Friday, December 31, 2010

Twizzle

Afraid to use the trademarked name of my wife's favorite candy in the title of this post, I consult my Merriam-Webster dictionary. The word closest to my search is twitter. There are two definitions. The second calls it "a light chattering". I'll forgo any nasty remarks about Twitter or Facebook save that the short version of twitter is twit. Change the spelling and voila! An obscenity.

My trusty Oxford English Etymology not only lists twizzle, but also twink ( remember Calvin and Hobbs?) , twitter and, Lord have mercy, twiddle. Blogger spell checker underlines the word twizzle. Oxford Etymology calls it a dialectical or colloquial form of twirl, twiddle or twistle( also cited by spell check). Twistle. It's it's what happens when I try to whistle for the dog at 6 am.

Twizzle is what Jorge and I tried to do with a raccoon sleeping in Mandy's doghouse.

Jorge leaves after morning coffee. He's researching TV antennas and brings me a newspaper article about home owners installing their own TV antennas. The cable connection for his telephone service is out of whack. Since he's tied to cable television through the local phone company, his TV is down. His ridge top location would be perfect for a multi-directional antenna mounted on the roof of the house. There are twenty stations the antenna could pull in from as far as 70 miles away. Perhaps even more.

Mandy's is upset. As I stand on our road watching Jorge drive off, she's barking at something in her pen. I removed one panel of hog fencing so I could drive the truck up to the house and unload wood. The slight wooden awning you see in the photo I snapped off because there was so little clearance between the truck and doghouse. The piece of plywood I stuck in the snow in front of the opening to prevent snow from blowing in on the carpeted floor. There was a gap of 12 inches at the top.

Walking around back, I check on Mandy who's racing back and forth in front of the dog house barking wildly. I peer in. Rocky Raccoon sits on his haunches at the back wall. "Hey, you gotta come back and help me. There's a raccoon in Mandy's doghouse," I yell into my cell phone.

Previous encounters with raccoons make for storytelling around a morning cup of coffee in the dead of winter. One time we transported a raccoon in a live trap in Jorge's enclosed pickup truck to a park out of town. When we opened the trap door, the raccoon bolted to a safe haven in the rear of the enclosed pick up truck. Plenty of oh no's and WTF's ensued.

I hand Jorge a clothesline pole approximately seven feet long. I stand nearby with my .22 in case the thing is rabid. Upon closer examination of the interior of the dog house, I notice the critter had a bad case of diarrhea in one corner. So much for the expensive remnant of Berber carpet from an upstairs renovation. Poke and yell, "Come on out", with no results. Poke and yell some more. Nothing. Kick the side of the doghouse. Nothing. Sticking one's nose in the opening is not advised, so Jorge aggressively pokes some more.

Finally, it runs out of the doghouse in an opposite direction from Jorge. I cleverly had placed myself off to one side and made a note to self to not shoot Jorge in the foot when things got chaotic. Rocky runs along the west side of the garage, crossing into the front yard with Mandy in hot pursuit. Snowdrifts in the front yard hinder both the raccoon and dog. The coon is used to the snow and reaches the 40 foot Norway pine on the east fence line. Scrambling up the truck of the tree like a bear cub, it's soon half way up out of reach of a viscous ( intentionally misspelled) dog.

The rest of the story I'll leave to a future post when things have quieted down.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The old man look is history.

Logical Thinking Man said a beard in winter is necessary to keep the nose from freezing. Truth is there ain't enough hair on my nose. When I need it most during summer marathon garden projects, it's not practical. All that fur and 105 degrees in the shade? I'll stock up on 70 SPF sunscreen. Time for a haircut, too.

At breakfast I'm enjoying(surprise) a slice of calf liver. Mutt, the number one son, brought some on the plane for a brief visit from Nome, Alaska.

Reading the latest copy of The Week, there's a photo and blurb about a felon who has a beard like mine. I draw the line at looking like a felon who kidnapped somebody. The other shot taken of myself at the same time, I put up on Facebook. The idea is to scare off people who want to be my friends. A friend at the library parodying the Facebook motto, says "Not me, Not ever" in response to my prodding him about appearing on the social network.

Number One son and I have a discussion about the merits of exposing yourself (legally) . Thomas Hayden Church in the movie Easy A echoes the thoughts of a few naysayers like me and my webmaster-mundane expressions of boring lifestyles. OSWWGAS. Oh so what.... Yet, look at me doing the same shit. What a knob.

This is me at a flea market in Santa Fe. In the picture what's not known is that I can't afford to buy any fleas because I dropped a bundle on a cross from a place with the catchy name of Born In a Barn. Poor photo quality because it's 2nd generation. Digital shot of a glossy print, hand held.

Curious feature of the first photograph is the picture of my late adopted mother over my right shoulder. I've always felt that she's out there, like a Guardian Angel. The picture of her in ribbon shirt and the Mona Lisa smile hangs in my office. I miss her.

I've been blessed with three mothers. I have a sister I'm not related to, who lives across the state. Our mother in common was responsible for the "eat your liver or you can't leave the table" torture when I was a kid. Hence the surprise at breakfast. I shoulda known that the kid would turn me on to liver since he works at one of the top restaurants above the Arctic Circle where a hamburger costs $10 because they are so good.


Then there's this other picture of me with Bill and Dolly, my mismatched team of horses.

For Christmas Dawn got me a French coffee press. I thought that with a cuppa gourmet coffee after a healthy breakfast of liver and potatoes O'Brien I'd have something worthwhile to write instead of a snapshot tour of Gavrillo.

I'm going to work on New Year's resolutions which among a long list of "I will's" shall include a ban on self deprecation, sarcasm and shameless self promotion.

Add one stupid hat, flash photography and we've got a picture that scares me. Reminds me of one New Year's Eve I walked into the restroom of a defunct Milwaukee restaurant. Near the inside entrance is a full length mirror. After too much beer, wine or whatever, I'm aware that mirrors are scary things in the basement of a French restaurant on the lower east side. I jumped when I saw this man staring at me.

Do some people actually look at their profile pictures on Facebook?

I'll think I'll call Jorge. He's always good for a laugh.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spikey Punk Cat

Snowin'. AGAIN. At 7:00 this morning I go out to the garage to fix the flippin' garage door. Our journey to the city yesterday began with the garage door opener separating itself from a frozen garage door. 'Snot my fault. I kept the area under the door snow and ice free. Because the garage slab isn't level, water freezes in other areas and drains to a corner. Next time try salt on the slab, my devilish alter ego warns me.

In theory, I was going to fix the door and then have a healthy breakfast. Theory and practice are never the same because of a guy named Murphy. The end of this wale of toe is calling my neighbor to help me lower the 8000 pound door. The in between is the door crashing to the ground, bouncing off the cement slab causing the twisted wire cable to jump off the pulley on the right side. Not only is it heavier without the aid of a spring loaded pulley wire, but it's also out of kilter. Call the neighbor. I bribe him with meatballs.* We wrestle it down. I'll call the door company after Christmas or perhaps replace it myself when my bruised ego recovers.

Spikey, wet cat perched on the island in the kitchen doesn't let weather interfere with his bird watching. I should be a New York doorman complete with braided uniform for the all my open/close/open door routine, since he lasts about 15 minutes in the snow before he's waterlogged.
Mandy on the other hand is perfectly content to sit in her dog bed in the breezeway, munching on a fresh cook leg bone. I allow warm air to drift up the basement stairs to keep the temperature in the entrance-way at 60 degrees.

After the garage door fiasco,I cancel plans to travel to the next town to look for a chafing dish that none of the big mall stores carries. All I want is a small, electric fondue pot in which to heat savory, herbed broth for our Shabu shabu.

We try Macy's, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Target in our suicidal trip to the big city yesterday, battling traffic as heavy as on I-10 in Phoenix. "Doesn't anybody work during the day," I complain. Dawn says they most likely worked until noon on the 23rd. But this is River City not the big time. In the past, I worked for Jacob Marley until closing on Christmas Eve . As my own boss, I kept my store open until the bitter end hoping for that one last big push or a Christmas angel to come and purchase an expensive artwork. Moe is we.

At days end on the 23rd, I grind 7 pounds of pork loin ends we purchased at an employee owned grocery chain called Woodmans. The pork has just the right amount of marbling. My Dad's recipe calls for Boston Butt, trimmed of excess fat. In my experience, the local grocer sells discounted Boston Butt that comes shrink wrapped from big slaughter houses. There's a big slab of fat hidden on on the bottom so the unwary customer pays for garbage.

