Quitting on Time

Once it gets to be about 4:45 or 4:50, Butter gets restless. I mean, really restless. He thinks it's quitting time and won't take "but I need 10 more minutes" for an answer.

Today, for some reason, was particularly bad. I blame it on all the rabbits that have been taunting him from the front yard. He spent a good part of the day whimpering and barking at them. And then there was the arrival of the mailman. And then the UPS man came. You know, the usual.

Just before 5, and for the few minutes after 5 I continued to work, Butter went beserk.

He ran in the office. He pawed at me. He ran out of the office and whimpered at rabbits, once he realized I wasn't following him.

He came back in. He jumped up on the bed in the office as if he could see out of the tall window. He hopped right back down.

He sat patiently and panted, staring at me while I worked. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate when a dog is sitting like this staring at you?

He left again. I heard a strange pawing sound and went out to discover he had somehow gotten the door from the kitchen to the hallway open and had run down into the basement in the dark by himself. I don't even want to know what he was doing in there.

He ran back upstairs and gulped a bunch of water. And then came back and pawed me.

Then, finally, I was done. Thank goodness because he was about one hot lap from driving me insane.

At least it wasn't like last week, when he got so annoyed with my paper-grading that he attacked the ones spread out on the floor. I think Conservative Boy told him to do that, actually.

What do you think, would the students believe it if I told them the dog ate their homework?


A New Laptop

Hello? Hello? Is anyone out there?

What's that? You were wondering if I was out there?

Yes, I'm here silly. Just busy, that's all. Apparently when you teach and take classes, the end of April and beginning of May are busy. Incredibly busy. Who knew?

While I try to unbury myself from an avalanche of student papers and portfolios and final exams while simultaneously unburying myself from an avalanche of papers I must write and exams I must study for, my presence here may be a bit sporadic. (Oh, and did I mention this is a terrific time of year for quarterly magazines to have writing and editing deadlines? Why of course.)

But rest assured, if you keep coming back, it will be worth the wait. I'm gearing up to try some new things. Some big things. And that's all I'm going to say.

For today, I would like to show you a little technological try I made the other day: I upgraded my laptop.

Sturdy, reliable but oh-so outdated and overwhelmed iBook G3 ...

Meet my all-new 13-inch aluminum MacBook.

Now that I have let those of you who are Mac fans ooh and aah, and those of you who are not snicker, I will address comments from the peanut gallery.

Julie, why the heck would you fork over that much money for a computer right now? Don't you know we're in the middle of the R word?

Yes, I know. But hey, why not try to singlehandedly stimulate the economy? ... In all seriousness though, when technology needs arise and you spend day and night on your computer for work and school and writing to dear blog readers, you must have a reliable computer. And as much as I love my iBook, it no longer fit the bill. Besides the fact that it's big and bulky and missing letters on some of the keys (apparently I type N a lot), it's slow and cranky and frequently overheats and sounds like it's going to implode when I try to use design applications or basically anything other than a web browser or Word. Plus it's not compatible with many Internet apps I try to run, has refused to recognize my iPod for years now, and runs an incredibly archaic operating system. But hey, it put in a solid 6 years of frequent use, so let's give it some credit.

Why would you buy a Mac rather than a PC? They're so expensive and inferior.

(Please note, the inferior part came from Conservative Boy. He's so misguided, but don't tell him I said so. I like to be the one to break it to him.) It is true that PCs are less expensive and incredibly functional machines. But, for lack of better reasoning, once you go Mac (which I have since the first clunker my parents brought home when I was in elementary school), you don't go back. They're pretty, they're functional, their graphics can't be beat. And when you work with graphic design programs (let me clarify, with the words in graphic design programs), and when the people you work with use Macs, it makes life a whole lot easier when you do too.

But enough rambling about my new laptop. (Oh how I love thee ...) I must get to work on bigger and better things. If I have at all convinced you that it's time to trade yours in, get thee to the Apple Store pronto. You can get 0% financing for 12 months—but the offer ends tomorrow.


Celebrating Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

(Sorry. That was the obligatory Earth Day flower image. Notice my lovely $1 juice pitcher/vase. No, you cannot buy it.)

OK, now that I’ve written that, I have a confession to make. I’m not really that big of a fan of Earth Day.

Go ahead, gasp. I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of Earth Day. I do. A day to celebrate the Earth, to make an effort to improve it, is novel. It’s terrific. But here’s the thing: Shouldn’t every day be Earth Day? What good does it do if a slew of people around the country or world take one day out of their lives to recycle or contemplate their water use or rally for environmental causes? Sure, it’s terrific. But what about the other 364 days? Earth is still there, getting pummeled by us humans.

