Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cadger, Coot, Codgers

Blogger has a feature called "Blogs of Note". On my dashboard it lists blogs that someone in the dark reaches of the sub-basement at Blogger decides to highlight as worthy of mention.

I enjoy reading new blogs singled out on Blogs of Note because it gives me contrast and comparison. One blog I most identify with is a recent pick-"Throw Grammar From The Train". The writer writes that she's a reformed nitpicker. At last someone's interested in the vagaries of the English language. There's a subtle sense of humor behind the musings of the nitpickers.

Our former town clerk prided herself as a kind of amateur editor. When I ponied up some friends to donate a few dollars and time to publish a town newsletter, she jumped in to nitpick. Trouble was, she had a nasty side, almost a literary form of terrorism. The newsletter was abandoned when the town chairman decided it was safer for him avoid the snarling menace who had a cubbyhole in the back of the steel shed that is the town hall. Rather than confront her about letting us use the town's donated laser printer, he offered several excuses. Making hand gestures of a snarling tiger, he says, "I don't want her to quit." In a curious turn of events, the next town clerk became the town chairman's real nemesis. In an argument at the town dump, the two elders get into a tussle and the town chairman throws the town clerk to the ground. "I lost my cool," he later tells the judge at a court hearing. I guess nitpicking can be dangerous.

All of the above is a reaction to a picture I wanted to take of myself and Mandy May. When I saw the picture, the word codger comes to mind. Before I get to the meaning of codger, I have to point out that Mandy is afraid of the camera. At least when I pick up my digital Canon, she shies away. It made it difficult to get the image I wanted. Remember the words to a song by Crosby Stills and Nash? I forget the exact title. It may have been "Almost Cut My Hair" . In the song David Crosby says he wonders why he's letting his "freak flag" fly. To protect my skin from the harmful effects of the summer sun, I grew a beard. On any given day I spend 75% of my time outdoors. Since last Dec. I've had a beard. In the middle of the summer the itching got to me. I shaved the beard to a goatee. Now the goatee is long enough to tie a ribbon around like some of the bikers I see parked in front of the corner bar. Part of the "freak flag" experience is competing with Johann who has a perennial mountain man look. When you have to haul water from a spring shaving is of lesser importance.

So, with a cat stretched out on the table next to me and the dog on the carpet chewing on her blankie and a reticence to get going to this morning, I mull over growing older. I think it's a form of stalling, since I'll hit the door running once I get out of the shower. Picking up a bushel of apples, more yard work, nasty wood stove maintenance in the basement-the usual. Yesterday I got hit with the realization that its been a long time since I've had a truly create moment that didn't involve carpentry, dirt, canning or animals.

Codger, my Oxford English etymology says, is a stingy old man. Since it's become a familiar appellation it has been abbreviated to just old man, fellow or chap. That's a bit nicer. At the end of the entry is the reference to cadger. Looking up cadger I find it to be of unknown origin, first used to mean carrier and later itinerant dealer. Dawn's sisty ugler, an opinionated and ill tempered bitch, questioned Dawn's choice of an English etymology book as a gift. So as a retort to the nasty beaacch I'll point out that the codger entry has a pressed mosquito between the pages. I left the back door open for the kids to come and go as they please. An inquisitive mosquito made it to my office where I slammed the book open to codger on his skinny little body. So there, Miss Nasty Donna. There's more than one way to research etymology.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Horse and Colt show ends in a slow fizzle when I see a flatbed truck hauling porta-potties down the highway. Most of Sunday afternoon diesel semi's pulling horse trailers with AC, special windows and fancy detailing are followed by owners driving hundred thousand dollar portable living rooms which were parked early-on in Banker Park down by the river. A customer in the bank in Readstown tells the cashier behind the newly installed security window that the river is expected to crest over the weekend. Heavy rain upstream will have the RV's hub deep in water, judging by the pasture across the highway from us which is a small lake.

Johann drives off in his Isuzu which he restored to functioning after hitting a deer. After dropping off 13 pounds of concord grapes for juice and wine, he goes in search of four nearby loud shot gun blasts that send a flock of honking geese overhead. My cell phone rings. "Two crackers in waders crouching in the pasture," he reports. Beautiful fall weather has the leaves in full fall bloom. Mornings are shrouded in fog when cold air crashes into warm.

My late fall crop of radishes and greens in the old onion garden is doing nicely except for the spinach. The peppers work overtime. Dawn cans 21 pints of pepper onion relish from the Joy of Pickling book. The author remarks that this is a relish for cooking as opposed to traditional "on the table" sweet relishes. I get to sample the batch immediately because one jar doesn't seal. In my estimation there's too much vinegar. I consider cooking it down to reduce the volume of liquid which according to the recipe is four cups of cider vinegar for a double batch.

Thanks to my library angel I have eight tubs of raspberry freezer jam in the upright freezer. To show my appreciation I give her a sample of Amish butter. Her assistant likes it so much that she asks me to pick her up a tub of butter and a quart of milk. The price of sugar has been fluctuating like a bear/bull market. Despite the departure of the hummingbirds, we go through ten pounds of sugar at a phenomenal rate. I monitor the price between Wal-Mart and the Amish bulk store. The same is true for canning lids and spices. Usually the bulk store is less expensive than Wal-Mart. A typical freezer jam recipe calls for 5 1/2 cups of sugar for 3 pounds of crushed fruit. I spread it thinly on toast and bagels. The flavor is so intense it doesn't take much.

