Archive for ‘Neighborhood’

June 1, 2015

Two and a half sixes

In the past two weeks, we celebrated two important “six” occasions:

Finn is six months old!

She would love to be able to crawl but just can't quite figure it out yet!

This little toot has now passed the half year mark. That cliche saying, about how quickly time goes by when you have a baby? Well, it’s mostly true. I say mostly because there’s also an aspect of it that feels just right. We love her in every stage that she’s at, and each one is more exciting than the last. She certainly does make it hard to get anything done, not just because she has an amazing amount of needs for us to fill, but also because she’s so darn awesome. Nothing is fun the way that hanging out with your kid is fun. She loves smiling, grabbing onto skin/dreadlocks/beards, giggling after a diaper blowout, and gnawing on anything she can fit in her mouth. After multiple attempts at stealing food out of our hands, we tried some solids this past month with entertaining results. Aside from avocados, she seemed to like everything we fed her, especially sweet potatoes. I’ll have to try to trick some into growing for us next year! Now that the garden is just starting to produce, I’m excited to be able to offer her lots of fresh vegetables over the summer. Although she would dearly love to get mobile and start crawling, she’s fairly stationary at the moment, which is a bit of a relief for me. I’m sure it will be highly fascinating to watch her scoot around when the time comes, but for right now, it’s nice to be able to lay her down on a play mat and not have to worry about her going too far.

This little peach is 6 months old today!

Our marriage is six years old!

Today we left our baby with @holldahl.mke and went on a real date. It was scary.

Boo and I celebrated our six-year anniversary this past weekend. Another couple from our house church graciously took Finn for the evening, and we tried out a new place for supper and an old haunt for some games and drinks afterwards. Also, Boo made me three new mix tapes, which, if you know me, you know that nothing gets me more than a good mix tape ;). In our early days of courtship, we indirectly flirted with one another by trading mix tapes. Obviously, it worked.

I won’t lie – having a baby takes its toll on a relationship. We’ve had to get used to having a lot less time for slow conversations, or random movie nights, or spontaneous trips out into the city. And while it’s quite endearing to watch each other grow as parents, we still feel it’s important to focus solely on one another. I see so many new parents shift all of their attention and affection onto their kids, and justify their relationship with their spouse by saying things like, “Oh, it’s so romantic when he changes a diaper and cuddles with the baby! I love him so much for that!”  And don’t get me wrong, I love Finn, and I also love watching Boo love her, but as hard as it is to imagine, someday Finn (and her potential siblings) will head off into the world on their own. When that happens, I don’t want to feel as though Jason and I have spent two decades of our marriage ignoring one another in light of our children. So, we do what we can. Sometimes that means sitting down to a late dinner after she goes to sleep, or planning our dates around activities that can involve a jogging stroller, but I think we do a decent job of it. I still really like him :).

It's a good day in Door County, kids.

We’ve spent three years in the little house!

And we still love it here! Now that I’m home more often, I love it even more. Our neighborhood, our garden, our way of life,..everything feels just right. The very best days are days when when all three of us hang out in the yard and watch June chase squirrels and play with the neighbor’s dog. We’ve been here long enough that things look different from the year that we moved in – paint colors have changed drastically, trees that we planted are finally getting bigger, and the garden has gone from one raised bed to a beautiful potager. We’re looking forward to the days when Finn is old enough to run wild with the other kids on our street, or to build forts in the forest at Havenwoods. Life is very good here on the north side of Milwaukee.

August 26, 2014

Life as a dog parent

So. Two months later…an update on doggie ownership.

To start things out, I just want to say that whenever I feel really crummy about something that June does, I read this post and it never fails to cheer me up. Because Allie gets it – dog ownership. How it’s insane and also rewarding.

As I mentioned, June started out being very shy and submissive. After about two weeks, she warmed up to life with us and started showing more of her sparkling personality.