I feel the same about Earth Hour, which occurred March 28. The fact that people in more than 4,000 cities and towns in 88 countries turned off all their lights for an hour to raise awareness for global warming is terrific. I’m glad they did it. But what happens when the hour is up? Pow! The lights go back on and we consume as usual?

Rather than going for flash, for bang, for having companies that normally pollute like mad pretend to be interested in the earth for a day or week, rather than handing out little earth bouncy balls or cheap plastic water bottles that aren’t really very earth-friendly, how about we make meaningful changes?

What if, instead of allotting one day for celebrating Earth, we did just a little bit every day? I’m not trying to tell you to sell all your cars and bicycle everywhere (although that would be swell) or move out of your house and into a tepee with no electricity or running water. But how about making a conscious effort to recycle, not to purchase bottled water, to turn off lights when you’re not in the room, to use greener cleaning products, to consume fewer resources, to buy only what you really need? It’s really not that hard, and I can promise you that it won’t hinder your lifestyle that much.

I’ll step down from my soapbox now. I’ve gathered some links to a few of my favorite sites that can help you do just what I was talking about above. Don’t bother looking at them now—you’ll hear enough about the Earth today.

But tomorrow, next week, next month, when the Earth isn’t getting near as much attention? That’s when you should go check these sites out. Glean a few helpful tips here and there, make a few changes. The Earth will thank you for it. Your grandchildren will thank you for it, and their grandchildren, and ... well, you get the picture:

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” — Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

NRDC Green Living
The Daily Green
The Green Guide
Earth 911
Dot Earth
Mother Earth News
Daily Danny
Apartment Therapy Re-Nest

OK. I have more. But that’s enough for today. Now go celebrate the Earth.


Making a Rain Barrel Part II

Some of you may recall that I tried (and succeeded at) making my very own rain barrel last summer thanks to the Ecology Action Center in Bloomington. It was pretty darn easy, and I promised to share the details of how I made it with you right here.

Only I didn’t.

I’m fresh from getting my rain barrel set up to start catching water for the year, however, so I thought it was time to fill you in the process in case you’re interested in making your own.

Why bother? For starters, in the summer, as much as 40 percent of a homeowner’s water use goes to the yard. And a rain barrel can save you about 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months. So whether you’re hoping to conserve a precious natural resource or simply save some cash (I’m all for both), installing a rain barrel makes sense.

But enough blabbering on about the benefits. Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?

[All instructions below are courtesy of the Ecology Action Center. They’re great people. You should donate to them. Also, my apologies for the lack of photos. Conservative Boy thought I was crazy and didn’t tag along to assist me. Sad.]

Here’s what you need:

  • One food-grade 55-gallon plastic barrel
  • ½-inch female sillcock (this is the spigot)
  • Two #15 O-rings (these are little black rubber rings)
  • ¾-inch flat washer (we used grade 8)
  • ½-inch brass pipe nipple (this is the threaded pipe that passes through the barrel and connects to the spigot/sillcock)
  • ½-inch brass lock nut
  • downspout adaptor
  • ¾-inch pan head screws
  • Hacksaw or jigsaw or sabresaw or Sawz-All
  • 4-inch hole saw
  • 7/8-inch hole saw
  • 1¾-inch hole saw
  • Drill
Ready to run away screaming yet? OK, so it does sound a bit intimidating if you don’t have any tools or skills with this sort of thing (like me!). That’s why you might want to check around and see if there’s a rain barrel making workshop in your area. If not, I am confident you can do this. Really!

Here’s what you do:
  1. Use the 4-inch hole saw to cut a hole in the top of the barrel for your downspout.
  2. Use a 7/8-inch hole saw to cut a hole 3 inches up from the bottom of the barrel for your spigot/sillcock.
  3. Also use the 7/8-inch hole saw to cut a hole about 2 to 3 inches from the top of the barrel. This will be at the narrow part of the barrel and is where you will start to cut off the top of the barrel with your saw.

  4. Use the hacksaw or jigsaw or sabresaw to remove the top of the barrel. (Yes, I really did use the power tools myself, although I had a bit of help a few times.)

