Bric-a-Brac

July 15, 2015 – Squirrel Mischief

We’ve had a mysterious clothesline change of location. After returning home from vacation, a line that goes from the tree to the clothesline pole was snapped, and the end of the line was about 15 feet up on the opposite side of the tree. Couldn’t quite figure out how it got there – if it snapped, it couldn’t weave its way through the branches up the opposite side of the tree. I tied it back and a few days later saw a squirrel chewing on the rope.

Again, it happened – the line usually goes between the pole and tree.

The line up in the tree, presumably dragged up by the squirrel – for fun or nesting material?

March 28, 2014 – Thank You Mr. Badger

Not the Wisconsin Badgers, mind you, but the badger who evidently lives a few miles down the road and is an awesome digger! Guess the soil is now unfrozen for this critter to dig out such an impressive pile of dirt.

badger hole

As I needed some black dirt to reinforce some raised beds, this beats digging myself or driving to town to buy some in plastic bags. No lumps. just fine, black topsoil.

September 8, 2013 – Trampled By Turtles in Town

It’s not often that bands from my hometown make it this far south – but this weekend Duluth’s Trampled by Turtles found their way to town.

They brought their brand of whatever it is (Ralph Stanley meets Nirvana?) to an outdoor street concert.

Best of all, we are still not lame enough for our daughter not to attend with us!

Here’s a taste…

Trampled by Turtles – Victory


Fast Tube by Casper

August 23, 2013 – Nail Challenge

Martin is at it again offering up this challenge.  Can you balance 16 nails on the head of one nail?  You can affix the nail that the other nails balance on to a board or some other device, but other support is allowed.  Think about it, or try it and scroll below to see the solution…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elevation from above.

Elevation from below.

August 13, 2013 – Vulture Amusement

There is a pair of vultures that like to hang out near my cube at work.

They’ll sit for a while with their wings extended.

Sometimes they’ll sit side-by side and keep a look out.  With the turkey vultures looking into us trapped on the inside on a beautiful day, I wonder if we offer the same amusement to them as we get when we go to the zoo to watch all the confined animals!

July 18, 2013 – Mystery Hiding Spot

One of Martin’s Grandmothers gave him this popular children’s series bound in one volume she found at a rummage sale.

Martin opened it up and found that a previous owner had cut out the inside of some pages, presumably to hide something. We’re trying to guess what it might have contained. It’s not big enough for a pack of cigarettes, not big enough for a stack of bills. Martin is convinced it held some sort of illicit substance. I thought perhaps the place in the book may be of significance.

Anybody have an idea what might have been hidden? Bonus if you know what the name of the book series is from the bottom few sentences!

January 26, 2013 – Indoor Winter-time Fun

It’s winter, it’s cold and it’s not fun to get outside the house, unless its to a college basketball game!  And we are lucky enough to live close enough to one of the best venues in the country.  We have season tickets to the women’s team and they have the third highest attendance in the nation and play pretty good ball.

This game was a win against #14 Oklahoma.  The  next game was not so good against #1 Baylor, but in a moral victory of sorts, we held them to their lowest point total of the season, and lost by 15.

Today it was the #11 Kansas State men finding out how hard it is to play in Ames with another top 15 team going down.

January 12, 2013 – Magically Miraculous Chalice!

You never know when the universe will reveal a miracle. Like the image of Jesus in a piece of toast, now Unitarians have their own foodstuff symbol – this image of a chalice made of Lucky Charm marshmallows! (chalice history here)

UU chalice, chalice, marshmallow chalice

Since Linda was off at seminary all last week for classes, we had the “opportunity” to bring Lucky Charms into the house. While Lucky Charms are not expressly forbidden in the house, other breakfast options are highly encouraged.

When the chalice appeared in Emma’s cereal bowl, we faced a serious corundum – do we share the miraculous discovery of the chalice with Linda, thus exposing our food choices in her absence, or do we destroy the chalice and not say a word of it? We thought it most honorable to share the miracle with her and now with the world. We interpret finding the chalice as Universal blessing on our occasional consumption of Lucky Charms!

January 5, 2013 – Accordionpallooza!

It took 51 years before I enjoyed a rendition of Happy Birthday with accordion accompaniment! Today was it.

We (actually Martin) were invited to an Accordionpallooza of sorts. Ten accordions gathered in one room for instruction by one of Ames’ finest accordionists, and a former fellow grad student at Iowa State (so many years ago). Following is a short 30 second intro to his playing.

Bravo!

He even took apart an accordion to show us the inner workings.  These are the bass reed blocks, with the wood sealed with a concoction of beeswax, resins, and oils.  The inside of the bellows and more reed blocks are visible in the lower right.  I neglected to get photos of the complicated bass mechanics and levers.

Following are some of the photos of the participants, young and old alike…

January 1, 2013 – Most Forgettable Moments of 2012

I know I’m a bit late in this “best of 2012” but without further ado, here are the most forgettable moments of 2012.

January – Claire went back to school and forgot some items at home. I had to find a box, find some tape, and drive to the Post Office to send them.

February – I shoveled the ice and snow off the sidewalk. Then the wind blew and filled it back up again and I had to do it all over.

March – I wanted to go cut up some branches that fell down over the winter. But I didn’t keep any oil and gas mixture for the chainsaw over the winter. So I had to remember to get some the next time I went to town, but forgot the next three times I went to town for something or another.

April – A story on the news broke that really pissed me off.

May – I was working outside and almost forgot to pick Martin up after school to bring him to piano lessons. I didn’t have time to grab a book, so I just sat and listened to his lessons and pretended to read the magazines scattered about the house that I really wasn’t interested in reading.

June – I was fishing off a dock in Northern Minnesota and a wave temporarily hid my bobber and I couldn’t find it for a split-second and thought I had a bite.

July – After the 4th of July fireworks display we had to sit in the car a long time waiting for all the people to leave.

August – I was working on something with tools and ripped off a small part of the edge of a fingernail. It hurt for a long time and I wondered if it would get infected or not, but a week later it was better.

September – I went down to the basement to retrieve something, but then started straightening up some disheveled items and went back upstairs and realized I forgot to retrieve what I originally went down to get.

October – I went out to prune some blackberries, but then walked by the low-hanging branches of an old Mulberry tree that I didn’t really care much for. Rather than sawing off the branch 10 feet above the ground, I thought it would be easier to just knock it down with the tractor loader. It didn’t really snap off that well and it took much longer than had I just cut it. Then, the blackberry canes took a lot longer to prune than I figured.

November – I spent a lot of time deciding the right building to store and buch of things in and ended up having to clean a space out and never actually moved the items.

December – I was trying to fill out some financial aid forms, tried to log onto a web site, but I forgot my password, so I had to have them resend it. But my mail provider changed smtp mail servers and I couldn’t get any mail, so couldn’t reset the passwords. It was late and had to wait until the next day. Then they spent and hour and a half the next day and could only get incoming mail to work.

December 27, 2012 – Gishwhes Scavenger Hunt

There are new things in this world that have only recently come to my attention.  Evidently, the Gishwhes (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World HAs Ever Seen) is one of them. The website proclaims ” This content is captured as videos or images to memorialize the annual Gishwhes experience. Art pieces range from the touching: “Take a picture of you hugging a war veteran” or “Create a video of you visiting a children’s hospital and giving a puppet show” to the weirdly sublime: “an image of a formal tea party replete with parasols, silverware and a string quartet situated in a junkyard or garbage dump” or “a fully dressed storm trooper cleaning a pool next to a sunbather”.

Exhibit One from this year – make a tea house out of recycled materials and have a tea party under a bridge.  Good thing this creek ran dry near our place.

