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The Garden Chronicles - Kermis Time

Backyard Homesteading, Canning Tomatoes, Dangerous Kitchen Experiments, Gardening, Growing Your Own Vegetables, Kermis, Pickled Beets

The Belgian American Walloons who settled around southern Door, northern Brown and Kewaunee Counties in the 1850s, brought with them a rite of Fall – the kirmess - or harvest festival.

Derived from ‘church mass’ and known colloquially as kermis this traditional outdoor fair or festival featured church, food, dance, music and games.

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The Revenge of the Chinese Spammers

Cluelessness

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Have the rest of you noticed the prolific postings from the poor sap from Fujian Province, China?

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, All Along the Watchtower, Pat Guadagno, Perfectly Good Guitar

Start your weekend with Pat Guadagno covering a classic Dylan tune...

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Home Economics

No one likes it and no one wants to hear about it. Sadly, it’s becoming a lot more prevalent in the lives of people in our neighborhood. Four houses (that I know of) within about a mile of my house have been foreclosed on just in the last several months.

Families who have been living in their homes for decades are being forced out because of financial situations that are sometimes beyond their own control.  This includes things such as losing a job or health issues, both of which happened to people who live within two blocks of me.

It’s weird that one day my neighbors were walking their poodle past my house and overnight they were gone. There is a piece of paper in the window saying “NO TRESPASSING: this property is corporate owned.” What is even sadder to me is that there seems to be nothing I can do about it because the problem seems much bigger than any one person can fix.

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Eagle Scouts to the rescue?

Root Commons, Eagle Scouts, Eschweiler Buildings, community development

Daughter Liz and I spent some pleasant Saturday hours at Tosa Fest, munching sweet potato fries and sipping Chimay white ale on the edge of the Menomonee River. We met some old friends, relished Paul Cebar's music, and picked up Save the Eschweilers yard signs.

If walking around Wauwatosa's village doesn't remind you of the delight and importance of preserving history and the places it happened, not much will.

Some fine work has been done on some of the old buildings there. Interesting businesses are growing roots, while new ones are sprouting because the area's attractive and there's foot traffic, the key to prosperity in villages.

But our hearts sank  we came upon  Root Commons. Even the road signs are askew. Mostly hard dirt now, the ground is oddly pitched, with a wooden picnic table dropped here, a random Port-a-Potty sitting alone there at a rakish or alarming angle, depending on how much history you have with outhouse tippage. I suspect the one cheerful note, a popcorn wagon, was less than delighted to find itself parked next door to a potty.

The commons used to be a real gathering place, with a central structure, grass, and seasonal plantings. Long before that it was the village green, just down the road from the first public school built in the city. Whatever it is now seems to have just happened, a combination of small attempts and large neglect. It's an eyesore. An embarrassment to a city trying to stay upscale.

That's what happens when you don't take care of things.

In 2007 the Community Development Committee passed Resolution R-07-94 for a proposed improvement project plan, subject to approval by many folks. Was tearing down what was there the extent of the plan? I doubt it.

Parks Board minutes from August 21st of this year note that they currently are waiting for central scouts office funding for an Eagle Scout project to fix the park, and that a mason will be around to supervise the work. No plan or description is available. Apparently this will happen sometime after the scouts finish another project, replacing a fence on 68th Street. Who knew we were outsourcing construction projects to children in search of community service and merit badges?

My enthusiasm for the nobility of volunteers is a little tempered by the belief that this pocket park needs to be a village centerpiece, not an after-thought. It's a big job. I hope the scouts are up to it.

Of course, it will take more than Eagle Scouts to save the Eschweilers. Maybe a couple former Eagle Scout, current millionaires. Though it really seems we should be able to steer our own civic destiny, make a smart investment in oursleves and our future, without having to depend entirely on good deeds and individual charity.

How many more festival seasons will come and go before something good happens to Root Commons?

 

The Best Roasted Pumpkin Seeds In The World

Backyard Homesteading, Dangerous Kitchen Experiments, Gardening, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Snackface Pumpkin

Well at least possibly the world's best roasted pumpkin seeds.

Halloween is just around the corner and with the carving of the gourds all of those seeds can be put to good use.  This should be a family-wide kitchen project.

