Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Freezing Time

There's a double meaning to the title. The first, a time for freezing...vegetables. Secondly, to stop time. Both apply here. The photo shows our herb garden. Ignore the weeds in the foreground plot. It's a perennial garden for catnip. Dawn makes organic catnip mice. We dry the catnip for the Pooch. Although it was heavily mulched, a portion in the middle didn't survive. I planted sage on one side of the 4X20 catnip plot. Wannabe catnip weeds fool us into leaving them alone. Moving from the foreground to background, there is dill(almost flowering), cilantro, marjoram, oregano,thyme, more sage and at the very top are chives past flowering stage which we're letting go to seed.

Cilantro is a delicate, parsley-like herb. It's a great addition to Mexican dishes especially, salsa. We have another week before it begins to flower. Making the most of the fresh herb, I cook cilantro and scrambled eggs for breakfast. They end up a weird green color ( green eggs and ham anyone?) and the addition of Amish buttermilk adds to the color variation. I sprinkle the eggs with feta for the salty, unusual flavor. For dinner we have tacos Al Pastor, again with cilantro. The task is to savor the fresh vegetable while it's in season. Too bad it doesn't last.

The beet crop is rushing in like a summer storm. I thin the first of three varieties and take a bunch to the Amish. While I'm at the Amish farm getting supplies, I ask for a recipe for pickled beets. Double checking quantities and details, I find huge variations. Dawn borrows four books from the big library in town. In addition, we have the standard book of home preserving-the Ball Blue Book. Another thick, red hard-cover is called Stocking Up. The Amish recipe calls for one cup of sugar, a cup of vinegar and two and one half cups water. One book requires a cup of honey, another a quart of vinegar, some use less water and the last recipe I check says two- thirds cup of sugar. I go with the Amish version. Uncle Bob walks in the kitchen. More vinegar(add an additional 1/2 cup) less water(reduce that to 2 cups) a dash of nutmeg and a short piece of cinnamon stick. A little kosher salt on the top of the quarts full of cooked, peeled beets, boiling hot water-sugar-vinegar syrup and they're ready for the hot water bath.

In the afternoon, I return to the Amish for butter and buttermilk. I take an empty aluminum pie tin and hint that a full pie tin would be nice. I'm promised a full pie by the end of the week. I mention that three trips to the garden and a carryall full with beets yields only 3 quarts of finished product. Time involved is about two hours. I tell the Mrs. that several of the books call for 30 minutes in the canner. She scowls. "Thirty minutes is too long", she says. "Did you cook the beets in advance?" she asks. I reply that I did exactly as instructed. "You only need to can the jars for 10 minutes or so", she says. "You only need to put them in the hot water bath long enough to seal the lids."

The Stocking Up book has a chart for processing vegetables. It directs 30 minutes in the water bath and specifies cooking the beets first. In a recipe for pickled beets separate from the chart, I says to can them for 10 minutes in the water bath. One contradiction. The Blue Book also calls for 30 minutes in the canner. In a recipe called beet pickles, it specifies a 15 minute water bath in the canner. Another contradiciton. Had I NOT checked with the Amish, our entire crop of canned beets may have turned out mushy and overcooked. Just a minute while I pull up a wooden crate to stand on. Time to pontificate: English etymology-officiate as a Bishop.

In the foreword of a book on home preserving, the author's qualifications are thus: Mrs. Mugilicuddy ( not her real name) has been growing and preserving vegetables for years. How many times have I heard that statement. " I've been________ " insert your own variable here- "for thirty years." My grandmother, bless her deceased heart, died at age 99. In her career as a cook, she tortured and overcooked meat and vegetables. She was an astounding baker. Now, listen up. I've been speaking since I was eight months old. My creative writing experience began with a love letter to Mary T.... In it I told her that I love her "one million dollars worth" . The sum total of my fortune at the time were the nickles I got for returning pop bottles. The relatives all laughed at my sincere note written on lined school paper. I mailed it without help from the folks. Mary went on to marry some guy named Donnie. She was a bit toward the heavy side then. Probably has five kids now, weighs more than skinny Donnie and still plays the accordion. That makes me a gifted writer. I have also been walking since I was a year old. That makes me an expert on anything to do with feet, shoes, running, blisters, socks and shoelaces. Ask me. I'll tell you. One note, however, I am not a foot fetish. For the record, I look at people's feet only to judge their footwear. One boss I had in the retail world told me that people shoes told a story about them. What are your shoes saying? I'm barefoot, by the way.

Before I go outside for another day in the summer kitchen: clipping cilantro to freeze, hanging basil to dry, blanching sugar snap peas for the freezer and wondering how I can stop time to enjoy the cool weather, long days and fresh flavorful vegetables, I'll make one observation.

One of the biggest differences between myself and my Amish friends borders on the idea of humility. My garden is the biggest and the best around. Stealing a line from the Wizard of Oz, I once called it My Pretty. Then Mother Nature stepped in, dropped a 6 inch torrent of rain up stream and the river swallowed up my garden like a grass snake eating an insect. "That'll learn 'im" she says. Thirty years ago, I photographed a kitchen tabled piled with everything ripe from a 60X40 foot garden on a farm in the Sheboygan area. I was really proud of that garden. Bridge workers several years ago yell out, "nice garden" in a break from 8 hours of jack hammering the cement from the bridge over the Kickapoo next to our front field. I swelled up in pride. An elderly couple drives down our lane to admire the plots of vegetables. At night I stand at the second floor windows and gaze at the solar lights scattered around the most tempting crops. Ella and Del's flashing green and red globe lights give the scene a carnival quality. Plugging in the nighttime radio tuned to National Public Radio ( my vegetables are scholars) I stand for a moment on the gravel drive and watch fireflies dance over the potatoes. Yes, it's beautiful sight. I'm learning to accept "as is" and not travel beyond. I wouldn't want to trip over my pride, Lord knows, I'm clumsy as it is.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Names and Apologies

First, the apologies.

It rained early this morning. I looked forward to a day off from working with my good friend, Manual Labor. At 6:30 it peetered out. Darn. Again, I'm on a treadmill of work. I apologize for my attire. Writing this episode in only my shorts is tacky. Then there's my clogged sinuses. I hope you can understand me.

Apologies to Ella and Del. I get so confused sometimes. I went back and reread the blog where I mentioned Del's real name. Gosh, the next thing you know I'll be letting people in cyberspace know you live on the west side of Milwaukee right off Bluemound Road. To make up for the paparazzi on your front lawn, I've hired a security detail from Chicago. It's not like you are in the witness protection program, but with a Sicilian last name, ya just never know. Tell Rachel, oops, I mean Julie that she's just too nice. Linda( oops) I mean Dawn said she asked Julie why she didn't grab more beads from our old store inventory in the barn. Rachel(oops) said she didn't want to take more than she needed at the time. Just too nice.

