Stick ’em up! We’ve got you covid!

Yep, it was only a month ago that my last COVID post appeared. 20% of hospital beds have been occupied with COVID-19+ patients for that month, so my turn has come up again.

COVID is blasting through my department. My co-workers who are getting it are the parents of unvaccinated toddlers who are bringing it home from daycare. We old folks are doing fine.

The hospital COVID census is starting to come down. They are starting elective surgeries again. I hope folks don’t take this as meaning we’re out of the woods. I hope mask mandates don’t end. I hope bars don’t fill up. I hope the hospital doesn’t refill. That’s a lot of hope for one day. I’m not very hopeful. (Since I wrote that paragraph, our city and county public health department announced that the mandate that expires at the end of February will not be renewed.)

I would like to go out in public next summer. I would like to not carry a mask everywhere I go. I would like leaving the house to mean more than quick trips to the grocery store and library in addition to going to work or outdoor recreation alone or in small groups. I would like to eat inside of a restaurant again, not just on a patio after checking out table spacing.

I even have plans. In my mind I say “COVID willing” in relation to all of those plans.

The state legislature in WI passes a lot of stupid bills. The Republican Party is in control firmly of both houses, thanks to gerrymandering after the 2010 elections. Few of these bills become law, as they are vetoed by the Democratic Governor. Are they utterly stupid, or are they pandering to their base, knowing that their idiotic bills will not become law but look good on the campaign trail? Of note, this is the legislature that didn’t convene for the first year of the pandemic, as they had no clue what to do.

A package of bills passed today. They include the “Natural Immunity” bill, which states that having had COVID-19 precludes the need for vaccination or testing. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Mary Felzkowski, stated , “This is a vote very much based on science and recognizing the God-given ability to fight off infections that our creator gave us.” It should be noted that she has had COVID-19 twice so far, so god apparently didn’t give her a very good ability to fight off infections. Personally, I have trouble trusting my God-given ability to fight off tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, HIV, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, ebola, anthrax..or COVID-19.

Another bill allows you to draw unemployment if you quit your job because a vaccine is required. Yet another forbids any employer from requiring a vaccine. (Yes, it would be hard to quit your job because your employer required a vaccine if the law forbids your employer from requiring a vaccine.) And finally, if you are “injured” because your employer required you to get vaccinated, you are eligible for Worker’s Compensation.

So yes, I am back to the salt mines COVID units once again. The hospital COVID census dropped from 95 to 50, the mask mandate is about to expire, and all is right with the world. This downward trend has continued for a whole two weeks, so clearly we are out of the woods and can go back to crowding into bars and throwing up on each other again.

If 10% of hospital beds were occupied by people with the same disease (other than this one), we’d think it was a disaster. Now we call it good news. It did delay my COVID rotation by a week.

Since I wrote that paragraph, the census has dropped again. Today (February 28) the mask mandate ends and, instead of the parents of pre-school kids being the new sick population, it will be the parents of school-age kids. I’ll try not to say “I told you so.” (The good news is several school districts announced that they will continue to recommend masks. I think I can predict which suburbs and in town, which schools will continue masking.)

But COVID isn’t the only stupidity in the news. (Now former) Hudson, OH Mayor Greg Shubert has spoken out against ice fishing, warning of the slippery slope. If we allow ice fishing, then they’ll want shanties. If they get shanties, prostitution will follow. While this “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” reasoning is more than I can handle, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of sex workers in snowmobile suits, Sorel boots, and balaclavas going door-to-door among the ice fishing shanties. Maybe guys will put fake fur in the shanty windows and post a bumper sticker that says “If this shanty’s rockin’/Don’t bother knockin'”. Doesn’t the mayor know that would scare the fish? And if it were really a problem, wouldn’t STIs be rampant in Wisconsin in the winter?

But back to work. By now, everyone has heard that, statistically, the Omicron variant is pretty mild. My vaccinated and boosted co-workers who got it from their kids didn’t like it, but they weren’t sick all that long. But tell my patient who had the severe stroke that it is mild. Oh, wait, that won’t be helpful, as that person has aphasia and can’t understand what you’re saying. Or tell it to the person whose heart stopped twice and only restarted after surgeons cut open their chest and rhythmically squeezed their heart for a half hour to keep blood circulating until they could get it to pump on its own again…which was only temporary until they could implant a machine to help it along. Another patient didn’t need a machine once the defibrillator did its job and the cardiologists removed the clots from their coronary arteries, but they did complain to me about how much the broken ribs and sternum (from CPR) hurt.

