Sunday, October 4, 2009

One More Thing

I haven't used the Yahoo mail account for some time. The mail manager tells me that I was deactivated and all messages are returned to sender. If you tried to contact me via rg7rds@yahoo
and had the message returned I apologize. I reactivated the account. By the way, Bulldog, Ella, Beth, Mateo-you already know my e-mail address I use for business, so there's no need to Yahoo.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

This Is The End

I'm a Morrison/Doors groupie. The title to this post mirrors that of a song on the Best of Doors double album in my CD collection. I've read a biography of Morrison and felt his descent into alcohol was the end of a wonderfully creative person. In the beginning of the book, there was mention of Morrison's drifting away from his US Navy admiral father over a haircut. Morrison's mother pleaded with the father to relent on the haircut issue. Both Jim and Dad went to their graves without ever reconciling. Sad.
My son text messages me. Our four year old cell phones could be featured on an episode the Flintstones for their basic simplicity. I seldom get a text message, nor do I know the mechanics of bringing up the entire message. "I will not be..." the first part of the message reads. I call Dawn at work. She recently tried to decode a text message that turned out to be from a marketing firm. She didn't remember what she did to bring up the entire message. I leave a voice mail message on no.2 son's phone. "Call me." Two hours later I discover the secret. "I'm not coming up Oct. such and such. I didn't like the cruel things you said about the granddaughter."
Another voice mail to no.2 son. "You sure you want to go down this road." It's taken, what, five or six years to bring about some semblance of a connection with him. I wrote him off for dead. He leaves Chicago after trouble with alcohol, drugs and money. Without so much of a note or phone call, he shows up in Arizona, taking a bus cross country. I'm happy to see him. He stays with us 6 or 7 months. Working a mind numbing job at the local hardware store in a town where 75% of the population is retired, he comes home reeking of propane from endless tourist fill-ups. Lack of people his age, a youthful culture and living at home takes its toll. He's gone for several days before we get a letter explaining his departure.
Now, more b.s. He lives in a four unit apartment house owned by daughter and son-in-law. He's the so-called manager. Is it possible they are putting pressure on him? Don't know/don't care. If he had a problem with my descriptions of a spoiled child, he could have spoken to me in person or phoned. His reticence for a face to face or ear to ear connection is typical.
Cut to the chase. I don't have time for this family feud stuff. A long time ago Dawn tells me not to send the daughter a cardboard box version of Family Feud. She says they'd be offended by the satire. Not to mention making fun of a long series of bad feelings which daughter doesn't want to discuss. ..And they don't like my dog and cat.
I'm weary of being careful in the things I say. Therefore, this is the last post on Seven Roads To Home. If you e-mail me:, I'll let you know the address of the new blog. To those folks who've taken the time to follow, comment with nice thoughts and let me in their lives-I sincerely appreciate you.

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Tea

In yesterdays post I spaced out the title. It happens frequently. I'm so busy concentrating on the immediate, I ignore my surroundings. I get a phone call while I'm upstairs. I forget that I'm washing breakfast dishes and hot water is running in the sink. The previous owners of this place choose inexpensive whenever they make a decorating decision. The cheap sink has a divider between the two tubs. It's the same height as the outside surface, hence the sink overflows and floods the kitchen.

Three Cups of Tea is the true story of Greg Mortenson's work building a school in the northern reaches of Pakistan. There is much in the story that inspires me. Some parts are more than amazing, such as the mountain scenery. Twenty years previously, an Irish nurse travels the difficult road that Mr. Mortenson drives in a heavily overloaded Bedford truck. She goes by horse-back in winter with a five year old daughter. The ravine below the road is littered with the skeleton of a bus that got too close to the edge. Mortenson, when asked about the dangers of traveling in remote Pakistan, an area famous for banditry, bands of Taliban and Al Qaeda " benefactors", replies that the dangers of traveling the precarious "goat path" or road to Skardu was greater than any terrorist bullet.

The picture above is my five year old daughter gathering sumac berries to make Indian Tea, a natural beverage high in vitamin C. The eldest daughter is standing on the stoop of the 16X33 foot Vietnam era army squad tent which was our home for a year. The birch woods in the background was our backyard. In summer one had to watch for poison ivy growing there. The tent was constructed on a platform made from flooring salvaged from the dance hall of the county fair grounds. The west end was eight feet off the edge of the hill. A small deck with a hickory tree growing through the boards overlooked a ravine and woods.

We had a four wheel drive truck and an old Plymouth with a push button transmission I bought from a fellow teacher before I quit a four year stint as an inner city teacher. I'd signed a two year contract as part of the Teacher Corps. After four years of combat, I was ready for the Driftless region of rural Wisconsin. Bill and Dolly were a mismatched team I bought for inaccessible regions of the 25 acres at the end of a dead end road we called home. Across the road was a commune of 100 individuals living in 5 army tents like ours and a main wood structure that housed 33 people. They lived close to the land. smoked a lot of ditch weed and birthed babies in those tents. I was the ambulance driver.

We had no running water, no electricity and a three bench sauna for bathing purposes. On Saturday nights we'd listen to Prairie Home Companion on our battery powered radio. I'd saved $6000 on my teacher salary of $8100 over the course of 4 years. We made a grand total of $150 that year. Cabin fever, lack of conveniences and arguments over my wife's smoking habit bounced us back to the familiarity of the city. Two months of living with her parents made me desperate for our own place. Thanks to a loan from my mother, we were able to purchase a 3 bedroom home on the edge of the city close to the suburbs. The backyard abutted the Milwaukee River. The first thing I did with the huge backyard was to convert it to a garden.

The backyard was a skating rink in winter and furnished us with fresh vegetables in summer. I installed a 16 foot above ground pool on the upper level of the backyard and then a salvaged Lord and Burnham greenhouse where I grew tomatoes and house plants. I wrote of our life in the woods and submitted the story to the local paper. I don't even remember a rejection letter. Just a manila envelope with the story of " modern day pioneering inside" .

Yeah, I'm asking myself; "Where are you going with this story." The answer. I don't know. I'm repeating the same scenario from years ago, only bigger and better. The neighbors erect a brand new pre-fab chicken house and I look at our metal shed along the south fence line. We poured a new cement floor early on with the intention of raising chickens. Trite but true. Been there, done that before. 1971 to be exact. Five pigs, four Muscovy ducks, 300 chickens, 4 rabbits that become 144 rabbits, a dog and two cats.

A gray, misty, dismal dawn where the photoelectric light still burns brightly at 7:00 am has me restless. The Pooch comes in from a brief tour of the grounds. He touches noses with Mandy. I look out the deck window and realize that I forgot to turn off the gas grill. Mandy likes her breakfast slightly cooked. I don't want to dirty a pan-I hate doing dishes-so I throw a cheap cut of pork on the grill. I'm too lazy to get my muck boots on to walk out on the wet deck. There's an old running shoe in Mandy's toy box without laces. I slip it on and hop on one foot to the grill. When I open the deck door , the dog cat and cat are sitting side by side staring at me. You can tell they're amazed by my antics. I chuckle at their expressions. They chase each other around the house until I separate the two. Mandy falls asleep on"her" chair and the cat leaves for another outdoor tour.

I need some fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

An October first cool spell hits overnight. At first light, the eastern sky is filled with cottage cheese clouds and rose colored sun-rays. The reflection off the rest of the landscape is dusty rose. I'm filled with awe. I consider going back inside for my camera. I have dozens of rosy dawn photos. I'll use one of those. With a sweat shirt and a polar fleece jacket on, I'm still chilled. Mandy and the Pooch take care of business and head for the back door. The Pooch forgoes his chicken liver breakfast for hunting the perimeter. Mandy has a favorite chair to climb on. On the back of the chair is leftover Wal-Mart blue polar fleece fabric I'd tossed into her dog house. I removed it when we got a new cedar shaving, faux sheepskin dog bed.

