Back by popular demand: oak rain barrels from Sustainable Community Solutions!

After a two-year hiatus, I’ve decided to make and sell rain barrels again this summer. (My primary motivation: the prospect of four more years of college tuition payments, including the coming overlap year with both of my kids in college. As Ludwig van Beethoven famously said, “The amount of money one needs is terrifying”…)french-oak-rain-barrel-with-overflow-hose-web

My old barrel supplier (a Kentucky bourbon distillery) is no longer willing to sell the modest quantity of barrels a small-time rain barrel maker requires, so I searched nationwide and found a new supplier: a winery on northern California’s Sonoma Coast that had high-quality, five-year-old French Oak barrels for a reasonable price…if I could pick them up myself on short notice.

A three-day weekend, 68-hour adventure ensued: a 4 a.m. Friday departure from Northfield for a flight to San Francisco ; 2 ½ hours via Penske rental truck from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge and up the amazingly beautiful California Highway 1 to a remarkably-hard-to-get-to winery; and 53 hours of grueling driving through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota back to Northfield at midnight Sunday. OMG what was I thinking?!?

I now have an ample supply of beautiful 60-gallon French Oak barrels ready for sale. These barrels were used at the winery to age several successive batches of wine from 2005 through this spring, and were full of chardonnay until earlier this May. These barrels have:

· A securely-screened 6-inch diameter water inlet on the barrel’s top

· An overflow fitting that any standard garden hose can be screwed to

· An American-made solid brass ¾” hose bib (faucet) near the base of the barrel (standard) or

· (Optional; $21.00 extra) ornamental American-made brass faucet: choose from bullfrog, turtle, chickadee or dragonfly

All you need to do to begin collecting naturally soft rain water (excellent for watering houseplants, gardens, shrubs and trees) is to set the barrel up on a secure platform of bricks, blocks, stones or anything else that will keep the barrel an adequate height off the ground underneath a downspout or rain chain, and you’re set!

NOTE: It is very important that you NOT allow your barrel to hold water over winter, as this could lead to freeze expansion and a ruptured top or bottom of your barrel. All you need to do to prepare for winter is to drain the barrel prior to the onset of the long freeze, and ensure that no meltwater can enter the barrel during the winter.

Click here for a flyer with pricing and other information.

For wood rain barrel FAQs, click here.

Biking becoming mainstream transportation choice

I’ve been a participant in, and observer of, Northfield’s bicycling sub-culture for the past 42 years, and I can say without hesitation that it has been slowly, but surely, developing in recent years into mainstream culture.schwinn-stingray-green-3-speed

I’ve been biking in and around town since my lime green Schwinn Stingray first rolled out the driveway and onto Woodley Street as I explored my new environs after moving to Northfield as a nine-year-old in 1967. I biked to school (Sibley, the old Middle School, and NHS) from ’67 to ’76, left from Northfield on a 1980 bike trip to Mexico with my brother Scott on April Fools’ Day (how appropriate!) and spent a good part of the spring of 1981 bike commuting to and from the University of Minnesota (I should have graduated in the spring of ’80, but didn’t turn the trick until December ’83 — but that’s another story…) from the ancestral home on Woodley.

bwtw-flyer-514091After years of wandering in the wilderness, I moved back to Northfield for good in 1993, and have been happily biking the roads of Northfield and the surrounding counties ever since. Biking to the Hideaway for work-related meetings; to pick up a requested book that’s just come in at the library; to the Muni to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner; to City Hall to attend a meeting; to the Co-op for groceries; anywhere else downtown, the NCRC, St. Olaf, Carleton, etc, etc.; evening rides past the Carleton wind turbine; Saturday morning rides in weather fair and foul with the good folk of the Northfield Bike Club – it’s all good. Good for the body, good for the mind, good for the spirit. Furthermore, I see MORE people doing all these things all the time. The relative handful of adults who biked years ago, whether recreationally or for transportation, has become a continually increasing cadre in Northfield.

