With temperatures hovering blissfully around 40 today we handed the emergency pager over to Mike's parents for the afternoon and headed to Wyalusing State Park. Located at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, Wyalusing is one of our favorite parks for both hiking and camping and we visit it several times a year. Plus, its only about 30 minutes from Lancaster. We were saddened to hear that many of the trails are still closed due to damage from summer flooding (the nearby town of Bagley was hit particularly hard). While we weren't able to hike our favorite trail (past a number of Indian mounds and then down the bluffs overlooking the Wisconsin River...between the snow and the closed trails we couldn't figure out how to get there), we took a very nice walk down the Turkey Hollow Trail loop. There wasn't another soul in sight and while I enjoy having an entire state park to myself, my dogs, and my hubby, I was certainly a little perplexed as to why nobody else was taking advantage of fabulous end-of-January weather in a fabulous park.

I've finished with my four shadow boxes and am waiting for the bookshelves to arrive so I can hang them up. I used some of the leftover elephant poo paper from our wedding invitations/programs for the backgrounds.

We've been told to grow up.

"...That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet...

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things..."

It is time we acted our age. And that means taking responsibility. And figuring out what you need to do to help...not just sitting around waiting for the new guy to fix our problems. Hmmm...that sounds an awful lot like another young president's inaugural address...say, about fifty years ago. So what can you do for your country?

If you've been to our house, you may have noticed the fact that the living room is effectively naked. At least we have furniture and aren't all sitting on the doggy bed anymore. However, we have a ginormous window in the front of our house and I've decided to be fed up with the neighbors being able to get the Carroll Family Variety Hour free of charge every evening (not that it is a very good show...Mike playing video games, me knitting/reading...don't think we'd do so well in the Neilsen's). Even more obnoxious is the gigantic nude wall that just embarrasses itself on a daily basis. PUT SOME CLOTHES ON. It was time to do something about it.

Hoorah for JC Penny, January sales, and my mom. I've ordered blinds, curtains, bookshelves, and a coffee table. With furniture and windows taken care of, I moved on to artwork. I've been trying to decorate our walls with art done by people that I know. My brother's friend Shawn gave us an incredible underwater photograph of a sea turtle for our wedding. I printed three photos of objects (a pumpkin, a goblet, and wheat) that our photographer took at the wedding and framed those as well. I recently stumbled across the artwork of an old friend from high school and "commissioned" a painting from her. We picked it up on our way home from Iowa City last night. It is painted on an old window and is fabulous and is going to look great in the living room once we hang it.

I spent the afternoon making two shadowboxes to compliment the painting. I have one more in mind, but am waiting for supplies to arrive. I ran to a craft store this afternoon to get supplies and got CARDED when I attemped to buy spray adhesive. Apparently I look 17. It's a good thing I wasn't trying to buy wine.

I've asked another friend who does beautiful whimsical drawings from photographs to sketch three photos from my semester abroad in France. I can't wait to see how they turn out.

"We’re trading a dogmatic president for one who’s shopping for a dog. It feels good."
- Maureen Dowd, The Long, Lame Goodbye. New York Times. 17 January 2009.

Thought this quote was funny. However, hope the Obamas are adopting a dog. That would feel even better.

As I drove home from work this afternoon I decided that living in Wisconsin in the winter is a bit like living on a frozen planet in a bad sci fi movie. If your transport pod (ie "car") happens to veer off the established route (ie. "falls into a ditch") your inevitable fate is most likely to have your frozen corpse discovered many months later baring the tooth marks of the carnivorous ice squirrels that burrowed into your body for warmth and sustenance....probably while you were still alive. Yeah, I'm a geek. I'll get to that another day.

More importantly, the current temperature (at 5:00pm) is 5 degrees above zero but it feels like negative 12. This is downright balmy compared to the temperatures we're going to get to experience over the next 24 hours or so.

A wind chill warning remains in effect until 12 pm cst Friday. Treacherous wind chills between 35 and 50 degrees below zero will exist across the area tonight into Friday morning as northwest winds continue around 10 mph, and air temperatures plummet to 15 to 25 degrees below zero. Some improvement is expected in the wind chills on Thursday afternoon back toward 20 to 30 degrees below zero, only to fall back toward 35 and 40 degrees below zero thursday night and Friday morning. A wind chill warning means the combination of very cold air and strong winds will create dangerously low wind chill values. This will result in frost bite and lead to hypothermia or death if precautions are not taken.

FIFTY DEGREES BELOW ZERO? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Please note that that is WITH the wind chill. The air temperature itself will be 25 degrees below zero. Practically summer-like. And, excuse me, but when are wind chills of 20-30 below zero considered "some improvement." And this says nothing of the fact that this weather forecast involves the word "death" (see paragraph one for my thoughts on the dangers of driving, especially in the territory of carnivorous space squirrels). Seriously. And people decided Wisconsin was a good place to cut back on the nomadic hunting and gathering thing and set up permanent settlement for what reason?