I mixed the ground pork with one huge red onion, chopped fine, a whole organic garlic bulb chopped fine( about six cloves) from Mountain Man Johann's garden, fresh ground whole black peppercorns( 2T before grinding) , a tablespoon and a half of ground marjoram and kosher salt. My standard for salt is 4 grams per pound. There's a conversion to teaspoons/tablespoons somewhere in my recipe book, but I ain't getting up to find it.

If you're part of the bunch that thinks kneading dough is hard work and getting your hands messy is unsavory, then go to Wal-Mart and buy the pre-made kind. You get what you deserve, so there. Mixing ground meat is much like kneading bread. To get the spices thoroughly distributed through the meat, ya gotta work it.

Our taste test was a meat ball sandwich on olive oil herbed Italian flat bread. It looks like a pita only square and sliced in half. You could do the same thing with a pita and not drop the organic Caesar dressing all over your lap like me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two Eves

Yesterday was Dawn's birthday. If you missed sending her a card or buying a present just send me the money. I'll take care of it. I bought her a new camera. Not that she needs one. The old camera lies in a desk drawer with pictures that haven't been developed. It's that old.

The new camera is digital. It is smaller, less expensive than mine and has better resolution, picture capacity-all the bells and whistles.

The first picture she took was of me. I pretended to stick my finger in my nose, the old bent pinkie trick. I tried it next and took a picture of Dawn. Neither one of us liked the results. Then early this morning, I snuck downstairs and took a bunch of filthy pictures of myself as a surprise.

We hired Jorge at the cost of a free meal in Soldiers Grove to be the designated driver. If our waitress hadn't been so lame, we'd have gotten tipsy. The motel/bar has a wood fired pizza oven. It's newly remodeled with a back room. I suggested a table nearer the server, since one tends to get forgotten in the back room.

The food was great. I ate an entire pizza by myself. A cheese steak pizza covered with roasted red peppers and swashed( my own made up word) with fresh chopped garlic. I also ate half of Dawn's fries. When we got home, I told Mandy the dog she could smell my breath for a quarter. Since dogs don't have a change pocket, I gave her a free whiff.

It was fun pretending Jorge was our driver. Taking a chance on getting plugged by his service revolver, which he carried with him in the old days when we rode mountain bikes down County Highway S, I quipped: "Home Jorge." He didn't laugh.

His new car,which cost 50 big ones, has a remote TV screen in the rear view mirror so you can watch the surprise on a person's face when you run them over. His dashboard is in keeping with the season with all sorts of red and green LED lights. He says he has things he doesn't use. The radio is connected to a satellite, the seats are heated, the upholstery-all top grain leather. Dawn asked him to slip on a DVD for her to watch Pulp Fiction from the rear. He said that was one option he didn't order.

We all piled out to have a slice of Marion's Boston Creme, two layer cake. I got a discount on the cake because it was second hand, intended for someone named Linda.

Marion is the cutest Amish daughter from the folks on the ridge. In summer's when the "girls" sell produce off the highway, Marion wears dark sunglasses. She looks like Marlena Dietrich with the head scarf and Amish gear. She knows she's yanking English people's chain by playing with their stereotypical visions. She's also the chief baker. In a typical year she'll bake three thousand pies. All without modern conveniences.

I popped a bottle of Barefoot Cellars bubbly, toasted Dawn ( Jorge refrained being the designated driver) and regretted eating the whole pizza. After opening her presents, the rest of the evening sputtered and fizzled. We're getting old.

I showed Dawn the workings of the 14X16 ceramic stone for baking French breads and pizza. She unwrapped the box containing a bamboo pizza peel and assembled the handle. Next year I'll buy her that ATV with the front end plow she's been wanting. Or, perhaps, a nice Kubota tractor with a scoop and blade for the rear.

Today, we're off to Lacrosse to buy her a few Christmas presents, since I gave her all her Christmas presents last night. It happens every year. Her birthday, Christmas, our anniversary, her sister's birthday, her parents anniversary all fall in the same week. I'm trying to figure out how to tell the dog that there's no St. Nick. The cat, being the smarter of the two, stopped waiting by the wood stove for presents. He knew no fat man could squirm down that six inch stove pipe.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Piroshki or Pirozhki

O.K.

I mentioned in a previous post about a pizza dough recipe in a Cooking For Assholes blog I follow as similar to a pirozhki recipe I stumbled across in an old cookbook. Cooking Asshole or just plain asshole or Mr. A, as I addressed him in a blog comment took me to task about the spelling.

The only thing I spelled wrong was the Polish version, pierogi, which my sister, third generation Polish, raves about. If you followed this blog like me, you'd know that the author was "funnin'" me or yanking my chain. It's the thing that makes his blog different AND funny. He's also a pretty good cook.

The picture above is the final result of my efforts. They have an egg yolk wash ( 1 egg yolk mixed with one T of water) which is the final step before they go into a 425 pre-heated oven. I used turkey meat loaf as the filler for the piroshkis.

The directions say to bring one cup of milk to a boil, cool to lukewarm add softened yeast(1pkg. yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water, add half the flour(see previous post) about one and three fourths cup, and beat until smooth. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.

While the first mix is getting"light" mix the remaining egg white, whole egg, sugar, salt and melted butter. Add to the yeast mixture and blend. Ad enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic ( 8-10 minutes). Put in a greased bowl, grease the top, cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in bulk ( 1 to 1 1/2 hours).

I added poppy seeds at the last moment so that my wife would flunk any pee in the cup tests that day at work. She's the head warden at the state prison nearby.

I found after kneading the dough for 8 minutes, it would be perfect for a thicker crust pizza. I rolled it into mini rounds, folded them over into half moons and added my filling. Cooking For Assholes used half the salt, no sugar and one less egg.

I might experiment with water in place of milk for a thin crust. I might even lose the egg. It's my kitchen and I'll do what I want.

Spare me any comments as I have get off this computer to marinate some really expensive steak that's part of a shabu shabu I'm planning when the number one son arrives on Christmas Eve. The pirozhki's are part of this multi-cultural celebration in food. He's the only kid I know who's fond of eel in sushi, likes deep fried octopus and waiter at a Minneapolis restaurant rated number three in the city.

Pizza Dough

from a previous post...

Russian Pirozhki Dough

(Yeah my spell checker doesn't like Pirozhki either. My wife called it Pirogues which is Polish.)

Anyway.

1 package of yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk
3 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter melted

Since the recipe says to"soften the yeast in the water" the author was working in the days of cake yeast? I haven't seen cake yeast since my stepmother told my sister to eat it as a cure for her acne.

Sorry but I don't have time for the procedures which are pretty weird.

In the end I got a nice pliant dough which I rolled out into circles and folded over a square of turkey meat loaf. I didn't follow the meat filling recipe since the meat loaf was left over and pretty tasty. It called for baking the "turnover" at 425 for 15 minutes. They were done way before. I took them out early at around 9 minutes. I didn't check the time. I looked at the Pirozhki's and they were brown, some almost burnt which freaked me out.

I tend to trust cookbook authors.

I'll follow up in another post about the procedure. You're supposed to bring the milk to a boil, cool to lukewarm, add the softened yeast( added to 1/4 C lukewarm water), add about half the flour and beat until smooth. Cover and let stand until"light" 30 minutes or longer.

Then the other ingredients are mixed, some set aside, and you're supposed to knead the dough 8-10 minutes until elastic. I did eight minutes. I can't believe all the hype out there about no-knead breads,what a bunch of wusses.

MOUSE VS CAT

The stand off.

(note: I thought I shot these photos in large format. I was wrong. With a hand held camera at the longest telephoto setting, the quality is marginal. I apologize. I was in a hurry!)


Beginning in the afternoon and continuing into the evening, a six inch snowfall covers already deep snow. I walk upstairs to fetch a book to read during breakfast and notice the Pooch under the bird feeder. His activities are limited to walking in shoveled areas and to waiting under the bird feeder for some hapless bird not paying attention to its surroundings. Like Dawn who drives into the garage and runs over the broom I'd propped against the garage door as a reminder to brush off her car before driving into my heated garage.

As an aside, I'm three days into reworking an old church pew into a bench for the back hall. The time it takes to heat the garage via natural convection from the wood furnace in the basement through the breezeway and finally into the garage, slows the process. A water sopped floor doesn't help. On Sunday I remove one end of the pew, saw off the extra length and remove the nails used to secure the side to the seat.