Mandy drags the fleece remnant from the back of the chair onto her lap. Putting her paws together as if in prayer, she suckles a piece of fabric she's pulled up into a cone. Her paws flex on either side of the fleece. I learn yesterday on a trip for organic eggs that her true birthday is June 6Th. She'll be four months old soon. Leaving the Amish farm, I pick up the dog rather than trying to coax her into the car. There are too many distractions. "Have I got the right Mandy?" I quip. She almost as big as her mother. Walking to the car the bucolic scene of geese roosting on the ground near the bulk store, a bin loaded with apples, a loose chicken or two, cows and horses grazing off in the distance and corn shocks in the garden, I shake my head remembering my daughter's visit the past weekend.

In previous visits to the Amish farm she worries about roaming turkeys. On this visit she keeps her daughter close in hand. If it were anyone else, they'd be walking the property showing a city kid the animals. There is so much life that her daughter is missing being cooped up in the central city. My son and I gawk at a bald eagle flying across the highway on a trip to town on this same weekend. He, too, is confined to downtown Milwaukee 5 days a week and an apartment bordering the ghetto. His view is different, savoring the sand hill cranes flying overhead and the cool fall air. I wonder what happened to the oldest kid. At four she walked through the woods to a farm school. The disconnection to nature is sad when I consider how she's stuffed her life full of city baloney. When their house is broken into, she talks of buying a duplex in the nearest suburb.

Yesterday's trip to town is a busy one. Stops at Tractor supply for the dog bed and an expensive can of venison dog food followed by a side trip to Wal-Mart where I catch up on the latest gossip and buy the cat fresh chicken livers are only two of many trips. I talk to my mechanic about the truck and schedule an appointment. The trip to the hardware store is canceled when I actually find all the hardware I need for constructing a door to the dog house at Wal-Mart. We shield our eyes passing by the cheese corner. They've got a new sandwich I've had twice in the last week. It's gooey and delicious. When I pull up to the hospital drive-around to run in and pick up a prescription, I'm cussing at the driving habits of a geezer in front of me. I'm remember telling myself when I was younger, I'd never be like those gummers. Now I'm almost a gummer( I still have my teeth). I'll never be a slow, oblivious and dim witted as the people I run across daily.

The last of the green peppers go into the dehydrator. Dawn has the day off as a trade for working a fund raiser on the weekend. I finish off a half bushel of apples in the dehydrator which fill a gallon freezer bag. I take a sample to my Amish friends for their two youngest children. Having a five and ten year old watch over Mandy while we travel to Lacrosse is comforting. Mom asks if I'll dry some apples for snacks for the kid's lunches. They offer to trade apples for the cost of electricity. I tell them I'm doing it as a favor for a friend. "We still are friends?" I ask "Maybe I should run an extension cord to your place." The idea is so ludicrous that we all guffaw. I leave the farm promising that as soon as the dehydrator is free I'll take car of their apples. Mandy falls asleep immediately on the short drive home. She climbs into her doghouse to nap when we arrive.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I only follow a few blogs. I started with a single minded purpose to expand my writing skills. Sharing what I'd written wasn't important. Then, I found a few interesting blogs and decided to keep up with their lives. You get hooked. One blogger was conspicuously absent for a week. I hoped there wasn't something wrong. I decided that the business of life (read that as busy-ness ) was probably the reason for the absence. Many of my posts are self critiqued. I don't write about a lot of the garbage floating around in this brain. You never know when that certain person or group would drive down this country road looking for the guy who called them a bunch of worthless cretins , idiots or (ohmigosh) rednecks. When the blogger I follow added a new post, I went to the comment form to write a short note telling her I'm glad she's back. Blogger shut down the word verification portion before the comment was posted and added a confusing other auditory verification. Oh well. sAm , I'm glad you're back.

Much of Seven Roads To Home is a rehash of what I think others might find interesting about life in the Driftless region. My love for animals, organic farming and down home country goodness constitute the bulk of my musings. I try to keep the other crap to myself. Occasionally I'll add something disguised as a story to keep the identity or situation anonymous. The story of the Ootenstiles is an example. It was inspired by watching a spoiled granddaughter's antics. Since my daughter used to read this blog, I didn't want to add emotional fuel to an already hot fire of antagonism by mentioning the background or symbolism of the story. Dawn threatend me with bodily harm if I taunted my yuppie daughter and her boorish husband.

I say "used to" because I'm hoping that she will entirely tune me out of her life for now. After a weekend visit, the long and short of it is that we got in an argument. Having a slow fuse-hot temper, I lost my cool and threw the bunch of them out. I'd had enough with the whining, patronising and just plain self inflated, precocious behavior at the expense of everyone else, which significantly included two of my favorite animals, Mandy and The Pooch.

The cat and dog have a pattern to their lives. Raising four children and teaching hundreds of others over a long teaching career, I see the value of structure in their lives. Raising a puppy in itself is a difficult task. The Pooch retreats to the basement over the weekend. We've had visitors before. He's been comfortable enough with them to hang out in a few of his favorite haunts while we gab and stay up late. This past weekend it's as if Dracula came to visit. The last straw was seeing him run for cover as an argument ensued over leaving the first floor lights on all night .

Saturday night, the Pooch comes upstairs at three am. His internal alarm clock sometimes goes haywire, but this is different. I wake up, see the blazing lights downstairs and walk downstairs to turn them off. When it's dark, he jumps up on my lap and then on the back of the couch to snooze. I catch an hour of sleep. I'd gotten to bed late two nights in a row. I wake up before first light and take the dog and cat outside to begin their morning rituals.

I try to explain that that Mandy and The Pooch are not just a farm cat and dog. We treat them as members of the family. My son tells me that he had a roommate who got a puppy and caged the dog during the day while he was at work. To me that's inexcusable and cruel treatment. The daughter makes fun of my statement, telling her kid that the dog is her aunt. Both parents dislike dogs and have by example transferred that dislike to the granddaughter. The granddaughter spends the weekend crying whenever the puppy comes near. Mandy was raised in a household that included a five year old girl. The young Amish girl slathered Mandy with affection

On Saturday morning Dawn sits at the kitchen table and mumbles that she's had enough of the whining. "Up to here." she motions with her hands. The kid complains when her mother cuts up the slice of smoked pork shoulder on her plate. She will only eat certain foods. Eggs have to be boiled and the mother tosses out the yolk. On a previous visit mother gets a fork from the utensil drawer ( Ootensile ). "I don't want that fork," the kid complains in a high pitched whine.
To quote Kurt Vonnegut,"And so it goes."

We've all seen precocious, spoiled children. When one is part of your family it's disturbing. Dinner becomes a difficult scene. Food is squandered because of picky tastes. After dinner, the Mom feeds the hungry kid crackers while we watch a movie. When I grew up in the late 1700's you ate all the food on your plate or you couldn't leave the table. "Eat yer liver ya brat, there are kids in China who are starving." I am jesting of course. Today's enlightened parents will offer a variety of healthy foods. Allowing for individual preferences, like I do with my dog and cat who sometimes turn up their noses at certain prepared animal feed, one takes the food away. I don't offer the cat or dog another plate of food 20, 30 or 60 minutes later. To be economical, I'll refrigerate the dish of dog or cat food and you know what? They'll probably eat it the next time.

Sunday morning the granddaughter, who usually sleeps late at home, is up at first light. I feed the dog and cat after I take them outside for a short run. The kid complains and whines about the dog. "If you're afraid of the puppy , then go back upstairs to bed." I tell her. I see no reason why the kid would want to be downstairs. Dad and Mom are still upstairs in bed, leaving me to deal with a cranky kid and two hungry animals-one who thinks the little girl's antics are a form of play.

Enough is enough.

