow morning. That was my day today, and probably for the next two: get up, sponge down the joint compound mistakes, go to work, run errands, come home, and put another layer on. The good news is the flat runs on the walls are looking good, and if anybody’s looking too hard in the corners the room has already failed!

Tonight I needed another project after mudding, so I picked up the hardware for the two doors I’m going to hang and tackled the first one. Yesterday I’d leveled and screwed in the interior pieces of the door frame, and today got the reward for the tedium: it hangs perfectly! No swing at all, it moves wonderfully, and falls right into the latch. Awesome. Only problem (which we’d anticipated, but thought we could work around) is that it doesn’t open all the way around before banging into the main house support beam. Ah well. I anticipated it so much I made sure to get hinges with a removable pin so we could just take the door out if needed. So good progress! My goal is to try to get the mudding done and at least prime the walls and hang the doors before the Chicago kids arrive for the State Fair. We’ll see how that goes…

Oh yeah, and I’ve got a million things fermenting in the basement. Sweeeeeet.

Happy Birthday to me / First Day of the State Fair!

Posted by Karen in Holidays/Birthdays/Etc, State Fair.
Thursday, August 24th, 2006 at 8:28 am

In case you somehow missed my standard month-long countdown because I’ve been off galavanting around America’s heartland, today is in fact my favorite day of the year, my birthday. And the day is off to a pretty good start. Nator the Great served me up some raspberries and fresh whipped cream, along with caramel toffee scones for breakfast! Ohh, that boy knows the way to my heart. Though I can’t recall a birthday in the past where I’ve prayed for rain, this year rain means getting off work, so I’ve been hoping, and wishing… And it looks like the gods are smiling upon me because the radar is showing thunderstorms all across the metro! What’s more, it’s the first day of the Great Minnesota Get-Together! It’s almost as if the whole state of Minnesota is celebrating my birthday…

In honor of the greatest event of all time, here is some suggested reading: Yesterday’s "Love Tilt-a-whirl" posting has a link to a seriously awesome music video: "State Fair Lady". Though it can’t steal the place in my heart for Scotty’s "I Wanna Go to the MN State Fair".

And to help prepare for MN State Fair ’06, I think it appropriate to reminisce about MN State Fair ’05, with the following photos. Enjoy.

If you’re hanging drywall…

Posted by Nate in Bruno, Home Improvements.
Tuesday, August 15th, 2006 at 12:32 pm

…don’t forget the dog! Much like the Princess and the Pea, drywall inspector Bruno can feel a defect under up to 7 sheets of drywall. Luckily this batch passed muster, and hanging is proceeding — THANKS, mom and dad! It’s looking great!

Basement: looks like a wall…

Posted by Nate in Bruno, Home Improvements.
Monday, August 14th, 2006 at 1:19 pm

Friday afternoon I wired the newly-hung recessed lights, but left both circuits – sconces and downlights – just hanging near the final switch box. I finished just in time for Scott and I to go check out the St. Paul Irish Fair with Justin and Juliana, and a good time was had by all. Of course I knew that Saturday was going to be busy cleaning before my parents got to town, so I stayed up late after I got home and finished wiring things into the switch box, as well as installing a motion sensor switch for the laundry room. There’s no switch for that one upstairs and we somehow always manage to leave it on after feeding the dog, doing laundry, messing with homebrew, you name it. The sensor is awesome so far, you just walk in and presto! Light! Then after you leave: presto! Dark!

Yesterday, Sunday, we made it out to Home Depot for some lumber, and construction started in earnest on the basement wall. After much clever fussing with the location of the door into the new "storage room," my dad and I thought we had it solved so the door could swing all the way open to keep the corridor look of the pillars. Perfect. It took my mom all of about 2 seconds to point out it was moot anyway because of the adjustment corner we had just finished building in the wall! Ah well. It’s still the best solution for the space, just not what we thought we were getting.

With luck we’ll borrow Scott’s truck (other Scott ;) tomorrow to grab some drywall, a door and some hardware, although I imagine with all the family coming into town shortly it will just sit in the basement until after the North Shore retreat. Fine with me, the point is it’s getting done slowly but surely!

Bonus pic: Helpy McHelperson makes sure the lumber doesn’t go anywhere before we need it.