So, I don't use real names in my writing. A person more clever than me could quickly find out from our e-mail address who we are and where we live. Aach, there I go. Just to clear a few things up, my first name really is Roger. After a few days of clarity my mother decided she didn't like Roger. The birth certificate had already been issued. She changes it to Robert. Then for reasons too numerous in this post, she puts me in a foster home-a nice Polish family on the west side of Milwaukee. My crazy foster mother decides to add Joseph, John, Francis, Aloysis to my first name(s). For added effect, she tacks on their last name:Graczyk. Years go by. Through my business I form association with certain native peoples. One Ojibwa elder gives me a Native American name. Add three more names. To make things more complicated my last name is extremely common. So common that I am often confused with certain other people with the same last name. I get their mail. Once, when I was still teaching, I get a phone call. "Hello," I respond to the caller. " I want you to leave my wife alone," he says.

You know how you wish you'd said something but didn't after you hang up? "I don't know what you're talking about," I tell the angry man. I should have said, " Are you referring to Alice, Cindy, Mary or Sue? I get them mixed up."

sAm, one of my listed followers, comments that her son thinks the Pooch is an unusual name for a cat. His real name is Salvatore Pucci. He comes from Sardinia. Stowed away on a tramp steamer and worked his way from the east coast to the Midwest. Don't believe that one? You know how kids can't pronounce names? When I lived in Milwaukee, I bought a house from a nice couple on the east side. Her name was Mooey. How 'bout them apples. Mooey is the short, kidese form of Muriel. When my urchins were still rug rats, we had a dog. His name was Booker. We wanted to name him Booger, because he was a little snot, but propriety prevailed. Booker was one letter away. I believe it was the youngest who'd call out, "C'mere poochie kitty." It was her way of affectionately greeting the dog.

Then this cat wandered our way one below-zero February night. I began to notice certain dog like traits. He fetches like a dog. We go on walks together in the late afternoon. Early one spring morning, before he was fixed, he treed a raccoon. I'd watch him mark territory like a dog, peeing on fence posts that marked our east property line. Yes, he's a pooch.

Two more "last things".

I'm going to pick strawberries. The crop is just about over, but the Amish say I can pick whatever I want for free. I got yelled at for wanting more strawberries, but these are going to make syrup. In January, they'll be much appreciated.


We had a cat that died in Arizona at age 19. She was and is still missed. Like the Pooch she wandered into our lives unannounced. Afterward, I resisted having any animal because they tie you down. In the country there aren't many people to come and take care of pets or livestock. I knew we'd get another pet and just left it to- if it happens-so be it. Back in 2006 a terrific beagle puppy wandered on to our property. I tried to find its owners with no luck. At the time I was unemployed, hardly able to afford food for myself, let alone dog food, vet bills and so on. I gave it away to a Hispanic couple across the river. He was a great dog. I named him Scratchy.


After his most recent escapades, the Pooch is back in form. The night before last, patrolling the basement he caught a mouse. I thought it might be the one I saw him stalking late one night. When he stands in front of an object, like our dryer, I know he's telling me something. I'm just too dense to get the message. I learned that outside, if I pick him up and he stares at the shutters on the house, there's bat behind them. Once, I unhooked the tie on a patio umbrella after the Pooch repeatedly wanted to get inside. Fourteen bats fell out when I opened it up. My wife tells me that her clothes smell bad. She left them in the dryer overnight. She attributes it to dampness of the clothes and high humidity. I toss a load of sheets in the Whirlpool because there's too much wash to hang outside. Peeyew. I know that smell. Dead animal. I disengage the vent pipe at the back of the dryer. Sure enough, there one soggy, dead mouse at the bend of the pipe. Shoulda listened to the Pooch. He's a good boy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bad Dog

Bad Dog

As I write, the Pooch is curled up on his favorite chair next to the windows in Dawn's studio. This is unusual behavior. At 7:00 am he'd already be outside making his peremptory early morning check of the perimeter, smelling the steps to the deck to determine what furry animal invaded his territory and finally climbing up on the railing to peer in the kitchen window with that, "I'm starving look."

He was outside all night. More and more, his behavior is becoming erratic. Dawn and I discuss the situation. It's like living with a teenager-which he is- in dog/cat years. At nine last night Dawn finishes wash she left in the dryer too long. The high humidity of the past four days gives it a musty smell. I walk upstairs to read. I'm disgusted. Calling the cat in at dusk gets no results. I'm weary of interrupting my evening to walk up to the neighbor's horse corral and ask Ron if he's seen the cat. I make a final check at dark. Dawn is asleep. I whistle for the Pooch. Usually I'm not too adept at whistling. I envy those people who can stick two fingers in their mouths and rip off an ear piercing shrill whistle. Tonight my puckered lips lets out a good enough tootle that echoes off the hills. No cat. Darn cat.

I wake at five am. Another odd night of dreams of digging post holes and setting fence. Instead of using concrete, I'm using strawberry jam. I think it has something to do about worrying if my jam will set up. I slip on sweat pants and walk downstairs. At the outside door, I look out the window at the deck. The click of the doorknob lock alerts the Pooch. He's at the door before I can open it. In flash motion, he's at the dry food bowls in the kitchen. The previous afternoon, I'd bought chicken livers-his favorite. I thought when I went to bed, I'd be turning the liver into pate and looking for a dog to adopt. Darn cat.

Dawn and I decide that he'll not be allowed to sleep all day inside and prowl all night. It's too dangerous. Coyotes, for one, would find him a sweet meal. Many of the farmers here who raise beef cattle also have a donkey in the field with the Angus beef. There's the belief that donkeys will keep coyotes at bay. Therefore, I'll let him sleep until mid morning. Then he's out the door. If he keeps this up, I'll be looking for a dog like Buddy, the Amish dog.
Good Dog

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Avalanche is a small town 10 miles away by county highway. My friend Jorge and I would ride our mountain bikes early in the morning past the trailer covered with plastic from an old billboard-"the man with too many horses", the house with the widow's watch, down steep hills, follow lazy rivers with marsh grass where beaver would carry clumps of brush down the paved asphalt road and occasionally see a coyote dart across our path. In Avalanche we'd meet two old timers who assumed we were FIB's or tourists. They offered to sell us their sand quarry just outside town limits for a mere one million dollars. Jorge and I would stop at the grocery/bar in the middle of town to rest before turning around for the return trip. A dog I'd named Goofy would visit with us. I called him Goofy because of his penchant for picking up rocks in his mouth that we'd toss . Later I learned his name was just Sam. There ain't much to Avalanche. A few houses, a junction in the road leading to another equally deserted town, a church no longer in service and tourist park outside of town. It was a peaceful place.

Avalanche is also a rumbling torrent of snow that starts as a particle of ice and turns into a sunami of white. It's descriptive of this place. The last two days the temperatures have been in the high eighties. Dawn said it was 97 on the bank thermometer in town. Accompanying the heat is 100% humidity with a dew point at 79. The moisture in the air is thick enough to see a bluish haze surrounding our house and garden. I decided the Pooch came from an Amish farm. He wakes me the first day of the heat wave at first light. I'm too tired to crack an eye open and look at the time. It wouldn't matter because the clock is wrong. I've never figured out just how fast it is and how the time was altered. At 4:15 I am not able to decode the red LED display. I should have paid attention to the cat. It's difficult to admit that a two year old tabby is smarter than I am.