Today, the Pooch decides to fore go breakfast and hunt for mice outside. Mandy scarfs down two bowlfuls of food and plays with her toys. I give her an old running shoe without laces which keeps her occupied. This morning it's chilly and cloudy. I add more insulation to Mandy's doghouse yesterday afternoon and toss in another blanket for her to make a warm nest. I'm trying to figure out a way to cover the entrance way, so cold drafts don't blow in on her. A highly insulated doghouse will cause some moisture condensation, so for the moment I add a rubber door that hangs part way in front of the opening. Mandy decides that the side chair next to the phone is a perfect place to nap. Like all parents, we'd thought that keeping her off the furniture was a good rule. We still enforce that rule with other furniture, but both dog and cat are allowed on this twenty five year old chair. Mandy still looks up at me when ever I walk by, with those pleading brown eyes that say, "Please, let me stay. I like this chair."

The daughter makes a snide comment about the cat not having any manners. I retort with,"We never taught him any." It's true. We used to chase him off the kitchen table. The cat is exceptionally well groomed and I don't worry if he chooses to sit on a place mat while we eat a sandwich from the Cheese Corner. He just likes to be near us. Too much of modern America is over concerned and paranoid about being germ free, orange cleaners that contain bleach and disinfectant. As a friend once said, "I'm part of a test group." If you've traveled in any foreign country, you'll consider your own sanitary considerations 300% better than those.

I'll be better tomorrow, I promise. Today, I have a bushel of green peppers to dice and dehydrate and over a bushel of organic apples to freeze and dehydrate. The first frost is a reality now. I need to get at the last of the tomatoes. My son and I do yard work. He's eager to help and appreciative of the things I do for him. We cancel a run to the cheese factory and mulch leaves. The Cheese Corner has a new sandwich-The Alamo- a delicious combination of vegetables and sliced beef, toasted on the bread of your choice. I spend almost $20 on lunch. It's well spent as we work on the grounds and slice jalapenos for dehydration. He leaves in the early afternoon with an Amish apple pie, apples from the orchards in Gays Mills and jars of canned goods. Dawn reminds him to take some of her hand made soap. He calls in the evening to let me know he made it through rush hour in the state capitol and safely home. He's a good kid ( at 30 years old). I look forward to his return in mid October.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hard Choices

It’s a hard choice. On a gray morning it’d be nice to roll over and go back to sleep. Then, again, mornings are quiet, peaceful times for reflection. Dawn has the day off. We need the time to prepare for company over the weekend. The Pooch continues with sneaky attempts to get me to feed him breakfast after a quick run outside to dig in the corn garden. It’s a mistful morning. Dog and cat sit side by side at the foot of the silver maples in the rear of the property. Both are intent on watching horses in the corral across the access road that separates our place from the neighbors.

Dead still. Leaves drift from the maples leaving a mottled carpet on the lawn. Mandy growls at the pumpkin patch, her hackles rising to bristles across her shoulders. “It’s all right girl.” I reach down and touch her head. “There’s nothing there but pumpkins.” An occasional vehicle rumbles down the highway. Down at the river, crows are calling out to each other.

On our afternoon walk, I stop to talk with my neighbor. He’s pitching hay to the horses in the corral. He tells me he’s been away for awhile visiting a son-in-law who’s back in the states after another tour in Iraq. I describe Mandy’s encounter with the electric fence. The cat sniffs at the weeds at the edge of the dirt road while Mandy hesitates approaching this unfamiliar man. R… tells me one of his dogs died. It was a pretty sheep dog/ collie mix. Black and white. He describes the treatments before the dog died. Nothing worked. He’s unusually reserved. “ T…’s arriving about now at the Lacrosse airport.” I don’t discuss politics with neighbors or any of the locals. Many have sons and daughters in Afghanistan or Iraq. Politics don’t matter when a loved one’s life is at stake.

This morning the dog is alert and happy. Her tail wags furiously when greeting me. She climbs on my knee and stretches to reach my ear. I get snurfled and then she is distracted, biting on her tail. The cat watches with amusement as Mandy runs in a circle chasing her tail. After both animals inhale a breakfast of raw ground pork, the cat jumps from the kitchen window to the deck door. I let him out for his morning patrol of the perimeter. Mandy jumps on her favorite chair and falls asleep. Each time I move about the kitchen or walk to the office, she looks up at me. Her eyes say, “Ok, ok, I’m on the chair, but I’m not feeling well.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Girl

Rototilling a 25 foot strip in the carrot garden.

She's looking for mice who have tunneled in the soft dirt.

Taking a few moments off for a bit of tail biting and chasing, she loses track of the task at hand.

It's hard , dirty work but she's up to the task.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Be Nice"

Yes, more dog and cat riptrap. Consider yourself lucky that I stifled an urge for another Driftless Region travelogue, an episode of the toilet paper chronicles or a description of my breakfast which is known in some circles as the Mess. If I'm being tortured, so should you.

The cat comes upstairs early this morning. Three a.m. to be exact. Last night, I found him in the middle of the basement staring at the hardboard cover over an abandoned window leading to the deck. "Oh, no. Not another smelly carcass under the studio." I carry him upstairs. He immediately retreats to the basement. It's time for bed. Mandy the dog is tossed outside after yet another pee mishap. The animal's bladder has shrunk to the size of a pea, no pun intended. When I check on her, she's burrowed under two blankets. Nights are getting chilly in late September. The Pooch ( the cat) is sleeping in a makeshift bed on the potato table. I line a cover to a plastic tote with an afghan. He's on mouse patrol. O.K. by me.

So, it must have been cold in the basement to force the cat upstairs at three a.m. The thermometer next to eggs boxes filled with potatoes reads 64 degrees when I shuffle downstairs in bare feet to retrieve a Keuka Gold potato for breakfast. Pucci snuggles against me for warmth. At five I hear him leap off the bed and I roll over for some quality snooze time. At the usual wake up time, the Pooch announces his arrival with one loud mew. Then he scratches at whatever you call that thing that lines the perimeter of the bed. Dust ruffle? Walking across me several times, sticking his face and whiskers ten centimeters from my face, purring so loudly it sounds like trucks on the highway, I'm up rubbing sleep from my eyes.

I can't wax eloquently about dawn this morning. Yesterday the sun cast a rosy glow around the eastern horizon up to the ten o'clock position in the sky. With fog obliterating the background it was ethereal. This morning it's just foggy, cold and slightly damp. Both animals, I call them the kids, are nose to the ground involved in morning bathroom functions. The newly turned soil in the garden plots attracts the Pooch. Mandy evacuates wherever the urge hits her. The Pooch is wise to the puppy's ways and keeps a close eye out at the same time digging a new latrine. Mandy runs the length of an eighty foot, freshly tilled plot, zooms past the cat close enough to cause the Pooch to leap two feet straight up in the air and then picks up some garbage lying on the road. Corn leaves, tufts of grass, pieces of charcoal, rocks, sticks, anything that can be chewed.

I shouldn't, but I take pity on the Pooch. "Breakfast?" I ask. "Wanna come inside?" Fifty per cent of dog-cat fights are instigated by the cat. He's perfected a tantalizing grunt similar to "Nah, Nah, you can't catch me." It gets the puppy's attention every time. Then the cat makes a beeline for shelter. A tree, the deck railing or just the sand pile next to the unfinished patio below the kitchen window. They wrestle. With the cat on his bag and the dog nipping at the cat's ears, the routine will continue until one or both yelps in pain. I let both inside, in order of seniority. The cat prefers the safety of coming inside after the dog.

In the kitchen the dog eats the cat's food and the cat eats dog food. I fry a small polish sausage patty leftover from sausage making Sunday afternoon. I'm very proud of this batch. Mandy seems quite interested in my garlicky pork. She looks at her Chophouse Steak flavor dog food in disgust and walks over to the Nine Lives Plus Care. When the polish patty is cool, I cut it into bits for the dog. She wolfs it down. I'm secretly pleased that I have the dog's approval.

I throw them both out to enjoy my Mess while reading a mystery novel. My allotted 30 minutes for this post is up. It's too quiet outside. I should go check on the kids.

