Water Rights Stolen in a Budget

Most people have heard about some of the appalling items that were slipped into the Wisconsin budget last week. It’s actually hard to list them all. But of particular concern to me, is the item that was slipped in by Republican Senator Howard Marklein, stripping Dane County of our water rights.

Under this provision, the DNR could contract with a regional planning commission or others to consider parts of the plan, but it could not allow Dane County, the county’s watershed commission or other local governments to develop the water quality plan or changes to it. The DNR also could not get advisory services from local authorities.

Marklein claims developers wanted this takeover of local control. “I don’t even remember who they were,” Marklein told the Journal Sentinel. “We had a couple meetings with a couple people.”

My assumption is that there are many reasons they stripped one county in the state of Wisconsin of our water rights, while leaving the other 71 alone. Dane County lakes get run off of factory farms, which means toxic blue green algae. The state will likely let these powerful actors do what they want. Our lakes may go down hill very fast.

There are also rules for shoreline development–I assume those will be blown up. But perhaps the biggest benefactor of our stolen water rights will be Canadian Oil Company Enbridge.

The oil company wants to triple the volume of tar sands they send across the country, and were being held up by Dane County. The county requires them to get insurance that would cover a spill like the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan. That had to be cleaned up at tax payer expense, and many residents do not think it is cleaned up in reality. Tar sands are heavy and they sink, so very hard to clean up the Kalamazoo or restore it to what it was before a huge dump of oil and tar sands in 2010.

No matter why the GOP decided to take our right to manage our water, it’s an underhanded and corrupt action done to benefit developers and a Canadian company. We have to stop the expansion.

Stop the Expansion of Enbridge’s Tar Sands Line 61 in Wisconsin


Kalamazoo River

Enbridge Whistleblower Trials

No One Knows How to Stop These Spills

Tar Sands Oil Companies (Graphic)

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Game Night: Simple Living, Simple Fun!

Game board pieces for game night

photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons license

From Monopoly to Scrabble to a lively game of Hearts, I grew up playing card and board games. Here in the dead of the Wisconsin winter, there’s nothing better than getting together with friends to play games.

Game night parties are experiencing a resurgence across the country as the weather grows colder and our pockets get thinner.  In fact, some of the board games we play today were among the most popular in Depression-era America including Monopoly, Sorry and the Game of Life.

Tips for a good game night:

  • The number of guests to invite depends on your space.  There’s no hard and fast rule, of course. Most games can be played by two to four people. Think in terms of about four players a game.
  • If you have more than four players, try to have a couple of games going at the same time. Borrow a few card tables and extra chairs if you have the space.
  • Gather a few of your favorite games — or ask your guests to suggest a game and bring it along if you don’t have it. If you have a regular game night, people could take turns hosting and selecting games.
  • Have lots of finger food on hand. It’s easier to fit a small plate or napkin on the table while you’re playing.
  • Consider game variety. Word games like Scrabble and drawing games like Pictionary are a lot of fun. If you have the space and like something a little more physical, haul out your old Twister game or try your balancing skills with Jenga.

Game night doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. If you don’t own any games, you can find tons of them second hand on Ebay or at Goodwill — just be sure all the pieces are there.

Hunderds of games can be played with only a simple deck of cards. Check out a copy of the Ultimate Book of Card Games: The Comprehensive Guide to More than 350 Games by Scott McNeely or Hoyle’s Modern Encyclopedia of Card Games: Rules of All the Basic Games and Popular Variations by Walter B. Gibson for game ideas and rules.

Make your own board game! The Love to Know website has complete instructions and there are even ready-made boards and kits out there. Making the game could be a fun family project.

I love game night because you are doing an activity that requires concentration but you have plenty of time to visit, chat and laugh with friends — it’s a simple living way to keep warm and have fun this winter.

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End-of-Year Charitable Giving

Yesterday I sat down to decide how much to donate to tax-exempt organizations before 2012 ends. Each year I become aware of new organizations that I think are doing important work, but I don’t want to forget the old standbys that have worked hard for many years and are competing for much needed dollars.

Maybe you’ve seen an email that has been circulating. It lists some charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, and lists how little of your dollars go to those in need if you choose to give to that organization. I became disillusioned with the Red Cross during the whole Katrina debacle. At the time I learned that the Salvation Army was very good in terms of the amount of donations that go to help those in need (due in part to a CEO who takes a very low salary). However, I later have heard allegations that they discriminate against gay people. I have also heard those allegations refuted. It makes me think that some people working for the organization have discriminated, but the organization itself does not. You’ll have to decide what you believe when it comes to the Salvation Army.

Here are some things to consider before making that tax-deductible contribution.