Had I risen at 5:00 like the Amish, I could have avoided the heat exhaustion after pulling weeds in the onion patch. By ten am I am defeated. Only half the onions are free of a choking cluster of weeds. I decide to work indoors or under cover. Tomatoes need tying. I also need to stake ones recently planted. The Colorado potato bugs which, previous to now, amounted to 2 or 3 in one inspection, have massed and exploded to ten adults and innumerable red slug like larvae. White cabbage butterflies are laying eggs that turn to green worms and eat our cabbage. The two outside rows of white, red and yellow onions which we designated as scallions are lost in the Pigweed, Lambsquarter and Creeping Charlie. My Amish friends have gone from picking 100 quarts of strawberries in an early morning tour to six hundred and forty at a time. They also butcher 65 chickens that customers have ordered. I don't hear any complaints about the weather when I drive up late in the afternoon. Everyone is on the porch. The littlest one is gulping water from a gallon plastic jug. The pie making daughter is sewing while she's cooling her feet in a tub of water. The dogs lay on their sides panting.

Friends from the city, Ella and Del and their two daughters Jenna and Julie spend the weekend with us. Jenna has never cut lawn with a riding mower yet she does a professional job with both our boys-Ted and Fred, cutting segments I'd not had time to mow before their visit. I show Ella our corn patch and proudly exclaim that it's knee high. The 4th of July holiday is two weeks away. Ella, you should know that the corn is now almost to my waist. The front lawn which was mowed the day they arrived needs to be cut before it turns to hay.

I'd promised Ella in an e-mail to take a photo of the garden at night. Del and Ella gifted us with two globe solar lights that alternately turn red and green. "Deer are colorblind," says Ella. "The flashing lights should chase them away." The garden sports an odd assortment of folk art birds, crows, strips of white cloth, aluminum foil hanging from lines strung at the edge of garden plots, empty milk jug turned upside down on posts, coiled hoses that look like snakes and four clear solar lights posted at key points of entry where deer lurk at night. Each night I trudge up the stairs to bed. I have no energy. I should stop drinking beer and turn to NA beer like Del.

Saturday morning breakfast with Del and Ella is Jenna's homemade cranberry bread dipped in an Amish buttermilk and egg batter. Next to the console table in the kitchen which we've temporarily stored our pots and pans for the kitchen remodel is a bag or canning jars they'd saved for us. I chuckle at the name of the tall bottle of lemon juice they'd also brought as a gift. "Italian Volcano" organic lemon juice. Del's last name is Italian(actually Sicilian). It translates to the cook. During the heat wave I pick a handful of Mojito mint leaves in the garden, drop them into a glass jug, measure two tablespoons of Italian Volcano lemon juice and add enough water to fill half the gallon jug. I put the jug on the deck railing in the steamy heat. After two hours, I bring it in, add a cup of sugar and fill the jar to the rim with cold fresh water. I open the frig when Dawn gets home and point to the jug. She says its the best lemonade-ever.

One can't help but make comparisons. One attraction of my Amish association is the peaceful contentment of family. I find the same comparison with my friends Ella and Dan. When they describe their careful progression of guiding and choosing a college for Jenna, I can't help but compare it to the chaotic, haphazard way in which my daughter not only chose her high school, but also her college. The again, Del and Ella are married over twenty years, engage in yearly marriage seminars and exhibit a close relationship that anyone would envy. My marriage and divorce to the kid's mom was anything but tranquil.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Playing With Food #2

I meet the road grader on the ridge road to the Amish farm. The town is widening the road, adding more base gravel and planning a sealcoat as a final step. Briefly, I imagine what the road was like in the 1920's before newcomers added two fancy houses on the edge of the ridge for the million dollar view across a three mile valley and woods. The houses are occupied on a few weekends and holidays. Ten years later, the owners will retire to the hills of the Driftless Region.

A doe and two fawns are munching on grass at the edge of Moore Road hill. It's the part of the journey under a canopy of trees, past Cross Creek-a tree farm and up to the goat farm. Emerging from the gloom of the canopied road and deep roadside coulee, one feels like they've experienced an illuminated vision of way things are supposed to be. The Holstein at the edge of the pasture stares complacently, jaws moving in slow motion.

There's one van in the drive on Strawberry Lane next to the white covered strawberry stand. More jams and pickles are lined up on pine shelves. The table is, again, covered with quarts of fresh picked strawberries. Titus is on his way to light a fire in preparation for butchering chickens. I ask, "Is it all right to photograph an Amish dog?" Titus replies with his own question. "What's the difference between an Amish dog and an English dog?" I think for a moment before Titus fills in with, "One's a bulldog and the other a collie." Buddy poses for me on the gravel drive between the workshop and other outbuildings. Titus asks, " Can I read the story about Buddy when you're finished?" I reply in the affirmative.

I'd already shown Titus pictures stored in the digital camera's memory. The first picture-the prize winning strawberry-is followed by pictures of two strawberries on my college diploma, a photo of a cardboard tray full of berries, and a picture of yesterdays crop on the white table top outside my garage arranged to spell the word of the day. I don't plan well. The last part-an R followed by a Y won't fit. STRAWBER is all that will fit on the table. A brief discussion follows about the worth of the college diploma, being retired, Political Science(my major) and the funny twists and turns of life.

I ask Titus' wife for sugar. Dawn notes that Sure Jell is pectin and citric acid. I make sure the pectin they sell in bulk will duplicate the results of the store bought variety. I'm assured it will, so I convert cups to pounds and ask for an additional 5 lbs. of sugar. They have farmer eggs back in stock. I grab a pint of sweet pickles as a line of cars pulls up to the farmstand. The last thing to complete is the rest of our order for berries. Titus' wife pulls out a damp notebook and changes my four quart, final order to two on Friday. I'll be back in two days for baked goods and more eggs. A man asks for berries and is told that all the currently picked fruit are spoken for. To add to his look of disappointment, I tell him, "I'll sell you mine," and laugh. He's not amused and mutters, "Yeah at twice the price."

The Pooch greets meet warmly when I return. He's been stalking birds in the weeds so his fur has the fashionable, wet, spiky look. Before I left for the Amish farm, he came in to finish his breakfast. He had to settle for dry food since I forget to remove the clear glass cover over fresh chicken livers. He heads for the rest of his breakfast after I remove the plate. Afterward, he climbs in the window of the rear entry to watch the hummingbirds. The buzz of their wings and the sight of a live, a real bird a foot from his nose, makes him thump his tail against the wall. Every incoming bird causes him to duck his head. He thinks that if he ducks down they won't see him. Then again, at night he hides under the bed covers at the floor level. His butt sticks out since there's not enough room, but he's convinced that as long as his head is covered, we won't see him hiding there. It works, too. If I'm in the bathroom, I'll hear Dawn shout Ouch when a paw reaches out and touches her bare foot.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Playing With My Food

I'm at the Amish farm on Monday. They're out of the regular "farmer" eggs I need. I check on the progress of the strawberry harvest. I'm told that on a normal year they pick 200 quarts in a morning. Morning starts at 5 am. I ask, "What time should I come for strawberries tomorrow?" Titus quips "Oh, about five am, I guess." "Five am," I repeat in disbelief and then realize he's pulling my leg. "The cat doesn't even get up at five am," I tell him. His wife chimes in with, " 'Bout eight am would be fine." I forget to ask if that's slow or fast time. The harvest is slow this year. They're only getting 100 quarts at a time. I'm eager to start on freezing and canning.

