Monday, July 25, 2022

On Having Dry Chickens

You know how there’s that strange little sensation in the back of your mind when you’re not doing something you should be doing?

I live with this all the time, frankly. I have reached a point in my life where I can be fully productive while still procrastinating about things I’d rather not be doing in the first place and that sensation in the back of my mind is kind of like your neighbor’s car alarm these days in that it provokes neither alarm nor action, only the annoyed belief that someone ought to be doing something about it and whether that someone is the neighbor or police thwarting the car theft or just the car thieves being quick about it and getting the job done and over with, as long as the alarm stops you’re good either way and that’s as much attention to it as you’re going to pay, thank you.

But sometimes there is a different reason for it.

It occurred to us the other day that this was the first weekend in over a decade where a) the County Fair was starting in less than 72 hours and b) we weren’t washing chickens.

Lauren has aged out of the 4H now and even though we still have the chickens from last year there are no new ones and no need to bring any of them back from the barn, set up an assembly-line of large buckets full of warm water and various chicken-cleaning solvents, and put together a makeshift pen in the garage to store them overnight so they wouldn’t get filthy again if we took them back to the barn before we hauled them off to the Poultry Barn at o’dark-thirty to get them into their cages and ready for judging.

There is nothing on this earth more ridiculous than a wet chicken, and nothing quite as annoyed as a rooster in a darkened garage.

The rabbits remain unbothered and ungroomed as well, this year.

We haven’t raised turkeys in three years, but even there I sometimes feel the vague echo of a belief that I need to be finding giant cages so I can haul them around town in the van, or calling the processor for the Sad Appointment that always follows the Fair.

I’m not even going to discuss the year Lauren was in the Swine Project except to say that I remain eternally grateful to Andy for taking care of all of the swine housing and transportation requirements. Also, if you’ve never seen a 4H Swine Showmanship event you really should sometime, as it is quite possibly the only thing as ridiculous and wonderful as the wet chickens.

We’ll definitely go to the Fair at least once or twice this week, because it’s a lot of fun and we know how it works pretty well by now. There’s even an act we are interested in seeing that we might actually be able to see. You never know.

But we won’t be living at the Fairgrounds like we have done pretty much every year since 2009 (except for the Plague Year of 2020, which we will gloss over lightly for so, so many reasons). No small animals to mind. No theater productions to rehearse and put on. No art projects, photographs, or houseplants to be judged. We’ll be visitors. We probably won’t even buy the “All-Fair Pass” that we used to get from our 4H Club as a reward for helping out during the year.

Things change.

We’ll probably get a creampuff, though. You can’t skip those.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Oliver's Tree

When Oliver was a baby there was a storm here in Our Little Town.

We get storms all the time, but this one stood out. I was working at the library at the time and I remember looking out of the big plate glass windows and thinking, “That is not a healthy color for the sky,” and then it turned black and the winds kicked up. You could see the inch-thick plate glass bowing in and out from the force of the wind, which makes it just that much more bizarre that I had to devote my time to going around to the various library patrons and telling them to move away from the windows before they got shredded and got blood on our nice clean books, or words to that effect.

Kim was home with Oliver, who was maybe six months old at the time. She remembers looking at the sky, grabbing Oliver and running down to the basement as the rain came in horizontally through the windows and hit the walls on the other side of the rooms.

There was no official tornado that day, but there were straight line winds that substituted pretty evenly.

The library lost power and I remember walking around with another employee looking through the parking lot to see what the damages were from that side of things – there were toppled signs and trees, but otherwise things were okay. We never lost power at home, though the power line did come down in our front lawn still live and we had to dance around it for a day or two until the utility guys could get to us. Getting home was a trick since so many trees had come down that it was difficult to find an open street. The neighborhood just west of us was completely blocked off for days.

In the wake of this, the Shade Tree Alliance in our area offered free trees to anyone who wanted one planted in their terrace so we took them up on it and ended up with a European hornbeam tree that we could see from our front door. It’s a slow-growing hardwood, but a pretty tree for all that.