Now that Apple Fest is over and everyone has returned to Chicago, the Amish dicker for a crate of apples from a local orchard. Purchased in large quantities, the cost per bushel of Cortland apples is under $10. The Patriarch mentions getting a fifty gallon barrel of apple cider. They use it for making vinegar. I'm looking at hard cider and canned juice for the winter. I bring them a bottle of my strawberry wine which won't store for a long time because the wine maker put the cork in upside down. It leaks wine and more importantly will allow air into the bottle. They take it with a cautionary note saying, " We only use it for medical emergencies."

My girl spends her afternoons sleeping on the red easy chair in the garage. Busy with yard work and the usual home maintenance projects, I try to take out a few moments every now and then to toss the Tidy Cat lid which is our version of a Frisbee. All the potatoes have been moved to their winter quarters in the summer kitchen. The space in the basement is filled with kindling and fire starting materials. At this time of year the wood stove is used sporadically which means starting a new fire whenever I want to chase the morning chill out of the kitchen. The Pooch has several blankets on the folding table next to the drier. I move one out to a work table. The kids like to snooze in the shelter of the garage while keeping an eye on the grounds.

I'm on my last Charles Martin novel, Where The River Ends. His sometimes sad and often inspiring tales will be missed. Dawn reads Chasing Fireflies . I frequently think of the aphorisms of Unc, one of the main characters in that novel. Putting your boots in the oven doesn't make them biscuits is one of my favorites. Frequently the Amish Patriarch remarks about city people and their naive assumptions of country folk and life out here. I get caught up in enthusiastic and idealistic notions that I've learned to take time and reassess. When I found a wine making supplies business on line, it became obvious that it'd be easy to go overboard. Keeping in mind the original purpose of my wine making which was to take an inexpensive and readily available source of fruit and turn it into an enhancement of our do it yourself lifestyle, I avoid the $100 wine kit pitfalls.

Going from using instant bread yeast and hit and miss sanitizing solutions, I put in an order today which refines the process just enough to take the guess work out of making a quality beverage. The inexpensive corker replaces my whacking corks into the bottle with a rubber mallet. I have three specialized wine yeasts which will improve the flavor. Instead of bleach which can leave a residue which is difficult to rinse from a bulky glass carboy, the new no rinse sanitizers make the process more efficient as does a hygrometer for measuring specific gravity. Watching the fancy trucks, customized cars, antique and collectible cars and semis loaded with pointy nosed jet fuel tractors, I can see how easy it could be to let an idea take over your life to the exclusion of everything else.

Now, let's think about raising chickens, ducks, pigs and goats...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pork Chop

I avoid the cliche, Bad To The Bone for not so obvious reasons. This is a story partially about a bone. The rest is just misfortune. Bones are all over the place. Mandy chews one, discards it on the lawn for me to run it over with the riding mower. They're rock hard hard. I jump from the noise the whirling, double set of blades on Fred, the mower, when he runs one over. The dog hides them in leaves, buries them in lawn clippings and under rocks by the silver maples. The pork chop bone had meat on it. Mandy chews fat and gristle until it gleams white.

The afternoon disappears in a wine making buzz. This is the stuff to keep you on the edge of your seat. The totally overcast afternoon will darken quickly at dusk. It throws the cat off balance. He comes in the house at five for an afternoon nap on the back of the couch. Taking advantage of a cornered cat, Dawn and I decide that we're too lazy to whip up a gourmet dinner. "Let's get Chinese food from Richland Center." The twenty minute ride down a newly repaved U.S. highway with a golden afternoon sun peeking through rain clouds is a marvel. Green fields, golden corn fall colors of red, brown and gold on expansive hillsides reminds me why I moved back to Wisconsin.
On the return trip the orange, mercury vapor yard lights next to farm houses are lit up. Recent rains bring the river up over it's banks. Two pastures directly to the north and east of our place are again small lakes. I hit the garage door opener over the visor of the car so we can see better. We unload our leftover Chinese food, a few items Dawn finds at the dollar store and the two tubes of caulk from Wal-Mart. Mandy wanders looking for new scents to discover. I flip on the yellow spot light in the breezeway and go back outside to monitor the dog. The bright light in the new addition blinds me temporarily. I don't see this bone standing on edge on the driveway. Who put that bone on edge? What are the chances the dog left it that way? OW! Something is stuck in my shoe. WTF!. I bend over and there's this bone sticking out of the sole of my leather shoe. Oh, that's painful. I pull it out and limp back into the house.

I untie my shoe, roll back the sock and rub the puncture wound with a gauze pad dripping with peroxide. Dawn offers maximum consolation with a sole question,"Did it bleed?" Like many things she says, I don't ask her the reasoning behind it. The answer will be convoluted and unnecessarily complicated. For some unknown reason she feels that I have an encyclopedia of knowledge tucked away in the far reaches of my brain. On the drive down to Richland Center she notes a field full of Black Angus cattle. "Look at all the calves, " she says. "How many calves can a cow have in a year?" she asks me. About all I know about cattle is the difference between the front and rear. I don't know what a heifer is. I can't tell you the difference between a Holstein and a Frisian or polled Hereford. I speak too quickly and botch a clever response. " Uh just a minute Dawn while I dial up my inner Wikipedia."