If you’re one of these people, stop by Bridge Square this Thursday morning between 6:15 and 8:00 for conversation, coffee, juice, and goodies at a celebration of Bike/Walk to Work/School Day 2009, hosted by the Northfield Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation. Others who use alternatives to solo motorist commuting (telecommuters, transit riders, carpool/vanpoolers) are welcome to join us in this celebration, which is part of a nationwide effort to get people to adopt commuting alternatives. Please join us, and celebrate the mainstreaming of bicycling in Northfield! (Spandex welcomed but not required.)

A new chapter in life

When I last walked out of an office where I was employed in a full-time permanent job, Hilary Clinton had just been appointed to a high-level Administration position–heading husband Bill’s health care reform initiative in 1993. Sinceblog-graphic then, I’ve done a lot of interesting things: I was a full-time, stay-at-home dad with my two young kids for several years; worked part-time at the Northfield Public Library, ran a sideline beekeeping business; became a volunteer community energy activist, helping form and run RENew Northfield while schlepping mail for the US Postal Service as a casual employee, then working at St. Olaf College’s Rolvaag Library; and enjoyed several years of working as an energy and sustainability consultant through my business, Sustainable Community Solutions.

Well, several months ago  Captain Anne of the Good Ship Anderson/Larson politely pointed out that my Sustainable Community Solutions income seemed to be tracking the Dow Jones Industrial Average and our college and retirement savings account balances. She noted that this was clearly an djiaunsustainable trend for our family economy given that our daughter Maia wants to keep attending college at Grinnell, our son Jakob hopes to go to college in about 18 months, and we all like to eat three solid meals a day and sleep under a rain-tight roof. She suggested, and I agreed, that a regular paycheck wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Sustainable Community Solutions isn’t going anywhere (I’m going to continue to do a bit of consulting), but a job search was clearly in order.

Thus it was that I found myself going to work on Monday, February 23rd, at the Dakota County Community Development Agency, employed as a Weatherization/Rehab Specialist. I’ve enjoyed my first several weeks on the job, with a highly professional and motivated group of coworkers, interesting and challenging work, and the prospect of a regular paycheck once again. I feel extremely fortunate to have found a good job at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing jobs every month.

My only regret in taking the job is that I’m out of Northfield Monday through Friday during the work day, and I inevitably will be a little less connected to the community than I have been for the past 15-plus years. I’m also less than crazy about commuting 29 miles one-way to work (I need to have my car at work every day to travel to homes where I do weatherization energy audits and post-weatherization inspections). However, as soon as the CDA finishes installing an employee exercise room with showers later this spring, I’m looking forward to getting LOTS of bike commuting in, leaving my car at work overnight most days.

The long and winding road continues to unfold before me…

Nordic Ski Town USA? Active Living USA?

three-stooges-web1Cows, colleges and contentment? Fuggedaboutit. Cows, colleges and cross country skiing should be Northfield’s new town motto, if the number of participants in yesterday’s Vasloppet ski races is any indication. I skied in the 42-kilometer classic race with friends Mark Mellstrom (left) and Dave Folland (right). An astounding 34 Northfielders participated in all of the day’s races (see the results I pulled together below),  ranging in age from 12 (Zach Scheuerman and Ethan Nelson) to 69 (Bob Nesvold). At least one Northfield ex-pat, my brother-in-law Eric Larson, also participated. Click on the photo at right for a brief slideshow from the event.

I enjoyed a thoroughly memorable ski. The weather was perfect, with temperatures rising from about 12 degrees at race start to the upper 20s by the finish, bright blue skies, and just a slight headwind out of the southwest. Snow conditions were also fabulous, with a solid and fast but not icy track for those of us skiing the classic race. I hit both glide and kick wax right on, and had a wonderful time (all 3 hours, 5 minutes and 45 seconds of it). I wasn’t the fastest skier out there by a LONG stretch, but it was a good ski for me nonetheless. I felt great until about 10 K from the finish, ground it out, finished 19th out of 52 in my age group (158th out of the 349 classic racers overall), and didn’t even feel like collapsing or puking at the finish.  As sufferfests go, this was a comparative day in the park. (I should mention that in perusing the results I see that a 74-year-old from Sweden finished just ahead of me. Wait until next year!)slide11

Northfield’s 34 racers represents just over 2% of the total registrants (about 1600) for the entire event, which draws participants from all over the US and a number of foreign countries (including Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Canada). Counting only the 1248 Minnesota participants, Northfield’s share of the racers is an impressive 2.72%, compared to our roughly 0.44% of Minnesota’s total population (even including those folks with Northfield addresses living in the townships surrounding Northfield). In other words, we were over-represented by a factor of more than six compared to the rest of the state! Special mention should be made of a family-that-plays-together group: Mike Scheuerman, a friend and fellow Northfield Bike Club member, skied the 13K freestyle race with his wife (Kelly), son (Zach), and daughter (Sophie).