Surprise.

The nails are machine made square nails which I research on the internet. Before the advent of wire nails in 1900 and after handmade square nails in the 1850's, a process is invented to feed steel sheets into a press. The triangular nail form is cut from the mild steel and in a second step, the head is formed. That makes the bench somewhere in the area of 110-150 years old. It's consistent with the age of the closest white clapboard frame church a few miles from Kickapoo Center which proudly announces it's founding on a nameplate above the door-1848. I shrug off the fact that I'd just ruined an antique by cutting it in half, noting that storage alone is difficult for a ten foot long bench.

From the second floor window I see the cat crunched up in a ball ready to pounce. When he pounces, he flings a brown fuzzy thing up from under the snow. The crafty little buggers are munching on seed cast off from the feeder above, under a heavy cover of snow. I chuckle when I see the field mouse or shrew sail across the tops of the snow, approximately two yards. The cat hadn't touched him. Fear of feline gives the mouse supernatural powers to dash across snow. In all the cartoons I watched as a kid, I scoffed at the antics by mice, ducks, dogs, rabbits, coyotes and road runners. I tried to emulate the Saturday cartoons by jumping off the garage roof in my superman cape. Besides my pride, I hurt my knees.

No fear. The mouse stands off the cat. Like Daffy Duck, it challenges, " Come on. Put up yer dukes. You miserable mangy fur ball." Or is it Sylvester the cat with a the slurred S's and spewing spit? The staring game continues past the time I'd finished my breakfast. Only an occasional chickadee landing in the feeder, diverts the Pooch's attention. The deep snow acts as a foil and safe haven for the mouse. The cat backs off for a moment and shakes the snow off of a hind leg. He's not too keen on wading through cold wet snow up to his ears. Imagine yourself, for a second, crawling on all fours in a snow banks. No thanks.


Mandy gives me "the stare" wanting to go out. She doesn't notice the mouse in the shoveled lane to the feeder. Instead she stands on the road gawking at cars inching down the highway. The cat gave up on the mouse and leaves the area to find a way to the wood shed without deep snow. Good luck. When I last checked, he was under the feeder. A picky eater, he chooses poultry over mouse steaks.

Call the county. Send out the ambulance and the men in the white coats. Can it be the end? Have I lost it? Is it that boring out here in the sticks? At least I haven't turned to drink like some of the locals.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cheese With Your Wine?

Of the 40 largest cities in the United States, Milwaukee has the coldest winter weather, based on normal daily temperatures, according to Current Results, a website that tracks weather trends. The lakeside Wisconsin city's daily winter mean temperature is 24.1 degrees Fahrenheit. But fellow Great Lakes metropolis Cleveland is the fourth-coldest U.S. city, with a daily winter mean temperature that's not much higher at 28.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Robert Powell, Marketwatch 12/19/2010

It's easy to stray off the matter at hand. That's why I cover my eyes when I turn on the computer. The Yahoo front page headliner for this morning: Ten Worst States For Retirees piques my interest. Do I live in the worst state? Oh gosh, I'm safe. Illinois ranks number 1 for high taxes, fiscal difficulty and bad weather. Too bad you FIB's. I scroll down to the above paragraph. With this morning's temperature at 0 degrees, I walk outside in sweats and slippers to feed the birds. My internal thermometer says it must be about 20 degrees. I remember walking to work, an eight block journey, in downtown Milwaukee with a ski mask over my face, heavy gloves and the warmest winter coat I owned. One New Year's Eve, when Dawn and I lived in the back of our retail store, we decided to have pizza at a downtown restaurant and walk to the posh hotel on the east bank of the Milarky River. Despite my real shearling coat buttoned tightly at the neck and a scarf wrapped around the same, we almost froze to death. It was a seven block walk.

Mid morning here in Kickapoo Center the sun is shining brightly. If one were to work outside, sunglasses are a necessity. Like Arizona( which also made the ten worst list) no matter what the temperature outside everything's wonderful when the sun shines. I must be suffering from SAD, seasonal affective disorder.

Once again I have strayed.

The focus of today's post after a brief side trip about the Pooch is Uncle Bob's "HOW TO" corner.

The Pooch has a favorite hiding place. Here, he's safe from one pointy nosed, snoopy dog. When I bend down to take the picture of him in his bag hideout, he leaps forward toward me. He does the same thing to the dog. Lately both animals have been cooped up because of the snow and low temperatures. They've amused themselves in a variety of ways. If the Pooch is really bored, he'll take on the dog. This amounts to scrunching down and waiting until the dog is in a frontal position. Then he'll grab in a headlock. Once he's got Mandy's attention, he'll try to bite her in the butt. It's all good fun and Mandy tries to accommodate by lying on her side in a submissive gesture. Her fondest wish is that the cat will take pity on her and lick her snout. Mandy loves being licked on the snout.

That's my breakfast. I cook with cast iron pans. For one, I like the even heat distribution. What I don't care for is a hot handle. There are an assortment of micro fiber towels hanging from the oven handle, and refrigerator door. If one is not careful to fold the towel into fourths, a burned paw is the result. The other day at Crazy Frank's , the local discount/overstock emporium I grab the $1.29 sani-spray cleaner for my sausage works. Down one aisle I spot a silver oven mitt with a pocket. If a person orders fajittas at a Mexican restaurant, they'll bring out a sizzling pan with a mini-mitt on the handle. Thus, the inspiration for asking Dawn to make me three mini mitts from the .99 pocket oven mitt.

Recently Dawn purchased a new computerized sewing machine. It has sixty seven different stitches. On the inaugural voyage, she made me a handkerchief big enough to wear as a shirt.

A little while later, I asked her to add a hem on a Yakima Camp wool blanket I mistakenly washed. Because the cheap wool blanket was poorly hemmed, it started to unravel in the wash. I picked tufts of wool out of the washer for days after ward. With her new sewing machine, she reincarnated the old blanket complete with satiny trim. It lies in a closet because it's too nice and too warm for a dog and cat to snooze on. Her fancy zig-zag stitch turned that .99 mitt into three pot handle holders. The king of cheap was thrilled. A minor adjustment for the flap she left on the mini mitts which caught fire when I had the flap turned toward the burner, completed the task. Oh wow.

Now I can play Mexican restaurant at home by myself. I can also play Uncle Bob's Italian Pizzeria. The Cooking For Assholes blog I follow, had a recipe for pizza dough. I double check my New York Times, Craig Claiborne cookbook for a comparison of the ingredients. Curiously the ingredients are almost identical to a recipe for dough of a Russian Pirozhki. For dinner we had teriyaki wings with pizza. Dawn says I need to halve the recipe. To fit it on the pizza stone I had to scrunch the unwieldy flab of dough, which although crunchy was a bit thick.

Oh, by the way, Crazy Frank isn't crazy. He just stutters.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Trouble with having friends in Arizona is getting Christmas cards from them with a poke and jab about our weather.

"Heard you had a little snow."

"Got up this morning and it was a chilly 72."

"Had to turn on the heat last night."

"The air conditioning on the car cut out on my way to work."

Oh yes.

I remember planting pansies a few days before Christmas in the old wagon used as a display for the furniture store where I was employed.

You may remember me commenting about a few snowfalls, calling them dumplings. Then there was a big dump. Last weekend to be exact. We've been running on a mound of firewood from a bin in the basement. Yesterday with outside temperatures soaring to twenty degrees, I didn't bother with a wood fire. It's easy to push the > arrow on the thermostat. All the debris on the cement basement floor from the firewood went into the wood furnace and now I can walk into the bin. I have to be careful in selecting a piece of oak slab wood because one pull can unleash an avalanche. If you're bent over looking at some dumb stick piece of wood, this can hurt.

It may even trigger a specialized medical condition I read about the other day. The usual symptoms are an onslaught depression as a result of a severe conk on the noggin. I don't need another dose of depression. Winter in rural Wisconsin is depressing enough. One man, however, after being thrown from a horse and suffering a concussion didn't experience mind numbing depression. The man, a famous director with lots of money and a 17,000 square foot house, decided to change his life. Muttering something about a superficial lifestyle he moved out of the mansion into a trailer. Then he turned to philanthropy.