OW. OW. OW. It's been one of those days. Do they have a pre-set pattern or do I make them into a series of misfortunes?

I've got five pounds of rough looking pears and slightly bruised apples in a plastic sack in the garage from Bob my neighbor. There's not enough to make a new batch of wine. The pear wine on the kitchen island has a mass of fruit, raisins and must drifting on the top like the Sargasso Sea. The fermentation has slowed. I decide to add more juice to the existing carboy.

I grind quartered apples and sliced peas with my Champion juicer. The yield is approximately three quarts of juice. I add a quart of filtered water to top off the batch at one gallon and slowly heat the must.

When it warms up, I add a cup of sugar, dissolve a Campden tablet and add one teaspoon of yeast nutrient. Gone are the days of tossing crushed fruit into a bucket and tossing in bread yeast. While the sugar, the sodium metabisulfite and nutrient are dissolving, I strain the carboy containing the mass of gunk floating at the top of my existing pear wine. The glass jug is bulky and the strainer clogs instantly. I takes four pours and frequent whacking of the strainer into the side of the compost bucket. Only God knows how many micro-organisms I'm introducing into my partially fermented wine. I taste the wine dripping from the strainer and decide the new juice should have a cup more sugar. This half done wine is too tart.

I check the temperature of the juice cooling in the stainless steel pot on the stove. The package of wine yeast says the optimum temperature for culturing yeast is between 100 and 105 degrees. Remember now, this is Uncle Bob's wine making school. Uncle Bob knows better. Uncle Bob follows his own set of rules. Uncle Bob already has a name for his peach wine-Yellow Fever. Never mind that this is another episode of the "Stupids". Bob isn't going to culture his yeast in a separate container. Making bread Uncle Bob discovers that adding sugar to warm water and some bread yeast causes the yeast to foam over and out of the top of the Pyrex measuring cup. So U.B. adds the wine yeast directly to the cooled juice which the candy thermometer says is 105 degrees. Bob ignores the article about making hard cider he printed off from the Internet. After adding the Camden tablet, the sole purpose of which is to kill wild strains of yeast and other contaminants, one is supposed to wait two days before adding wine yeast. Duh.

The gallon of newly mixed apple/pear juice with all the fixins' goes into the filtered batch in the carboy. I cap the five gallon jug and run a plastic tube into a gallon jug of water. I figure after washing the dishes and cleaning up the spill wine on the floor, I'll be hearing plop, plop coming from the water bottle.

I go outside to do battle with the wasps who have built a nest in the carsiding near the eave of the garage. I check my caulk job on the thresholds of the breezeway so that subsequent rainstorms lashing the back entrance don't leak water into my new space. Inside on the island everything is quiet. The half filled carboy is dead quiet. Check on dog and cat. Walk out to garden and pick dried beans for next year's seed. Think about making pepper/onion relish on Saturday. Dawn has to work the quilt show in town. Apple Fest will be humming with tourists in Gays Mills and the highway will be busy with trucks hauling monster tractors for the Horse and Colt show tractor pull in Viola.

When Dawn pulls up at five the familiar sound of kerplunk begins in the water jug. I am so relieved. Dawn regales me with stories of making goodies for the bake sale and lunch on Saturday's quilt show. She's got five woman helping to peel and prepare fruit. She says the older they get the more these elders behave like children.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Off Grid

In a vain attempt to "smarten up" I check the NWS Lacrosse weather Wednesday morning. There's a forest green area above Vernon County which a color coded grid on the right side of the main page tells me is a flash flood alert. When I click on the map for Viola, the forecast is heavy rain in the evening and 80% chance today. I begin, "Oh no! There's bad weather a'comin'," activities. I'll cram two days of work into one daylight stretch. First, I clean gutters. Then, because it's sunny and warm I do the laundry. I have to string an extra clothes line between the pine trees to accommodate sheets and a cover blanket. The storm door to the deck is faded and should be repainted. I have extra trim paint from the breezeway project. I start a list of necessities from town to complete other tasks. Polyurethane for the thresholds in the breezeway, more caulk to replace the tube I shot in a hole wasps had created in wainscoting above the garage siding. As of this writing, I'm winning the war with wasps who have eaten their way into the garage attic, through the caulk, ignoring jet streams of wasp spray. It's payback for two stings to the face when I replaced the photoelectric cell above the yard light.

The Kwik stop installed a soda fountain. 32 ounce cups of diet Coke laced with cherry syrup cost 99 cents. The caffeine jump starts a grass mowing frenzy. My phone rings. "Are you comin' to the library today?" my library angel asks. "Uh, I wasn't planning on it," I reply. "I've got an ice cream pail of raspberries for you," she says. I drop everything, grab some magazines and a book about living greener Dawn borrowed. Mandy and I drive to town.