At five am the Pooch trots into the bedroom. "Mew," he says. It means, "What time are you getting up?" The bedroom windows are open. The robins and blackbirds are singing. The Pooch climbs in the window to check the front yard for animal movement. After getting dressed, I walk to the barn to turn off the spotlight on the garden. I flip the switch on the radio that broadcasts classic rock. The Pooch follows me, hoping for a quick tour of the barn and the snap traps for mice. He doesn't make it to the barn because there's a side trip to pee in between the corn rows. I pick him up and stand on the driveway. There's a rabbit in the front field near the fence line. He's doesn't see it because he's too interested in the scolding blackbirds in the silver maples.

Dawn comes down after her shower. We confer on the amount of sugar and containers we'll need for the strawberry extravaganza. I stack breakfast dishes in the sink. Dawn drives off to work with a cup of fresh coffee. I turn down the highway and head to the Amish farm over the ridge.

Driving from state highway to county road and finally on unpaved township roads, I slow down to catch early morning animal traffic. Sure enough, a doe bounds out of the flats by the river twenty feet in front of my car. There's always a squirrel in the middle of the road and I spot a couple of groundhogs feeding along the edge of the gravel. They move slowly, so I give them extra time to get out of my way. The squirrel is unpredictable, therefore, I slow down anticipating a panicky run in front of me. At the Amish farm they've got a canopy set up over what looks like forty or fifty quarts of strawberries. Alongside the table are canning jars of jam, jelly and bread and butter, sweet pickles.

On the way home, I ask myself," Why didn't I buy the pickles?" I dump in the strawberries from cardboard flats into the first of three water baths. A week ago, Titus and I walk the strawberry patch behind the house. He offers me several samples. Their dog, Buddy, follows behind us occasionally stopping to water a strawberry plant. Titus says, "Remember to wash the berries when you get them home." I'd already eaten four large fruit.

In the barn I've stored flat box lids that the Amish could use for transferring quarts into boxes. In that way, they can save money and reuse the cardboard quart containers. I assemble seven lids and bring the three original boxes with me as I drive back to the farm. This time I'll buy the pickles. I've not had elderberry jelly. The rhubarb jam entices me. I put back the pint of blackberry jam when I realize I don't have enough money. The daughter manning the tent offers to extend me credit. "I'll be back tomorrow for more berries. I'll bring more box lids and money."

Dinner tonight, Dawn, if you're reading this is, in the smoker. With a paring knife I remove the green leaves and stem from the strawberries. They go into the second water bath. I dodge wood smoke as the wind changes direction. Perhaps, we'll get the predicted rain sooner than four pm.
By lunch time I have the berries ready for the final bath. After lunch I'll transfer them to plastic bowls, hoping there's enough room in the refrigerator. After I slice strawberries for freezing, Dawn and I will make 15 half pints of freezer jam. Then, it's on to jam.

Oh, by the way, the one at the top? It's the one I judged best . I ate it. It was fantastic. Stop by, I'll have more tomorrow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

For the next few days we'll be canning and freezing strawberries. At the Kwikstop on the highway, one of the apple orchards from the Gays Mills area parks a refrigerated truck on their gravel apron. It reminds me that the string of orchards along the ridge raise vegetables and berries to supplement the big fall blowout of apple sales. I put my order in for strawberries last week. The last time I visited the Amish, the girls said the berries were slow in ripening. They were hoping for hot weather, "If we get some hot weather they'll all ripen at once," says Wilma as she holds a dead grass snake looped over a garden tool. I need eggs so I'll check the berry report. I hope Buddy's leg, the one that got caught in the haybine, is better.

There is nothing earth shaking happening in Kickapoo Center.

This warrants taking a closer look.The Pooch and I take a late afternoon walk. In the fall, we'd go across the corn field and walk to the old railroad grade. I don't want the Pooch to get the idea that he can wander through a cornfield at this time of year. It'd be easy to get lost, despite his keen sense of smell. So we do the short version up to the horse corral and down the lane. I greet the horses with my usual, "What's up guys." They look up from the big round bale of hay. The Pooch spots a grass snake sunning itself on the sandy road. "You don't want to be playing with snakes,"I warn him. He pokes with a paw and retreats. Everything's a toy is his motto, therefore, he pokes again and retreats quickly. I'm encouraged that he's wary but...Poke again. The snake gets angry and makes motions like he's going to defend himself. The cat is startled by the reaction and jumps back. The snake moves quickly into the weeds at the side of the lane.

This morning I watch the Pooch stalking in the backyard. A blackbird dive bombs him. He leaps up hoping for a one pawed grab at the bird, flips around in the air and lands on his feet. He does the head shake with similar sound effects from Saturday cartoons. With the hot weather, Pucci takes cover in high grass or flowers. The hostas by the garage are one safe place to snooze. Dawn walks by the flower bed. The Pooch surprises her when he leaps out of the 80 foot row of peonies on a rise above the south end of the driveway. There's a row of white pines on the far south end of the property. When we walk past the area, blackbirds and robins squawk and hurl insults at the cat. The weeds under the trees is a cool spot for a fur bearing animal. There's mice and birds to keep him entertained.

With her new bench, Dawn is a weeding maniac. I walk over at three in the afternoon to remind her that dark blue in the sun for an hour is a sure prescription for heat exhaustion. I'm wearing a white T-shirt to help deflect the heat, yet it's muggy out in the garden field. I previously left a clover patch grow to waist high length. The only mechanical tool I have for cutting hay isthe Cub Cadet riding mower. I put the cutting deck at the highest setting and cut the hay. Several passes blows the grass into a windrow. It's not the best use for a riding mower, but as Dawn points out, we'd need a tractor and several implements to make hay. My wish list includes a small tractor but a sausage stuffer is higher on the list.

When the grass is dry, I pile it into the wheelbarrow and line the new tomatoes with hay mulch. I notice several Brussels sprout plants are drooping. Even the weeds adjacent to the plants are looking sad. Yup, there's a mole tunnel nearby. I could sacrifice two Brussels sprout plants out of the thirty some out there. It's a matter of principle. After watering all the new tomatoes , I stick the hose in the ground next to the Brussels sprout plants and collapse the tunnel. Then I cut more stakes and pound them into the end row of this plot and surround the plants with wood stake barriers. Darn moles.

