Welcome to the House Garage, my lovely indoor/outdoor 200 sq foot abode. This has been home for the better part of 5 months. The House Garage started as a utilitarian place, a place to keep dry clothes and get away from the saw dust. It has since become a pace of luxuriant living, with hot showers, Michelin star farm fresh meals, refrigeration, coffee, wifi and cocktails. The House Garage is perfect. I could hardly want for anything. if cold cold weather was not an impending geographic reality, then maybe it would be home indefinitely. Let me explain the amenities, and I’m sure you will agree, a 60-year-old freestanding garage and some patio lights are all a fella really needs.
140 days ago I bought a property in Plymouth, WI - 92 acres, a farmhouse and various outbuildings and infrastructure.
I am renovating the Farmhouse from the studs. Window moves, plenty of demo, structural framing, partition wall framing, plumbing, electrical, the whole shebang. Various friends have expressed enthusiasm for everything from a video blog, to stories, to writing and to having Chip and Joanna come over for a show. The project is in fact cool, I am working on it every day, and I am enthusiastic about it. So I’ve decided to, on most days, write and share a paragraph or two. I hope you will enjoy these writings – maybe it will be the technical construction, my half-haphazard enthusiasm, the breadth and scale of the project, or the craft of building one’s home. Here goes:
15 years in the same home in Germantown. A year or two in various houses in Madison. Less than a year in each of several houses in Boulder. A night here, a few days there, in the Old World and the Orient. Hours here and there, in my truck and tent in the American West. A permanent home, to a lease, to a hostel, to just a backpack and boots. And now, I have come back full circle. Wisconsin-home, and, specifically, home at The Farm. Here, very briefly, are the recent chapters in life as I transition from a living associated with 30 pounds of stuff on my back to a living rooted in people, 90 acres and a farmhouse.
Radio hosts all December – “Phew! We’re almost through it folks. Whatever it’s bringing, I’m sure 2021 will treat you better than this mess of a year were leaving behind!” Youtube videos, podcasts and certainly TV news: “Ohh! 2020, just about gone, and good riddance!” Downtown West Bend Theatre sign, “First rule of 2021: Nobody talks about 2020.”
We’ll I’m going to talk about it for a minute, because I too want to get in the seemingly obligatory comments on just how bad 2020 sucked. Here goes:
In March, all the restaurants closed. For a while, none of them even offered takeout. This was bad, because I, and everyone else, was hungry – for pizza buffet, salad bars and FISH FRY. For weeks (maybe it was even months), I was barred from enjoying a wax paper wrapped sugar bun and 1/8th pound mixed meat burger, and certainly I was prohibited from any of the Johnsonville sausages or other hot-roller fare offered by Kwiktrip. I was forced to stay home and cook from scratch hand-shaped breads, elk stuffed wontons, sourdough pancakes with home-tapped maple syrup, roasted local vegetables, farm fresh eggs, seasonal salads and other delicious, nutritious meals. After St Paddy’s day, I was even kept out of the watering hole and forced to mix my own cocktails. Thanks a lot, Gov Evers.
Take Your Snow Day
Today it is snowing, rather considerably. It seems a perfect day to watch the flakes fall and the white dust blow about. A great day to go nowhere.
I don’t know why I would want to go anywhere, besides maybe under human power, today. Or on any snow day. You should just take your snow days. They are yours. All Summer there are places to go, in Spring projects to complete, in Fall chores to check off. Now it is Winter, and today is a snow day. Stay right here. You’ll like it. So far you’ve loved today – you walked on to the porch in the black of the morning, scooped up a handful of snow, giggled while forming a snowball to throw into the nothingness. You saw the light turn to gray and then to white. You brewed coffee, baked a loaf of Challah, exercised, cleaned, researched poultry sales and production regulations, backed up a hard drive, prepped for hog butchering day, brewed a second coffee, read a book. That’s a nice morning!
Today you have luxuriated and taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the combination an open calendar and falling snow. Consider making an effort to do this every snow day, even if there was something on the calendar. Cancel it. Reschedule it. The world will necessarily need to slow down. That is probably okay. Are the the things really that important? So important that you should scrape the ice off of your windshield, grab the wheel tight, slide around on slippy slush-covered and iced-over roads going 50 mph in a 5,000 pound box of steel and glass? There are probably 340 or 350 non-snow days per year. I think that is an adequate number of days to get done what needs to be done away from home.
But I need to go to work! I need to go to Walmart for pringles and popcorn! I need to drive to dance lessons! I need to go to yoga class! But I have a brunch date! Widgets need to be produced, spreadsheets filled, consumables consumed, activities attended! Walmart, BP and Kroger sales will lag! The project will fall behind schedule! The pace of innovation will be restricted! Economic development will decelerate! Sales Targets! Incentive Pay! The Supply Chain! GDP! Oh no. When you say it like that, I guess you should probably grab the keys and hit the road
I have dozens of “backyard adventures” to write about. This Summer and Fall have been full with all kinds of fun. I might still write about these adventures, or at least list them. For now, though, I have a different series I want to ink.
Letters to myself.