It's not easy to make a quick stop at the library. I leave Mandy in the car vowing to hop in and out "in a jiffy". Three peanut butter cookies, a pail of raspberries and advice from two veteran raspberry growers about starting your own raspberry patch along with a good deal of explanation and story telling from the head librarian and I'm back on the road. Dawn drives up.
"I'm gonna mow until it starts to rain," I inform her. In two hours I've mowed most of the important parts of our five acres. The berm by the highway is picture perfect. The field behind the gardens is too cluttered with pumpkin and gourd vines. It'd be dark before I finish mowing that portion. I decide to quit. Hopefully it won't rain for three days in a row and I'll be able to get to it before the hay stage. Pulling the mower into the shed by the highway, huge drops of rain start to pelt the steel roof. Mandy and I run for cover.

Around bedtime I call Mandy for one last time outside. Earlier, the sky is gloomy dark before seven when the two of us go out in search of the Pooch. He trots down the deck and I snatch him before he can escape. Mandy gets the chance to do her business . Dawn and I settle into the last disc of Glee. The Pooch nestles himself on the back of the couch. After two episodes and the final installment when the New Directions glee club goes to Regionals, the Pooch has worked his way onto his back, feet up in the air. Mandy is curled on her chair. Now she is sitting at the back door staring at the rain. I try to entice her to follow me outside. I grab a paper feed sack for a head cover. Mandy crawls under the truck. I give up on getting her to pee one last time. By the time I'm settling in to another Charles Martin book, booms of thunder have Mandy trembling and panting. She hides under the bed. The cat comes up and inspects the dog hiding under the bed. "Dum dum," I see in a the cartoon dialogue balloon over his head. I get Mandy to jump on the bed so I can console her. Then the lights go out.

Duh, I mutter to myself. Power's out. Thunder crashing and lightning illuminates the bedroom even with the shades drawn. I go downstairs and unplug all the components to this computer. The power is on when I check the time on my cell phone but all the clocks are flashing. It's after one. The rain has subsided for a moment. I let the dog out while I grab a drink of water. From the kitchen window I wash Dum Dum standing in an area illuminated by the yard light watching the east fence line. After a five minute wait, I walk in the breezeway and whistle for the dog. I hope no one drives down the highway to see me standing naked in the yellow spotlight .

In the morning the power is off again. That means no shower for Dawn. She has a new shorter haircut and her hair is spiky without her early morning routine. I don't miss not having electricity, except that the pump isn't running. No water-hot or cold. I wonder how I can connect a gas generator to the pump motor. The electric company calls to check on the outage. The telephone company truck drives down the lane to fix their interface tower on the fence line which is also out of power. I briefly talk with a man wearing yellow high waders while Mandy goes into guard dog mode and then jumps on his knee and begs for attention. Dawn calls on the cell phone. "Nope, no power," I tell her. The gas stove has an electric starter, but we have plenty of Bic lighters. There's also two other propane stoves for cooking in the summer kitchen. I can't wash new potatoes so I settle for frozen. Coffee is heated in a saucepan. I trim the wick on the mason jar kerosene lamps to be able to see the food cooking on the stove. Rummaging in the camp equipment in the basement, I find the camp stove toaster. There's no sun so the solar shower isn't an option. I'm starting to smell like Johann. Back in the 70's when we lived in a tent for a year, I decided that running water is a necessity. If this outage goes for any length of time, I'll call Johann to find the source of the spring he uses for his water source. I chuckle to myself when I think about the time I mentioned to the Amish patriarch that our power went out in a storm. Glibly he says, "I didn't notice."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Last evening Pooch kitty stretches supine on a knitted afghan Dawn made especially for him. Tongue lolling, paws in begging position, he fits snugly in the depression between the big overstuffed cushions and back of the couch. "I remember when you were little," she says to him. "We thought we'd lost you." Two years and a healthy diet of raw chicken livers and Purina One, he no longer disappears in the folds of the couch. It's difficult to adjust to the evening/morning contrast. Couch kitty and panther. I look at him snoring on the couch as we sit enthralled with another musical number in the Glee series. "You need to learn to relax," I chuckle.

Early this morning chairs rumble in the attic as God rearranges the furniture to send Mandy running for cover. The Pooch is unconcerned. This is prime hunting time. Johann remarks about the blood stained threshold to the breezeway. I casually explain Pooch's caught another deer mouse trying to sneak cat food spilled from his dish . The mice are unaware that once they cross the doorway from garage to breezeway, they're trapped. The Pooch bats at the mouse at it scurries along the log siding looking for an exit. I snatch it from a growling cat, gripping it by the end of the tail as blood drips from his mouth.
Checking out the weather map, I click-on first frost dates for this area. Muggy, warm temperatures and thunderstorms forecast for the morning and early afternoon will soon be replaced by a cold front. The average first frost looms between the autumn equinox and the end of the month. Folks around here and this person will be scrambling to harvest those jalapenos. After a quick run for butter, the inclement weather allows me an excuse to make raspberry freezer jam, hotter sauce ( without the seeds, the first batch is too mild) and perhaps more of my mini loaves of white bread. Actually they're supposed to be hamburger buns/rolls, but frequent gaffs make them large enough to hold a one pound burger-mountain man style.

Speaking of mountain men, Johann with his full bushy red beard, plug of snoose between lip and cheek and a kerchief tied do-rag style over his bald pate leaves us on our own to drive to Cashton and find a new window for the rear entry. I knew it was a bad idea to leave him behind, but good weather waits for no one. When he does call, supposedly he was in a dead zone for cell phones. I know better. He's got a lady friend down south.

