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Wednesday, July 30, 2014



While cleaning out a file cabinet full of folders, photos and reference notes from long-ago story subjects I came across one called "Amish Gardens."  I'd actually forgotten all about this ambitious project that never came to fruition. 

Many years ago I spent a lot of time in the Amish community, largely due to the draft horse publishing niche I'd inadvertently carved out for myself.  It was an interesting period. I spend little time there these days, but back then I thought a book about Amish gardens would be a worthwhile undertaking..  Their gardens are meticulously planned, productive and utterly weed-free. Preparing, tending and harvesting the plots were/are clearly labors of love.

My plan was launched by presenting the following letter of introduction (found in the aforementioned file).


                   WHO AM I AND WHAT IS THIS BOOK ABOUT? 

As a freelance writer for several farm journals and magazines I am exposed to a wide range of agricultural practices ranging from high-tech to organic gardening.  Writing for Rural Heritage, The Draft Horse Journal and other publications I've made the acquaintances of many kind and interesting Amish individuals who have inspired me to study the origins of Amish culture and to develop a deep respect for it.

As a gardener I am impressed by some basic differences between Amish and English gardens, such as the simplicity of design and plant varieties, the encouragement of birds and bees as natural pest managers and pollinators, the role small children play in family gardens and the Amish commitment to your role as stewards of the earth which sustains us all.  I see Amish gardens as a celebration of life and a reflection of the very spirit of Amish culture.

As an individual I believe that everyone has an obligation to try to make the world a better place for all life.  I hope to use my writing skills to share gardening ideas which illustrate humility, simplicity and purpose.  I understand and respect your cultural separation from the modern world and it is not my intention to exploit your differences, but to share your unique insight of gardening as a way of life.

I am interested in learning many things:  The influence for plants in different communities.  The family involvement and social implications of gardening.  The ways birds and bees are encouraged--or discouraged.  Soil preparation, tools and fertilizers, etc.  The enclosed questionnaire requests more detailed information.

It is my wish that you will trust me and the intentions of this proposed book, for I will never knowingly do, photograph or write anything which intrudes upon or exploits the Amish way of life.

I signed this letter of introduction "Sincerely" and was pleased with the positive responses that followed.  I plan to share some of my observations and some of the feedback received from this defunct effort in a few upcoming posts for I've enjoyed reading them again after so many years.  I hope you will too.


9:03 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 25, 2014



For the last time I hope!  I hadn't planned to take part in the protest against the Kelly Miller Circus that set up in Hartville today.  My original intention was to just deliver the signs I'd made and to take photos.  But when I saw the impressive turnout of more than 30 enlightened and compassionate protesters lining the highway and heard all the encouraging cheers and horn toots and saw so many thumbs-up from passing motorists I grabbed a sign and joined the crowd. I especially like this future animal welfare activist.  'Pity the baby elephant on the poster, but the sad truth is that  THIS is how the animals are "trained."


It's the 21st century and there is no excuse for anyone in this hi-tech age to believe that animals under ‘the big top' are performing those ridiculous tricks because it's a natural behavior.  It is not.  The "training" claimed by handlers involves outright abuse.  No one with half a brain would condone such blatant disregard for the elephants, big cats and other animals imprisoned by these purveyors of pain and suffering. 


But, apparently ignorance is bliss, so as ignoramuses drove past us and paid to be entertained watching tortured animals under the big top they were confronted by signs conveying the ugly truth.

This particular circus is owned by Ringling and leases its animals from an agency with countless USDA and AWA  animal welfare violations.  Despite the numerous citations they have only faced fines of a few thousand dollars; pocket change.  So long as an apathetic public pays to watch this exploitation the status quo will continue, but demonstrations such as this one may one day change that.


Of course not every car that passed supported our cause.  The sophisticated intellectuals in this elegant vehicle drove past repeatedly, whooping and flashing some familiar sign language, but as Forestt Gump would say, "Stupid is as stupid does."

6:56 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 23, 2014



The first thing the headlights hit when I pulled into my drive late last night was Kenny's latest delivery of sacks, now totaling a stunning 85 large paper bags of questionable use.  I've burned some, taken many to the recycle center and have yet to decide the fate of this bunch.