Looking at the dwindling wood supply, I decide that I'll make a path from the woodshed to the house with my pickup truck. God steps in to interfere when on a return trip from the town dump, I decide that having Dawn in the truck will give me enough weight to plow through the snow. Previously, I prepared the way by shoveling out an entrance way through the snowdrift created by the town plow. If I get a running start from the short stretch of driveway in front of the shed we call a barn, I can make it up the hill in the beginning of the backyard.

Half way into the trek, the truck stalls. It won't go forward or back. I get out to ponder the dilemma. Idea! Grab the wheelbarrow and run some firewood to the truck to give the rear wheels some traction. Exhausted after two wheelbarrow runs in deep snow, I get another idea. I go in the house to pee and ask Dawn if she'll sit on the tailgate. Redistributing the weight to the rear wheels is a great idea. It gets me almost to the opening of the woodshed. Mind you, the clutch is a little fried by now and it smells to high heaven.

While I toss a few pieces of box elder into the bed of the truck, Dawn grabs a shovel so I can clear a path from the wood shed to the truck to make it easier for my wheelbarrow. We get about half a face cord piled across the rear end of the truck. I race the truck forward and back up like a maniac toward the wood shed. In clement weather I've done this a hundred times. There's just enough clearance between the steel posts holding up the roof of the lean-to and the bed of my truck for me to squeeze by if I suck in my gut.

When I get six feet away from the wood shed, I chicken out and decide not to back into the wood shed at twenty mph. My track record with the truck is dismal of late.

Cut to the chase.

We fill the truck with firewood. On the rear gate, we pile flat slabs of cut off 4X4's. Now, I have the equivalent of a bull-dozer for traction. I drive back and forth across the back lawn, down the hill onto the driveway that is the town road and repeat the process endlessly until there's smoke coming from under the truck. The clutch is not only smoking, it's so hot that it melts snow into steam. Another really good idea.

I shut down the Ford and grab a shovel. I'll shovel the last hundred feet from the ruts in the snow I call a "run" up to the house and the basement window where I have a homemade chute to the wood bin.

Dawn appears and helps shovel snow. After 30 minutes, we've cleared a path. I back up the truck amid more smoke from the clutch. The wood is dumped down the chute into the wood bin. A clever person would note that a truck emptied of it's load will not run well through deep snow. Since I'm half way between clever and stupid, I leave a bit of uncured maple across the back bed of the truck over the wheel wells. With less traction, the wheels spin and the clutch smokes as I gun my way across the back lawn desperately trying to make it to the driveway.

I park the truck, close the driver's side window and hope the acrid odor of burned clutch will dissipate over time. My clothes reek. I look at Dawn and begin a rant of self deprecation about putting the firewood 300 yards away from the house, not hiring someone to plow a path in the back yard, about being too cheap to buy a snow thrower. It all adds up to one collective...
DUH.

Last year I made a wood sled. It was made from half inch plywood and 2X4's. The undercarriage of the sled dragged in deep snow. When fully loaded, the sled took two people to pull the F-ing thing. Two years ago, I got lucky and an ice storm coated the snow so I could wheelbarrow wood to the house.

Dawn's wearing a hooded sweatshirt sitting on the couch knitting a sweater for Matthew. I'm lolling in the warmest place in the house-my office. It's where the chimney runs through the closet cracking the plaster walls. The closet wall gets so hot, the door must be kept open.

We haven't ventured outside since before noon. Mandy is moaning next to me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fairy Dust

If it would only make it all go away. Sprinkle some on this post and it too, will disappear.

In the course of my reading I come across a word or phrase that's especially scintillating. It's something I'd use as a title to a short story, a blog post or perhaps a chapter title in a book that's trapped inside me. I came across just such a phrase in Peter Robinson's book, In A Dry Season.

The two other books I borrowed from the library at the same time to tide me over a cold and snowy weekend were returned Monday in disappointment. One, the story of a library cat, I label ugly schmooze. I love animal stories. Merle's Door is probably one of the best dog stories I've ever read. I find that the "library cat" book is panned by my library angel who read somewhere that the supposedly true story is a fake. The other, the follow-up book after the book that inspired the movie Field Of Dreams, is an insult to the reader. The author takes a humorous way of describing persons, places and events and flogs it without remorse. For example, if I were to assume the author's pose, I'd describe myself as Gavrillo, the goat bearded man. Throughout a story about Gavrillo, I'd refer to him as Gavrillo, the goat bearded man. Endless repetition, if you get my drift. I'll return to the musings of Gavrillo, the goat bearded man.

Because I didn't write down the phrase and this morning's search was fruitless, all I have is a memory of a clever way of writing about life. Do not despair. In The Week, I ran across another one:

..." I hope he gets what he deserves, a collective shrug and yawn. "

It's a subtle put-down without shouting, fisticuffs or gun play.

Yesterday, when the temperature struggled to rise above 3 degrees by noon, I did the collective shrug and yawn. Then I got out my cookbooks. There are thirteen hundred things I SHOULD be doing. In my garage workshop I have a church pew I'm going to saw in half and refinish into two hard benches. One will go into the entryway as a place to sit and remove boots and other winter gear. The other will go up for sale or be installed in a panoramic location outdoors for me to reflect on the human condition or do penance. I was raised Catholic so there is a mote of sins I've probably committed in my ensuing heathen years. I work at home which is a curse and a blessing. Yada yada yada.

My cooking skills are much like the rustic furniture I create. With a healthy dose of inspiration, I take leftovers and make something useful. In yesterday's case the leftovers were buttermilk and cabbage. The buttermilk became ricotta cheese and the cabbage-crunchy cabbage salad. In the interim, I surfed the French cookbook.

French cooking and me do not get along. Given that the frogs drink too much and slather heart clogging butter and cholesterol in their recipes, it's no wonder that the national death rate from heart attacks is alarming. A recipe will sound enticing, yet call for creme fraiche. Unless one has a bank of refrigerators in which to culture creme fraiche, you're stopped dead at creating this culinary delight. ...And no, there isn't a cool spot anywhere. I frequently put up "Beware" notes warning Dawn there's a pan of swill in the closet, a bowl of this or that in the summer kitchen or "watch out, do not spill" warnings as a result of yet another cooking spree.

Spare me a diatribe about the French. My ancestors on my mother's side came from Alsace Lorraine. I secretly want to wear a beret, go around pinching women's fannies and uttering Oo La La at every woman except those who live in Lafarge, which Johann characterizes thus: " It takes three women in that town to make a complete set of teeth." Johann said it not me. Since he once dated a woman there, I assume it's the truth.

The French cookbook has a recipe for yeast dough. Combining half the ricotta I made previously and eliminating the 3/4ths cup of butter, results in tender, flaky rolls. We have nothing in the fridge to put on the rolls. That calls for a road trip for sliced mesquite turkey and Virginia baked ham. I drop off a plastic bag full of my fresh rolls at the liberry, stop off at my mechanics garage to cancel an appointment and check the movies at the Village Market.

When I amble down the stairs this morning, the cat is nowhere to be found. Strange. I remember hustling him out of the studio before we went to bed. Dawn complains of a cold draft wafting from the back addition to the house. I close the french door with the cat lolling on the cedar chest watching varmints out the double door windows. Run back upstairs, no cat. Check all the closets. Open the studio door. Look in the basement. NO cat. The thermometer on the kitchen window hits -20. Noooo. We sometimes call him flash for his ability to sneak out without being seen. Did he sneak out on the last trip outside with Mandy? God I hope not. He is not the same cat that I found on a -10 February night, sleeping under the neighbor's deck.

Last place to check is the garage. When I grab the keys to the garage and open the door, he runs out into the breezeway. As luck would have it, I've been heating the breezeway and garage with ambient air from the wood furnace in the basement. Garage temps are in the high thirties. My potatoes in the summer kitchen must be kept at or near 40 degrees. The Pooch, as I write is sleeping comfortably on the warm throw at the back of the couch. Mandy is curled on the cushions of the couch. A trip outside for Mandy is a race to chase the birds at the feeder, pee next to the pine tree and drop a load on the driveway before racing inside to my praises of "good girl".

Minus twenty degrees is a little much when you walk outside in slippers.

And so we come to the end. As I eat breakfast, I glance out the east kitchen window and sparkling bits of snow drift by the window. Fairy dust? It's sunny outside. Not a hint of a snow filled cloud. When I get up to look at the phenomena, there's a fog like haze off to the hills in the east. It appears that fog caused by some unknown has been frozen into ice crystals.