Dawn laughs when we finally find the window place. Johann's directions are hazy at the best, wrong if you want to be critical and Marco Polo, my navigator has never been to Whispering Pines. It's Monday-wash day for the Amish. " I guess Amish do wear underwear," she chuckles seeing a line filled with white linens. An hour and a half later and two phone calls to Johann I figure I could install this window myself. Brick mold, argon, j-channels, rough openings, window wrap, low-e glass are no longer code talk.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


A stiff wind sends the cat running. Brisk early morning temperatures switch on his frisky button. He streaks down the sidewalk and under the arbor vitae. A mix of white puffs, gray ominous clouds and high wispy stratus block any chance of sun peeking through thin blue areas of sky at 7 am. Johann says the clear night sky a few days ago showed so many stars they appeared to be groups of clouds.

Visits to the hummingbird feeders have trickled down to a few stalwarts. I removed the largest glass nectar feeder when ear wigs committed sweet suicide climbing through the sipping ports. If I filled two smaller feeders a week ago on a daily basis, the two half filled ones now will be dumped and washed by the end of the weekend. The little birds have been a constant since late April. Soon I'll be seeing juncos sorting through leaves at the bases of the privet hedge.

The center leaves of the pumpkin patch are faded yellow. No longer afraid of damaging young squash or jack o' lanterns, I create a path in the center of the 30X40 area looking for acorn squash. After 30 minutes of hunting, I have two dozen acorn squash and two deep orange pumpkins. Because of the proximity of the squash and pumpkin, a few have cross-bred creating some unusual squashkins. One looks like a zucchini on steroids. I harvest one dark, dark forest green pumpkin that keeps the jack o' lantern shape but crossed with the acorn squash for the color.

A mounded plastic dish tub of sweet bell peppers I picked yesterday are chopped and stored in the chest freezer. Johann picked all the hot peppers for hot sauce. He brings over a half pint of the finished product at dinner last evening. It tastes like the expensive, aged version on store shelves. Eight jalapenos plants are loaded with jalapenos that are almost black at the ends. Remembering the tasty deep fried jalapenos I'd get with my fillette de plancha at Casa Cardenos in Prescott, I fried three one evening while making fresh shoestring potatoes in the garage. They were so tongue numbing hot I had to toss the remaining two. Evidently the hot peppers and the jalapenos crossed.

A short drought ends with nightly rains that disappear in windy cool days. It's still warm enough to paint. All that remains of the breezeway is the rear door to the dog pen. The nine small windows require patience and steadiness for free hand trim work. The rock and roll station on the garage radio plays a mix of up tempo music from the past to accompany this mindless task. In the upcoming week Johann will be installing a wood railing on the stairs to the second floor. When we first moved in we tossed the aluminum railing some design retard installed on the oak steps. Having an experienced carpenter as friend and neighbor allows us to finish small but annoying put-off projects.

The new breezeway spurs us to make more changes for "warm and cozy". The entrance way at the rear of the house allows access to either the basement or the kitchen. A large closet is the only other component of the entrance way. In winter if the closet doors are closed, we could keep a jug of milk cold for a week. Originally this closet was a cloakroom for the school kids to hang their coats and stash their galoshes before the school day. The thinking is that a new Thermopane window in the entrance way will help ward off the chill. Johann removes the trim to the window to measure the rough opening. There's pink fiberglass insulation under the cheap wood paneling. My mind runs to removing the paneling, adding more insulation and installing drywall. The draw back is the slow ooze of dollars as a small project becomes a major one. The total cost for the breezeway inches closer to $2000 with yet another purchase of paint for trim when the stored gallon of trim paint runs out.

The Amish tell me that the time change back to "slow time" isn't until November. Already, Mandy and I go cat hunting at 7:15 in the evening to bring him in for the night. The kitchen clock remains on Amish time. I should put another one next to it with only four divisions-the four seasons. The little hand is on autumn and the big hand is sweeping toward winter. All the shrubs on the east side of the deck are wild and unruly looking. The pole beans have petered out, however, large pods of seed beans for the upcoming year are slow drying on the vines. On a visit for milk recently, the Amish matriarch asks me if I've ever eaten pole beans-the beans themselves. They're canning rattlesnake pole beans and find them tasty.

Horse radish I planted near the old compost heap should be harvested. I've given up on the turnips and rutabaga. Dawn gets four pints of canned carrots from the carrot patch. A disappointing harvest over last year's beautiful, sweet carrots. The basil will turn black in a frost if we don't get to it soon. Right now I'm too busy with wine making. The strawberry wine I started on June 28th is now snugly bottled in 18 green recycled wine bottles. It was hell drinking all that Merlot to get used bottles. After a temporary probation in the kitchen to ensure that no one bottle pops its cork, it'll age in the basement. The peach wine is next and I just started a batch of pear wine from 10 pounds of ripe pears a neighbor gifts us. Apple fest in Gays Mills is at the end of this month. If I don't find inexpensive, organic apples there the same neighbor grows organic apples.