Have a dog take a human for a walk.

Emma making a snow angel on the kitchen floor.  Thankfully, I was not aware of this until seeing the pictures later.

December 13, 2012 – OK, Then

Received this “important’ envelope in the mail today.

It’s a good thing the envelope advised me that it was “FOR IMMEDIATE USE ONLY.”  Otherwise, I might have put it in the box of mail I’m waiting until I turn 65 to open.

November 18, 2012 – Truck-B-Q

On our way up to Northern MN for the funeral of my step-grandmother who passed away at age 90, blessings on her memory, we ran across this contraption.

At a gas station south of Duluth, saw that Red Green continues to inspire the denizens of Northern Minnesota to think creatively.  Attaching a smoker/grill to your pickup truck so you can have your dinner ready when you get to the hunting shack – just brilliant.  After all, what could go wrong with flames near the engine compartment of your truck?

November 5, 2012 – Good, Clean, Fun!

This weekend we went over to Morning Sun Farm and had a group soap-making session.  All told, we made four batches of soap, so our share was two batches.

This is the real lye and fat soap, with a little goat milk.  The soap sets up over night and needs to be cut the next day.

Here’s the view after one block was cut and the other awaits the soap cutter.  It needs to sit for about six weeks before use, to make sure the chemical reaction from fat and lye to soap is complete.  This is great soap and it’s hard to live without it once you use it.

August 2, 2012 – New Overpackaging Record?

See that flat thin bubble wrapped item on top of the boxes?

It’s a replacement laptop screen. The screen was in the small box below it, which was in turn in the bigger box further below. That’s it. They must not have had any extra refrigerator boxes lying around to put the bigger box in!

July 14, 2012 – Subey Takes a Hit for Emma

Emma was on her way to work on Thursday, when she was proceeding through the first stop light in Marshalltown.  An on-coming driver tried to make a left turn in front of her.  The airbags deployed and some kind passersby stopped and took care of Emma until the police and EMTs arrived.  Emma was checked at the scene, thanked by the paramedics for wearing her seat belt and not in need of hospitalization.  She was worried later in the evening when a headache did not go away with medicine, much like her previous concussion symptoms.  We took her to urgent care that evening and she checked out fine at that time, now just is dealing with the usual stiffness and soreness.

The other driver was hospitalized and as the policeman said in the newspaper article, the other party was at fault. The picture comes from that article.  A quote from the officer at the scene was not very comforting to parents “The fact that they are not dead is an indicator that they weren’t speeding.”  I’ve been loving on Emma since the accident, stops at the ice cream store and catching up on movies.

July 6, 2012 – 80/35 Music Festival

Two days, 46 bands, 3 stages at the intersection of I-80 and I-35 and you have the 80/35 festival.  It’s a homegrown festival, virtually totally volunteer run and organized (only two employees).  There’s a good mix of bands, both local and national.

Headlining the day was the Avett Brothers.

With a cello, upright bass, banjo, acoustic guitar and more, the  band runs on high octane!

Earlier in the day Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey.  Bo is a fixture in the Iowa music scene, as a solo artist, as Greg Brown’s lead guitar player and stints playing with and producing albums by Lucinda Williams.  Nobody plays the silence between the notes like Bo – his sparse, mournful style is pretty distinctive.  Now he’s playing with Pieta Brown.

Useful Jenkins is a Minnesota based jam bluegrass band based on acoustic guitars and mandolin.

Opening the day was self-described hippie bluegrass band Dumptruck Butterlips from Lawrence KS.

June 20, 2012 – Reflections on the Duluth Floods

First, from Ryan Adams’ new album, the opening lyrics to “Dirty Rain.”

Last time I was here it was raining,
It ain’t raining anymore,
Streets were drowning, the water’s laming
All the ruins washed ashore

Now I’m just looking through the rubble
Try to find out who we were
Last time I was here it was raining
It ain’t raining anymore

The previous two shots were the approach to the bridge at Jay Cooke, where we drove a couple weeks ago – ground level and aerial.  This all hits pretty close to home, so to speak. We are fresh off a visit to many of the places that were hit, Duluth is my hometown, and I still have many friends and family in the area.

Here’s the town (Moose Lake) about 40 miles south of Duluth where I gassed up the camp 15 passenger van for canoe and bike trips.

The paddle and boat up to gas stations and ATMs never gets old!

Here’s a wonderful old, historic swinging bridge in Jay Cooke State park.

This link shows many photos of the bridge in calmer times.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)
MN Dept of homeland security
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Duluth News-Tribune
Bobby Wright

May 19, 2012 – Got Excess Nitrogen?

Three years ago a fancy new nitrate-retention pond was built. The idea was for all the field drainage to collect in a wetland. to use up any excess nitrogen before tumbling away downstream and off to a river. This is what the upper pond looked like three years ago.

There also was extensive grasslands around the ponds, but when we went to visit this year, most of those were plowed back up, after having been seeded to native plants just three years ago. Now, the lower pond shows signs of very high nitrogen (excess nitgrogen applied to farm fields and washed away). The masses of floating algae lumps have taken over the water.

Unfortunately,  most of the field drainage tiles lines are not fed into ponds like this and all that nitrogen is heading straight to the rivers and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

April 26, 2012 – Computer Meltdown

I’ve been absent for a while – but I have a good excuse – two of them in fact! First, my desktop computer died. The most likely culprit was a bad power supply, so I ordered a new power supply and a new iMac all-in-one as a backup in case it wasn’t the power supply.

The new power supply didn’t work, so it was a good thing that this box recently arrived.

The meltdown also came in the middle of a contract writing project that was nearing a deadline. So between those two things, I haven’t been breathing too much lately. Perhaps things will decelerate to more manageable pace for a few days and I can get caught up.

April 15, 2012 – Farewell to a Music Legend

When I heard Glen Campbell was coming to Ames on his farewell tour, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see him play. Sure he has the onset of dementia and needs a teleprompter to remember the lyrics, but he’s got three of his kids in the band and a keyboard player of 35 years to help him along. One of my favorite songs of the night was “Try a Little Kindness.” This video is linked from an earlier concert.

His disease didn’t affect his playing as much as his singing. Here’s a little Dueling Banjo action as evidience.

All in all, it was a nice evening. I don’t ever remember people with such big contented smiles leaving a concert before. If we could all be so lucky to have the chance to take our family along on one last journey of doing what we love to do best, with the full understanding that this is the last go-round, but being able to savor every moment along the way.

March 16, 2012 – Happy St. Urho’s Day!

Today is the day all Finns look forward to – the day of celebrating St Urho chasing the grasshoppers of out pre-glacial Finland and saving the grape crop.

“Ooksie kooksie coolama vee
Saintia Urho iss ta poy for me.
He sase out ta rogs so pig unt kreen
Praffest Finn I effer seen!
Some celeprate for Saint Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka got what it takes.
He got tall unt trong from feelia sour
Unt ate culla moyaka effery hour.
Tat’s why tat guy could soote tose rogs
What crew as pig as chack bine logs.
So let’s giff a cheer in hower pest way
On May dweeny fort, Saint Urho’s tay.

Bad news in Sebeka and Menahga Minnesota as many of the St. Urho activities have been cancelled or changed due to warm weather.

The Kolf Tourney, sponsored by Menahga Fire Department moved from Spirit Lake to the Blueberry Pines Driving Range.

The dog sled rides at the football field have been cancelled, due to lack of cold white stuff.  Parade starts at the Cottage House Cafe at 12:20 p.m as usual.

