It has been a long time since I last posted. I have been spending more time tweeting and on Instagram, but a lot has happened since then. We elected a President, Birthdays March Madness (tear.), winter, and I finished my PhD. Just before the election I attended a conference in Cincinnati – where both candidates also found themselves that same weekend – and I headed directly to Atlanta and defended my dissertation on Monday Nov. 5th. I am happy to say that I passed and had one night to celebrate with some of my friends in Atlanta.

The title of the dissertation is Planning For The New Urban Climate: Interactions Of Local Environmental Planning And Regional Extreme Heat. It can be found here for those interested.

Since the defense I have been continuing to discover my role and develop ideas at Wisconsin as part of the Nelson Environmental Institute’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

NIMBY – Madsion

We heard a lot about Madison before we moved here. Everyone we talked to loved the place. We haven’t met anyone who didn’t enjoy their time here, but we knew that sit was a bit of an island. A haven for protest and liberal energy in a state that is not severely conservative but elected Scott Walker, saw him restrict collective bargaining rights, then recalled him, and elected him again.

Our first real encounter with the vocal Madison public was around a proposal to put lights along a bike path. The bike path is known as the Southwest Commuter Path and runs between the SW neighborhoods (and towns further outside Madison) and campus and the Isthmus where it links up with other paths. The controversy arose between the neighbors living along the path and the path users. Several neighbors came out against the lights; worried about habitat (owl) disruption, night sky light contamination, and other reasons. Some even said crime might go up if criminals, now able to see the people they intend to attack, could wait to strategically attack those they think are weak. Supporters of the lights cited equality among transportation modes as a rationale for the project. The public works department revised the design of the project and even the lights themselves several times to alleviate concerns. They worked with the LED manufacturers to produce a different warmth of light at eye level. The final design is a bike path light unlike any other out there.

Some Coverage:

The Isthmus

City of Madison

The Cap Times

Madison Commons

I went to one of the several public hearings about the issue and took some notes. Some of the best comments came from an Alder in a nearby town, Fitchburg. He pointed out that the people you see on the path now are only the people comfortable using it as it is, so the claim that plenty of people use a dark path is misleading. He also noted that the more cyclists the path attracts, the less traffic will be on the roads and so benefits of the path extend to the general populous and not only those on the bikes.

The appeal of a town the recognizes non-motorized transport and legitimizes it with infrastructure spending was something that several young professionals mentioned explicitly. They noted that it was a factor in choosing to move to Madison. They said things like: “Make cities for people” and “We must begin to shift our transportation paradigm and legitimize all modes”

I kept thinking that many of the arguments against the lights based on safety were dismissive of the subjective nature of safety. People requested data on crime stats to ‘prove’ that safety was an issue, and conversely others in favor of the lights told their personal stories about not wanting to ride in the dark. Is fear of the dark measurable? I would say mine is about a 39.7.

One of the oddest comments came from a woman opposing the lights: “If I wanted it to be all lit up, I would have bought a house in the suburbs”. This seems paradoxical to me, isn’t the bucolic character of suburban living (‘away from the bright lights of the big city’) part of the appeal.

One of the most compelling arguments relates to whether or not this is the type of project that the city should be spending money on right now. There are certainly other needs for this money, but this is not really the issue that the city was discussing. That decision had already been made and and the money had been set aside. The electrical infrastructure for the lights had also been installed earlier when the path was first constructed. In the end, the final light design was approved by the city council and it will proceed.

Palm Oil

On a recent trip to the supermarket we encountered a band of small girls selling what appeared to be harmless baked (?) goods – cookies – as part of a fundraiser for their organization called The Girl Scouts of America. Now, I have bought Girl Scout Cookies before and I will buy them again (Thin Mints are my drug of choice), but this time was different.

After the transaction one of the girls handed me a slip a paper with some information on it about the cookies I had just purchased. The paper, shown above, had additional information about the ingredients of the cookies and the farming practices used to grow those ingredients. It was odd to receive information from the seller of a product, speaking ill of the product, right after you purchased said product. First, I appreciate the full disclosure and due diligence on the part of the Girl Scout’s but to say this didn’t catch me off guard would be a lie. I’m used to finding out about the reasons I might want to steer away from some products through alternative sources; the newspaper, a blog, not the seller themselves. Second the info sheet doesn’t point out all the things the GS have changed to correct the hard this fundraising activity might be causing in other parts of the world, rather it simply states what’s wrong with the cookies I just bought. What’s more it throws the blame right onto me – “What’s YOUR connection to rainforest destruction?”

I looked into into a bit more. The campaign was started by a few Girl Scouts from a troop in Michigan. (one of them was named Madison) The leading producer of palm oil is Indonesia. MOst of the crop’s expansion in the last 20 years (in Indonesia) has happened on the island of Borneo. This island is home to the orangutan and this is a primary reason that the animal has become synonymous with rain forest destruction by palm oil plantations.more here.