Meanwhile, we have a gigantic window and several smaller windows with no insulating shades (no shades at all, actually) and I just noticed the rubber piece that goes around the door and presumably helps to keep the cold outside where it belongs has fallen off. Fabulous.

There is a rumor going around that they're going to cancel school tomorrow. Most of the K-12 districts in the area have already closed. Maybe I'll have a "snow" day. Maybe I can teach the dogs to pee in the toilet this evening. It could come in handy tomorrow.

I want to go camping.
Don't believe me?

My subzero bag is just begging to go winter camping.

I lasted about five minutes in there before feeling like I had sweated my body weight.

Is it Friday afternoon yet? This may (like all weeks after a good long break) have been the longest week of my life. At one point today I was commending myself for being so productive and working through lunch. And then I looked at the clock. 10:03am. Poo. By 3:30, it felt like it must have been at least Wednesday of next week, and at that point I gave up and went home (I'd put in a couple hours of overtime earlier this week, so I wasn't being a rule breaker or anything exciting).
Besides the fact that it is the dreaded week back after after winter break, it has been one giant running-around-in-heels event after another since Tuesday. New student orientation on Tuesday, rescheduled December graduation (it was snowed out) on Wednesday, two days of faculty/staff inservice also on Wednesday as well as today, and tomorrow there will be a hundred or so high schoolers running around. For some reason, the recruiter is central to every single one of these activities (with the possible exception of inservice, as no one seems to realize I work at the college). To top it all off, Mike has the emergency pager this week, so he is extra special cranky. This is the week that people call him with "emergencies" like "our guest room toilet that we never use is maybe possibly leaking a little bit but we don't want you to come over right now (it is 3am afterall) but could you come immediately in the morning and don't worry about forgetting because we'll call you again in an hour to remind you" and "there is a weird smell coming from inside our furnace that is probably a dead animal and will you come over and get it out?"
I'm particularly impatient for this weekend to hurry up already as our friends Sarah and Joe and their dogs Rusty and Rooke are visiting this weekend. We're FINALLY going to get a chance to play our board games that require more than two players! Yeehah!
(Sarah, if you're reading this, I promise we'll do other stuff too!)

It takes a lot to crack my top ten favorite books, but this one just did it, and with flying colors. It may be in my top three, depending on my mood. Love, loss, betrayal, friendship, Shakesperian drama, murder, loyalty, an inferno, adventure, and dogs...what more could you ask for?

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is Hamlet, reimagined. Set in the Wisconsin northwoods, the title character is a young boy, mute from birth, whose family raises an amazing breed of dogs. All is well in Edgar's life until his uncle, his father's brother, unexpectedly returns. Soon afterward, Edgar's father is found dead and his uncle begins to pursue his mother. Edgar suspects his uncle of murder, but in his attempt to make an accusation things go horribly wrong. Edgar flees into the Chequamegon forest with three pups that he has raised and trained. Months later, he returns to face his uncle...

Books speak to us for different reasons. I love a good adventure, a good love story, a plot line that helps me reflect on myself, not to mention fabulous writing. But I don't need all this in any one book. This book was brilliant for all of these reasons, and many others. I loved that it was Hamlet, seen through an entirely different lense. Almost everyone is there, Horatio, and Laertes, and the Ghost, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but often in unfamiliar form. It has been years since I've read or seen Hamlet, but the plot and characters came back to me through this book, slowly at first, and then much more powerfully. More than once I found myself holding my breath, impatiant to discover how Wroblewski would reinvent a particular character or plot twist. I love that it is set in Wisconsin. Characters are constantly "popping a Leiney's" and the locales and descriptions are familiar, if sometimes only in name and not through personal experience. I love that the author, David Wroblewski, "gets" dogs. The Sawtelle dogs are as central to the novel and plot of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle as dogs are to the lives of anyone fortunate enough to share their home with one. I love that the author is obviously a remarkable reader himself. He is a marvelous storyteller, who deserves all the praise he has received for this book and more. He knows how to keep his reader engaged, how to explore the complexities of his characters, and how to leave just enough to his reader's imagination. All around, a phenomenal work. And if this hasn't convinced you to get your hands on a copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I'll lend you mine.

Sometimes I hate being a grownup. I've been hearing more and more horror stories about people losing their jobs, people who are well-educated and well-positioned and who should be somewhat insulated from an economic downturn. Now I'm beginning to worry a bit about what would happen if one of us lost our job. I'm thankful that Mike's job is relatively recession proof (because no matter what the economy does, people still need heat and working toilets), but my job is a lot more, shall we say, expendable. We lived on one salary (an apprentice plumber's salary at that) for a year while I was finishing grad school, but it wasn't pretty (my wardrobe still hasn't recovered, although that could also be due to my distaste for shopping). But now we've got a home loan appointment on Thursday, and we've got car payments on an almost-new car, and student loan payments, and two dogs to keep in tennis balls and biscuits. Thank goodness the credit cards are all paid off. It's true, we could be MUCH worse off. We've got nice new things, and no "stupid" debt, and a little in savings. It's just that I'd like to keep it that way and only have to sweat the small stuff. I was just starting to feel middle class again after the drought that comes from being a student for so long. I'll just keep my fingers crossed and hope we are able to weather the storm.

