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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy is as happy does.


I had a visit from a friend’s last evening. The conversation quickly exhausted weather conditions, our animals, etc. and ultimately intensified to a discussion of happiness, or the lack thereof.  “Are you happy,” I asked.  A long silence followed as the question was considered. “Not really,” my friend replied.  Reasons ranged from abandoned dreams, disappointing spouse, age and a resignation that it’s too late to change things now. How very sad.

  I can’t stop thinking about that confession. I believe happiness is simply the lack of unhappiness.  I am very happy and why not?  I have the essentials I need (need being the key word), a meaningful life and work that I love. 

 In my work I am lucky enough to meet a lot of other happy people and the one common denominator in their lives is that they are all passionate about something beyond themselves.  I’ve concluded that apathy leads to unhappiness. (Who needs Dr. Phil?)

Some folks could rightfully be entitled to being grumps or whiners considering challenges they’ve faced, but they’ve chosen to move forward with a positive attitude.  I think of one fellow who lost most of his sight almost overnight, yet he is one of the happiest men I’ve ever known.  The reason?  In addition to his 'day' job, Bill had devoted his life to rescuing and training horses and mules, most all of which had come from dismal situations.  One might think blindness would have put an end to that, but it didn’t.

“These animals give me a reason to get up every morning,” he said as a white mule nuzzled his back, then stole the handkerchief from his pocket.  Working mostly by touch, my blind friend rubbed salve into the wounds on the mules shoulders, wounds inflicted by the animals former owner who had worked him nearly to death.

I wrote a few articles about blind Bill and how he had moved beyond the inconvenience of losing his sight because he refused to give up his passion.  Following publication he received phone calls and letters from all over the country from other victims of macular degeneration who were inspired by his spirit. 

Bill was just one of so many special (or unusual) people I’ve met through my work. I’ve decided to share profiles of some of them, but this will have to wait until next week.  I’m leaving at 6:15 AM for a press trip and won’t return until Sunday.  These trips are tightly scheduled, so there may not be a chance to post anything until I return.

Yesterday I wrote about too many chickens.  I guess the hawk read the blog because today he got two of the little hen’s seven chicks. They were about one third grown.  I knew he’d be back.




6:47 pm edt          Comments

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mr. Studley must go!


I’ve just come from the feed mill. Scratch for the chickens used to cost about $6.00. It’s now up to $11.25 and it never goes on sale.  And so, while it grieves me to do so, I must reduce the size of the flock. Mr. Studley is looking for a home.

I can’t get rid of Randy as he is such a pleasant creature (as roosters go…).  Nor can I eliminate Pinhead as he and Randy get on together with no bickering.  And it isn’t as if Mr. Studley (the most gorgeous rooster I’ve ever owned) is the only extra male.  I only wish it were so, but several of the other immature birds do not look very feminine to me.  Twenty-one birds add lovely color and ambiance to this place, but today I collected one egg!

Feeding 21 birds which produce one egg a day makes no sense.  Even I can see the foolhardiness in this.  Were I to leave the door to their coop open at night, this problem might be taken care of for me, but I could never do that.

I’ve previously mentioned the coyotes who serenade nightly, but at 3 AM their songfest was right next to the house.  I leapt from bed, hit the switch for the flood light and opened the window.  Below the open window Bean the basement boy (cat) was nervously pacing by the back porch door, rather than risk coming inside via his kitty door which is just below the kitchen window. 

I ran downstairs and he raced in, happy to retreat to the safety of his cellar apartment.  It was all quite exciting.

Since it was another lovely day I continued garden work.  The animals love these “work days” as Ted illustrates.  Is there anything more joyful than a smiling dog?  I think not.




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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Too much of a good thing.


Just when it seems we’ve seen the last wonderful autumn day Nature surprises us.  One can not afford to ignore such surprises, so while the sun shone the overgrown tired-looking gardens were attacked with vigor. 

A few years ago at a rummage sale I was delighted to find a small basket of cannas lily tubers for a mere seventy five cents.  In the spring the half dozen or so produced a patch of exotic foliage topped with bright red flowers that attracted the hummingbirds. What a bargain, I thought. 

In the fall when I dug them up for winter storage I was again delighted to see how they had multiplied.  The next year the lily patch was much bigger.  Well, you see where this is going…. Now I have cannas lilies coming out my ears!  There are patches of exotic foliage and bright red flowers all over the place.

Each year I give bags of tubers to anyone who will take them, but they are like roosters.  You can only place so many because the initial recipients are also dealing with their prolificacy.  I can’t bear to ignore them and just let them rot in the ground, so today I dug and dug and dug and still there are more cannas lily plots to take out.  Unless I find a few new takers I’ll have to plant about half an acre of them.  I think I'll give them to my favorite thrift store and some unsuspecting soul will be delighted, just as I was to discover such a bargain.

My mother had lovely gardens of mostly perennials. I don’t recall her ever planting things that needed to be over wintered in the house.  Smart woman, my mother!

(See some of them in this photo punctuating the background and reflected in the door? Those were just the tip of the iceberg!)



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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Warm up a chilly day!


Early this morning I sat on the porch in my pajamas and robe enjoying a big mug of coffee.  The air was balmy, but the sky was ominous.  This luxury was short lived as the breeze quickly became a cold wind and the balmy air became a drizzle.  Now it’s downright cold.  Soup weather, so I’m trying a new recipe from Marti, my gourmet cook friend.  Easy peasy and very tasty.  Here it is.