If it would only make the weather disappear.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yo, Mo Snow

Gee, I love winter in Wisconsin.

The NWS (National Weather Service) advised against travel anywhere in the state Saturday. I-94 was impassable between Tomah and Hudson. This morning's weather map was a kaleidoscope of colors correlated to a winter storm watch, wind advisory, special weather statement, blizzard warning and a watch for the wicked witch of the North.

Mandy struggles in deep snow in the front yard. To get anywhere, she has to do the porpoise leap. It's all just a game with her and a different way to stride across the front field trying to outrun the county road crews. When the plow passes by on the highway, it throws up a huge spiral swirl of snow that forces her to back off from the chase.

We waited until the town crew came through on our road. Dawn shovels out the driveway apron in anticipation of a Monday morning commute. I dig the truck out which is parked across the road. Curious yellow-green marks in the snow tell me something I suspected previous to now. When I last changed the oil of my F-150 I filled the reservoir for coolant. I never think in advance to check the radiator when the engine is cool. Oh joy, the radiator has a leak. I should drive the truck to a remote location and shoot it dead with my .243. Tires, a rear window, brakes, rusted fuel filter, a check engine light that won't turn off, a new clutch, two 02 sensors, a crankshaft sensor and an engine that shakes like Barney Fife in a hold up when it's starting up in hot weather.

I shovel a path to the bird feeder opposite the kitchen window. Big mistake. The cat uses the path as a runway at unsuspecting birds. He's been banned to the breezeway and a perch on the seed bin to watch the antics of cardinals, blue-jays, lots of chickadees, juncos and an occasional woodpecker. About once an hour we hear a ping when some near sighted bird bounces off a window. There's a small sage wreath in one window of the breezeway and I'll find more suction cups to hang pewter Christmas ornaments of Milwaukee landmarks that my son gifted us a few years ago.

The view down the dead end of Kickapoo Center Lane was supposed to catch the wet snow clinging to the trees on the hills. Since the picture is a large format, you may be able to discern the snow covered trees by clicking on the image.




The sun distorted the shot of the front field. The other hills in the background are visible, if you ignore the fuchsia. In my defense, I was in a hurry to catch these shots before the camera iced up.

Wind chills are below zero today and an expected -11 overnight has me feeding the wood stove hourly. We alternate between the propane forced air heater and the wood stove because of a curious clause of our agreement with the gas co-op. In previous years we contracted for a set amount of fuel. Heating with wood keeps our house warm and toasty in even the coldest weather because the blowers on the wood stove run continuously. Only when the fuel supply runs out do the blowers shut down. That means every object in the house, the furniture, the kitchen stove, the floors and ceilings all are 70+ degrees. Overnight the thermostat on the propane heater doesn't get down to the pre-set 65 degree mark for operation because the house is so well insulated. In short if we heat with wood we use less gas. The clause in the propane contract says we have to use a minimum of 400 gallons in a heating season.

In some years we've used a total of 383 gallons over the course of a year. The propane company has waived the clause in the past, but I'm wary of pushing our luck. This year I've enjoyed the lazy comfort of turning up the thermostat to 68 degrees during the day. Our miserly pre-sets at 62 after 10PM and 65 for the day are history.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lucid Dreamer

I once mentioned to our former town clerk, a very uptight woman, that I had a dream about kissing Marilyn Monroe. "I'm not interested in your dreams," she snipped. The point was not that I had a suggestive dream about Marilyn Monroe, but that I was amazed that her upfront movie star, gorgeous and famous presence didn't match her personal self. Ms. Monroe, in reality wasn't the ditzy blond she played in public. She was intelligent and thoughtful, hence one marriage to Arthur Miller(the lucky guy).

The other night I'm walking through deserted buildings. It looks like a ghost town with only partial walls of the buildings remaining. Further along there's a migrant camp. I walk up the stairs to a school building which is still intact. Peering in the classroom, I see a teacher dressed like a bird. Her face is painted white with red streaks down a long yellow beak. Her students were all costumed as baby birds. I chuckled at the image of the mother bird and her fledglings. In my teaching career, tour of duty #2, I tried to create an atmosphere of caring concern along with a large dose of parental structure, given that many of my students came from disadvantaged home situations.

Then, last night I'm in a bar. The cocktail waitress brings a beer to our table. Many of the details have disappeared with the light of the day, but instead of a tip it was customary to fondle the waitress. OK, let's not get jiggy about the image. All I did was give her a pat on the ass. In my travels overseas, foreign men were much more likely to indulge in politically incorrect and socially frowned upon behavior that US males would shudder to even mention. Ask my ex-wife what it was like to walk in a crowd in Paris.

Dawn and I used to have the once a year dinner with her brother and sister-this is before the sister became an ugly sister. We had dinner at a crowded restaurant downtown. In the press of the crowd, as a joke, I grabbed my brother-law's butt to see what he would do. It was so crowded as the hostess led us to our table, he never suspected me. Imagine the guy looking around wildly at the crowd for a gorgeous woman with a big smile on her face. I miss having that kind of fun.

It snowed again last night. Heavy wet snow mixed with rain. When I let the kids out, both of them stopped dead in their tracks to examine large paw prints in the snow around the house and garage. These were print twice the size of Mandy's. Obviously the large dog or coyote was investigating the smell of a female dog in and around the house, up the drive way and off toward the lane between the corn field and our neighbor's horse corrals. I'll have to talk to the horses about that later.

The local bakery sells Zorba buns. They're puffy light buns mixed with green pepper and cheese. Yesterday afternoon, I perfected the recipe. I am so proud of myself. We had fresh leftover jalapenos in the Summer kitchen which I seeded and finely chopped. Then I cut aged cheddar cheese and some Colby into square chunks about a half inch, added some crumbled feta, chopped some fresh onion, mixed four cups of white flour, two tsp of kosher salt, yeast and fresh whole raw milk, put it all into the Cuisinart and made a large dough ball. It rose two hours on my warm oven before I popped it into a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes. There are a few tricks to the recipe, which I'll mention later if anyone cares.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Raindrops On Roses

"Raindrops On Roses..." I've totally blanked out the rest of the song, save for "These are a few of my favorite things." Yup, it's that time of year again.

It's snowed twice in the past week and half. The first, a big dump and the second a light dumpling. Each has been followed by biting cold. The kitchen thermometer the other day read one degree above zero. I'm not enthused about standing outside while Mandy chases birds gathered around the bird feeder.

My outside activities are curtailed and limited to hauling the compost out to the front field and covering the pile with wood ashes. The shovel I left next to the pile is frozen solid in the ground. The ashes discourage wolves, bears, raccoons and other varmints from gathering at the pile for a gourmet feast of coffee grounds and egg shells.


It's that time of year. More wine. Ask Dawn.

I call Johann at 9:00 am waking him up. He sounds like he's been drinking. "Wash yew want," he says. Slowly as he becomes more awake, the slurred words disappear and he sound's like the mountain man I know. The rise of the roof line of the new addition to the cabin has caused problems with the draft on the wood stove in the original shack. The peak of the two story addition acts like another chimney and forces serious downdrafts on his existing wood stove. At one point in the sleepless night, he explains, he awakens to a room filled with a smoky haze. I shudder thinking of paramedics removing him from his cabin, dead from smoke inhalation. That is, if they could drive down the road to his place. Snow, soft mud underneath and deep ruts would quickly foil an ambulance tire.



Jorge and I make plans for a shopping trip. The primary focus of the trip is an air compressor. They're on sale everywhere. After using Jorge's air compressor to inflate the new faulty tires on my truck, I learn that size does indeed matter. Each time I press the nozzle to the tire valve, his compressor shoots out air as it starts to fill the tire. The motor starts running and the tank quickly empties. As the gauge falls below 25 lbs, I shut off the valve and wait for the thing to recover. It takes four repetitions to get my tire up to snuff.

Oil filled or oiless, cfm's, horsepower, tank capacity all are significant factors in the purchase of an air compressor. It'll be a Christmas present to myself. I'm the number one person on my list. In the long range, I'll need a compressor for an air nailer when I begin building my greenhouse and chicken coop. The price varies from 39.95 up to $800. There's one in Madison at a tool supply business at a price I think is reasonable, but wait, I check a flier that came with the Shopping News There's one in Lacrosse $10 cheaper. I tell Mandy, "Road trip." I make a list. We'll be gone for a half day.