Friday, September 18, 2009


There is a conspicuous quiet in Kickapoo Center. Dawn ( the time of day, not my wife) in summer is a cacophony of bird songs. I make the time distinction because my wife often takes residents on strolls around the retirement home. They spot a huge crow, almost the size of a raven. She says, "Watch this." Her startingly accurate mimicry of a crow distress call, sends the big black bird flapping for cover. Already half past September, all the hummingbirds have departed for warmer pastures. Starlings massed by the hundreds and flew away. I haven't seen a robin in weeks. The winter residents are popping up here and there. A jay calls out from the edge of the cornfield and woodpeckers hunt for insects in the maple trees. Blackbirds, i.e. , red wings, purple martins, & cow birds who carried on noisy conversations in the massive cottonwood tree on the south fence line are non-existent.

Bluebirds we haven't seen all summer save for a nesting pair in the spruce tree on the highway berm, feed on the front lawn. Dawn and I worry the cat will discover their feeding patterns. We can relax, though, since he's developed a paunch and has trouble leaping on to the deck rail. I do not caution Mandy for finishing off his breakfast. The cat needs to go on a diet.

When the juncos appear, it'll be the signal that winter is around the corner. We'll lay in a stock of high quality bird feed. Short on cash, I feed the birds sparingly because I enjoy their company in the winter doldrums. In Lacrosse I buy inexpensive lard and mix it with seed for suet feeders. Red headed and downy woodpeckers hang from the feeders as well as chickadees and nuthatches.

Mandy's quietly snoozing in the sun on the carpet in the entryway. I keep an ear tuned to her movements. Saturday the Amish will babysit while we travel to the big city for supplies. Dawn comes home with stories about the county fair and carny workers. The public market which rents open space to merchants has several thefts of laptops left unattended for customer use. Tatooed carny workers are eyed suspiciously as they wander the public market. The honor system of paying for items in unattended stalls, samples opffered for a donation and even the Amish's corn stalk/pumpkin stand along the highway are an unspoken standard. The retirement home's apple pie wins second place at the fair. Other entries of less popular divisions all win first place for lack of entries. Spending 12 years of my life within walking distance of the Wisconsin State Fair, the Vernon County fair lacks the excitement. There's a horse and colt show coming up which draws me to the horse pull. On the same weekend the apple orchards all along the ridgetop from Soldiers Grove to Gays Mills celebrate Apple Fest. I seek out the organic apple orchard outside of Gays Mills to avoid the apples grown with the aid of of chemicals and pesticides by mainstream apple growers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I'm waiting for cannelini white beans we grew this year to boil on the stove. I'll pressure cook them until tender and make a white bean and garlic dip for this evening. I spend the morning in a snit after reading of the death of Mary Travers and Henry Gibson. Weary of people I'd consider contemporaries, small mole hills become mountains. The f'ing dog gets into the bathroom wastebasket and strews tissue paper and trash over the bathroom and living room. I'm online checking e-mail.

Yesterday I thought I developed bi-polar symptoms. There are "aw-shucks" moments with the cat and dog and then the polar opposite. The aw-shucks times are the cat and dog lying side by side listening to geese flying overhead and answering calls from the two domestic geese who hang out near the river. The pair are escapees from a farm and tough enough enough to fend off coyotes and predators. Mandy,the pup and Poochie, the cat follow me up the lane behind the house toward the horse corral. The Pooch lags behind avoiding frequent lunges from the pup at his ears. Mandy is hot on the trail of a critter scent. The Pooch rounds the corner of our property and Mandy heads for the manure pile in a fenced off area next to another horse corral. I make a note to myself to avoid snurfles from Mandy for the next hour as she noses through wonderfully aromatic horse shit.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Mandy runs screaming, yipping at the top of her lungs from the manure pile. The cat runs up to Mandy trying to figure out what is wrong with her. I grab the puppy and hold her. She's biting at her behind. I assume she was stung by a hornet or wasp in the flowers around the manure. Dawn rushes out of the house and walks the hundred yards toward the middle of our expansive " back yard". Then, I slap my forehead. Mandy brushed against the electric fence. I pay no attention the the single wire running near the ground. The cat slinks below the wire, hip to the current pulsing through it.

Mandy is busted twice to her dog house and penned up area yesterday. She runs down the lane which is our driveway paying no heed to my exhortations or threats. A little further down the lane it turns and connects with the state highway. The county is quick to spend stimulus money widening the highway, making it safer for winter traffic. Dump trucks, road graders, pick-up trucks pulling long cattle trailers and an assortment of beer and milk trucks run highway 131 daily. Pucci, the cat runs with me out of concern for the puppy as I intercept her at the top of the hill. When she's allowed to run free, she seems contrite, yet I check the windows frequently, for signs that she's nearby.

In the evening Mandy's learned that she can leap on my lap as I sit in the recliner, if the leg rest is at the right angle. She snurfles my ears giving them a quick wash and jumps down to gnaw at a rawhide toy. I ask the dog to come out with me at dusk to help round up the cat. Either from her barking at bats flying in circles over the front yard or because of her mile a minute crazy running in circles, the Pooch quickly appears to check out the commotion. Flies have been amassing on the window and door screens toward dusk. It's a prelude to the fall Japanese beetle invasion. I pick up the cat not wanting to wait for him to decide if he wants to come inside for the night. It also saves him from a quick nip at the ears by Mandy. No matter how quickly I try to get both animals inside, in the morning I spend fifteen minutes swatting flies and vacuuming the floor of carcasses.

I stifle an urge to find my Peter, Paul and Mary album. It's one of the first albums I bought as a youngster along with early Rolling Stones and the Kingston Trio. Chop wood , carry water, the Zen advice when you're stumped with a problem or stuck in a rut works well for me. I toss chair covers in the wash, vacuum cat hair off a side chair, sweep up nacho crumbs from last night's movie experience-Frost and Nixon, turn another chair against the wall so the cat isn't tempted to use it as a scratching post and put away beef jerky I made a few days ago. I check the kids outside. Both are quiet. Aw shucks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Ootensiles

The Ootensiles are a Norwegian family living at the end of a long and narrow, winding gravel road. The farm is at the top of a high limestone bluff which overlooks the highway to Pittsburgh They share a house with a German Anabaptist family. The Germans are quiet and hard working. Their house is a sprawling two story complex of twenty rooms accommodating mother, father, an untold number of daughters and a son. On the first floor, the largest of these rooms is the kitchen. It's a large area with woodstove stove, sink, new birch cabinets and several offset rooms. The Ootensiles live in two smaller rooms off the larger kitchen.

They first came to live with the Germans after their farmhouse burned. A temporary placement over time became permanent. The big white clapboard house is a busy place in the summer. Vegetables are picked and canned daily for the long Pennsylvania winter. Bakery, especially pies, are made to sell to tourists at the end of the gravel driveway. On the guardrail at the opposite side of the highway, the Germans fix a sign that simply read nightcrawlers with an arrow pointing to Shady Lane. They sell the worms gathered after sunset to anglers who pass by their gravel road on their way to The River. In a good year, they sell a thousand dozen nightcrawlers. They raise chickens, geese and sell eggs. Horses provide pulling power and cows give them fresh,whole milk brimming with cream. In early summer, strawberries are their main crop. The gravel road is busy with people from all over driving up to buy quarts of sweet, red berries. Across from a small white building where eggs were kept cool, they set up a white canopy tent. On a six-foot long white plastic table flats of strawberries are displayed. To the side is a series of stepped shelves made of pine planks displaying jams, jellies and sweet pickles. You can get a good price on the homemade food if you promised to bring back the jar. Most forget to return the jar.