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A Tourist in Tosa - On the Road Again

Tosa Business, Tosa Landmarks, Community

Like many who have reached middle age, I've found there are some good things: I'm slightly more wise, a tiny bit more patient and I have a little more time. One of the negatives, however, is that I seem to have left my metabolism behind somewhere back in my early 20s. I found out the hard way that "Once on the lips, forever on the hips" is more than just a motivational phrase. It's painfully true.

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, Al Jardine, California Saga

It's the start of the weekend people.

Put your hands together for this blast from the past.

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"4 sale - playground"

Recess, Wauwatosa, Jefferson School,


Right next to the "Kids eat free" sign in the old Lutheran (now Baptist) church yard: "4 sale - playgound."

The for-sale playground structure fills the entire pocket between the church and its former school on North Avenue. I recognize the church's original name, carved in stone, from my father's baptismal certificate, over one hundred years old now and written in German. I doubt they fed kids there in my dad's day, though they were not strangers to hunger. But those old Germans believed in exercise to build the sound body needed to house a sound mind.

Children don't live by food alone, regardless of who provides the food. To grow strong and whole, they need to climb and jump and play. Move through space, bend and stretch, reach for the sky.

Play is how children learn. Educational research shows that kids learn best when their entire bodies are engaged, at least up until age 9. And yet Wauwatosa's Jefferson School recently eliminated recess for 6 and 7 year olds, saying there's no time for it.

Strange: workplace research shows that workers are better able to think and concentrate when they take occasional breaks to get up and move around. Why we'd think it would work differently for wiggly children is a mystery.

Abandoning recess may be a sign a school is in trouble. The poorer the school community (in all the senses of the word), the less likely it is to have recess. Chicago schools haven't had recess for decades. And nobody is saying recesslessness has improved education there.  While Tosa is tossing its recess aside, Chicago schools are reinstating it.  Kids who have it behave better and learn better. There's evidence for that. Behind the cut recess notion is only wishful thinking.

Maybe our schools won't sell off the equipment to raise money to feed kids, but it's not much of a stretch to imagine the equipment, often built by parent volunteers, sold or dismantled to remove legal liability as kids spend more time inside, in front of electronic screens.

A whole generation of kids has grown up not knowing how to play, so the Chicago schools have hired coaches to teach them what do do with recess.

Principals and administrators hate recess. It creates scheduling and staffing problems. Every year there's the kid-with-the-broken-arm potential litigation headache. It's inconvenient. But merely doubling down, working harder and longer at the same thing you're already not doing very well, seldom improves outcomes.

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Random Musings and Idle Chit Chat

Politics, Random Musings and Idle Chit Chat

What I'd find interesting is if Mr. Gas Pains, who I believe to be an old school Republican without a party these days, is planning to vote for Romney and support the party as it has evolved ?

Or, will he stay at home....or will he actually cast a vote for the Democrat !

I'd imagine you'll dodge this question and like a seasoned politician answer it without answering it....but, sometimes people can be surprising.

If you actually answer it I think that would be very telling as to where this election will go.

I'm still on the record as saying Obama will win, and he will even get the quiet support of quite a few people who would never tell you they voted for him.

Business owners are doing well these days, look at the stock market and business profit levels. Big business is making a killing. Hardly a big reason for a change.

Posted August 29 over at the Tosa Town Square by someone using the handle Prodigal Son.

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Who should we care about?

Wauwatosa Common Council, transmission lines, Mitt Romney, 47%

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's statement that he didn't need to concern himself with 47% of the population was a shocker.

Of course, what he meant was that he didn't need to bother with campaigning to them (or is that us?): he wasn't likely to win those votes anyway.

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10 Days in Tosa

Events

I don't recall hearing about the first annual Ten Days in Tosa Dining Experience, so when I read about it this year, I made sure to get out and try it.

The husband and I are big fans of Milwaukee's Downtown Dining week, and have discovered some good restaurants through that promotion (we always make sure to try new places). This was also the case with 10 Days in Tosa.

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, Gypsy, , Moody Blues

How about another walk down memory lane.

The Moody Blues - Gypsy...