Sauté an onion in a bit of olive oil.  Add one can of refried beans, some broth (vegetable or otherwise), corn (frozen or canned), cumin and a jar of salsa. Mix and heat. I’ve topped mine with grated cheese, but even without it is good and hearty.



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Friday, October 23, 2009

A day for contemplation.

In a former incarnation I was a manufacturer’s rep and spent a lot of time in the Cleveland area.  I never gave a second thought to the daily drive, but several years have passed and now a trip to “the city” is something of a big deal—one I thoroughly enjoy.

I spent the morning at a wonderful art gallery, pouring over paintings I would love to live with.  It’s hard to think of a nicer way to pass a dark rainy day than being smothered in artwork.

The beauty of the changing Ohio trees is awesome; most likely because this color is so fleeting.  Nasty weather is predicted and many of the red, yellow and russet leaves will blow away, thus revealing nearby houses which I pretend don’t exist.  Unfortunately the houses are now visible through the skeletal trees and I’m reminded of how small my country life really is.  I wish I had more land, not for myself, but for the threatened wildlife. 

Coming home from the day in the city I approached my driveway where a doe stood staring at me.  Her rain-soaked coat rendered her a dull gray that nearly blended into the pavement.  I think she knows that deer season is fast approaching.  Every weekend the air is punctuated by gun shots.

It will probably surprise some readers to know that I am not opposed to responsible hunting.  Hunting fees preserve a huge amount of land that would otherwise be developed into god knows what.  That habitat which is often enhanced by sportsmen groups supports a lot of wildlife including many non-game animals.  What I do oppose are those who disregard land that is designated off limits. 

Not a year has passed that I haven’t found the carcass of at least one deer that was wounded and left to die.  Some of these have been on posted land.  Sure, the abandoned body feeds a lot of scavengers throughout the harsh winter, but that doesn’t excuse the “sportsman” who was too lazy to track and dispatch the animal he’d wounded.

One year I followed a bright red trail on the fresh snow until I came upon the young buck who lay bleeding in the woods.  He’d been gut shot, but he struggled to his feet and slowly moved on.  The next day I found his stiff lifeless body in Kenny’s field.  Over the winter I saw the tracks of the various critters that had fed upon it.  Coyotes, fox, opossum, buzzards, crows and the small rodents that gnawed on the bones.  Before long the carcass was dismembered and well dispersed.  In the spring I brought the skull home and cleaned it to add to my collection.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The sky is falling!


I was trying to take it easy today, but as I sat quietly reading a great racket arose from the barnyard.  I ran out just in time to witness the drama.  It was the hawk again.  He’s quite magnificent and ever so brazen.  As he swooped down toward the blasé flock that had been pecking around in the field, the roosters (now a confirmed group of 4 with still more gender undeclared, but suspiciously masculine-looking birds) let out shrieks which I interpreted as, “Yikes! It’s the hawk. Get out’a my way you, stupid hens!”

Once again they have shown themselves to be utterly useless.  Meanwhile, the little white hen featured in yesterdays post had positioned herself under the bottom fence rail. She calmly, but firmly clucked to her 7 chicks which obediently took cover under her wings, thus illustrating that in the chicken world the weaker sex certainly has far more integrity.  There were no fatalities.

My intervention drove the hawk away, but today’s visit was probably just a surveillance mission.  I’m sure he realizes that the next time he is really really hungry, this will be a good place to come for lunch since security is so lax.  I shall be making calls to anyone who might like a couple of roosters.

It’s probably obvious that I have more than average tolerance for cohabiting with wild things.  The occasional mouse who comes in from the cold is not dealt with in a lethal manner.  He is relocated to the barn unless he becomes a cat toy before I can rescue him.  Snakes in the cellar present no problems either and even a bat with faulty sonar didn’t cause alarm.  Live and let live is the general rule of thumb here, but there are exceptions.  Flying insects are not welcome in my home.

“…And when I tore out the south wall in the bedroom, honey just poured out and ran across the floor,” said Tom, the fellow from whom I bought this place.  That honey bees had built a hive in the wall of this old house wasn’t all that surprising since it had been sitting empty for several years before Tom bought it.  But, now there are new windows and doors, lots of caulking and getting inside (for bugs) should be difficult. 

Even so summer brings an influx of yellow jackets and wasps which somehow swarm in my bedroom. I’ve had some nasty stings.  But worse still are the faux ladybugs which arrived en masse yesterday.  I can’t get that rhyme out of my head.


Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home.

Your house is on fire, your children are gone….


In this case, home would be Asia, but thanks to a government brainstorm that deliberately imported them in the early 20th century, they are now well-established in various parts of the country. Asian Lady Beetles are menacing creatures, not the cute black-spotted orange aphid eaters we knew as kids.  Oh they do eat aphids in pecan orchards, but I don’t happen to have such an orchard.  Basically, they are annoying pests and nothing eats them!  They bite and they stink!  One warm sunny day and they are all over the windows, ceilings and floors.  Entomology web sites assure me their presence is temporary, but even so they have created a temporary hell. I and my Hoover have declared war on the Asian invaders!



