Monday, August 30, 2021

Waiting On Sand

Life would be a lot simpler if I lived on an area with a flat lawn but you can't get everything it seems. And so I spent a lot of time filling in the forms so that any concrete I pour into them doesn't end up at the bottom of the hill and pounding a lot of stakes and bracing to keep the forms in place when the immense weight of the concrete is poured into the form. 

Initially when I started this project, I had hoped that the dirt from the rat barrier would be enough to fill up much of the inside so that things were level but after digging one side of it, I canned that idea. A rat barrier is a narrow trench that get dugs in around the inside perimeter of the future concrete slab to prevent rodents and such from digging up underneath the concrete and making it a deluxe apartment. I also think it probably helps keep the structure rooted in place. The dirt from digging the rat barrier is dried out clay and it would take a lot of moisture and effort to pack it down dense enough that it wouldn't settle over time and cause cracking problems in the slab. So I am just going to toss it around the outside and use it as backfill when I remove the forms and seed it down later. Instead, I am just going to get a load of sand which packs down easily to take up much of the low spots. 

Getting sand is easier said than done. It seems like it always takes me several messages left over a period of a week before I ever get a call back. After a week and several messages, I finally got a call back and sand is supposed to be delivered in a couple days, hopefully before a big rain. That way perhaps the truck can back down the hill into my backyard and dump the sand right into the form. If not, I will be doing a lot of grunt work moving it wheelbarrow at a time down a fairly steep slope. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Vacation Scenery Part Two


On our second day, we stopped at another garden to stretch our legs between meals and kids activities. 

There was an old fashioned sundial and I put my own watch on it for reference to show that someone had forgotten to adjust the sundial for daylight savings time. 

Another Monet shot of lilipads.

We also went to Madison's farmer's market which is well known for its size and variety. While we were sitting later eating some of our purchases, I noticed this mural painted on a building and thought it snap worthy.

Some of our purchases. We used these for breakfasts to avoid the motel breakfast and also snacks in our car on the longer drive times.

Another scene I just sort of stumbled upon and thought it snap worthy.

Looking to get out of the heat for awhile, we stepped into the state capital for a looksee. Like most state capitals, I spent a lot of time looking up.

In any other capital one might see a majestic eagle adorning such a scene but not in Wisconsin. I presume this was a badger.

Scene from up on top of the capital. This is the only capital I've been too that allows one up onto the roof.

Lots of glitz everywhere. Taxpayer dollars hard at work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Vacation Scenery Part One

One of our first stops was to a small museum in a university building dedicated to physics experiments. Unfortunately, this picture through the very clean door glass was as close as we got as it was closed probably due to Covid. There was no sign explaining why it wasn't open.

So we took the long way back to our vehicle by walking through a garden in front of another one of the college campus buildings. This one even had grapes growing on a garden arbor and there may or may not be a few of them missing when they go to harvest them.

Trying to capture a bee busy at work harvesting pollen.

We continued on to Olbrich Gardens which we had stopped once before but in late fall when it was cold and most of the displays were heading towards dormancy. This time everything was green and lush. I couldn't help but let my inner Monet take a picture of the lily pads.

Underwater rock garden and fountain.

Japanese style pagoda being worked on.

Sleeping lion

 I'm not sure what the things in the foreground are but it just caught my eye with the sun lit hostas in the background and the rock wall beyond them.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Vacation Food Edition

About a week ago you may or may not have noticed my absence for a few days. We took one last small minivacation before school started by driving to Madison, Wisconsin, a town we have visited a few times over the years. This vacation has a few goals. It was meant to let the kids burn off some coped up Covid steam, to allow us to try some new to us foods and restaurants, and just to spend some time walking and relaxing. 

This post is all about the food and our first meal was at Dotty's Dumplings which is known not for their dumplings (aren't even on the menu) but for their burgers. Above was my burger which besides the cheese had all the fixings and a garlic mayo sauce. It was quite delicious. 