I don't question my old neighbor as to what he thinks I might do with them or why he himself bothered to fill the back of his truck with them (along with jars of mayonnaise, canned corn and god knows what else might be buried in that jumble).  To question would risk hurting his feelings and that's something I'd never deliberately do. 

But the bags weren't the only ‘present.' They were stacked against the fence that leads into the yard, so clearly the two partially-baked pizza crusts had been hurled like Frisbees from the other side of the fence.  It was midnight and as I stood in the glow of the porch light clutching the sacks full of sacks, looking at the doughy rounds, one on the bricks by the door and the other on the garden bench, I was reminded how absurd my small country life sometimes is.  I opened the door and Tess rushed out to grab one of the ‘Frisbees,' but wasn't quite sure what to do with it.  I took it from her and the chickens enjoyed a pizza snack this morning, but Gladys wondered why there was no cheese or sauce.

Lately I've noticed how frail and thin Kenny is becoming.  His hearing is failing and on those rare occasions when he removes the ubiquitous cap and reveals what remains of his wispy hair, he looks like a fragile, newly-hatched bird.  It's sad to see this decline.

Last week I stopped by his place and found him in the barnyard feeding loaves of spelt bread to his cows.  The Milking Shorthorn cow and her ¾ grown calf seemed to relish the stuff.  They stood waiting patiently as Kenny tore open another bag and dumped it in front of them.  Oh, if I'd only had my camera....  The sight of the old man with two trusting cows eating spelt bread was priceless.

And so I continue to put bags of cookies or generous wedges of pie in his newspaper box where I know he'll find them.  Soon I'll take him some green beans from my garden.  The package said bush beans, but there must have been a labeling mishap.  These are Beans Gone Berzerk, but Kenny won't care.


12:17 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, July 19, 2014



Well, not quite, but.... I like watching cooking shows on PBS, and have a few favorites; Jacques Pepin being at the top of my list, but Cooks Country comes in at a close second as they always explain the chemistry which makes a recipe ‘work.'   So, the peaches and cream pie featured on CC seemed just the ticket for all the beautiful peaches ripening on my counter.  I printed the recipe from their website and headed for the kitchen.

OMG!  ‘Not nearly so simple as it appeared on the telly where, after making the pie pastry (easy), blanching, peeling, quartering, the peaches. (still easy), the CC cooks began the on-camera assemblage.  Glossed over were things like having a prep crew, several ovens all set at different temperatures, not to mention an entire morning to waste. 

I consider myself a pretty good cook, but never have I found so many steps necessary to make a simple pie shell; refrigerate it for ½ hour, then freeze it for 2 hours, cover it with two layers of overlapping foil loaded down with weights and then finally bake it at one temperature for ½ hour, alter the heat, remove the weights and foil, bake for 15 minutes more at a different temperature, cool the damned thing before assembling the filling, then popping it back into yet another temperature oven to bake for 45 minutes more!  I know, I know, this is where the chemical changes occur, but really!!!!  Admittedly I've exagerated just bit....

So, at last the bloody thing came out of the oven for the final time.  The crust (usually symmetrical and pretty) was misshapen due to all the silly handling. Otherwise the pie looked about like the one on CC, but as they say ‘the proof is in the pudding,' or in this case, the wedge of pie.  With mouth watering, I cut into the masterpiece only to find the crust (normally flakey) tough as old shoe leather.  The fussed-with peaches and cream filling was ordinary and not worthy of the multiple steps, chemistry be damned. 


Consider this my personal review of the CC peaches and cream pie:  RATHER DISAPPOINTING!  I will not be repeating this labor-intensive recipe. 


7:15 pm edt          Comments

Friday, July 18, 2014



"Didn't you learn your lesson yesterday?" I asked the sodden, bug-eyed mouse looking up at me from the bucket.  Apparently she had not for this was her second ejection in as many days.

There really isn't an official ‘baby season' for mice, but invariably the summer months compel moms-to-be to set up a nursery in the pump spout.  It takes 15 thrusts of the pump handle to draw the icy water up from the depths, but the first time the fat gray rodent shot into the empty bucket I had just begun pumping, so she was still dry.  After her unexpected eviction I hoped she would choose a different laying-in spot, but no.

She must have worked like a beaver to create the huge clog that finally shot from the spout after the drenched damsel in distress landed in the bucket today. 

I won't be surprised if there's an encore tomorrow, but hopefully one without squirming little pink beanie babies. 

