Sunday, May 31, 2009

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

The town dump opens at 10:00 am on Saturday morning. When we first moved here, I imagine a landfill pit in a pasture where junk is stacked according to category. In the pit would be smoking garbage. That's what I was used to in the past. Our dump is a steel building that has various bays for town equipment and large parking apron in front,usually mud filled, and a central storage area for two large dumpsters. Off to one side is an enclosed area with a small heater and window. The town chairman presided over informal meetings in this warming room. With the town chairman facing prosecution for "Elder Abuse" when it was alleged that he threw the 65 year old town clerk to the ground breaking several ribs, the town chairman was forced to resign. In the April election the son of one of the town board members is elected chair.

The run to the dump is a bi-monthly event for us. A chance to meet Kickapogians and get the latest news of the world through the eyes of rural America. The access ramp to the opening of the shed is clogged with pick-ups backed up to the door. On either side are an equal number of trucks. The noise of people dumping glass containers into a dumpster is deafening. "You serving doughnuts today?" I ask the father of the town chairman who's been picked to watch over the dumpsters and prevent outsiders or townsfolk from throwing nuclear waste into them. "Yeah, but they're all gone. You're too late." Darn. Then, I remember an Amish woman on Parsonage Road makes doughnuts on Saturdays.

Dawn and I unload the plastic garbage cans of sorted trash: aluminum cans, recyclable glass plastic and tin, garbage bags in clear plastic, a laundry waste basket for basement trash, two cardboard boxes filled with refuse from garden and outdoor work. I stack the plastic garbage cans in the truck and drive off for doughnuts. On Parsonage Road, a narrow gravel road right off the US highway, I spot Titus' brother with a beekeeping veil tending to hives near his fence line. His children stand in a row far enough away so they won't be stung . I wave. There's no sign in front of a single story white house with a circular drive and two tractor tires painted white holding a bed of petunias. Darn.

I remember last week's auction. There was a mention of another antique auction the following week. Same place, same time. "How much money ya got?" I ask Dawn. " Eleven dollars," she says. I have four left over from the forty dollars I made selling woodpecker doorknockers the previous week. I don't see any cars lining the road. Dawn reminds me that the auction site is further down the road past the goat farm with an unusual limestone outcropping behind the single story white farmhouse. Turning the corner, I can see their farm yard filled with a crowd of people outside and a full parking lot. There's one Amish buggy parked on the other side of the fence. We walk down the gravel drive toward the house and barn. In front of the barn, one of Titus' daughters is grilling hot dogs and bratwurst. We both wave and stop to chat. The perimeter of the barn is lined with tables. The tables are filled with bakery. The auctioneer inside is moving fast selling old tools. Dawn says, "His nasal twang would drive me nuts if I had to be here all day." Behind the auctioneer's podium are tables filled with auction items. We move past people sitting bench style, eating hot dogs and watching the bidding. Most of the items up for sale are what I'd expect at a farm auction. Old signs, glass milk bottles from the day a milkman came to your door, pulleys and tools, cast irons toys and lunch boxes. When the lunch boxes come up for bidding, the auctioneer starts at $25. "Old lunch boxes are hot right now," says Dawn. Most of the items offered for sale are featured in articles in Country Home magazine and the like where women decorate suburban houses to look like a farm kitchen. The problem is that they're too neat, too cute, too organized, too, too! No farm kitchen would be decorated in this fashion-the creation of an over active imagination of a housewife with nothing to do. Dawn says the trend nowadays is minimalism. Country kitsch with just a few antiques.

We are jaded artists. There's a missing feeling from the assemblage. No nostalgia, no presence just the feeling of greedy antique dealers hoping to sell Grandma's granite ware or earthen crocks for twice what they paid. We scan the bakery. I spot a pecan pie selling for $5 but remember I'd asked Titus' daughter to bake one next week. A round faced rosy cheeked Amish woman sits in front of a table with cheery kolachies. I peel off three of my four singles and hand them to her. Driving back home, I resist the temptation to sample a cherry Danish. A 10 minute trip to the dump takes over an hour. Isn't that what life in the country is all about?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Twenty Cent Rains

Dear Ella,
We had another of what the neighbor up the road calls, a twenty cent rain. The NWS out of Lacrosse forecast for the past few days was a 20% chance of rain. Elmer shortens it to 20 cents.

The Pooch was gone most of yesterday. When he did return he was owly as my mother would say. I vacillated between leaving him out all night to fend for himself with the local lions and tigers and bears. Then, I started calling him. My last trick is to walk up to the neighbors and talk to Ron, which I did. I notice he has a new riding mower. We discuss the new mower which he recently took on a maiden voyage. I mention that I'm getting impatient with the Pooch's bipolar behavior. Some days you can't pry him off your leg and others, he's gone all day. If I mention buying the friendly white horse Ron keeps in the back corral, I'll find the Pooch waiting for me by the deck. The Pooch dislikes the noise from riding mowers. The rationale is that he finds a quiet spot and hides out until the noise is over. Ron's test ride before dusk keeps the Pooch away from their place. True to form, the cat pops up from behind the deck as I walk in the house for the last time. He walks by me when I hold the deck storm door open. I thought he'd be hungry missing his pre-lunch snack, lunch, afternoon tea, late afternoon dry food crunch and pre-dinner warm up. His owly behavior keeps him walking to the sidewalk where he plops down on his side and rolls in the sand washed there from the patio under construction. I have many tools to lure a cat inside. I shake a bag of Good N' Crunchy treats and the cat follows me inside. I don't even say good night to the little turd. In the morning, there's the usual wake up call and short nap at the foot of the bed.

Remember Jorge? I have seen him once in the past year. In Lacrosse Dawn and I run into him and a girlfriend at our favorite Mexican restaurant. When he mentions her name everything becomes perfectly clear.

At the propane co-op I talk with the office manager about gas prices and the coming year. We're on a budget account. Instead of putting $1200 into a contract which freezes the price of propane, we pay a monthly charge. The price of propane is also contracted at the summer price. We just don't have to shell out lots of money. The office manager tells me we haven't used the minimum amount required for the budget program. But, she says, "Since you're a good customer, I'll waive that rule." Good customer means she's still thinking of me as a board member. I tell her, "I'll give you some good gossip in return." She knows Jorge and asks about him frequently. He's retired and once when he hadn't been around for a long time, the office manager asked him, " Where've ya been, Jorge?" "In jail," is his reply. She laughs at the absurdity of the statement.

You remember, Ella, that University professor and the African dance program we attended. The dancers all huddle together. They're bent over whispering. A narrator or one of the dancers, I don't remember which, says loudly, "Gossip is the glue of the fabric of society." I'll always remember how we laughed at that statement because it is so true in the world of the America Indian. The professor was chairman of the Native American studies department. I tell the office manager that I'll spread some more glue.

Jorge is dating. He tells me on a mountain bike ride down country lanes that a woman he met at the gym called him sixteen times in one day. I caution him. He also tells me that she is married. More cautionary remarks from me. When Dawn and I meet Jorge at the restaurant, Jorge spills out her name. It's the same woman. She's cute and about twenty years younger than Jorge. There's quite a few "oh my's" and "you're kidding" when I relate more Jorge gossip. The other woman in the office looks at us and shakes her head.

More to come.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Skydiving From Grace


Usually I e-mail my friend Ella separately. She'll send me back an excerpt of her life with two daughters, one a freshman in college and the other still in high school . Her business consultant husband keeps me updated frequently with a newsletter about focus and business philosophy. He's in high demand as a speaker because of his unique point of view as a businessman and visually impaired person. He skis, drives a stock car and has my admiration for safely operating a chain saw despite his blindness. Both were dead set against the Iraq war from the beginning. Rather than sit on their cans complaining like most of us, they stood at busy intersections in the city with signage indicating their displeasure at Dubya's Folly. They put their beliefs in action frequently traveling to Central America in a church program assisting a sister church in Guatemala. The daughters take time from their lives earning money for school by working in Appalachia and various other US based initiatives for the poor. Today's rain will give way to sun. I'll not have time for more than this post.