The Ootensiles took in Grandpa after Grandma died from from a kick in the head from a grumpy milk cow. Grandpa is a large, dairy farmer going on seventy years in age. There's Dad, not quite as big as Grandpa, Mom who's a bit taller than Dad who has a tendency to stoop and four kids. The boys-Rex, Ralph and Randolph-are a spittin’ image of Dad. Without the stoop, they are rounder-a bit pudgy some folks say. The youngest daughter is but a “wee bit”. While Mom, Helga as the Germans call her, is sturdy and tall, the little girl has delicate features and long, slender fingers. The boys are quiet like Dad. The little girl, Katrina, the youngest and somewhat fragile, is pampered most of her life. She is not allowed to roughhouse. As a result she is rather spoiled. Grandpa idles around the kitchen waiting for a moment to be put to use. Dad and Mom, always in some sort of hot water, are involved in food preparation with the German matriarch named Elsbeth. The boys are busiest at breakfast when oatmeal, porridge or dry cereal is served. They sit patiently at the table waiting for the Germans to come downstairs at 5 am. The little girl is kept apart from the boys because of her “condition”. She sits alone, staring at the ceiling wishing she were somewhere else. As a result she is cranky. The Norwegians termed it “foosy” in their language, which translated to fussy after you separated the accent from the word. The Germans called her verruckt.

it's hard tp compose with only your pointy finger, an extremely happy cat on you lap who will slide off if you don't

hold on to him and a puppy outside suspiciously quiet. more later.

Day two: Notes about the Ootenstiles.

Happy cat is outside hunting, Psycho puppy is running in large circles barking at a metal chair at the edge of the Brussels Sprouts which I used yesterday when picking yellow beans. I notice the Ootenstiles are living high on a hill which makes me wonder what they were smoking. "Dad stoops and four boys." What??? Didn't anyone proofread this claptrap. Grandpa came to live with the Ootenstiles after Granma died in the fire? Didn't the Norwegians move in with the Amish after their farmhouse caught on fire? Grandpa would have died in the fire too? Grandpa would have been living with his daughter or son-in-law before the fire if Grandma died in the fire. Why would only the German call Mom Helga if that were her true Norwegian name. Why would Norwegians use a Scottish nickname for the little girl? Dad and Mom in " some sort of hot water". What? Were they stealing quarters from the Germans? Did anyone look up "foosey" in a Norwegian dictionary? Did you catch the living conditions of the Ootenstiles? They live in two rooms off the kitchen. One would have to be for Dad and Mom who wouldn't want to be caught gettin' snakey by the children if they lived in the same room. But, the four boys share a room with the little girl who is kept separate because of her condition.

My life is broken into short bits of uninterrupted time. In the evening I rarely get to watch a movie without taking a puppy outside to pee, look for a wandering cat, checking to see why the dog is barking, checking to see why it's so quiet outside and throwing a cat or dog outside when rough housing inside causes one or both to yelp. I let the cat in, kick out the dog and in a matter of minutes hear a thump on the second floor. The cat comes downstairs with a dark brown lump of fur in his mouth. What the hay! A mouse upstairs? Upon closer examination it's a bat. Oh gee. Memories of a bedtime romp chasing a bat with a tennis racket while Dawn holds up a towel to capture the thing.

Now, early Tuesday, the dog's barking again. I see nothing on the drive or in the garden. We've already made friends with the chair. Her hackles are raised. She causes a dog from a mile away at Kettner's Cabins to start barking. The neighbor's dogs begin to bark. I bring her inside and find her on a side chair with tufts of stuffing at the sides of her snout. Will I ever get to finish this piece?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bare With Me

I have four passions in life. They are ( not in order of importance) art ( art is life), organic farming, animals and writing. The sub list would include romantic movies with a happy ending, chocolate, pie, clean air, women of all shapes, sizes and colors, cooking, music especially indigenous music from all cultures, real Mexican food like huachinango and learning/teaching. I no longer have a life list that includes driving an 18 wheeler or flying an airplane, but I'll start my own school, God help me, and take back all the things that parochial, public and private school teachers stole from me. Yes, I'm fortunate to have attended all three, the longest of which was a co-ed private school in Milwaukee where I was able to rub shoulders with some of the snottiest individuals I've ever met. A few were good friends. One even became my wife. What a bunch of leakers, including the ex-wife.

This blog began at the suggestion of a friend and business consultant. Originally designed to draw attention to the business of art which I have been involved in many different aspects since 1988 when I quit teaching in the inner city and went on to start a sole proprietorship, then corporation and now a hobby business existing solely on-line.

I got sidetracked. I consider myself a word-smith. I shape ideas and images with words. My goal is to describe anything/anyone in such clear language that the reader would see my words as a painting. I've accomplished that a few times in the past and occasionally to a few who've followed Seven Roads To Home in the past year. The writing took over. Then organic gardening/farming took over.

Our place covers almost five acres. Previous owners converted most of the five acres into lawn, mature landscaping, forty foot pine trees and a neglected field. The weed infested overgrown horse pasture is at present 11 separate plots. At one time there were 19 gardens: asparagus, herb, mini pumpkin, squash, peony/wildflower and an extended list of unusual vegetables such as okra and edamame. Then I met an Amish family.

Their influence led me to specialize on crops I could can, freeze and dehydrate. The economy in recent years helped with that decision. Living better on less became my mantra.

I realized today I have drifted away from the original focus of the blog. That's OK though, because I've had the privilege of associating with interesting people around the globe. Today I surfed Blogger. I discovered artists out there. My creative urges of late have been in culinary arts. I need to rekindle my intuitive artist side.

My wife is a talented artist. In the near twenty years I've known her, she has painted and crafted her way through a web of projects. She's painted bottle gourds to look like gnomes, made rawhide drums decorated with snakeskin, designed tribal jewelry from organic decorative elements like coral, claw and bone. She's taught dance, scored #4 in the nation in a kick boxing tournament, survived a 19 year tour of duty at the USPS and now works with the elderly as a certified care giver, activities director and gopher.

My daughter is a talented photographer graduating from the Chicago Art Institute. The youngest daughter survives by taking a daily beating as a customer service rep for a large department store. You'd never know she taught in Japan for several years and has innate art skills in painting and ceramics. No.2 son works as an urban environment specialist assisting tourists. He's a talented writer with a truck load of real life experiences he may draw on some day. No.1 son can tell people he injected mosquitoes in research projects, directed the food service operation for a major university, is so valued as a knowledgeable server in a top rated restaurant that he won impressive monetary awards, one of which I was able to enjoy- a night at a five star hotel including a gourmet breakfast. Thanks to the banking system and the previous administration he holds several jobs to make ends meet.

I'll be taking more time with the art side of life and infusing this blog with, I hope, inspiration and creative chaos. The writing will continue. Thanks for your interest.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Sniff. Sniff. Usually a two part exercise.

I walk past the closet in the office which is stuffed with winter coats. Out of habit, I leave the door open. The chimney runs through this closet. In winter, the wall gets hot to the touch from the wood stove running continuously. The plaster on the south side of the closet is cracked. My leather coat hangs at a safe distance from the wall so it too doesn't dry out and crack.

It is so humid of late, I can smell the coats in the closet. It rained in the afternoon yesterday. This morning, dew drips from the trees giving the appearance of rain overnight. There's the faint odor of tomatoes permeating the house. Pureed tomatoes are simmering in the twelve quart stainless steel pot on the LP gas stove.

The early morning routine goes without a hitch. The cat comes upstairs, snuggles next to my face and licks my nose. I look at the clock. It's 5:30. Then I roll over. The Pooch retreats to the foot of the bed for safety. He could be crushed if I roll over onto him. At 6:15 he reminds me, again, that it is time to get up.

Mandy is out cold in her doghouse. Usually she stands in the entrance of the dog house waiting for me to slip on rubber, calf-length muck boots. When I step out into the breezeway, she lifts her head. "Oh, it's you, " her eyes tell me. "Come on you lazy lump," I say. "It's time to get up." She falls out of the dog house, stretches and jumps on my knee for a morning hug. I open the gate and she follows me to the driveway.

The Pooch, for safety reasons, goes out the deck door for a head start on the dog. He's already digging in the soft dirt of the old potato garden. When Mandy spots the cat, she makes a beeline for him. Constant threats of annihilation, have made an impression on the dog. She now makes a quick nose connection with the Pooch, smells his butt and walks away. Previous to now, she would have bowled him over as she runs at the cat full speed. One can see the border collie traits as she runs side by side with the cat, nudging him toward a destination. Her puppy inexperience includes nips and jumps on his back.

