First Snow of 2016 Winter

First Snow of 2016 Winter
A View From Our Deck

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ice Shoves On Lake Winnebago

Today was a good day.  The average high temperature in south central Wisconsin for this day, February 17, is about 30 degrees.  Today it was 57 degrees.  It was sunny and felt so warm.  The downside of these temperatures is it affects the sturgeon spearing season.  For a 16 day period in February the sturgeon spearers cut holes in the ice of Lake Winnebago and the upriver lakes which include Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Lake Poygan.  Lake Winnebago is a huge fresh water lake located in east central Wisconsin.  It is 30 miles long and 10 miles wide.  Sturgeon spearing is a family tradition for many local families.  They cut a big opening in the ice, watch through the opening for the fish and then spear them.  If the yearly quota is reached earlier than the 16 days, then the season is over.  One fish per person.  This year the ice is deteriorating rapidly because of the warm temperatures.  I wrote a little more about sturgeon a few years ago.  Here is the blog.  For safety sake, many people are giving up before the limit is met.  There are some big ice fishing festivals that have been cancelled and the snowmobilers are not happy either.

The upside besides the warm temperatures was that we were able to view some ice shoves that happened on a portion of Lake Winnebago.

Ice shoves are giant chunks of ice that have been forced to shore by strong winds, current and changes in temperature.  This is very early to see these shoves.  Some people call them ice heaves or ice surges.  They can cause a lot of damage if they push against solid objects like houses, shoreline walls or even lighthouses.  There is a lot of power behind these huge pieces of ice.

We were able to walk out on the ice to view the shoves up close.  I was a little uneasy at first.  I knew I was walking on the lake, and we saw quite a few cracks.

Cracks in the ice.

Then I saw a person drive a pickup truck out on the lake so I felt they would go through the ice before we would.  The ice shoves are massive pieces of ice that a piled up on top of each other.  I took photos which describe them better than I can.

The view as we started walking out on the ice.

My husband standing in front of one of the ice pieces to give perspective.

I know these unseasonably warm temperatures will not last.  We still have a couple weeks of February and all of March to get through, but the next week looks awesome.  We will enjoy it as much as we can before winter rears its ugly head again.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ripon High School Musical

I see it is 36 days until Spring.  It can't come too soon for me.  I saw on the calendar that the bluebirds returned to us in the middle of March last year.  Seeing them would be a good sign.  Another good sign of Spring is high school theater performances.  Last night we attended the Sound of Music put on by our grandson's high school.  As usual, it was fantastic.  To get all these kids to put in hours and hours of practice time is amazing, and it definitely paid off.  The program said they practiced 127 hours. 

I think almost everyone has seen the Sound of Music at one time or another, but it always reminds us that love and putting others first is the way it should be.

Last fall were the tryouts.  Our grandson Dylan tried out and got the part of nearly eleven year old Kurt Von Trapp.  Little did he know that from the time he got the part until now, he would grow several inches and his voice would change.  He no longer sounds like an eleven year old, but more like a man.  In spite of the challenge, he played the part beautifully.

This is Dylan as Kurt Von Trapp.

Not only did the actors put in a lot of work, so did all the support people from the lighting and sound to all the pit band players and everyone involved with the set design and costumes.  There were 96 costume changes in this production.

Some of the children learning Do-Re-Mi from Maria

Uncle Max trying to teach the children to sing while the Captain and Maria are on their honeymoon.

The Von Trapp family in the contest before the family made their escape.

Ewan was so proud of his brother, he went to two of the performances.  He knows all the words and I'm sure he will remember this for a long time.  Brotherly love between these two is the sweetest thing.

Ewan and Dylan.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Little Hats, Big Hearts

February is American Heart Month. It is more than chocolate, flowers and words of love created by card companies.  It is a mission of the American Heart Association to raise awareness about heart disease and congenital heart defects.  In 2014 a campaign started by the American Heart Association and The Children's Heart Foundation began, it is called Little Hats, Big Hearts.  Volunteers around the country are asked to knit or crochet red hats for babies born in February.  The purpose is to raise awareness and test all babies for heart defects.  These red hats are given out to thousands of babies during American Heart Month (February) in order to remind moms to live heart healthy lives for themselves and their children.  I didn't have a baby doll to model the hats I am making so this American Girl doll will have to do.  If you want to read more about it including patterns, here is the link.

I like to do things like this.  In the past, I knit and crocheted for Bridget's Cradles.  I blogged about it.  I found it made me sad.  I knew parents who lost children could benefit from this, but I had to take breaks from doing it.  I was very happy to discover the Little Hats, Big Hearts program.  I have a special reason to support this cause.  My sister's little granddaughter Amelia was born with a heart defect.  Today she is an amazing outgoing eight year old who is active and happy, but she went through a lot. Thank goodness for technology, gifted surgeons and a wonderful supportive loving family.

