Thunderstorms in Madison!

The first snowstorm of the winter season is always a noteworthy event here in Madison. The first thunderstorm of the spring season is less noticeable, but I noticed last night when flashing lightning, window-rattling thunder and torrential downpours made it difficult to nod off to sleep after Duke pulled off their big basketball win. Or should I say, after Butler missed their potentially-prediction-shattering chance at victory.

It was still raining, lightning and thundering this morning when we got up, so we had to check the water run-off on the property to see if we were going to avoid standing water in undesirable places. It looks like the drainage improvements have worked. Our lawn service came last week for the first treatment of the year, so by the end of this week, it’s likely the grass will be green & clean with all brown vestiges of the weight of packed snow since December, eliminated from the landscape. Flowers are up; bushes & trees are budded. And it’s time to prime our little garden spot for a few tomatoes and peppers, to be installed around Memorial Day. Ah… spring! Such a pleasant diversion!

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First 70 degree day!

Ahhhh…. bliss!! It’s over 70 in Madison today. The first day in six months that it’s been this warm! For the past couple of weeks, despite fog, clouds and some very chilly days, the bicyclists have been out in force, stubbornly insisting that the snow is gone so therefore it’s time to bike, even if there was frost on the ground each morning. I tuned up my bike (or rather, paid someone to do that) and rode in on Tuesday for the first time this season. It felt so good to breathe the spring air and peddle for 40 minutes before spending the workday in my windowless office. How nice it would be to work from home…

For much of my working life, I consulted from a home base — in several states and other countries, I worked on a daily consultancy fee. There is much to be said for that lifestyle as long as you figure out a way to get health insurance. It’s also much easier if you have a household partner/spouse with a “real” day job, which often resolves the health insurance problem. Perhaps with the new legislation, there’ll be increased opportunities for home-based entrepreneurs – more freedom to work in different ways than the Office Space routine, because keeping health insurance may not be so difficult. We hope.

When I read the posts on Brazen Careerist, I often find myself feeling unsettled and neglected because I’m not 20-something, trying to land my first job on the way to some imagined heights of income and satisfaction. But I find that much of the advice is certainly just as relevant to me as a returning-to-the-working-world middle-aged person — still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. So why keep insisting that only the new generation needs to hear all this? So, I continue to read and pay attention and think, even though the advice is supposed to be aimed at the digital natives. Those young ones who grew up on electronics. But where was I…. the balmy weather… the warm breezes, and today is still March.

March has been an odd month. It’s a month in Madison where many people leave for a bit to float on boats, or get a real tan, or hang out in Arizona. I can’t seem to get away because the first quarter of each year for my job involves annual reporting, juggling statistics, writing narratives, assessing & evaluating — in general, justifying our spending of federal grant money. April would be a reasonable time to finally escape, and indeed, April or early May in Florida are the best times if you want to avoid the serious heat and humidity of late spring and summer. March is also a time of mad mania and not just in Madison. The temperature spikes like unmedicated bi-polar disorders — snow one day, sunshine and spring the next, followed by crashing temps and frigid wind. But we all expect those weatherly behaviors in March. And now it’s the last day. March blows out and April drifts in with scents of spring.

I’m biking again tomorrow!

Turducken yesterday

Prior to a few weeks ago, I had never heard the word “turducken” because I live under a rock. My friend Shellie suggested we have turducken for our quarterly “3-couples” get-together, and I thought, “huh?”  So, I googled it, of course, and realized it was a major creative undertaking that looked really yummy. I was thrilled to learn that it’s possible to buy one already deboned and ready for roasting — it can be obtained locally from an excellent shop in Madison, or ordered online, if you want a special veggies-only stuffing with no butter, which was what we were looking for; google “turducken” for many choices in the Cajun category. I don’t yet think of turducken as something for Thanksgiving, but of course it could be. And anyway, I love turkey.

So we planned for the Turducken Saturday — Shellie & Jen brought all the sides and desserts and I sprung for the turducken; Shellie ordered it and it came to my door on Wednesday, frozen solid in styrofoam. By Saturday afternoon it was quietly roasting in our oven, filling the house with delicious aromas. We had a fairly simple meal — excellent mashed potatoes, delightful salad, homemade bread, the turducken, and the best gravy we’ve ever produced at this house! The gravy emerged as a product of the efforts of two of the men attending the dinner — I’m not sure exactly how it was made except that it had a splash of shiraz in it. By the time the gravy was made, I had had more than a splash of shiraz and was greatly enjoying the margaritas so was not sure I would have been a great candidate for gravy-maker since I don’t normally drink much. Luckily, others jumped in to produce the gravy. And then there was cake afterwards. We had a lovely evening — relaxing and full of good food with great friends.

Today we slept in. The time leaped forward (annoyingly) and we awoke to blinding sunshine and balmy temps — so energizing after a long winter in Madison. In honor of the weather, I had to spend a couple hours in the yard starting spring cleanup. Anything to be outside. We still have a bit of snow left near the street but in the rest of the yard, it’s mostly gone, thanks to 40s most of last week and some rain.

Tomorrow, I might…. I say “might”… ride my bike to work. Not sure yet.

