Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I like the word. So much so, I go to my book of etymology to find the derivation of the word. If, indeed, "to snivel" was a bastardization of some small furry animal with yellow teeth located off the coast of Madagascar, I'd be delighted. But it isn't. My task at hand is to put a few thoughts out in cyberspace in between running to the bathroom every few moments without sniveling. It's a large task. My stomach rumbles loudly.

Record high temperatures last Friday and heavy rains have goosed Mother Nature. In her reaction to being grabbed in the ass,(oof) she makes the grass shoot up two inches in three days. The trees, holding back because of a prolonged drought, are leafing out. The leaves turn from puce green to bright green. I manage to plant three varieties of beets, two of radishes, spinach, collards and Buttercrunch lettuce. My stomach has double crossed me. I refuse to slow down.

Last night, I shiver and tremble in trips to the upstairs bathroom. Finally, I admit defeat and go to my recliner on the first floor. Dawn's studio is an addition to the main school house. There is only a crawl space underneath. For days I search for the source of an odor. First, I blame the cat and his cat box. Next I move a bookcase loaded with crafts supplies thinking some wiley varmint got away from the Pooch. Two plug-ins mask the rotting smell. I gag as I lean back in my leather recliner. Then , I rationalize that I'll get used to it. The Pooch leaves his favorite chair in the studio and crawls in next to me on the couch. I'd be happy for his attention, but he hogs the couch. I have to shorten my six foot one inch frame to give him room. I could be mean and toss him off the couch, but imagine what the odor of dead varmint smells like to him.

I toss and turn. I get little sleep. I declare today a no work day, not that I could really do anything worthwhile. I eat only my favorite things. I watch my favorite movies starting with Mr.Deeds and sliding into A Good Year. They are mindless feel-good movies. I make a note to keep a closer watch on Dawn's movie choices after last nights Richard Gere thriller of sexual predation, dismemberment, beatings and violence.

Mid morning the Pooch comes in early from patrol. I cover myself with a heavy blanket while he snoozes on the couch. The land line rings, waking us both from a sound sleep. Some automated voice message tells me not worry, but I may want to examine my credit standing. Brace yourself for sniveling here. I'm going to take the two phones that are connected to the land line and get some fireworks from the Cheapo Depot in Readstown . A few M-80's will do them nicely.

I hit the stop button and delete the message mid-call. If a real person calls telling me that my new car warranty has expired( I last bought a new car in 1996) or that I can get satellite TV for free, I will let loose a verbal barrage equaling my stomach's propensity for projectile extension. Sorry. I need to go back to my movie.

Better things tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

15 Minute Travelogue

The sky is a bright blue. Early morning sun sparkles and reflects off ponds and lakes created by the Kickapoo River surging its banks. I have only fifteen minutes to reflect on the surroundings here in Kickapoo Center. Then, it's off to work I go.

*Grandpa lost his nose in the storm. Each of the forty foot Norway pines that mark the perimeter of the front yard has a face. Grandma is the exception. I don't know why. Grandpa's gourd nose fell off. His mouth is an old toilet plunger bottom giving him a puckered mouth look.

* Titus called from his neighbor's home yesterday. Wednesday morning they'll be making pies. Simple Simon puts in an order for an apple pie. I may need a pecan pie. I know I need eggs and noodles. Putzing around in the kitchen yesterday, I never make the trip to the Amish farm.

*I'm a student of culture. I have questions about the Amish way of life. Previously, I dealt intimately with Native Americans here in the mid-west and in Arizona. A recurring theme in their life was the destruction of traditional values because of contact with non-native people. I want to learn how the Amish deal with encroachment on their values and traditional ways by the "English". I also don't want to give them the impression that I am a smart Alec. I hold off my questions: What kind of swimsuits do the Amish wear? Do Amish go on vacation?

*The Pooch gets downgraded from being one smart cat to slightly above a dullard. I watch him as he walks along the north fence line between the red dogwood and the barbed wire fence. He walks behind the shed we call a barn and ambles up the berm between the highway and our road. Something isn't quite right. I walk outside with the paper in my hands that I'm taking notes for a project. He disappears for awhile. I walk closer to the barn and step off the drive to the gentle hill. He's investigating something under a blue spruce. Then, he turns, walks down the grassy culvert toward the highway. As he reaches the gravel apron for the highway, I intercede. NO... POOCH... COME HERE...NOW... He looks up in my direction and runs toward me. I tell him in a calm voice that was the dumbest thing I have ever seen him do. Something overrode his natural fear of large noisy machines. The highway is busy. The stretch between the neighbor's farm and the county highway a mile away is a long straight stretch with a full view of the highway as it curves toward Viola. It's a favorite place for motorcyclists, teenagers and a few idiots with a death-wish to gun their machines. The marker at the bridge for the site of a young girl who was killed by a driver who forced her off the road is a constant reminder.