March 1, 2012 – Thingamajig Thursday (kind of) #280

OK, what’s in the picture?  Strawberry soft serve or ground beef?

Since it seemed too easy, you probably guessed ground beef – you are correct.  McDonald’s recently announced they would no longer use this “product” in their hamburgers.  Evidently, that left a big opportunity for the USDA to buy 7 million pounds for our kids in the school lunch program.

Excerpts from an full article are below.

Made by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food and rendering, BPI’s Lean Beef Trimmings are then treated with ammonia hydroxide, a process that kills pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. The resulting pinkish substance is later blended into traditional ground beef and hamburger patties.

… two microbiologists believe that the product is just not “ground beef” or even “not meat.” Gerald Zirnstein, who first coined the term “pink slime” in 2002 after a visit to BPI said he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef.” Retired microbiologist Carl Custer says:  “We originally called it soylent pink. We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Bon Appetit!

February 28, 2012 – Skystream a Topic in Italy

I was checking out the blog statistics, and noticed an unusual spike in traffic from Italy this week.  Italy?  Really? Had I offended the Holy See? Were my food pictures being mocked by Italian chefs?  Upon a deeper dive, I found the traffic mostly coming from a URL of a wind energy newsgroup that was discussing small wind turbines.  A few of the comments as translated through an online translator from Italian to English are pasted below.

Thanks I just try to put that bit of knowledge and information to those who are interested in micro wind power as an industry in its infancy, the maglev would not know, I attach an email that came my belief that this is an excellent turbine but not yet in Italy found, but there are production data that can make us understand the potential of micro wind.

——-

Very interesting, this seems very solid Skystream. Sure the movie is perceived distinctly the noise when it is exposed to wind a bun, I think it is normal for a 2.6 kW turbine that spins at 330 rpm, but the problem would become serious if it were installed (at least that power) to ‘inside of a town center or, worse still on the roof of a house. Listening to the video instead of futurenergy I had the impression that it is much quieter, you confirm?

February 5, 2012 – Another One Bites the Dust

Another snapped-off tree from last July’s storm gets taken out of the way.

All gravy to get this kind of work done in February!  When the ground freezes back up again, I can get the tractor and loader back to take the stump down to a burn pile.

February 2, 2012 – So Much More than a Groundhog!

Happy Candlemas/Feast of the Presentation of the Lord/Groundhog Day/Imbolc/Lupercalia to all!

This is surely an important day, based on the many layers of tradition and meaning assigned to this otherwise unremarkable-sounding day. It is a day deeply-layered within many traditions – following is an abbreviated summary of some of the major markings of the day.

Romans celebrated Februa, also known as Februatio, the Roman festival of ritual purification, later incorporated into Lupercalia. The festival, commemorating spring washing or cleaning is old, and possibly of Sabine (pre-Roman) origin. According to Ovid, Februare as a Latin word which refers to means of purification derives from an earlier Etruscan word referring to purging.

In turn, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a very ancient, pre-Roman pastoral festival,to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia subsumed Februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date, which gives the month of February its name.

Traditionally the Western term “Candlemas” (or Candle Mass) referred to the practice whereby a priest on 2 February blessed beeswax candles for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home. In Poland the feast is called wi tem Matki Bo ej Gromnicznej. This name refers to the candles that are blessed on this day, called gromnicy, since these candles are lit during (thunder) storms and placed in windows to ward off storms.

Within the Roman Catholic Church, since the liturgical revisions of the Second Vatican Council, this feast has been referred to as the Feast of Presentation of the Lord, with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasised in favor of the Prophecy of Simeon the Righteous. Pope John Paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows.

Pope Innocent XII believed Candlemas was created as an alternative to Roman Paganism, as stated in a sermon on the subject:

Why do we in this feast carry candles? Because the Gentiles dedicated the month of February to the infernal gods, and as at the beginning of it Pluto stole Proserpine, and her mother Ceres sought her in the night with lighted candles, so they, at the beginning of the month, walked about the city with lighted candles. Because the holy fathers could not extirpate the custom, they ordained that Christians should carry about candles in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and thus what was done before in the honor of Ceres is now done in honor of the Blessed Virgin.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, which falls on 2 February, celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Eastern Catholic Churches, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts. Other traditional names include Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. In the Roman Catholic Church the “Feast of the Presentation of the Lord” is a Feast Day, the major feast between the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle on January 25 and the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle on February 22. In some Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season. In the Church of England, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a Principal Feast celebrated either on February 2 or on the Sunday between January 28 and February 3.

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, folks celebrate Imbolc (also Imbolg), or St Brigid’s Day, an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on February 1 or 2 (or February 12, according to the Old Calendar) These dates fall approximately halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The festival was observed in Gaelic Ireland during the Middle Ages.The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits. Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

Fire and purification are an important aspect of this festival. Brigid is the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. As both goddess and saint she is also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Saint Brigid’s feast day is on the 1st February celebrated as St Brigid’s Day in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and by some Anglicans. The Gaelic festival coincides with Imbolc, which has sometimes been identified as the remnant of a prehistoric pagan festival associated with Brigid.

All in all, I feel kind of cheated as here in the USA in 2012, all we get is Punxsutawney Phil!

January 17, 2012 – Knox College Reply

In the spirit of transparency and dialogue, I thought it best to share Knox College’s reply to my impressions following a recent visit.

Here is the response from the Dean of Admission:

Mark,

Thank you so much for your evaluation. As you can imagine, colleges each make different decisions about how to allocate their resources. Some invest heavily in campus facilities and grounds. Others invest more in their faculty and the educational programs available to students, e.g. undergraduate research, self-designed studies, study abroad, etc. Although somewhat less tangible than facilities and grounds, at Knox, we have always prioritized the latter.

Nonetheless, your feedback is extremely helpful in understanding how those choices impact the impressions of families visiting our campus. We do have some maintenance issues that need to be addressed and we would be well-served by making greater investments in the appearance of our campus. Your comments underscore the importance of this.

Some of your suggestions, of course, aren’t about financial resources but about how we present ourselves, including during the campus tour. For example, despite the absence of any LEED certified buildings or wind turbines on campus, our sustainability initiatives are very extensive. This includes initiatives such as locally-sourced food for dining services, composting of food waste, retrofitting all lighting and mechanical systems, sourcing electricity from renewable sources, and much more (see www.knox.edu/sustainability to learn more and see why the Sierra Club named Knox as a “Cool School” for our efforts). Despite all that we’ve done, however, your experience suggested that our efforts were limited to recycling bins. That’s a problem. Your feedback suggests that we need to work with our staff and tour guides to better highlight our sustainability initiatives and how those efforts have permeated so much of our campus culture.

Sustainability is just one of the examples you raised. The bottom line is your feedback gives us much to consider and much to act upon. I am very appreciative of your willingness to share your impressions with us.

Again, thank you.

January 16, 2011 – Dear Knox College

Dear Knox College,

You present quite a quandary! I was intrigued because you were one of 40 colleges nationwide recommended in  “Colleges that Change Lives” – an intriguing book that attempted to rank colleges not on how hard it was to gain admittance, but how a college’s graduates were situated years after graduation – probably a much better measure of the success of a college. Your marketing and promotion materials were effective.

Your location offers a nice Midwestern pedigree as well – you’re celebrating your 175th anniversary this year. You’re located in a town mired in history – home of Carl Sandburg, along with world-famous brickyard, used to pave 60 miles of your town’s streets, along with streets in Paris, Bombay, and Panama City.

galesburg brick

Your college has a long history of action. You were a stop on the underground railroad. It was home to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

girl in lincoln chair, knox college

You let students on tour sit in a chair used by Mr. Lincoln.  Those are all things that seem to support your current mission.

