October 31, 2007 – Presidential Parade!

Living in Iowa as we do, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the parade of presidential candidates testing their message here.

Members of our family have already seen Barack Obama, John Edwards, John McCain, and we know people who have introduced Hillary Clinton on stage and hosted a house meeting with Sam Brownback (the Clinton-Brownback introducees/hosts were different people in case you are wondering!).  So it’s not far from the truth when people say each candidate has been in every living room in the state.  I have been terribly undecided so far and since they moved the caucuses to January 3, I won’t be able to participate in the caucuses.  So, I lose my voice in the process this year after being the precinct chair for the last caucus.  Unlike most of the country, Marshall County is divided quite evenly politically, with about 1/3 registered Republicans, 1/3 registered Democrats, and 1/3 registered independents.  So in some ways, this part of the state is a good representation of the nation.

one year ago…

October 29, 2007 – City Smoke, Country Smoke

This afternoon a big fire and plume of smoke resulted from a solvent/chemical warehouse blowing up in Des Moines.

Here’s a picture from a local TV station showing the fire at mid-afternoon.  It’s still burning at 8:30 pm, but they have reopened I-35, I-80, and I-235 after shutting them down for a good portion of the afternoon. As I-80 is the busiest cross-country interstate in the nation, it made a huge mess to detour the interstate via city streets.  The wind is SW, which means the smoke is blowing in our general direction. What made me scared is that this warehouse is adjacent to a natural gas storage facility – you can see some of the tanks in the left-hand side of the photo.  Had the wind been different, I wonder if the gas tanks could hold back the barrage of 55 gallon flaming barrels shooting out of the plant?

Here, out in the country, this is the view to our east as you can see the wisps of smoke from the fire, at this point, about 45 miles away from the fire.  Officials claim the air is safe to breathe.

one year ago…

October 28, 2007 – Rare Breed Chickens “Silver Campine”

The rare breed chickens the girls purchased a few months ago are growing up! 

There’s really no way to describe them other than “chickeny” with their black, white and red coloring, long legs, and chicken strut. The bird in the foreground is a “Silver Campine” a breed originating in Belgium and came out of favor when the commercial chicken industry got off the ground after WWII and the industry standardized on a few breeds and left many of the other breeds behind.

one year ago…

October 27, 2007 – Planting Garlic

Today was a catch-up day.  We missed the window of opportunity to plant garlic and fall bulbs early in the month, and it has just been way too soggy up to now to get in the garden.  So today we got the garlic in and some purple allium, and three kinds of peonies (Duchesse de Nemours -white, Sarah Bernhardt -pink, and Red Magic – red).  We also collected a bunch of seeds from flowers and beans, among other things.

A few days ago, I wouldn’t have bet that I’d be able to dig this trench with the tractor.  Our neighbor filled our two wagons with corn and I went out after I got home from work after dark to haul them back home.  On the way home, the tractor seemed like it was running a very rough and might not make it home.  In my paranoia, it seemed like the exhaust had a white tinge to it, but it was night, and I hadn’t yet run the tractor at night, so I wasn’t sure what it looked like normally at night.  My fear was coolant in the combustion chambers.  Or, I thought maybe the heavy load was straining it because one of the wagon wheels was nearly locked?  But when I got home and stopped the tractor, it still was acting up.  I turned it off and a few minutes later it wouldn’t start.  So I went and got the 2nd wagon with the truck (I felt some urgency as rain was possible in the forecast) and felt lucky not to get stuck in the soft waterway with a two wheel drive truck and gravity wagon full of corn and a dead tractor unable to pull myself out.

Over the night, ruminating about how much a cracked head or other major repair would cost, I remember an old mechanic telling me that if I ever put gas that had a mixture of ethanol in an engine that had not run it before, it would dissolve and break loose all kinds of gunk that might be in the gas tank/fuel system.  I may have grabbed a gas container that had ethanol in my rush to get out in the field.  So in the morning I thought I’d drain the carburetor and check out the gas, and if necessary drain the gas tank and start over.  But after draining all the gas out of the carburetor, it started up and ran just fine – so I am attributing the problem to a fuel line problem that has worked it self out.

Having the tractor to dig trenches to plant garlic, gladiolias, and potatoes is a huge back and time saver.


one year ago…

October 26, 2007 – Hog Barn Progress

Another current project is the hog barn renovation.  About 2/3 of the roof is now up.  I’d like to finish painting the upper floor and get the remaining 2nd level windows in and roof on this week.