We refer to it as Oliver’s Tree.

It’s had a couple of decades to grow since then and it was doing pretty well. It’s a lovely thing when the ice storms come by, for example.

Last night we got another storm. Not the one we were expecting earlier that evening – that missed us pretty much entirely – but another one that hit at 2:20am this morning. Go ahead, ask me how I know that. Let’s just say that the first thing I looked at was the clock and the second thing I looked at was the view from my bedroom window and of the two the former was more detailed. I couldn’t even see my neighbor’s house for the rain and the wind.

Up until this spring there was a big maple tree across the street from us, but three straight days of tropical-storm-strength winds managed to split it in two and the neighbors had to take it down. We lost our evening shade, and it turns out we also lost our windblock – I suspect that’s why Oliver’s Tree took such heavy damage from last night’s storm.

I got the big limb facing the sidewalk down, which took some time as a) I do not own a chain saw and b) the European hornbeam grows quite the tangle of branches and getting anything pulled down through that web is a trick. I’m hoping that is the end of it.

But the big limb facing the street also split and I’m not really convinced it will survive. I’ll leave it there until the leaves go brown, just to be sure, since I don’t want to take more down than I have to.

Kim says that this tree is often used for topiaries so it’s a species that can handle being pruned pretty ruthlessly. I’m hoping this means it will survive. I’ve been trying to train it to grow up and to the sides rather than over the street or sidewalk, so we’ll see.

Go little tree, go.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Visitors from Scandinavia (Part 2)!

What do you do with a house full of Swedes?

A great many things, it turns out. Despite their having visited us a number of times previously there were more than enough things to do and places to explore that we ran out of time long before we ran out of options. So they’ll just have to come back is all. We’re looking forward to that.

Some of it has already been described in this space – they were here for Oliver’s graduation party, for example, and David joined us for our Father’s Day celebration – and some of the things we did we’ve done before with them. It’s good to revisit favorites now and then. And sometimes we just hung around and enjoyed each other’s company because we do that. That’s how you know you’re comfortable with people after all.

Oddly enough, one of the first things we did once everyone was actually here with us was meet some of Maxim’s family when his mom and brother brought Lauren and her friend Isaac back from a vacation they took up in northern Wisconsin (where by all accounts a grand time was had by all). We gathered at a nice little restaurant and enjoyed good conversation and then found an ice cream place where we could continue doing more of the same. It was lovely to meet them, and we look forward to doing so again!


One thing this group likes to do is go outside, which is a mystery to me sometimes but it can be fun with the right company. We went to the local beach here in Our Little Town for an afternoon, for example – it’s essentially a big pond that they’ve put a sand beach next to so you can go swimming if you want. You can also hang out with a good book under the many trees and enjoy your snacks and conversations with those not currently swimming, which was my strategy. Kim brought back tamales from the nearby Mexican grocery/taqueria since we were there over lunchtime, and we feasted. We also went to a state park in Illinois one day because we thought there’d be a beach and there kind of was but it was closed for construction – only in Illinois do the beaches get closed for construction, in my experience – so Sara and I hung out by the lake and read while Kim, Mats, Maria, and David went hiking. We also went to a nearby state park here in Wisconsin and wandered around under the trees where it was significantly cooler than it was in the sun. There was so much Nature.


We spent a day up at Devil’s Lake State Park as well, which is always fun. Devil’s Lake is a good-sized glacial lake where you can go swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding if such things strike you as entertaining, and it is surrounded by boulders and picnic tables for those interested in non-wet activities. So there’s something for everyone, really. It took us a while to get there, though.

For one thing, we stopped on the way to pick up Lauren.

For another thing, we also stopped to visit Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron, which is a place of wonder that you should definitely see if you’re passing through southern Wisconsin. It’s basically an open-air museum of found-metal sculptures, some of them grouped into displays and some of them set apart as individuals. They range from about a foot and a half tall to over thirty feet and they’re pretty much what you would expect to find if Dr. Seuss had dropped acid and learned how to weld. Apparently they light the place up a couple of nights in the fall and that’s something to see. We decided that it would be an eerily calm place after a snowstorm as well.