Your Martin Luther King Day convocation was a wonderful event, complete with singing, words about the inspiration of Dr. King (and hey, thanks for the shout out to Theodore Parker, Unitarian Minister and inspiration for much of Dr. King’s thought), and words putting him in a contemporary context. I agree to think of it as a “day on” not a “day off.”

From all appearances there is a real esprit de corps among your students.  The classes my daughter attended showed the quality of your faculty.  So after all this, why am I torn in my impressions?

I was surprised at the amount of deferred maintenance that needs to be completed. I was surprised that the previous week’s snow had not been cleared from all the sidewalks; in fact from the compressed snow on the road in front of the admission office, it looked like the road was not plowed in a timely manner after the snowfall.  The strip maple flooring in the choir/band room the parents met for financial aid needed repair from termite damage. The list is no doubt very long.

I didn’t learn anything about the food service or cafeteria as the tour never went through there – we did have a lunch, but it was presented in a banquet buffet style, not of the style the students would get.  I get why, school was in session and the cafeteria probably can’t handle the excess.  But one look at the salad tells me that Bon Appetit is not your food service provider.  Hint: many of your peer institutions use them and the food is great.

I didn’t catch some of the tour – the guide didn’t have the traditional walk backwards and talk at the people taking the tour stance down. Instead she walked forward and talked, making it difficult to hear.

Unlike many of your peers, I saw virtually no signs of sustainabilty efforts – only a recycling program.  I didn’t see any LEED certified buildings, I didn’t see any college-owned solar panels or utility-sized wind turbines, or locally grown food (see Bon Appetit).  I did notice that the cost of attendance was about the same as peer institutions that did have these facilities and more.

So, here’s the corundum – can you fall madly in love with someone who keeps a messy house?  Eventually you probably can, but you take the risk of someone not hanging around long enough to find out.  I appreciated the words of your new President.  Perhaps the fresh eyes she has will lead you on a renaissance.  I had a good feeling about her. Knox seems like a grand old house that has fallen out of disrepair, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision it remodeled into all it could be.  I don’t think my daughter will be attending, but perhaps in five years when my son is ready for his college search, the renovation will be well underway and it will be worth another look.

p.s. The Dean of Admissions was kind enough to respond to this post.  Read his comments as well.

January 5, 2012 – Turbines on the Horizon

The view to the south seems much more progressive now.  The wind farm is now pretty much operational.

After living near these giants for a few months now, it’s rather intriguing to watch how the interplay of the seasons, quality of light,  cloud cover and wind direction lead to different moods.  Today’s mood was one of spring – a 65 degree day on my birthday – one to remember for sure.

January 2, 2012 – Claire’s Caucus Quest

As Claire was running out things to do at home with all her college friends gone away and most of her high school friends on a band trip to Florida, she thought it might be educational to visit all the Republican candidates running around in pre-caucus-mode.  In the matter of a few days, she was able to see four of them in Marshalltown, and was able to make a trip to Cedar Rapids to pick the last two in an afternoon.

newt gingrich iowa, newt and callista gingrich, rock with your caucus out, student with gingrich

Interesting juxtaposition of Claire’s t-shirt and political candidate!.

roan paul iowa caucuses

Claire with everyone’s favorite grandpa politician.

According to Claire, warm monster cookies provided by the Romney camp might be enough to swing anyone’s vote!

Rick Perry speaking to what he knows about in Marshalltown.

michelle bachmann iowa, michelle bachman with student

Claire with the only other declared female presidential candidate.

Rick Santorum live on the campaign trail. All in all, a good week for a poly-sci major to see candidates in action.

November 13, 2011 – Take Your Crane to Work Day

Sometimes we humans think we’re the only ones that nurture our children and prepare them for a life of future emotional and financial success.

Evidently, as Emma noted as we were driving down highway 30 near Nevada, IA – it must have been “Take Your Crane to Work Day.”  I sure hope the child crane enjoyed the day with its parent on the job site.

November 5, 2011 – Iowa State Varsity Marching Band

Broke down and attended the Iowa State football game this weekend.  Brought the kids along and sat in the cheap seats, er cheap grass, 4 tix, 4 dogs, 4 pops, for 40 bills for hillside seating.  Two of us found a couple of seats at midfield and the rest stayed on the hillside.

Before the game, the ISU band invited the KU band over for some pre-game frivolity, one section at a time.

At halftime, got to see over 600 marching band members from the combined bands play the 1812 overture!

October 22, 2011 – Higher Ground

It’s not often a colleague publishes a memoir, writes a screenplay based on the memoir, gets a film made, film gets selected for Sundance, and then gets picked up by a major studio! The creative writing teacher at Marshalltown Community College did just this. The movie stars Vera Farminga (Up in the Air) and Joshua Leonard (Blair Witch Project).

We went to see it the night Carolyn made comments and asked questions, and then dragged our daughters and others the following week. I’m guessing while it is a heartfelt exploration of faith and personal choice, it might not last long at the box office as the movie relies as much on non-verbal cues as the script itself and does not contain explosions or full frontal.

October 5, 2011 – Shout out to the Sista!

I miss my sister – it’s been too long since I heard her laugh!

Here’s a photo of her doing one thing that she loves – in front of the microphone – she’s a throwback to the old style DJ who connected to her listeners and city.  Despite the corporate programming, she keeps as much of that as she can and listeners love her.

Here’s another group of people that love her.  She works at a group home and can’t believe she gets paid to hang out with some of her friends and take them out to the movies, park, or wherever.

one year ago…”Time to Pick Squash”

September 25, 2011 – Claire Update

Claire is now starting her Sophomore year at Macalester in St. Paul, MN.


Photo Credit Macalester College

The year-opening convocation is opened by a piper, in the Scottish tradition of the school.


Photo Credit Macalester College

The guest speakers were a couple of Minnesota natives, Garrison Kellior, waxing about life and politics.  A belated 19th birthday to Claire!

one year ago…”Doing the Parade Thing”

September 11, 2011 – 10 Years After

I do not know any of the victims of 9/11 or their families.  However, the day should not pass with out a pause and remembrance. To try to bring it home, I thought I’d just profile one, Janat Alonso.

9/11 Victim

Her profile from the New York Times:

The next-to-last phone call Janet Alonso made on the morning of Sept. 11 was typical: its genesis was maternal anxiety, and its focal point was her second child, Robbie, born with Down syndrome 18 months ago. She was not only checking in with her mother-in-law, Margaret Alonso, who handled the baby-sitting during the three days each week that Janet spent as an e-mail analyst for Marsh & McLennan. She was also making sure Robbie’s foot braces, misplaced on Monday, had been located and returned to him; he finds it impossible to take his baby steps without them.

“Check his stroller,” Janet suggested. Bingo. Grandma discovered the braces. Janet and Robert Alonso were also the parents of Victoria, 2, a miracle baby of sorts. After 10 years of trying to conceive, using methods increasingly clinical, Ms. Alonso had all but surrendered her dream of becoming a mother when Victoria was conceived — surprise — the natural way. Ms. Alonso was so ecstatic she wrote her husband a letter, thanking him for this greatest gift. He was so moved he put the letter in a safe to preserve it.

Though her children were her passion, Janet was a diligent homemaker — literally. She loved painting and refinishing furniture, and spent the weekend before the disaster sanding the porch they had added to their house in Stony Point, N.Y. Her final phone call was to her husband; she told him that the office was filling with smoke and that she could not breathe. And she told him she loved him.