First, the bad:

  • She doesn’t like the existence of other dogs. At first, I thought this was limited to smaller dogs – she got a bit snippy with a neighbor’s dachshund while I was walking her one night. However, it didn’t bug us too much. She had interacted with bigger dogs and done really well. I don’t know if she was just scared out of her doggie mind for the first few weeks, but suddenly, she was a maniac to deal with in crowds with other dogs. She still retained her hatred of tiny yappers, and she also decided that bigger dogs needed to be sniffed/corralled/bullied. This made for a very embarrassing first trip to the dog park in which she would randomly bark/growl/lunge at any and every other dog and then whine pitifully when we held her back. Yeah. Thankfully, some friends of ours have a lab mix that’s just a bit bigger than her who offered to let June have a sort of “play date” and work out some of her craziness around other canines. There was some growling/snippiness at first, but then eventually June calmed down and they ended up playing with each other for a solid hour. It was reassuring to find out that our dog is not inherently doomed to behave like a mad woman around other pets. Since said play date, she’s been a bit better. Now I think she looks at other dogs as potential playmates and tries to initiate a wrestling match.
  • She looses her mind around critters. We noticed this from the get-go; the abundance of squirrels in our neighborhood had the potential to turn her from a well-behaved pup into a mindless killing machine. It’s only gotten more entertaining. The first real time it became a problem was the Saturday morning that she ran a muck through the neighbor’s backyard, bolted to the front, and proceeded to chase some bunny/squirrel/chipmunk through our entire block with gleeful abandon while I stumbled after her in my pajamas, profoundly grateful that we don’t live on a busy street.  She jumps at tree trunks. She pulls on her leash so hard that she ends up standing on her hind legs and hopping like some strange, awkward rabbit. She even tried chasing a deer while I was running with her. A deer. Seriously, what was she thinking she would do if she caught the thing?! Once, while driving on a dirt road on our last vacation, she saw a chipmunk cross in front of the car. She jumped from the backseat onto the dashboard. Good thing we were crawling along at 5mph.  
  • She pulls like a sled dog whenever we walk her. Which would be awesome if she was one. But she’s not. And I mean, I get it. She’s 32 pounds of muscle, energy, and independence. Imagine if you were bred to roam the wilds of Australia without much direction and keep unruly cattle at bay. You probably wouldn’t want to heel nicely either. Thankfully, we did discover a method for keeping her in check. Basically, we keep the leash short and take long steps in front of her. This usually calms her down and gets her to stay right alongside of us. Now if only she would do that naturally instead of lunging forward from one tree to the next at six in the morning when I’m trying to stop and pick up her poop…
  • She gets chewy. Nothing terrible. She hasn’t demolished any shoes or valuables or anything. But she does have her days where, for whatever reason, she gets anxious or bored and goes after something. The most willing victims have been the couch pillows. She likes to knock them on the floor when we’re not home and play with them. She ended up tearing up the covers I made for the ones on the white couch. We do our best to leave her with plenty of chew toys, and now we’ve taken to putting the couch pillows out of her reach when we’re gone during the day. For the most part, this works.

So, all of that aside, owning a dog is really, really wonderful. Here are some of the awesome things about it:

  • She loves people. Even if other dogs aren’t her thing, nothing makes her happier than being in a big group and getting lots of attention/pets. She’s very calm, doesn’t jump, doesn’t lick compulsively, and never shows the least bit of aggression.
  • She’s a fantastic running partner. Even though gets easily distracted by any poor rodent in the general vicinity, her endurance amazes us. She never lags or falls behind. On the contrary, she’s usually the one setting the pace. It’s so nice to have a little friend along with me when I go out for a jog.
  • Car rides aren’t an issue for her. On the contrary, she loves them. We took a long road trip around Lake Michigan recently and she did great. If we walk by the car and have a door open, she jumps into the backseat on her own. And she does this while we’re driving, which is highly entertaining:
  • She’s a great camping dog. She sleeps at our feet in the tent and hang out around the campfire without any issues. I think she actually prefers camping – it makes her feel more like a “wild dog” being outside all of the time. She also does this cute thing where she digs a little hole for herself in the dirt and curls up in it:
  • She’s a canoe champion:
  • We know our neighbors better because we’re out walking her all the time. Seriously, if you want to meet the people that live around you, get a dog. I feel like we’ve connected so much more with the folks in our neighborhood because everyone wants to meet our dog. For the most part, I think it breaks down barriers. People view you in a warmer light when you’re out with your pup. The kids all know June by name and come over in our yard to say “Hi” whenever they see her. It’s great.
  • She’s so excited to be with us. Her little tail stump goes crazy whenever we walk in the door, or when we wake up to take her for a walk. It’s such a good feeling, knowing that your pet is always there to greet you and roll around ecstatically no matter what kind of a day you’ve had or what kind of a person you’ve been in that day. She keeps us company if we don’t feel good or if we’re tired or sad. She hangs out in the yard while we work in the gardens. She sleeps at the foot of our bed every night. It gives you a whole multitude of warm feels to have such a sweet little friend hanging out around your house all the time. Totally makes up for any of her craziness.