 I asked for information about Amelia's heart history because I wanted to write the proper information and do it justice.  This is the information her mom Andrea provided.

Amelia's congenital heart defect is called atrioventricular septal defect (also known as AV Canal defect or endocardial cushion defect).   In a nutshell, this is a a large hole in the center of the heart, comprised of an atrial septal defect (ASD; a hole in the wall separating the atria), ventricular septal defect (VSD; a hole in the separating the ventricles), and a single AV valve, rather than two separate tricuspid and mitral valves.   Because she had all three of these issues present, she had/has "complete atrioventricular septal defect".

In a normal heart, blood flows from chamber to chamber in one direction through the left and right sides of the heart. With an AV canal defect, blood flows through the ASD and VSD from the left side of the heart to the right side (a "left to right shunt"), which causes more blood than normal to pass through the right side of the heart.  Because of this, the left side of the heart to become enlarged and more blood than normal has to be pumped to the lungs. Over time, the extra blood flow causes the lungs to become filled with extra blood and fluid and leads to congestive heart failure.  Also, because of the malformed single AV valve, blood may leak backward from the ventricles to the atria (regurgitation), which causes the heart to need to work even harder.

Amelia started going into congestive heart failure at 10 weeks, and was placed on diuretics to continue to allow her to grow, which meant her heart would grow and would be "easier" to operate on.  She had her open heart surgery at 4 months old during which the surgeon placed a patch on the ASD and VSD and then created two separate "man made" valves into a mitral and a tricuspid valves.

She sees the cardiologist annually for a check-up.  During this time he does an electrocardiogram (ECG) to look at the electrical activity of her heart and an echocardiogram (echo) to look at the structure of the heart, mainly focusing on the function of her "abnormal" valves.  Currently, she has minor mitral valve regurgitation, but it has not gotten worse to date.  The risk is that over time, the valve could become stenotic (lose function) at which point she  would need further treatment or the valve replaced completely. 

The "good" side of all of this is that it doesn't seem to hold Amelia back in any way!  As you know she does soccer, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading and now skiing!  She is very well aware of her "brave scar" and "special heart" and we talk about it as a badge of honor of her strength and courage.  She truly is our "miracle baby"!

My nephew John and his wife Andrea have written a complete blog post of their journey.  If you would like to read it in it's entirety, here is the link.  It is an emotional read.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Learning My Heritage Through My DNA

New years eve was about one month ago.  I wrote a blog that day about three Christmas gifts I received.

One of the gifts from my daughter was a DNA test kit.  I got the results today January 31, 2017.  It was timely because today was the fifth anniversary of my mother's death.  She died on the same day as her mother only 74 years later.  I did a lot of thinking about family today and realized I couldn't ask anymore questions about genealogy and family connections.  The results I received confirmed that what I do know is accurate, but also included some things that will require more research.

I was a little suspicious of this at first.  I couldn't imagine how spitting in a tube could reveal a persons ancestry.  I came up with 99.8 percent European.  It included 92.5% Northwestern European.  Northwestern Europe usually consists of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, northern Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland.  It said I was 24% Scandinavian which makes sense because my mom's father came from Denmark and his parents were from Denmark.  The other great grandparents were from Northern Germany, except for one.  My grandma on my dad's side has deep roots in America way back to the 1700's.  Their names indicate British and Irish heritage.  I did have 19.9% British and Irish. That is the part I will have to research more. 

It explained that of your 23 chromosomes, 22 are inherited from your recent ancestors.  They are able to uncover information about your ancestral origins, both recent and ancient including Neanderthal ancestry.  It also showed me people who shared some of my DNA.  Some were third cousins and others were six and seventh cousins.  I recognized one last name as being the married name of my grandpa's aunt.  I imagine this could be useful if you were looking for missing family members.  You have the option to share information if you are comfortable doing so.  It appears that a lot of people are not comfortable sharing.

For the past 150 years, scientists have found bones from extinct populations of humans called Neanderthals.  They were named this because the bones were found in the Neander Valley in Germany.  I have more Neanderthal variants than 94% of their customers.  I am lucky I can stand upright.  I had one Neanderthal variant associated with having straighter hair.  I have slightly curly hair so I'm not sure about that.  Another variant is that I am less likely to sneeze after eating dark chocolate.  Thank goodness for that.  I love dark chocolate and would hate to sneeze every time I ate it.  Another thing I am grateful for is that I have zero variants associated with having back hair.  Even with the high percentage of variants, only 4% of my characteristics come from the Neanderthals.