It has to be said that Dr. Evermor was a really good welder, by the way. You will not find a better bead in any shipyard on the planet.

He died a couple of years ago, unfortunately, but his daughters are running the place now and they’re doing a good job of it. The grass is cut more regularly and there is an actual designated parking area. It’s still free to visit (donations encouraged!) and unless you know where you’re headed it’s easy to miss, but definitely worth your time.

Eventually we made it up to Devil’s Lake, where we spent a good day hanging about doing all such good things as Devil’s Lake has to offer.


Hanging about is a seriously underrated activity, by the way. You’re supposed to rush around and be productive and cutting edge and experience novelty and excitement with every passing moment here in this modern world, but there is a lot to be said for taking things slowly and simply enjoying the people you are with.

It helps if you have a cat to enforce this, particularly one who is almost old enough to vote and is therefore very much interested in having a quiet lap to relax upon.

We spent a fair amount of time in Hanging About Mode.

At one point there was an expedition to get pedicures, which I only heard about second-hand (-foot?), though it appears to have been a success even with Sara’s foot in a boot. You have to adjust your goals to fit reality sometimes.

Also, if you’re hanging out with us there is usually food involved.

We fired up the pizza oven, which we have now gotten down to a science.

We made Swedish meatballs in the new oven, which is remarkably more efficient than the old oven, to the point where you have to be careful about the handles on your pots lest they melt.

We grilled!

And one memorable evening we went out for Mexican food here in Our Little Town – we have all of the finest chain restaurants in America here, plus really good Mexican food – and were sitting there having a lovely time of it when a woman came over and said that she had been there having a celebration for her daughter who had just turned 21 and they’d ordered a yard of margaritas and had barely touched it before her daughter decided they needed to go to an actual bar and would we be interested? Sure! we said. Who wouldn’t want a tower of margaritas? Thank you, kind woman!

There were a couple of things we did that can broadly be lumped together under the general category of theater, only one of which was actual theater – a summer production of Grease at Local Businessman High School that was a lot of fun even if the play has not aged particularly well. The music is still good, though, and the cast did a marvelous job of it. They always do good theater down at LBHS.

Another of the vaguely “theater” things we did was go to the House on the Rock.

If you’ve not been there before, well. It’s an experience. I’ve written about it before in this space and it’s all still true. The House on the Rock is basically what happens when way too much money meets not nearly enough medication, and it is quite possibly the weirdest museum in the world just for the sheer unadulterated what-the-fuckery of the place. You can read about it online, but until you stand there goggle-eyed staring into the abyss of insanity that the place embodies you really won’t understand it. Naturally we built it up as a place our friends needed to visit, and equally naturally they said they’d go. It’s just a wonder we didn’t go on previous visits is all.

The House on the Rock has basically two parts, and the whole thing takes between three and five hours depending on how fast you move and what your tolerance for unbridled psychosis happens to be. First there is the House, which is – as advertised – on a Rock. It looks like what you’d get if Frank Lloyd Wright had married Elvis back in the early 1970s, thoroughly carpeted, full of desperately uncomfortable sitting areas, artifacts crammed into every crevice, running water, and, every so often, a full-sized hydraulically powered orchestra that you can get to work by dropping one of the special coins into the slots provided. They give you coins when you buy your tickets. There are more of these than you would think acceptable and they range in decor from full-on “Mikado” through “Miss Cinnamon’s House of Leisure” on the tackier side of Las Vegas.

There’s also an Infinity Room cantilevered over a ravine that is legitimately cool.

They funnel you through on a path and eventually you get to the end and you think to yourself, “That was weird, but I made it through unscathed.”

And then you go into The Collections.