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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not feeling well


I'm afraid I'm a bit under the weather tonight.  Although it was an absolutely beautiful day I have been much too ill to enjoy it or to enter anything but an apology in tonights post.  Please bear with me.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

8:02 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just walk on by...

My daughter pulled into the busy grocery store parking lot.  A light rain was falling and she was in a rush.  As she hurried across the lot a fluttering grayness caught her eye.  At first she thought it might be a glove someone had dropped, but no.  It was a dove, injured, but clearly alive. 

“I couldn’t believe how many people just walked over it or past it,” she said.  She put the bird in her truck and took it home along with her groceries.  Upon examination it was clear the dove wasn’t going to survive, but at least it could die in peace and quiet.

The apathy that allows one to walk over or past a helpless creature is indicative of indifference which is much too common in our society.  It’s very disturbing—or it should be.

10:12 pm edt          Comments

Monday, October 19, 2009

Better safe than sorry.


When I was a kid my uncle Bill and I regularly went mushroom hunting. Every spring and fall we collected morels and puffballs and it never occurred to me to question the edibility of the fungi we hauled home by the basketful.  I’ve often heard that morels are the crème de la crème of all mushrooms, but I don’t think I could eat one if my life depended upon it thanks to memories of my mom’s morel mutilations.

She began by soaking them overnight.  The next day they, like so many other recipes went into the big iron skillet where the delicate (so I’ve heard…) morels were cooked to the consistency of the gristly part of a human ear. That is exactly what they reminded me of; ear parts swimming in a watery gray “broth.”  While it was fun to find the elusive morels in the woods, I passed when they were proffered at a meal.

The puffballs were another story.  These were one of my mother’s signature dishes.  She’d brush the wood debris from the big white orbs, slice them about ¼-1/2 “ thick and lightly batter them.  These too went into the iron skillet, but they were cooked in butter and they were delicious.

As an adult my mushroom collecting has been limited to the grocery store.  While I still come across morels and puffballs in the woods, I’ve not felt confident enough to confront them in my kitchen.  This past weekend while walking the dogs with my houseguest we came upon a spread of what I declared to be puffballs.  I think my friend was impressed, but was somewhat dubious. “Are you sure,” she said? We did not pick them.

Tomorrow I’m having dinner guests, one of whom is from France, so it occurred to me that local puffballs might be a nice addition to our meal.  Back in the woods this afternoon I no longer felt so sure that the fungi growing in abundance was the same as those consumed without question in my youth.  I brought one home and did some research and it’s a darned good thing I did! 

Although similar to puffballs, the color was off.  They should have been snowy white, not tan.  And the shape wasn’t quite round, but more of an inverted pear shape.  Hmm…. Upon closer examination of the proposed dinner delicacy I knew that a menu change was in order.

The field guide assured me that eating the “earthball” would not be fatal, but that I would become sick enough to wish it were.  I’ve decided to stick with mushrooms from the grocery.



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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dearly departed friends.


           It’s been a busy, but wonderful weekend here.  Jimmie’s new owner came to visit and to collect her new little guy.  They are now en route to his new home in Cincinnati. I will miss them both and certainly Ernie will miss his playmate, but I am happy.  the pup will be much loved and well cared for and that’s what really matters. His new mom and I have been friends for more than thirty years although we don’t get to visit nearly as often as we wish, so the past couple of days have been very special.

            What is nicer than catching up with an old friend over good food and a nice bottle of wine?  We sat in my cozy kitchen and I prepared a real Caesar salad (not dressed with that awful stuff that comes in a jar labeled Caesar dressing) and some pasta with pesto and shrimp.  Yum yum. 

            A relatively-new blog friend says he longs for the simple life and certainly that would have to include good simple meals.  I guess I’m a food snob. Things must be fresh and of good quality and prepared with some thought and attention. I love to cook and often wonder why so few people share this pleasure.

Why do they buy those greens that come in a bag (chemically treated) rather than just tearing up some fresh Romaine?  Put a bit of sea salt in a wooden salad bowl, rub with freshly cut garlic cloves, add some olive oil, mustard and the juice of half a lemon (not that reconstituted stuff from a  bottle!).  Whisk it.  Add the Romaine, a tin of anchovies and toss.  Shave some good parmesan cheese on top (not that pulverized questionable cheese from a can) and maybe add some crusty croutons.  Simply delicious!  Add a lovely glass of red wine and voila. 

            I’ve just made myself hungry.




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Friday, October 16, 2009

Chilly winds.


            I have been aware of various patches imposed upon this old house ever since I’ve been here.  Curious “fixes” have popped up in the most unexpected places, but over the years I've tended to forget about them, but now that my friend is coming to visit (and to collect Jimmie) I have been doing a little extra cleaning and have again become aware of some of these improvisations.

            As I scrubbed the ugly kitchen floor today I noticed the tin patch on the baseboard.  It’s only one of many.  Painted over (and over and over…) it wouldn’t be noticeable to a casual visitor.  I only noticed it today because of the whisper of icy air that sifted in from its seams.  Is there no end to the patching and caulking and winterizing I must address?  I think not.

            Lots of people have fantasies.  Mine is that these kitchen walls are ripped out.  Insulation (currently non-existent) is installed and a new, easy to care for floor replaces the fake brick one now in place.  If only This Old House came here?  Norm and all those handymen would be in heaven!