The third thing they show you is called the maternal haplogroup.  The paternal haplogroup is only shown on the Y chromosome so females can only see the maternal group.  It is a set of variations in your genetics that tells you about your material line of ancestors.  I found out that my maternal line originated thousands of years ago on the Arabian Peninsula, just as modern humans were first expanding out of Africa and onto the Eurasian continent. About 7,000 years ago the expansion of farming carried daughter lineages into Europe.  The fact that my ancestors left Africa and traveled through Eurasia probably accounts for the 2/10ths (.2) percent of me that isn't European. 

They figured this out because my haplogroup traces the spread of the Bell Beaker culture. The Bell Beaker pottery are drinking containers that are shaped like an upside down Bell.  They found human skeletons with this pottery in places such as caves.  Through carbon dating, they found this pottery, bones and other items from this culture were from 1800 to 2500 BC.  This is confusing to me, but they have traced the Bell Beaker culture migration through archaeological finds as they moved into northern Europe.

This was fun to see and learn about.  I have ordered a kit for my husband.  His ancestry is more complicated than mine, and it should be very interesting.  The lesson here is that we can't change our DNA so we need to do the best we can with what we were given.

 We used 23andme, but I'm sure there are other testing places who do the same thing.  Here is a link to order or read more about it.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

I Made Some Matching Mittens

Not much is happening today.  We were supposed to have a glimpse of sun, but I haven't seen it yet.  I did see some strange looking tracks on the ice, but so far I don't know what they are from.  The hospital did need more scrubblies to sell in their gift shop, but that was a quick project.  I have made over two hundred since I started.  All that's left to write about is my latest knitting endeavor.  If you don't knit, you can stop reading now.  I mostly want these patterns documented for myself, in case I want to make the patterns again.

About a month ago I wrote about a winter hat I knit.

On Christmas Day my daughter wore it around all day so I guess she liked it.  My other daughter told me she wanted one too.   I'm always looking for projects, so I was happy to make another one.  She wanted it in red.  I looked in my stash, but I didn't have enough of the color she wanted.  I ended up buying a 7 oz. skein.  I found a super sale and it cost me about $2.

The hat only took half of the yarn so I thought I would look for a pattern to make matching mittens.  I found a pattern called Very Cabley Mittens.  The pattern is free on

They turned out pretty cute, and the cable cuff was new to me.

Here is a photo of the tracks on the ice.  It could be an otter, but I'm not sure.  What do you think?

I saw this red fox the other day, but I'm pretty sure he didn't make those tracks.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Searching The Fox River For Eagles

Wisconsin has had very unseasonable temperatures this winter.  It has stayed above freezing for a couple weeks.  As a result, the snow we have is melting slowly leaving the air full of humidity and creating fog.  It has been almost a week since we saw the sun.  From that time to now it has been particularly cloudy.  During January, if some of the river ice melts, the eagles show up in large numbers to fish in the open water.  I have wanted to take a ride to look for eagles, and I have been waiting for a nice day.  I ran out of patience today and lowered my standards.  It wasn't snowing, the temperatures were near 40 degrees and the fog had lifted.  There was a haze in the air, but we went anyway.

There were several areas where the Fox River was open.  We planned a route but didn't have much luck.  We were told that 250 eagles have been spotted in a section of the river from Neenah, WI to Kaukauna, WI.  We stopped at a park where there was a large pier on the river.  We didn't see anything as we were walking to the river but then we spotted several eagles roosting in the trees across the river.

I couldn't get good pictures.  The sky was cloudy and hazy and the eagles were hidden in the trees across the river.  If you look carefully, like one of those magic pictures, perhaps you will be able to see or maybe it's more like Where's Waldo.  There were at least five in the trees.  We didn't see any of them fly.  The funny part is that in the next two weeks we will probably see more flying over our marsh.  I saw one yesterday.  This was an outing that I really enjoyed.

Along the way we saw a lighthouse on Lake Winnebago and several ducks and geese.  The giant mansions in the area were a very interesting sight.  It didn't occur to me to take photos of them until I got home.  I guess all the old money made from the paper industry is still a part of these neighborhoods.

Speaking of the large amounts of money made in the Fox River-Butte des Morts area of Wisconsin,  our daughter's mother in law and good friend introduced me to an old book by Edna Ferber called Come and Get It.  Edna Ferber is an author who wrote famous stories like Show Boat and Cimarron.  She writes about different phases of America in her books.  This book was published 1934-1935 but the story takes place in the early 1900's.  It mostly takes place in Butte des Morts, Wisconsin but also travels to northern Wisconsin lumber camps, Milwaukee and Chicago.  The story is about one of the main characters going from a chore boy in a lumber camp to a lumber-paper making king.  It's a family's  journey of making a fortune and losing it.