Dear Ella,
Dawn brings home old magazines from the retirement home. I'll grab one and, out of habit, thumb through from back to front. Reading backward poses a few problems. The National Geographic I thumbed through this morning has an article about sunken treasure. I marvel at small pottery bowls , urns and elaborate figurines. It isn't until I reach the beginning that I learn the ship is Chinese, constructed entirely without nails and approximately 1200 years old. The point being that when I post excerpts from life in Kickapoo Center at the turn of the century, I'm thumbing through experiences that happened hours, days or weeks ago.

I set up my new Little Chief smoker in the open area between the house and garage. I shoot two digital pictures of it in action to e-mail the kids who gifted me the smoker. The larger format picture shows smoke billowing from the shiny aluminum body. The jpeg I send to my son-in-law has a few wisps escaping the box. I'm sure both are on high speed Internet, unlike me, but I'm eager to smoke ribs and a loin roast to share with my Amish friends. At the end of the summer Titus and I will build a large concrete block smokehouse to accommodate hams and bacon. My Little Chief is great for smaller cuts.

The smoker comes with alder chips. I've never heard of using alder for smoking meat. I decide to go to Viroqua for mesquite and hickory chips, some rosemary and to deliver the pork to the Amish. It costs $2.58 for less than an ounce of rosemary leaves in a tin can. In Arizona the house was surrounded by rosemary. Besides functioning as a barrier against witches( a Middle Ages concept) it furnished culinary herb and made the area around the house fragrant. The trip to the city takes two hours since I run into numerous friends and acquaintances while shopping.

I putter in the afternoon. Four, 80 foot rows of onions are filled with weeds in areas I can't rototill. Dawn hand weeds for hours on Saturday while I weed in segments to forestall an aching back. The ribs I smoked for dinner are in a slow cooker on the kitchen counter. Besides sprinkling them with rosemary I add a single onion across the top-really a scallion- that I'd mistakenly pulled while weeding. When Dawn gets home from work, it's time to take a break. She gets the mail and walks to the front field. "Pooch, mama is home," I yell out. He comes out of a hiding place to greet Dawn. The three of us discuss the day's events. The Pooch is quiet.

Suddenly, the Pooch streaks out of the grass between the spinach and herb gardens. We're startled by his quick flight. There's shrieking and squawking. An image comes to mind of the chicken at the organic apple orchard on Turkey Ridge that was attacked by a hawk as Dawn and I survey the rural countryside. Then, robins and, amazingly, blackbirds appear out of nowhere. It a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Squawking, shrieking birds dive bomb the Pooch as he scampers away with something in his mouth. For a cat that is skittish at the least sound, a pen dropping on the kitchen floor, the backfire of a truck, he ambles away as if there is nothing amiss. We are too surprised to do anything but stare at the unfolding drama.

Later, I deduce that the robins were taking a youngster out for a pre-flight check off. The mother has a nest in the pine tree near the garage. She spends her days clucking like a broody hen. The Pooch seizes an opportunity. He acts upon instinct and we are unable to thwart his behavior. Scolding him or worse, keeping him penned in during the day would be pointless. I don't have any sympathy for the field mice he catches, however, both Dawn and I are saddened by the robin's loss.

I go back to weeding onions while Dawn picks spinach for dinner.

Keep in touch.


Thursday, May 28, 2009


I wish I were tall.

I'm a cat. Some would say an ordinary cat. I beg to differ. I have muted gray stripes, a nicely camouflaged white face and an extraordinary raccoon striped tail. My name is Pucci. Actually that's the name my owners gave me. Most often I'm called The Pooch. Something to do with a latent desire to own a dog. My real name is Salvatore Anthony Travolta? My mother was fond of the actor. Own ? They think they own me, yet once I cross the highway into the pine woods on the other side, I could follow the Kickapoo River and be on another journey. But I don't want to start a journey. I'm happy and so are they.

I don't remember when I was born. I led a normal kitten life. Then, on a cold November evening I was tossed from a car on highway 131 by the Freymiller Farm. These folks have four dogs and three cats, therefore I wasn't allowed inside. Except at mealtimes, I could do without smelly dogs. I got used to sleeping under their porch and hunting mice in the barn. When I could, I sneak dog food left outside for the pooch kept in a fenced kennel in the front yard. February it turned cold. Ron forgot to feed me. I was really hungry. My stomach hurt. The neighbors down the lane left a pan of scraps for a black and white feral cat I'd see sneaking around the Freymiller farm. After dark the temperature dipped well below zero. I could smell the old bacon in the pan. In a moment that will be forever marked in the annals of synchronicity, I slipped down to the neighbors and tried to get a bite of the scraps in the pan. Dinner was frozen solid. I'm starving. The light over the back door comes on and I jump for cover. Then I see and smell a chicken breast. Fresh and warm. I forget my shyness and cautiously approach the chicken breast. It is not a delusion brought on by starvation. I eat the whole breast, bones and all. The door opens, another chicken part appears and I allow myself to be picked up and brought inside.

It's all history now. I'm slowly training these people. Their names are Bert and Bev Bubnick. They're caring people. The only animal they had before I came into the picture was a beautiful black Persian cat named Sueshe. She died at nineteen in a place far from Wisconsin. Her pictures line Bev's studio because she was Bev's cat. Rescued from starvation in a garage when the owner died. I'm particularly attached to Bert. I call him Pork Chop because he feeds me. I sleep on Bev's lap in the evening while they watch quirky movies. Bev's lap accommodates me well. When the gunfire or shouting on the television becomes too loud, I amble off to a comfortable Danish, ergonomically designed chair in Bev's studio.

I'm really intelligent and I know how to spell. Once, to watch Bert and Bev's eyes pop, I put my paw on Bert's arm. The two are sitting at the kitchen table. I'm half listening to their inane chatter. Bert says, "Hey Bev, watch this." Then he looks at me and goes "pssst". "Psst always gets my attention because it sounds like a hiss. "Psst. Pooch. Put your paw on my arm," Bert says. This will be fun I say to myself. I lift my left paw and place it over his forearm. It gets me lots of hugs, kisses, treats and scratches in places I can't reach. You're wondering about the spelling of wish.

I call them whishes because they go by so fast. If you don't concentrate, focus your whole attention on the wish, nothing will happen. Whish...Then it's gone.

Bert picks me up. He holds me in front of the kitchen window so I can see everything in the huge front yard all the way to the dense cover of wild day lilies and thorn bushes over at the east fence line. Then he moves to the north window. I see trucks whizzing by on the highway, a two acre garden and a sand pit. The Bubnicks filled in an old house foundation with sand with the intention of building a house over the sand. Right now there's the skeleton of a drying tent. In the hot months of summer, 300 pounds of onions cover drying tables under a white tent. The sand pit is my own personal litter box. I love to dig for moles and scatter sand. It's fun to roll in the sand too.

If I stand on my hind legs I can see better. Being eleven inches tall has its limitations. In winter it's the worst. I cannot see over snow drifts. Once I got into a fight with the black and white cat. I showed him a thing or two about fighting and he/she ran off in the snow. It was so deep the black and white cat looked like a porpoise leaping over waves in the ocean. I can use the privet hedge for cover if I'm stalking birds and it helps if I duck down low so they don't see me, but...

I wish I was tall.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


On the downhill slide after my birthday, a busy day of phone calls, a trip to the Big City and the usual:laundry, varmints which includes a pesky mole determined to undermine prime cabbage and garden fine tuning, it's returned to subnormal here in Kickapoo Center.

The area is experiencing a Seattle Rain-slow and steady without the need of umbrella or protection. The golf course, as Titus once described this place, has turned to rough in two days of drizzle. The cabbage plant wilted from mole tunneling now stands straight and tall, eager to jump out of the soil. I've eaten spinach for breakfast lunch and dinner. The Pooch comes in from the rain. He announces his entry just like his morning greeting- a single, monosyllabic high pitched yow without the me attached to it. I can leave the back door open for him in rainy weather because the flies and mosquitoes don't fly in the rain. I dry him off with a white terry cloth towel from Sam's Club. He slept on the red shag area rug in the upstairs bathroom last night. Dawn says she thinks he likes the rug because it's cooler than our bed. He waits until 6:00 before jumping on the bed to nuzzle and lick me. He one smart cat. Once he gets me out of bed, the next task is to get me to fix breakfast for him. He sits under the arbor vitae tree at the corner of the deck. While my spinach omelet is fluffing in the cast iron skillet, I chop raw chicken gizzards for him. Then, I open the kitchen window,"Pooch, your breakfast is ready." I see him scamper from under the tree and onto the sidewalk between the house and the privet hedge. It takes him awhile to get back inside because there are mandatory stops along the way to sniff and prod bugs, rub against the open door marking it as Pooch territory and thinking again about knocking something over in the entrance way just for fun.