Seeing as there is a glaze of ice covering EVERYTHING, our tentative plans to go skiing or hiking today were nixed as we weren't terribly excited about walking down the driveway, let alone driving an hour in one direction or another. Instead, we stayed inside and assumed traditional gender roles. Mike installed the central vac and an overhead light and got the dimmer working on another. I made bean soup, dog biscuits (thanks Auntie Sarah!), sanded down some spackle on the wall (I planned to paint, but couldn't find the right color), and weather sealed the windows. Okay, I'm not sure sanding spackle or applying weather stripping qualify as traditional female duties...I probably should have baked a pie or something. Of course then I would have had to drive to the store...which brings us back to the ice...In any case, the house is coming along brilliantly, and now it smells homey too. I'm back to work tomorrow after a week and a half off, but for now I'm looking forward to an evening of Dr. Who (hoorah for Netflix). I probably should shower at some point too. Here's to Sunday's at home!

We spent the day at Mike's aunt and uncle's outside of Soldier's Grove. They live in a beautiful area and as if their house wasn't already cool enough, they bought their neighbor's log "cabin." Okay, to be honest, to call this place a cabin is an insult. It is made of logs so I guess that it could technically be classified as a cabin. But it is enormous. It is beautiful. The upstairs bathroom is ridiculous. I want it. Did I take any pictures of my amazingly beautiful future home? Of course I didn't.
We spent the morning sledding, skiing, and playing with Mike's little cousins and the afternoon eating vast quantities of food (as is proper at a holiday party) and watching the little ones play Wii. It was altogether a fun day. As a dangerous amount of freezing rain is forecast for tonight we had to leave earlier than we wanted to, but Mike's uncle has suggested we have a "grown up" sledding party on the BIG hill. Hurrah.


Mike's cousins taking advantage of the snowmobile rides up to the top of the hill.

Mike's dad (in his "drunk UPer" costume) and cousin driving the snowmobile.

Shaking down the cousins for loose change.

Summer 2009 will be our fourth summer camping together. What began as a humble little jaunt to Kettle Moraine State Forest with a gigantic (not to mention leaky) eight man tent borrowed from Mike's parents, has become a well-equipped and very regular activity in the more temperate months of the year. We've added some great equipment (self-inflating mattress pads, titanium sporks, a tent that weighs less than a small vehicle), some wonderful friends (first one other couple, then two, then three, and occasionally more), and a whole bunch of dogs (this summer we'll be up to six dogs on a regular basis) to the mix. We've camped all over Wisconsin, ventured into Iowa, gotten into backpacking, and Mike and I are looking forward to a trip to the Black Hills (my birthplace) and Rockies this summer. We hike, canoe, kayak, play games, eat increasingly complex camp food, share home brew, and stare at the fire at least one weekend each month. Mike proposed during a 2007 trip to Peninsula State Park.
Over the years, we've learned that advanced planning and a little research results in the best sites, away from the big RVs (what are you doing in the woods, anyway?), the pit toilets, and mosquito-infested bogs. So, just as winter starts to get really settled in, the planning begins: where should we camp this year? Who can come that weekend? Who wants to book the site?

As of yesterday, planning for the 2009 season is in full swing (thank you, Laura), and the table above proves it (thank you, Julie). Maybe we're a little on the over-achieving side, but when you live in a state that can (and often does) have snow on the ground October through May, looking forward to camping season helps to stave off seasonal affective disorder for at least another month. And by then, I'll have a notice in the mail containing six of the sweetest syllables on the planet: "REI Dividend."

Since New Years resolutions have a wee bit of a tendancy to be broken, I'm somewhat inclined to resolve to never eat chocolate again and give up traveling to fun and exciting locales completely. However, in the spirit of a new year that hasn't had a chance to learn about sarcasm and irony, I will...

1) Exercise more and eat more fiber and less cheese etc. etc. etc. There. Mandatory resolution out of the way.
2) Keep the house clean. I've been doing a pretty decent job with the whole cleaning thing since we moved, and would like to keep it up.
3) Cook more. I'm finally getting into cooking...it helps to have a fully stocked kitchen equipment-wise. Hurrah for wedding presents!
4) On the subject of wedding presents, we seriously need to finish the rest of the thank you cards. There has been some serious foot dragging on my end (and complete foot dragging on the end of my dear husband).
5) Cut back on caffeine
6) and alcohol.
7) Be a better phone call answerer/returner. I HATE talking on the phone. But I will make an effort.
8) Shop more. Yes, you heard me. I HATE shopping and HATE buying clothes and HATE spending money on them. Consequently, my clothes are falling apart. Honestly, this may be the hardest resolution for me to keep. Poop. Stupid resolution.
9) Take the dogs for more walks. Once the temperature gets above 0, that is.
10) Eat less chocolate. :)