Basement Project: Sconces

Posted by Nate in Home Improvements.
Thursday, August 10th, 2006 at 9:43 am

Well, finally. When Karen left I was full of plans for huge projects: I’m gonna paint the cupboards! I’m gonna cut down that stupid tree/bush in the backyard! I’m gonna put shelves in the office! I’m gonna redo the lighting in the whole house!!! … instead, I’ve been walking the dog a lot, dealing with stuff at work, and trying to singlehandedly cook and eat an amount of vegetables that makes the detox diet seem easy!

Until yesterday, that is, when I kicked off the long-anticipated Basement Project. First, some photos of what I’m going for, structurally:

Probably a bit hard to envision, but essentially instead of splitting the basement down the middle on that beam, I’m going to build a wall about three feet back. This leaves approximately 1/3 for storage, 2/3 for hanging out.

The pillars look great in the new space, and will look even better with … sconces!

I’d been planning all along to put recessed lights down there, but I’ve lately been worried that those would light the floor well and some of the walls, but reinforce the "cave" effect by leaving the ceiling dark. Sconces should spill up onto the ceiling a bit more and open things up.

The PITA part of installing sconces is pulling the electrical wire to them, since they’re on the wall. There’s some drywall patching in my future, but since there’s a board right there it’s really the only way to make the corner from the ceiling to the wall. I have to get some little metal shims to cover the wire before I close it back up, just so I don’t stick a nail in it when I put the crown molding up.

You can see the pulling process in action. Next I came in between the joists above with my fishing tape, found the end through the corner hole, and tied the cable to it. Twice I was too optimistic about the pressure and lost the cable by not taping it… Oops. Finally pulled the cable back out into the open channel where everything will be wired.

One down, three to go! Actually, by this morning, they’re all down and wired and I hooked them up to a dimmer just to see the effect. So. Cool. I can’t wait to get the downlights in place tonight or tomorrow and then finish the wiring so I can get started on the wall. The last big piece to solve: one door into the storage near the stairs, or two (one near and one far)? Bruno just loves running laps through the basement, I’m afraid the wall might be a big disappointment to him. With two doors he could still have a nice racetrack, but it would cost more and probably look less cool. (No, he doesn’t own the house, and no, he’s not the boss of me.)

Butterfly sighting!

Posted by Karen in Work.
Wednesday, August 9th, 2006 at 9:33 pm

Behold, the regal fritillary, in all its glory! We spotted this beauty today at one of our plots. They are a species of special interest to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (do you know anything more about this Rick?), and considered endangered by some states. They are only found in tall grass prairies, as the caterpillars only eat violets, particularly prairie violets.

It was another challenging day today, but made infinitely better by this sighting, and my first sighting of a Melissa blue butterfly. In addition to being a plant ecologist, Lane is also a butterfly ecologist, so I was really fortunate to have her there to tell me how rare it is to see a regal fritillary. It was actually her first time seeing one, so she was really excited too.

New State Fair food

Posted by Nate in State Fair.
Wednesday, August 9th, 2006 at 10:12 am Launch the food finder, pick "new" and start dreaming of wild rice pronto pups, deep-fried beer-battered bratwurst, and more. Damn the meat-eating splendor of it all. Guess Karen and I will just be stuck eating batter-dipped, deep-fried chocolate chip cookies served on-a-stick. Ah, crap, I just got drool all over my keyboard. Again.

Goodbye Iowa, hello South Dakota!

Posted by Karen in Work.
Tuesday, August 8th, 2006 at 10:20 pm

We left Sioux City, IA Sunday evening and headed for Clear Lake, SD. We’ve had a challenging couple of days here so far. I think we’re just tired and fried from the long hours, the sun, the bugs, and the falling in holes, so we’re making stupid little mistakes, or things that happen are bugging us more than normal.

So first things first, Rick has twice requested bird info. Well it’s been hard to watch the birds because a) I’m looking at the ground most of the time, b) I’m really bad at watching birds, like noticing and remembering characteristics and stuff, and c) I don’t really know birds, so I have to look everything up in my bird book (which I did bring by the way), and there just hasn’t been a lot of spare time. However, I can report some bird news. Our last day at Broken Kettle we heard a rufous-sided towhee. I only know this because Lane knew the "drink your tea" call and pointed it out. Other than that, we’ve seen tons of swallows, some kites, and hawks, but I can’t really be more specific than that. On our first day here in SD we were on our way to the site and saw about 25 white pelicans soaring and gliding around in the sky. We pulled over and each busted out the binocs and watched them for awhile. So beautiful! This morning we saw a whole ton of female ring-necked pheasants with their chicks in a field, and kicked one up later in the day. And as we were driving through the prairie in the ATV the swallows (I think they must be barn swallows) were circling around us and following us. We think it was because the ATV kicks up bugs. It was pretty cool. So there you have all the bird news I can give at this point. I’ve added my binocs to the millions of pieces of gear I have hanging around my neck all day, so that in case I see a cool bird I can check it out, and I am making a more concerted effort now, so I hope to have more to report soon. 