Without the distraction of cable TV, I read. You could say I'm a rabid reader. Wisconsin Public radio has a noontime segment called, A Chapter a Day." I catch a brief segment working in the garage. I was WPR deprived for weeks when the plug on the radio broke. The host is reading excerpts from Driftless by David Rhodes. As the name implies, the novel is set in this area called the Driftless Region since the southwest heel of Wisconsin is missed by glaciers during the ice age. Hence, no drift of gravel, sand, eskers or moraines. Just coulees and steep hills. The eighty-some year old head librarian in the small town six miles south is a pistol and a fount of energy. When I suggested ordering the book last week, she goes to her computer and looks up the title and author. In order to cut shipping costs, she also orders Alexander McCall Smith's latest book about Botswana, the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and Precious Ramotswe called Tea Time For The Traditionally Built.

I wonder if the "after birthday let-down" causes me to well up when I read the jacket notes about Driftless. David Rhodes is an up and coming author with three published works. Then he is paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 1977. Driftless takes ten years to write. I imagine the other twenty years an uphill struggle after the accident. I read the prologue. The setting for the novel is a small town called Words. It could be anyone one of the small towns in the tri-county area-Liberty, Esofea, Beaches Corners, Avalanche, Cataract, or Seneca. I'm jealous of his success . At the same time I know the dedication and determination it takes to publish.

I'm making a list for a trip to the bank, Wal-Mart and the hardware store. The only reason I shop Wal-Mart is that I'm cheap and poor. That's the reason most everyone in the area, old retired people, dirt poor farmers, young married couples working for $6.75 an hour- the bottom feeders in rural America. I dress up going to Wal-Mart. That means I wear clean blue jeans and a shirt without an offensive slogan. Only the Amish are better dressed than me in Wal-Mart. A secondary reason to look "decent" is that many of the employees are friends from the time I worked in the dairy department. A 15 minute shopping list takes an hour. Conversation to catch up rules. I also have a mental list of tasks I want to complete. I briefly consider blowing off another segment of Kickapoo Center Follies.

There are many things the readers of this blog are unaware and lacking in information. The structure of a blog inhibits details and descriptive elements. I censor everything. One flash I have eating breakfast is to go back to self publishing. It goes to the same place as the segment called, Allo, Allo Is Anyone There ?- a tribute to the foibles and inadequacies of Allopathic medicine. The time and expense of sending out paper copies is a big deterrent. Other segments I've stifled: Unlax- Bugs Bunny in the country. Rosie and Rainbow, a segment from the Hippie years living across the road from a 100 member commune. Penelope subtitled Penny-elope, the true story of marrying a Prima Donna high school cheerleader, I Wish My Sister Was My Mother a character substitution in which my mystic and crazy step mother is replaced by her daughter- a carbon copy in everything except the craziness. No, I am not psycho-neurotic. My step sister could have saved me amazing amounts of childhood terror. I should follow Navajo restriction and never mention my step mother now that's she's gone. Who could forget my hard working saint of a step-Dad standing in the kitchen telling her she's "full of !@#$." Matthew if you're reading this, you have no idea how your phone call on my birthday hit a deep note telling me, your step Dad, how much you loved me. My left eye twitches. I have to blink several times to see the monitor.

I've temporarily lost contact with the outside world. The Pooch has visited and disappeared out the back door, making sure his Pork Chop is still here. He needs dry food and I need to pick up a bag of compost for Dawn's upside down tomato planters for the retirement home. The picture you ask? The number in the center was my auction number for the recent Amish Quilt auction last weekend. I mention this as a way of nudging karmic balance. Let me explain, briefly.

Dawn is on-call for emergencies at the retirement home on a rotating basis. She was on-call last weekend. Two emergencies pop up in the middle of the auction. Then dark menacing clouds bring rain in the fore noon. I attempt to bid on a Titus quilt. I raise my hand to bid when the price seems to flatten out at $180. The auctioneer and his Amish helpers don't see my raised hand because the bobble head in front of me jumps up and down to allow a dip-stick in the same row to graze for coffee or doughnuts or pie, whatever? Yesterday, I drive to their farm for eggs. Titus tells me a woman from West Allis named Sandy walks off with $500 worth of merchandise without paying. The phone number she gives is phony. The Amish are too trusting and don't verify driver's licenses, addresses:basic information. So Sandy in West Allis watch out for the cosmic slap. You defrauded simple people raising money for their non-profit school in an intentional way. May the slap be hard and painful. I volunteer to check driver's licenses of those not familiar to the Amish. I quip, "I'll also do blood tests."

Friday, May 22, 2009


The local library specializes in mystery, suspense and thrillers. Many are detective stories. I sort through the good, bad and terrible. They all have several things in common: A main plot, a side romance, a fallen hero, lots of investigative filler and, if they're a New York Times bestseller, they will have multiple side plots and a Deja Vu or a flashback.

This is the Kickapoo Center version with little or no descriptive element. I'm on top of farming for now, but I'm behind in other areas. Some of my days start at five in the morning and end at seven in the evening. I've left dinner prep to Dawn.

The local dairy farmer is busy planting corn in the fields around us. An endless stream of farm machinery runs down our dead end farm lane. He hires the co-op in Westby and other ne'er do wells to perform specialized tasks like spreading chemicals or spraying for weeds. He's a agri-businessman with little environmental concern. Short term money goals are prominent in his decision making. At 8:45 a few evenings ago Dawn and I head outside to confront a pickup with two men speeding down the lane. "What's your name," Dawn asks brusquely. I repeat the license plate number. After hearing a lame excuse about checking the fields that have been planted, I add, "bull!@#" and call the sheriff. Forty five minutes later the sheriff shows up. He fourteen going on fifteen. He takes down all our concern about safety, residential area, late night trips with two kids looking for anything not tied down and offers little help other than going to talk to the farmer who hires these yahoos. Both here and in Arizona our property taxes are thousands lower than our suburban Milwaukee home. Here we have few services and a sheriff that could star in Green Acres. I keep a baseball bat near the garage door for "self protection." If necessary I'll protect myself by smashing headlights of late night truck runners. At the next town meeting we'll petition for a warning sign and speed ordinance. Should be fun.

The Pooch disappears. He scoffs at the raw catfish breakfast and strolls outside. He sits on the woodpile collecting a new batch of wood ticks and watching for mice. I hope he is smart enough to avoid the snakes. When I start up the rototiller in the lawn shed, he runs for cover. He's gone for ten hours. I walk to the neighbors and ask if they've seen him. The short answer is no. One of their smaller two year old horses comes to the fence and looks at me with big, gooey eyes. I rub its nose. Maybe we need a horse. Dawn says, "I know zip about horses." The Pooch shows up as I walk to the garage to toss cans in the recycling containers. Thirty mile an hour winds blow the garbage cans across the lawn. The Pooch is cat-chalant. I pick him up and toss him inside. He avoids me the rest of the night. We're both ticked off.

I spend $75 for new garden hose and a fancy metal sprinkler. The old hoses are stretched across the road to the front field. I don't worry about leaving them as farm machinery repeatedly runs across the rubber hose. For dinner we have baby spinach in a mixed greens salad. In a restaurant this would be one of the $9.00 salads with the thousand dollar name. It takes the sting out of spending money on farm equipment. The next night we have cooked spinach and I find two perfect little radishes growing in the potatoes. A small gift from over the winter. The peas are climbing the trellis I made when I sowed two kinds of edible podded peas. I congratulate them for their smartness. The cukes are emerging. I hope they see the fancy climbing trellis I made for them. Even the peppers which took a hit from high winds and cold are sending up new leaves. I ask the cabbages to give them a high five.