A profile of all the victims is at this CNN page.

one year ago…”Graphic of Obesity Epidemic”

September 10, 2011 – Cardiac Clones!

Just Because.

Iowa State 44 – Iowa 41 in 3 OT.

Here’s the prediction from the “experts” before the game:

Sure the Cyclones opened the year with a win, but it was not an impressive decision. Now the Hawkeyes come to Ames and they will likely follow Northern Iowa’s foot steps and use a heavy dose of their rushing attack. Look for Iowa to run away with this contest.  Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa 31, Iowa State 9

Photo of Jack Trice Stadium courtesy of Iowa State Football Facebook.

one year ago…”Beautiful Celosia”

September 9, 2011 – Hawk Stuck in Corn Crib

A hawk is in the corn crib and its instincts are working against it. Usually, to escape danger, it flies up. Well, in this case, it needs to fly down to get out the door. Also, the natural lighting I added with translucent panels near the top of the walls give it another false exit point.

I’m not sure I could catch it without injuring myself or it, so I’m hoping it finds a way out at dusk or at night.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #224″

July 29, 2011 – Exploding CDs!

When I was trying to burn the CD by Warren Zevon entitled “A Quiet Normal Life” to my Itunes, when it reached the song “Excitable Boy” it was all that as what sounded like a gunshot came from the PC. I was ready for smoke and flames to start pouring out, but instead I found a CD drive that was locked up.

After removing the CD drive and disassembling it – this is what’s left of the CD. Always the optimist, Martin wanted to try to super glue it together!  It’s time to order a new one from Newegg.

one year ago…”Buckwheat Cover Crop”

June 11, 2011 – Gibson B-25 Falls in Your Lap

You hear all the time about great finds at garage sales and in hoarder houses, but my sister found the best deal anybody in my circle of acquaintances ever happened upon.  It’s not a lost Picasso or letter from George Washington, so she won’t be able to retire, or even go on a luxury cruise, but for her, it was a great find.

She’s a country DJ and has her basement decorated with posters and pictures of everyone in country music posed with her – Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley, and the list goes on.  She stumbled on this mid 60’s to early 70’s Gibson acoustic guitar – a B-25 in a Sunburst pattern and picked it up for next to nothing.

Gibson B 25 Sunburst Guitar

Given her connections, she thought she should have it signed by an accomplished country guitarist, so she waited until she met up with Vince Gill and had him sign the Gibson.

one year ago…”She’s Gone to the World”

June 6, 2011 – Kitchen Subsidy Garden

There must be something in the air – just a few weeks after Linda’s presentation in DC where she wondered “what if farm subsidies were granted in proportion to the recommendations of the food pyramid.” Roger Doiron of kitchengardeners.org comes out with another take on the same concept. He used the first garden at the white house since the Roosevelt administration to show what the garden looks like and what it would look like if it were planted in crops to the relation of federal funding:

Corn receives 35 percent of funding; wheat, 20 percent; cotton, 20 percent; and soybeans, 15 percent. Money is also channeled to cash crops like tobacco, rice, and sorghum. But fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other specialty crops account to about 1%.

one year ago…”Devils Lake State Park”

May 11, 2011 – Linda to Advise in DC Next Week

Linda received an invitation to DC from a branch of the National Academy of Science and HBO to participate in a discussion about obesity and farm policy. The agency is the Institute of Medicine and here’s a bit of description from their web site.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public.

Established in 1970, the IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.

Here’s a brief description of the event from the IOM:

More after Linda returns…

one year ago…”Spring Bee Renewal”

May 10, 2011 – Unintentional Demolition!

After yesterday’s granary demolition, I’ve got a story of a not-so-happy demolition. Motored up to St. Paul to pick up Claire after year one at Macalester was over.  She’s got about a month at home before heading to DC for her summer internship with the USDA.

So on the way home on I-35 in southern Minnesota, one of the electronic signs warns “Accident Ahead – 3 miles. As we approach the site we can’t make out what has happened – I say – “It’s to big for a rolled over semi.” Claire offers, “It’s a billboard.” When we reach the scene, it is half of a modular house impaled sideways on a guard rail on an interstate overpass. The truck and trailer were short ways down the road. The house had evidently blown off the trailer.

I can imagine the call they needed to make to the homeowner, expecting to move into their new house in a few days – it could have gone at least a couple of directions.

“Sir, the good news is that half of your house is in place and bolted to the foundation.”
or
“How do you feel about moving to a great location just outside Faribault Minnesota at a site with easy access to the interstate?” Sorry, no pictures.

one year ago…”Frosty Mother’s Day”

May 2, 2011 – Stuff White People Like

At a Borders Bookstore going out of business sale, I picked up a book that cracked me up (because it pokes fun at people I know and myself). You don’t have to buy the book, it’s all online at Stuff White People Like. The following are two selections close to my heart.

Berry Picking

It is well established that white people like the past. Vintage clothing, history degrees, and nostalgia are just three examples of how white people show their love for by-gone eras. So when white people think about growing their own food they are reminded of pastoral images of farming, working the land, and growing whole natural foods for their family. This most positive viewpoint comes from the fact that white people have mostly enjoyed supervisory roles in agricultural production over the years.

But as more and more white people moved into cities, they lost their connection to working the land. In recent years, the most advanced white people have quit their jobs, moved to the country and opened artisanal dairies and small scale radicchio farms.

However, not all white people have the ability, or the trust funds, to quit their job and follow their food-based passions. Some white people have to get their fix by picking their own fruit.

Many of you might be familiar with the process of harvesting a crop, some of its more intense variations are often referred to as “migrant labor” and “slavery.” Under these conditions, laborers are expected to work extremely hard in order to live up to large expectations about their fruit picking output.

When white people harvests a crop it’s known as “berry picking” or “pick your own fruit.” Under these conditions, white people are expected to work leisurely with no real expectations and then they pay for the privilege to do so. In other words, berry picking is the agricultural equivalent to a private liberal arts college. It’s no surprise white people like it, because much like a liberal arts degree it feels like you’ve done real work when you really haven’t.

Of course the easiest way to turn a profit with this information would be to start your own fruit picking farm. But that is only looking at the small picture. It is well established that all white people enjoy doing manual labor under watered down and expensive conditions. So, if you are currently working in a job that requires intensive amounts of work, you should consider using that work space to create what is essentially an adult daycare for white people who would like to spend an afternoon learning how to use a loom or pretending to be a construction worker.

Camping

If you find yourself trapped in the middle of the woods without electricity, running water, or a car you would likely describe that situation as a “nightmare” or “a worse case scenario like after plane crash or something.” White people refer to it as “camping.”

When white people begin talking to you about camping they will do their best to tell you that it’s very easy and it allows them to escape the pressures and troubles of the urban lifestyle for a more natural, simplified, relaxing time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In theory camping should be a very inexpensive activity since you are literally sleeping on the ground. But as with everything in white culture, the more simple it appears the more expensive it actually is.

Camping is a multi-day, multi-step, potentially lethal activity that will cost you a large amount of both time and money. Unless you are in some sort of position where you absolutely need the friendship of a white person, you should avoid camping at all costs.

The first stage of camping always involves a trip to an outdoor equipment store like REI (or in Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-Op). These stores are well known for their abundance of white customers and their extensive inventory of things for white people to buy and only use once. If you are ever tricked into going to one of these stores, you can make white people like you by saying things like “man, this Kayak is only $1200, if I use it 35 times I’ve already saved money over renting.” Note: do not actually buy the kayak.