The start of the trip is delayed until my local branch bank opens. During the week, they're open from 10-2. I've been online researching Christmas presents. Rectangular baking stones 1/2 inch thick for bread making are not easy to find. The price is daunting. They insist on calling a wooden paddle for removing bread from an oven a pizza peel. There is no peeling in the procedure. Up to now I've been using a long handled metal spatula with a rivet missing on the grip. To slide the bread in the oven on a round pizza stone, I use parchment paper and cuss at the loves as they twist and turn while I burn my hands on the oven rack. I started forming my loves in a crescent shape to get them on the round pizza stone, but recently I rethunk my technique to making shorter french bread loaves.

The pizza peels are as expensive as the stone and come in a variety of woods. For some, the handle is replaceable. If one has a true brick oven, you can get the extra long handle at an extra cost. I find one made from bamboo which Dawn says is better because of a resistance to bacteria. The handle folds away for storage. That bothers me because I imagine the handle trying to store itself away while I'm putting loaf in a 400 degree oven.

I remember the rest of the line, "crisp apple strudel."

So Jorge and I are on the road. The short version of the trip: A stop to return the portable drill the glass installers left behind, grumpy clerks, unhelpful employees who don't know squat about merchandise and run away if you ask a detailed question, "I don't know sir what happened to the air compressor on the shelf. There was a display model there yesterday" and aisles filled with petarded customers whose shopping carts are overflowing with slow cookers and kitchen gadgets.

Food prices are out of control. Butter, unbelievable. Turkey ham-it used to be a staple and substitute for the more expensive version which is loaded with salt and chemicals is now more expensive than ham. WTF?

Dawn wants me to get yogurt. Finding a low fat version without a lot of sugar is comparable to research for a PHD dissertation. Jorge buys Greek yogurt which Dawn claims is all the rage now. She says it tastes like crap (my label) and is ridiculously expensive. The whole point is moot for me, since I'm lactose intolerable. I wouldn't be sitting here writing if I ate yogurt. I culture my own version of yogurt from raw, whole milk loaded with cream. I set it in the closet in my office where the chimney runs from the basement which is usually so warm I keep the door open to prevent items in the closet from being damaged. "Add some honey or strawberry jam," I tell Dawn. I still don't know if it meets her taste standards or if it qualifies for animal food.

The cat's probably frozen solid, since I left him outside after he ate breakfast. He'll make a good door stop until he thaws. I wanted to go into detail about the Asiago cheese bread I made, the mechanics of french bread cuisine, the staff of life, my library angel's comment, "What do you do with all that bread?" fleas, rennet, ricotta cheese-all sorts of things, but I've run out of gas.

So scroll up to Dawn's Christmas gnome. While you're gazing at the rosy cheeked elf, let me tell you about a guy walking through the grocery store on our road trip. I've seen and done a lot. This guy had me gaping, if only from the effrontery of appearing in public.

Substitute the tall elf hat for a knitted cap equally as high with a large Wisconsin W on the front. Add satin shorts, tights, a gray Wisconsin sweatshirt( I don't remember if he had the curled elf shoes on) a long horse face and a happy "hiya'll greeting to everyone as he passed by.

I started to wonder if I've been on the farm too long.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Five Steps

Two steps forward, three steps back.

My prepubescent summers were spent in northern Minnesota. The old homestead is 150 miles south of the Canadian/US border. The closest big town is Virginia not far from Bob Zimmerman's hometown aka Bob Dylan. Summer is short. Winter is forever. The primary crop is lumber followed by hay. Nothing else would tolerate -30 degree temperatures is the depths of January.

The main road to the white clapboard salt box style house which replaced the original homestead which burned down years ago is dirt and gravel. A two lane dirt track bordering a hayfield and fringed with pine trees ran to the Cussoons place (rhymes with swoon). Across the driveway from the house is a paint peeled building with large glass store windows. I'm tempted to call my sister to find out why I don't remember the inside of the store. As a kid my curious nature would lure me inside to inspect dusty shelves of nuts, bolts and hardware. If I did get her on the phone, I be regaled with stories of how she climbed to the top of the windmill in the yard teasing me for being afraid of climbing the rickety metal ladder. I'm not up to being regaled.

Grandma was bedridden on the second floor of the main house. I avoided going inside . I was freaked out by the loud moaning which could be heard through the open windows in summers. One of the daughters cared for grandma. The other daughter moved to the city like many of the residents. We'd walk in the woods and come upon a cabin sinking into the soft sandy soil. Beds had sheets on them and forks and knives lay on the kitchen table as if the people who lived there left in a hurry. Joe Cussoon drove an old '53 Chevy. He grinned a lot and let me sit on his lap and steer while he worked the gas and brake. My Dad and I went to visit him at his shack in the woods. He made a living as a logger. When he wasn't working he'd drink jug wine. When we pulled up to his place, he came to the door of the shack and peered out . A line of brown spittle ran down his cheek and chin from the snuff he chewed. When his feet hit the dirt below the three steps to the cabin, he'd take two steps forward and three back. He was so shitfaced only the woodpile next to the cabin kept him from falling backward.

I thought of Joe Cussoon on Friday. Good thoughts mostly because he was a decent sort of guy living a lonely life in the woods.

The first step forward is jumping in my truck to get new tires installed. It took me awhile to find used rims to replace the rims on my truck which were rusted, causing the tires to leak. The tires are new and shiny with white letters on the sides. My mechanic and I stand at the rear of his shop while his son does the zzzt zzzt thing with the pneumatic wrench. The old tires are rusted to the hubs and the kid has to whack the rims with a sledgehammer to get them off. "You'd never be able to change a tire on the side of the highway," my mechanic tells me. "The engineer who designed the spare to store under the bed of the truck must have been drinking", he says. "Look how rusted your spare is," he points out.

We glance out the shop window. There's a woman trying to shinny up the plastic conduit on the side of the house. Her ultimate goal is to reach the small deck at a back door. "She must've locked herself out," my mechanic says. She gets half way up and slides back down, removes her socks for a better grip with her feet and starts over. Now she's got our attention-all three of us. We watch her pulling herself up the conduit pipe. Her jeans are starting to slide down over her hips. We're hoping for more. I motion to the ladder leaning against the wall of the shop, muttering that it's criminal to be standing here watching, while we could be helping her. "They're all criminals" my mechanic says. "Everyone who's lived in that four unit apartment has been nothing but trouble. If it weren't for the old lady on the first floor who keeps an eye on my place, I'd be robbed blind." The conduit breaks at a joint exposing the inside electric wire.

"I had a neighbor who got electrocuted climbing a conduit," the mechanic says. "The wire frayed, the current surged through him and he was stuck tight. Couldn't move a muscle." "If it weren't for his dog," he adds, who jumped at his leg and grounded him, he'd be a goner." We move to his office so I can pay the bill and go home. "Boy, she really had a set on her," the mechanic says. When she bent over to pull on her socks, you could see everything." The door opens.

"Do you have a ladder I can borrow?" the young woman from behind the shop asks. The mechanic looks at his son and nods toward the shop. "I'm really hung over,"she says. "My dog is upstairs and I left the keys inside the apartment."

I've got extra cash after paying for the tires and I want to pick up a load of firewood. I notice a big improvement in the way the truck drives. As I pull in the yard of the sawmill, I tell myself I can really pile the truck full of blocks of wood with my new tires. It's been cold of late. Mostly near twenty degrees. I full down the flaps on my knit hat to keep my ears warm. As I toss blocks of wood into the bed of the truck, I'm careful to mound the blocks to protect the rear window. After tossing wood on to the bed of the truck I move to the back and stack blocks to form a barrier to keep my window safe. The trailer that takes the blocks of wood from a conveyor belt inside the sawmill is extra long. I've backed the truck so the bumper extends over the front of the trailer. Still I have to toss the heavier blocks with two hands. I toss a smaller block with one hand aiming for the right side of the truck bed to even out the load. The small block rolls up the ramp of protective blocks and glances off the right side of the window. It hits rights at the rubber gasket holding the window in place. I grimace as the entire back window turns to snowflakes. With the cold weather the glass is brittle and inflexible. I load the truck until the tires can't hold anymore and head for home. Mandy watches the back window while small pieces of glass tumble out whenever we hit a bump. By the time we get home, I've left a trail of tiny pieces of glass with most of it falling into the space behind the cab and the bed.

One step forward, two steps back.