Old readers will know that we like to hit up farm to table restaurants where ever we go and do we made a stop at the Heritage Tavern which is a well known one in the area. Above was the appetizer of deviled eggs three ways.

My entrée was heritage pork snitzel from the pigs the owner of the restaurant raises. It was served on spaetzle and braised red cabbage and sprinkled with pickled aronia berries. 

My wife ordered the pork belly with rare ahi tuna served on a mango chutney.

The slightly blurry photo is of the best carrot cake I have ever had bar none. 

On another day we had some Japanese Ramen for lunch. Mine above was spicy pork with veggies.

My wife had a non spice version with sliced pork and other veggies.

For supper, we tried a Russian restaurant which unlike Dotty's above, IS known for their dumplings. I never knew Russian dumplings were a thing but these were delicious.

I thought I would give everyone a bit of background that in the age of Covid and rising case loads, we chose to eat all of our meals either at odd hours so that we were mostly the only patrons if we ate inside or we took them back to our motel room and ate them there. This way we could maintain social distancing while still enjoying new foods.


Friday, August 20, 2021

Updated Plans

With it being so hot, I do have some time, quite a bit actually, during late mornings and afternoons to do other things so I touched up my framing plans for this project. Nothing earth shattering but should help me get a lumber count so I can just pay for delivery once. I don't think I will try to haul all this in the minivan over countless trips. I'm still deciding how I want the doors for the storage side of the building. Ideally I would like to make it rodent proof while still having a 72 inch wide opening. Not sure if I can do that with home built doors. So more thought and research is needed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Reverse Dentistry


What a week to start a project like this. Within 60 minutes of starting to work on this at 6:30 a.m., I am soaked with sweat just as if I had just come out of a swimming pool. I move slowly and the breeze helps but it doesn't take long before I am completely dehydrated and in need of a fresh set of clothes. I have gotten the cracks all sealed to prevent concrete from oozing out the bottom of the forms and now need to pound in a lot more stakes and do bracing on the back side especially. Concrete is very heavy and exerts a lot of force. I am also going to see about getting a load of sand delivered while the ground is dry to help level out the interior of the form so not as much concrete is needed. The rest of the week is supposed to be just as hot so work sessions will be early in the morning and short in duration. Then we have a few days off for one last vacation before school starts and then the following week is supposed to be 15 degrees cooler on average so I hope to finish up everything and get in touch with my concrete guy. Maybe by September, I will be able to start framing.

Monday, August 16, 2021



Our oldest has been wanting a pet for a long time. Ideally she wants a cat but there are a few issues with that. We like to take vacations, sometimes two or three weeks at a time and can't bring a cat with us. Our neighbors are mostly retired and gone for long periods of time. Thus far, we have no friend that would particularly want or even enjoy looking after a cat and there is no family nearby anymore who might drop in and check on the thing. There is also dealing with cat hair, litterboxes, having to make a special trip to a store we don't normally go to just to get pet food, etc. So we have said no thus far. 

Earlier this year, the oldest, hit upon a clever idea. She asked for jellyfish instead. I didn't even know they were available to obtain as pets having only seen them in zoo aquariums and dead on the ocean shore. But she had thoroughly researched the subject and had links she sent me to sites selling jelly fish and necessary supplies. So we relented and bought her a jellyfish kit and supplies for her birthday.

The kit requires setting up the aquarium and doing an detailed analysis of the water followed by a minimum of six weeks to adjust the chemistry to a very specific criteria. Our oldest has been patiently adjusting things and getting them just so and finally, over two months later, we could actually order the jelly fish. We placed the order Saturday night, they shipped the order Monday night from Florida and we received them Tuesday a little before noon. 

 I didn't have high expectations of jelly fish survival through the postal system but they came in maybe a quart of water triple wrapped in plastic and in a cooler with ice packs inside a large box. The oldest followed the directions getting them slowly acclimatized to both the aquarium temperature and the salt water chemistry before adding them to her tank which has different colored LED light. Thus far, half a day later, they are swimming around and seem to be surviving their new digs. I know our oldest is over the moon right now, checking on them every 15 minutes. 

