Little feet



Y’all know I pretty much hate winter. One of the few things that makes it tolerable: itty-bitty footprints in the snow. I think these are little squirrel footprints.

One of the other things that makes it tolerable: the contrast when you walk out of a warm gym on a cold night after a good workout. I don’t like being out in the cold very long, but the walk to the car is a nice way to cool down. (A nicer way to cool down is to walk out of a warm gym on an 80-degree night and hit a shaved-ice stand on the way home, but sadly, we’re still a good three months from that.)

Ah, well. By my calculations, there’s only one day of winter left.

That’s right, kids: Phillies pitchers and catchers report tomorrow. Whee!



While I was sorting my hard drive a while back, I ran across a pair of images of my younger siblings that Mom had asked me to Photoshop together for her several years ago, as Oliver had his back to the camera in one picture, and Grace was rolling her eyes back in her head in the other. Thanks to the busy background (wallpaper, stepstool, mini-vac, etc.) and the ever-so-subtle difference in angles and depths of field between the two images, I decided that was another task for another time, saved the images into whatever folder was handy, and promptly forgot about them.

I had some time on my hands this evening, so I spent an hour ‘Shopping:


Don’t look too closely. The background didn’t quiet down any, and the angles and depths of field didn’t get any closer to aligning while I was ignoring them, but at least nobody is making a weird face or turning around backwards.

And yes, Mom, I saved a high-res version. I’m still tinkering with it, but I’ll send it to you after I make a few more minor adjustments.


A visual account of my weekend

So here are the things I did this weekend:

Brand-new, and I’ve already cluttered up the top.

1. Bought a new refrigerator. Our house didn’t come with a refrigerator, and we were pretty much broke when we moved, so rather than shell out $400 or more for a full-sized appliance, we just picked up a 3.1-cubic-foot dorm fridge at Target and called it a day.

I delayed upgrading it because I assumed a tiny dorm fridge would use less power than a full-sized model, making it better for the environment. The old one did use less power, but only about 40 kWh per year less. The tradeoff: I had to buy a lot of products in single-serving packages, and I had to buy bottled water because my refillable bottles leaked when I laid them on their sides to get them to fit on the shelves. I also had to pass up a lot of organic products because they weren’t available in small packages. All of that adds up to a lot more than 40 kWh per year in environmental damage.

Another unexpected benefit: The old refrigerator had a brushed-stainless-steel surface. As you can see above, the smooth white surface of this new one doubles as a dry-erase board I can use for menu planning, thereby saving paper while increasing the odds that I’ll remember what I have on hand and use it up before it spoils. (In my world, every smooth surface is a dry-erase board. Just ask my former students, who thought I was terribly subversive the first time I pulled out a marker and worked a math problem right on somebody’s desk.)

You know I’ll seize any excuse to buy a power tool.

2. Insulated part of the basement ceiling. I ran out of insulation before I ran out of ceiling, but the bathroom and kitchen floors are now insulated to R-13. I’m getting ready to make some rice-filled draft blockers for the doors, too.

Do not judge my lifestyle choices.

3. Lived dangerously. Has anybody in the history of time ever paid any attention to this directive? This has to be the work of the same lawyer who was responsible for California’s idiotic ban on respectable cupcake sprinkles.

Reservoir Dogs?

4. Took this picture of Riggy and Song looking like a couple of badasses out of a Tarantino movie.

Hope your weekend was good, wherever you are.


Eco-Saturday: Bubble-wrap cold frames

This is an easy garden project for a Saturday afternoon.

You will need:

Mulch cloth (optional)
Topsoil, compost, peat moss or some combination of the above
A few bricks or rocks
Duct tape
Heavy-duty bubble wrap (the kind with the big bubbles)

If using mulch cloth, lay it down over the area where you plan to put your raised bed. I have mixed feelings about mulch cloth. It helps with weed control for a while, but it gets in the way when I’m trying to plant seedlings. I skipped it this time.


1. Arrange your cinderblocks to form a bed. I’d recommend designing a rectangular bed, as it will be easier to work with when you create the bubble-wrap blanket for the top. Mine is circular because I planted last year’s garden in a pre-existing fire pit in the backyard, and I didn’t feel like rearranging the blocks. The smaller the bed, the more thermal mass you’ll have for keeping plants warm, so keep that in mind.


2. Fill the bed with a couple of inches of planting medium (topsoil, compost, peat moss, whatever).


3. Plant whatever cool-weather seeds you feel like growing and water them. I used a lettuce mix I found at the Co-op, but spinach, kale, radishes and some herbs are also good choices.


4. Lay strips of bubble wrap, bubble side down, across the top of the bed. Duct-tape the strips together as neatly as possible. For a rectangular bed, you can measure your dimensions and do this step inside on a flat surface, which I’d recommend. Leave enough excess around the edges to be sure all the soil is covered and to have room to weigh down the bubble wrap when you’re done.

5. Lay bricks or rocks around the edges to keep the bubble wrap from blowing away. Trim the edges to make them look neat if you want.

Cold frames work like little greenhouses: The transparent plastic lets in light and traps heat, warming the soil. Cinderblock walls add thermal mass, and bubble wrap provides extra insulation, allowing you to start planting even earlier.

Happy gardening!


Vegan Friday: Minestrone

Protein, vitamins and Italian spices. What’s not to love?