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Grass Be Gone: Why I removed my lawn in favor of a perennial landscape

lawn care, grass, permaculture, monocultures, japanese beetles, grubs, perennial gardens

When Walt Whitman wrote lovingly of grass in his poetry collection "Leaves of Grass," he must have been referring to the showy, ornamental varieties, or, more likely, wild grasses swaying in summer fields. Surely he couldn't have been thinking of the kind of overly-watered-yet-still-thirsty, scalped, grub infested squares of lawn that form a patchwork quilt across suburbia. 

 
I am the owner of one of those green-brown patches – or used to be, anyway. Hard and compacted, riddled with Creeping Charlie and at least a few other varieties of herbaceous pests, my front lawn was covered in dry spots and infested with grubs and ants. It required constant coddling in order to be happy. Despite my best efforts to border it with beautiful perennial gardens, my lawn of shame ultimately rendered my small landscape ugly and unsightly. 
 
So after battling it for six years, I decided it was time for the grass to go.
 
My neighbors must have thought I'd lost it when I pulled a borrowed 12-amp electric rototiller from my garage and slowly tore into the front lawn. Two days later, it was a plot of exposed soil littered with roots and grass clippings. Piles of dead grass covered my property. The Lannon stone pieces I once used as edging for my perennial borders were heaped on my front sidewalk. My once-peaceful -- if ugly -- front lawn was now a hideous open sore. 
 
Let the healing begin.
 
I'm not necessarily against grass. But I don't love the idea of relying on herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, excessive city water and gas lawn mowers to keep it tidy and pristine. And while I like a lush green field of Kentucky bluegrass as much as anyone, I love admiring the rare suburban yard that contains no grass, favoring a landscape of varied perennials and hardscaping.
 
I'd been coveting such a yard for years. But every time I proposed this to my family, they scoffed.
 
"Where will the kids play?" my husband asked, as if our patchy front lawn were big enough for them to have small softball games.
 
Hardly. In reality, they run through the yard here and there on their way to the driveway or the neighbors' yards, or as a shortcut to our front door. 
 
But after this year's terrible drought, our lawn sunk to a new low: it was brown and crispy, with a few green weed clumps dotting the overall parched remains of bluegrass. At that point, my reluctant husband and daughters (who discovered that it's much more fun to play softball at nearby parks) gave me the green light to tear the lawn apart.
 
Aside from the sheer aesthetics of replacing a lawn with a front yard perennial garden, there are environmental benefits, including:
 
- Resisting monocultures. An expanse of grass bordered by a few day lilies and yews doesn't give bees and other insects much to pollinate, and it provides a haven for Japanese beetles, whose grubs feed on grass roots. Biodiversity is key to reducing pests by attracting the beneficial insects and birds that prey on them. 
 
- Conserving resources. Not having grass will, I hope, conserve water -- not just in terms of the city water used to give drink to thirsty grass during summer droughts, but also in terms of preserving rainfall. Deeper perennial roots will drink up more rain water, preventing flooding and run-off. 
 
- Protecting rivers and lakes. No grass means no need for herbicides and fertilizers. Rain washes at least some of the herbicides and fertilizers we use into our waters.
 
- Moving toward permaculture. Having a variety of plants in my yard is good for birds and bees, but it's also good for us. It means more space to grow useful plants like my currant bushes and herbs. This allows us to continue moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, one in which we grow as much of our own food as possible on our small city lot while also contributing to a healthier environment.
 
After rototilling the grass and painstakingly pulling up and composting all the leftover roots, I split overcrowded perennials in my small back yard, bought a few clearance mums, arranged the Lannon stone paths and then planted, watered, and mulched. This is one snapshot of the resulting grass-free front yard:
 
 
Now I am looking forward to next spring, when most of those divided perennials will take root and begin to blossom.

The Garden Chronicles - Is Organic Superior?

Backyard Homesteading, Gardening, Organic Food

The garden is done.  Finis.  ¡se acabó!

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Plants on the Cheap

Fall gardening, plant clearance sales, bargain hunting, local garden centers

By September of each year, gardening often falls off my radar. I'm a college instructor, and once the new academic year kicks into gear my gardening passion simmers, usually until I begin starting seeds indoors in late winter. 