1. Double your dollars. I get many offers from organizations I care about to double my contribution if I give by a particular date. I always try to take advantage of such offers as I don’t have a lot of money to give. One in particular is the National Parks Foundation. Check it out if you are interested.

2. Local organizations. There are some great organizations in the Madison area. The United Way of Dane County is an umbrella group for lots of other organizations. It also contains information about those organizations–what they do, and where they are headquartered. I contribute regularly to Outreach Inc., a local organization supporting the rights of gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgendered persons. Another local organization I like is Angel’s Wish, dedicated to helping cats get good care and loving homes. Madison Community Foundation is another local organization that directs dollars locally and sponsors some great projects.

3. Well-established National Groups. I’ve been a member of both the Sierra Club and Amnesty International for years. I know these groups are legitimate and do great work, Amnesty all of the world, and the Sierra Club, all over the country.

4. Verify Tax-exempt Status. Make sure that you are donating to an organization that is tax exempt according to the IRS. Some are obviously not exempt–like political organizations, but others are not as easy to figure out. Check this article for more information.

Donating to an organization that you believe in is a good way to lower your taxes while helping your community or the world in general. Happy New Year!

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The Season of Giving

That is a loaded phrase. It immediately induces worry, stress, guilt, anticipation, wistfulness and sometimes joy. There really are no guidelines to gift giving, but there are strategies. Below are some that have been tried by my clan.

Exchange. This is when everyone picks a name, then buys for that name and exchanges gifts only with one person. It makes things simple and easy, but that personal connection is with only one person. And, some families will agree to do the exchange, then go out and buy gifts for each person anyway. So, only the people who followed the rules will feel awkward and inadequate.

Buy only for the kids. This is when the decision is made to buy gifts only for those 18 and younger.

Simple gifts. Give to everyone, but keep it simple. This strategy is somewhat impersonal but has its benefits. It’s not stressful and you connect with everyone. For some, it’s a home made treat like chex mix. For others, it’s a $15 gift card. Get some people a gift card to Amazon, others, Starbucks, others iTunes. Or, make your own family fudge for everyone (except those under 14–you may have to just give them a gift card). Or maybe you knit something for each person. That’s not simple, but it’s hand made and so that makes it seem simple.

Buy for everyone. Just go ahead, get off your butt, and buy a gift for every single person that will attend your family Christmas event. In my case, that’s 30 gifts and spans many generations. This is a very tough strategy to pull off and involves research. You might contact your brother and be told that his daughter would love a pair or earrings to go with a new red sweater, only to find out he shared that idea with four other people and your niece was bombarded with red earrings. This particular strategy is losing ground, especially in large families.

White elephant. This is my favorite, and I’m trying to have it replace traditional gift giving, but so far, no luck. It has simply come to mean more gifts. If you are not familiar with white elephant, it’s basically a chance to re-gift what you got last Christmas, or other well-intended gifts you have laying around. And some people in my circle buy the white elephant gift! I think that should be forbidden.

Donate. Some people will request no gifts, and suggest the wanna-be givers donate the money they were going to spend to a local food kitchen or toy for tots outfit. It’s a great idea, but can end up making the giver feel judged for wanting to buy a gift to spread holiday cheer.

I hear from many in my circle who have a desire to declutter, downsize, simplify. Yet there is guilt about giving and about making Christmas as special for the young as it was for most of us when we were kids. We know intellectually that gifts aren’t what makes a great Christmas, but we’re in a rush and we’re scattered and we impulse buy cheap things made overseas. Then, on the special day there is a mad flurry of opening gifts–one gift is tossed aside–barely seen–for the next unopened package. It’s like a feeding frenzy; it’s consumerism at it’s worst. All that work and it’s done in a flash.

I don’t have the answer. Traditions die hard and the desire to give to another is not a bad thing. I’m hoping that more and more what I give will be home made and consumable, keeping me out of the stores and allowing me to enjoy the process as well as the giving.



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Know your polling place and voting rights

The presidential election is less than a month away. Redistricting and attempts to change how we vote in Wisconsin have some in the electorate confused, so we’re setting the record straight. Help spread the word and inform voters, or you might even consider becoming a deputy yourself. Consider voting early at the clerk’s office:

Absentee In-Person Voting Hours in the City Clerk’s Office

Weekdays: Mon, Oct 22 – Fri, Nov 2:  8 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
Weekend: Sat, Oct 27:  8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sun, Oct 28:  Noon to 6 p.m.

Work at the polls November 6

Sign up to work at the polls.

Register new voters

If you are qualified to vote in Wisconsin, you can register new voters. Find out how to become a deputy. First, watch a 10-minute video online: www.cityofmadison.com/clerk/video.cfm or get information at the Clerk’s Office. Then, you will be asked to fill out a certification form at the Clerk’s Office and sign your name in front of a clerk’s office employee. You will get a blue card identifying you as a deputy.