So things look pretty different here at Crystal Springs from Broken Kettle. Much smaller hills, and it’s really nothing but prairie, not broken up by shrubs or trees. Sweet lunch spots are a thing of the past. Now we rig up an umbrella to try to create a wee spot of shade by the ATV. It works though. And I still love lunch time. Though sandwiches are getting a little old… We only have one ATV now, so today we piled all of our gear in the back, Lane drove, and I perched between her seat and the bed, hanging on to these bars and getting my head and arms smacked all to hell by them and the lights hanging off of them. It’s way bumpier here too, so me bum is aching. 

There are even more cows here too, and while I think they are sooooo cute, I am also a little afraid of them. When they see you they all start mooing and coming towards you. So far we’ve thankfully had a fence between us and them, because otherwise they would totally surround us and we would have to rodeo them away from us on the ATV. Sounds like trouble. Last time they collected data here they had a slightly scary encounter with a bull. So we’ve got this bull blaster noise thingy just in case and are keeping one eye on the surrounding fields at all times. 

While the fences have been a blessing in that respect, they have also been a curse. Take today for instance, when we drove all over the freakin place looking for a plot, only to find it but be on the wrong side of a fence from it, with no gate in sight. So we had to follow the fence forever until we found one and then go all the way back. And the gates! Arrggghh. Often they are just wooden posts with barbed wire wrapped around them, and a wire loop that goes around the top and holds it to the rest of the fence. But some are such a tight fit that you have to use a ratchet to pull the post closer so you can get the loop on or off, and the ratchet kept going flying, blah, blah, blah, pain in the butt.

Another interesting difference atCrystal Springs is the over abundance of my arch enemy – ragweed! And what’s worse, it’s another kind of ragweed that I didn’t even know existed – western ragweed! I died just a little bit inside when I learned this. Imagine my chagrin at settling down to count spurge in a big ol’ hunk of this:

The horror. Ooh, and guess what. It has just started blooming. Awesome. So my allergies have made their presence known, and it’s only a matter of time before I am a goopy-eyed, sneezing, snot-filled, itchy mess. Awesome.

So as not to make a total crabby post on this crabby day, here is the upside. Today, in a moment of genius, we made a significant technical improvement to our methods. We discovered that we could bungee cord our camp chairs to our bodies and waddle from quadrat to quadrat, thereby avoiding having to pick up too many things and inevitably dropping something. Ohhh, it’s good to be this smart. 

And another moment of shining glory: I found a brewpub in Watertown, SD. Nate would be so proud. We had dinner there last night, along with a sampler of their brews and a homemade root beer. Mmm. And check out this cool mural they had on their wall.

So I’m off to bed so I can do it all over again tomorrow! In case it’s another challenging day, we’re taking reinforcements in the name of chocolate and Dr. Pepper. That should do the trick.


Posted by Nate in Day to Day, Garden.
Sunday, August 6th, 2006 at 10:17 pm

So… We planted cucumbers way back when, and sure enough they grew and we got lots of cukes. Then our CSA veggie share started sending cukes our way. With Karen out of town and a million pounds of other veggies to get through, what’s a guy to do? Make pickles!

Once again, the internets saved the day. I had a vague idea of how this might work – is it just cucumbers and vinegar? – but no real definite plan. The first thing I found out was how to tell if your cucumbers are good for pickling or if they’re too ripe, and unfortunately most of ours were well over-ripe. Also probably not the best variety for pickling. But there were still plenty of cukes in good shape, including the CSA ones, so I got to cutting and soaking the slices in a salt water brine for most of the day.

Then this evening I cut up 2 onions and peeled a million cloves of garlic. Using my homebrewing know-how I skipped the pre-boiling of the jars and lids, and after a thorough cleaning just threw them into a sanitizing solution for a bit. Put the garlic and onions on the bottom along with rounded tablespoon of the "pickling spices" from our local co-op, and started shoving cucumber slices in the jars! I had read that for a crisper pickle you can heat to 180 and hold it for longer rather than boiling, so that’s what’s happening as I type.