The hummingbirds are fighting over control of the feeder. I add a second to disperse their anger. I may have to add a third. Robins are dooking it out on the lawn and blackbirds are mating in the trees. Unusual bird songs ring out in the backyard. An oriole is attracted to the nectar feeder. I buy oranges but don't have any grape jam. The geese pass noisily overhead in pairs or small V's. Sandhill cranes croak down at the river bottoms. Small sparrows chase each other in a whirly-twirly fashion. Yellow throats call "witchty-witchity- witichy" from bushes. Every time I mow, I find another hawk feather I choose to think of as a special gift.

Dawn's father has a heart attack( he's 87) and blocked arteries. She spends all day Tuesday with him in the hospital trying to keep him from pulling out his I.V.'s. At night the nurses wake the both of them up frequently. Shift changes and blood pressure readings are the reason. FOL (fear of lawsuit) is the other. She leaves right after he goes into surgery on Tuesday afternoon. He's discharged on Thursday. I'm happy because more people die in hospitals from infectious disease and in our area, raw, untrained personnel. Dawn tells me of some people that she comes in contact with. Medical and caring services use a 24 hour military clock to track time so there is no mistaking am or pm. Some of the staff cannot decode 1500 hours. Sad.

This weekend there's an Amish quilt auction. It starts at 7:00 am with a pancake breakfast. We're going there to learn. I wish I had more money. I've seen some of the quilts that Titus' family makes. Behind the old house Titus' wife is talking with a man standing by a charcoal grill-the big industrial kind made from a barrel. There are chairs stacked on the porch of the new house. A rusty wheelbarrow planted with flowers looks like an auction item delivered early. Titus has been scarce of late.

Side romance? Number one son's former girlfriend is stalking him. He plans a pub crawl for his birthday. Number two son is coming up for my birthday. Not wanting to crawl through farmers bars in town, I plan a dinner at Piggy's restaurant. Dawn says it's closed that day. We may have to settle for Buzzard Billy's " Flying Carp Inn".

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Note to sAM

Chompin' at the bit...

It's after nine. The sink is full of dishes from last night's walleye dinner and this morning's confetti waffles. In spite of the name, they were tasty and delicious. Walnuts, craisins, chocolate chunks, butter,eggs, milk and a dash of pure vanilla. Dawn leaves for a four hour drive across the state to visit her Dad. He's in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Big black clouds loom in the east, south and west. There's no indication of rain in the forecast. Last night I collapse into my recliner after another Olympian event of small farming. I didn't finish cultivating. If it rains, the tender crops-squash, pumpkins and gourds will go into the ground. I'm getting their beds ready for planting. The Pooch helps by pooping in the soft soil I rototill. When it comes to weeds in the early part of the season, you have to "hit 'em hard, fast and low" to quote my high school football coach.

A woman in Michigan whose blog I follow, leaves me a nice comment. On Sunday afternoon, I leave a comment reply and e-mail her similar regards. Both the blog format and especially, the space allowed for comments, is difficult for a motor mouth like me. In one of her recent posts, she mentions "fuss" at work. She's a teacher. Fuss is my label. I have to tell her of my experiences as an inner city teacher for two tours of duty and a total of 15+ years, longer if you include my year and a half as a substitute teacher. The total time as a teacher would and could extend longer if you include working with adults in some of the classes I organized and taught with Dawn's help as part of the art and craft business I started when I left teaching. I'll be a teacher until I'm buried and after that too, if I need to come back and haunt some people ( that's a joke).

Teacher's love turmoil.

At least that's my inner city experience. Out here, I avoid substituting because they give me the tough assignments none of the regular substitutes will handle. The kids here are pussycats compared to city kids. Even the worst special needs and behaviorally challenged would have a hard time one-upping some of the children I taught over the years. Thus, local teachers are what I'd term conservative, staid and for the most part low key. The substitute dispatcher gives me an assignment for one-on-one teaching of kid sent out here from the city to a group home who got expelled. She uses the term naughty to explain his behavior. I stifle a guffaw.

At the beginning of the school year there's an orientation for teachers and substitutes. The principal of the middle school tells the audience of a disturbing problem with her daughter. They take away her cell phone because she sent over 1,000 text messages in one month's time . They're aghast. I'm concerned because it's part of a trend with young people to communicate via abbreviations, short sentences, blurbs and so on. Language skills are diminishing.

One of the schools I did a ten year stint in has a serious problem with theft, vandalism and muggings. In one year 36 teachers had their cars broken into. Two cars were stolen. One substitute ran so fast to avoid being mugged, her shoes flew off as she ran back to the safety of the school building. As an aside, if you lived in the inner city, were poor and saw shiny new cars parked around a brick school building wouldn't you think of it as a candy shop? Yes, it's a serious problem. A bigger problem was the churning of energy that started with the school secretaries and worked it's way up to the staff. A friend and professor who happens to be Native American once described in a class on Native American Dreams and Visions how a person can attrack negativity to themselves by their thoughts and actions. I saw it happen first hand. Sam, you were right to stay out of the fray.

Oh, I forgot to add laundry to the above list of tasks. Which also reminds me of one of Sam's posts about splurging and buying Tide instead of a lower price detergent. I know it's a small matter, but it really impressed me. Every time I add a cup of that fluffy off-brand detergent to my whites, I wonder if they'd be cleaner if I broke down and used Tide. Then, perhaps I wouldn't have to add 20 Mule Team Borax.

So, if I don't leave a comment it doesn't mean your words don't leave an impression. They do. I'm glad to be part of a larger community of people who like to share events in their lives.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Twelve Hour Shifts

"That's it," I yell to Dawn who's covering baby beet plants at the far end of the field. At dusk I ask her to escort the Pooch inside. "I'll be inside in a moment." I shrug off making 26 small cardboard box covers for transplants. Instead, I cover them with plastic Dixie cups. The Pooch was absent all afternoon. I expected him to find cover from gusty winds that threw the empty garbage cans across the yard. By 7:15 the sun is lower in the west and I'm getting worried. Unusual behavior for a cat that likes to come in and grab a bite to eat, take a nap and follow me around while I work in the garden. "Is that the cat near the steps?" Dawn asks. At 8 pm he makes his appearance to help with the preparations for the upcoming frost advisory. He sticks his paw down a hole left from a garden stake I'd pulled. Then he walks over bedsheets covering herb transplants. He finds one especially comfortable and watches us work.

This morning I see him ambling along peony plants in the back forty heading for the neighbors. As he gets to the property line I call out. "Where are You going?" He stops. Oh, oh, caught in the act of disappearing. He trots toward me and I walk to him. Maybe he'll show me his hiding place. As I stand by the horse corral waiting for him to make his move, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier raising horses. All one has to do is throw them a bale of hay, make sure there's enough water and, perhaps, ride around the flats down by the river. Pipe dream.

Saturday is dump day. We're set to dive the dumpster for milk jugs and water jugs. I bring twine to tie them together. After a brief conversation with the dump master sharing weather information and other important facts, such as how to anchor a milk jug in high winds, we leave with 30+ plastic jugs, a few black plastic plant pots and three white plastic pails. I tie them to a fence post in the garden. Later, while mowing the back forty I see Dawn running after milk jugs escaping toward the river. I count plants and containers. I'm a big fan of insurance. Not the kind you have when there an auto accident and then they cancel you. The kind where you do one thing and the opposite happens. I know the cabbages are frost tolerant. If I don't cover the recent transplants. they'll wilt and die.

I make 40 cardboard orange boxes I'd saved from Wal-Mart. The boxes that say, made from real oranges, not from fake oranges. We've got 88 plastic Dixie cups, 2 rolls of landscape fabric, old bedsheets, a 50 foot roll of black plastic covering a half finished patio, clear plastic paint drop cloths used in the kitchen remodel, assorted odd plastic covering art work in the barn, rags, old drapes, and an assortment of wood fence post ends, boards, pails of sand, rocks, landscape timbers to weigh down the crop covers- all of which lies wet and frost covered in the grassy strips next to the 10X80 garden plots.