  5. Wipe any residual oil or liquid from the barrel. (We used newspapers to absorb the liquid. It worked well but it can get incredibly messy. So wear old clothes and whatever you do, don’t clean this out inside your house!)
  6. Use the 1 ¾-inch hole saw to cut a hole about 2 inches below the open top of the barrel. This will be for the overflow.
  7. Screw the pipe nipple into the spigot/sillcock.
  8. Place an O-ring on the pipe nipple, as close to the sillcock as possible.
  9. Push the pipe nipple through the outside of the barrel to the inside. The spigot/sillcock is now outside, with the pipe nipple inside.
  10. Have someone hold the spigot outside while you place an O-ring on the pipe nipple inside the barrel.
  11. Place the metal washer over the pipe nipple.
  12. Thread the brass lock nut (or the steel conduit locknut) over the pipe nipple. Tighten it by hand as far as possible. Tighten another 1.5 turns with a wrench to secure it.
  13. Take the 4-inch plastic disc that you cut out of the top of the barrel and use a saw to cut it in fourths, like a piece of pie. (Speaking of pie, I can’t wait until it’s time for strawberry rhubarb season. But, as usual, I digress.)
  14. Screw the pieces to the sides of the barrel near the top, with at least 1 inch protruding above the barrel.
  15. Place the lid of the barrel back on the barrel. The little plastic pieces will keep it centered. The lid usually only fits one way; line that up by referring to the hole you drilled near the top of the barrel when you cut off the top.

One last step: When you position your rain barrel where it belongs, you'll likely want to stack some bricks beneath so it is raised off the ground a bit. This makes it easier to get to the spigot when it's time to hook up the hose or fill up your watering can.

And that’s it! Almost. Depending on where you position your rain barrel, overflow may be a concern. I know I don’t want to be responsible for flooding our basement or the neighbors’ yard.

One option for overflow is to place the male connector end of a sump hose, pointing outward, into the overflow hole at the top of the barrel. A trap adaptor will secure it to the inside of the barrel. The sump pump hose will connect to the outside of the barrel.

Another option is to purchase a downspout diverter, like this one from Garden Water Saver. That’s what I did, only our crappy old gutter wasn’t very cooperative and, to be honest, I’m not sure that it’s a very reliable setup. So I may be going back and drilling that overflow hole, then sticking with the original downspout adaptor after all. We’ll see—it's raining today, so this will be the test.

If you’re looking for more step-by-step info on making a rain barrel, watch Sherry & John in action over at This Young House as they build their own. Fun stuff, my friends.


Battling Wascally Wabbits

I don't necessarily think wabbits—er ... sorry, rabbits—are evil. As long as they don't eat things in my garden, I think they're rather adorable creatures.

Butter, however, disagrees.

Anytime one of these critters makes an appearance in our front yard, Butter carries on as if some giant monster is making its way down our street, leaving a path of destruction behind him. Butter whines and barks and cries and carries on in such a way that I can't help but run from my office to see what's wrong.

This fearsome critter is what's wrong.

She just sits there, sweet as can be, but her very presence taunts Butter and nearly drives him to madness.

He doesn't know what to do. He tries to convince me with his moans and his urgent eyes that he needs to get outside. Now. To save our yard from imminent danger. He can't take his eyes off of her, lest she do something particularly dreadful.

Come on, Butter says, wondering why I won't do anything. Can't you see? That's not a rabbit. That's the devil wearing bunny ears.

I don't know, Butter. I'm not convinced.


Easter Dinner (And a Surprise!)

I hope you’re not still stuffed from Easter dinner. If you are, you might want to go ahead and skip this post. Come back tomorrow, when you’re feeling like you can eat again. Or if you really ate too much, come back Wednesday. Whatever suits you.

For those of you who are still with me, you’re in for a treat (and a surprise!).

Every year that I’ve been in L-Town for Easter (yes, that means twice now) we have been invited to dine at Q & M.B.’s farmhouse. This, my friends, isn’t just dining. It’s an event of epic proportions. Really. This guy knows.

This year, rather than dinner, we gathered for Easter brunch. Of course, when M.B. is cooking, even brunch is a feast big enough to render you worthless for the rest of the day. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

As usual, every detail of the brunch—down to the tiny serving dishes for the salt and pepper and the lettuce leaves beneath each plate—was taken care of.

And the menu? Well, let's just say the menu speaks for itself.

Broccoli frittata

Fruit bowl

Asparagus salad with shallot vinaigrette

Apricot coffee cake

Plus cinnamon rolls, ham biscuits, roasted fingerling potatoes, and sausage (not shown—sorry, it's the only thing I skipped!)

Then, of course, there was dessert. "What?" you're asking. "Wasn't the cinnamon roll and apricot coffee cake dessert?" One would think. But need I remind you again where we were?