When they created the new highway alongside our place, they abandoned our driveway which was the old highway. They bulldozed a protective berm at the entrance to our 5 acres. I'm guessing this to be over forty years ago. Someone planted blue spruce on the berm in two neat rows along the top. The spruce are mature trees now. As they age, the lower branches die. Cutting the grass on the berm called for wearing a long shirt or my arms would be bloody with scratches from the sharp, dead branches. One winter I cut all the dead branches from the lower six feet of the trees to make mowing easier. Now, the trees look like giant arrows shot into the hill. There are three remaining trees I did not trim. After puttering in the garden, I grab the chain saw, put on a new chain to replace the one I trashed hitting a rock and walk out to the berm. It's ballsy going out to trim trees with a t-shirt and shorts. I'm too lazy to change. I add one concession which is a baseball cap. Wading into the sharp branches, I start cutting the dead ones and a few that are blue/green only at the very tip. Standing back to make sure I have evenly trimmed two trees, I admire the nice open space around the trees. There's a patch of violets I leave unmolested. The drive way is lined with branches separated into categories. Totally dead, partially dead and a few green branches. The third tree is green at the driveway side. It can wait. Walking by a birdhouse hanging from one of the spruces, a bluebird flies out.

Dawn and I pile the branches next to the maple stump in the front field. I've created a base of cardboard, wood pieces, sawdust and other burnables I don't want to bother with at the town dump. Then we pile dry branches and green boughs over the top. We make a nicely rounded burn pile which will be a spectacular twenty foot blaze in the evening when Ella and Del come for their visit.

Friday, June 12, 2009

No Redeeming Value

Dear Ella,

Here's a topic for your doctorate.

I look up redeem. There are six interpretations of the word with accompanying synonyms. The last interpretation: to convert into something of value. It makes me wonder. If something cannot be converted, then it has no value.

I consider myself a writer. Whether I am good, bad, fair, obnoxious, boring or a twit is inconsequential. I write for me. I spend a fair amount of time converting images into words. This morning we were fogged in at 6 am. Total inversion is common in this area of the driftless region where nighttime cold air settles in valleys. By 8 am only puffy white clouds lingered over the Kickapoo. I'd have a hard time converting the picture into something of value. Often digital photographs of natural phenomena don't measure up to the experience of the real thing. Sometimes, adding sound expands the experience, for example; I open the deck door to see if the Pooch is around. I hear the pounding of cat feet on the wooden deck. I laugh as he lopes across the deck. The padded hoof beats sound like miniature horses. " I guess you're hungry," I say to him.

I notice at the town meeting the other night that people often resort to cliches and work-worn expressions when they speak. Red herring, can of worms, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, are just a few.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I ate most of our collard crop for breakfast this morning. Steamed in the microwave and seasoned with a pat of butter, the baby greens were tender and delicious. The germination of collards in this ten foot row was spotty. Weeds competed with the greens for sun and water. I need space for an 29 additional tomato plants, so I pull most of the baby collards. Dawn is so-so about collards (notice, I slipped in another of those common everyday expressions).

Out of the blue an idea comes to mind. Next year I'll grow only potatoes. You can almost see the good farmer/bad farmer fighting on my shoulders. If you discount the work involved- handpicking of Colorado potato beetles, dangers of frost, floods-potatoes are easy to grow. They store well. The image of the Irish potato famine comes to mind. Scratch that. Maybe I'll grow just onions and potatoes.

Again, without Dawn's help, weeding the carrots, we would have lost another crop. She stops at the Agri-Center in town and purchases a weeding bench. The molded plastic green and tan contraption doubles as a seat when one straddles a row and works as a kneeler when turned over. I don't think Dawn noticed me roll my eyes when she comes into the front field grinning. I 've learned to withhold judgment on contraptions. A previous purchase is now a standard accessory for manually weeding large areas. It looks like a hoe. At the end of a five foot handle is a rectangular red blade. It slices through the ground just below the surface and cuts weeds off at the roots. I rolled my eyes on that one too. The point which I've almost ignored is that the garden is almost out of control. Shit happens.

Dawn is a Capricorn and I am a Gemini. We're as opposite as Australian and Mayan. Inuit and Amish. Mormon and Irish Catholic. Vershtay? I would bounce the idea of double or single cropping off her IF communication weren't so weird. Add to the fact that Dawn often begins speaking and finds me staring at her quizzically. Then she'll say, "Oh, did I say oranges? I meant apples." I have trouble following her line of drift.

My rambling over country roads of thought began with another chapter from Driftless by David Rhodes.

In the novel, the expansion of the county fair with non-redeeming elements such as an arcade, a huge beer tent, loud raucous music, "unshaved men with open shirts" is the clever work of a skilled writer. Mr. Rhodes doesn't pontificate. He presents images. Contrast. Intricate character studies. He makes one think.

We all have different thoughts about carnivals, fairs, the midway, the hawkers, baked goods manure, horse shows, hot July and August afternoons. I could write a novel about my experiences. "Unlax", as Bugs Bunny says, I'll spare you the agony.

A man sits on a plank above a water tank. He's black. As people pass by, he hurls insult after insult at them. In between each cleverly worded attack-at a lady with a little too much cream pie on the thighs, at a child who stumbles on the gravel, at an old man whose mouth hangs open
he murmurs ...water...water...like a man crawling on the hot desert. For $1 people have the chance to be a racist, to get back at a cruel jibe, to toss the creep into the clear, glass tank of cloudy water. Just his gravel voice would make you want to fork over a buck. It's a tough way to earn a living. I imagine he makes a good living on a hot afternoon.

Life is a carnival. I think someone wrote a song with that title.

Hey, tell Jenna and Julie to bring rubber boots. Forget the hog butchering. There's a half ton of horse manure to haul from the neighbor's corral. It may take a day or so of heavy labor.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Day After

click on image for a larger view

Yesterday I began a post for this blog. I went through the usual beginning steps, started writing about the strawberry-rhubarb pie Dawn bought for number one son's birthday. A window appears. It seems that I've been booted off line and need to reconnect. When I begin the re-connection, it tells me my user name and password are wrong. I call my service provider. "Is your user name rhubarb?" Aaron asks. "Rhubarb?" "No." Thus ends my blog for that day. From the moment I step outside until 7:30 pm, I'm working. Dawn comes home and sprays herself liberally with repellant, thins the Buttercrunch lettuce,the radishes and weeds the cucumbers. Without her help, the harvest of those vegetables would be diminished, perhaps, lost.

Today is a relatively easy day in which I get to ride the Husquavarna, wash three loads of laundry, hang the clothes out to dry, transplant leftover tomato plants, weed onions, rototill the Kennebec potato patch, perform the twice daily bug hunt in the potatoes, rake clover I'd cut before it started raining, stake tomatoes, mix mole repellent to pour down their tunnels, keep an eye out for a couple of pesky rabbits, mix more organic dust to prevent Colorado potato bugs, work on a moose hide shield, show the Pooch how to chase rabbits, check the asparagus patch for new shoots, pick scallions to trade with the neighbor for horse poop, take a hike with the cat, shave for a change, cut stakes for tomatoes, sweep the garage floor, organize the 20 pounds of new frozen spinach into one cardboard box in the freezer and write the town clerk thanking him for acting on our request for a SLOW sign on our driveway which is also the town road.