I call my insurance agent who tells me we're covered for glass breakage. I call the 800 number for the insurance company and give a pleasant man who takes the claim information all the pertinent details. He tells me the cost of the window is $217. For $25 more dollars they'll replace my windshield wipers. "Oh, and by the way, you have a $250 deductible clause on your policy", he says.

Two steps forward, two steps back.

After removing most of the broken rear window, I pull the truck into the garage. Everyone's talking about a winter storm approaching. I call Dawn to tell her about the window. The glass company's coming on Monday to fix it. In the meantime you'll have to park in the driveway.

On Saturday morning I open the side door to the garage to find the driver's side tire flat. After 229 pumps with my Bell bicycle pump, I get enough air in the tire to be able to drive to the Kwik Stop and fill the two tires.

Three steps back.

On Sunday morning I find the front tire completely flat and a back tire losing air. I'll wait until Monday morning to call the mechanic. It's probably a valve stem leak. I hold back from the urge to call his shop and leave an angry message because that won't change anything. I call a friend and ask him to lend me his air compressor. He's on his way to Madison. He'll be back in the afternoon.

Four steps back.

He tells me he's going to stop at the building supplies chain of stores. I ask him to call me when he gets there, so I can price air compressors. Three hours later and he hasn't called.

Five steps backward.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mandy On Snow

I jump on the bed. It's time to get up. The light coming in the crack between the blue fleece bedroom curtains is a brighter white. As I suspected, it snowed last night. I could feel the weather change. Run, jump over snowbanks, plow through the snow with my nose snow. Hang my tongue out to catch snow. Snow for running fast. Oh yes, sometimes I trip in a hole, but high speed car chases below the highway berm are faster in the snow. I stretch out as thin as a rail when I speed race. Things smell differently with the snow for a background. Hidden things under the humps of grass in the river bottoms tell me there's something going on down there. Two geese fly overhead, one lighter in color than the other . The steel blue sky at the horizon and pale ghostly white at high noon turn the landscape into a fairyland. I watch the geese until they disappear over the hill. I can't believe he wants to go inside already. I want to run laps around the dried peony bushes, down the road and up again. There's nothing to do inside. I'll eat cat food until I throw up and then maybe I can go outside some more. Please tell me it's not getting dark already. It's only four thirty. I could keep this up for hours. He's clapping his gloved hands together. That's my signal to run like the wind and bounce off his knee, jumping high in the air with glee. I really like snow. I do.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Island

In my favorite news magazine, The Week, a New York Times reporter, David Carr, writes a piece for The Last Word, the end column of this magazine called "My Private Island". The Week is not a news digest. It gives aspects of the news as written by other reporters. One recent Last Word brilliantly summarized the current political situation. David Carr of the Times writes an insightful piece about spending six days on an island in the Bahamas. As you'd expect, there are learning lessons galore, like what happens when a person is no longer connected to the media stream, has to rely on a leaky row boat to travel to the closest store for supplies, creatively dreams up gourmet dinner fare with Doritos and rigs up a coffee filter from a paper towel.

I realized I've been living on my own private island for six years. If I walk east or south, I'll dead end in the Kickapoo river or sink in a muddy swamp in less ten minutes. Across the busy state highway is a pine tree forest that extends, again to a river and swamp barrier less than a mile down West River Road. Walking west following the old narrow gauge railroad berm that once served the sawmill for the bustling turn of the century town of Kickapoo Center, I'll again dead end at this same river. Only by jumping in my nine year old Chevy which recently went feet up in the air due to a digital clock on the radio recycling the time continuously for three days, can I escape. The constant drain on the battery served to freeze the electric locks, rimed the battery posts with white powder and to beat all-the engine compartment release stuck in the closed position. Oh wow.

I have a love/hate relationship with one link to the outside world, my brontosaurus computer. Because of the high cost of high speed Internet, I'm stuck with dial-up service. I frequently abandon any and all tasks that might glue me unnecessarily to this creaky office chair downloading updates. My wife Dawn finds bolts dropping from the underside of the chair at an alarming rate and one day I'll be in the middle of a sentence and...

The other day I found myself cackling like an idiot savant when I caught my goatee in the zipper of my winter coat. For fun I sing Christmas carols to the dog. Mandy finds my warbling as annoying as speaking Mandarin Chinese in a staccato voice. I decide that in the absence of a gym and workout center within a half hour radius, I pay my bills in person, justifying that the frequent in, up and out of my Chevy is a low metabolic fitness routine. Other than my wife, the two people I see most frequently are 70 and 85 years old respectively.

When I can get a word in edgewise with the head librarian who even hums while drinking coffee and the 70 year old assistant who can't hear a word you're saying unless she sees your lips moving, I look for excuses to leave before I'm assailed with yet another story about the local farm wife mauled by pigs, or finding someones Grandma lying on the floor of her apartment tangled in bedclothes unable to answer the door. The added description of Granny soiling herself not once but three times is enough to make me want to go home and make more wine.

The nearest town has a state of the art library, two corner bars, three restaurants and two emporiums with names that explain all: Cheapo Depot and Crazy Franks. I stopped going to one of the three restaurants for lunch when the $4.95 special was white bread, butter and a single slice of deli ham. The other two restaurants speak for themselves. The bank has established a new manager for the Yummy Tummy restaurant right next door to an established bistro where one enticement is to gossip about the fortyish waitress there who recently did hard time for her sixth DWI.

Pooch, the cat spends enough time next to me on the slab of wood that serves as a counter and table for all my office equipment that he asked me to put him on Facebook. Today's list of tasks involves trying to beat last night's menu of posole and red chili beans, making my own ricotta cheese, bottling black cherry wine which I've been using as a homemade barometer watching the level of water rise and fall in the homemade airlock in conjunction with the crappy weather. If I get really desperate, I'll chase cars by the red dogwood in the front field running along the highway berm with Mandy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My morning begins with the usual routine. After a night of wrestling animals who decide that the overnight temperatures of 65 without a wood fire are frigid and require sleeping on top of me or at my side, I let the duo outside. When I go to the back door to let Mandy inside, she's curiously absent. Pooch, the cat is in the back yard. I assume he's monitoring the dog's antics. No so. No Mandy.

Searching the east, south and west property lines I find the mutt hot on the trail of venison. My neighbor hung a freshly killed deer in his shed next to the horse corral. Yesterday Mandy went into the shed with hackles raised because of the strange animal hanging from a rafter. Today, she's searching for tasty scraps. In sweats and slippers I walk through frozen grass to retrieve the dog. I know once I get close. she'll sense my presence and come out of the shed.

"Get over here. You're not supposed to be in there," I tell her. Ears flatten. "Get home." She sides away from me knowing I'm pissed to have to walk the equivalent of a city block to my neighbors half dressed. Thankfully, it's not 12 below zero. She skulks home.

The Pooch is regular as summer sunshine. He appears for breakfast, eats one half of the serving of raw chicken liver and raw ground pork. I let him out again. Mandy prefers cooked food. I mix sauteed ground pork with her dry dog food. She ignores the meal, preferring to stretch out on the couch. You see, she probably didn't get much sleep with the guy next to her tossing, turning, snoring and pushing her over to make room.

A bit later, I'm thrilled to find the cat in front of the kitchen window with that, "Aren't you going to let me in look" on his puss. Thrilled that he follows my arm motions to the deck door. Like a traffic cop at an intersection I exaggerate the arm movement with a series of crooks of my right arm motioning to the right. Patricia McConnell in her blog, The Other End of the Leash verifies that dogs follow arm motion commands. Chimps and wolves do not. I knew we'd aptly named our cat The Pooch. He's a reincarnated dog from a past life.

While I pay a steady stream of bills and call Dawn to find out what the curious mark in our checkbook indicates, I hear the patter of hoof beats upstairs. Dog and cat are playing tag. Much of the time the dog is too large and too rough for any extended play, but I notice frequently that the Pooch loves to challenge Mandy. His teasing comes in several forms.

In the house he'll utter a cat errp and race off. "Come catch me" is the ruse. Outside, if he has enough distance to escape, he'll race off toward the cover of the deck or a bush egging Mandy into a game of chase. Mandy is one smart dog, but dumber than dirt compared to our cat. She falls for the same tricks, time after time.

I don't remember if I mentioned it, but the other day Mandy learned how to climb a step ladder leaning against the open deck of Johann's cabin. She had me wound around her paw for months getting me out of bed with a whine and complaint in the middle of the night. I'd get my robe on and let her outside. Finally, disgusted with the routine I ignored the grunts. She quit after she found I wouldn't arise. Her thick headed master didn't understand the vocalizations as a form of "I miss you Dad. Can I climb in bed."