Big Wins

Some say marriage is all about compromise, but certainly some battles are bigger than others. When moving into a new home there are all kinds of tensions and decisions to be made. These can be made together as a team or unilaterally, preferably by the one between you who is the font of knowledge on the particular topic. Sometimes I see fit to proclaim myself resident expert on one thing or another.

When we were moving into this home in Madison, I KNEW the exact right spot for the cutting boards. It was perfect and upon seeing the location for the first time I instantly thought – “cutting boards”. As if every person, for all time, when seeing the shape and placement of this small nook would arrive at the same conclusion. Even without prior knowledge of what a cutting board was, or that it existed, one would see this void and react with the invention of a board, on which to cut things, as the object that should occupy this place. The context of the room (a kitchen) and the microenvironment of what I will call the cutting board nest imposed itself on the psyche of all those who gazed upon it. Lauren protested, but I remained steadfast to my intuition and the will of the cutting board nest. To this day the boards reside in that perfect spot. Little victories be damned, you gotta go big or go home in this marriage game.

Postscript: Our marriage has what I consider to be a pretty balanced yin and yang with respect to these compromises. I may have cashed in all my karmatic credits on this cutting board thing and hope it doesn’t cause me to come up short in the next family planning discussion.

From Dungeon Family to Monroe Dungeon

It’s only about 3 months late but here’s the official blog announcement of our move to Madison. We left the Dirty South and ended up in the spiffy clean Midwest, left East Atlanta and found ourselves in West Madison. In the nick of time just before leaving we were able to find a nice home for rent that fit our needs. It had previously been on the market for sale and, finding themselves in a bit of a time crunch of their own, the owners agreed to rent to us. The home is right on the edge, or maybe just inside, a neighborhood called Dungeon-Monroe. The house and the neighborhood are great. Getting here didn’t go exactly as planned. Our things were put on a moving truck in Atlanta and unfortunately were not scheduled to arrive in Madison until mor than two weeks later, after Lauren was scheduled to begin work. We decided to leave Detroit and move into the house without our things. My folks followed us with towels and air mattresses, some chairs, and a table. Even without our things, we found Madison to be very enjoyable and accommodating. One of the first things we noticed was that things were very close. Compared to Atlanta, where you’d have to drive 20 minutes to get somethings, the small town feel of Madison is enhanced by it actually being small. Lauren was able to use the bike share to get to work before our bikes arrived. We could walk to parks, the grocery store, and the free zoo. I wanted to compare the old neighborhood to the new one on some factors

East Altanta Dungeon-Monroe
Population 32,654 10,012
Median HH income $44,101 $67,454
Median HH Value $208,257 $255,959
Median Age 34.8 36.8
Walk Score 20 74
Transit Score 33 41
Registered Sex Offenders 67 9
Avg Jan High 52 28
Avg July High 89 83
Feels like temp at time of posting 53 40
Notable Rankings Maxim’s #1 Man City Best City for Young Adults
Madison is #29 Don’t see Atlanta

The first thing that strikes me about this list is that the numbers do a very poor job of capturing the most important differences between the places. The two neighborhoods are closer than expected for many of these metrics (July High temp?). When we moved here we immediately felt a lot better about our location and living situation. There are a lot of variables but is there really a number to capture the way you feel in a place?

Home Away From Home

Less than a month ago we headed north. We packed up the house in Atlanta over the course of about a week, and then the movers came on a Monday and put it all on their truck. We had planned to leave that day and drive to Michigan. There we were going to wait for our shipment to make it to Madison while we stayed at my folks’ house. The movers ended up taking a bit longer than expected and it would have been a dangerous all-night drive to the Midwest. We made a quick call to the best hotel you’ve never heard of over in Peoplestown. Pet’s welcome. Dinner, drinks, and conversation provided. Includes private balcony and kitchen. They even have kids’ bath toys for your use. Many thanks to the Walk-Lynch’s for putting us up and putting up with us.

Tuesday morning, bright and early, six bodies were loaded into the car in all manner of seats, crates, and beds. As you could imagine there was little room for us to take much of anything else with us in the car. Somehow I convinced Lauren to let me bring the desktop computer by claiming it would be necessary to get some work done before things arrived in Madison. This would be the longest car ride of Benton’s life, and the furthest the cat and one dog had ever been from Atlanta. The morning began quietly and it was a smooth first three or four hours. I actually don’t remember much of the trip being horrible. We stopped for lunch in Lexington and made it to Detroit in pretty good time.

We woke up Wednesday morning in Southgate, MI and got our first estimate for delivery in Madison, 13 days later. We could only complain to the company so long before we had to start thinking about what we would do with our things now arriving after Lauren was scheduled to begin her new job. We had planned to stay in Michigan through the Labor Day weekend regardless. We ended up getting great weather and a lot of family time. It was the first time we spent some regular weekday (non-holiday) time in Southgate – and the whole gang was along for the ride. We took Benton to the play ground at my old school. Walked the dogs by the high school and through the Southgate Nature Center located behind it. “When I went to school here, this was just a scary field.”