Now the experiment begins on how long a jelly fish lives in captivity by a young adult not yet out of school.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Greenhouse Part Two

 Every good building needs a solid foundation. After kicking around various thoughts for awhile, we finally settled on concrete. It is a one and done foundation and eliminates space under the structure for various varmints and critters to call home.  But as you can see above with our forms leveled out, our property has a fair amount of slope even on this "flatter" section of our lawn. None the less, we are proceeding though it will mean a fair amount of work. 

With my wife's help one weekend, we dug in the uphill side of the form and leveled it out. I wanted to dig it in to keep the backside height of concrete to a minimum and to keep the frontside height of concrete low enough I can drive a mower right into the building easily and yet not have water run down the slop and into the building. If everything goes as planned, there will be a two inch step down to the lawn on the lawnmower storage side of this building. 

By the time we got the front done, it was killing hot and we were completely soaked in sweat so we went inside until late that evening and came out and set the two side boards. I finished with the back side of the forms using various clamps and blocks as an extra set of hands and got everything leveled out. But, the backside of the form was quite a bit higher than I had hoped and so there are large gaps that need to be filled. I started filling them in but with an excessive heat warning for the day, I just had to give it up and move on to other things. My plan for this coming week is just to get up early and start working on things until it gets hot and then call it a day. 

Still to come, I need a lot more support and bracing installed once I fill in all the gaps and I need to level out the inside of the forms because I really don't need or want to pay for 18" thick concrete in places. I also need to figure out reinforcement to keep the concrete from heaving if/when it cracks. I called up my go to concrete guy and he is booked out for this year and most of next, hence while I'm doing much of this myself. But he thought if I got it formed up, he could help pour it which should only take a few hours perhaps on a short day or between jobs. 

I thought I would include a bonus photo of some sweetcorn risotto with scallops that we had recently using what meager sweetcorn we have been able to harvest from our garden. The really wet spring prevented about half of what we planted from even producing nay ears and the other half has been really slow to produce and what ears were produced had few rows and lots of gaps in the kernels. Pretty ugly looking but it still tasted fabulous in risotto with a dab of crème fresh and of course the scallops.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Greenhouse Part One

 One of the deficiencies in having our garden 40 miles away at the farm is that we don't have access to a greenhouse. There is a greenhouse there but without daily care, it is for the most part useless to us. Having a greenhouse would allow us to raise things from seed to provide earlier crops before the dry months of late summer hit or longer season stuff like peppers. My wife also dreams of sticking some house plants out there in the summer months instead of living all their lives indoors. 

When we purchased this property, I moved in with a tiny 16" push mower which wasn't up to the task of keeping up over 2 acres of lawn on steep slopes. The people we bought the house from gave me the phone number to their mower guy and I gave him a call. His price was such that to buy a new mower would probably take five to six years of paying him to pay off. As it turned out with several dry years in there, it was closer to eight. I would eventually like to get a mower to do it myself but I have no place to store one. My garage is full of woodworking stuff and other things and I don't want to just leave it outside under the weather. A storage shed would make the most sense.

So, after kicking the idea around, we decided that the only feasible option is to build a greenhouse/storage shed somewhere out behind our house. I drew up a detailed plan of the design and then we went out there to stick some flags in the ground just to get an idea of scale because everything looks much bigger in a computer than in real life. We measured and placed flags and immediately decided it was too small. It would have worked but just and anyone knows, when you build a building, you need to build it bigger than you need and that still won't be big enough. So I increased it four feet in length. I think this will be much better and rid our garage of a lot of lawn/garden type stuff. But due to the last minute change of plans, all my details need to be redone and I haven't done them yet. The model above however will give you the gist of things. Storage on the left with ample space for a riding lawn mower and other tools and a greenhouse on the right. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole

After finding and writing the previous post, I found another article written about Fred H. Grattan that was a lot more in depth and just a classic example of writing at the time. It also led me down a rabbit hole of sorts. But first, here is the article:

 What caught my eye was the mention of the (sic) Drageger Pulmotor. A quick search shows that it is actually the Drager Pulmotor and was pretty revolutionary at the time and Fred was the first person who wasn't revived by it though I am assuming that is a very local reference.