Yesterday's post was supposed to be titled Call of the Wild. It'd include a description of animal(domestic and wild) activities. The sight of Buddy limping up to the porch when I went over to the Amish to put in a strawberry order still haunts me. His right foreleg got caught in the haybine during a mowing operation. "He's lucky he didn't get it cut off," was the comment I heard from one of the daughters. It isn't swollen or infected but the cut is deep. Dawn mentions possible severed tendons. I'm not looking forward to my next visit to the farm. I've watched the fuzzy brown puppy grow up. He's a shaggy, rust brown mix of numerous breeds who always greeted me warmly. The other curiosities-the doe with the tiny fawn, hoot owls at dawn, a sandhill crane flying low across the horizon,cottonwood fuzz filling the air like snowflakes seem inconsequential.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

November 29, 2005

Being Amish

I am staring out the west office window trying to reinvent a title for this essay. I cannot remember the title I created when I awoke at 4:15. A crow flies off in the distance with a slow flap of wings. The dark crow outline is silhouetted against the light tan of the dry corn in the hillside field. Pecking at something furiously, a blue jay has food in its clutch. Another blue jay flies up in an adjacent tree. Sparrows are chasing each other. Food is scarce since we cut off their free food supply. On any morning when there is bacon fat in a cast iron fry pan, I mix in birdseed and distribute the cakes to the platform feeders. Until this morning, only the blue jays noticed the treat. The feeder platform on a pole next to my office is clean. I noticed an opossum feeding there last winter so I’m assuming another possum found the meal. I don’t think skunks can climb steel poles. I have no idea why robins have remained here. Most of the migrating birds left weeks ago and juncos are beginning to arrive on the early morning train.

One of the few things enjoyable about living in Arizona was the absence of daylight saving time. I assume that old people like me don’t like their time schedule messed with. Saturday night the official time switched back to Amish time. The time change affects me by getting lighter earlier in the morning and darker sooner in the evening. Last evening I took out the ash pan and dumped it on the tangle of tomato vines and debris next to the compost heap. Walking around and closing up buildings, it became too dark to work. I lit a fire in the wood furnace and went upstairs. The kitchen clock said it was 5 o’clock.

Thanks to REA, I might work in the garage by electric light, but Dawn and I carried my tomato table into the studio earlier that afternoon. I have nothing to tinker. She removed all the blue masking tape around the studio doors and swept out the Japanese Beetles and lazy bugs looking for a winter home. Before I closed the double thermo-pane doors, I sprayed the entire perimeter with Pest Tab. Noticing the bare 2X6 at the base of the doors, I decided it was time to finish the steps from the studio. Dawn is inside at the computer checking lottery numbers and surfing the iwon.com website. I open the door, poke my head inside and ask, “Do you want to be able to sit on a deck outside your studio?” The reply is affirmative. On our Lacrosse supply run, I will purchase green treated lumber to build a four foot by six-foot deck.

The previous evening we watched Peter Lorre play “the brilliant and inscrutable detective” Mr. Moto. George Sanders and his evil friend, Fabian the ventriloquist plot to sink the French fleet. My automatic movie critique mechanism works perfectly. I do not fall asleep. Last night Bela Lugosi played the “mild mannered Chinatown merchant” Mr. Wong. It’s strange to hear a Chinese man speak with an Austrian accent. Even stranger are men who look like Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy playing Chinese henchmen. Occasionally a real Chinese person is involved. The end of the movie shows the NRA blue eagle symbol in the credits. I imagine these real Chinese people were collected from desperate throngs of unemployed. They certainly looked beaten and whipped. The leftovers could be cast as desperate people for the Grapes of Wrath. The cop is Irish; the newspaper reporter is classified as a “newshound”. A better description would be mongrel, mangy or mutt.

By 8:00, I am ready for bed. My internal clock says 9:00. Lying in bed at 4:30 am, I am thinking about Amish Enis. He tells me at the Readstown farmer’s market that he gets up at four and goes to bed at eight. My thought is, “that is strange”. Then I realize the only thing missing from this picture of me is a beard and a team of horses. Each time I pass by my neighbor’s herd, they whinny at me and gather by the fence. I think about the team of horses I owned in the 70’s. Bill the Amish workhorse and his companion Dolly were not much of a team. They could pull a stone boat or my four-wheel drive truck out of the ditch. However, it was nice having them around and watching their horse behavior. Let me see. The image of Dawn wearing a green frock and tights? Oh my!

Monday, June 8, 2009

I Could Have Danced All Night

Seems like a long time ago, that we'd act silly. Dawn would sing in a high operatic voice and we'd waltz to a tune such as the title of this post. It has been ages since we've done that. Three decades ago, on a memorable warm night camping in Terry Andrae State park on the Lake Michigan shore, some long, lost friends and I ride the swings in the playground, high on wacky weed, and push ourselves higher and higher to the tune of I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire. This morning the light is subdued. It rained all night. Dawn and I snuggle a little closer to keep warm and I change the tune to, I Could Have Slept All Day.

There's a possum in the live trap. I get my sweat shirt on, muck boots and a yellow slicker when I see the gate to the trap is closed. Darn. The possum is wet and paces the cage. I notice that the wire at the back of the trap is bent. The last occupant tries a Superman stunt to free itself. I'm too lazy to drive the critter to the park outside of town but I won't repeat the last episode of "varmint wars". That's where I open the gate to the trap and the possum quickly scurries under the deck. I still haven't bothered to remove the back of the deck boards and crawl under the deck to find what died under the rear addition. Being smarter than the average bear, I pick up the trap and move it to the cornfield behind our house. My video brain sees the possum scurry between the short corn plants and down to the edge of the river. The possum is agitated having a human so near. I'm glad the wires handle are far enough away from sharp claws and teeth. To set it free, I hold the cage vertically. My left hand keeps the door open while the right hand holds the trap. At first the possum clings to the back of the wire trap. Then, probably because this is the same varmint I caught a few weeks ago, he drops to the ground and scurries off into the weedy edge of our property and the corn field. The Pooch is right behind him. Oh Jeez.

To keep our cat from following the animal into the weeds, I whistle to him and walk toward the house. He's on top of the woodpile deciding: fun with possum or treats from Pork Chop( his name for me). If he follows that possum, I fear there will be a cat with a ripped ear and a bite to the nose to take to the vet. Treats from Pork Chop win out in the decision making. I let him out the deck door hoping the hummingbird circus will keep him entertained and away from the rat tailed possum.

In the sheltered corner of the junction between the rear entryway and kitchen, I hang three nectar feeders. Three feeders are necessary to keep any one male from claiming it as my territory and the ensuing fight. It's like O'Hare field without an air controller out there. I count 8 different birds. Some are feeding. One can see their throats gulping as they insert their long beaks into the artificial flowers on the feeder. One bright red breasted male swoops down on a few females, chasing them off. Sometimes a macho male will make U-shaped loops between the house and the pine tree near the kitchen window to ward off encroaching males. It reminds me of a state trooper on I-17 in Phoenix swerving from side to side across all four lanes to let motorists and me driving 85 mph know they're way too far over the speed limit.