The determined mouse wasn't the only visitor.  Owen Meany who stopped by the garden shed BB for breakfast lingered just long enough for me to snap this shot of his departure while hanging out the upstairs window and calling to him.  He's a scrawny fellow and he takes off like a rocket if I even dare open a door.  Owen will be a challenge to trap.  Maybe he knows what's in store for him.

I had forgotten to take the basket of eggs from the barn last evening, so a feast was enjoyed by Mr. or Ms. (or both) Raccoon as evidenced by the mess in the feed room.  Empty shells and crumbs from a few slices of Kenny bread intended for the chickens were all that remained this morning.  The night marauder must have thought he/she had stumbled upon an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Nothing edible was wasted.

Even the fox stopped by this morning to bark hello and then meandered back into the woods.

Guests like these are why I love my small country life.

2:11 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



The nice Craigslist lady who gave me the two hens now known as Black Betty and Red Betty claimed she was parting with them because at two years of age their egg-bearing years were behind them.  Knowing this to be untrue (except in battery hens whose lives are even shorter) I was delighted to take the super-friendly girls and they quickly made themselves at home here.  Today I discovered the real reason for Ms. Craigslist's generosity.

Red and Black Betty are both real characters,but Red Betty in particular even upstages Gladys, and that's saying something.  Not surprisingly the two show-offs have become good chums.  Gladys has taught Red Betty to stare into the kitchen pretending to be on the verge of starvation.  Betty is trying to convince Gladys that sitting on human laps is really quite pleasant and that the upholstered porch furniture is more comfy than the wooden benches (they are not permitted on either, but...). 

Recently I've noticed discrepancies in the daily egg tally.  Some days there might be five eggs, some days only one and other days just a few cleaned out shells. I thought a thieving coon was to blame, but today the true culprit was caught in the act. 

Red Betty likes to accompany me to the barn for chores.  It seems to be a highlight of her day.  She clucks and skitters about as if we are having some quality girlfriend time chatting about whatever.  This afternoon, apparently in the mood for a snack she headed directly to the laying nest and was caught red-handed so to speak, diligently pecking a hole in an egg and then gobbling down the contents.  Not only is she a show-off , she's a cannibal.

Craigslist shoppers beware! There's probably a hidden reason behind those bargains.



8:12 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, July 12, 2014



I've just come in from setting fire to the latest ‘presents' from Kenny.  In the past week he has delivered in varying increments, seven very large, double-layer, paper sacks filled with rolled up duplicates of the same.  The sacks originated in Germany and contained spelt wheat ready to be milled into flour for the ubiquitous loaves of spelt bread he also delivers.  I have since burned 49 large sacks.  What he thinks I might need/want this unusual gift for is a mystery and to avoid any embarrassment I won't question the gift.   

Over the years that have been taking food up to old Kenny he has responded with an incredible selection of thank you tokens.  A few of these have included a large old buggy wheel, a box filled with the photographic history of a family from Salem, Ohio, many books, a cherished small porcelain dog, a sequined cowboy hat, bottles of vinegar, some partially used, others unopened, plastic flower pots, usually broken, large glass jars (always very dirty) and other objects of art too numerous to recall.

What can I say?  It's the thought that counts, right? 

9:25 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, July 9, 2014



He shot from the garden shed faster than a speeding bullet and at first I thought the retreating black cat was Poppy, but like too many of us here the Popster is portly and slow.  The ebony rocket was lean and had the eyes of the devil.  He paused just for a second, cast a yellow-eyed glare my way and vanished down the nature trail.

Oh, just another feral freeloader stopping by for a quick bite, I thought.  I didn't expect to see him again, but alas, I was wrong.  The freeloader, now known as Owen Meany, suggestive of his evil nature returned later that day and every day since.  He is fearless.  Not even Tess fazes him and she has wisely decided that it's best not to tempt fate by pursuing the matter; better to watch from afar.  The other cats watched and worried from the porch as Owen languidly stretched out under the pergola.  When I opened the door Mister Meany simply raised his head, looked directly at me and said, "I've decided to live here and from now on I am the boss.  Don't forget it." 