The Collections is just a series of vast, incredibly crowded exhibit rooms, each one just slightly more unhinged than the one before it. There’s a room with about three hundred model circuses. There’s a room with nothing but doll houses. There’s a room done up to look like a Victorian street full of grievously overstuffed storefronts. There’s a room that has multiple cars, a sub-room full of antique cameras, a giant Rube Goldberg contraption (including a capsule biography of Mr. Goldberg), a wall of Burma-Shave advertisements, and a cafe that sells slices of pizza bigger than your head. On and on it goes.

There are three rooms that always get the most reaction out of people whenever we go visit, however.

The first is the room with the life-sized model of a whale being attacked by a giant squid. It’s about three stories tall and surrounded by a winding ramp with maybe a hundred or so model ships, some of which are actually labeled, and the fun part is watching people walk into the space and catch sight of it for the first time.

The second is the Carousel Room, which has what is billed as the World’s Largest Carousel and for all I know that might be true. It has over 300 carved animals on it – not one of which is a horse – and it spins fast enough to generate electricity which is good because it has a lot of incandescent lights on it and the room is noticeably warm. There is another collection of carousel horses in a different room, as well as at least two other carousels in yet other rooms that are somehow both bigger than the average studio apartment and too small-scale to actually ride on. You go through the Carousel Room the first time, and then at the end of the tour they walk you through again on a catwalk higher up so you can get a closer look at the massed squadrons of angels hanging from the ceiling, most of which are now clothed.

The third room has a name but I generally just refer to it as Tim Burton’s Most Recent Therapy Session. Even the entrance – which takes you from the Carousel Room into the Therapy Session Room – is what you’d expect it would be.

It takes about half an hour just to get through this one room, since a) the path through it is particularly knotted, and b) you just have to slow down and try to take it all in regardless of the psychic damage you sustain.

The last vaguely theatrical thing we did was much more civilized. If you’ve never been to a RenFaire, you’re missing out. They’re blessedly quiet, for one thing – no blaring music, no flashing lights, just human powered everything. And they’re oddly relaxed for something that involves a fair amount of self-generated weirdness. The one here in Wisconsin is a sterling example of the genre and we try to go at least once a year even if it’s just us. Bringing friends is just a lovely bonus.

We got hold of the Theater Department down at Home Campus and said, “Trevor,” (for that is his name), “may we borrow some costumes for a trip to the RenFaire?” and Trevor said we could.

In the end there were two subgroups of us who went. One group – Kim, Mats, Sara, and Maria – wanted to get there early in order to see the opening ceremony, especially since this was the first weekend the RenFaire would be open this summer. They eventually stayed for the closing ceremony as well and shut the place down. The second group – me, Oliver, Lauren, David, Aleksia, and Maxim – went a bit later and left around 5pm to go find dinner on our own. We all had a grand time, though.

We have long since reached the point where we see no need to stick together at events like these, so people pretty much scattered around doing whatever they found interesting. There were a lot of interesting things. The various performers did their usual combination of physical acrobatics and skills plus the constant patter of double-entendres and puns that you expect at such things. The vendors kept us supplied with food, knick-knacks, and assorted other items. And the crowd was as entertaining as anything else – there was a nice mix of people in costume, people wearing various nerd-shirts (I had one of my Discworld t-shirts and I know at least two people caught the reference), and people just there for a good time. Since then I have spoken with three different people who were there that day as well, including one whose son I saw up on stage during The Broon Show. Go to the RenFaire!

Because we all split up like that we all got a slightly different version of the RenFaire, but we all converged at the Mud Show because you kind of have to do that. We love the Mud Show. I didn’t realize that they take it on the road during the months that the RenFaire is closed in Wisconsin, and it turns out that Maxim had seen them at the one in Texas. After the show he went up to talk to the lead guy and they had a good conversation.

But all good things must come to an end, and while we weren’t sure if the airline gods would smile on everyone in the end flights were booked, rebooked, confirmed, and readied. We had a lovely breakfast together, shared our goodbyes, and watched them head on out.

Next year in Stockholm.