While participation is the thing in events like this, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention several spectacular performances by Northfielders:

  • Sue Welch (an intrepid biker with the Northfield Bike Club, and relative skiing neophyte, having skied her first race just a couple of years ago), took first in her age group in the women’s 35K freestyle.
  • Bob Nesvold finished first in his age group in the men’s 42K classic race.
  • Sophie Scheuerman of the Northfield High School Nordic Ski Team finished second in her age group in the 13K freestyle.
  • Thomas Dunning of the NHS Nordic Team turned in the fastest time of any Northfield racer in the 35K freestyle, with a smoking 1:39:35 (2:51 per kilometer), and was third in his age group.

Way to go Northfield!

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about forging a strong community identity: Arts Town, Green Town, etc.. While I don’t have a gripe with any of these other designations, I think Northfield is developing a strong cultural identity as a hub of human-powered recreation (walking, biking, skiing, canoeing, etc.), and a real walker/biker culture in terms of just plain getting around town. I bike (and ski) with a growing group of folks who loosely identify themselves as members of the Northfield Bike Club herd. You can see their/my bizarre garb and ridiculously over-priced bikes on display in and outside Goodbye Blue Monday after rides on most Saturdays when the roads are snow/ice-free. Nordic Ski Town USA? Active Living USA? I’m proud that either designation wouldn’t be much of a stretch.

Nordic ski opportunities galore

Winter lovers, rejoice: there’s a lot of great nordic (cross-country) ski activity over the next few weekends.coachkust

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s (Saturday, January 31, Carleton College Upper Arb) Nordic Ski Fest, the annual fund-raiser for the Northfield High School Nordic Ski Team. Coach Dan Kust (at right) has done tremendous work with the ski team for many years now, as evidenced by the huge number of kids skiing this year (nearly 100, reportedly).

Nordic skiing may not be quite as popular as say, pro football, but I think it’s a much better community-builder. Watch the Super Bowl on Sunday and support the $100,000-per-second advertisers and strutting, overpaid athletes if you must, but come on out on Saturday and contribute your $20 to a worthy cause–a great local sports program that turns kids on to a healthy physical activity they can enjoy for a lifetime. I’ll be there–please join me!

The event, canceled last Saturday due to wickedly low wind chill temps (whatthe*#$&?–are we not Minnesotans???), features women’s and men’s 5K races, and a 1K kids’ fun race. Registration forms are available at Goodbye Blue Monday. You may also register at the race site (east end of the Carleton Rec Center) before the events tomorrow morning. The schedule:

10:00 registration begins
11:00 5K men’s race
11:15 5K women’s race
12:00 kids race (1K)
12:30 raffle for prizes.

A number of locals who are REALLY into nordic skiing (myself included) will be skiing in one or several major events over the next three weeks: the City of Lakes Loppet (Minneapolis), the Mora (Minnesota) Vasaloppet, and/or the American Birkebeiner (Cable-Hayward Wisconsin). birkie-trail-profile

I’ve skied the Birkie (51 grueling up-and-down kilometers) three times. I’m a traditionalist, prefering the classic (diagonal stride) technique to the faster freestyle/skate technique. I’ve also skied the Vasaloppet once, although poor snow conditions forced the race to be held on Knife Lake, not themora-2007 usual course, that year. I’m returning to the Vasaloppet this year (next Sunday, February 8) and look forward to experiencing its fabled 42K classic course. The long-range forecast is calling for a sunny day with temperatures in the 20s, a relief to friends I’ll be skiing with who skied in brutally cold weather last year (around -10 air temp and -30 wind chill at race time; see the winner’s photo at right).

Maybe the Northfield News could run a story or three about the intrepid Northfielders who take part in these events…