I love to cook and bake and to have a group of interesting people in for dinner, but this kitchen presents a challenge.  Maybe I should play the lottery?  Just thinking about a draft-free room with more than one electrical outlet and a floor that doesn’t require heavy-duty wax makes me almost euphoric! But oddities are not limited to the kitchen.

            In the bedroom is a well-used mouse hole leading into what used to be an attic of sorts.  I’ve learned that in the 1940’s they used this room to smoke meats!  I’ve turned it into a guest room and it’s cozy, but the little mouse hole (one of several) makes me smile.   One time a little mouse actually peeked at me from that hole.  I could never sell this place.  Who else would find such things as tin patches on the baseboard and mouse holes in the bedroom charming?  I think no one.  So, I’m stuck here.  Things could be worse.

            At night I lie in my bed and think how grateful I am to have a warm bed (okay, well, it isn’t actually warm since there is no heat on the second floor…) and a safe place to be.  So many people in the world don’t have such a luxury.  I think I live a very privileged life.




6:53 pm edt          Comments

Posting problems.


            Yesterday was fraught with problems, one of which involved this blog. I entered the days post, but it appeared in duplicate. I attempted to delete the extra copy and then I lost everything.  Figuring it would be simple enough to just re-enter it I found my account was frozen, so I called the web master, but  was informed that the next available customer service representative wouldn't be available for "approximately five minutes...."  During this "five minutes" I was subjected to what must certainly be the most annoying faux music ever invented. Twenty minutes later I was still waiting and listening to the tuneless noise that was interspersed with a gratuitious reminder that my " is very important...."  I wanted to tear my hair out!  By the time the issue was finally resolved I was too tired to post anything at all, so here is yesterdays entry, a day late, but entered in a much more tranquil state of mind.

            When Jimmie (the dumped puppy) arrived nearly two weeks ago he was a novelty for the other animals; fun, like a new toy. All three dogs liked him, especially Ernie (the former baby of the dog family). They could roll Jimmie around, take his puppy food, give him a bath and tease him.  The cats liked playing with him too since he was smaller than they, but now the newness of the pup has worn thin. Nettie grumbles, but tolerates his enthusiastic romping and Ted even allows Jimmie to curl up and sleep with him. But Ernie has targeted him for some nasty tricks. 

I wish I could tell Ernie that the puppy’s only here for a couple more days. He’ll be leaving for his new home this weekend.  But dogs only pretend to understand. Ernie probably really thinks Jimmie’s staying indefinitely.

            Yesterday Ernie must have told Jim what fun it would be to go for a swim in the scummy pond.  Of course he himself did not go in, but poor little Jimmie with his pristine baby hair sank into the sludge up to his belly and appeared at the door looking as if he’d been dipped in tar.  The smell was beyond words.  Fortunately he fit (just barely…) in the bathroom sink and was subjected to an emergency bath.

            It was a stinky mess. Black globs splattered all over the white bathroom.  The wet puppy shivered violently, so I wrapped him in a big fluffy towel and he snuggled on my lap as Ernie looked on--miffed.  He hadn’t figured on his victim reaping so much special attention and privilege.

So last night after finishing chores I hoped to just relax by the fire, maybe watch some telly or read, but suddenly Ernie announced that he and Jimmy had to go back outside immediately.  It seemed odd since they’d just come in only minutes before, but out they went.

When they returned Jimmy looked like a porcupine. He was covered in nettles and his cute little sweater will never be the same, but Ernie himself was nettle-free.  He pretended to look at Jimmie with sympathy, but I knew what he was really thinking, “Heh, heh, heh, just wait until tomorrow.”

So, instead of relaxing by the fire I spent the evening combing out nettles and vacuuming.  As darling as this puppy is, I will be happy when life here returns to normal and all 104 pounds of Ernie will again be the baby of the house.





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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'm not quite ready for this!


            There was a skin of ice on the bird bath this morning and now the weatherman is predicting snow for the next two days.  It’s much too early for all of this!  There are cannas lilies and dahlias to take out, pack in peat moss and haul into the root cellar.  There are trees that need to be turned into firewood and leaky windows that need another shot of Great Stuff.  The garden shed that houses Tom, the formerly-feral cat needs to be winterized.  Oh, just thinking about all that remains to be done makes me weary.




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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The devil made me do it.


Since I’ve owned this property I’ve put my personal stamp on most of it.  Only a few places remain essentially as they were when I bought the farm.  One such place is the north end of the loft in the barn.  On the wall, emblazoned in large pink letters is the “explanation” THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT.

I have no idea who was responsible for the embellishment, but every time I climb the steep stairs to this catch-all area and see the declaration it makes me laugh.  I love the blatant irresponsibility of the notion that any foolish or unsound act is excusable because of demonic intervention.  It sounds like something coined in the seventies.  Ah, those halcyon days....  I think I may resurrect this excuse.

Another relatively-untouched area is the root cellar.  It’s only “relatively-untouched” because the bowels of the bathroom plumbing are accessible from this tomb, hence there have been occasions requiring a lot of unpleasant touching.  When I bought the farm the shelves in this dark little room were heavily laden.  Mason jars of cherries that looked as if they’d just been canned.  There were plums and pears and tomatoes and jars with what looked like cancerous brown tumors.  I don’t think I want to know what those things were. 