That night, in the part of the movie Marly and Me where the vet is putting the world's worst dog to sleep, I walk away. I don't like to subject myself to unnecessary grief. I... I couldn't handle my friend and companion being killed and repeatedly run over on the highway. My wife-I don't know how to otherwise describe it gently-tells me when the Vet inserts the needle in the tube leading to a very ill Marly, " It's not true that they don't feel that." When her cat and companion of 19 years becomes terminally ill with kidney disease, she asks me if I want to accompany her. I beg off. I'm not much for funerals and death. Dawn deals with it daily at the retirement home. Then she adds, "Sueshe's (our previous cat) " eyes popped (open) when the Vet administered the injection. I'm appalled. I know you're reading this, Dawn. It's OK. I'm not mad or angry. We all have different ways of looking at life. I'm a romantic. Always have been. I can turn the worst event into a fairy tale, given the right circumstances.

This took longer than 15 minutes.

I want to add something sweet and nice before posting this. Here goes:

I read a short blurb in a gardening magazine about sour asparagus. The writer tells of harvesting the first young asparagus of the year, blanching it, adding butter and serving it for dinner that night. She and her husband find the taste sour and unappealing. Only later does she learn from a friend that the asparagus she cut that day were young peony shoots.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Old Man Is Snoring

After two days and three nights of intermittent rain, thunder and lightning, we cast a watchful eye toward the river. In this picture from March, 2007, the cornfield is a lake. We judge the severity of a possible flood by how quickly it creeps up the road toward our east fence line. There is no outside activity, save for stolen moments when it drizzles or the sun tries to push its way out of a threateningly black cloud cover. The Pooch has safe houses from the rain, yet he comes in on occasion at my urging to be toweled off and catch a bite to eat. He dislikes thunder but will tolerate some water. Time has become a throwback to winter. I hustle to get some dry firewood to light a fire in the wood stove. I walk around my baby cabbage plants, hoping they've not drowned. I stand at the kitchen windows watching the Pooch stalk a small animal near the dogwood bushes. My sinuses are plugged. My head aches.

On Sunday a break in the downpour allows me to check the gutters. Leaves and pine needles have clogged several of the downspouts. To thwart a clog in an elbow, I installed hardware mesh rolled in a cylinder in each of the drains. The clogs cause the gutters to swell with rain water. I learn that being right handed makes me also right legged. My right knee is painful from wearing rubber boots most of Friday in the heat. The heels are different than my running shoes. The joints in my left ankle are out of line. I limp. My knee goes out of whack. Oh gee. Next I'll be calling up the relatives to complain for twenty minutes about lumbago and the rheumatism. Climbing the monster ladder with a painful right knee means I must reverse the way I usually climb up a ladder. I start with my left foot first, taking the weight off my right knee as I push myself up toward the roof line.

The Pooch doesn't get enough outdoor time because his safe houses under an overhang, below the deck and walking very close to the house are sprayed with rain from a north wind. I leave the garage door open and the door to the summer kitchen cracked a bit. He sits on my workbench pretending he's lord over the garage floor, waiting for mice. In the summer kitchen he jumps the four feet to the counter top and sits on top of a red and white cooler looking out the garage window at the propane tank and the backyard. The house and garage are connected with an overhang. At one time I think there was an enclosed breezeway. He sits on a door mat surveying the rain soaked sidewalk. Then he'll reverse the procedure and sit in the garage doorway. At six thirty in the evening, I lure him in with a dinner of raw catfish. He's not happy with confinement. He prowls the first floor and basement before giving up and sleeping on the couch as we watch another movie.

At two am he comes upstairs and stands in the doorway. "Are you getting up?' he meows. The usual tricks are supplemented with gnawing on my arm and playing hide and seek with the mouse under the bed covers. That mouse is my leg. He can bite through a comforter and flannel sheet. "Ouch," I yell and flick him on the leg with my thumb and forefinger. It doesn't take much for him to get my drift. He jumps down. Then, he repeats the process every hour, until six am when I wrestle with him and play a real game of mouse under the blanket.