This post, and probably this set of posts, are letters to myself. When I write, “you”, I mean me, not you. You get to, are invited to and encouraged to, read these letters. But they are not persuasion. I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. These letters are not addressed to you. They are addressed to me. They are a reflection of what I think on any given day. They are whatever happens to bouncing around in my head at the moment and whatever I think is worth recording, putting down for my future self to know and remember.
People are nice. They are nicer to you than you deserve, and they want nothing in return. On occasion, people are embarrassingly generous.
Allow me to tell the tale:
I raised 4 chickens in my backyard this year. They were chickens for 6 weeks. Now they are chicken.
I have not been writing loads of blog posts. I have been posting, however, to Instagram. Almost every weekday I have been posting a photo or video and a brief description. The photos are mostly of my garden, or of some other local botanical intrigue. Check them out on your computer or cellphone. It’s two minutes of my day to pin a picture up, and it’s two seconds of your day to take a gander, and it might bring you a new awareness of a seasonal phenomenon, a roll of the eyes, a laugh or at least a delightful picture.
530 alarm. Water on the face, shoes on the feet and I'm outside. Onto the road, the knees and ankles and lungs all opening up through a short walk and then the easy rhythm of a slow jog. Into the full shelter of the pines, stepping on the clean, shady, quiet, pine needle covered forest floor. Into the varied abundance of the walnut grove. Across the road and along the soybean field, the thin, fuzzy bean pods just starting to fill out. Into the field’s forest hedgerow, speeding along the clear springy ground. Take the short connector trail, wading through the tall grass and overhanging shrubbery and tree branches, giggling at the cool droplets of morning dew soaking my shorts, shoes and skin. Fast up the hill. “Yee yee! Yeeee, yee, yeeoooo!” at the top. Down, feet flying, arms out for balance, unconsciously finding footing left and right, a short step here, a long stride there. Stop at the foot of the old crabapple, admiring the crimson of the golf-ball sized fruits, and enjoy the bright sweet and sour flavor of a few bites as I carry on clipping down the forest path. A few leaves of yellow flower topped wild lettuce to finish the snack, crisp hydrated leaves munched down while loping along the meadow path. Onto the road, snatch up a few pieces of littered debris from the roadside, turn onto the street and into the drive. Home. Back home, hot, awake, eyes wide, a few moments in time having fully lived.
The last canoe adventure I wrote about was in April. It was just a 3-mile jaunt down the river. I had figured it would be a mostly casual float, but the snowmelt and Spring rains made for a high, fast flowing and cold river. I was a bit concerned and anxious. I wanted to be Cool Hand Luke, but I just wasn't very Cool Hand Luke. Everything wouldn’t be fine if we took a spill into the river - people would be shivering cold and cross words would be aired.
What a difference 60 days make. For this more recent adventure, mid-June, the air was a happy-go-lucky 80 F and the water temperature not far behind. This time I could be Cool Hand Luke. We were going on a splashy, carefree, summertime cruise. The plan was to put in at Smith Lake, paddle across the lake, through the thin river channel, shoot out into the wider Milwaukee River and float our way back to West Bend, about 5 or 6 miles in all. I looked at Google Maps for a total planning period of about 5 minutes, loaded the canoe, life jackets and paddles and drove off, ready for an easy afternoon of living life with flowing water, strong rays, abundant nature and great company.
Once upon a time, I was every American EatingWell Magazine reading Mom that wants a skinless, boneless, eyeless salmon filet. Or, I was every cheesecurd munching Wisconsinite that, living as far from an ocean as physically possible while still remaining on Earth, chows on beer battered cod each Friday night. That was a great person to be. That was fun. Then I went about Asia a bit and was introduced to the idea of preparing, serving and dining on whole fish, especially freshwater river fish. I didn’t try it. It seemed like an unmerited and tedious effort to accomplish nothing more than an overly ostentatious display. I came back to America and continued with the assumption that fish should be consumed exclusively as a soulless and skinless filet or as a battered and fried nugget. Another trip to Asia still didn’t change me. Finally, a third adventure – 2019’s Eastbound rambling – got me to sit down in front of a whole fish – bones, meat, skin, eyes, fins. I was certain that the tediousness and messiness of eating it would outweigh any reward, but, for $2.50, I figured I could bear that risk.
The Milwaukee River - half of Wisconsin's population builds their homes in its basin, drives over it in the daily commute and dismisses it out-of-hand as anything notable. This disregard makes the Milwaukee River the perfect contrarian adventure, a gem of play right in our backyards.
Collect maple sap, reduce it approximately 40x by boiling, pour it into a jar, screw on the lid. That’s the complete recipe for shelf-stable and wonderfully delicious maple syrup, one of the land's first and finest offerings during each Spring’s awakening.
Maple Syrup, Freely Available in Your Backyard, Right Now. Here's the Tale:
We are in the Deep of Winter. Looking at a calendar, and for those with even a slight appreciation of the celestial or that have a consistent morning commute, you would note that we are actually almost in Spring, that we are into the 40th percentile of daylength. The land, though, is clearly still in Winter. The fields are blanketed in white and the lakes capped with ice. Here are notes on three “adventures” in the spirit of Deep Winter.