My parents vacation had already been scheduled and so they were home to play with B in the yard and the kiddie pool. They also took a day trip to the Toledo Zoo and the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum. We went to see a friend’s high school football game on Friday night. On our anniversary Lauren and I took a trip to Ann Arbor for a night out. We strolled around town and sampled brews at Jolly Pumpkin.

On the Wednesday after the holiday weekend we decided to leave and drive on to Madison. My parents followed with air mattresses, folding chairs, tables, and towels. Southgate was a great temporary home and introduction to the Midwest.

Leaving Atlanta

Lauren’s job ended on August 17th. The week before, a get together – there is not really another word for it: it was not a party, not a ceremony, not a send off as much as some of her colleagues gathering to say goodbye and well wish – was held at the CDC with cake and drinks and a small speech by a boss figure. Members of her closest work team pooled some cash to buy us each a foam cheese supply item for our midwest destination. Benton now has his compulsory cheesehead.

In the week that followed boxes began to accrue and our things slowly, and then more quickly over the weekend, moved into them (or into piles and bags headed for Goodwill and the Salvation Army). A timely ‘most e-mailed’ article from the New York Times described the benefits of owning less. Each night of the week we had plans to meet up with another friend to say goodbye in one way or another. This included a wonderful Dirty South Beer Club farewell and an ice cream social to say goodbye to Katy and Ben as they moved on to California. We became a bit nostalgic, trying to hold on to the things that make Atlanta what it is even if we don’t really like them. Finding a chicken bone in a parking lot or seeing an outrageous temperature reading became a photo opportunity.

Things got hectic in the last week and we became exhausted. Rooms got cleared in preparation for the movers who called on Friday to tell us they’d be there in a few days (ahead of expectations) to load everything into a truck. I think all the dust and cat hair and dog hair and dirt made its way into our lungs and exacerbated our tired state toward an illness. I hope this cough is not chronic.

Our best laid plans to give Benton one more day with his teachers at day care – some of the first folks who ever got to know him and vice versa – and leave midday for Michigan fell flat as the movers continued to load our things into the later afternoon. With our house empty we made a call to the best motel, free or otherwise, in the city limits (name withheld). We enjoyed our last night in Atlanta, as we had so often, with dear friends and good food. In the morning we returned to our house one last time to grab Fila and set off for a new chapter.

Benton’s First Birthday

It’s been three months since I have blogged. Sadder: there have been only 7 posts this year since the 2011 year in review. Saddest: There have not been many updates on Benton even though he has continued to grow and change. Maybe that is why the blog has not recorded his progress – it is too fast and too expansive to cover. Photos and videos are the mode of the day but even those fail to accurately document what has happened over the past year.

Yes, it has been a year since Benton was born. To celebrate, we all headed up to the northeast for a party. The first destination was Newport to see Gabby and Pappi (forgive me as I confuse all the monikers). In a maneuver out of a James Bond film we arrived at the Providence airport to find a car waiting for us in the lot (with a car seat!). We zoomed off to Newport; our parking and bridge toll paid for by the $20 left in the car’s ashtray. Once there we enjoyed the cool summer day out on the porch and in the garden. The next day we trued to go to the beach but got rained out and instead went to an aquarium where you could touch crabs and sharks and starfish. next, we headed to Connecticut to meet up with Suse and the rest of the family, and to prepare for the party the next day.

To set the scene, decorations were made using the characters of one of Benton’s favorite books. Notably it features a brown bear. The characters donned the edge of a homemade cake from Grandma and hung from the lights in the kitchen. Pictures of Benton from each month of his first year were draped through the entranceway. Benton went through about three or four outfits as he opened gifts and ate cake. Friends and family came in from as far as New York City – never mind that he himself flew in from Atlanta – to be with him on this special day. Later he played on the deck with giant bubbles.

When we got home the gifts continued to arrive and then be put together by his dad. Now Benton continues to improve his walking, throw in more and more talking, and grows every day.

Say Hi to ya Mutha for me

“Oh, I’m sorry. What’d you just say to her? Smile? Or were you talkin’ to me? I hope you were talkin’ to me because nobody talks like that to my mah. Apologize to her. Say ‘I’m sorry Mrs. Lauren for being sch a dirtbag and disrespectin’ you like I did. I deserve to be kicked in the face by a mule.’ Now say it, or watch out for this left hook!”


“Hello, and thank you for tuning in once again to another exciting episode of Georgia Outdoors. I’m your host Benton Gray and with me, as always, are my ready-for-adventure parents Jason and Lauren. Today we’re here in beautiful Vogel State Park. Behind me you’ll see a classic example of the early spring flora and geological formations that we’ll be exploring today. Join us, won’t you?”