Early on before I was trained, the Pooch went into the basement if he disturbed me at night. It took weeks for him looking at me with sad eyes before I relented. We signed an agreement. It included a no-lock in the basement provision. The trick is to keep him busy during the day. It's my fault that he took a three hour nap on Sunday afternoon.

You know how the reasoning goes... It's raining outside. He looks so cute lying on his back paws in the air between all the blankets, sheets and pillows that Dawn removes from the linen closet while she reorganizes the mess. Besides, I rationalize, he's been sneezing frequently. I stop at the Vet and ask questions. When is his vet-Dr. Laura going to be in the office? Is there some virus going round this time of year? He's not off his feed. There are no other symptoms. I hesitate to spend the time and money on paranoid parental concern. He's a good boy. He kept me company during a long winter. He's a constant source of amusement and wonder.

By eight this morning he's been in three times. There are no bugs this time of year. It's warm 60 degrees outside so I leave the deck door open for him to come and go. He's bored and so am I. The sky is a uniform dull battleship gray. Inside, I need lights to read or perform small tasks. Let's see, I need eggs. Perhaps I shall visit the Amish.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Gadget: a seaman's term of unknown origin.

Rain falls in a steady pattern on this Sunday morning. I can tell the intensity of the rain before I look out the window.

At 6 am Pooch time, 5 am Amish time, he paws my face. "Get up pork chop," he says. I use an affectionate name he's coined for big daddy. Dawn is big mama. I'm sure the Pooch would refrain calling her his puercocito- little pork chop-if he wants to go on living. Dawn is a fourth degree champion kick boxer. I'm his favorite pork chop because I collect savory cat treats, not just the Whiskas or Special Kitty packaged variety but catfish nuggets, chicken livers, pulled pork leftovers from dinner and an occasional beef tenderloin on sale from Woodmans grocery store.

The sound of the rain is louder since I installed special multi-directional, expandable brown plastic downspouts from Lacrosse. The rain falling on the durable plastic drains make the sound of small drumsticks. I often chide Dawn about gimmicks and gadgets she buys. Then I eat crow, raw and tough, when I find the gadget has a useful purpose. Take the mole repellents. They look like pencil cases from grade school. With two "D" cell batteries, they emit a pulsing buzzing when you force one into a mole tunnel. It sends the varmints running for the next county. I scoffed. I ate crow.

When Dawn went back to Wal-Mart for more Topsy-Turvy tomato planters I thought, " just another useless gadget." I have no use for them in my tomato fields, but hung from the trellis in the backyard of the retirement home, the residents are entranced by tomatoes hanging upside from the pot. It makes it easy to pick the fruit.

I sometimes make my own special gadgets. Each of the plots for vegetables in the front fields is between 10 and 12 feet wide. To extend the reach of my garden rake without tramping down the soil I duct tape a narrow PVC pipe to the handle. It's a bit unwieldy, but I save the plot from compaction. I made a special onion weeder from a tapered wood stake and a joist hanger. The metal hanger clips the weeds at the surface of the soil. I guess that makes me smarter than your average bear Boo-Boo.

Installing the patio I was inspired to create a leveling tool. I connected a four foot 2X4 to a length of shelf bracket. I bent the metal shelf bracket over the edge of the 2X4 and screwed it to the pine board. Then, at the other end of the metal bracket, I bent it again to form a handle. It looked great and didn't work a lick. The 2X4 was not heavy enough to pull sand across the form for the cement blocks. So I'll never make a million bucks inventing Velcro or Post Its.

Friday, April 24, 2009


No. Not me. The weatherman. It wasn't that long ago that the Pooch surveyed an all white tundra in front of the deck. We had a frost on the 22nd of April. Turkey hunters reported temps as low as 25 degrees early in the morning. Last night thunder rumbled across the hills of our western Wisconsin home. It disturbed the cat who crawled in bed and nestled next to me at 2 am. Today the thermometer on the garage in the breezeway
looked like this. It reads 86 degrees. The wind gusts up to 30 mph, blowing dust from the gravel road in front of our small farm into small cyclones. The local dairy farmer who tills most of the available flat land is running two John Deere tractors from sunup to sundown hauling manure and running a disc over the fields.
I'm up and over to the Amish at 7:00 am, their time. I trade sausage and plastic bags I used for customers in my downtown Milwaukee trading post in return for cow manure behind Titus' barn. Titus' wife gives me horseradish root for my garden. While I'm there, the daughters give me a preview of their quilts going up at auction on the 23rd of May. I'll post pictures of a few of the quilts if they'll permit me to photograph them. I've got my eye on a couple of them and will be in the audience bidding on their work which typically draw less money out here than it would in urban areas. The picture below is of the new sweet corn garden covered with the truck load of manure I hauled early this morning. Standing in the pickup bed with my rubber muck boots on I was amazed at the number of tiny gnats swarming over the ca-ca. The manure has a slight amonia odor to it. I must be used to the dairy air of the area, because I hardly notice the smell. It isn't because my sense of smell has been numbed either. All week long I've been lurking around the house trying to locate a bad smell in Dawn's studio. Of course, we blamed the Pooch at first, but his litter box was hardly used since he has sand piles and fresh tilled garden for a lavatory. I surmise a mouse or rat died under the rear addition.