Following that, but not as urgently, is to paint the right hand side of the lower level and replace those two windows.  The left side will be reconfigured to be a “porch” of sorts.  The outer wall will be torn out and a new wall built what is now “inside” so animals will be able to get out of the sun and under the porch on this southern exposure from the outside.  That way if the barn door should get shut by the wind during the day, the animals will have a place to go for shelter. 

one year ago…

October 24, 2007 – Fall Leaves

It seems like the leaves are really reluctant to turn this season.  I’m not sure if it is the warm, moist fall – we really still haven’t had the temperatures drop into the 20’s yet this season.

Today I got a dose of the legendary Menards customer service.  My steel siding/roofing was in, so I went to town to pick it up. 

1) Show them my slip at the service desk, they call the back for a load out, no one answers. 
2) They try again in a few minutes.  No one answers. Wait.
3) They try a different department.  No reply. Wait.
4) Try calling again.  Still no answer. Wait.
5) Finally, they find someone with a pulse and have me sign the handheld checkout contraption.  The battery dies. 
6) The person who was in charge of the sign-out device tells me she “isn’t authorized” to put a new battery in. 
7) Repeat steps 2-4.
8) Finally, someone at the proper authorization level replaces the battery and instructs me to drive around to the back.
9) No one is there, and when someone does appear, they are not able/authorized to drive the forklift.  At this point, I’m ready to get something done, so I show them my truck and say I’ve got to go run some other errands, so I go buy some new shoes as my farm shoes have needed replacement for a couple weeks.
10) When I return, the truck is loaded, but there is confusion about whether they sent the right amounts of each color I ordered.  At last I suggest I’ll just go home and let them know if I’m short. 

I spent a good part of the afternoon unloading the pieces, almost a ton’s worth – for the roof of the hog barn, some of the walls of the hog barn, and the east side of the corn crib. 

one year ago…

October 23, 2007 – Attic Update

From the project that never ends department, an update on the attic remodeling. The drywall on the ceiling is up! It’s now the home stretch. After it gets taped and sprayed, then we can paint it and start on putting the beadboard on the walls.

The view down the new big dormer to the south.

The view out one of the original small dormers to the west.

one year ago…

October 22, 2007 – Adolescent Cooper’s Hawk?

Today Martin and I ran across an adolescent hawk near the old machine shed. Â She let us approach very close and I thought it might be injured, but eventually we saw it flying around.  Immature birds are hard to identify, but we think it is a Cooper’s hawk.

I think she was interested in the chickens, but was smaller than they are! But then again, she has what looks like it could be blood above and below her left eye, so maybe she did have a meal courtesy of high hopes gardens! Maybe that’s why she was reluctant to leave as well. I’m not sure you can see it in this shrunken picture, but in the original photo, one of the talons is easy to spot.

one year ago…

October 21, 2007 – 1,000 Blog Entries

Yesterday was blog entry number 1000 on high hopes gardens blog! Â  When the blog was born 1,000 or so days ago (February 13, 2005) I thought it would mainly be a place to report on “the farm.”  It has since taken on a split personality as it it sometimes hard to separate the “family” from the “farm” and the blog is a place where friends and family can stop in at their leisure and catch up with the goings-on at the farm.  But there are also the entries that are more family-related and not farm related, so there is a bit of writing to two audiences.

The greatest unintended benefit of the blog is the record it presents of our lives and I trust it will be very amusing and revealing to our children to look back at their childhood, season by season, even day by day.  In a way it is a combination of a journal and scrapbooking – even things as little as two years ago I’ve forgotten – I can’t imagine what it may be like for them to show their grandkids in whatever form it may take by then, printed pages or computer screen.

So, on it goes – I think I’m ready for another 1000.

one year ago…

October 20, 2007 – Final Thoughts on Mexican Immersion

Our last full day in Mexico was in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan.   A few of us made a final visit to a market where we found many stalls packed with sweets.

Among those sweets were the sugar skulls.  These were, for me, the most “Mexican” thing we encountered.  Between the stone ruins of women who died in childbirth, the difficulty of an infrastructure the cannot (or will not) provide safe water, which can no doubt affect infant mortality, this is the thing that epitomized the experience.  Dance with death, dance with those that have died, live for the moment for you will join the dead. It was a good lesson.