For many years I left the jars as reminders of some earlier life on this farm, but ultimately I got rid of most of them and now I wish I hadn’t. I thought I’d fill the shelves with my own preserved produce, but that never happened.  My canning efforts were dismal.  Freezing stuff is so much easier, but admittedly opening the freezer and staring at flat bags of corn or Tupperware containers of pesto isn’t nearly as poignant as entering the recesses of the root cellar and seeing shelves of colorful jars.

I know those jars were once scalded, then filled with the bubbling contents and capped with the zinc lids.  I wonder how the cook knew if they had safely sealed.  I guess she just had to hope for the best.  I feel pretty certain a woman was responsible for all that food.  I picture her wearing a plain white apron. Her brow is damp, her hands are raw and stained and she looks weary.

She wiped the jars clean and put them on a rack to cool before carrying them down the narrow steps that led to the dirt-floored cellar.  The jars were set on the wide white shelves and with a sigh she pulled the door shut.  Then one blustery winter day I imagine a child was sent down to retrieve some of summers preserved harvest; maybe a jar of yellow peaches or sour red cherries from the tree that the storm took down just a few years ago.

But now the shelves sit mostly empty and the little room has not much purpose other than to access the temperamental plumbing.  My unused canning supplies are there along with some empty wine bottles saved in case I ever decide to take up wine making.  Many times I wish I’d left all the old jars with their mysterious contents.  I will never paint the wall in the barn loft because when something moves you, it’s better left as is.




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Monday, October 12, 2009

Critters, mine and others.


It was a weekend with not a spare minute, yet I’m afraid all of my labors will only be noticed by me and the animals, and they couldn’t care less.  The past couple of days have indeed been animal focused; cleaning the barn, stripping the hen house and seeking homes for the latest chickens who have announced their manhood with pathetic warbling crowing efforts.  As I worked a red tail hawk swooped down and attempted to snatch lunch.  The roosters, every last one of them proved worthless as protectors of their respective harems.  They had one concern and that was saving their own butts.  It was every hen for herself.  After watching briefly from a tree near the barn the hawk left, but I’ve no doubt he’ll be back, especially since the security guards have shown themselves to be utterly lazy and inept.

Last night was a landmark for Jimmie, the foster pup.  He spent his first night in the house rather than in the barn as the weather had turned frosty. He did remarkably well for such a young dog. Jimmy will be moving to his new home this coming weekend and while he is cute as a bug, the dogs, the cats and I will all be happy to return to our old routine. 

Buddy the cat hasn’t been herself lately, so this morning she went to the vet.  (I’ve spent a lot of time there lately, not to mention a lot of money.) It seems Buddy has a heart murmur, possibly caused from gingivitis.  Who knew!  And so, she will undergo oral surgery to have a few bad teeth removed and the remainder cleaned.  She will be put on antibiotics and I will have one more giant vet bill.  It’s best if I don’t give too much thought to these costs.  It would be just too depressing.  (I did advise the vet that under no circumstances would I okay a heart transplant or pacemaker for Buddy. One must draw the line somewhere!)

Driving to the vet clinic I was astounded to see so many Vote Yes on Issue 2 signs.  Apparently the $7 million dollar investment by those pushing this issue is paying off.  The signs refer to “food safety” and “excellent animal care.”  It’s obvious that some of those with yard signs have bought into the misleading implications and that they really do believe that the proposed board of “experts” will benefit small family farmers or protect our foods.  For the most part these farmers already do provide humane and appropriate care for their livestock. How many small or organic producers do you think contributed to that $7 million?  My guess is not many.   

I fear this issue will pass, based solely on implications rather than the truthful agenda. It will pass because of voter apathy.  Researching a ballot proposal before casting a vote takes time and objectivity. It’s work that most of us don’t bother with and in this case it is my belief that if Issue 2 passes it will lead to a false justification for confinement livestock farms, more puppy mills and worst of all, a further distancing of society from the real sources of the foods they consume.





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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Music in the country



           Tonight is the first music potluck of the season; the official beginning of fall.  For the past 20+ years a group of dear friends has gotten together the second Saturday of every month to play old time music, consume a lot of good food and catch up on one another's lives.  Since people are usually busy with other things, we break for the summer.  But before you know it, it’s October and we re-launch the get-togethers meeting at a different home each month, but our first potluck of the season is always in Kent.  This photo of a few of the music makers was taken here at one of last years parties. Most of the musicians are very accomplished.  I am not, but they politely allow me to plunk away on my guitar anyway.  This is the true test of friendship!

But not everyone shares an interest or appreciation for traditional music.  Since 3 PM a steady thud, thud, thud... has been reverberating throughout the area.  The origin of this rudeness is a full half mile up the road and there is reason to believe it will go on into the wee hours.




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Friday, October 9, 2009


Rain, rain and more rain.  It feels like a London day.  Balmy and wet and not unpleasant to be outside, but not nice enough to tackle the planned project.  The forcast for the weekend is not encouraging either, so trail blazing is on hold.

If the rain continues, as predicted the cellar will soon be under water.  While such conditions might be alarming in other homes, for this place it's just the norm.  In fact John Grogg deliberately built this house over a spring which gurgled out of the floor.  Just imagine!  He must have been the envy of the area with his 1821 in-house refrigeration.  He also built the house on bedrock, so the water cut a channel through the stone as it made its way out the cellar door, but when the addition was built everything changed.  