Therapy with one of my patients consisted of working on breath control while we talked, so they could carry on a conversation without the non-rebreather mask in addition to the high-flow nasal cannula. They could speak in full sentences, a vast improvement over when it was one word at a time due to shortness of breath. But that was a couple of days ago. Now I’m not sure they will survive the weekend.

I know anecdotes aren’t statistics – but statistics aren’t people. These non-vaccinated folks are real people with real suffering. I hope they live to learn something from this.

Here are a few statistics for you. During a 6 week period in December 2021-January 2022, a large midwestern teaching hospital admitted 735 COVID-19 patients. Of those, 74% were unvaccinated, 3% were vaccinated and boosted. They admitted 120 of those patients to an ICU. Of those, 77% were unvaccinated and 3% boosted. (The number in between, 23% in the first instance and 20% in the second, were those vaccinated but not boosted.)

I’ve probably told you before that my daughter likes to collect, from obituaries, euphemisms for death. I have to say this is one of my favorites. In December, 2020, he posted this:

A bit over a year later, his brother posted this:

Note that he didn’t die of COVID-19, but of “post viral Covid symptoms”. He was cured of COVID by the “complete healing” of death. Oh, but it’s not death, because he “passed into life”. Not sure what he passed out of, but since he said “you spent an entire year of your life…”, I think he thought this was life even if his little brother doesn’t. I guess I can say that 3 years from that post I might be able to look back at that time I spent wearing a mask and staying home. He won’t be able to.

Bar Mitts/Pogies

Oh! The sacrifices I make for you to write this blog! 😉 I have written about winter biking and clothing more than once and I thought I’d written my last.

I realized that, while I have written and raved about my mittens from Empire Wool and Canvas Company (more than once), and mentioned Bar Mitts (aka pogies), I’ve never tried them. As a responsible blogger, I bought a pair.

The Bar Mitts brand come in regular and Extreme models. Living in a rather extreme climate (having ridden in temperatures from -26 to +106 degrees F [-32 to +41 C]) the Extreme seemed the logical choice. If I wanted to see if they could replace my mittens, the Extreme was the only choice.

The Extreme uses thicker Neoprene and adds a cuff. Without the cuff in place, you can see a large gap between arm and mitt. That much ventilation is not welcome in bitter cold.
With the cuff in place, there is no gap between arm and mitt.

Other reviews I have read talked about sweaty hands. In cold weather, that is not an issue worth losing sleep over. I rode with them at 50 degrees (10 C). I forgot how warm 50 degrees is. My windfront tights were too warm. My jacket was too warm. The cap under my helmet was too warm. My hands did not become too warm until after I realized I was overdressed in general. Even then, I removed the cuffs and opened the zippers, which allowed flow through ventilation. My hands were the most comfortable part of me. In the upper photo you can see a bit of light coming through from the bottom. That’s where the zipper is.

They come in multiple sizes. The place I bought mine stocks only extra-large. I can’t imagine a smaller size. There wouldn’t be room to get my fingers around the brake levers with warm gloves or mittens on. In a warmer climate, that might not be a problem; but then, you wouldn’t need the Extreme model, would you?

Mounting on the bike

is a simple process. They open up with a zipper and slip over the bars. Zip them shut, then Velcro two tabs around the cables on the stem side of the bar. The mitt is held in place with an expanding bar-end plug. (If you’ve ever used a boat with a drain plug, you’re familiar with the concept.) It takes a bit of fishing through a small hole in the Neoprene with a 4mm Allen wrench to tighten. Removing is likewise simple, but not something I’d do as often as I’d change from one pair of gloves or mittens to another.


takes a bit of adjustment. Since they cover the bar ends, you can’t use that hand position. If you have bar-end attachments, you can buy a model with holes so the bar ends stick out, but then you can’t use them and stay warm at the same time. To signal a turn, you slide your hand toward you to get it out of the mitt, then signal; so it’s a two-step process and takes a bit longer than just removing your hand from the bar to signal. Slipping back in is easy but, again, different than just re-gripping the bar. When approaching a turn, to remove your hand to signal, slide it back in to apply the brake, and maybe back out to signal again is a bit of a chore. If I had reason to get my hand out fast, I think it could be a problem. If you use a bell, it will be inside the pogie, meaning the sound is greatly muffled. You can’t see your hands, but if you need to see your hands to shift or apply the brakes you have a bigger problem.