Finally, a final shot of our Raices participants.  What a great group.  They have big hearts and even bigger dreams about the way the world should be. They made the experience a once in a life time from me.  Gracias.

one year ago…

October 19, 2007 – Visit to Village of Nocutzepo

Making tortillas.  This is a really beautiful kitchen.  Here Odelia’s sister is preparing tortillas for our lunch.  Note the wood burning stove, the tortilla press and her can of corn flour.  I have never had such fresh tortillas.  Later, at lunch, we were given an impromptu cultural lesson by Marisella on how to eat tortillas. She found the way we held them to be amusing, perhaps what I  really ought to say is that she found our tortilla-table manners laughable.  We gave it our best effort to improve!

Marisella, Odelia, and myself.  We are talking after lunch about sustainable farming and I am showing her a photo album of our farm in Iowa.  Marisella is serving as interpreter, she got  good at this (maybe through too much repetition) that she could pretty much tell the story of our farm with out much input from me!  Odelia is an innovator.  In her back yard is amaranth, chard, peaches (which no one thought would grow here) a fish pond, and a bread oven.  She and I share a passion for trying new ways to feed ourselves without depleting the garden.  I really enjoyed this conversation.

Odelia’s back yard.  Here fruit trees included banana, I’m jealous.  She was using the sediment from the fish pond for fertility in the garden.

This is the cemetery at Nocutzepo.  It’s adjacent to the cathedral there.  I don’t know why some graves are surrounded by wrought iron and some are entombed above ground.  I can just imagine the picnics held here for the Day (and night) of the Dead (Nov. 2).

Here a wagon of fresh cut alfalfa is carted in a wagon pulled by a single horse.

We saw plenty of interesting fencing.  This was my favorite.  If you look closely in the center of this wire fencing is a set of rusty bed springs.  Waste not, want not.  Not far from here I saw something I’d been looking for in every village, the three sisters, corn, beans and squash grown together.  The corn provides the trellis on which the beans grow, the beans provide nitrogen to the corn, and the squash serves to reduce weeds by shading them out.  These three also provide a nearly complete meal!

one year ago…

October 18, 2007 – Visit to Village of Arocutian

This is the view of Patzcuaro Lake from Arocutian.  The lake is very visibly receding and quite contaminated by erosion from the deforested hills.  The native fish once famous in Patzcuaro, are now locally extinct.

Thursday was another immersion day.  Lest you think these days were easy or comfortable, they were not.  We were required to venture forth without our guides/interpreters to locate various institutions and people.  This day we were given the names of two women who were willing to talk with us, the possibility of visiting the elementary school and a prearranged lunch & meeting with a family who made their living farming. First, we visited the school.

This is from the first grade classroom.  Oh, how I missed Martin when surrounded by six-year-olds.  They had the requisite missing teeth of 1st graders and unfettered enthusiasm mixed with a complete willingness to be engaged with complete (and no doubt strange) strangers.  They would beg to have you take their photo then rush to your side to view the picture on the camera screen.  Quite frankly, I loved being among them just to take in all their youth and brilliance.  I was really beginning to miss my own family.

I see a confident young woman in this girl’s face.

We spoke with this woman for quite some time about her children and how immigration to the U.S. has impacted her life.  Her husband spent eight years, off and on, in the U.S. during the 70’s and 80’s.  It was just long enough to bring home the money they needed to build their home.  She was grateful for that and he remained in Mexico when their home was complete.  She gave birth to her last child at age 40 (same as myself).  We enjoyed a laugh over the joys and trials of being older mothers of sons.  She was also caring for the wife of one of her sons who is in Chicago.  He left shortly after his wife gave birth to their second child.  He hurt himself going over the border and can now only work intermittently.  He sends money when he can.  She hasn’t seen him in four years and he hasn’t seen his son.  It made her very sad.

Ironically, I was unable to get pictures of the farmer & farm we visited.  I used too much camera memory on the 1st graders!  My “take homes” from this visit was the fact that these farmers were actively working to increase composting, they saved seed from open pollinated corn, planted and harvested by hand, used shared veterinary care, and rarely used tractors due to their expense and then typically this is shared equipment.  The corn was delicious.

one year ago…