This year has been a bit different. I did very little gardening over the summer because of the wretched drought and heat. So I didn't get my gardening fix. Maybe because I had a gardening itch that needed scratching, I decided in September to rip out my lawn and replace it with perennial beds – something I've wanted to do for years. 
 
I was able to replace much of the removed grass with perennials I divided from my own yard. But what I had wasn't quite enough. I needed more plants – and cheap. Thankfully, this time of year it's fairly easy to come by inexpensive perennials. In the fall, most local nurseries mark down their inventory considerably. 
 
 
Overall, while some nurseries are picked-over, others still have a nice variety of interesting perennials at reduced prices, and will have them through at least mid-October (some through early November). With Indian summer upon us, it's a great time to do some last-minute planting. 
 
Is it safe to plant perennials in the fall? According to Mike Osheim, Assistant Lot Foreman of Stein Garden and Gifts, it's generally safe to plant hardy perennials and shrubs until the ground is frozen. 
 
"I've planted stuff really late and it's come back," he said.
 
Below is a wrap up of what seven garden centers within a ten-mile radius of Wauwatosa have to offer this fall. Nurseries are arranged according to their approximate distance from the Village of Wauwatosa.
 
8520 West North Avenue, Wauwatosa
414.453.8450 ‎
Approx. 1.5 miles from the Village
Good for: Local pumpkins and firewood, some clearance plants, supporting the little guy
This is a cute, happy place where I always try to buy my annuals in the spring. Their fall selection is VERY limited, though you will find a few perennials and shrubs – and I mean very, very few – at discounted prices. For those of us on the east side of Tosa, Wisconsin Garden and Pet is worth supporting in whatever ways possible because it's in the neighborhood. So if you're looking for fall bulbs, pumpkins, firewood, or discounted catmint, be sure to check them out.
 
12217 West Watertown Plank Road, Wauwatosa
414.258.5525
Approx. 3 miles from the Village
Good for: unique half-price perennials (get them before they're gone!)
Hands-down, my favorite garden center this fall is Hawks. Now, I should preface this by saying that I almost never visit Hawks in-season. I'm a bargain hunter, and I always try to buy plants at the cheapest prices (my favorite source is the Master Gardener plant sale in late May). The thing about Hawks is it's very boutique – they have lovely plants, unique cultivars that gardeners like me drool over. But they are sold at premium prices I can almost never afford. But this time of year, those unique cultivars, while somewhat less bountiful than in the spring, are sold at half price. When I visited this week, for example, I was able to buy an interesting sedum hybrid ('golden acre') that I don't have for just under $4. I also got a beautiful "Red-Leaved Thrift" plant for the same price. Score.
 
  
Fred's Garden Center
6238 West Appleton Avenue, Milwaukee
414.442.4492 ‎
Approx. 3 miles from the Village
Good for: healthy, well-nurtured perennials at slightly reduced prices, supporting the little guy
I'd never even heard of Fred's until a Google search of local garden centers yielded their name and address. So I recently checked them out and wow – what a little gem this place is! This small garden center owned by locals Fred and Dianne Rayner consists of a few tightly arranged greenhouses tucked away on Appleton and 62nd Streets in Milwaukee's Enderis Park. Fred's is open year-round, though they usually sell out of most of their perennials in the mid-fall and focus on Christmas trees, tropicals and cemetery arrangements during the winter months. Currently they are selling gorgeous, healthy, perennials, grasses, mums, and hanging baskets at prices ranging from 3.99 for a one-quart perennial (five for $18) to $7.99 for a one-gallon perennial. All Fred's plants are grown from seed on location. 
 
 
12000 West Burleigh Street, Wauwatosa
414.257.4159
Approx. 4 miles from the Village
 
4100 North 124th Street, Wauwatosa
414.353.5471 ‎
Approx. 5 miles from the Village
 
Both are good for: discounted filler, shrubs
I'm actually going to lump Lowes and Home Depot together because they are so similar. Both big box stores are discounting their already affordably-priced plants this time of year. You'll find healthy-ish plants at modest discounts and sick, dormant or half-dead plants at deeper discounts, though the selection is limited. I like to visit both of these stores from time-to-time to check out their sales, though the variety of cultivars they offer is pretty humble – lots of hostas and daylilies and mums and shrubs – nothing terribly unique. Supplies should last through late October / early November, when both stores bring in their Christmas trees. Lowes did have several blueberry plants on sale, if you care to try your hand at growing the acid-loving plant in our alkaline soils (I haven’t had much luck yet, but I'm still trying!).
 
