Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Riot of Color


An azalea plant in riotous bloom. No more words needed.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cycropia at 20

Madison's Cycropia Aerial Dance troupe, of which I am now a member, is celebrating their twentieth anniversary as a collectively-run troupe. Performing compelling and beautiful dance works on aerial apparatus such as low trapeze, lyra, silks, and various steel shapes, Cycropia consistently wows its audience with its skill and costuming. So when they have a party to celebrate a milestone, you just know it is going to be good and colorful.

I set up a portrait corner where people could gussy up at the costume table then get a photo taken. It was a pretty hilarious way to be at the party, and I had a ball.

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There are more in a SLIDE SHOW [link removed]which lets you see them in larger format. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Yard Kickoff

Having a bunch of free time, and essentially no cash flow, I have decided to convert a once beautiful, and recently a bit neglected, flower garden into a vegetable garden.


This circular garden was originally set up as sacred space, with the four directions marked with standing stones and a triangular altar stone in the center. There were three paths of paving stone leading to the center which created five pie shaped garden plots. I think I will again place the altar stone back in the center, but the paving stones will be used to more easily tend and harvest. The quarter marking obelisks will remain and be reseated. I might plant flowers around them, or even lettuce. As I was turning over the ground and weeding, I found plenty of night crawlers and worms, so the soil appears to be happy. I'll be turning compost dirt in as well. No herbicides or pesticides.

While I was out there, I had trusty Captain Hook keeping me company. We used to put him on a leash, but this spring he is so old and interested in his food dish that we do not need to. He does not wander away.


There is a lot going on in the yard and it is a pleasure to be out there. As I was pulling my garden fork out of the shed, I was greeted by two old friends who are also ready for spring!

(There were two speed lights inside the shed providing decent light.)

There are a small batch of photos available as a SLIDE SHOW which lets you view them in a larger format. Enjoy!

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Stick It To The Man

Since I am now self-employed, the luxury of all-inclusive health care is no longer within reach. It simply costs too much to pay the premiums for front-end preventive care and back-end catastrophic coverage. So I will be making a switch to a policy that provides only the back-end, the drastic costs associated with a long-term illness or serious accident. Preventive care will be up to me to find and pay for out of pocket.

The free-market side of me thinks that is just fine. I can be(come) an informed consumer of health care services. Until now, the costs were completely hidden from me, buried inside the ever-increasing premiums I paid, and my employer paid. In theory I am still in fine health, and anticipate no problems for the foreseeable future. That can change, and establishing a solid baseline now will be an important tool over the next years. To that end, I am making use of my extensive coverage while I still have it to get done routine things like a physical, as well as some blood tests for cholesterol/triglycerides and blood sugar. High blood pressure, heart disease, and adult diabetes are all indicated in my family history, so watching for those things are important.

Blood Draw

Today I had the blood draws taken for the cholesterol and blood sugar tests. That meant fasting for 12 hours. My metabolism is kicked up a notch lately with the numerous dance rehearsals and classes, so no late-night snack and no breakfast was a minor annoyance. Fortunately I lived through it, and am now contentedly slurping on my second cup of coffee.

By the way, that photo of my right arm was a bit of a challenge to take. I had to shoot left handed, and my bulky SLR is already too large for my small hands. Fortunately this model has "live view", which is using the LCD screen for composing the shot like almost every point-n-shoot does. I got it with two tries. There are times when a pocket camera would be a handy thing.

UPDATE: Results are in!
                  ME     NORMAL RANGE
GLUCOSE, FASTING  93     75 - 110 mg/dL
CHOLESTEROL      173     115 - 200 mg/dL
TRIGLYCERIDE     145     34 - 150 mg/dL
LDL, CALCULATED  101     50 - 130 mg/dL
HDL               43     40 - 60 mg/dL
That tells me my blood sugar is fine, no real indications of adult onset diabetes. While my overall cholesterol level is fine, the breakout of LDL (bad) and HDL (good) is not that hot. The link to the Mayo Clinic, above, tells me this:
"Your LDL is too high. And, because you have heart disease, or are at high risk of heart disease, it's important to work with your doctor to get your LDL level in the optimal range. To achieve this, your doctor will recommend healthy lifestyle choices and possibly cholesterol medications. Talk to your doctor at your next scheduled appointment about your treatment options. Take action to lower your LDL."

Under "What To Do", they list the following: Limit unhealthy fats, Eat more fruits and vegetables, Get regular physical activity. I have the last one covered pretty well. I can certainly improve the first two. The Top-5 foods to reduce LDL are: Oatmeal and oat bran, Walnuts, almonds and more, Fish and omega-3 fatty acids, Olive oil (2T per day!), and Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols (orange juice and yogurt drinks fortified with plant sterols).

About those triglycerides: They are an indicator of fatty sludge in your blood, and are a contributor to heart disease and stroke. Mine aren't out of the normal range, but I am at the high end, so reducing them is important. More Omega-3 fatty acids, like found in fish, and added to some non-junk breads will help. According to a publication by P.K. Reissell's group at Harvard in 1966, it was clearly established that Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin C, combined with a low carbohydrate diet, can dramatically reduce your triglyceride levels. I should avoid the bad kinds of fat - transfats and hydrogenated oils found in margarine, processed and refined foods and fast food. These transfats are chemically altered substances, and as such your body does not know how to handle them properly. They are foreign to the body and therefore dangerous to your health. The optimal level of triglycerides in my blood would be under 100mg/dL.

Next on the agenda is a complete physical. I am curious to hear what the Doc will tell me about these numbers. In the meantime, I guess I go shopping for fruits, nuts, veggies, and fish!