Voter ID law injunction

Two court-ordered injunctions (March 6, 2012 Order) (March 12, 2012 Order) have been placed on the photo identification requirements of 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, pending trial and further order of the court. The law would cause disenfranchisement of voters, but it is not in effect for the presidential election.

The 28-day residency requirement, elimination of the corroborating witness for voter registration, and requirement that voters sign the poll book are still in place.

The City Clerk Office’s has more voter information, as does the Government Accountability Board.

Candidate Information

Check out the League of Women Voters for nonpartisan information: www.smartvoter.org/

Due to the redistricting triggered by the 2010 US Census, your polling place may have changed. Check: 
www.cityofmadison.com/election/voter/Where.cfm to find your current polling place.

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Fall is in the Air, Chili Anyone?

vegetablesFinally. While we’ve had cool nights for a while now, it was still getting into the 80s during the afternoon. After a record-breaking summer and a drought that has caused great distress to many Wisconsin farmers, I’m ready for fall air.

And that means time for not only my favorite clothes (boots, jeans, sweaters and jackets) but also my favorite dish to make: chili. Chili is the most versatile food–I don’t think I’ve ever followed the same recipe twice. Last week I had eggplant chili at Mermaid Cafe. It was splendid.

I have two personal favorites: Cincinnati style veggie chili and veggie chili with sweet potato. Today I’m making the latter.


  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 15 ounce can black beans
  • 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper


Sautee onions and garlic in olive oil for a minute or two, then add sweet potatoes, carrots and bell pepper until onions are soft, about 5-6 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium low, and add remaining ingredients, stirring well.

Simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes, until  vegetables are cooked. Enjoy!

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Something Sweet to Beat the Heat

Well, ice cream may not beat the heat, but it helps tolerate it. I wouldn’t think of Weary Traveler (1201 Willy Street) for ice cream (love their tom yum soup though), but they have started to serve it.

We were given a generous taste of the “lavender lemon” flavor. It was really good. Refreshing and lemony, with no overpowering taste. The lavender was subtle but unmistakeable.

Ice cream must be ordered by the pint, so that little sample of the lavender lemon allowed us to order our pint from the other selections: graham cracker, blackberry thyme and Mexican hot chocolate. We chose the blackberry thyme and what a perfect choice it was. It was creamy and refreshing. I don’t know that I could have identified the thyme had I not known, but there was definitely a flavor rounding things out and adding a slight bite.

We did not try either of the other two choices, though a friend told me that she found the Mexican hot chocolate a bit too much. Maybe that’s one that is best in small doses.

If you are vegan or not a fan of ice cream–try cucumber water. It’s very simple, just slice up some cucumbers and add to ice water. Include mint if desired.

Here’s a favorite recipe of mine:

Rose Lemonade

  • 6 cups water
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons rosewater
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Mix well and chill. This may not be sweet enough for some, if not, add more sugar.

Check out some cool drinks around town:


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Climate Change: Feeling the Heat in Madison


Cooling Off by moyerphotos

courtesy of moyerphotos, Flickr Creative Commons

As we hit yet another record day of 100+ degree weather, I huddle in my living room hoping my little room air conditioner will hold out and keep the room at a tolerable 85. The grass has turned to straw, and neighbors are desperately trying to ration out water to their veggie gardens.

Climate change. Seems pretty obvious on a day like today. Madison experienced the mildest and driest winter in decades — one that got more folks talking about climate change seriously again, and now this, relentless heat and still no rain in sight.

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman wrote a great op-ed piece on climate change for the progressive journalists’ website Nation of Change recently where she sums up the toll the recent heatwave has taken across the country. She writes that more than 2,000 heat records were broken last week across the U.S. and quotes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the government agency that tracks the data, reported that the spring of 2012 “marked the largest temperature departure from average of any season on record for the contiguous United States.” These record temperatures in May, NOAA says, “have been so dramatically different that they establish a new ‘neighborhood’ apart from the historical year-to-date temperatures.”

Halting or reversing climate change seems a monumental task. Some scientists are already saying it may be too late. Yet, most of us feel we MUST do something. What are we to do?


courtesy of Monika Thorpe, Flickr Creative Commons

Living simply is a lifestyle choice but it is far from a solution. Odd thing to say on a “simple living” blog but it’s true. We can all do our part, and it makes us feel healthier and good to do “the right thing” but the real climate criminals are the big polluters, large global corporate entities whose waste and degradation of the earth’s resources — including human resources — knows no bounds. Capitalism, the drive for profit at all costs, is the real culprit here, and it’s about time we named it.