Back inside I open a can of Country Blend Pate canned cat food. I lay a small dab into a bowl and put it on the floor for Mandy. On a clear glass saucer I give the Pooch the select bits of the canned food including the gravy. I put the plate on a terry cloth rag I used to dry the cat when he came in last evening. He was soaking wet from the rain in the afternoon. The cat looks at the food, sniffs and buries it using the towel to cover most of the plate. The dog looks at the white ceramic bowl with blue trim and walks away in disgust. I'd like to video the scene and send it to the makers of the cat food.

I purchase a Boston Butt pork roast on sale on a trip to town. I pull it out of the frig, slice off a generous hunk and cut it into small pieces. I nuke Mandy's plate for 12 seconds 'cause she likes cooked meat. The Pooch is still into raw meat of any kind. The cat jumps up on the console table by the kitchen window and nibbles at the pork. Mandy gobbles her plate full of nicely warmed raw pork. The drill ends with the Pooch leaving via the deck door for the morning hunt. Mandy stays inside to consume a bowl of raw milk, string cheese, the rest of the cat's breakfast and remnants from my breakfast of waffles and eggs. More and more the line between cat and dog begins to blur. I catch the cat licking the dog in unmentionable areas. Mandy is unusually still. I photograph the dog sleeping in the same favorite snooze position of the cat. Last evening both are side by side eating dry cat food at the west wall of the kitchen. Mandy likes the Plus Care dry cat food. The Pooch prefers the Active Blend. I'm happy that the bag of Plus Care is dwindling. It would have gotten old and stale without Mandy's help.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


On the waning side of the full moon(or is it waxing?) weird things happen. Not the weird of ghosts appearing in the hallway at night or the dog talking. I suppose one would more correctly say different.

The pick up has been having problems. I've taken it to the repair shop several times. The bills are mounting. Each time it appears to perform, or in this case, start without difficulty at first. Then, at odd times it chugs, shakes and coughs. Dawn walks across the tiled floor of the retirement home. She doesn't notice a pool of water because of the usual shiny reflection of the tiled surface. A resident's shower leaks on the 2nd floor. It flows from the sub floor to the opening of a light fixture on the first floor and floods a 4X4 foot area. Dawn takes a header. She files a report. This morning she's sleeping in. Perhaps she'll get an extra hour to heal her aching back.

Mandy's sharp yips draw me from the keyboard to the back door. The cat is sitting on the roof of her doghouse looking smug. Mandy has a piece of brown fur in her mouth that originally was a catnip toy for the Pooch. She looks as if she has a furry, brown clown nose. Out of frustration she's dragged one of two blankets from the doghouse. If she can't torture the cat, she'll take it out on the blanket.

The opening shot of the garden is a good example of life here in September. We're fogged in until the sun rises over the hills to the east. Any person with half a brain would work outside in the cool morning. Slathered with mosquito repellent, early morning garden work is a pleasant, quiet meditation. I don't get to the tomato harvest until the height of the heat of the day. I have an excuse. I didn't think there were any ripe tomatoes left in the garden. On a mid-morning walkabout in the garden, I utter that famous garden curse, Cheeses K. Rice. My Amish friends have a customer who wants bushels of tomatoes. Although organic, my tomatoes are a motley mix of Italian paste, Early 4th of July, Big Boys and Flavor Kings with lots of sun scald and other damage. The Delicious tomatoes are a version of Beefsteak and are the size of softballs. I pick a bushel. The price I sell them barely covers my time in picking and washing.

After performing tasks related to the kitchen remodel, I toss Mandy on the front seat of the truck for a drive across the ridge top. We make a stop at the Kwik Stop for a soda and gas. Mandy reaches over the glass of the partially lowered truck window sniffing fumes and people. She'll put her head in my lap and close her eyes once we get back on the highway. Pulling onto School Road she notices the change in speed and the cover of trees overhead. She jumps on my lap to look out the window. She knows were close to her friend Buddy's house.

It's late in the afternoon. The heat of the day has everyone out on the veranda sewing or just resting from a hard day's work. The Amish have their wood stove going all the time. It's warmer inside the kitchen, but it's a friendly heat that I no longer notice. As I approach the porch, I misunderstand what the Matriarch is saying. "What, the puppy you just gave away to a relative? " I ask. She repeats. "Mandy's friend is gone." Gone? For the past few days Buddy has been wandering further and further away from the farm. They decide to tie him up this evening to cure him of wandering ways. Further explanation. Gone as in dead.

Titus looks for Buddy in the foggy pre-dawn. He's off wandering again. At first light they see a car stop near the end of their road on the busy U.S. highway. The car owner gets out to check for damage to the car and drives off. Buddy is lying on the gravel apron, mortally injured. Later someone drags him into the weeds in the ditch beside the highway.

I offer to throw him in the back of the truck and bury him near the river on our place. Titus comes over and leans on the side of the truck bed. "You got a pitcher of Buddy, right?" He says he'll try to get another furry brown lump from the same person that sold him Buddy. I tell him I'll print out a picture and bring it over Thursday.

Dog gone it. He was my friend too!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Tasty Bits

Last Saturday the Pup and I drive down the road for doughnuts. We exit the U.S. highway to a short gravel road across from the Amish farm where I traded a tackle box, a fishing rod, two additional reels and a fish net for the Blue Heeler/Border Collie puppy. The doughnut maker is the wife of the Patriarch's brother. There's a sign on the highway Donuts with an arrow and another on their driveway: Fresh Donuts Today. There are two front doors. The one to the kitchen has a sign that says Open. I imagine there are English out there deathly afraid of being kidnapped and beaten by the Amish, hence the encouraging signs. I turn in the circular drive trying to avoid baby chicks running all over the front yard. I knock. "Come in, " is the response. The kitchen table is loaded with cinnamon buns in aluminum pans, huge loaves of bread in plastic wrappers and canned goods in glass jars. Sitting on a bench at the back wall is Enis, my carpenter.

I've been trying to get in contact with Enis for weeks. I want him to partition a space in the pole shed currently used for storage. Framed and insulated, it will be my winter workshop. Ted and Fred, the riding mowers, the tiller, push mower, string trimmer, chain saws and other mechanical implements can safely spend the winter in an insulated garage away from mice who love to chew wires and build nests in air filters in the metal shed we use for tool storage.

"Hey Enis," I exclaim. "I didn't expect you to be here." Enis tells me he waiting to put up some hay. We discuss the project and Enis says he'll call me at the end of the week. He seems reserved so I take ten doughnuts the size of tractor tires and head for home.

I'm contemplating a return to wood carving. If I make furniture it will be exclusively for sale at the Amish auction. In past lives I made unusual furniture out of recycled materials. Living in the Southwest with the Hispanic influences there, the triple and quadruple wash colors on my furniture were popular. In staid Norwegian country, they are oddities. I'll make furniture for the masses and carve for my own amusement. The photograph at the top is one example. If you look closely at Chubby Nun, she has a spider web in her halo. It's my finger poke at my upbringing and 4 years in a Catholic elementary school. Raised in a foster home, I wasn't baptized in the faith. I was told I'd spend eternity in purgatory- a scary thing for an eight year old.

I surf blogger again. For the past 12 weeks I've been so busy with farming and food prep for the winter, I've had little time for the computer, blogs and e-mail. A comment in one blog I follow about connecting up with other bloggers has me curious. I go to her site and check some of her followers. The 42 people who have signed up at her blog have some interesting material. One has 928 followers. I scroll to some of the older posts and find an amusing tale about a stray cat, putting a sign on the road advertising the stray: "Strange Pussy Found" with a photo and clever composition that makes me envious. I decide I'll keep posting stories of life here in the Driftless Region. For reasons of their own, not all of those who follow my blog are posted as followers. I suppose if I put some effort into it, I could attract more people. With additional coverage, however, I'd have to put up with cranky people, folks who don't understand the culture here, people with an agenda to push and possibly a crazie or two.