Thanks for being our friend and putting up with all of our weird antics, June Bug. Hopefully we’ll have many more years of car rides, camping, jogs, and canoe trips.

July 5, 2013

The Animal Kingdom – A girl can dream!

After Tuesday’s very epic ladybug release, I thought it would be appropriate to do a series on different animals we’re considering sometime in the future. I’ll devote a day to each type of animal; the benefits, the costs, the stuff I’m worried about, and the things we would need to learn or adapt our home to.

As of right now, in addition to 1,500 aphid eaters, we have a cat, Clarice:

I’ve already blogged about her usefulness as a member of the homestead – she really, really keeps pests down in the house. Even with the wet weather we’ve had, I’ve seen very few insects inside this summer.

In my opinion, cats are perfect companions, if you find one with the right temperament. Clarice is extremely low-maintenance; she likes her pets and getting her bowl filled every day, but it’s no stress at all for us to be away from her all day or even all weekend. When we go on trips longer than four days, we arrange for someone to come by and check her food, but that’s nothing compared to the needs of some animals.

Which brings me to a more sobering point when it comes to the animal world – our current lifestyle isn’t exactly conducive to owning anything other than a cat. It’s a hard reality that we’ve struggled with. Both of us are away at work during the week, and sometimes we have evening commitments as well. We also enjoy the freedom of being able to get away some weekends, and we try to take a nice, long vacation once a year. If we owned even half of the animals I’d like to own, every one of those days we’re gone represents the need to coordinate care for them at least once a day, if not more in some cases.

When I try to research what the practicalities are of raising some of these animals, I often run across blogs from some of the more diehard types who gush on and on about the amazingwonderfulglorious benefits and delights in their livestock. Or, I come across some extremely embittered soul who tried raising ducks or goats and had a terrible time with it because they just weren’t prepared for the responsibility. What I would love to find is practical research from someone right smack in the middle of those two lines of thought. Preferably someone who lived in a major city and maybe also held a job outside of the house, even on a part-time basis. And took vacations once in awhile.

This is one of my biggest beefs (haha) when I read homesteading blogs – it seems like some of these modern farmers just aren’t able to have a life outside of their barnyard. Which, please, don’t get me wrong, if that’s what you WANT your life to look like, then that’s fantastic. But that is NOT what Jason and I want our lives to look like, at least not entirely. I’d like to be home more, I’d like to be in the community more, but traveling and having adventures is a big part of who we are also. You can’t just pack up a flock of chickens into your car and drive down the road…

That being said…good things do come to those who wait. The reality is that neither of us want to continue with our current work situations forever. We’re both doing small things to help make these changes happen, and in an ideal world both of us are able to be home more and work less. I won’t get into the specifics just yet, but I have good faith in the idea that within five years one (or hopefully both!) of us will be home throughout most of the day.

Of course, changing our work situation doesn’t exactly solve the problem of animals needing daily care while we’re on vacation. Enter the virtue of patience once again – in our ideal world, we have really solid relationships with a few of the neighbor kids and allow them to earn some cash and some mad skills by hiring them as temporary farm hands. Now, granted, this has the potential to be messy (escapee chickens and runaway pups come to mind) and would require a LOT of trust for both parties involved. Trust that takes time to build up. But how cool would it be to be able to provide eggs for all of our neighbors? Or to show rabbits at the fair that were raised not just by me, but by the community?

When I think of homesteading being done this way, it gives me the freedom to dream bigger dreams. This is how it should happen in the city. This is how someone could learn the art of self-sufficiency – by actually reaching out and saying, “I need help. Let’s do this together”.