Here is a Wikipedia entry on it.

The wiki article mentions that these devices were troublesome because they couldn't detect blockages of the airway, a problem that Fred evidently had according to the article.

None the less, they were heavily advertised in period newspapers of the time. Too bad it didn't save Fred, but then again, had it saved Fred, I wouldn't be in contact with the branch of my family tree that I wrote about in the last post. A real rabbit hole for sure.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Deaths of a Family

George Thomas Heppenstall on right.

I recently received an email from someone asking if I had any information on George Thomas Heppenstall, the adult man in the photo above. It was a name I was familiar with only because of a ten year struggle to determine the knotted puzzle left behind by my Chicken/Baker ancestors. Before I knew about the name change from Chicken to Baker, I had gone down my family tree looking for clues and thus ran into the story of George Thomas Heppenstall.

After my third great grandfather Joseph Chicken/Baker, the person who did the name change for reasons unknown, his wife Frances Ann Bolton Baker married a man by the name of Thomas H. Heppenstall. Thomas's family were English immigrants much like the parents of Joseph and wife Frances and all three of them had spent time at one point in Colchester, Illinois. Thus I assume they were all acquainted with one another and so not entirely unreasonable for them to marry after Joseph died his untimely death. The marriage between Thomas Heppenstall and Frances Ann Bolton Baker Heppenstall would produce one child, Lena P. Heppenstall.

Back Row L-R: John Henry Baker, France Ellen Baker Osgood, Robert James Baker/Chicken and Charles Webster Baker/Chicken/Baker
Front Row L-R: Lena P. Heppenstall, Frances Ann Bolton Baker Heppenstall, Thomas H. Heppenstall and Mary Jane Baker Rodenberger

Lena P. Heppenstall can be seen above with all her half siblings. (A quick word of note to clarify some of the surnames. Robert James was born a Baker but changed his name back to Chicken. Charles Webster was also born a Baker, changed his name to Chicken and then back to Baker.) When Lena reached adulthood, she married Fred H. Grattan a moulder in the Iowa Dairy. Until this recent email, I hadn't done a lot of research on him but when I noticed he died at age 32, I decided to take a closer look and found the following article of him dropping dead of an apparent heart attack at a train station.

As the article mentions, it was traumatic for all, including their son George Thomas Heppenstall. For young George, another tragedy would follow the loss of his father. His mother would die just four years later after a long struggle with tuberculosis. 

Apparently, she may have married in those four years because of the surname of Wait though I can find no records for Mr. Wait. More on him in a moment. She is buried next to husband Fred and my 3rd great grandmother Frances Ann Bolton Baker Heppenstall in Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, Iowa and I have visited it a number of times. Frances's second husband is buried next to her and my 3rd great grandfather, and her first husband Joseph Chicken/Baker is buried about 50 yards to the east all by himself.

George Thomas Heppenstall would be adopted by my 3rd great grandmother and her second husband and raised up until adulthood. But I'm sure the tragedies in his life continued to haunt him and I'm told he may have been a bit bipolar. One morning on his way to start the car for a family outing, he shot himself in the head. He was only 27 and not much older than the picture at the head of this post.