Next, white people will then take this new equipment and load it into an SUV or Subaru Outback with a Thule or Yakima Roof Rack. Then they will drive for an extended period of time to a national park or campsite where they will pay an entrance fee and begin their journey. It is worth noting that white people are unaware of the irony of using a gas burning car to bring them closer to nature and it is not recommended that you point this out. It will ruin their weekend.

Once in the camp area, white people will walk around for a while, set up a tent, have a horrible night of sleep, walk around some more. Then get in the car and go home. This, of course, is a best case scenario. Worst case scenarios include: getting lost, poisoned, killed by an animal, and encountering an RV. Of these outcomes, the latter is seen by white people as the worst since it involves an encounter with the wrong kind of white people.

Conversely, any camping trip that ends in death at the hands of nature or requires the use of valuable government resources for a rescue is seen as relatively positive in white culture. This is because both situations might eventually lead to a book deal or documentary film about the experience.

Ultimately the best way to escape a camping trip with white people is to say that you have allergies. Since white people and their children are allergic to almost everything, they will understand and ask no further questions. You should not say something like “looking at history, the instances of my people encountering white people in the woods have not worked out very well for us.”

one year ago…”Local Meals”

April 27, 2011 – I Should Know Better…

My days attending arena concerts are nearly over. The reasons are many – ticket prices are too high, yacky and/or drunk people behind you spend the whole evening talking/yelling at their friends/spilling beer on you. Turns out most of the artists I like play at smaller venues, so it’s been ok for a while.

But Mellencamp was in town this week, tickets were under $50, he was touring to support the first album to make the Billboard top ten that was recorded in mono since 1964, and he was playing in a small house (2500) and the latest album was very follky.

But all to no avail. Not all of his fans have grown up with him. Despite the fact that early in the show as people yelled out songs as if it were a piano bar, he said, “don’t worry, we’ll get around to the songs you want to hear.” That didn’t seem to prevent the people from behind us bellowing out “Jack and Diane” or Hurts so Good” at every quiet moment.

And when the band left the stage for about a 45 minute acoustic set with just John and his guitar, it was viewed more as “recess time” and time to chat mindlessly instead of listening to these great new songs. I felt bad for myself and bad for the performers that all they really cared about was the songs from 20 years ago. He didn’t quite go Dylan and make the songs unintelligible so people couldn’t recognize them, but he really substantially rearranged many of the hit songs to get rid of the arena-rock chords and make them either more country, rockabilly, or bluesy than the originals. It was nice that he brought back the accordion and fiddle for this tour as well. John was pretty low-key about his political thoughts this time around, with only one pointed remark to today’s politicians when he reminded us of the preamble to the constitution “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare” He commented that while providing defense seemed to not be a problem, promoting for the general welfare of the people was forgotten.

xxx.

one year ago…”A Late President’s Day Message”

April 19, 2011 – D+ for Drake

With one daughter recently in college and another on the way, we take our credentials as judge and jury of college mailings seriously. After all, our mailbox has been home to “please apply here” college material from coast to coast. However, one stands out as being particularly puzzling, and it’s a college only 60 miles from here – Drake.

Here’s the cover to the brochure they sent to Emma.

D+

Really? D+ is supposed to give me warm fuzzies about Drake? What is D+? The grade Drake received in the most recent Peterson’s Guide to Colleges? The average GPA of admitted students? After a closer look inside it’s evidently supposed to be Drake “plus” all kinds of great things. But if you don’t get past the cover (and why would you be intrigued by a place that labels itself as D+?), you’ll never find out. I give a D+ to the marketing department at Drake for this campaign!

one year ago…”OK Allergy Sufferers”

April 14, 2011 – Thingamajig Thursday for Carl

No thingamajig Thursday today in honor of Carl. I’ve worked with Carl for most of my years at Wells Fargo, most recently sitting adjacent to him. He was 56 and passed away on Tuesday. Carl loved trivia and word puzzles, marching bands, traveling and he was a converted Hawkeye fan that turned into the most fervent Cyclone fan I know. Carl led the way for me to wear Hawaiian shirts and vests to work.

Carl was a regular blog reader and loved the Thingamajig Thursday feature.

Carl Anderson, 56, of West Des Moines passed away April 12, 2011 at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. The son of Marion and Lucille (Mitchell) Anderson, Carl was born on July 19, 1954 in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. He grew up in Olds, Iowa where he was active in church, band, sports, and scouting activities. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout.

Carl graduated from Iowa State University. He continued to return to play in the alumni band and attend sporting events. He also loved the St. Louis Cardinals, golfing, Jimmy Buffett, wine collecting and travel. He has worked the past 13 years for Wells Fargo Mortgage in West Des Moines.

Carl was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Diana; sisters, Mary Lou and Margaret (Kris Yarbrough); step-daughters, Julie Melberg (Ben Garcia) and Dottie (John) Walker; and seven grandchildren. He was a loving man and he will be missed.

Memorial services will be 11 a.m., Saturday, April 16 at West Des Moines United Methodist Church (720 Grand Ave., West Des Moines). The family will greet friends from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday evening at the church. Memorials may be made to the Iowa State University Foundation to be designated for the Marching Band Fund (2505 University Boulevard, Ames, Iowa 50010).

one year ago…”Spring Flowering Begins”

April 9, 2011 – 27 Years Later, UMD Hockey Champs!

As a native Duluthian and an alum of UM-Duluth, and a season ticket holder from 1981-1984, I was pleased to witness the Bulldogs win their first NCAA hockey championship.  In 1984, after the Bulldogs painful 5-4 loss in four overtimes in the NCAA championship game, if you would have told me that in 27 years I’d be taking my son to the see the championship game, visiting my oldest daughter in college, and married to Linda (who I knew then and wanted to know much better, but she was already with boyfriend), I would have been overjoyed.

There it is 3-2 UMD in overtime over Michigan.

Martin in his seat at the Xcel Energy center.  I’m thinking the millions the power company spent on advertising was missed on Martin as he asked me “Dad, is this arena related to Microsoft?”   I asked him why he thought it might be and he replied that the name of the arena was a spreadsheet.

The Xcel center is a great place to watch a hockey game – ESPN The Magazine has ranked the venue six years among the top three for “Best Stadium Experience” in all of professional sports. Xcel Energy Center was named “Best NHL Arena” by Sports Business Journal and recognized for the “Best Fan Experience” by Forbes magazine.  Sports Illustrated named the arena its “top choice” among NHL buildings. But until today, I didn’t know what extremes the facility went to make the fan experience so great.

For example, after talking up the guy sitting next to me, he revealed that he was Gregg Moore, who played for UMD the same time I had season tickets.  Not only did he play there, he had 206 career points, which makes him the 4th highest scoring player in UMD history!  Needless to say, there was much happiness in our row.  Gregg’s time ended in 1983, one year before the famous 4 OT championship game at Lake Placid, but he was there to watch it on a break from professional hockey in Europe.

Here’s the obligatory celebration following the sudden death victory.  The game had a storybook ending as the player who scored the winning goal was voted the “most underrated” college hockey player just a few days ago. Kyle Schmidt, only one of four seniors on the team, directed in the winning goal in OT.  He is a hometown boy, growing up a few miles from the campus.  Also, all the team dyed their hair blonde, except for Kyle, whose fianace wasn’t keen on a badly dyed blonde husband in summer wedding photos!

Next year, when the Frozen Four is played in Tampa, there’ll be another banner hanging from the ceiling.

one year ago…”Claire’s College Search is Over”

April 8, 2011 – Parts Package

I’m always thrilled to see good directions with a product.  So really, that means I’m hardly ever thrilled.  Typically the directions seem to be poorly translated from another language, or vague with poor or no drawings.