And so, after Easter brunch, we overindulged on:

Strawberry cream pie

Carrot cake

Chocolate coffee bombe (aka the exploding bomb, because shortly after this the cutting went awry and it really did flip over onto the tablecloth and Kid Sister's hand).

Speaking of hands ... this Easter brunch also included:

A ring!

Hello? Hello? Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you fall off your chair.

What? No, silly, that's not my hand! It belongs to Kid Sister! Yes, that's right. Talk about a terrific Easter: early Sunday morning (after he had driven all night to get home from the Masters), T-Bear hid Easter eggs for Kid Sister. Being the Easter lover that she is, Kid Sister excitedly hunted down the eggs and put together the puzzle hidden inside.

The puzzle said this: I Love You.

"I love you too," Kid Sister said, still not realizing something was amiss.

Then T-Bear pulled another egg from his pocket and dropped down to one knee.

I think you can figure out what happened next. Kid Sister was so ecstatic she forgot to say yes! (Don't worry, T-Bear reminded her.)

And then we all got to celebrate their engagement over that delicious Easter brunch you just witnessed above. Isn't that terrific?


Smelling Spring

Ah spring. How I love thee, even when you jump from warm and bright one day to blustery and chilly the next.

In particular, I love the way you smell, like sweet pink hyacinths.

And equally sweet white hyacinths.

I also love the way you look, like water droplets on green petals.

So I will gaze—often—out the window at the blooming, dewey perennials.

And make excuses to go stand by the kitchen sink as much as possible so I can breathe in the scent of these pretty little blooms I brought inside.

Ah spring. How I love thee.


Wishing You a Happy Easter

Good morning! And happy Easter from L-Town.

I hope you have a lovely day, whether you're off to church, are celebrating the holiday with friends and loved ones, or both. (I hope it's both!)

We're headed to Easter brunch at Q and M.B.'s shortly. If last year (not to mention every other time we've dined at their house) is any indication, it will be a feast.

If I'm not too busy eating (which is very possible), I'll try to snap a few photos to show you the full Q & M.B. Easter Experience. I'll warn you now though: the photos never do the food or the presentation justice.

In the meantime, if you need to make a last-minute treat to take to dinner later today, might I suggest these?



Saturday Morning Love

If you happen to stop by and visit on a Saturday morning, you'll likely spot me sitting at the dining room table, drinking coffee in my favorite mug (which, from some reason, I decided to use only on weekends so it's a special treat) and digging into my grad school reading (because weekends are usually when I finally have a chance to tackle all of my homework).

Once Conservative Boy gets out of bed (he doesn't have homework; he gets to sleep in), you will find him spending some quality time on the floor with Butter.

Conservative Boy rubs his head. Conservative Boy rubs his belly. They wrestle. Sometimes, they share a hug. Awww, now ain't that special.

Don't be fooled by this sweet scene. Usually, it's followed by this.

It's the weekend, Butter says. Let's celebrate. RAR.


Tiptoeing Past the Tulip

As my front-yard flowers are learning this year, springtime isn’t always easy in Central Illinois. (Just imagine what they’d feel like if they were planted at my parents’ house in Wyoming—oh wait, they wouldn’t even be peeking out of the ground yet.)

The flower blooming is progressing rather slowly, thanks in no small part to the fact that twice in the past couple of weeks my flowers have been greeted by a blanket of snow. That’s enough to send any bud—or person for that matter—into hiding.

Yet some of my flowers, like my hardy daffodils that survived both snow experiences, soldier on.

Take this lovely little tulip, which you may remember from last week. I kept a close eye on this one.

It’s right next to our sidewalk and perfectly positioned for watching from our front window. Plus, it shot up and looked like this while all the other tulip plants were languishing low to the ground.

This baby has potential, I thought. And the flush of color that appeared on the bud the day the next day confirmed it.

As it got closer and closer to turning full-on red, I watched it even more. No, I’m not that big of a dork. (Well, maybe I am.) But it’s the little details that make life sweet, people. Remember that.

And then the next day it got redder.

Oh boy, I thought. Here we go.

And on the fifth, it bloomed. Lovely lovely lovely.

And then it snowed.

But don’t worry: it still looks like this. It came this far. It’s not going back. It stuck its middle finger at the weather (well, it would if it had a middle finger) and went right on blooming, even though it’s still the only tulip blooming in the yard.

(Wanna see some lovely tulips that aren’t all red like mine? I love Dave’s over at The Home Garden.)


Making Pasta alla Marlboro Man

It's lunchtime here, which of course means I am thinking about dinnertime. That's the way it works in Julie's world.