Chris Williams in his thoughtful book Ecology and Socialism writes:

A world economic system predicated on relentless growth, devouring increasing amounts of raw materials and energy and spewing out ever-larger amounts of toxic waste products, has produced a whole series of environmental threats…However, as it intersects with all other threats, and furthermore has a tendency to aggravate them, the most urgent and encompassing of these is global climate change.

Taking our fight to the real source of the problem is key. On the ground, this means getting out there in the street, demanding changes, keeping the spotlight on the real major polluters. It means rejecting the call for simple, individualized solutions that won’t scratch the surface and rejecting the calls from the top that people just have to “tighten their belts and live with less” as the only solution. The solution starts at the top, where the big decisions are made.

We must keep up the pressure ourselves and not get sucked into voting for politicians on either side of the aisle who make empty promises while taking huge corporate donations. Pretty easy money it is, too. All they have to do is keep the blame focused on our lifestyle choices and away from the choices the corporations make that put profits over the environment and that keep us tied to a fossil-fuel existence.

For more on this, including Williams’ book, check out Heather Rogers’ excellent Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy is Undermining the Environmental Revolution or the work of George Monbiot including Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Goodman also points to Jeff Masters, the founder of Weather Underground, who keeps a close watch on climate change on his site and blog. His section on climate change contains a great arsenal of factual information to combat the climate change naysayers on the right.


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Weekends are for rejuvenation, riding and rallies

Well, rejuvenation is a nice idea, but rarely happens for me, except that I sleep in. But this weekend, I hope that Madisonians will try to get a little R and R. We have been through a lot these past 16 months since scott walker dropped a bomb on us, to use his words.

Tonight there is a free concert at the Labor Temple, but if you’re not already there, you will miss it. Tomorrow the Center for Media and Democracy is hosting a fund-raiser rally in Baraboo, WI (Al. Ringling Theatre. 136 Fourth Avenue) featuring Ed Schultz and John Nichols.

Being a bit of political nerd, I love being in a theater or other venue with hundreds of like minded people, listening to a good ol rabble rouser–so I’m heading north. But not all would find this fun or relaxing. For those, might I suggest gardening, meditating, cooking out or riding the drive in Madison.

Ride the Drive is a community event that turns Madison’s signature streets into a public promenade that is open to bikers, walkers, rollerbladers, and those out to share in the experience and fun atmosphere. The free event draws thousands of people to ride, walk and skate on the route, enjoy live music, food, and participate in various activities, and fun stopping points along the way.

It’s going to be a nice weekend in Madison and I hope that everyone finds their own way to de-stress. I’m going to listen to Amy Winehouse, practice Spanish, and drive up to Baraboo for some solidarity and rabble rousing.

In our honor, this song is written and performed by Oakland California Musicians. Enjoy!



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Stinging Nettle, an Excellent Spring Herb

To many, nettle is a pest, a weed. And it actually does need to be handled carefully or it will sting, true to the name. But it is also a wonderful herb. And cheap–you might have some in your back yard!

Stinging nettle is a perennial, 3 to 7 ft tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 1 to 6″ long and have a strongly serrated margin. It bears numerous small greenish or brownish flowers. The leaves and stems are very hairy with stinging and nonstinging hairs, whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin,[2] leukotrienes,[2] and possibly formic acid.[3][4] This mixture of chemical compounds cause a painful sting or paresthesia from which the species derives its common name.

The plant has a high iron and chlorophyll content. Stinging nettle is also a very good source of the minerals calcium, magnesium, silicon, sulphur, copper, chromium, zinc, cobalt, potassium and phosphorus as well as containing high amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as riboflavin and thiamine.

Uses. Also called urtica diorica, stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites. It is also said to boost your metabolism and help fight autoimmune disease.

Allergies. I take it in tea form and I use it from a local source. I understand that is important if you have allergies, as I do, to treat them with local herbs so that you’re working with the same environment. You’ll find nettle in the tea area of Willy Street Coop and it’s also available at Community Pharmacy. I drink it as a tea, twice a day, and it helps my allergies (seasonal) immensely.

Harvesting. Wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves, because nettle does sting. Use a good sharp pair of scissors to make a quick and clean cut and be sure to hold the plant by the leaf and in the middle.

Eating Nettle. Stinging nettles grow for much of the year, but are best eaten during the spring when they’re young and tender.  To this end, be sure to avoid nettles that feel tough or have already flowered, as these are definite signs that the plant is more mature. After you’ve found the nettles you want to pick, just snap off the top few layers of leaves–which are the tastiest and most tender. Use them anyway you’d use spinach (except raw)–they taste better and have more nutrition. Cooking neutralizes the sting of nettles.

Here are some specific ways to prepare and use nettle:

Get out there and get it while it’s young!

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