I enjoy the crazies. Over the years I've met a few who I classified as friends of sorts. Mo for example would bring me fireplace parts to my retail store, cassette tapes of African chanting called Tigrina and up until he was diagnosed with some mental disorder that necessitated lithium treatments, I found him to be extremely educated and intellectual.

It's too quiet out there. I've been focused on the computer. No sharp yips from the puppy indicating frustration with the cat's antics. The cat loves to torment the dog sitting above the dog on a step or porch railing, teasing her and swiping at Mandy's nose with his sharp claws. Mandy will get a few bites in before the cat rolls over on his back in a defensive posture. I've seen this tactic previously when The Pooch(the cat) got into a fight with a roving feral cat. The feral cat and Pucci rolled over and over in a writhing lump of fur until the black and white stray ran off, leaping over the snowbanks like a porpoise in the ocean. Life with the Pup is a test for me. ADD(attention deficit disorder) in the works. Watching a DVD movie in the evening is rarely without interruption. I walk to the deck, hoping that the computer doesn't crash or shut down and check on the animals.

Aw shucks. The cat and dog are both lying on a piece of carpet I put in front of the deck door. The cat is licking the dog's face. It's a quiet moment too precious to ignore. I know I'll never get a photograph of the event. The two don't sit still long enough for me to run for the camera, so I call Dawn.

More composition at the computer. Spell checking my writing, I hear the dog barking. This is not a yip. It's a warning bark. Walking out in the warm morning sunshine, Mandy is in full bark mode with her hackles raised. She's barking at the tree at the edge of the house. The cat comes out of hiding from under the deck to investigate. I ask the Pooch (the cat), " What's going on here?" He saunters over to Mandy who now is lying on the sand of an incomplete patio. The cat lies next to the dog and extends a paw to Mandy. Ah shucks, they may really be friends after all the bickering, tussling, biting and posturing.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Drywalling a Doghouse

Dear Ella,
Earlier this morning blogger was so slow I bolted and decided to e-mail you instead of adding a new post. My e-mail included the subject material, some basic info. and an attachment with the ff. story which I hope will transpose from Microsoft Word. My e-mail to you was rejected. When I looked up the reason and went to your PPS, it told me that for security reasons I was blocked. There were quite a few other e-mails similarly blocked. As I told Del in my follow-up phone call, your spam protection is probably keeping me from e-mailing you. Recent e-mails, if you recall, have been to me with a reply to you. Talk to Del tonight. Here goes nuthin'.

If you work backwards, it was a perfectly good idea. Mid-afternoon. I’d driven Mandy around the area. The purpose was two-fold. One, I need to drive the truck frequently to pinpoint the problem with the ignition. Second, I’d like to get Mandy comfortable with driving, possibly long distances. This is a systematic process since she also needs to be leash trained. Many domestic pets are lost while traveling.

In my mind, the garden doesn’t exist. At least, not for now. I look at the slant-roofed doghouse and notice there’s a gap at the inside back between the roof and back wall. Cold icy winter winds will make the house a refrigerator. I’ve several pieces of two-inch Styrofoam insulation. I put a folded up sheet on the ground for my tender knees and crawl inside to measure. The doghouse is large enough to accommodate the dog and myself. Mandy does her part by slobbering on my ears, nose printing my glasses. Lately she’s become very attached to me, sleeping on my lap when we’re traveling.

I saw the two pieces of insulation to fit exactly. Bi-focals never seem to measure things correctly. The Styrofoam fits tightly. So tight, that I have to push on it to stay against the back wall. I remeasure for sheetrock. The sheet rock will hold the insulation in place. I’m screwing the sheetrock in place as Dawn drives up. The cat is sitting on the truck gate. This is unusual because of his distaste for machinery of any kind. It’s a safe haven from Mandy.

Mandy greets Dawn, wagging her tail furiously. Dawn admonishes the dog for jumping up. I count sixteen marks on my arms from Mandy’s claws and teeth. The combination of puppy claws and teeth and the blood pressure medication that makes my skin paper-thin remind me that approaching cold weather-long sleeve shirts will literally save my hide.

All the material for Mandy’s abode has been recycled. Most of the house is 3/4ths inch plywood. With shingles and two 4X4’s for a foundation the thing is getting so heavy, I can barely move it back to the evening position in front of the garage door. I’m aware that it may be an anachronism if softhearted Bob keeps Mandy inside in cold weather. Right now, she’s a pee-bomb. She can go off at any time, anywhere.

On our travels yesterday, we visited my webmaster who lives in a 100+ year old house on a road named for the original owners. He’s remolded it nicely, I see driving up. There’s a new front porch and the siding over the old log walls was removed. The technique of plastering would date this house. In visiting Old World Wisconsin with my classes, I learned that Norwegians of different periods had their own techniques for filling in the gaps between logs. A log cabin building workshop I attend in the 80’s for example, taught me that some pioneers used a scribe to mark the lower and upper log so that the contours of both fit like spoons in a drawer. Alan comes out when we’re greeted by three loud dogs in the yard. I get out, holding Mandy back. “Stay there girl,” I tell her. She’s a mouthful for the golden lab nosing inside the cab of my truck.

I can hear Mandy barking from the truck as Al and I chat. The visit ends abruptly when a car pulls up. I find Mandy cowering on the floor below my steering wheel. I do the “I could have had a V-8, slap to the forehead. Mandy’s never seen another dog outside of Buddy her pal and Mandy Sr. her Mom. To give Mandy credit, she doesn’t mess my seats. I notice marks on the carpet on the floor where she peed out of fear.

As we pull off, in a wide circle around the front yard it appears the car is full of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Poor Al.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Happened to Summer?

September two. Fog and frost in the area. Temper-atures in the low sixties inside the house. The garden has gone to seed. The last of the tomato crop went into 11 quarts of seasoned sauce. Weeds taller than me, moles furiously digging tunnels everywhere, hummingbirds down to a few hardy souls sipping at the feeders, pumpkins large and orange behind the house, sunset before 8 pm, box elders dropping leaves, carpeting the driveway.

Click on the photo for a really large view!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This is Buddy. He's a big, mangy sheepdog, border collie, mutt mix. He's Mandy's best friend. As we approach the Amish farm I tell my puppy, We're almost there." Mandy rides on the passenger seat. She's too little to see out the side window, but the passing of trees, farm sky and cornfields are noted through the front window. I notice that Mandy pays attention to the different sounds as we travel across the ridge top. First there's blacktop, gravel, seal-coated gravel and fresh gravel at the top of the ridge. I think she's memorized the sounds as we approach her birthplace. My announcement brings her on my lap so she can see out the side window.

Buddy sees us approach and lopes across the lawn. Mandy leaps out as Buddy reaches the car at the same time. Buddy takes Mandy's whole head in his mouth. "Hey howya doin' ?" is the head swallowing gesture. Mandy rolls on her back in ecstasy. They chase around the old white house where I park my Prism. Mandy Sr. is hesitant to approach. Mandy Mae, until recently, sought out mother to suckle. Mom didn't care for the sharp teeth on tender skin. I can't help but compare mother and daughter. Mom has a brown tinge on the fur across her shoulders. Otherwise they're spittin' images of each other save for the white markings. I suspect that Buddy may be the Dad. I'll have to broach that subject the next time I drive up for pie or like today, to trade salsa for the use of their hand grinder.

Yesterday, I drove up with Mandy on a milk mission. Buddy and Mandy chase around with a plastic tub. Everyone's gone except the Patriarch who comes out from his workshop to talk. The state inspector recently shut down their roadside bakery stand. There's an enviable job for someone. Drive up to roadside stands and tell the Amish their bakery has to be inspected and approved by the state. The Patriarch tells me they contacted the inspector's office several times in anticipation of selling bakery from a state approved facility. He never responded. I'm really enthused that my tax dollars are being spent to harass people with a grass roots operation that sought out approval from a non-responsive government agency.