The Pooch grunts and moans occasionally on the foot of the bed. I stick my nose next to his and he licks it. Big yawn. From his 5:00 am greeting meow to soft sighs at 6:30, I cover my head and try not to think about the garden. At 7 I'm dressed and checking the thermometer under cover between the house and garage. It says -thirty degrees. The radio called for temperatures in the high twenties. For an hour I uncover what we covered 12 hours earlier, inspecting for possible frost damage. Only the basil looks wilted. One cabbage plant got crushed by it's plastic cup cover. The sun has warmed the ground covers. Everything is dripping wet. Water runs off the roof of the bird feeder. Hummingbirds that stoked up on nectar while robins grabbed that last worm in the twilight are back to the feeder, luxuriating in the warm sun. By the end of the uncovering process, the temperature is in the forties.

On the weather map, the two large H' s have moved toward the east. Most of the country is looking at clear, sunny weather. There's another low coming from California. Predicted low temperatures start with the mid forties and rise to the fifties by midweek. Warm and dry. Time to get out the watering cans .

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oh, Deer.

The varmint alert is over and earlier warnings have gone from fire engine red down to mossy green. I wake up early at 5:45. Whenever I'd get up to use the bathroom, I'd frequently peer out the upstairs windows at the area in front of the barn illuminated by two floodlights. Nothing appeared to be moving. I shelve the idea of getting a dog. The live trap, baited with bacon and cat food is empty. The Pooch hears me moving about downstairs and follows me into the entryway. I slip on an old sweater and my muck boots.

Yesterday something dug up a corner of the corn garden. I laid landscape fabric as a test along the south side of this patch and planted leftover cabbages in slits cut in the fabric. My experience with the black fabric is that weeds like to grow on top of the fabric. The varmint dug up a corner to get at bugs and worms under the fabric. It also pawed a three foot area along the chives plot. I'm convinced this is a possum. The behavior is a bit odd. Digging at the stake at the end of the wax bean row, the possum ignored more beans in the row. The Pooch is following my trail in the garden plots. I check the cabbage transplants. Disheartened because so many were drooping in yesterday's sun, I wrote off 50% of the harvest. Now at six am in the cool, dewy morning all transplants are perky. Their leaves are poised up toward the morning sun. Along the garden plot where new buttercruch lettuce is beginning to appear are tracks. Deep tracks. In one track near the end of the row, I see a bunch of fur. Guard hair from a deer. I look around at all the crows and weird birds and Heckle & Jeckles with cigars drooping from their maws. "Nice job of scaring off the deer." I mutter.

On the highway a little bit to the west of the barn, crows are jostling on the gravel apron. A doe lies on her side. I surmise the doe was probably the one grazing in the garden the past few days. No possum or raccoon would pass up the teat in the live trap. "That'll learn ya," I sneer. I walk back to the house.

Anatomy of decision making: I stand at the rear entrance, musing. Fresh deer road kill? Am I that poor, I need to eat road kill? Dawn doesn't care for venison. What about all that venison jerky and sausage? Do I need to call the sheriff? By the time I call the sheriff and what not, the deer will be rotting and bloated. Can I drag it off without anybody seeing me? What if they catch me? I've got a morning of processing chicken broth and meat scraps from the backs and necks. I don't have the time to butcher a doe. What to do? What to do?

I drag the doe to the barn. There's no traffic. Inside the barn, I examine it. Poking the ribs I can find no broken bones. The neck is intact. No limbs are broken. On the highway there was a small amount of blood coming from the muzzle and a little green bile. I poke some more. The stomach is curiously distended. It appears to be bloated. I imagine gutting it and a huge blast of gas escaping. Eeyew. The Pooch is curious and tries to sneak in the barn. I walk to the house and he follows. When I attempt to pick him up, he hisses at me. Whoa, that's weird behavior for a normally lovable tabby. He jumps down, I pick him up. He hisses and crawls under the woodpile. Strange. I lure him out from under the woodpile, pat him on the head. He appears to be a little sheepish for getting angry with me. Of course, he follows me back to the barn. I chase him back to the house and drag the doe back up to the highway. This critter died from eating something poisonous or possibly died from CWD ( chronic wasting disease). No one drives down the highway, but Dawn stands at the upstairs windows watching my antics. I quickly wash my hands and go back the making coffee. I tell the Pooch to stay away from the highway. If he can read my mind when I pick him up to put him in the house then he read my thoughts about the highway.

Before I go to the blog, I check the weather. The low temperatures on Saturday have been revised down from 35 to frost and freezing temperatures. After my morning of processing chicken broth ( ten chickens cut into legs, thighs, breasts and wings fill a basket in the bottom of the upright freezer) I'll need to make preparations for covering all the peppers and tender plants. This is no small feat.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

No Picture, No Pork

In the days I self published little 10 page tomes, I'd send them off at anywhere between 55 cents and a dollar in postage to friends. One couple who lives on the outskirts of our former city would respond with a comment, "Oh the pictures were really neat." I referred to them once as The Living Dead and grew to regret the comment. One had to admire their sense and stability. Once visiting them, a drunken neighbor's wife burst into their apartment in the central city walked through their living room uttering, "boring, boring, boring." The scars of that association run deep.

When we pass by the road to their fancy suburban, architecturally unique, hilltop home Dawn and I wave. The old man retired at 55 from a teaching position. His middle school art classes must have been unusually loud because he wears a hearing aid. The health insurance after 25 years in teaching game was good enough to pay for a sub-miniature model completely hidden in his left ear. You'd never know that he wears one, except when driving with the couple. Then, the wife in the front seat as a back seat driver, points dramatically with her index finger in front of the dashboard to the direction he is supposed to follow.

Even now, I feel like no one will read this drivel if I don't include a picture. The time it takes to down load a medium format picture is quite long because of my miserly refusal to have have high speed Internet. In the fifteen minutes it takes for the download, I lose my train of thought and think of one thousand different tasks I should be doing. I plan carefully for the lag time by brushing my teeth, feeding the cat, washing dishes or taking a dump. So today's picture treat will come at the end of the travelogue. Because of the blogger format it initially is placed at the beginning of the blog. That's fine with me.

The morning whizzes by. When I come in for a ten minute break, it's already lunch. I've transplanted cabbages and completed the varmint protection procedures, except for baiting the live trap. In the afternoon, I plant Kandy Corn, the name for the extra sweet hybrid of sweet corn. Twelve rows running east to west, approximately 30 feet long takes me three sweaty hours. The denim jacket I'd worn earlier is too warm, even though there is no sun and the temperature is in the mid-sixties. I plant two seeds per 4-6 inch spaceing following the helpful hints on the package. If they both propagate, one plant will support the other in our strong, devil winds. Until dinner, I putter as the day's blog title suggests. Approaching dusk I call the Pooch. "Wanna go for a walk?" I ask. His raccoon tail is up and he's ready for adventure. I don't tell him it's a con to get him inside. The hills around us are shrouded in that ethereal, yellow light and mist. It's going to let loose any minute. We circle the property, say "hi" to the horses and are in the home stretch when big drops start falling. "Come on Pooch let's run." I dash for the back entrance. He runs for shelter under the deck. His paws send clumps of mud flying as he skids around the arbor vitae and ducks for cover. I open to deck door calling him. He knows he'll be drenched if he tries to come inside. The highest gutter on the second story is clogged. Rainwater cascades over the edge, splashes off the roof of the addition and floods the sidewalk. When the deluge turns to mist, the Pooch strolls inside.

Today is Chicken Day. The Amish will be butchering chickens ordered two months ago. They'll have thirty to forty ready by the time I finish breakfast. Ten are for us and the rest go to a long list of customers. I'll need to clean and prepare the summer kitchen for cutting and freezing. There are remnants plant trays, potting soil, fertilizer and mud clots on the floor from the hot frame in the south window. Overflow from the kitchen remodel needs to be organized on the old counter and cabinets I moved to this back of the garage enclave. I walk to the garden twice. Once to check the live trap( no varmint) and once to check cabbage transplants. The cabbages are wilting slightly. I look at puffy billowing cumulus clouds in the east and wish for more cloud cover, but please, no more deluge. The poor sots are wrenched from their happy home where they raise their leaves every morning to the sun, thrown into another hole with half their roots, almost drowned in water and then baked by the sun. I worry about them. I boot up the computer and the National Weather site for Lacrosse.