Since then he has trashed the garden shed, intimidated all of the other cats and has done nothing to endear himself to me. The other cats here were foundlings or ferals except for Peggy Sue who crept from a heat duct at trailer park person's dismal place.  Each cat politely settled in and none of them are nasty or troublesome, but I suspect this will not be the case with Owen.  It's clear that he will be difficult to trap.  He's wild as a hare, but hopefully after some ‘cosmetic' surgery his arrogant disposition will improve.  I did not ask for, nor do I want seven cats, but I can see that this is beyond my control.  Owen says he's staying..

9:17 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


The lush foliage on the raspberry bushes was covered with blossoms promising a bumper crop of berries this year.  I could hardly wait to harvest them. So when I spotted the bad asses hanging over the woven wire fence intended to protect the precious fruit I immediately ran out to investigate, but alas, too late.  From the house-side the bushes appeared fine, but looking down the fence line revealed the truth and it wasn't pretty. Their bad ass incisors had done as good a job as any human with a hedge trimmer. They had clipped the canes  as far down as they could reach from their side of the fence. 

The gardens here are disappointing in general this year.  Many seeds didn't germinate or the chickens had scratched them out.  The ‘bush beans (as per the seed packet)' must have been mislabeled.  They are really a Jack in the Beanstalk variety.  The vines are long and vigorous, climbing the fence and beyond, but with no hint of blossoms.   The tomato plants have also been victims of the chickens and fruit trees are bare or skimpy at best.  Only the pear trees and the raspberry bushes looked promising, until the bad asses decided to prune the latter. I wanted to cry. 


While Corky and Andy are certainly bold and adventurous, if there's one thing they fear in life it is a hoola hoop.  Two hoola hoops wired to the fence opposite the tempting bushes have saved the day.  New growth has burst forth and so with the hoops in place there will be raspberries after all!

Over the years the Garden Shed BB has sheltered a vast number of critters that have taken advantage of the snug accessible shelter.  Stinky Bill the cat only stopped by long enough to be trapped, hauled off to the vet for some ‘cosmetic' surgery (neuter) and then beat feet never to be seen again, but it's a popular resort for other cats and wildlife alike. 


OJ and Rattycat are the polite resident hosts until the weather turns nasty.  Then they abandon their inn-keeper post and move to the basement, but they are usually very accommodating to guests.  Opossum sometimes enjoy cat food as well as the soft kitty beds and one even posed for publicity shots.  But, like rowdy rock stars that destroy hotel rooms, raccoons periodically trash the shed. Needless to say, they are not especially welcome. I've even caught Gladys the hen sneaking into the garden shed to steal a snack of cat food, but I never expected the latest ‘guest.'

For many weeks I'd been watching a family of red foxes across the road.  Each evening around dusk I'd stand at the gate with my field glasses watching them and they'd sit quietly watching me.    As the field planted in corn grew taller and was doused with chemicals by the farmer, my furry friends vanished.  Only recently did I learn that at least one of them has moved here.  For anyone unfamiliar with fox sounds let me just say that it echoes what someone being murdered might make ( ).  But I am familiar with their calls so I wasn't bothered until the night it was directly under my bedroom window.

That first night the screams were like an announcement;  "Hey, we've moved over here. ‘Hope you don't mind...."  Their calls have now become a regular nightly event that don't even warrant the flick of an ear from the dogs or cats.  A few nights ago the cries were incessant and especially loud and they came from one stationary location.  I awoke, listened and worried.  Had one of the red fellows been hurt, I wondered? 

Dragging myself from bed I grabbed the flashlight and set off into the darkness.  About half way around the pond the ginger-colored night visitor popped his head from the bushes, trotted neatly along the opposite side of the pond and headed toward the house.  I did too and returned to bed.  Obviously the fox was not injured or in any trouble as feared. 

Until two nights ago the visits were merely noisy, but then Mr. (or Ms.) Fox discovered the mouse-hole into the garden shed door.  It must have been a tight squeeze, but a bowl of Friskees sure beats hunting mice, so while my fluffy guest does not spend the night it does clean up the food bowl before heading off to do whatever else foxes do at night.

I firmly believe that wildlife should remain wild.  Inviting them to become dependent upon easy meals only leads to trouble, so tonight the food bowl will be empty when the freeloader stops by for a snack.  Sissy, the serial killer cat says, "There are plenty of mice for everyone.  Cat food is for cats. Foxes not welcome at this bed and breakfast!"





2:53 pm edt          Comments

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