As soon as I started hearing pings and creaks from the jars, I knew I had trouble on my hands – all the directions mention some magical device for removing the piping-hot jars from the water, and I of course had procured no such device. Hmm. But hey! I deal with piping-hot liquids all the time in the form of unfermented beer! I have heat-safe tubing! I’ll just siphon off the water from the pot and carry the whole thing downstairs gently to cool. Awesome.

So, a big adventure. I know how Karen loves her pickles, with any luck these won’t be terrible – I may crack a jar in a week to see how they’re doing, but everything I read said they’ll be much better in a few weeks to months. Maybe a little pickle party on the North Shore in a few weeks! (if she makes it… fingers crossed.)

Also a few projects in the "development" stage for the house – mostly lighting, and mostly around the basement. I’ll post more once there’s more to post!

PS – Bruno misses you, Karen.

More news from the prairie

Posted by Karen in Work.
Friday, August 4th, 2006 at 10:01 pm

I can’t stop taking pictures. And I can’t stop wanting to show everyone my pictures. So here they are.

This is a cool creepy picture of some blown-down corn from the storm. We had a very Scottish morning the other day, all misty and cool. Weirdly enough, since this is freakin Iowa, the landscape at Broken Kettle sometimes really reminds me of the highlands of Scotland with all of the rolling hills. The mist totally accentuated that. It was really beautiful. I had no idea Iowa had this kind of terrain. And what’s really amazing is that all of these steep, rolling hills were blown in. It’s all loess, tiny silt particles, and it was all blown into place after the last Ice Age retreated. Weird.

This is me counting leafy spurge. So far the numbers are noticeably lower than the last time they collected data, in 2003. However, Lane’s feeling so far is that diversity among the native plant community has not increased, and that other invasive non-natives, like smooth brome (Bromus inermis) or Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) might be taking its place. Boo.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I let a little Latin slip? hee hee. One of the best parts about this experience for me is getting to hang out with an awesome plant ecologist and learn, learn, learn. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t seem to really want to remember more than two new plants or Latin names a day, so I end up having to ask about the same plants several times. So far she doesn’t want to kill me… I don’t think. And since she’s also had some incredible life and work experiences, I’m getting to learn about lots of other stuff too. Today I learned about grizzly bears and butterflies, like this one. Lane thought this little guy was a hackberry butterfly, which she said was one of the more people-friendly butterflies. And as if to prove her point, it hung out on both of our fingers for quite awhile. Soooo cool.

The first day we went to sites that we could access from a dirt road. The sites that we’ve done since then, however, have been further in and required ATVs to access. I’ve always been pretty anti-ATV, because they wreak havoc on the environment and have negatively impacted more than a few of my outdoor recreation experiences. But this summer I have gained a new appreciation and understanding of them, having used them for work at AES and now here. And even though I still think recreational use should be kept out of parks, national forests, and pretty much any other natural place, I must admit that I have had a hell of a time tooling around on them out here. Like when we climb, climb, climb up a ridge, and suddenly you reach the top and amazing rolling prairie stretches out in every direction below you. It’s just breathtaking. 

Wednesday we did these two sites on a small but very steep hill. I noticed a few badger holes. Then Lane told me that the place was called Rattlesnake Knob and I thought maybe there were rattlesnakes using them. But then I thought, no way do rattlesnakes live in Iowa. Well I was wrong. Scott, the land manager here at Broken Kettle, told us that this part of Iowa is the easternmost range of the endangered prairie rattlesnake, and that Rattlesnake Knob is a hibernaculum! In fact, this population is the only one in Iowa! Whoa. We were a mixture of bummed and relieved that we didn’t run into any.

Then yesterday at one of our sites there was a group of 3 big holes all probably leading to the same den. One of our quadrats was right by them, and as we were searching for the metal stakes that mark out the 4 corners, we heard a rattling. The cicadas here are deafening, so at first we didn’t realize it was a different sound and that it was coming from the hole. When we did, we both kind of just stopped and looked at each other. Then we waved the end of the metal detector near the mouth of the main hole a few times, and each time heard a definite rattle coming from inside. So needless to say, that quadrat did not get located or counted for leafy spurge. I’m still kind of bummed that I didn’t get to see it, but we didn’t want to agitate the poor endangered thing any more than we already had.

And in closing, I just gotta mention my favorite time of the day, lunch time. We’ve had some pretty sweet lunch spots lately. Nice shady spot under some big ol’ cottonwoods, nice shady spot overlooking a valley, the key element always being shade.