I look at a forecast for a 50% chance of rain Friday and-no it can't be- a low temperature of 35 degrees on Saturday night. More dumpster diving for plastic milk jugs. When I scan a back-to- nature magazine Dawn brings home, you know the ones that tell you how to make a root cellar, raise goats for fun and profit and how to live off 25 cents a day, the weather forecaster says possible frost after May 12Th from low fronts that drift across the Mississippi River. I scoff. Scoffing is only part of what I do. I wonder why I do this.

Addendum:If I ever wondered whether there was/is a God, I'm sure my faith is secure now. I click on the "add image" icon in the menu bar above the post. Nothing. Nada. Click again. Nothing. I have approximately 30 minutes to clean the summer kitchen. Fifteen of those thirty would be wasted waiting for the download. This is way to weird for me. I'll hit "publish post" and be on my way.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


It rained overnight. Early this morning, it's lightly misting. I leave the deck door slightly ajar so the Pooch can come in and out at will. I fix my breakfast and offer Pucci bacon ends and $1.00 a can wet cat food. He's scattered his dry cat food over the kitchen floor. He decides to eat last night's leftover, something too gross for me to describe in my pre-lunch mode. I'm scheduling a morning in which I can putter.

I step out on the deck before I go upstairs to change into work clothing. The sky is totally overcast but the mist has subsided. It's delightfully cool. Pairs of geese fly overhead honking. An anonymous bird is singing a song that translates to you're a pervert ( I swear that's what it sounded like) or a bird version of tweet, tweet, tweet. Mother Earth is fully in bloom. My brain functions around an ongoing garden plan. It's the part right next to what's there to eat? and I'm horny. The past few warm, sunny days has everyone in the area working the fields. Yesterday, I planted the remaining crops except corn and carrots. I'll wait until more farmers in the area are planting field corn. The conditions are perfect for sowing tiny carrot seeds in moist warm soil. I'd also reminded myself that transplanting cabbages is ideal in rainy cool weather.

It's cool enough for a denim jacket. I grab a hoe, garden rake and seeds and walk to the far end of the front field. There's space next to the wax beans. Overnight something has dug around the wood stake marking the end of the bean row. Seeds are scattered about. Varmint alert, priority one. I jump in the pick up and drive to the neighbors to get my live trap. Then I open the barn and get all the folk art crows and other strange animals I've created over the winters, place them in the truck bed and scatter crow magnums ( 36" high crows) uncommon crows(normal size birds), Heckle and Jeckle type crows and the live trap next to the spot where I originally discovered the damage.

With the garden protected my last task is to aim the spot lights on the barn toward the garden. Then I remember, I'd left the deck door open. I imagine a raccoon at the cat's dry food dish and walk back to the house. The Pooch is happily munching on a field mouse.

I guess field mice have better flavor than the $1.00 a can cat food. I go back to the garden knowing that it could pour at any moment which is good for the baby cabbages I'm digging up and ripping apart. When I have set twenty five new pine stakes next to each plant to thwart the moles that tunnel under my garden, I wonder if I should water the new transplants or wait until it rains. If I wait, it won't rain. I haul four watering cans out to the vegetable plots and carefully make a pool around each transplant. If I carefully pack soil around the new plants, there will still be air pockets. The water helps to settle the plants and ease the shock they experience. A few fall over from fright. The Pooch walks down the lane toward the river, glancing back at me standing and counting cabbage plants. It's as if he's asking, "Is it OK Dad? Can I go down to the river? Please." Before lunch I take a few shots of trees blooming. Here's one of my favorites.

I stop counting cabbages at 50. In the basement is a whole metal shelf of sauerkraut from 2006. What am I going to do with all this cabbage. I decide to make sausage and sauerkraut for lunch.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lunch Break

Looking out the kitchen window after lunch, I'm thinking of taking a quick break before returning to the Monday Rural Olympic tryouts. I've cut 3.2 seconds off my time running from the washer in the basement to the clothesline outside. Early this morning I practiced my garden flat hustle. That's taking all the plants I covered or put in the garage in anticipation of low nighttime temperatures. Pulling milk jugs off pepper plants and covers off the tomatoes is a two step exercise. Step in the mud and lift cover off plant. Then there's balancing flats of plants from the garage to a table in the sun. I score a 9.9 on technique for hauling plants in wet cardboard trays that have turned to rubber. In between washing clothes, I set plants and sow seeds in the herb gardens (5). Most of the time the Pooch is content to watch the activity from a safe distance-either in the sand pile or next to the rock pile surrounding the silver maples. I erect barriers around young plants when the Pooch steps on one of my sage plants. I string white nylon cord over seed rows as a warning. The Pooch crawls under one white string to get at catnip growing wild at the end of a row. I flick him with my thumb and forefinger, yelling, " Get out of my garden you bum." He gives me his the whatdidIdo look.

Hanging wash, he strolls over meowing. It's the, I'm hungry meow. I let him in while I finish hanging blue jeans and T-shirts. When I come in he's already on his back on a chair in the studio with his legs up in the air. He hears me walk over to check on him and wags one paw, yawns and closes his eyes. I feel the Pooch bump into me as I watch a red pickup truck with yellow flashers and two red flags on the bumper pass by on the highway. I guess that was a short nap, I think to myself when the second part of the procession drives by on the highway. I assumed someone is moving a house. I'm partially correct. It's an old mobile home. I'm about ready to go back outside. I give the cat a few treats. I look up and see a hummingbird hovering near the window of the rear entry of the house. The kitchen and rear entryway form a protective cove. There's a white wire with a hook hanging from the previous year. The hummingbird approaches the window. He appears to be peeking in the window at the bite size crows and hummingbird nest of horsehair I find on the lawn while mowing. "Pooch, they're back," I exclaim. In the back hall closet are three washed and clean hummingbird feeders. I grab the largest which holds a quart of nectar. I mix sugar and warm water(forget the red food dye-they don't care) and shake the quart ball jar vigorously. I've gotten good at pouring from a ball jar into the narrow neck of the feeder. I forget that the hook is almost out of my reach and spill sticky water trying to hang the plastic and glass jar. Finally, after getting a five gallon plastic pail to stand on, I've got the first of three feeders up and ready for the gang. I learned that multiple feeders keep the insect size birds from fighting over territorial feeding rights. Wow, summer is almost here. I can plant my corn soon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dialing for Doughnuts

They're as big as the balloon tires on one of those monster trucks that jump twelve auto wrecks lined up in a row. Light and airy I wonder how they could be fried and reach this size. Dawn asks,"How does she make that glaze?". They cost fifty cents each. I buy a half dozen.

The prospect of early morning temperatures on Sunday in the 30's has me scrambling for covers for the tomatoes and, duh, Jalapeno peppers I planted in a moment of garden senility. I rationalize. Oh, so what if they don't make it. I'm out $1.89. That's less than I spend for a Cajun turkey sandwich at the Cheese Corner in Verruca.

I reach enlightenment thinking of the town dump. It's Saturday. The dump is open until 2 pm. There's a dumpster for #1 and #2 recycled plastic. On my first dive I come up with ten plastic water and milk half gallons tied together with a string the dump angel leaves me. Before dusk, I cut the bottoms off the milk and water jugs and scour the house for 28 plastic containers for my tomatoes. The peppers are tall and rangy. They need 7 inches of clearance. The tomatoes are babies and hug the ground. Before covering the tomatoes I grab a wooden spoon and drop a dollop of bone meal next to each plant. On our afternoon walk the Pooch heads right for the bone meal. Oh, oh. Another garden goof. How many wild animals will be lapping up the calcium in that bone meal? After I cover the tomatoes, I add insurance they'll be alive in the morning. My first thought is to load the .22 and sit next to the telephone interface waiting for varmints. Momentary madness subsides. I think about a magazine article that describes a current trend for crazies to swear off their medication. My guess is that they'd rather be baying at the moon then walk around half dead like my friend Mo who stuffed lithium down his craw daily. My recovery leads to throwing potting soil over the bone meal as the plants lie covered in plastic. That will disguise the smell, I hope. I'm buoyed by a simple test. I offer the Pooch a small bowl with a tablespoon of bone meal. He sniffs and walks away.

This morning it's 40 degrees at 7 am. The sky is partly cloudy. I leave the jugs on the peppers. After my lumberjack Sunday morning breakfast of tater tots, eggs and a pork chop, I lay them next to the plants. I'd already had a doughnut-or part of one. Fear of Dawn leads me to eat less than half.