As the excavators dug (with great difficulty) through the rock to create a usable workshop room the source of the spring was diverted.  In an instant the gentle gurgle became a gush of icy water that poured from the side wall and quickly filled the new basement room.  The flow was about what a fire hose would produce.  This "problem" was solved by the installation of five drains  to route water down to the leaky pond. The spring must be somewhat seasonal since the cellar dries up eventually. This system works reasonably well until we get a lot of rain. Then the old spot erupts again. 

Since there is a drop of about three feet from the old cellar down to the new room the cascading water sounds like a waterfall (which essentially is what it is...), so the sound in the living room directly above creates a strange ambiance.  

When I hear people worry and fret about a "damp basement" it makes me giggle.  If they only knew! By morning mine will be a wading pool.

5:27 pm edt          Comments


Rain, rain and more rain.  It feels like a London day.  Balmy and wet and not unpleasant to be outside, but it isn't nice enough to tackle the trail project.  The forcast for the weekend is not encouraging either, so trail blazing plans are on hold.

If the rain continues, as predicted the cellar will soon be under water.  While such conditions might be alarming in other homes, for this place it's just the norm.  In fact John Grogg deliberately built this house over a spring which gurgled out of the floor.  Just imagine!  He must have been the envy of the area with his 1821 in-house refrigeration.  He also built the house on bedrock, so the water cut a channel through the stone as it made its way out the cellar door, but when the addition was built everything changed.  

As the excavators dug (with great difficulty) through the rock to create a usable workshop room the source of the spring was diverted.  In an instant the gentle gurgle became a gush of icy water that poured from the side wall and quickly filled the new basement room.  The flow was about what a fire hose would produce.  This "problem" was solved by the installation of five drains  to route water down to the leaky pond. The spring must be somewhat seasonal since the cellar dries up eventually. This system works reasonably well until we get a lot of rain. Then the old spot erupts again. 

Since there is a drop of about three feet from the old cellar down to the new room the cascading water sounds like a waterfall (which essentially is what it is...), so the sound in the living room directly above creates a strange ambiance.  

When I hear people worry and fret about a "damp basement" it makes me giggle.  If they only knew! By morning mine will be a wading pool.

5:26 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, October 8, 2009

4:20 pm edt          Comments

The wilderness outside my back door


            I live on a paved road and town is only about nine miles away.  This is hardly the wilderness I wish it were, but wilderness is formally defined as “a mostly uninhabited area of land in its natural uncultivated state…,” so according to that definition the area south of the orchard is a wilderness. 

            When I first got this place, the only cleared area was immediately surrounding the house.  There was so much work to do that venturing into the bush wasn’t even a consideration.  It was an impenetrable tangle of multiflora rose, wild berries, saplings and vines.  But in the summer of 1990 my life changed drastically.  Exploring the unexplored became my obsession and therapy.

            Armed with a lopper, a hatchet and a Cub Cadet garden tractor I set forth.  It wasn’t easy work.  The little tractor would plunge into the tangle until it could go no further. Then I’d jump off, hack away with the hatchet and lopper and move forward a little more.  It took all summer and I was pretty well cut to ribbons in the process, but I had created what is now referred to as my nature trail.  It loops through the trees, and wild raspberry and blackberry bushes and there is something wonderful to see and enjoy every day.  There’s a rustic bench made of a couple logs and a plank. In the springtime the area directly in front of it is a carpet of violets. Part of the trail cuts through a thicket of poison ivy (appropriately dubbed the poison ivy leg).  It passes an ancient manure spreader and corn planter that have been in place so long that a tree has grown up through the bed of the spreader.  I don’t think of the old iron-wheeled relic as junk, but as sculpture.

            The trail has evolved over the years and visitors enjoy it.  Some of them act as if it’s a real adventure, so it’s nice to share with those who rarely get off a paved surface.  I hate to mow, but driving the tractor along this pathway is fun. My nature trail is lovely and it was worth every cut and scrape!

So, today I decided to expand it to the south since this area is utterly impassable.  The dogs and I tried to find just a deer trail to follow, but it was impossible.  The prospect of making this corridor is exciting, but it will have to wait until the weekend.  To be continued….



4:17 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another surprise package


            Fall blew in with gusto yesterday and in addition to the flurry of limbs,  leaves and chevron geese that honked their way over the barn, it brought with it everything to which I seem to be allergic.  It knocked my socks off, hence no Tuesday post.  My apologies.

            Another mysterious gift from Kenny appeared this morning at the end of the driveway.  How he manages these surreptitious deliveries is a mystery considering all my “watch dogs.” 

            It’s a wonder the roaring winds didn’t blow this surprise away like the leaves, but when I let the puppy out, there on the other side of the gate sat a box that I knew could only have come from up the road.  The box was perforated, like boxes that contain small birds or animals.  This was worrisome, but I need not have been concerned.  Kenny was merely recycling. 

            In today’s parcel was the ubiquitous loaf of raisin spelt bread, still in the store packaging, so it might even be fresh.  Also in the box were many chestnuts.  I’d admired Kenny’s laden trees when I took something up to him and apparently he remembered that I said I love chestnuts.  There were also two suspicious walnuts of dubious age and there was a small container of beautiful red raspberries which I suspect he bought down in Amish country.  How many people are lucky enough to have a neighbor like Kenny? 