I carry a bag of beef flavored cat treats in my pocket to lure Mandy back to the car. Buddy snurfles my hand trying to steal the tidbits from Mandy. I grab the pup and toss her on the front seat which is covered with an old bath towel. I've never been able to leave the farm without an extended conversation. In their kitchen, I stand announcing my departure only to find myself standing for another 30 minutes. Mandy sits patiently on the front seat waiting for me. Buddy decides to chew up his white plastic water bucket. On the way home Mandy always falls asleep. I repeat the mantra as I drive onto Kickapoo Center Lane. "Mandy, we're here." She looks up expectantly and leaps from my lap as I shut off the engine and open the car door. The Pooch hears the car drive up and saunters over. Mandy's covered with Buddy slobber. The cat thinks this is worth an extended sniff session. He inspects the puppy from head to toe. Mandy's patience is limited to about three milliseconds of sniff inspection from the cat before she lurches out and tries to swallow the cat's ear in one piece. The cat will race off for cover under a pine tree while Mandy tears after the Pooch. I unlock the back door and put the milk in the fridge. For the next thirty minutes the dog and cat will tease each other mercilessly until Mandy is outsmarted by the cat's ability to leap tall hedges, climb on the deck rail or put himself in a position as King of the Mountain. Mandy will relent not before barking furiously to let the Pooch know of her displeasure.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Wow. I've got some time on my hands. The tomato sauce is simmering on the front burner, the dog and cat aren't fighting( I don't hear any high pitched yipping or angry meows) and there's not a thing in the garden I want to pick. I'm hoping that by noon, the sauce will have cooked down and I can start adding fresh chopped onions, green pepper, jalapenos and cilantro for salsa.

The potato harvest is complete. Officially, we had 511 pounds of Kennebec white potatoes. Actual white potatoes boxed and stored in our 67.5 degree basement is 461 pounds. The 10X80 row actually yielded more than 511 pounds. As I till the brown loam, I dig up potatoes missed with the fork. Some were sliced in half. Most were potatoes in a bad year I'd take to the outside food prep area and wash for immediate consumption. This year I can afford to be lavish. The big lumps of rotting spuds, potatoes smaller than a golf ball, any that have a tinge of green which is a pernicious poison and jumbo mutant potatoes hit the compost pile. I'll take Mandy the pup over to the Amish farm for milk, canning lids and eggs and inquire about selling some of the bounty. The remainder will be given away and eaten.

The 26th of August ranks 149th on my list of notable events. It is the date of my first marriage. What usually happens is that I'll note the date. Then, I'll recall a few pleasant memories ( I should have noticed that right from the start I was doomed when the bride and her parents excluded me from most of the wedding planning) and consider my self lucky I'm married to Dawn. Although we have our differences, life with Dawn is much different than the 16 years I suffered with the mother of my children. Everyone has an "ex" story. For purposes of "ex" planation and example, I decided to end the marriage and take joint custody of a toddler not yet potty trained, her five year old brother and an older sister entering into teenage oblivion. In those days joint custody was a novel thing. All three are grown now. Their mother still lives in the same house, married and divorced her second husband ( recently deceased from a pernicious lifestlye) and relies on son and son-in-law to keep the house from falling into disrepair.

The thirty minutes I allotted for the blog has expanded to 60. I should check on the pup to see if the mosquitos have carried her off. The Pooch(cat) just had his monthly dose of Frontline. Then I'll chop and can 14 pints of batch #2 of salsa, savor a leftover lunch of meat loaf and mashed potatoes while reading Janet Evanovich for fun.

Monday, August 24, 2009


From first light until the sun rises over the hills to the east there's a gauzy curtain of fog in our valley. At first it obscures everything except for the most immediate trees, shrubbery and fields. There's a cozy feeling of isolation in a fog enclosed world. As the sun gets higher in the sky, the curtain retreats to mist rising from marshes and lowlands further away. Every single thing is either covered in dew or grass cuttings. I'm dodging outside work.

The potato harvest is underway. Sunday was a ball buster. To someone with a hernia that's saying a lot. The lush potato vines began to senescence or die off. Removing them is the first order of business. Without a dog the work is tedious. The puppy takes flying leaps at each vine as I toss it into a pile to be carted away by wheelbarrow to the compost pile. Sometimes she makes a somersault in mid air. She's not very coordinated. The leap ends with a thud and oof as she misses the vines and hits the turf. I make a note to purchase a Frisbee. This dog may be a world champion Frisbee flier.

Dawn comes out to the front field in her Homer straw hat. She's going to weed the third batch of carrots which are hidden to the eye. The only way to tell they are planted in the former onion patch is the "uncommon crow" markers I placed adjacent to the carrot patch. In that way I could thwart the cat from walking over my new planted carrots. He loves fresh dirt. "You want some help with the vines?" she asks. I don't hesitate with a positive reply. We cart away 8 piles of vines leaving an eighty foot bare patch of dirt with nubs of taters peeking out of the soil. The ones closest to the surface have a green skin from exposure to the sun. At the end of the day we toss a full gray plastic tub-about 50 pounds- on the compost pile. The green part of the potato is poisonous. We take no chances since we've boxed and sorted 250 pounds by sundown.

What a contrast to last year. In June of 2008 I'm washing mud off the leaves after a disastrous flood. Our total harvest was 50 pounds of pebble size potatoes. Now there's more than 50 pounds of small potatoes lying in heaps in the ditch next to the mounded potato patch. We can afford to be lavish. I rip a fingernail hand digging a tuber close to 12 inches long and nearly 2 pounds. When we get potatoes this size, I knock two together and listen to the sound. It's either a solid dense thud or, as in one case, smelly potato mucous oozes from the hollow core. Yuk. I toss it, too, in the ditch.

Favors for help with the garden can be repaid with sweet white Kennebec potatoes. My neighbor will be one recipient. He hauls rich brown compost from an old manure pile up the hill. Then he has a neighbor friend come with the tractor and scrape one of the horse corrals and dump the rich brown composted manure into a pile in a lane next to the corral. I haul six truck loads of manure in the fall, hoping for a good garden year. And it is.

Saturday Dawn cans 14 half pints of pickle relish with the last of the cucumbers. The tomatoes I'd been cooking for 9 hours become tomato sauce. I decide against catsup ( from the Malay word ke-siap which translates to "fish brine") . I'm sure there's a story how America's favorite condiment goes from fish brine to ketchup. I'll check with my bathroom reader for the curious connection. Before I head outside to mow overgrown lawn, I mix spices and herbs in a half full stainless steel, 12 quart pot. First, I toss in an unmeasured amount of fennel seed poured directly into my palm. Next, I consult the Ball Blue Book recipe for spicy tomato sauce. Measured amounts of black pepper, salt, sugar, vinegar, are combined with 6 large onions-diced, 12 garlic cloves finely chopped and simmered in olive oil. The bay leaf jar has mostly pieces of leaves. I toss in five large pieces. Dawn harvests fresh basil. Twelve leaves prove to be very little when chopped with my sakuro knife. I walk to the herb garden for more. Dawn gets a third helping before I'm satisfied. The oregano jar is empty, so Dawn goes to the oregano hanging in the summer kitchen. She pulls leaves off the vines which I grind in a coffee grinder reserved for herbs only. I want more fennel taste. This time I shake ground fennel from a jar we buy at Penzey's spice house in a north Milwaukee suburb. Time for the taste test.

I simmer elbow macaroni in the pan I'd sauteed garlic and onion. I'm too lazy to wash it and decide that the remnants will add flavor. When the macaroni is ready, I ladle fresh tomato sauce over the pasta. A cereal bowl and three pieces of string cheese makes a tasty lunch. Dawn cans 12 pints of sauce while I mow the front forty. The next batch of tomatoes will become salsa. I'll document my recipe for thick salsa.