Lat week Titus' brother calls me on my cell. I'd stopped and asked his wife if he could work for me. Two weeks transpire. The second message is on the land line I never answer. He sounds agitated. I hop in my car before breakfast Saturday morning hoping to track him down. First, I stop at Titus' farm. The 'girls' are cleaning. Titus is at the neighbors. I drive the half mile back down the highway from Shady Lane to Hal's place. There's a car with Illinois plates in the drive and a crowd around the kitchen table. Hal's two brothers are up from Chicago. They are hunting for turkeys. Three Italian brothers and a loud Italian wife add ten decibels to the conversation. I'm there to learn about the Amish telephone network. Titus calls me frequently on Hal's cell phone. I ask about his brother, Hal's cell phone and how to reach Aaron. Hal will deliver messages, he says. Titus is rather philosophic about his youngest brother. Once, previously, when I mentioned being late for an appointment with Aaron, Titus quips, " If we see him running down the highway towards Hal's house, then we know we're really late."

Titus leaves to help the Italian brothers clean the wild turkey one of them shot in the butt. The remaining brother at the kitchen table says, "I hope there's some meat left on the carcass. You're supposed to shoot a turkey in the head and not the butt." One of the brothers is a cop in a small town. He tells me he's a police officer. I note the distinction. Hal's wife who's never too shy to one-up a conversation, remarks, "In a family of nine brothers not one of them ever broke a bone!" Not to be outdone the police officer tells of twenty two injuries including a broken nose suffered while in the line of duty. Hal ups the ante with multiple hernias. Hal's wife sits there smugly in her wheelchair. She's missing part of her right leg. She fell the other day and is injured while being helped to her feet. She's the Queen of Hurt and nothing needs to be said. I'm still puzzled about the Amish telephone network.

I drive over to Aaron's house with a quick set of instructions how to reach me. I'm bothered that I manage to miss two calls. The law of opposites says that the call on the cell phone comes when I'm charging the battery. The call on the land line is when I'm in the bathroom and can't hear the answering machine. Oh well, I've got all summer to split the rest of the firewood. When I pull up in the driveway, a plain white sign with black letters says, Doughnuts on sale today. Normally, I'm met at the door. The wife will open it a crack while two blond preschool boys peer out from behind her skirt. I feel like I'm the Area Slasher looking for my next victim. It's a turnabout from the "Come on in" I hear when I knock at Titus' front door.

I gasp when she tells me to come in. The two blond boys giggle and let me in. They sit on the couch poking each other while I watch the wife glazing doughnuts. She's friendly and more than helpful to get me connected with Aaron. She tells me that her husband is at the neighbors. When she mentions the name, it's unfamiliar until she adds the last name and the title, furniture maker. He lives just down the lane from Titus. I request a half dozen doughnuts and hand her a ten dollar bill. Twenty-five minutes later, she hands me three singles and four dollars in change she's carefully scrounged from jars in two cupboards. I must be the first customer of the day. As I'm leaving a well dressed English woman comes in.

I find Aaron at the home of the log furniture maker. He's standing outside the shop talking to a short blond man in his 20's who identifies himself as brother to the furniture maker. "Would you like to take a look at the furniture?" he asks. I'm impressed with the fresh pine log swing set in front of the building. My, "nice furniture" comment brings an invitation for business. The swing set could hold three bears and a gorilla, if they were friends. Inside are twenty swivel bar stools, simple plain white pine dressers and cabinets and on the far side of the red pole shed is a red cedar chest with an open lid. It has a fancy, non finger crushing safety hinge.

I arrange possible days and times to work with Aaron. I return home an hour later, happy with my doughnuts. In the country an Amish phone call is really time consuming.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

There is one person I e-mail regularly. In an e-mail yesterday, I tell her I'm begging off this blog for a bit. Too much to do. Besides, I have to stretch the idea bag for something other than complaints about the way I feel of late. Other than the usual Kickapoo Center travelogue, I cannot find any humor around here. I have an idea to write about Saturday night in Kickapoo Center. It goes the way of many insipid thoughts when I can't satirize a mundane lifestyle.

My e-mail buddy is an unusual person. She's studying to be a priest. I may have the title wrong. All I know is that she spends many late nights after work studying for a degree in a course of religious studies. I think of her last night as we watch a an unusually good movie about a female rabbi called The Secrets. Her real name isn't important to this blog. If I make references to her in the future, we'll call her Ella. She'll laugh about that. Her husband Del (also not his real name) is a consultant. He's sight challenged. I'm trying to be politically correct for a chronic eye disorder which left him almost totally blind. He drives stock cars with the aid of a guide, skis in the winter and writes about using a chain saw impaired vision. They've got two really hard working and smart daughters.

My horrorscope on the My Yahoo homepage for today is as follows.

Today's going to be an easy day -- definitely something along the lines of falling off a log. So if you want, feel free to put your overworked brain on auto-pilot -- especially when it comes to the tasks you perform every day. You've impressed everyone you need to impress for now, so don't worry about your reputation. Today is all about the simple route and the ease of knowing exactly how to do everything you need to do. This effortless energy will keep you smiling all day.

I am excited.

Yesterday was a day to remember. It began with me pulling a hairball the size of a tennis ball out of the shower stall. Walking to the white lawn shed on the rear of our property, I'm looking for the lock that normally hangs on a chain for the shed doors. In a Sherlock Holmes series of deductions I realize that the shiny metal plates strewn in front of the door are the remains of the lost lock. I remember hearing a loud clank when I mowed the grass of front of the shed. I'm afraid to see whatdoes to the riding mower blades. In the basement, the whole house water filter I replaced recently is still leaking. In the afternoon, we plan to make a supply run to the big city. I start calling the Pooch at 3 PM and give up after an hour's search. I'm really angry and frustrated. He's an outdoor cat. We can't leave him out overnight, especially after my neighbor asks to borrow our live trap to catch the animal that ripped the heads off two of his chickens. Coyotes, skunks and raccoons are no match for my Pooch.

The darn cat shows up on schedule as Dawn gets home from work. He begs to come in by climbing the deck railing outside the kitchen window. I can't hear his meow through the Thermopane window. I'm still miffed that he ruined a Cinco de Mayo dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Lacrosse. I don't let him in the house. He tries a different tactic. He sits on the sidewalk opposite the north kitchen window, looking up at me washing dishes and forlornly meows. I relent and let him when we sit down to dinner.

Dawn sits at the kitchen table while I outline the New plan for El Gatto. He will stay outside all day. No late morning naps upstairs on his sheepskin Momma. No afternoon naps in his favorite Scandanavian design chair. No 800 trips inside for a quick bite of dry cat food. He gets fed once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. He has all night to munch his Meow Mix. I tell Dawn that if he comes upstairs to wake us at first light, he'll get locked in the back hall and basement. There are many comfortable spots to sleep: on the cushioned cedar chest in the back hall, the laundry table in the basement. He can monitor the mice activities while we sleep.

At first light, he's using the corner of the bed frame as a scratching post. Damn cat. I'm too lazy to get up, besides I can barely walk. I'd just fallen sleep two hours earlier. Two doses of pain medication numb my throbbing foot. There's no reasonable explanation why my left foot should be exhibiting classic gout symptoms. On Monday, I spend the day recovering from an attack of arthritis so severe I can hardly get up from a chair. Hence the reason for my career as a story teller has disappeared. I spend way too much time in self absorption. The My Page horrorscope gives me some hope.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Pooch sits on a cut-off telephone pole I threw next to the road. He's stalking something in the weeds below the east fence. It's cool Monday morning, about 40 degrees. The sky's a hazy bright, like an old bed sheet. At 7, I move the tomato babies to a drying table converted into a small greenhouse by throwing a discarded opaque, plastic shower curtain over the wood and wire frame. It protects my babies when the devil winds throw trash cans into the air and toss my empty green plastic watering cans around. When the winds are calm I put the tomatoes on the table top. Otherwise, they're under the table protected by plastic stapled to the frame. The tomato plants are losing their first leaves. The new leaves are forest green and coming along quite nicely. I take a moment to decide if its too cold for them. The last few mornings we've had a light frost. I moved the babies outside for full sun, cooler temperatures and to make room for marjoram, sage and thyme seeds I've sown. The high temperatures in the garage greenhouse will cause the tomatoes to be leggy and thin, like the ones I see outside the Village Market. Mine are short and sumo wrestler squat.