14845 West Capitol Drive, Brookfield
262.783.2323 ‎ 
Approx. 7 miles from the Village
Good for: clearance ground cover and dormant perennials, while they last
According to Mike Osheim, there are many shrubs left at discounted prices – deciduous shrubs are 20 percent off and evergreens are 30 percent off. There may also still be some deeply discounted perennials in small pots – most of them dormant – for a dollar or two a piece. Plant purchases come with a two-year warranty. Supplies typically last until mid November and will be discounted until they sell. 
 
7777 North 76th Street, Milwaukee
414.354.4886 
Approx. 8.5 miles from the Village
Good for: unique perennials at discount prices
Minors isn't the least expensive of nurseries, but visiting is still a treat for serious gardeners because of the breadth of their plant varieties. Collectors of coral bells, sedums, and other perennials will delight in the wide array of cultivars offered at this family-owned nursery in business for over six decades. I regret to say this is the one nursery I haven't made it to this fall, mainly due to very annoying construction on Capitol Drive north of Wauwatosa. So I called the store and retail manager Henry Beck gave me the low-down. He told me they are having a parking lot sale and still have "the full complement of deciduous and evergreen shrubs." 4 1/2" potted perennials are half-off. Of the 600 varieties they once sold in the spring, they are down to about 150 varieties – still a good selection. Beck said they also have an excellent selection of gallon-size grasses, which never go on sale because if they don't sell, they'll be heeled-in until the spring. Plants are usually sold until the middle of November
 
Good for: locating discounted plants grown by hobby gardeners
I've found some excellent spring plant sales through Craigslist, some on par with the Master Gardener's perennial sale. So now I always try to check Craigslist first when in need of plants. Go to milwuakee.craigslist.org and search with the keyword "plants" and/or "plant sale." You may have to drive out to the country for some sales, but at $1 a pop for each perennial, the 20 to 30 minute drive is often worth it.
 
Take care of your new plants!
After planting all my new discounted plants, I mulched them heavily in order to protect their roots from the coming cold. I normally spread mulch in the spring, usually every other year. I had to cover the soil in my front yard so I ordered five cubic yards of the economy-grade mulch from Melvin Mulch in Milwaukee. Cost me about $60. Now I feel confident that my new fall plantings will have the best chance possible of coming to life again next spring. 
 

Forest Exploration Center Considers The Eschweilers

Construction Projects, County Grounds, Eschweiler Buildings, FEC Charter School, Forest Exploration Center, Historic Preservation

 

 

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, I Melt With You, Modern English

It's the start of the weekend folks.

Crank-up the volume on your office workstation for Modern English and I Melt With You...

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A MESSAGE FROM OUR NEW SENIOR MINISTER

             As I sit in my new office here at the First Congregational Church of Wauwatosa it is hard to believe that it has been more than 30 years since I have made the Milwaukee area my home.  It is definitely great to be back.  I had pretty much figured that I would stay in Southern California for the rest of my life.  I had been a minister of the same church for 17 years, raised my two children there, and had grown to love the wonderful climate. 

            During the past two years, as the opportunity to serve First Congregational developed, I began to see an outstanding congregation truly making a difference. The facility here at the church was top notch and so was the staff, but I had grown comfortable where I was, I owned a home in Los Angeles and I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave all that.  It was when I met the people that I began to feel a strong call to this church in Wisconsin.  Meeting them, talking and interviewing with them, I was reminded of the Midwest character and the wonderful people who live here.

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The PB&PB Sandwich

Dangerous Kitchen Experiments, Food, Just For Fun, Pickled Beets

As I tapped-out this post my initial idea was to regale you with a short historical time-line detailing the evolution of the sandwich.  That would be redundant because a very good job of it can already be found on the web.

So let's cut to the chase.  Before you recoil in horror - I am not going to describe how to assemble a sliced, cold boiled beef tongue with spicy German mustard on rye.  Instead I am going to detail the assembly of a sandwich that even the most ardent of vegans can get their hands around.

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