So, with all of that in mind, tune in tomorrow for our second installation of the Animal Kingdom (aka Johanna’s delusional dreams about being a crazy pet lady).

June 13, 2013

A bit of a lull

After a spring that was WAY too busy for my liking (working two jobs, managing a community garden, and trying to keep up on my own yard), I realized recently that I’ll have a bit of a lull in the next coming weeks. True, there is always work to be done in the community garden, and as soon as the corn gets some height I’ll be planting my melons and pumpkins and pole beans. But other than that, there’s really no upcoming harvesting or preservation, no major planting or digging – just normal maintenance stuff like watering and fertilizing and weeding and mowing the never-ending lawn ;).

All of my major plantings are done until I start seeding some fall crops in late July. The soil has been turned and mulched. The flower beds are doing their thing and starting to look darn good. It even rained quite hard for most of yesterday evening, so I won’t have to worry about watering for a few days. We gave the house a good cleaning last weekend after letting it get away from us for awhile, and now it’s really just general picking up and laundry.

I spent an hour or so just sitting in the porch swing the other night, catching up on some reading. I have to admit, setting up the sitting area in the front of the house has produced exactly the thing we hoped it would – more interaction with our neighbors. I love it.

I want to use this down time wisely, but I also think there’s a lot of value in sitting still when you have the chance to. Like I said, it’s been such a busy spring for both of us. I’m totally fine with “porch swinging” staying around the top of my priority list for awhile.


May 28, 2013

I need your help!

Hey readers! I recently visited a clothing shop in Door County, and they had some awesome Wisconsin-themed t-shirts. Sadly, none of them fit me well, and even though I’m able to alter t-shirts quite easily I couldn’t justify paying a lot of money for something I would have to hack up and tailor.

However, I’ve since decided that it’s high time I get myself something that bears testimony to my love for my great state. To give you an idea of how much I love living here…I almost always cry when I happen upon photos of Wisconsin. Yeah. I’m that much of a sap.

Anyway, this is where you come in! I need some input – with so many designs out there to choose from, I decided to let you all vote for your favorite design. The shirt with the most votes will end up in my closet at some point in the near future. My birthday is at the end of June, for those of you who were curious 😉

So, without further ado, here are the options (click on the links for more pictures):

Option #1:


Option #2:

“Born and Raised”

Option #3:

“Midwest is Best”

Option #4:


Option #5

“Milwaukee Skyline”

And then, just for giggles, here are a few silly shirts that I don’t think I’d ever buy but found entertaining:

Mighty Midwest

Beneath Us

I’ll pick the winner next Tuesday!





May 20, 2013

Pioneer Woman Cherries

We have a pretty rad elderly lady who lives next door to us. She’s funny and tough and is always up for a talk. She has two great dogs that like to lean on the fence waiting for us to pet them. She’s taken to referring to me as the “Pioneer Woman” because she noticed me hanging my clothes out on the line to dry right up until it got too cold (well, our dryer doesn’t work. What else can you do?).

Her lot is the same size as ours, and she has a mature cherry tree towards the back. Last year there were only a few cherries because of the weird spring and dry summer, but this year there will probably be a normal amount. She said that when the cherries come, I’m welcome to pick as many as I want and “do whatever a pioneer woman does” with them. Well, this pioneer woman will likely be making a couple of pies and maybe some jam to share with my generous neighbor!

The tree is in full bloom right now. We can see it from our kitchen window. When you get up close, you can hear lots of bees doing their thing.

It will be really nice to have some fresh fruit to get us by until our own little fruit trees start producing. I’m really thankful for an awesome neighbor!

May 7, 2013

Spray Paint Madness

Awhile ago, I blogged about our re-do of the front garden, along with the process of refinishing our garden swing. Progress on the swing was fairly slow – the weather was too cold for me to continue priming and painting it.

Well, we finally got some warm weather two weekends ago. I was able to finish priming the metal frame and apply two coats of the actual color, Paprika.

Jason had the bright idea to hang the pieces from the garage rafters so that I could get at all sides at once.