I'm upstairs changing clothes. The Pooch comes up with his wet punk look. His fur is spiky. I grab a hand towel from the linen closet to dry him off before he jumps on the bed. Then, in the course of an hour the same scenario is repeated several more times. I thought cats didn't like water. I get the feeling that he's thoroughly enjoying the attention and the rub-down when he smiles one of those cat smiles. You know, his mouth slightly open, eyes closed. If he could talk he'd be saying, "oooo that's so nice." When the rain turns from drizzle to a serious downpour, I remove the stop on the pneumatic door closer. The cat jumps on the back of the couch, sinks deep into the cushions and snoozes. I'm tempted to join him.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Giving Doubt A Fair Hearing

Dear Ella,
If we start today, clean one room at a time, this old house may be ready in time for your visit. Yeah, yeah, don't bother you'll say. You didn't say, but I'm assuming, the girls are coming with you? Bring old clothes and comfortable shoes. We may need help. (I'm kidding). Tell Jenna and Julie that we'll be butchering a hog. They can help scrape and skin the pig. ( Also just kidding). Timing is important here. Wait until you see their faces drop before you tell them it's a ruse on my part.

At dawn I wake the cat. He opens his eyes, stretches, yawns and rolls on his back. We're nearing a full moon. Daytime and night-time activity is peaking. The black clouds in the west this morning disappear and I continue with wide circular arcs of water in the gardens . Early morning and late afternoons the brand new pump in the basement runs continually. When I flip a lever on the pulse sprinklers, they leave a circular pattern of dark brown on the soil. Raised in a square world, the garden plots are rectangular-10X80 feet each. I'm the Japanese gardener in this park. I'm a perfectionist almost reaching obsessive-compulsive. Almost. I leave that moniker to my neighbor, who with a new riding mower has his four acres of lawn manicured and tidy. You could chip and putt in the front yard. I hand water parts the sprinklers can't reach.

I wish it would rain.

I retrieve my phone from Scatterbrain in town who leaves the house almost daily forgetting her coffee, last night's rented movie, her glasses and, yes, my phone. My last stop is at the Amish. Thursday is pie day. Since they're due to leave on the Patriarch's birthday for an outing in a rented RV, I bring smoked polish sausage, sauerkraut and horse radish mustard for their picnic. The Mr. is in his workshop talking to an elderly couple. They brought him an old trastero( kitchen cabinet) that they sandblasted. The birch surface is clean and neat. Titus is showing them samples of birch to match the damaged top of the cabinet. The old lady explains that the cabinet was painted. Chipped and peeling, she wanted it to look new. I grimace at a valuable antique that has been whipped by sand into a plain wood box. Finally, the old man says, "Let's go Gladys. He's got a nice top there. If you gab anymore this will end up costing us a fortune."

"Dawn will hurt me, Titus if you don't finish the cabinets," I say to him. He points to the shell of the island counter he's put together. Then he shows me a pile of lumber that will be the cove moldings. "I've got to get the horses out of the barn,"he says. " Take this to the house and let my wife decide what to do with the sausage." Their outing has been cancelled due to a death . The man who was hired to drive has to attend to a funeral.

Both dogs are asleep on the front porch as I walk in. I wave to a daughter weeding a small garden near the house. One of the daughters is making a pile of pancakes at the wood stove. Another is taking peanut butter cookies off a baking sheet and onto a short segment of Formica counter top salvaged from a kitchen remodel. I hand the Wal-Mart bag of frozen sausage to Titus' wife and explain what he said. "Do you have a pie for me?" I ask. She goes off to another room and fetches the pecan pie. "How much do I owe you?" "The cost of pecans has jumped," she says. I hand a twenty to the daughter standing nearby. The pie costs four dollars less than the bakery outside of town. Titus' wife hands me a warm peanut butter cookie. On the way back home I savor the cookie as I look at fields with new cut hay on the ridge top and a newly graded and graveled road.

Our house is a mess. I spend too many valuable minutes looking for my phone (in Dawn's purse) looking for the receipt from the building supplies company for the counter top recently purchased(also in Dawn's purse). Along with the custom counter top, we special order an end cap kit to finish the edge of one cabinet counter top. When we decide to change the kitchen plan by removing a broom closet, the cabinet built to stand next to the broom closet now has an exposed edge. I skillfully hide the screw holes which previously would have been hidden and mix Dawn's acrylic paint to match the color of the birch finish.

I can't find the end cap kit.

In desperation before making the call to Lacrosse, I remove the counter from the cardboard box. It's in the bottom of the box. I bring the counter in and lean it against one wall. There's a rose pattern piece of fabric hanging from one end in the east window. It reduces the heat and light in the early morning. In the evening it blocks the view out of the east window. I pull one of the push pins letting it hang. Pots and pans fill a temporary console table near the window. Boxes of cereal, crackers, vinegars, oil, and other boxes of kitchen essentials line the shelf of a teak buffet in the living room. I removed the back cushions on the old blue plush couch and replace them with larger back pillows. My hope was that the new cushions would make it easier to get up out of the couch in the evenings. It doesn't. Like the cartoons, Dawn puts her foot on my butt and gives me a shove as I lift myself off the couch. As an explanation, the couch is extremely low to the ground. Without my bad knee, it is still difficult to get up after a day working in the fields.

Rugs hang on the deck railing. Furniture that was once in the living room is now stored in Dawn's studio to make way for additional cabinets I bring from the barn for storage. The buffet in the living room doesn't hold the mountain of kitchen debris, even with some of the new cabinets in place.

It seems like the remodel is taking forever. It started on Thanksgiving Day. Dawn had to work that day, so with nothing to do I start removing molding around cabinets...

Looking forward to your visit. Keep in touch.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


note: This image was shot in 1200X1600 size format.
For a better view click on the photo. For expediency
I usually download photos in a 640X480 size. In the future,
"I'll make a note when pictures are larger format.

I hesitate to use gorgeous. It's a girlie word. Don't want to be no girlie mon. It's a perfect descriptor of this morning. I dash outside to turn off the radio in the garden. No plants have died, nobody is wilting from an overnight session with 95.7, all rock all the time. I leave the bedroom curtains open last evening as I read in bed. The Pooch is curled on the comforter and keeping watch on the garden. It's surprisingly light at 9:30 pm. He moves closer to me as the night progresses. I can't sleep because I'm used to total darkness. A good comparison would be Titus' travel stories. He says he finds it hard to sleep in places with electricity. The hum of motors keeps him awake since he's used to dead silence. I assume that crickets, spring peepers, toads , frogs, coyotes and neighbor's dogs don't fit into the category of dead silence.