is the reason for these, right? So how do they stack up? Since they stay on the bike, if you leave your bike in an unheated space, they are cold inside until your body heat warms them. They are not air tight, so there is a breeze coming through where the cables exit. You can adjust the air leak by tightening or loosening those tabs. If you’re gonna pull your hand out to signal, you still need a glove or mitten unless it is pretty warm out. If you never signal, they are much easier. Then again, I don’t want to ride with you. You do need less glove than without the pogies. I have so far tried liner gloves, full fingered lightweight gloves, full-fingered “winter” gloves, and woolen mittens. The coldest I have ridden so far is 5 degrees (-15 C). At that temperature I needed mittens under the pogies. Gloves weren’t enough. There’s not a lot of room inside with a mitten on, so applying the brakes takes a bit more concentration. I would not wear my big Empire mitts inside. (I just tried them. I can get them in but once there, they stay there. I have to pull my hand out of the mitten and the pogie to do it with any speed.) The mitts I wore at 5 degrees would not have been enough at below zero temperatures and getting my hand in position around the brake lever in that tight space took some doing.

Bottom Line

If your hands are always cold, you can’t get Empire mittens because Kevin isn’t making the bike mitts anymore, you have gloves and mittens that you like but they’re not quite warm enough, Bar Mitts/pogies might be for you; especially if your mittens use Thinsulate or some other warm and not bulky lining.

If you never signal your turns anyway, Bar Mitts/pogies might be for you.

If you don’t like anything bulky on your hands, Bar Mitts/pogies might be for you.

If you don’t ride where it’s really cold, Bar Mitts/pogies might be for you. Around the freezing point they are pretty comfortable with just liner gloves under them – once you warm up the insides. But that’s hardly what I’d call “extreme.”

As for me? The jury is still out, but the ‘no’ votes appear to be ahead. I admit, it hasn’t been a fair test. I’ve only used them between 5 and 50 degrees. But gimme a break. I haven’t had ‘em a full week yet.

Ice boats and live piano music on the lake…that’s why I live here.

They now have two weeks of use. I will leave them on until it is too warm to use them…but I’m not so sure they’ll go back on next winter.

In praise of sap

We don’t generally consider it a compliment to call someone a “sap”. Nor is it particularly civilized to hit someone with a sap. But maple sap…ahh, that’s another story.

When spring is in the air, days are sunny with light winds and temperatures above freezing, cold nights…the sap starts running. When winter is still here, we can dream about those days while poring over our seed catalogs.

Maple sap itself seems like nothing special. It looks like water. It takes some discernment to notice its sweetness. But boil it down to about 1/40 of its original volume, and it becomes the golden elixir.

Morning sun and maple tree through maple syrup.

Maple syrup is the perfect antidote to cabin fever. There’s not as much to do on the farm in the depth of winter and it’s not all that fun. But when the sap is running, you hike through the woods, drive the spiles into the trunks, hang the buckets or bags, or run the lines, and wait.

When you have enough sap, you build a fire and the sap goes into a big stainless steel pan to be boiled down. Now you have a place to get warm in between runs. As the day goes on and the sap boils down, the steam rising from the pan begins to feel a bit more sticky. You transfer the near-syrup to a smaller pan to avoid scorching, and get the canning jars ready.

Pour a little into the snow for the treat of maple sugar candy. Enjoy it on tomorrow morning’s pancakes to fuel you up for the next day of collecting. Pour it over ice cream, or add a touch to your morning coffee.

Syrup grading used to reflect the racism in our culture – the lighter the color, the higher the grade. Some of us used to buy only Grade B, the darker and more flavorful syrup. Now they are named by color rather than calling light better. The bottle above is Grade A Dark. It also comes in Golden, Amber, and Very Dark. (There used to be “Light Amber”, “Medium Amber”, and “Dark Amber”.) Lighter colors tend to have more delicate flavors (more hints of vanilla, to some) and darker colors stronger, more maple flavors. Very dark might have smoky nuances. A recent trend has been to age syrup in used bourbon barrels, yielding complex, liqueur flavors (but no alcohol). I don’t use it as my everyday syrup (the bourbon barrel aging adds cost), but it is a great treat. Some went into my Sunday morning cappuccino today. (My weekday coffee is a cortado.) Those with strong preferences might call light syrup tasteless, just sugar; or dark syrup burned tasting.

Years ago I took my kids to a maple syrup festival. In addition to seeing trees tapped and syrup made, they had taste tests. Maple syrup and sugar syrup (ordinary store-bought pancake syrup) were dosed from squeeze bottles (like the ketchup and mustard bottles in a diner). The host squeezed a bit onto a stick for my son to taste. He said, “That’s maple”. The host said, “No, you’re supposed to taste both and then tell me.” My son said, “I don’t need to taste both.” The host insisted on trying again. He squeezed a bit onto a new stick and my son instantly said, “That’s just sugar.” It took several trials before he was willing to taste both before rendering an opinion – though he was never wrong.