Please disregard our messy garage. Cleaning it is on our to-do list for this year…

It all worked out well, except that this method seemed much more conducive to me getting spray paint everywhere – on the floor, on my arm, in my hair, on the garden tools, even on my face. Most of it washed off ;).

The following Tuesday, we had temperatures in the high 70’s well into the evening. Wanting to take advantage of the weather, Jason and I sat out in the driveway and reassembled the bench. It took us awhile, but we were able to haul it to it’s final resting place and have a nice long “porch sit” as the sun went down in front of us and the world entered into dusk.

And here is the finished product. I took this photo the next morning. I’m really, really happy with how it turned out! I also love that we can sit in the front yard now. Unfortunately, these next couple of weeks are going to be so busy that I may not have many moments to enjoy a good sit. Hopefully when we head into summer we’ll be able to do that more.

For reference, here is an idea of what it looked like before. Sorry I don’t have a more “complete” photo of it. I think you’ll agree, the new colors and boards are a big improvement!


May 2, 2013

Good Greenhouses

One challenge I’ve run into here in Milwaukee is the complete lack of organic garden supplies. Earlier in the year, I was shopping around for seed starting mixtures and had a terrible time. I really wanted to mix my own from a blend of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss but the only places open in February were the big box stores like Menards and Home Depot, and all they carried was a pre-mixed starter. I ended up buying that, and was pretty disappointed with it. I also found myself getting really frustrated by the fact that you couldn’t go somewhere and purchase basic supplies – it felt like the equivalent of wanting to buy fabric to make your own clothes but only being able to buy pre made clothes. Don’t even get me started on the fact that it’s pretty near impossible to find open pollinated seeds at any of these places…or any sort of natural fertilizer (like compost or fish emulsion).

I remembered visiting Bayside Garden Center in Mequon several years ago, and being pretty happy with their selection. Back in March, I paid them a visit and was pleasantly surprised. While they carried a lot of more conventional gardening supplies, they also had a great variety of Dr. Earth’s products and basic components for mixing up your own blends. They carry some heirloom seeds, too. I think they’re open in the winter (they sell houseplants as well as bedding plants) and I wish I thought to visit them before spending my money at a big box store and getting poor quality supplies. Oh well, lesson learned. There’s always next year! Bayside is a short drive from our house, so I’ll definitely be paying them a few more visits this year for various supplies.

Bayside is where I purchased my asparagus roots and rhubarb plant. I also got some cilantro plants and Bee Balm. Everything looks really lush and healthy and is doing well in the garden so far.

Another greenhouse that I’d like to visit is Webers. I’m interested in them for a variety of reasons – they are a huge supporter of Milwaukee Urban Gardens, and they seem to offer a variety of organic/natural gardening supplies. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to get their this year!

April 24, 2013

Make flowers, not war!

Happy Administrative Professionals Day! By day, we all know I’m a paper pusher at a suburban Catholic church. My co-workers are absolutely wonderful; they always give me flowers and throw a little celebration for me.

Speaking of paper-pushing, last night, I had another meeting with the folks at Agape regarding the community garden. It was still an exciting meeting, but now the hard work begins of organizing a gardener’s event, typing up agendas and flyers,  talking to area businesses about donations, and making phone calls :). I’ve worked on enough community projects to understand that there inevitably is work involved that isn’t exactly glamorous or fun, and I’m fine with that. It helps me to think of building a foundation – all of the behind the scenes or administrative work is what you stand on when the actual project comes together. I remember reading a chapter out of this book about the secretaries who worked with Martin Luther King, and how they would run off copies for hours on end some days. Their hard work was part of what allowed people to get the word out about the Civil Rights Movement.

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. What I REALLY wanted to tell you about is guerrilla gardening. You’ve probably heard of yarn-bombing, birdhouse-bombing, and a few of the more well-known forms of street art. For a long time, I’ve tried to think of ways to do street art in the form of gardening. I’ve thought about planting tomatoes or lettuce in abandoned lots and leaving them to survive on their own, but the more I read about the levels of contamination in our city soils the less of a good idea that sounded like. I wouldn’t want someone eating a tomato or picking lettuce and getting sick.