We're looking at rain for Saturday and Sunday. Hopes are high that it will end a severe drought. I hold my breath that there isn't a repeat of last year's June 6+ inches of rain. I use the excuse of a midday break to let my burrito lunch settle before I return to the corn plot with my Troy Bilt Horse rototiller. The Pooch takes an extended nap indoors where it's a cool 72 degrees before I kick the lazy lump outside. He doesn't like the strong winds. He follows me around in the summer kitchen, next to my chop saw in the garage and climbing over plastic covered boxes of art and crafts in the white shed. Anything but the devil wind in his ears.

Since we're into a new moon today, I'll plant seeds for leafy vegetables. The sugar snap peas, spinach and snow peas haven't sprouted. They went in right after the potatoes and onions at the full moon. I'll water toward sunset. The law of opposites says that if I water today, it will rain tomorrow. There's the new patio blocks I'm putting down near the kitchen window if I have time before the end of the day. Time to get a move on.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Life in Kickapoo Center always seems to revolve around this bad boy. His good looks, cat smarts and rightly timed affection keep him from being booted outside. In the country there are barn cats and cats that are members of the family. Barn cats live from hand to mouth. Mice are not a play toy, but breakfast, dinner and lunch. Nobody spends $75 for Frontline. Burrs, ticks and distemper are facts of life. As an inner city teacher, I would not tolerate bad behavior. I was strict and fair. I had chairs, shoes and snowballs thrown at me. One student tried to bite me when I kept him in for not doing homework. The Pooch gets away with antics I would never have allowed in the past. Why? Perhaps I am older, wiser or just a sucker. Last night he tried to bite me. He was angry.

During the day the Pooch hangs around our five acres. He has a tight schedule. This morning he comes upstairs at six on the dot. If I'm too lazy to get up, he walks over me, settles his head on my pillow and purrs. Wanting immediate attention, he'll lick whatever part of me is closest to his face. That always works to get me up. The field mouse he carried around yesterday, the pool of stagnant water he laps up near the neighbor's horse corral and the butt hole(his) he cleans daily are too vivid a memory for me to allow a face wash.

I turn up the heat, make coffee and prepare breakfast while he's outside. Sometimes I'll watch his morning routine. He covers the perimeter of the place and after making sure that all is in order, he'll head for the horse farm adjacent to us. Lately, he's been entranced with the second floor haymow in their barn. Ron, my neighbor says he thinks a hen is nesting there. The Pooch walks up the piece of farm machinery that extends into the mow. Late one night after 15 minutes of yelling for him, I walk the lane between our place and the corn field behind us. As I approach the neighbor's barn, he's sitting at the doorway to the mow surveying the neighbor's yard, like it's part of his territory.

After awhile, he'll jump up on the deck railing and peer in our kitchen window. If he sees me, he'll meow. The windows are new thermopane, so all I see is an open mouth and a sad look. It says, "I'm hungry." After a short breakfast, he's back outside to chase leaves, birds and look for mice. The in/out routine continues during the day. Frequently his afternoon will include a long nap in his favorite chair in Dawn's studio. If I'm working outside he'll join me to pitch in and help with the work. He likes to dig in my newly tilled gardens. He doesn't like machinery.

Near sunset a demon enters his body. I make sure that our routine is strictly adhered to which includes a late afternoon walk down to the river circling around the property, greeting the horses next door and perhaps a jaunt to the old railroad tracks. Sunset here in April is close to eight o'clock. That's when he decides to wander off to the haymow. Wise to his ways, I bring him in early after our jaunt and feed him cat treats and dinner. Raccoons, coyotes and all manner of harmful varmints which include skunks are nocturnal. I cannot afford a vet bill to have him stitched up after an encounter with any of the aforementioned.