Over the winter I'll keep Johann busy with building a chicken coop. After thirty years, it's time for us to settle down and grow our own chickens for meat and eggs. We don't travel on business like we used to. The hassle and annoyance of domestic flights puts me off. Memorable flights standing in a long waiting line for security clearance and glancing at the man in front of me holding a hand-gun in one hand and his police badge in the other thinking, "Oh shit, there goes another hour's delay." Besides, there's nowhere I'd like to go. A dog who can't be more than 20 minutes away from me and a cat that is getting to be a couch potato who enjoys mostly hanging out with the folks has already tied us down to day trips.

Time to run to the dump and catch up with town gossip.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

High floating cumulus clouds cause the sunlight to fade, recede and come back in an early morning razor sharp flash. The recent morning fog is replaced by sparkling dew on bushes and grass. The dog is stretched out quietly on the couch. I wish she'd do the same when she comes up at five to lick my face, nuzzle my hand in a game of squirrely fun. The cat last appeared in the back forty along the dog pen fence poking at something in the grass. Then he bops over to the woodshed to continue hunting. If I were making a cartoon of his movements in the wet grass, a single piano note would sound for each high stepping bounce he makes while closing the distance between grass and shed.

Our free entertainment always involves the animal spectrum. I can visualize winds whipping rain, hail and sleet against the rear portion of the breezeway on a dark November night. The concrete slab poured over the well components is separated from the house foundation by asphalt expansion board. Elements and the space of time wore away at the board allow heavy rain to seep into the basement. Vowing to clean up my act and fix the little things, I grab a leftover tube of construction adhesive and caulk all the cracks between concrete and foundation. Minutes later Dawn is outside staring at something on the slab behind the breezeway.

A ten inch baby snake wormed its way out from the space between house and slab. The snake is covered with construction adhesive which emits a noxious order and by the looks of the writhing snake, is quite toxic. Shoot. Dawn points to the snake's emergence hole while I scurry to the garage for an old dustpan. There's nothing I can do to save the snake. Walking to the fence line, I have a chance to study its color banding but the goo on his head obscures the shape. My vivid imagination works overtime seeing baby rattlesnakes nesting along the house. Perhaps, that's why the cat is so jumpy of late.

Dawn and I sit on lawn chairs in the garage. Mandy leaps at the cat playing her instinctual game of harass the sheep. The cat is startled and launches into a full fledged fury of flailing paws and claws. I get up in a rush to separate the two. The dog finds the cat's behavior a ripe challenge. She goes back for more. I see vet bills and sutures in the encounter and take a swipe at the cat who's in a furious, determined effort to maim. Wow. Psycho kitty. Is this the same cat who rolls on his back when Mandy drapes a paw over him and nibbles at his ears?

Johann reports coyotes snooping around his cabin at midnight. They repeat visits at 2 and 4 am hoping for a chicken finger snack. He doesn't sleep much that night. Like wolves at the door, a flashlight beam illuminating hungry coyotes around your place will keep you up at night.

There's always something to fill a void with worry. Folks around here are upset over a proposed high power transmission line, 300 foot towers up and over ridge tops near Viola. The power company says it'll make for cheaper power transmission from the Dakotas and wind farms out there. The power will feed the state Capitol's lust for more energy and keeping the white domed capitol building, a replica of the Washington capitol, brightly illuminated.

"The Week" magazine features a book list (, 8/27/2010. p.21"arts") and one author-Jane Brox who writes Brilliant, a history of our relationship with "flames, lamps and bulbs. The short segment about the book tells us that she writes about each new invention which separates, "not just light from dark, but rich from poor." The last portion of the enlightening excerpt about Brox and her new book says, "Until the 1930's, only well-off Americans had domestic lighting; even today, richer countries can be distinguished in satellite images because they shine more brightly."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weather memories are short. The wettest summer of record and the third hottest disappears after two glorious fall days. Cool nights, 70 degree days. Days for thinking about getting more firewood. Days harvesting the last of the jalapenos, peppers, cabbages and canning sauerkraut.
The morning fog is a whispering wet mist that drifts toward the ground. So thick, the mist hovers in the air swirling over cat and dog. Mandy looks at the dew covered weeds swallowing up the lane down toward the river flat and decides against snooping for early morning critters.
(click on image for larger view)

Vernon County is repaving the county road across the bridge and down the highway. During the week, it's a short cut to the Amish sawmill and to the folks up on the hill. I backtrack from highway 14 which is also under construction. Single lanes, flagmen and dump trucks hauling asphalt slow traffic to a dead standstill. The county road cutoff is no picnic either. The proximity to the river forces crews to raise the road bed with multiple loads of dirt and gravel. Trucks farting down the straight stretch in front of our place are a common occurrence. Because the shoulder is soft and unstable, I keep the car in the middle of the hard packed gravel road watching out for oncoming traffic. Before I can react, the Prism is straddling a mound of gravel, graders have pushed to the middle of the road. Jerking the steering wheel to the right could mean disaster. A roll in the ditch or worse. Slowly I work my way off the long row of sand and gravel. Stones scrape the underside of the car. I wince thinking of parts of the car being worn or torn by grinding .