However, last night one of the Agape folks told me about seed-bombing with wildflower seeds. She first heard about it in Riverwest, my old stomping grounds. Apparently, during the Riverwest 24 one of the activities involves chucking seed bombs down an alley with a lot of green space. I love it. It’s such a Riverwest-esque thing to do!

I did some research on Pinterest today, and it seems there are two main methods for making seed bombs. One involves shredding old newspapers in a blender with water and adding seeds (sort of like paper mache) and the other involves mixing dried clay (the cosmetic stuff you get at a heath food store) with worm castings and adding seeds. Both sound amazingly messy and awesome :). I’m going to try both methods; my thought is that the clay/worm castings will germinate better because it’s getting more nutrients, but who knows?

The whole reason the topic came up is because they recently tore down a condemned building next to the community garden. As you can imagine, the lot is in pretty sad shape right now. If there’s interest, we would like to try to lease or even purchase the lot from the owner and expand the garden. However, in the meantime, we’re thinking about getting permission from the owner to seed-bomb it! We’d like to do wildflower seeds, with a focus on flowers that attract pollinators. I’m thinking it would be an awesome project to do for a Kids Day event in the garden.

Want to know more about seed bombs? Here are tutorials for the two methods I mentioned:

Dried Clay Method

Shredded Paper Method

Now get on out there and make your neighborhood beautiful!

April 19, 2013

Back to the land?

I’ll try to limit my whining here, but allow me one little rant.

I get pretty peeved when wanna-be homesteaders start preaching about the beauty of “leaving the city behind” and moving to some remote area where they can isolate themselves and practice survivalist techniques.

Well, I mean, I guess that in and of itself doesn’t make me mad. I know that city life is not for everyone, and that’s OK. To each their own.

I think what hacks me off is the perception that the only way to be a sustainable, satisfied gardener is to leave the city behind. That packing up and “getting away from it all” is the ultimate destination of every homesteader.

I beg to differ.

I’ll be the first to say that there are difficult challenges to overcome when you choose to have a city homestead: contaminated soils, lack of gardening resources (ever tried shopping for soil amendments at Home Depot? Yeah, you know what I mean…), and a general lack of space. No, we can’t raise sheep or goats or cows in our backyards. Some of us don’t even have backyards.

But for me, what I get out of choosing to stay in the city far outweighs the challenges. I get to interact with my neighbors when I’m out in my yard. I get access to dozens of awesome farmers markets. I get to engage in conversations about how empowering it is to grow your own food in an area where the nearest grocery store charges $5 for a box of processed cereal and probably doesn’t even have the equipment set up to sell fresh produce. I get so many opportunities to learn. To share.

There’s a part of me that feels like the most beautiful flower is the one that chooses to grow in a concrete jungle. We need urban gardeners. We need people willing to step to the challenges involved and to change the landscape (literally!) of our cities.

Again, I want to stress that I’m not trying to diss anyone who chooses to live a more rural life – that’s their preference and choice and we definitely need people who DO have the space to raise cows and sheep and goats – I enjoy a good wool sweater and a slice of cheese as much as the next person. But I think there should be a mutual respect and understanding between the two lifestyles, not competition or superior remarks about “my way is the only way” to do this.

This past Saturday, I attended a workshop sponsored by Milwaukee Urban Gardens that was focused on how to start a community garden. Obviously, the community garden I’ll be managing is already established, but I got SO MUCH inspiration and knowledge from being there. What was really, really beautiful to me was the sentiment expressed by many future garden managers: there is something forgotten or abandoned in our neighborhood; a vacant lot, an old playground, an overgrown yard. We want to make that thing beautiful – and we want to do it as a community. We want to unite neighbors and bring about change. We want a beautiful place to grow food and flowers, a place that we can sit in and enjoy and where our kids can play.

Stuff like that gives me the chills, it’s so darn awesome.

I was so thankful that I was able to attend the workshop. I got to meet a few of the staff members from MUG and find out more about the resources available for community gardens.  The whole thing was so empowering for me that I didn’t even care that my first duty as a community garden manager was to spend 2 hours cleaning up discarded bottles and Cheetos bags from the garden later that afternoon :). When I started to feel discouraged, I would starting dreaming about how the garden will look in August, when everything is growing and people are spending time there getting to know each other. Totally worth it!