He has no fear of heights. There is a healthy respect for the horses who like to chase him as he winds his way through their corral. I've seen him follow woodchucks, chase raccoons up a tree and be nose-to-tail with the squirrel that lives in the silver maple in the front field. Therefore, we keep him in at night. He'll stretch out on the couch and watch TV. When the movie gets too noisy or he gets bored, he retires to his chair. Occasionally he comes upstairs with us when we retire to read and sleep. Even that involves a routine. He'll hide under the bedspread hanging over the sides of the bed. He thinks because he can't see us that he's invisible. A wagging tail tells us to be careful. A paw with sharp claws will snake out and grab a barefoot. He loves the joke. Then he'll climb on the bed, leaving for the first floor when we begin to snore. In the morning, he appears exactly at 6 am.

Last night,I pick him up and take him outside with me while I lock up the garage. He's keenly interested in the sounds at dusk. But I don't let him down. Walking back inside, he extends his paw as we enter the back door as if he's pushing it open himself. When he figures out that he isn't going back outside, he bites my arm. He's pissed. I put him down on the cedar chest in the back entryway. When I reach out to pat his head, he takes a swipe at my hand. It's a 360 degree attitude change from the purring fur ball that sits in my lap as I write this post. He nuzzles my arm as I type. I feel his wet nose on my elbow.

The rest of the evening he paces in disgust. He'll look out the living room window when he hears a tractor coming down the lane for some late night plowing in the corn field in the floodplain. The sucker that I am puts a stool in front of the deck door for him to jump up and peer through the deck storm door. He gets bored with that quickly. Watching this evening's Netflix selection, we hear noise in the kitchen. He's knocking things I put on the wood stairs down to the kitchen floor. In the middle of The Last Metro , a French movie we got in the mail, The Pooch streaks through the room as fast as he can go. Another attention getting maneuver. It doesn't get him outside.

The limestone cliffs around us are reputed to be a safe haven for rattlesnakes. I've never seen one, therefore I can't tell you which type of snake live here. In a severe drought 20 years ago, old timers tell of snakes descending into the lowlands near the river. We're into a severe drought according to the Lacrosse office of the National Weather Service. We haven't had a significant rainfall in weeks-a concern for farmers and early planting. The usual April Showers Bring May Flowers hasn't happened. All flat land fields in the area are tilled and ready for corn. Our sandy loam garden plots are dry to a depth of six inches. Yesterday, I asked the dairy farmer closest to us to spread liquid manure on a new corn patch I recently converted from grass to garden. The liquid sludge from his cows dried overnight. The Pooch needs a healthy respect for snakes. In normal times we've seen him play with grass snakes. There's TV program out there we've never seen called, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? I'm not sure if I'm smarter than a two year old gray tabby and I hope he's smarter than a rattlesnake.

Friday, April 17, 2009


All I wanted to do was add an image of a pie. Simple, no? I have no pie images in my pictures file. I have no pie to to photograph. On Sunday the pies I ordered from the Amish drove to Milwaukee with the daughter. I go to an approved website for pie images. Simple, no? Being computer challenged and stubborn, I waste precious moments trying to download a pie image. Am I simple? Yes. The image of Aunt Jemima is my compromise. I inherited the small lead statue years ago. She stands hands on hips watching me in the kitchen. It's a relic from politically incorrect bygone eras. Jemima watches my futile efforts in the kitchen of late, grins and snickers at the ineptitude. I waste an entire afternoon fiddling with a bank of switches and an outlet above the kitchen counter. In desperation, I call the electrician late on Thursday afternoon and leave a message. Dawn says that he may not be busy with the current economic conditions. It's hard to get a tradesman out here in the boonies.

How crazy am I? I flip the switch over the workbench in the garage. The radio tuned to NPR doesn't come on automatically. I jiggle the switch. The program starts and fades. I jiggle the plug. The program heads to full volume and fades again. Jiggle and fade. "This is an omen," I tell myself. "Do not attempt electrical work today." I'm stubborn and disregard the voice. Besides, the 60's tune "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Polka Dot Bikini" has been replaying in my head all morning. The forces of evil are gunning for me. I've spent 45 minutes looking for a Phillips screwdriver I know I put in the rack of drivers on the pegboard. I'm tempted to call Dawn at work and chastise her for using my screwdrivers without replacing them in their holders. If I'm wrong there will be crow for dinner.