Pinging noises from the wheel wells and flat parts of the under body mark the remainder of the trip back home. I pull Johann off the remodeling work to drive back to the sawmill to help me load firewood blocks. One pick up load fills the basement wood bin to the rim. The basement is filled with the sweet smell of cut wood. Johann occasionally pauses tossing blocks into the truck bed to hold up a piece of wood. "Black walnut,"he exclaims. "Wouldja look at that." Some of the wood is red oak. Quite a few pieces of wood are cut off defects caused by black ants. I occasionally find a tunneled rotten block turned reddish black crawling with ants. Inside the sawmill Amish workers are busy cutting 6X6 timbers, sending trim pieces up a conveyor belt and into the converted manure spreader turned wood wagon. A mounded truck load costs me $35-cash only. "I've often wondered," Johann says philosophically, "Whether I'd be better off buying firewood. The cutting, hauling and splitting are too much f-ing work."

All summer I race to beat weather events. Cramming work into two weekend days to beat an upcoming storm, I'm used to the hustle. Recent dry days allow me to spread lawn mowing into a reasonable pattern of an hour or two in late afternoon. The grass is drier and short. Murphy's Law prevails, however. The race is on to beat winter which is right around the corner. The naysayers are predicting heavy snow. While dog and cat loll in the garage on a sawdust covered easy chair, I rummage through cans of paint in the basement. The county advertises a fall recycling event on the new radio station. For three Saturdays in September residents can bring in old cans of paint. The former owner left me some rusted beauties in what used to be the girl's basement bathroom. Some of the gallon cans are filled to the brim with usable high quality expensive paint that will match existing trim and board. Thank you, Mr. Tom.

The new log cabin sided breezeway comes complete with surprises. The air space inside the new room is so tightly sealed it resembles an airlock. The formerly exposed outside storm door will not close tightly unless there's a window open in the breezeway or if the garage door is open. Heavy insulation, wood and concrete siding create a twenty degree temperature difference between inside and outdoors. I creak, groan and wrestle two hand made wood deck chairs with horse cut outs on the back rest into the space for a comfortable spot to relax away from mosquitoes and sun. The enclosed space seems smaller than the expansive open area where Johann and I would peel, cut and freeze fresh tomatoes. The last task before winter inside is to install a french door between the studio and living room to keep the main house warmer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Roads and Steps

"Wait," my wife says. "Don't move." She's sitting opposite from me at the kitchen table. Gee whiz, I'm thinking. What now?

The last time I sat in front of this monitor, I shut the system down, turned off the main on/off button under my work table, unplugged the telephone line and went to bed. Thunderstorms (again). During the night, high winds blow the chimney cap onto the deck. "What was that thud?" Dawn asks me. I'm groggy from another interrupted night of sleep. Mandy Mae is hiding under the bed. The cat needs solace, so he nestles in between my outstretched legs. ""I heard someone yell help me," Dawn says. It wasn't until I bumped into the cop at the library in the small village six miles away that I put things together. He tells me of responding to a call at the neighbors. "They got some sort of home there," he says with a mixture of bewilderment and dismay. " A girl went berserk."

I slowly turn around. There's a hummingbird at the kitchen window. It's not unusual for a curious hummingbird to peek in our kitchen. On occasion, we'll hear a small thud when one of them bumps off the window. Carelessly playing a game of who can get higher, two males fight for dominance forgetting the house inches away from their nectar feeders. The hummingbird's beak is caught in the nylon mesh of the window screen. My first thought isn't the hole it will make in my new window screen, but how I'm going to free him from his trap without hurting him. I start for the back door thinking I'll cover him with a small towel and work his beak free when he nudges and frees himself. What a relief.

Two weeks. That's how long it's been since I've had more than three minutes of time to sit in the garage with the "kids" and dream up another project or plan a canning escapade. In between holding a board or a 10 foot piece of siding, there are the inevitable design questions. "How do you want me to finish off this window?" Johann will ask. "See that ceiling," he'll point. "It's bowed. There's an inch and a half difference between the middle and the left side." The picture at top shows the outside of the rear of the "breezeway". In former times it was an area where I'd do messy food prep before canning or freezing. Now it's a nicely enclosed small 10X10 foot room between the house and garage.

Johann burns through a cement saw in less than three hours cutting small pieces of cement siding. The former owner of this converted schoolhouse sided the old, white clapboard boards with durable cement siding. I place an order with the local lumber yard for more 12 long siding boards to supplement pieces of siding that were left behind by the remolding crew hired by the last owner.

I go back and forth with the man who sold me the saw blade arguing about the defective blade. He admits that the money spent on the blade is basically wasted but says, "There's no guarantee on saw blades." he responds when I ask him to return it to the manufacturer. Finally, I bluntly tell him that his attitude affects my confidence in future dealings with the lumber yard. Seeing my resolve and that I'll halt any future purchases with them, he relents and offers to refund my money. "But I won't sell you another blade," he says.

I go to the agri-center and purchase a diamond tipped saw blade big John from the agri-center recommends for the job. It's almost twice as expensive. Johann remarks that it cuts much better than the cheap blade. Coincidence has it that I follow through with my promise not to do business with the former lumber yard. I toss the blade in the trash instead of returning it. I'm too busy to make the 40 minute round trip returning the blade would require. In the meantime, we find log siding for the interior of the breezeway from an Amish lumber yard. It solves three different design and aesthetic problems. Instead of Johann covered in cement dust when he makes multiple cuts in cement siding as originally planned for the interior, we have the warm glow of wood, ease of installation and the feel of a 10X10 log cabin.