            Last winter, just about dusk neighbor Sandy called.  “Kenny’s cow is down at the mailbox and I’m afraid she’s going to get hit by a car.”  No other explanation was necessary.  Fencing at his place is either non-existent or easily breached. I hopped in my truck and headed up the road.  Sandy was waiting at the end of her drive and jumped in.  As we drove toward Kenny’s, she asked.  “Do you know how to handle cattle?” 

            Well, the honest answer would have to be “no,” but I guessed we’d both learn in a couple of minutes.  Apparently cow had tired of waiting for Kenny and headed back down the lane. The big Ayrshire with horns greeted us at the barn with a look that said, “Where the heck is Kenny?”

What to do.  Did she need to be milked?  It was hard to tell, but one thing was certain, I wasn’t about to get a bucket and find out in the middle of the snowy field in the fast-ebbing light.  From inside the barn we heard a bellow.

            I may have mentioned that Kenny’s a collector of stuff; nothing in particular, just anything and everything that he can haul home and dump in the barn.  At auctions he collects all the leftovers.  Waste not, want not….

We fought our way through this maze of rubbish and ultimately made our way through the milk house and into the bottom of the barn where cow’s half grown calf was tethered.  Only then did we find a light switch.  The bottom barn was not quite as cluttered as the rest, but there was an assortment of farming remnants throughout including petrified harness (Kenny hasn’t worked horses since 1941), broken pitch forks, old crocks and lumber.  Cookie, the beagle growled at us from her bed in the corner. We watered and fed the terrified calf who probably weighed about 700 pounds at the time and got hay for the cow.  There wasn’t much else to do. We  left Kenny a note and departed. 

He never mentioned the incident to either of us and to this day we have no idea where he was that cold blustery night.  Neighbor Sandy is convinced he has an Amish girlfriend, but I think not. 

Cow is friendly and she’s a pretty thing. Her son now sports a big brass nose ring and while I’m not afraid of cow, the bull who is now about half a ton is intimidating!



11:30 am edt          Comments

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cans = cat food


            Today began with the rumble of the township mowing crew (actually just a crew of one) clearing the roadsides of the lovely tall flowers of autumn.  Quickly gone were the goldenrod, the ironweed, Queen Anne’s lace and all the other ‘weeds’ that made such a lovely palette on either side of the pavement.  In their place was the exposed rubbish thrown from passing cars; some of it shredded, while other things like those horrid plastic water bottles and giant cheap-beer cans remained ugly and intact—indestructible!

            Twice a week, when I walk without the dogs I collect those last two items, popping those I see into a plastic bag. The water and pop bottles just go in the recycle bin, but the beer cans go in a special bin.  When this is full—and it fills up quickly, I take it to the scrap yard and typically get a few dollars.  While this may hardly seem worth the effort it pays off in several ways:  First, it removes litter.  Second, it adds another dimension of exercise to my walk.  Third, the money goes into a “fund” which is used to buy cat food for a fellow whose middle name is BAD LUCK.  Fourth is the gratification of knowing that the slobs who mindlessly threw their emptied cans of rot-gut into the lovely countryside are indirectly contributing to a charity of my choice.  In recent years this charity is a little Leprechaun of a man I shall call Buddy.

            Buddy was discovered digging through a trash bin a few years ago and feeding whatever he found to his two waiting dogs.  When my friend came upon him she asked if he could use some pet food and Buddy gratefully accepted the offer.  One thing led to another and soon she, I and my friend (whom I admittedly conned into hanging dry wall) found ourselves renovating Buddy’s pathetic house, taking all of his cats and dogs to the vet and supplying him with pet food. It now seems apparent that this angel of mercy role is unending.

            When I hear Buddy’s funny lisping voice on the answering machine telling me he’s “out of cat food…” that’s when I tap into the beer can “fund.” 

In the end the road is cleaner, I’m more fit and Buddy’s cats have food, so maybe it’s a win-win deal.  Even so, the thoughtless irresponsible littering by the drunken cretins who cruise this road infuriates me.



8:15 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Can't tell a book by its cover


            If you saw these apples at the grocery store you’d probably pass them by.  They aren’t big, shiny, pretty nor even moderately appealing, but that’s just the outside. 

When I got this farm there were several old fruit trees in addition to those in the apple orchard.  Several “experts” advised cutting down the misshapen tree between the house and barn, but I resisted and have not regretted the decision once-especially this time of year.  Who knows what kind of apple this is, but it really makes a lovely pie. 

I’ve tried to trim it according to the fruit growers guide, and in general it now has the recommended umbrella shape, but tending just a couple apple trees has given me greater respect for those with big orchards.  It’s a lot of work, snipping the rain spouts, cutting away the dead and remembering to spray the dormant oil.  Since I don’t use any other chemicals the apples are far from perfect specimens.

            I’ve planted several additional fruit trees over the years, but these new varieties are not nearly so hardy as old trees like the one that produced these apples.  Between this tree and the other oldsters in the orchard, the donkeys and I have plenty of tasty apples, even if they aren’t pretty or perfect.  Gee, do you suppose there is some other message here???