In the morning I drive to the Amish farm with a pillow under my arm. Titus is driving the horses in a field behind the workshop which pull a disc through the soil in preparation for planting oats. The day before he prepared another field for 2,000 strawberry plants. "I'm moving in," I tell him when he makes a pass with the team of horses nearby. Not to be outdone, Titus tells me to go to the wash house. "Tell Viola you only need ten chickens instead of twenty for May," he says. We're short on chickens and it will confuse her. Before I leave to continue the ruse, I ask Titus how to adjust the lazy Susan shelves. Dawn complains that the bottom shelf scrapes the cabinet when it turns. He tells me how to make the adjustment. Later I lift the shelf and see the pin and slots for raising or lowering the shelf. I'm chagrined at my ineptness.

In the wash house, Titus' wife and two daughters are plucking chickens. The daughters are standing next to a stainless steel counter top. Mom toss a chicken on the counter top. She's plucked it clean and removed the feet. The daughters prepare the final cleaning before tossing it into a container. Next to the door is a plastic washtub. It's exactly like the one I Jerry-rigged in the bathroom to wash dishes while waiting for the new counter top. I tell Titus' wife I need only ten chickens in May. She sighs with relief. She's wise to Titus' sense of humor. We move on to the pillow. The antique Turkish rug cover is unraveling at a seam. Previous to now an elder daughter mends clothing I bring over with an expert's touch. I offer our plastic washtub in return for saving my antique pillow. I'm directed to the house where the eldest daughter is breading and preparing chicken for lunch. I explain my folly. "Sure, I can do it. No problem," she says. "You'll have to wait until after we plant the strawberries." The other daughter is mixing food at the counter. She walks away and returns with a mustard jar I'd given them. "Do you like horseradish?" she asks. "Sure," I reply. "Is it hot?" She smiles. I ask her to make me a pie in the next batch. She promises to call, which in reality means walking a mile round trip to the neighbors.

Before leaving I check with Titus on a half dozen other minute details concerning the cabinets, including making a new island for the newly expanded kitchen. " I'll talk to Dawn when she gets home from work," I explain. She'll give the final word on the design. I stop for a minute and talk with a neighbor who's standing next to his car with a cup of coffee and two dozen eggs. He works in Madison, but like the rest of us is busy preparing the ground for spring planting. The recent dry, warm weather has everyone scurrying to spread manure and work up the soil. The dairy farmer who works the fields behind us has been spreading manure daily. I drive off with a wave to fiddle some more with electrical outlets.

I'm successful in leveling the refrigerator by cutting carpet adjacent to the frig and adding shims so the frig door doesn't swing open by itself. I remove a partial wall near the refrigerator which opens up the kitchen area, giving it the look of every farm kitchen I ever had the good fortune to work in and around. I haul the wall intact to the barn and remeasure the floor. There are open areas of old flooring that need to be covered. Here's where the island figures in the plan. Then I find my screwdriver in the summer kitchen next to the cold frame. I walk by the radio and wiggle the plug one more time, puzzled by the problem. I can see that one of the wires on the plug is almost severed. Only when it is aligned exactly will the radio come back on. So there are no mysterious disappearances. No ghosts haunting the old schoolhouse.

In the morning Dawn comes downstairs after her morning shower and savors the new open kitchen plan. The electrician calls. I explains the mess of wiring. He promises to come early Monday morning. I'm relieved and decide to plow the corn patch, haul manure and sand. Saturday's promised rain will bring an onslaught of new growth.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grouse, Rails & The Easter Pig

There will be no grouse pictures here. No King, Clapper or Virgina Rail, common birds of fresh water marshes. The Kickapoo spills its banks in many lowlands areas. Ducks and Geese are the most frequent inhabitants. I did, however, spot a Golden Eagle on the ground munching away at road kill on my way to town this morning. That's where the grousing and railing come in the picture. The weather service predicted sun for today. The portable greenhouse pictured here cannot be left unattended. With the sides up, the sun could fry my baby cabbages. So, I groused about the weather, opened the sides in spite of the cool, windy morning with no sun.

My luck changes . The horoscope on MyYahoo predicts things would go my way, with perhaps a new romantic interest. Dawn will appreciate that. I stop at the plumber on my way to the hardware store. The owner's wife said that they could have someone at my house in the afternoon because Aaron, one of their plumbers, is supposed to meet the maintenance man for Kickapoo High School not far away. He'd be able to fix our leaky sink.