Dreams of a log cabin greenhouse/summer kitchen fill my empty head. The entire project is predicated on making a better confined space for the dog. The Jerry-rigged old windows I erected as a barrier to keep the dog in a backyard pen blossomed into a major expense and learning experience. In the last two hours Johann spends on finishing touches, he adds a new entrance way to Mandy dog house complete with an additional weather barrier/new roof. Mandy has the option of sleeping in our "cabin" on her dog bed in a well insulated space or romping in her spacious backyard and snoozing in a cozy doghouse while protecting us from inruders. Who says it isn't a dog's life?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wide Swath & More Coffee

Compared to January it's balmy outside. Two days ago the back of my neck was wet with sweat sitting in my leather recliner watching episodes of Glee on DVD. Compared to that humid, muggy evening it's frigid of late. Perfect strangers pass by muttering, "Man it's cold." I slip on my usual uniform of shorts and a T-shirt to head up the hill for milk. When I open the car door, high hilltop wind whips leaves around and blows a chilly blast in my face. The Amish Patriarch is dressed for winter with jacket. long pants and hat. They started butchering chickens at 7 am. I waste no time in walking across breaker rock in the short driveway to the house. Mandy's leashed because of a so-called chicken killing event. The Mom comes out when I'm jawing with Dad to report that the dog killed a baby chick behind the house. Earlier, talking gossip with the Patriarch, I made note that my pup found another chicken head to devour. She's always unearthing chicken feet, heads, rabbit faces and old bones she's buried fore curing. I thought nothing of it.

As an experiment, after the fact, the Patriarch takes my leashed dog out behind the house where they're raising another batch of meat birds. I drop off the milk jug and follow. The dog shows no interest in the chickens, nose to the ground savoring manure and other shit. I take her off the leash to allow her maximum freedom. She walks by a scrawny half grown bird missing most of the feathers on its chest. Patriarch and I walk back to the house puzzled. In observations at our place, I've never seen Mandy kill, maim or or catch anything bigger than a moth. No so for the Panther. I've reported seeing the cat and dog standing by the maples in the back yard. Next to them is a dead squirrel. I'd swear that the cat had a smirk on his face. The Pooch(cat) brings a large, dead field mouse to the back door. This isn't easy because of the new addition. The back door is blocked with two new side doors forming a breezeway. Both doors are closed. Smart cat runs through the open garage door to get to the back door to impress us with his hunting skills.

In the week before the Labor Day holiday it rained 4.5 inches overnight Monday swelling the river and flooding pastures. Then it threatens rain. Because I'm the Gopher for our new construction I keep a close eye on the clouds to the north. The lumber yard is eight miles away. My truck is hard to start once it warms up. I plan trips carefully. Johann the carpenter adds a surprise or two. We're about to start with the cement siding to the back of the breezeway. He makes a partial cut in a short piece of left over siding I squirreled away. Sparks fly from my chop saw. Although he says he's worked on cement siding previous to now, he doesn't have a clue about the proper blade for cutting siding. The lumber yard is out of fiber cement blades and I'm off on yet another goose chase for a blade in the next larger town. The dog loves it because it means RIDE.

I get to the sister lumberyard 20 minutes away. There's no blade set aside. Johann gives me the impression that I'm supposed to get a blade for the chop saw. The guy at the lumber yard who took the call is off on a delivery. The man in charge doesn't know his cell phone number. He calls another employee. We walk to the shelf lined with saw blades. There's no blade with my name on it on the counter. Cut to the chase. The blade I'm supposed to get is for a skill saw. 7 1/4 blade. I point to one labeled for fiber cement board. The counter guy says ,"That's the one." It lasts for three hours before it too, sending sparks flying.

In three phone calls and a long wait on hold while I drive back roads from yet another gopher run for a diamond tooth blade from the agri-center guaranteed to cut cement board, I argue with the counter guy from the sister lumberyard about a faulty blade. When I tell him that the whole business is causing me to lose confidence in their lumberyard AND we've got a big project going. The message is clear. In a lowered voice he tells me he'll refund my money. All I wanted in the first place is an admission the blade was crap and to send it back to the company.

The money ticker passed $1000 two weeks ago. Four windows, two steel clad doors, three sets of door knobs, brass hinges, a french door, 2X4's , OSB siding, green treated lumber-the list is longer. Trim boards, more OSB, more cement siding, torque screws, nails, special concrete fasteners and the cost is inching towards $1300. It all started with old window caulk falling out of a recycled window I jury-rigged to form a dog pen for the puppy. Rather than repair the window, I decided to cut the crap. Build it right the first time. My dream was to have an uninterrupted night of sleep with the dog curled up inside her dog house in a secure pen. Right.

The sight of mosquitoes drawing blood on her nose, eyes and ears thwarts a restful night's sleep in a large cattle fenced back yard with an insulated, carpeted dog house. At three am I hear her whimper. Now I have to step into the breezeway naked to open the outside door of the breezeway. She heads to the driveway to pee while I go back inside to go to the bathroom. When I return, she's sitting on her dog bed inside the breezeway. I tap the outside door closed, open the door to the back yard dog pen. With a sigh of relief over the time and money spent go back upstairs to bed. The cat is smart to figure out there's no dog to thwart him from being an alarm clock. He goes to work walking across my back at seven, purring and nuzzling my face. Cat house in the yard? Naw.