A bit later my daughter (2 ½ years younger) walked up to the booth. The same scene entailed. The host was visibly frustrated. I told him, “You can’t fool kids who were raised on maple syrup.” He gave up.

I haven’t helped with maple sugaring for years. The last year I did it, we had modernized. Lines ran from the trees to centrally-located 55 gallon drums. Rather than walking the entire line, we could go to the drum to collect sap for cooking…and the horses, pulling a sleigh, could bring it back to the pan for boiling. Since the trees were scattered along multiple hillsides, it saved a lot of walking; but I’m still not sure that was a good thing. Walking the trail on a late winter morning to see if the sap is running yet is kinda like checking for presents under the Christmas tree…

Another kind of sap

In the fall we have another syrup season – sorghum. Sorghum is northern sugar cane. (“Northern” being a relative term, as most sorghum grown for syrup in the US is in the south.) We grew it in southwestern Wisconsin, just down the road from where I did my maple sugaring.

We mostly think of sorghum as a grain fed to animals; but we rode through the fields on a wagon, chopping the grain heads off with machetes and cutting the canes at ground level with a mower – that was a lot easier than the back-breaking work of cutting with machetes, which we did my first year on the harvest. When we hand-cut with machetes, we could stack it neatly for transport. The mower dropped stalks in all directions, so we had to gather and arrange it before transporting on the wagon. The canes were then fed into rollers and the juice squeezed out.

Years ago, I wrote a screenplay for a documentary on the sorghum-making process, starting with a helicopter shot of the steep hillsides and deep valleys of the driftless area, zooming in to a tracking shot of the tractor and wagon in the field before cutting to ground-level shots, and featuring an interview with Cap Stussy, the man who taught me. I still have the notes, but I found this YouTube video that saved me the work of production:

The press in the video is run by real horse power. Cap ran his from the PTO (Power Take-Off) on his tractor.

Sorghum is more like molasses than maple syrup – stronger, with a bitterness behind the sweetness. When I used it on pancakes, I sometimes used it mixed with other syrup to sweeten it and reduce the bitterness. It is also sweeter if you keep the grain heads out of the mix.

Pecan pie recipes usually call for corn syrup (Karo syrup). I have used various combinations of light and dark corn syrup, sorghum, and maple syrup. All work and most are tastier than plain light corn syrup. Go bake a pie and tell me about it! (15)

“Hey papa! We’re walking in a winter wonderland!”

Overheard from a toddler in a stroller talking to his dad.

Photo by Phil Brinkman, Wisconsin State Journal

I skied across the lake to Olbrich Park, home of this seasonal labyrinth, made from donated Christmas trees by artist Lillian Sizemore. That’s where I met the toddler and the dad.

Center of labyrinth

The installation included a “tree museum”, made infamous by Joni Mitchell in the song “Big Yellow Taxi”.
“You take all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum.
Ya charge the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em.”

There was no charge for this tree museum, but it included a selection of trees commonly used as Christmas trees in these parts, each with a card explaining where the tree is native, how long it can live, and how tall it will grow. They included Scotch and White Pine; Canaan, Frasier, Balsam, and Douglas Fir; Norway, Colorado Blue, and Red Spruce; and Arborvitae.

Meanwhile, as I got off my bike after work, I heard a commotion in the hydrangeas. It wasn’t Mary Hatch from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was a Peregrine falcon with a mouse in its talons, tearing through the dried canes and trying to get airborne again. It was maybe ten feet from me. It did not share the snack.

Mary Hatch in the hydrangeas from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Lake Geneva Winterfest

The winterfest in Lake Geneva (no, Martha, not that Lake Geneva) is over, but that just means the crowd was smaller to look at the snow sculptures. The snow here has been too cold and fluffy for sculpting, so I have no contributions of my own except the photos. The gallery images sometimes get cropped by your browser, so click to open in fullscreen.

“Babies” – Two babies fighting over a pacifier
“Look at Dat Der Buck, Eh” – Yah, we really talk like dat here, or at least up nort we do.
“Roaring Peace” – little girl and lion
“Time” – detail of face
“When Grief Takes Wing, Love Remains” – lily
“There be Dragons Here”

There were also ice sculptures. On the shady side of the street they were still in pretty good shape.

$2/hour to park, or drive out on the lake and park with the fishers for free.