Six hours later our sink is as good as new. The plumber is a young guy with a sense of humor. As I sit at the kitchen table watching him work, I tell him, " I hope I'm not in your way." I know that if I go off to work in the garden he'll be calling me in to look at something or ask a question. His reply to my question? "You're paying for the show so you might as well watch the clown."

In the past I've groused about the common malady of the 21st century. No one has enough time. We keep track of Amish (slow) and daylight saving (fast) time since we frequently have contact with Amish friends. Once I had more time than I could use. Then the kitchen cabinets were finished and extra time disappeared. I might also add that spring planting and preparing the gardens are a "constant of work". For three days, I help Titus' brother complete the dry wall in preparation for the new cabinets. Most of my work involved chasing after him and his helper with a broom and dust pan. When I tell Titus' wife that I had to remind the workers to kick the mud and manure off their boots before beginning construction, she was chagrined.

Things were spaced out. This means that my Amish drywall installers forgot to raise the kitchen electrical outlets to accommodate the new counter top height. I grouse about the lack of sun. My challenged skills at performing electrical work are worse with the power off and a dark, gloomy day. I make several scouting trips to town, asking the hardware store employees for advice about installing new plastic outlet boxes. The wire and metal boxes currently in our walls were installed by Stone Age electricians. When Titus installs the kitchen sink after cutting a hole in the counter top, it leaks. It's Easter Saturday. We're expecting the kids and grandkid in a few hours. Titus quips that we can set a bucket under the sink and empty it every few years. Amish humor. It doesn't set well with me.

Now, several days later the kids have gone. It's a beautiful morning. Temperatures are expected to hit the mid 60's. I've installed a new box and outlet for the refrigerator. It's really a shame that the original cabinet intended for over the frig cannot be used. When we saw the effect of removing a broom closet in the entryway, we changed the kitchen plan. The long dark hallway is gone. When you enter the kitchen via the inside door, there's a new spaciousness. Changing plans in the middle of a renovation can be costly in time and money. Small details such as exposed ugly old flooring and the lack of carpeting in areas formerly covered by an interior partition give me a headache. The end result will be worth the trouble.

The cat jumps in my lap as I ramble away trying
( and failing) to organize the events of the past 11 days. He has some grease on his back. Last night I had to fetch him, when he didn't come to my calls at sunset. Our neighbor hears my, " Pooch, here boy," and tells me our cat is up in his haymow searching for a nesting hen. As he climbs down the metal elevator used to lift bales to the upper part of the barn, I tell him he's in big trouble for not responding to my call. He slinks away, heads for home acting as much like a child in trouble. Well, the grease turns out to be manure-eeyew!!- and then I feel a tell-tale lump near his ear. It's a tick. The recent warm weather will trigger an explosion. I quickly wash my hands of manure, grab the Frontline while my ancient computer downloads the picture of the kitchen cabinet.

I started this post days ago, feeling guilty that I barely have time to attend to e-mail. Now, an hour later, I'm feeling guilty again. I need to finish electrical work. I look at the title. You're puzzled about the Easter Pig. Let me explain.

I e-mail my daughter and ask if she's reinforcing the Easter Bunny myth. I wouldn't want to be the Easter Scrooge or perhaps an Elmer Fudd. Dawn knits a colorful shawl for our granddaughter and I lay in a supply of Easter candy, an egg coloring kit, plastic grass and a few grown-up goodies like Kickapoo Gold organic maple syrup, honey candy and mixed nuts. We purchase a basket for the kid and rummage through a collection of baskets in the barn for the the adults and hide them in the office closet. On Easter morning my granddaughter hunts for eggs and finds her basket. I neglected to put out the basket for daughter and son-in-law. While the kid is collecting eggs with Dawn's help, I grab the large open basket and proclaim that the Easter Pig was here before the bunny. It'll be a new tradition.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


My dictionary of etymology says the word avoirdupois comes from Middle English meaning," in possession of weight." Current usage is "merchandise sold by weight" in the English system-pounds and ounces. There's a connection between the title and this post. In the back of my mind is the admonishment to "avoid cliches like the plague". Another writing faux pas is to use excessive amounts of alliteration. I stifled the urge to use Bears, Blowhards, Blizzards and Blindness as a lead in to this first post in many days. My intention is to give weight to a loosely connected series of events here in Kickapoo Center in the past week.