The Pooch sniffs each individual stair to the deck. Some animal spent part of the night on the deck. He's hesitant to walk the length of the deck. I step outside and check to see if an errant skunk, raccoon or possum is still hanging around in the early morning. Seeing any of these nocturnal animals in the daytime is a signal that something's out of balance. It could be trouble. As I prepare my breakfast, I watch him scout the perimeter of the front field. There are Pooch standards for early morning perimeter checks. Rolling in the sand under the drying tent to disguise his cat smell is one. He stops at the pea garden and stares at the tree stump in the middle of the field. I go back to my breakfast burrito while he disappears in the brush that I pile on the stump for a burn pile. The Pooch has a tail that is ringed like that of a raccoon. Most of the time he holds it straight up in the air. It's a sign that all's well. If his tail is horizontal to the ground, he's hunting. He has different walks, too. One is the saunter, tail straight up. Another is the trot or canter. Dawn and I always laugh when he trots across the front lawn. "Boop, boop, boop," Dawn says imitating the sound his paws would make. When he does his Cheetah run, his paws sound like hoof beats, especially when the ground is hard and dry.

Dawn has a restless night compounded by a cat that wants to wrassle at 4 am. She's experiencing some of the same symptoms I felt last week. It's puzzling because she's the critter that gave me the plague early on. Sunday morning I thought I'd recovered completely from flu- like symptoms. But no, my wrists, ankles, knees and especially my thumbs are so painful, I can hardly open the bottle of prescription medication for arthritis. I learn a painful lesson that wrists ankles, thumbs and knees are necessary ingredients for getting out of a chair or off the toilet. To stand up from the kitchen table, I lay my left arm on the table top and push myself away. This is depressing. It's like thinking how to breathe or remembering how to put one foot in front of the other to walk. I become my own editor for this blog and quash any and all ideas. In my current state of mind it will not do to write about the kids and why we never hear from them, about the dead animal smell in Dawn's studio, the kitchen remodel or my lack of energy for any small task like the leaking water filter in the basement.

I'd forgot about the leaking whole house filter. Now my mind is preoccupied with the @#$% thing. Our well water has a lot of rust and minerals. The filter's once cost $20 each. We replaced them monthly. Now that they're $35, I wait to replace it. When the water pressure drops it's signal to put in new one. The filter canister is difficult to remove. Its messy. I usually spill water over the basement floor and myself. When I open the canister and remove the filter , it's covered with red slime. I last replaced it on December 15th. Uggh. We use a faucet filter and have a Brita water pitcher for things like coffee and tea. When we moved here, we had the water tested. The previous owner said he had it tested twice. The test results: near perfect, but the shallow depth, an old well casing and proximity to the river give us hard water. Very hard water.

The forecast for the rest of the week is a chance of rain and thunderstorms. There's not much happening in Kickapoo Center. I may have to go to the archives for material.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A 50% chance of rain never happened yesterday. Feeling better than I have in a week, I bounce along the front lawn on the Husquvarna leveling off grass that grows in tufts. I set the cruise on the riding mower at dead slow because the ground is uneven. For two days the flu has twisted my insides. The rough ride across the lawn is painful even at a slow pace. I named my bright orange riding mower Fred to distinguish it from the four year old Cub Cadet whose name is Ted. I spend a minimum of five hours hours on both boys, once and at times twice a week.

Ted is relegated to rough areas and hills. He's lower to the ground-short and squat. I have an extra set of blades for Ted, so I'm not concerned about gravel hiding in the grass from winter plows. Fred is a baby. I'd been after the lawn mower guy to make adjustments to Fred since day one. A house moving project, illness and winter interfere with lawn mower guy's tune up for Fred. A week ago I loaded Fred up in the back of my F-150. All the plywood I have for a ramp is in use, so I haul a piece of 3/8th inch oak plywood from the kitchen remodel over to a hill. I back the truck to the hill, bridge the gap between truck and hill and start up Fred. Fred has a Kawasaki engine. It growls at high rev's and purrs at low revs. Half way through the loading process the oak veneer plywood breaks in two pieces. I am a model of decorum trying to figure out how to get the mower, especially the mower deck off the tailgate and into the bed of the truck. I'm lying, of course. No one can hear me while I curse the bloody plywood and bodily lift the beastly riding mower up over the edge of the body liner into the truck. Lawn mower guy wants me to come back while he diddles with my machine. I'm wise to his ways and tell him I don't have time to drive the 18 miles back and forth. I know that lawn mower guy will procrastinate while he wastes time jawing with customers who amble in to his shop.

The shop and the lawn outside the building are a fright. It looks like a lawn mower graveyard. Parts of tillers, push mowers and walk behind trimmers are abandoned in the high grass. Inside the shop, the so-called office with one bar stool for customers is a dusty museum of used and new parts. There's not an inch of space on the floor. A used chain saw in pieces blocks any customer access to the actual repair shop in back which is also a disaster. I'd given up asking him to order parts because he would forget to order the air filter I needed or couldn't find it when he remembered to order one. Each time I brought the Cub Cadet in for service, I'd come back to Ted with a different set of keys-not that it makes any difference-you can start the beast with a set of luggage keys. I still joke with him about the original bright yellow plastic set of keys that came with Ted.

I stand mute while lawn mower guy gives me his standard ruse about replacing the old deck with a new deck under the warranty program, the amount of time required for the changeover, the weather, last minute customers wanting help and on and on. I'm thinking, " Hey, I'm standing here. I'm your first priority." When I say nothing he fills in with, "Let's put the mower up on the hoist and take a look. In one half hour he has replaced the old blades, leveled the deck(which should have been performed upon shipment to him) and adjusted the angle of the cutting deck. He takes it on a test cut. He has to drive it around back to find an open area of grass. I'm satisfied with the way Fred cuts. No longer is there an uneven swath of grass in the middle of the 42 inch cutting path.

In the front lawn the only hazards are pine cones. Normally it would take 45 minutes to cut this portion. Previously, I worked Ted over the margins and rougher areas-places with tree roots snaking across bare patches of lawn. I'm cutting back the edges between the lawn and weed barrier to the corn field behind us. All sorts of nasties lurk in the high grass. This year I'm growing pumpkins and gourds along a 68 foot single tilled lane at the edge of the lawn. I cannot sacrifice good garden space for something I feel is mainly decorative. Yet, I have to hold back the weed barrier so the vines can overwhelm the weeds which can grow to six and seven feet tall. I pull Fred into the garage after what seems like forever and break for lunch.

After lunch, I replant dwarf sugar snap peas and snow peas. It's a favorable time to replant according to moon signs. I have no idea why the germination of peas is so erratic. Is it because the weather is so erratic or something I did wrong ? This time I inoculate the peas with nitrogen fixing bacteria as I plant the seeds. The inoculant looks like fine coffee grounds. I sprinkle it over the new furrow of peas adjacent to the few peas that actually germinated. The law of opposites says if I water the new seeds, it will rain. The sky is a threatening mix of gray and black cumulus clouds. I add an extension to the hose and water the peas and the spinach that is coming up nicely. It doesn't rain as predicted, so I'll need to water on a daily basis despite today's overcast sky. I'm worried about the potatoes. They haven't broken the surface. I wonder whether I should be farming because of the amount of worry I put into the garden. I examine everything I did during the seeding of potatoes. I remember a note in the seed catalog about wood ashes and potatoes. I worry that the wood ashes I scattered last winter are affecting their germination. I thought I'd turned the soil frequently and carefully. I always save seed in case of emergencies, but the potatoes are a special order from a company in Maine. I get some seed potatoes from two sources. The ones I bought on sale in Seneca are long gone by now. The hardware store in town will run out of seed potatoes soon. If I wasn't so manic about producing my own food, I'd forget the hassle of being a small farmer and buy produce form local organic farmers. The urge to get my hands dirty and the fun I have in giving away fresh vegetables is too strong.