That’s why I was excited to see this new format in parts packaging (for a new office chair).  Labeling and packing the parts with their corresponding section of the directions, rather than having a big bag of nuts and bolts was a bold new step.

However, the written instructions were not good.  There were parts and steps that were not mentioned in the directions and were left unused and there was a part that was needed that was not listed in the directions.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #203″

April 4, 2011 – Marshalltown Hy-Vee (file under: rant)

During piano lessons, I thought I’d run to the grocery store (Hy-Vee) to get some milk. At the beginning of the frozen food aisle was a table with paper grocery bags and a sign that said “All the frozen items that you can fit into a paper bag will be 10% off!

I grabbed a sack and found just a lot of processed foods until I came to the tilapia fillets. I threw a bunch in the bag, grabbed some milk and a six-pack of a new micro-brew and hurried to the check-out. The frozen fish did not ring up with the 10% off. I asked why the frozen fish didn’t ring up with the “sack attack” discount. With a friendly smile, the checker told me with a slight hint of impatience “Frozen fish is considered to be meat and not frozen food.” The sign did not say “excludes meat.”

Using the logic that frozen fish in the frozen foods section is not frozen food, I wondered if frozen vegetables are considered produce? Is ice cream considered dairy? Is there any thing in the frozen food aisle that wasn’t something else before it was frozen?

I’m not so burned about the couple of bucks I didn’t save, but rather the thousands of others in Hy-Vees across the land who fell to the same trick. I also recall learning that Hy-Vee’s definition of “fresh meat” means meat that has only been frozen once. Perhaps what Hy-Vee really needs is a English/Hy-Vee dictionary so we can not be confused what “frozen” and “fresh” mean to Hy-Vee!

one year ago…”Signs of Early Spring”

April 1, 2011 – This is no April Fool’s Joke

I know there are many bright and intelligent people who work for the Iowa DOT (I actually know some).  However, the people responsible for planning and installing these signs are not among them!

Around mile marker 165 on US hwy 30, is this sign tandem.  Whizzing by at 65 mph, it’s really hard to know where you are, or how far you might be from the next three towns, especially since the speed limit sign is so close to the mileage to next towns sign.

I’m thinking about the guys who dug the holes to put the sign posts in the ground.  Maybe they were oblivious to the miles of empty road shoulder as far as the eye could see?  Maybe the signs were lonely and needed to be together?

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #202″

March 29, 2011 – News from Cambodia

A former writer type co-worker of mine is now in Cambodia, volunteering for the American Jewish World Service. Mark lost his job at Wells Fargo and took it as an opportunity to volunteer. He’s keeping a blog at Mark in Cambodia. I’m particularly struck at the people, colors, and stories of the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, during at which as at least 1.7 million people were killed and deaths documented so Pol Pot could be sure his underlings were telling the truth on executions and murders. If you’re so inclined, you can stop by his blog and read more and get more photos like the one below.

I’ll use Mark’s words to describe his work in Kampot: “Among my tasks this week, I created a volunteer plan for the NGO’s youth group who will be helping out with Cambofest, an indie film festival to held here in early March. I also developed an action plan for my work over the next three months. Central to that plan is an internal and external communications strategy, annual and quarterly report editing, development of one grant proposal and future proposal strategy, as well as developing English speaking, critical thinking and research skills of the NGO staff. Those who know me from my work know this puts me smack dab in the middle of my sweet spot.”

one year ago…”It’s Elementary”

March 27, 2011 – Frozen Four

This year has brought back memories from the old undergraduate days in Duluth Minnesota, where hockey reigned supreme.  I still remember the crisp, clear walks back from the arena after the game.  I was thankful that there were many blocks of skywalk to break the chill of the two mile walk.

This year’s team has once again made the NCAA Frozen Four.

This year, the tourney is hosted in St. Paul and would be a perfect time to go…if tix weren’t $100 game and you had to buy three games at that price, so a couple of tix sets you back $600.  That’s about 240 dozen eggs!

I found this photo in the archives of the Duluth News-Tribune from the early 80’s showing coach Mike Sertich celebrating after beating Wisconsin to win the conference championship.  The years I had season tickets the Bulldogs went to three NCAA tournaments.  If they can get by Notre Dame in the first game, they’ll play their nemesis North Dakota.

one year ago…”Sheep Bling”

March 11, 2011 – Local is New Overused Buzzword

I’ve noticed since the appearance of local food into consumer’s lingo, many other businesses are using the word as well, not all with the same values as local food presents.  To me, a large part of the lure of purchasing local food is its freshness, and to many others the primary motive is the idea that the money stays within the community, using the local multiplier effect and it lifts the entire local economy when money circulates locally rather than siphoned off to a  multinational corporation.

My Menards bill came in an envelope from this company with the interesting slogan “The World’s Local Bank.”  I would never consider that Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is local.  In fact, from their worldwide establishments, they sucked 19 billion in profits out of local communities in 2010. (During a better banking year they removed almost 40 billion in2007 from “local” communities to their shareholder’s wallets.)

I fear this could be the latest term to lose all meaning because of co-option by large corporations, much like “natural” “sustainability” and “green” have been.  Indeed author Wendell Berry recently reminded us that it is not the words that offer us hope, but the relationship:

“Too much of the talk and politics of conservation consists of slogans, such as ‘Think globally, act locally’ or even single words such as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic’ that act like slogans. Such language finally does harm. It becomes useful, in fact, to land-abusing corporations. What gives hope is actual conversation, actual discourse, in which people say to one another in good faith fully and exactly what they know, and acknowledge honestly, the limits of their knowledge.”

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #199″

March 9, 2011 – Silly Putty Snow

We awoke to a few inches of very heavy snow with a thick layer of slush underneath.

It’s the kind of snow that tends to swoosh off the barn in one giant slide.

It’s also the kind that isn’t fun to drive in.  Emma needed to be to school early, so she was off before the roads were plowed. The road had three ruts, with each lane sharing the common center rut – a semi-truck approached and as she moved over into the deep slush and the semi blinded her with a windshield full of slush, she lost control and avoided a car traveling behind the semi and ended up resting in the ditch – thankful that she didn’t collide with the oncoming car or roll as she traveled down the steep ditch. She wasn’t the only one as there were 4 vehicles in the ditch on the way to town, including a jeep that had rolled.

one year ago…”Discarded Toyota Marketing Slogans”

March 8, 2011 – Kids Have it Soooo Easy Now

Here’s a bit of an old man rant. One of Linda’s students used a web service named Easybib to prepare a list of works cited, but wasn’t quite alert enough to take the extra step to save as a Word Document and instead just printed off the web page, complete with URL of the citation service.

It’s rather amazing, since with a click of a button change the citation style from MLA, to Chicago Manual of Style etc. Back when I was growing up, getting the citation format was a major time sucker. Kids these days have it so easy!

one year ago…”Fog Sets In”

March 7, 2011 – Mess at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Recently, there has been more disappointing news regarding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The interim director appointed after the previous botched search has resigned.  In addition, Rich Pirog, Asssociate Director and face of the Center across the U.S. is leaving at the end of the month.
Essentially, the University Administration has literally hijacked the leadership of the Center by appointing three consecutive “interim directors” in a row after relieving Fred Kirschenmann of his duties. You may remember in the last search process, the search committee, composed of a broad range of people, selected four candidates to interview on campus. Of these, they recommended two to the President. Ricardo Salvador was the preferred candidate and another was acceptable, while two were deemed unacceptable. The job was offered to the 2nd candidate and at the same time Dr. Salvador, the #1 choice was sent a flush letter. The 2nd candidate eventually declined and the university was left with no other options.