Dawn and I travel to the city for supplies. I promised to get Titus a 5 pound box of screws for his cabinet works. We needed muriatic acid to clean rust from the various ceramic bathroom fixtures. The stuff is extremely dangerous to use-just breathing the fumes can hospitalize a person. Imagine what it does to your skin if you splash a drop or two carelessly. If you'd seen the condition of the basin's and toilets when we moved into the vacant school house, you'd understand why I take chances with the noxious chemical.

When we left Menard's-the local building supplies and mercantile center- we spent $140 dollars on what began as a two item list. $70 of the total included Frontline for The Pooch. The temperatures lately have climbed to the 50's and 60's. The spring bug hatch will include deer ticks and fleas. The Pooch leaves the warm confines of our bedroom quilt at 6:30 am for a morning patrol of his five acres. At around 8:30 he climbs the deck railing and peers in the kitchen window, looking for breakfast(this morning it was raw catfish nuggets). Afterwards, he stands in front of the deck door doing a pretty good imitation of the feline word for out...Meowwt. The rest of the day he sneaks in and out, sampling his dry food, chasing birds and leaves, waiting by the south fence line for an unsuspecting mouse to scamper out of the weeds and climbing the woodpile for a better vantage point of the corn field behind us.

A trip to the grocery store on the north edge of the city and dinner at our favorite Mexican Cantina on the far south side of Lacrosse completes the journey. The return trip, although only 35 minutes from Lacrosse to Viroqua, seems longer. There's a plateau near the Mississippi River and Lacrosse. About four miles away from the city through a flat glacial bed, a series of steep hills and coulees begins the approach to the ridge tops that make expansive farm fields and the dairy country around Westby. Not far from the Guadalupe Shrine and before the first hill climb, I see cars parked on both sides of the highway. Shorty's Grill has a large parking lot and is 1/4 mile off the highway. I suspect someone is having party in the suburban houses that are sprouting up in the fields adjacent to Highway 14. Getting closer to the line of parked vehicles, I see a woman standing on hay bales stacked on the trailer. Other people, including the SUV in front of us are pulling over. Many of the people are holding their cell phone cameras in the air. "What the hay...?" Dawn says, "There's a bear in that corn field." I look left and at the edge of the woods and 20 yards into the corn stubble a black bear is sitting on its haunches. Now that's newsworthy.

It made the trip worthwhile. All week I've been working my tail off skirting rain and inclement weather. The NWS in Lacrosse forecast a blizzard off the northern plains for today, Sunday. Six to eight inches of snow are expected, but the local blowhard at the town dump Saturday morning predicts snow starting in the evening totaling 12 inches. I've learned that the locals tend to exaggerate. "Run for your lives, there's weather a comin' " is the catch phrase for any such event. It even extends to local politics. When the town chairman knocked the town clerk down in an argument over electioneering, the local paper first reported that the town clerk resigned( it was the town chairman) . Then it was reported that the town clerk suffered broken ribs and lacerations ( his ribs were "bruised"). Then the news said the town chairman was facing felony assault charges. "Run for your lives there's a bogeyman a comin'."

Dawn and I hustle to get the oak and elm my son and I split in an Olympic 7 hour woodfest last week into the woodshed. We haul sand that washed into the cornfield below us in last year's June flood. It will be used as a base for concrete silo blocks were are laying below the kitchen window. We don't need another patio with a deck that runs the full length of the east side of the house, but the north side tends to collect runoff in heavy storms. A previous owner laid a four inch thick slab covered with dirt and gravel in the corner. It inclines toward the foundation making for a perfect rain collector. We put three layers of black plastic and throw three truck loads of wet sand to prepare the area. The Pooch treats it as his very own litter box until we cover our leveled, timbered and prepared block base with old paneling. Work until you drop or can't take anymore. We cancel plans to rake gravel off the lawns from the plows last winter expecting that Sunday, the plowman will set his plow too deep. He'll make two passes that extend three feet on either side of the gravel road.

I've covered the three B's. There is much more I could cover, but the snow has not developed to more than flurries. I've got three vehicles to change oil and filters. That gravel I didn't rake is still hiding in the grass. When the sun shines and the grass comes up, it will be harder to remove from the lawn. The fourth B. Hair blindness. A weekly news magazine the Readstown librarian toots as a good source of digested news has a small paragraph about research covering a new disorder. The cognitive neuroscientist says some men don't notice a spouse or girlfriend's new haircut because they don't see hair as part of the face. Go figure.