2:07 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Knowledge is power


            Election time is coming up and on the Ohio ballot this year is the controversial Issue 2 which deals with farm animal welfare.  Issue 2 would set up the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. In a nutshell, passage will result in a board that will decide standards under which food animals are raised.  Proponents point out that this panel will include one county humane society representative, a couple of veterinarians, and some family farmers among others.  Up front all of this sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Looking at the details tells the real story.  Passage of Issue 2 will result in a board of “foxes” in charge of Ohio’s “hen houses.”

            Yes, I’m a longtime vegetarian, but I don’t care if the rest of the world eats ground up tires.  It’s not my business, nor my concern, but proponents of this issue will have you believe that opponents of the referendum have an agenda to force all of the rest of you to eat as I do.  ‘Utter nonsense and outright lies. This is what gets my dander up.  The issue is being presented to the public under the guise of protecting your right to choose your diet, protecting food safety and providing the best care for the animals that ultimately make their way to your plate.  This is not the real agenda of Issue 2.  This is smoke and mirrors.

            Agribusiness, AKA factory or industrial farms stand to gain because they will be able to continue business as usual.  Yet the proponents are telling the public that passage is necessary to save “family farms.”  This claim is always accompanied by a background of happy Holsteins grazing in a dazzling green pastures and testimony from a dairy farmer who milks 600 cows thrice daily.  It is highly unlikely that 600 cows are out in grassy pastures.  Cows only produce milk when they have calves.  Where are the crated veal calves in this Pro-Issue 2 ad?

            I once did a story about a mega dairy that milked a couple thousand cows.  The image of a row of 400 wooden crates, each containing a black and white calf unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably is forever etched in my mind.  The farm manager casually said, “When the flies are bad you can’t even tell that these are Holsteins because they’re black (covered in flies).  The television stations came out here because animal rights people got all up in arms.  We’ll have to do something about the manure under the crates this year.” 

            This is just a sample of the misleading promotion of Issue 2.  If it were really about protecting “family farms” and sustainable agriculture, which I’m 100% for, the plethora of pro-Issue 2 literature would show the big producers who will comprise this bogus ''animal welfare" board.

Sows in farrowing crates, or crowded pens that encourage cannibalism is standard procedure for pork production, but unless Jimmy Dean is your daddy, this isn’t how hogs are raised on “family farms.”  The same goes for laying hens.  Big producers don’t want to be told that confining birds in a tiny cage where they do nothing but eat and drop an egg onto a conveyor belt is not a  humane way to get eggs (Nature’s perfect food…), but providing a bigger cage cuts into profits. They claim opponents just don’t understand and tell the public that their only concern is for the safety of the animals and the food supply.

Well, I consider myself an animal welfare advocate, but not an animal rights LUNATIC.  Statistics support the fact that livestock raised under more natural and humane conditions are healthier and that the end products are of better quality.  Foods produced under such conditions sell for premium prices and this is what helps save small family farms.

Issue 2 is not about saving anything but the status quo.  I’m off my soap box now, but the point of this rant is to be an informed voter. I can't abide dishonesty. Go to the proponents of Issue 2 sites as well as those listed below and decide for yourself. While I do not support HSUS as I prefer hard scientific facts rather than emotional pleas, the argument against Issue 2 is pretty well-explained in this link.



5:48 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Good news, bad news...


            Although early morning was overcast, the sun quickly broke through beckoning me outside.  I could work on assignments later, after dark.  It would be a shame to waste such a golden day, especially with so much to be done like working on that giant ragweed, mowing and pulling out dead garden plants.  I really did have all the best intentions, but the dogs wanted to play Frisbee, go for a walk, have their pictures taken and lounge under the beautiful blue skies, so what else could I do?  I granted all their requests and got little yard work done.

            While the day was lovely, a frost is predicted, so I’m hauling potted plants inside for the winter. The coleus should be happy here in my office and geraniums always brighten the kitchen throughout the winter with happy red blooms.  I’m looking forward to winter.

            What a joy to report that the dumped pup, tentatively named Jimmie has been adopted and will be moving to Cincinnati next week where he will have a wonderful home with my friend.  I couldn’t be happier, although I’ll miss the little guy.  He has changed so much in the short time he’s been here.  He’s filling out and he’s happy.  He is also extremely smart, not to mention being simply adorable.  This is the good news.

            The bad news is that a dog that appears to be his mother along with a sibling has been spotted, but they have not yet been rescued.  The longer they are on their own, the more difficult rescue will become.  The pup won’t survive unless the mom can still provide some milk, but that’s not likely.  I, the police chief and neighbor Sandy are all searching for them, but the brush and the woods are dense and the dogs are frightened.  Keep your fingers crossed!

            Other good news is indirectly related to the dog situation.  It seems the mother dog killed a couple of chickens on the next road.  One of them was a rooster the fellow had only gotten two days earlier.  Needless to say that upon hearing this story I stopped and offered him a replacement. One of the teenagers is moving out tomorrow.  Whew, things like this rarely happen.  So far the other young ones are keeping their gender a secret.  Only the handsome black boy has crowed, so with a bit of luck the others are pullets.  The man who will be his new owner told me he names them and says, “I like to just sit out here and watch them. It’s relaxing.”        

            He’s right.  Observing the world around you, not just glancing past it, but really looking at it is a great tonic.  On days like this I’m especially grateful for my small country life.



6:31 pm edt          Comments

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