This morning I find a way to get back at her for all the interrupted sleep. Sipping the last of my coffee I sing a Christmas carol. Not the words, mind you, just nonsense vocalizations to the tune of Deck The Halls. When I reach the high pitched part of the song, she's nearly crazy with the cacophony assuming I'm hurt or in pain. Tail wagging, paws on my knee with a stop, stop, puleeze look on her face, I blow on her nose. That's it. That's all she can take. Probably the coffee fumes were the last straw. She paws at me and I get up to get away from the crazed dog to throw the dishes in the sink.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The End

I'll mark today, November 27th at 4:15 pm as the end of the 2010 gardening year.

It was a long year.

Potatoes went in this year on the Thursday before Easter which is really early. April 1st to be exact. The date corresponded with the full moon and caused me some worry. The onions were already in the ground in garden plot number one. Every year I worry about the garden. Trees fall in the middle of the the field, not once, but twice. Floods submerge my plants causing me to replant in June after an especially nice beginning. The potato worry is lessened when I discovered young plants are recharged after the tips are frosted.

The row cover you see here is frozen to the ground. The pumpkins holding the cover in plants are iced. I managed to pry up the rear portion of the row cover where I removed the wire hoops over the bed. One spinach plant remained. Not only was the spinach plant alive and well, but it loved the cold so much it was like a small bunch of romaine lettuce. We're not talking medium cold. Two nights ago the temperatures at first light were 12 degrees. The grass is brittle and crunches under foot.

Johann invited me up to visit the construction on his cabin. I told him I'd come when the outside air hit 30 degrees. It took until mid afternoon. Mountain Man Johann was working hatless in a ragged flannel shirt. His wind generator was spinning so fast that if it weren't anchored to the cabin, it would have flown to the next county. I'm wearing two heavy layers and a winter coat. Standing on the first floor of a yet to be enclosed cabin, I covered my ear flap cap with the hood of the parka. I was still cold. The view from the west window of his cabin is breathless and looks down a five mile valley.

Thanksgiving is always a let down because Dawn usually has to work. Years ago, when she worked for the post office, the holiday mail rush interfered with holiday plans. My usual routine is to work odd jobs. This year I cleaned the basement floor and did laundry. I cooked a half turkey but started it too early. The result was disappointing. To bolster my wounded chef ego, the next day I made fantastic, chewy chocolate chip cookies like my Grandmother used to bake. I also made whole wheat buns and a small loaf of whole wheat bread. Last week's oatmeal cookies turned out so well, I'm enthused about trying more complicated recipes. A sourdough bread, artisan crunchy bread with Asiago cheese and perhaps a traditional French baguette-you know the kind a Parisian would tuck under an arm while shopping at the boulangerie.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some days just turn out odd.

Starting from the end and working backwards, I thought we'd wake up to this scene on Thanksgiving morning. Mandy gives me the cold, hard stare which can mean one of two things. Since I had no cookie or pecan cake in my hand, I assumed this meant "out". All afternoon the weather is sleeting alternating with small hail. When Mandy hits the driveway, she loses traction on the ice. I've got my Redwings on and start to slide so I move over to a grassy portion. What is this stuff? I'm translating from Blue Heeler to English. She stares, walks over to the grass on the berm and spies something in the grass. Very quickly she's back to the breezeway. Inside she drops the object from her mouth on the mat in the entrance way. It's a rock. "What's with the rock, Mandy? " Puzzled, I go back to the movie on TV.

Wednesday morning has me knee deep in ground corn. With Jake's grain shovel, I'm pushing aside the stream of corn oozing out of the tube from the grinder. Jake and the Amish Patriarch are perched on top of the bin poking, prodding and hitting the sides of the round red cylinder to get the sticky mix of fine ground corn and milk powder free flowing. Once the iron wheeled wagon is full, we adjourn to the woodshop to fix the guard on my chop saw. I've waited two weeks for Johann to volunteer to fix it but he's in the process of adding a new wing to his shack on the ridgetop.

While the Patriarch fumbles with the spring and the metal plate holding the spring in place, Jake uses a pliers to hold a square shafted bolt in place behind the cover shield over the washer and bolt holding the saw blade in place. I stand back offering instruction when things go awry. Then a diesel pick-up pulls in the drive with a long, bright new aluminum cattle trailer on the hitch. The owner wants to install Plexiglas over the slots near the top of the trailer to keep cattle from getting "shipping fever" in winter. The driver and his father-in-law stand next to the table saw platform where we're trying to wind the spring in place. In a few minutes the scene turns into a late night comedy routine as the cattle truck driver joins in the assemblage. We've dumped over a box of sockets and a wrench, dropped the spring several times, lost the bolt once or twice and resorted to drilling out the aluminum rivet holding one side of the access plate in place. A comment is made about the pollack changing the light bulb and after the laughter subsides, we've got the shield assembly back together. The assumption is that the manufacturer puts the guard in place much like we did with the final step of riveting the mechanism to the frame. The Patriarch searches for his rivet gun and a large rivet. I forgot to mention that when we originally came into the shop, the wind caught the door and someones elbow busted the glass. There's glass scattered over the floor and a dangerous jagged piece hanging in the window.

The confusion increases as various well wishes and ne'er do-wells come into the workshop to wish the Patriarch a happy thanksgiving. I walk back to the house and ask Mom for two of the four bags of breakfast sausage I'd brought as payment for bothering her husband with a mechanical chore. She looks at me quizzically as I explain,"I'll replace the sausage in a bit. I want to give some to Jake for helping with the saw." "You don't have to bring more,"she says. Jake is pleased with the breakfast sausage, saying you didn't have to do that. "I didn't have to but I wanted to," I add with emphasis. "I'll get you the recipe," I tell him.

Jake raised the pig we have in our freezer. I want to keep our connection open because he also raises goats. Although Dawn says she dislikes the taste of goat meat, I'm partial to goat cheese. The thought of butchering one of the friendly faced goats when I visit Jake's farm makes me shudder.

I run over the ridge top back home and grab more zip lock bags of sausage for the Patriarch and for Jake. I've refined my sausage making, cutting them like you would cut sugar cookies with the rim of a drinking glass. I can get more of the smaller patties in a quart freezer bag. It seems right to have two smaller sausage patties with my egg and pancake then one huge burger. Dawn reminds me of this later as I'm making hamburger patties, asking me to cut the size to a more manageable third pound. Copying the recipe I convert the gram weight amount of salt to teaspoons. Driving back to the Amish farm, all is quiet. Inside the warm kitchen, the patriarch is having lunch. Because they're not Norwegian, lunch is lunch, not the late afternoon snack most folks in the area refer to as lunch. To confuse all they call lunch dinner and dinner supper.

Lunch is my breakfast sausage, fresh biscuits, a tray of scalloped potatoes and apple pie. I have a hard time declining the pie, as a daughter hands me a steaming cup of fresh coffee and a plate. I leave for Jake's farm, deliver the recipe and extra bag of sausage and briefly mull the short jog to Bent and Dent groceries. I should be home loading firewood, so I make a left on highway 14 for home.

Later in the afternoon, I take Mandy for a ride to the library. With the prospect of a closed library for the holiday, I want to be sure I have enough to read. All the computers are in use with a gaggle of kids hanging out in the main room watching the seated computer users. One of the computers nearest the librarian's desk is occupied by a man you could confuse for Norm in thew TV show Cheers. He takes his spot everyday in mid afternoon wiling away the time until closing. I notice his name frequently on the cards for signing out DVD's. My library angel goes in a back room to quiet down the rowdy kids. She finds three of them sleeping on the floor in the conference room. "I told Johnny( not his real name) that he could bring a sleeping bag to the library. they don't have any heat at home," she says.

The library serves as a surrogate baby sitting service, emergency shelter, source of a pitiful income for locals selling off their DVD and video collection in desperation to buy milk at the Kwik Stop, information central for all gossip and social center for the lonely like me. It's slippery and wet outside as I ask repeatedly for the 80+ year old head librarian if she has a ride home. "Sure, sure, I do," she says. " J__ will pick me up on his way back home. He's in Sparta right now. " Mandy and I leave for home to rescue the cat who been asleep in his cardboard box on the work table for the past hour. I hit the remote control button on the garage door opener as the Pooch stands up, yawns and stretches.