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spirits of Madison Tour

I made a visit today to Madison's newest distillery, Spirits of Madison. Their only product at this moment is "Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur", a tasty rum-like liqueur made with, well, honey. It is not rum, because rum must be made with cane sugar, and they are using Midwestern grown dark brown beet sugar. It is the sort of sugar that was pumped out by the United States Sugar Company from 1906 until the factory was purchased by Garver Feed Mills in 1929 (and which will hopefully house the Madison Arts Incubator in the near future!).

At the heart of the operation is the still itself, a delightful copper device made by a bloke in Arkansas. Suitable for liqueurs, it is too short to be used for stronger spirits such as gin or vodka.

The Still
The Still

Once boiled, the steam ascends through the cooling upper chambers, which also contain pieces of copper that act as further cooling fins, and moves through a pipe into a smaller chamber which is really a water-jacketed series of pipes that return the steam to liquid for collection.

Cooling Tank
Cooling Tank

The first gallon or so are discarded as they contain impure alcohols. Once flowing good product, it is stored in as stainless tank that looked to be about the size of a half-barrel of beer, or maybe a bit larger. From there, the liqueur is transferred to oak barrels for aging. Spirits of Madison uses small barrels so that there is a lot of barrel per unit of liqueur which speeds the aging process.

Aging in Oak Casks
Aging in Oak Barrels

The first product is in some local stores (Woodman's and Star) and sells for $30. I had a sample of it, and enjoyed it enough to buy a bottle.

The First Product
Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur, and owner Nathan Greenawalt

There are a few more photos of the works, plus these, in a larger format SLIDE SHOW.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

Finally! I have been dying for my annual signs of spring in the yard and they have been slow to appear this year. Unusual sequences are occurring. I have daffodils 5" tall, day lilies sprouting in abundance, sedum, chives, tiger lily, and iris all sprouting, but the crocus had not bloomed. Today, finally, they did.


Interestingly, the patch in the middle of the back yard bloomed at the same time. Normally the ones on the south side of the house with full sunlight all day long are the earliest bloomers.

And yesterday I saw my first robin. When I took the lake pics on Saturday, I also saw muskrats on the lake. Yep, it is spring!

There are more photos in a small SLIDE SHOW. Enjoy!

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Dark Gray That Foretells Open Water

I ventured forth to go see if the lakes were still making fog by sublimating. Temperatures were in the right range - 44 (F) - but the wind was pretty stiff so it was not manifesting as fog. Instead there was a haze, and the ice was that dark, dark gray that presages the sudden transition to open water.

That Dark Gray the Precedes Open Water
View LARGE On Black

It won't be more than a week or so before the lakes are open water again. Good thing, too, else the pigs that ice fish on Brittingham Bay would have longer to through their crap on the ice so that it all accumulates in the lake. Some people's kids.

Crap the Ice Fishermen Leave on Brittingham Bay

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Crashed Kitty

Sometimes you just cannot take anymore spring goodness. The very act of being outdoors and breathing fresh air is just overwhelming. You have to take a nap. And if you are a 17 year old kitty, well you just do not care anymore what passers-by might think.

Crashed Kitty
Captain Hook. Zonked

And so it was today with our aged cat, Captain Hook. I walked out the door to get him and he did not wake. A jet flew over and he did not wake. A loud truck bashed by over the speed bump and he did not wake. I fetched the camera, took a few shots, went back inside...and he did not wake. He IS alive. I checked to be sure. He is just totally zonked out. Ah, what a life.

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Sublimation Sky

The sky was really strange at sunset yesterday. Apparently the four lakes around Madison were sublimating - Chemistry: To cause (a solid or gas) to change state without becoming a liquid - due to the balmy air temperatures. I would guess that it was pretty spectacular around the lakes, but alas I was running errands sans camera (Bad photographer! No cookie!) and missed a good opportunity.

Sublimation Sky

I trotted to the end of my block to get this one just a few minutes before sunset. And I was right, the lakes were pretty cool. Local photog Madison Guy got the goods.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Walk To Olbrich

On our walk today we headed over to the Olbrich Gardens. They had transformed an inside room - the room I normally vote in - into a spring bloom display. Mostly there were primroses, cyclamen, and daffodils, but there were a few other interesting things.


It was such a beautiful day so it seemed silly to not wander in the gardens outside. Of course there is nothing really happening yet because there is still 8-12 inches of snow everywhere, but the upper-30's (F) temperatures still felt delicious. We made our way over to the Thai pavilion.



It is really such an eye-catching building, and this time of year the colors blaze to our eyes that are so attuned to white, gray, and brown.

There are more larger-format photos in a SLIDE SHOW for you to enjoy our walk.

One of the photos really deserves an explanation: There is a small tree with a dead-looking shoot next to it. As we passed by, the smaller stalk was oscillating, moving fully an inch at its top. Nothing else around it was moving. What the heck was causing it to vibrate like that? I tried to slow my shutter waaay down to capture the movement, but that is not easy when there is bright white snow all around.

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Focus on Crocus

I went for a bit of a walk today, and found that once again, one of my nearby neighbors had crocus blooming before me.


I used to always have the first around, then my neighbor widened his driveway and bought a snow-blower. So now he piles his winter's worth of snow on top of my crocus, and they don't get going as early. Here is the status of mine:


I am still thrilled. Spring is near!

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sun Fish

I walked into the living room today, and the late afternoon sun was catching a blown glass fish just right. I love the reflected "waves" on the wall.

Fish Art

The piece was made for us by RI glass artist Chris Belleau.

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