It’s hard to one-up a bowl of minestrone on a cold day. This version involves about 10 minutes of actual prep time and 20-30 minutes of cooking.

1 bag frozen Mediterranean or Italian-style vegetables
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1-2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 1/2 c. water or low-sodium V-8 juice
Dried Italian spices of your choice (I use a prefabbed mix for this)
1 c. dried pasta or 1 package frozen vegan ravioli, tortellini, etc.
3-4 cloves of garlic

Combine the first six ingredients in a big stock pot, bring to a boil and simmer until vegetables are tender. Add pasta and cook as long as package recommends, adding water if necessary. Mince garlic. About a minute before the end of the cooking time, add garlic.

Simmer vegetables until they’re tender.

If you are likely to have leftovers, I would STRONGLY recommend cooking the pasta separately, draining it, storing it separately, and just adding a little to the soup as you warm it up. Otherwise, it will sit in the refrigerator, soaking up liquid from the soup, until it turns into a starchy, sludgy mess. Overcooked pasta is one of the most vile substances known to man.

I lucked into some vegan ravioli at the Co-Op. I have no idea why it looks freezer-burned here, because it certainly wasn’t.

Serve with vegan Parmesan if you can find it; if not, a sprinkle of salt will bring out the flavors.

NOTE: Garlic and onions contain a compound called allicin, which scientists have found to have potent antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties, but which breaks down when heated. Adding the garlic at the very end of the cooking time helps preserve both its flavor and its health benefits.



Follow your bliss.

“Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself.”
— Richard Bach

I’ve been having a conversation with a former student on Facebook about the difference between following your dreams and following the dreams other people are projecting onto you.

Throughout your life, just about everybody you encounter is going to have an opinion about what you should be doing with your life and what “success” is going to look like for you.

Understand two things:

1. You are never going to please those people.
2. You are not obligated to please those people.

I have had people give me the side-eye because I don’t have a master’s degree. I have had people give me the side-eye because I’m not on the evening news. I have had people give me the side-eye because I’m a [insert current job title] instead of a [insert higher-paying or more prestigious job title].

You know what those people have in common?


I don’t have a master’s degree because I have no need for a master’s degree. It won’t get me a raise or make me a better reporter. At this point, a stats class and an Adobe Illustrator workshop would be far more useful. When I point that out, I get a mouthful of platitudes about the personal growth that comes from being a lifelong learner. Never mind that since I got my bachelor’s degree in 1997, I have studied dog training, horseback riding, distance running, martial arts, neon sign repair, metaphysics, trig, calculus, acoustic guitar, and the history of U.S. 66, all purely for sh*ts and giggles. Apparently it doesn’t count as “lifelong learning” if it doesn’t have an expiration date.

I’m not on the evening news because I’m a print journalist, not a broadcaster. I’ve never taken a broadcasting class, never applied for a broadcasting job, and never said anything that would imply admiration or, really, even a modicum of respect for that profession. Being disappointed that a newspaper reporter isn’t on the evening news makes about as much sense as being disappointed that Andre Dawson never won a gold medal in figure skating.

I’m not wherever it is someone else wants me to be, doing whatever it is someone else thinks I should be doing, because I am too busy enjoying what I’m doing here and now.

Wherever you go, and whatever you do, someone is always going to be more than happy to project his own hopes, dreams, disappointments, priorities and expectations onto you if you’ll let him.



Image from Highway 51

Here’s another photo I found in my archive as I was sorting it. I don’t think I’ve already posted this. It’s a long-abandoned grocery store we spotted one afternoon last summer as we were cruising Highway 51 in Southern Illinois:


If I remember right, this was just a little north of Cairo. I couldn’t resist shooting through the yucca that was blooming at the edge of the property. It was nice to catch a little glimpse of New Mexico in the middle of Southern Illinois.

On a completely unrelated note, I have been wildly productive today.

Despite blowing off a pretrial conference I’d planned to cover this morning in Illinois, I wound up filing two stories, finishing up the lifestyle section layout for Sunday, and editing and prioritizing all the local copy for one of our sister papers that operates out of our office. When I got off work, I picked up groceries, started a batch of yogurt, made hummus to take to work tomorrow, cleaned out the refrigerator, made a batch of red beans and rice and a Buffalo chicken casserole, and loaded the dishwasher.

I’m tired.


Well, I’ll be damned.

“So let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car.” — Bob Dylan

OK. Let me make sure I’m following this line of reasoning:

Germany is known for great beer, so we should let Germany brew our beer.
Switzerland is known for great watches, so we should let Switzerland make our watches.
Asia is known for great electronics, so we should let Asia assemble our phones.
And Bob Dylan is known for writing brilliant, incisive lyrics that are sharply critical of the Establishment, so we should let him …

sell us a car?


And that heckler in Manchester thought it was bad when he went electric.

Either Bob Dylan has lost his damn mind, or he’s just trolling the hell out of us for giggles, like Johnny Rotten did a few years ago:

Or maybe this is just a sort of belated answer song to “Diamonds and Rust.” After all, on some recordings of her song about her failed relationship with Dylan, instead of ending with, “I’ve already paid,” Joan Baez ends with, “I’ll take the diamonds.”

Maybe advertising Chrysler products is just Dylan’s little way of saying, 40 years later, that he’s content with the rust. </snark>