Because The Pioneer Woman loves pasta and I'm a pasta fiend myself, I often bookmark her particularly tasty pasta recipes so I can try them. That's why, if you were around in January, you know I made Penne a la Betsy (named for The Pioneer Woman's sister). And that's why tonight I'm trying Pasta alla Marlboro Man.

Betsy was for me—shrimp and a sauce with white wine. But this recipe is for Conservative Boy all the way baby. Why? Because it's super easy and exceptionally meaty. And if C.B. had his way, every meal would be meaty. Or, dare I say, MEATY.

If Marlboro Man loves it, Conservative Boy must, right? Even though I'm the one in the house with the cowboy boots.


Treasure Hunting

Every once in a while, when I have a chance, I stop into a few of the antique and second-hand stores in downtown L-Town to see what treasures I can find.

Most of the time, I just wander around for a few minutes and leave empty-handed. I try not to buy things just for the sake of buying anymore. Instead, I only buy something I really need, that is exceptionally useful, or that is particularly special. Or, let’s be honest, something that just makes me incredibly happy.

I suppose, if you wanted to, you could call it my personal definition of sufficiency. (Sorry, I've been reading for my economics class so it's on my mind.) In other words, the goal is to have enough to support a comfortable life. No more, no less. Perhaps the last item on my list—the part about buying things that make me incredibly happy—is not necessary for a comfortable life. But life is too short to deprive yourself of everything but the necessities, don't you think? It’s not about consume, consume, consume. Buy, buy, buy. It’s just that an occasional treasure here and there makes life all the more wonderful.

Anyhow. So I went into the antique store on the square this weekend, only instead of my usual browsing I actually had a mission. There are a couple of areas in our house—namely my office, but also my jewelry drawer and a few spots in the kitchen—that are disaster areas. So I wanted to find a bookshelf for my office and a few other organizational items.

Usually, when I shop with expectations, I come home empty-handed. But this time?

Let's just say the trip was a success and then some.

I started with this whole stack of frames (eight total, with an interesting variety of artwork, including two silhouettes on linen and a very strange painted portrait of some kid). The frames are for the big, blank yellow wall in my office. I want to put my photographs in most, but I might actually keep the random art in a few of them (although the strange portrait has to go).

I also picked up this terrific old Kroger crate for some additional office storage. It’s already filled with junk, by the way. But at least that's one less pile of junk on the floor.

Plus this plant stand. It wasn't really on my shopping list, but I've been looking for a plant stand since last summer and this one is much better than the new ones I’ve contemplated buying (cheaper too!).

Oh, and just for fun? These little guys.

They're bookends. No wait, they're vases. Oh ... that's right ... they're both. And incredibly retro. They actually match the clock embedded in the wall in the kitchen, which is why they're now serving to support my small collection of regularly used cookbooks.

I also bought some cute little glass bowls, which you'll have to wait to see in a later post because I want to show you what I did with them. I'm so mean, aren't I?

Oh wait. I almost forgot the big one, the main reason I stopped into the store in the first place: My new bookshelf.

A bit worn, yes. But very sturdy and just the size my office (which is overflowing with binders, books, magazines, papers, and more papers) needs.

Not bad for a quick stop, eh? And best of all, the grand total was less than $150. The bargain shopper strikes again.



Meet Cubbie.

Cubbie is one of Butter’s pals. He belongs to Kid Sister and her honey, T-Bear. (Yes, he has a name now. We picked it at Conservative Family dinner Sunday night after much deliberation. T-Bear was not there to approve it, but that’s just too bad. If it sticks, he’s stuck.)

Cubbie and Butter enjoyed some serious playtime at Kid Sister and T-Bear's when Conservative Boy and I went to Florida recently. Then last Friday, Cubbie came to play at our house while Kid Sister entertained.

A good time was had by all. (Well, C.B. might tell you a different story, because he was stuck watching the dogs alone most of the night. But deep down, I know he enjoyed it.)

These two sure did.

Between trips to the bathroom for big gulps from the water bowl (no, not the toilet, the real water bowl), they played hard in our living room.

Do not be alarmed by these images.

No dogs were harmed in the making of this photo series.

The only damage was sustained by my floors, which were covered by double the amount of drool they usually endure.

Flying dogs. Oh how I love flying dogs. They're great.

I know Butter looks like he's losing here. But he really held his ground. Promise.

Imagine there's a lot of pseudo-angry growling and barking to accompany this. But remember: They're both big softies.

Now we pause for a moment to let the dogs catch their breath. Please note how different these two are.

Also, please note how Cubbie plops down on the floor. Is he a dog or a frog? The world may never know.