In the barn I flick the switch on the interface where I've connected two extension cords that reach to the drying tables in the cover less drying tent. I quickly hunt down a recycled plastic bag from my friends a Wal-Mart. I bring a piece of artwork from the house to store there. I hand carved a bear head from cottonwood root and added an excerpt from a novel. The simple prayer is nicely worded, the bear-an image of the person speaking through the novel. The novelist tells a woman that she makes him feel holy. I find it a moving and thoughtful compliment to the woman. On the reverse side of the retablo( flat board) I had written a description of the bear carved on the front. It makes me smile reading that the bear wants to settle down with a plush animal he met at Puddins' Bar in Seattle. Of late, I have to search for humor in everyday events. It's not that life is grim-it isn't. I'm just so caught up in everything.

This morning for example, I wouldn't be on the computer if I hadn't booted up the weather service to find out if it will rain in the near future. Don't want to waste time irrigating if it'll rain today or tomorrow. Things look dry. Tuesday I drove to Cashton for CPM, composted poultry manure, and bone meal. I purchase fifty pounds of bone meal at a fraction of the price I paid for a 1 lb. bag at the home improvement store in Lacrosse. A half ton of organic, composted poultry manure fills the bed of the pick-up. The poultry manure I use as a side dressing for the onions which are beginning to bulb up nicely, now that we have extended daylight. I shoot long streams of pelleted chicken and turkey manure along the rows of corn. The corn garden is a first timer in this location. I want to make sure that the plants are tall, sturdy and produce well. The bone meal I drizzle over the potato plants with a cottage cheese container. It has a pungent odor that would attract animals, therefore, I make sure I wash the bone meal off the leaves and well into the soil. My X-Ray eyes see the tiny potatoes stretching their invisible arms up for joy at the added natural calcium and phosphorus.

I've made my search on the net for a sausage stuffer. After my hog casings arrive on Monday, I make a ten pound batch of polish sausage. The grinder I use for stuffing the casings is slow and tedious. An added disadvantage is that the electric motor and inner components turn the ground pork into an excessively fine consistency for sausage. A good comparison would be the difference between liver sausage and polish sausage. I prefer a coarser ground sausage. I find a vertical hand crank stuffer at $99 with poly gears and a stainless steel body. The all stainless steel body version costs $200 more. I'll mull the price over while I cultivate the corn and water portions of the 10 garden plots.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Demons of Frivolity

In the north and east the sky is a quilted gray of puffy cumulus clouds. In the south and west the solid gray cover says rain coming soon. At a leftover breakfast of buns dipped in egg and sour cream and a link of new smoked sausage, I come across a phrase in the book Driftless by David Rhodes. It's a beacon in fine print like the sign on the highway telling you there's a gas station ahead when your tank's on empty.

In the book, Winifred Smith is in town shopping. She contemplates purchasing a lottery ticket as a visual aid for her next sermon at church. "Momentarily possessed by demons of frivolity," she says she changes her mind and purchases a pack of red gum instead.

Too often I feel I fight demons of frivolity when writing in this blog. "Does it really matter?" "Who cares?" Before you rush to post a reply(that's a laugh), know that I'm not fishing for comment here. They'll bury me with pen and paper because I'll want to add a few thoughts about that, too.

A long time ago, I put inspirational posters in my classroom. One said, There is beauty in the simplest things. Most often I wasn't trying to reach my fourth graders but trying to convince myself of some small truth. The Vice Principal walks into my room one morning and questions a new poster slogan I've put on the bulletin board near the windows. "Do you think they'll understand?" he asks. I don't remember my reply. I really didn't care because I got it.

Winifred Smith struggles with spending a dollar on the lottery. I struggle with simple things that I trivialize and dismiss. Case in point:

Daily I struggle with notions about our cat. I called him Pooch and gave him a formal name of Pucci showing how clever I am. I feel foolish calling him in toward dusk because he's a cat not a dog. He comes from around the lawn shed bounding in the grass knowing I've got treats in my pocket. As he gets closer, he slows to a trot, follows me across the deck and waits inside for his surprise. It's always a surprise because he's a cat. A theme in rural America is to ignore cats. They're unkempt, abandoned frequently, poorly fed and kept mostly for mouse predation.

Dawn and I are watching a movie. We watch a lot of movies. I've written a thousand times about the Pooch's night time behavior. Last night, he knocked a glass chimney from a kerosene lamp into the bathtub shattering it into a million minuscule pieces. I close the trap, sweep up the mess and make a mental note to shower upstairs in the morning. The rubber mat in the downstairs tub is still wet. It will take a few days for the tub to dry and get the fine slivers of glass that might shred a bare foot. The Pooch was climbing into an open window in the bathroom when the mishap occurred. After his dinner, he went from window to window in a fanatical chase to keep track of his outside.

The night before I find him in the dark basement. He's sitting in the middle of the floor. When I turn on the light, he doesn't move toward me. Instead he stays still and stares at a spot on the basement wall. The former owners had a hot tub in the basement(oh yes). To vent the heat and humidity they install an exhaust fan in the wall at the ceiling. It blows under the deck. I won't go into the stupidity of the former owners. I remove the fan, patch the opening with hardboard and add the exhaust fan at the peak of the barn. It helps vent heat in hot July and August days. The Pooch knows something is going on under the deck. It set the live trap with fresh pork bones wrapped in plastic so my hands don't get greasy. In the morning the trap is sprung. The plastic is outside the trap. The bones remain inside the wire mesh. The trap is empty.

When The Pooch tires of racing from window to window and begging to be allowed outside, he jumps up on the couch to groom himself. Sometimes Dawn and he will wrassle. Wrassling involves curling in a ball while Dawn tickles his stomach. He kicks at her hands with his hind feet and gnaws her fingers. Sometimes he gets too rough and she'll have to yell, NO in a loud voice. On TV the characters are tunneling into an old tomb. The Pooch is sleeping soundly, or so we think. In an instant, he stands up, looks toward the window. He cranes his neck as far as he can to see out the two large living room windows. Something is in the yard. I get up and look out the window. It's almost nine o'clock. The sun hasn't disappeared and dusk is bright at the northern horizon. Under the pine tree a lone doe bends to nibble at something below the tree.

I'd just replanted the yellow wax beans which another deer had dug up two weeks previous to now. I grab my rifle at the back door. I fire off three warning shots with the twenty two caliber rifle which sound like rocks in a 2 gallon tin popcorn can. The deer bounds away toward another pine tree. I walk inside before someone sees me with a rifle shooting at deer. I'm surprised when Dawn asks," Did ya hit it?" "No way," I reply. "I just fired into the air to scare it off. " She says the deer paused by Jonathon Pine and bounded away into the corn field .I shake my head in disbelief and praise the cat. "Good watchdog." In the morning I tell him again how much I appreciate his skills as a watch cat.

What surprises me is that over the sound of rocks caving in a burial chamber on TV , the Pooch can hear a doe walking in the short grass of the front yard. He's one hell of a cat. Over breakfast, I toss around ides for the next blog, trivializing the cat's skill as a watch dog. Now if I could only train him to bark.