The huge houses I saw today reminded of the house this family lived in. The story was written more than eighty years ago so some of the language and words were unfamiliar to me, but overall I really enjoyed the book.  Who knew that our little outing searching for eagles would also remind me of this book. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Passing the Time during the Doldrums of Winter

It has been a busy week in an attempt to ignore the horrible weather we have been experiencing here in Wisconsin.  I think most of the country has had it's share of inclement weather.  Yesterday it rained, but the pavement was very cold so the rain froze on contact.  Our sidewalk which hadn't thawed from the week before is partly under water and partly a glaze of ice.  I got more traction walking on top of the snow that remains, but even that was treacherous.  I hope the birds and deer appreciate my effort.

One of our deer friends peeking at me through the branches.

This week I made bread with my own sour dough starter which I learned to make without buying the starter powder.   I put one loaf in the freezer two days ago and this is all that is left from the second loaf.  The starter is to the point where I can keep it in the refrigerator and only feed it once a week.

Sour dough starter and bread

I made lemon water which I make every few days.  For more than a year, my husband has a warm cup of this water first thing in the morning.  I don't know if this is the reason he was able to eliminate his acid reflux medication, but he doesn't need it any longer.  He has done a few other things like not eating after 7:00 pm and cutting back on tomato products.  That was difficult, but we have adapted.

Lemon water which I made this time with a lime, an orange and two lemons

I made a new batch of bone broth.  I recently bought twenty-five pounds of organic bones, so I will be good for a long time.  I drink a cup of the broth first thing in the morning instead of coffee.  I call it my magic elixir.  It gives me a sense of well being even though staying upbeat during these long winter days is challenging at times.

Batch of bone broth for the freezer

I made hard boiled eggs in the pressure cooker.  Most people call the cooker an Instant Pot now, but when I bought mine it was called a digital pressure cooker.  I think the term "pressure cooker" brings back negative memories of past models.  Leave it to Madison Avenue to rename it to improve sales.  However instant pots do have more pre-programmed settings including a yogurt setting which is very popular.


Seeing all the hype on making yogurt makes me laugh.  I have been making my own yogurt for forty years or more.  It is the exact process I have always used but they are making it sound like a new invention.  Now they call it Greek yogurt, but it is just thick yogurt.  I typed "Yogurt" in my blog because I was sure I had blogged about it already.  It didn't come up.  I blogged about all the other things I have made this week, but not yogurt.  That is hard to believe, so here is the recipe.

Homemade Yogurt

4 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 T. plain yogurt starter
(to start just buy a container of plain yogurt with live cultures, then after you start making yogurt use 1 tablespoon of your homemade yogurt to start a new batch)

I read you can freeze yogurt in ice cube trays and then if you don't make one batch after the other, you will have starter available.  I haven't tried this.

Heat the milk to 180 degrees.  You can use a saucepan or the microwave.  Use a digital thermometer to make sure the milk is hot enough.  Then let it cool to 110 degrees.  Stir in the yogurt starter.  I usually put the yogurt starter in a small dish, add a little milk and mix it up.  Then add it into the four cups of cooled milk.  Now you just incubate it for 10-12 hours.  People with an instant pot just make it in the cooker, but I use an old yogurt maker to keep the yogurt warm.  It just needs to be kept warm somehow.  I usually do it in the evening and then it is ready in the morning.  Without stirring, put it in the refrigerator for 6 hours or so.  Mine is very thick, but if it isn't just strain it through cheese cloth or a sieve or a nut bag.  The excess whey drains out for other uses, and the really thick Greek yogurt remains.

Yogurt maker with finished yogurt.

This is perfect plain yogurt to use in smoothies which is what we usually use it for.  I also make yogurt parfaits.  To do that, I sweeten the yogurt with some honey and a little vanilla, cut up some fruit and layer it in a dish or jelly jar with either granola or oatmeal.

Parfaits in the refrigerator for a snack or a quick breakfast. 

I love having all this stuff on hand to eat and drink, but the downside is the dirty dishes.  I know how to make a mess, and my biggest challenge is to remember to clean up as I go.   Fortunately I have a non-human dishwasher.  If I didn't, it would be really easy to talk myself out of making all this.

I realize this way of living is not for most people, but living like a modern day pioneer is the life we chose.  Thank goodness I have indoor plumbing, a great backup heating system, running water and access to food without hunting, fishing and preserving just to live.