Snow’s gone

Well, almost. Temps rose all week, we had some rain. Very little snow is left, just in protected corners and crevices — places without much sun. The lawns are pressed flat, browned, mushed down smooth and ugly. No signs of plant life yet. Well, maybe a few. But I’m not seeing any crocuses in our yard yet. I spend most of my day indoors in an office with no window, so I’m cut off from the natural world, parked in front of the computer screen. Each day, I come out into a changed world —  less white and more dull March-ness. March is not a pretty month. I’ve noticed that in the 6 years we’ve lived here. Meanwhile, back in northern Virginia, it’s been in the 60s and within a short time the cherry blossoms will pop. But the 3 years I spent at home in Wisconsin prior to going back to work were very different with much more exposure to sunlight, than the 2.5 years I’ve been working again. Now that I’m working, time has speeded up, seasons pass quickly, I miss out on skiing, I miss out on winter vacations. In my prior non-working life I was outdoors much more. That was better.

What is it I do? It’s hard to categorize, to people outside my world,  but that’s the case with many jobs these days. Even an epidemiologist recently asked me, but what do you really do? I write, read and think. Not necessarily in that order. I help my organization and all its disparate components clarify what they really want to do, figure out how they’ll know they’ve reached their objectives, and help them identify where the information’s coming from. The short-hand for what I do is called “evaluation”  but that word doesn’t really explain itself very well to most people. I like my job a lot. It’ satisfying. I work in a great team of like-minded people who are all trying to do the right things. Despite not having a window office, I like my job. If I do a good job, that will help obtain future jobs for many other people, and we’ll be very small cogs in a much larger wheel. In many ways, we just have to trust that the small things we do will accumulate into larger accomplishments and progress. Only decades from now (maybe) will someone or several people really determine if this national consortium of which my group is a part, will have actually caused some culture changes that make a difference. Meanwhile, we all have our jobs providing resources to researchers. My parents never did understand what I do or what I did or what I studied in college. It was all a complete mystery to them.

And I can help pay for our children’s college educations with this job I do. It makes me feel good to be able to do that. My own parents could not contribute a dime to our educations — my brother and me. They always felt badly about that; they wanted to help, but they couldn’t. They never attend college themselves and didn’t really know anything about what a college experience was. They came of age when only rich people went to college. Or people who were extremely bright and extremely motivated. For people with average to good motivation and talents, college was not the norm the way it is now. And my parents were in the disadvantaged sector economically. My dad had exceptional musical talent but that talent did not ultimately provide him and our family with a secure existence. My parents married young, had kids later than most in their generation, and never quite managed the 60s, 70s, or 80s very well.

Why is it that March brings out dull brown reminiscences from the depths of my memories? The snow’s gone and we won’t likely get any more this season. I didn’t ski this year, and now it’s too late. I didn’t even get my cross-country skis out. And no warm trips came my way. We may be looking at a long chilly rainy spring.  But I didn’t really seem too distressed most of the time. Odd that the winter didn’t depress me. I was too busy. Too busy blogging.

Is it still January?

Now I’m trying to remember my two weeks off at Christmas. And yes, it was Christmas I celebrated, not the winter solstice or New Year’s… well, I sort of celebrated New Year’s. I watched the Ball drop in Times Square, from the Midwest, at home, in front of the fireplace. Can’t imagine why I would enjoy standing around in the cold in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It’s odd to see the ball drop on TV  in Madison, Wisconsin when the new year is still an hour away. I’m not used to that, even after living here for 5+ years. The vacation cycle of anticipation, excited implementation, followed by the blues has repeated itself predictably yet again. I’ve been back at work for 2 weeks, have just started my 3rd week back, and I’m totally inundated by all the little pieces of annoyances that go into my job. I’ve almost totally forgotten about how nice it was to be off, surrounded by adult children, relatives I don’t see too often, lots of holiday food, snowfall… it’s all a blur. There are the photos to remind me, but the sleeping in, the casual cups of coffee, playing cards, looking at twinkling lights… Gone for yet another year. It’s that Disney Circle of Life that repeats itself so predictably. You’d think after half a century, I’d be used to it. I always see it coming and then… I can’t seem to shake it until a few more weeks go by. And all the while, I enjoy winter, but week after week of biting cold… it might be getting to me!

Ah, the weather in Wisconsin! My favorite topic. I love how, in the winter, I look outside and cannot simply imagine any other world except white on white, frozen silence, the amazing variety of types of cold stuff that falls out of the sky. And then in the summer I look outside and cannot imagine for a minute that the landscape would look like anything other than lush green, a gazillion birds & bugs, the hummingbirds in the red trumpet vines, the tomatoes growing insanely prolific in the garden, the grass always needing mowing, bunnies hopping about, squirrels and chipmunks running on rocks… OK, so I like the changes. If you want to live in a place where the weather is the same all year around (and wonderfully the same — say 70-80 all year) go live in Uganda! Sameness is boring and where did I put my snowshoes??

But it’s still January…. time goes by very fast and some days it seems like it should be February by now, especially since all the stores are on Valentines Day commercially…. But it’s still January. We have a long time to go before spring. I hope I won’t miss the transition in my office with no outside views.