George's wife mentioned in the article above would remarry and have another child which is the person who contacted me via email and started this whole trip down memory lane. One of the two sons mentioned above is starting their journey into their ancestry and was looking for more information. Unfortunately, George's wife is a product of a closed adoption so records are inaccessible. George's father Mr. Wait, well he remains a mystery. All I can provide is information on George's mother on back through the Chickens from England and I have done so. I have poked around a bit on Mr. Wait but haven't found a marriage record or really any mention of him. There are a few records for Waits in the vicinity but they are mostly married men. I suspect that the marriage was just a common law marriage or perhaps George was born out of wedlock which is why his surname is always listed as Heppenstall and not Wait. 

The son of George is/has taken some DNA tests so may someday learn the answers to these hypothesis and I hope that he will pass them onto me so I can mark this mystery buried in my family tree as solved.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Peach Tree

Growing up, my parents had a peach tree in our front yard and I always enjoyed eating those fresh peaches on a hot summer day. So when my wife and I hit upon the idea of planting an orchard instead of giving out favors at our wedding, I had to get a couple peach trees included. The day after our wedding we planted them out in the canary grass buffer behind all the farm buildings and pretty much forgot about them for the next 15 or so years. 

I guess the reason is that aside from the apple trees, they never produced a lot of fruit. The deer evidently love peach trees and kept them heavily pruned, killing the other one. Probably the same went for the two sour cherry trees we planted. One apple tree however did alright and we did pick some apples off it from time to time but that was the extent of our use of the orchard.

So when the garden fencing idea took fruition, we enclosed the old orchard remnants and I have kept it mowed this past year. With the deer now not welcome the old peach tree has shown its gratitude. The last time we were down on the farm, I picked all four peaches that it produced this year. Three of them were so bug eaten that we could only get one good bite on the far (good) side before tossing them. One peach was a specimen fruit that we used in a desert back home.

Here I am showing off the one bug eaten peach with my teeth marks in the good half. I ate a few more bites before giving it a toss. The nearly pristine peach is the one behind it. Although we haven't planted any more yet, I would like to plant a few more peach trees in the new orchard when we find some for the right price. They aren't real hardy trees this far north but if we got a handful of years of fruit out of them I would be happy.

 Thinking of Debby, I thought I would show this strip between our asparagus bed on the left and corn/potato patch on the right over looking the strawberry beds in the distance. One of the few times I have been able to mow this strip this year due to all the wet weather. 

Monday, August 2, 2021


 Since I have moved to the town where I currently live, the city has installed three roundabouts with plans for another one in the works. Each time they do, especially in the beginning, the local social media is inundated with people furious at the decision. They generally fall into two camps.

The first camp is that nobody knows how to use them and so it is a waste of money. For sure, I have been behind some extremely timid people scared to enter into the traffic circle until it is completely devoid of vehicles and others who stop at the yield sign even when it is devoid of vehicles. But, in the years since they have been built, even behind such people, it is still much faster and safer to travel through those three intersections than it was prior to them. On one intersection, I had sometimes to sit for upwards of five minutes to make a left turn across traffic during busy times of the day and since the round about, I've never sat for more than a handful of seconds (if behind that timid person) to make the same left turn.

The second camp feels that these are a waste of money when the city should be filling potholes first. We definitely have our share of crappy streets full of potholes that are in dire need of fixing so it seems logical. What these people don't know however, is there is a lot of grant money out there for building roundabouts but none for filling potholes. As a result, we build roundabouts because it is free, i.e. our tax money is used to finance them. 

My first time seeing a roundabout was during my younger years when I was traveling in England. Many times during that trip (I was driving a rental car), I would be in the midst of three lanes of traffic heading towards an intersection that back in the states, would have taken three or four cycles of the traffic lights for me to get clear of it. But with the roundabout, I would soon be on the other side heading on my merry way. I had never seen such an efficient device used to funnel traffic. So I'm in the happy camp to see these roundabouts poking up around our fair town. 

The statistics don't lie. The local newspaper reported that at one particular completed roundabout, prior to it being built there were on average a couple dozen wrecks sending people to the hospital every year. Since the roundabout has been built a couple years back, there have only been 71 personal property damage reports and not a single person injured. They are doing there job and I can't wait for the next one.