According to the article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education, a comment Dr. Salvador made during a presentation that “cows evolved to eat grass” is counted as his downfall (this is a state whose agriculture is dominated by corn and confinements and feedlots that feed ruminants corn; the emperor did not appreciate this comment that suggests there was a lack of clothing.)

The Chronicle interviewed the Dean of Agriculture and asked her if she believed that “cows evolved to eat grass.” She said she had no opinion. (As though this is a question of opinion!). The Chronicle continued to push her and finally she said something to the effect that she was trained as an entomologist and should not be expected to know about everything! Hmm. I’d think for $227,000 dollars a year, a Land Grant university could find some genius who is underemployed who is not an animal scientist who might have a broad understanding of agriculture that includes the knowledge that cows are ruminants.

Obviously, the Dean knows the answer, and no matter who was in that position might have answered the same. There is a structural problem. The problem is that the concept of a Land Grant University funded by public taxes, no longer serves those who pay the taxes, but captains of industry, much like many politicians in Washington serve who do not vote for them.

Somehow, this seems appropriate on the anniversary of our democracy. There’s still work left to do! A recent billboard for Iowa State urged students to “Change your zip code and change the World.” If the University blocks progress on changing less than 2% of Iowa farmland and intercedes to maintain the status quo, there is no hope the world will change anytime soon. There are many bright faculty and students at Iowa State – they deserve leadership that allows them to do just that – change the world.

So, it’s time to go back to the founding legislation and mission of the Center, as put forth in the Groundwater Protection Act that established the Center to:

(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices,
(2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and
(3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings. It is important to recognize
that this mandate creates, by design, a dynamic tension between conventional and alternative forms of agriculture.

The latest string of administrative actions and the litmus test of needing the approval of the powers of conventional agriculture run counter to the designs of the center. It’s time to move the administration of the Center out of suffocating hand of the College of Agriculture and to a more broad-based reporting structure so it can fulfill it’s mission.

one year ago…”Real Life Marauder’s Map”

March 5, 2011 – The Worlds Collide or Coalesce?

I thought this pair of socks I found at K-Mart represents something special. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a Remington shotgun and organic farm, but frankly, I didn’t think there was enough of me to make a market for branding organic socks with the Remington brand!

So, I’m not sure they were in the 75% off rack because they didn’t sell or because it is the end of the warm sock marketing season.

one year ago…”Basement Woes Over?”

February 26, 2011 – Humorous Freecycle Postings

If you’re not a member of your local freecycle group, it’s a great place to find a home for things you no longer want, but know someone can use. A plus for me  are the email messages that make you smile. There have been a couple in particular the last month that have caused me to crack a smile.

[marshallcountyiafreecycle] OFFER:4 Jars of Grape Jelly
I have 4 jars of grape jelly. Only serious takers only. Need to get rid of ASAP. Email me back if you want them.

(I hate to think of what might happen if these aren’t gone ASAP!  I also worry about people emailing who aren’t serious about the grape jelly and just jerk her around and ask if she might have raspberry jam instead of grape jelly)

Or this one:
[marshallcountyiafreecycle] Offer: one Night stand (Marshalltown)

(This one might have attracted the wrong kind of attention – it’s not often night stands are separated like this)

Enough of the freecycle. On another note, isn’t it curious that the day after our visit to the Accordion European restaurant, the “year ago” is entitled “Accordion Skywalk Player.” Just must be something about this time of year and accordions!

one year ago…”Accordion Skywalk Player”

February 25, 2011 – Belated Valentines Day Dinner

Monday night didn’t seem like such a good night to go out for Valentine’s Day, and tonight was the first night that Emma could watch Martin for us to get out.  Where to go?  How about the “Accordion European Restaurant?”

When I first proposed a visit to this restaurant in Valley Junction in old West Des Moines, Linda asked if I looked up a food review.  My response was “any restaurant whose web site has in broken English “We have live music performance every night” and brags about “extended accordion show” doesn’t need a review of the food!

I’m assuming this is Sergey Lozovich.  In the Des Moines Register, under type of music it is listed as “alternative.”  Sergey was also the cook, and when there was a break, he would come out and play a bit.  He had a this button accordion and a Hoehner with the keys on one side.

It was a nice meal with some European brew and some food you usually don’t get.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #197″

February 21, 2011 – Uh-Oh

When we started tapping trees, I noticed a big uh-oh on one of the giant silver maples near the back pasture.

The tree on the left is the tree that is about done for the world.  It’s about 15 feet in circumference at my chest, which makes the diameter about 4.5 feet across!

On the back side, a new crack has developed along the portion where the two main trunks split. Much of this potion overhangs a shed. These maples are inherently weak, so I had a tree service out today and it’s scheduled to come down tomorrow. Better now than falling on the shed, or breaking the fence when the animals are out and we’re not home.

one year ago…”Old House Problems”

February 11, 2011 – Sean Maher 1961-2011

Today was spent in memory of Sean Maher. Sean is one of the three “neighbors” we went in with to buy the chicken plucker.  The funeral was today at the Basilica of Saint John’s in Des Moines.  I’m obviously not the  only one who had great respect for Sean, as the priest noted it was the largest funeral in the Basilica in the 11 years he’s presided at there.  As funerals go, it was a wonderful service with many priests, wonderful organ music, a children’s choir, and vocalists as part of the mass.

Sean had a big family, pictured here.  He was stricken with tongue cancer about a year ago, and after a whole range of highly compassionate and thorough care, including a trip to Ecuador for treatments not yet available in the United States, he passed away this week, at age 49 (blog with the story here).  Sean, was a natural-born leader in the best sense of the word.  He had an infectious smile and truly was happy to live.

He loved to play in the dirt.  He was a big, teddy-bear kind of guy, captain and running back of two Dartmouth Ivy League football teams (obit and online photo book). (Photo credits for this post go to the online memory book, where these photos came from).

But he also cleaned up nicely. He really was a man who loved and put his family first and really meant it.

He and his wife are one of those couples that had so much love and respect for each other that you knew they were a “lock” to stay together “til death do us part.”  In Sean’s case, this was a great 27 years. Did I say that Sean was also a lot of fun and had a bit ‘o Irish in him?  He brought “beer to the basilica” as after the mass was over, there was a meal in the church basement that featured Guinness for all! I’ll leave you with some words his wife wrote on the blog concerning his death and the last year.

We lit holy candles, were all praying, singing, and whispering consoling words, stroking his head and kissing his head, holding hands, etc. He received Viaticum (holy communion for the dying – literally “with you for the way” )- food for the journey from this world to the next. Very comforting. Bryan, our son-in-law, read the prayers for the dying from the Handbook of Catholic Prayers, a profession of Faith, a Litany of the Saints, The Chaplet of Divine Mercy…Just prior to this, he was anxious and confused and terribly uncomfortable. Maddie and I got to work when we knew what was going on, called in reinforcements, and did what we knew to do from our Catholic training. We comforted him then, just as we comforted him all along this long, precious, arduous time of purification and suffering. Jack and I were at his head, and we watched as he most peacefully and quietly breathed his last…It was so beautiful, still unexpected to all of us there in the bedroom, but so sweet…

This past year was perhaps the sweetest and most intimate of all our married years. We spent more time together, and we both realized how deep our love for each other really was. This sublime love for each other is just so precious, and even though I thought we were going to come out of it and just really rock, (sorry, I have lots of teens and I can’t think of a better term), I think everything will be OK because I really feel his closeness to me and our family – strong.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #195″

February 7, 2011 – University of Minnesota Admissions to Ohio and Beyond!

The deluge of college letters begins for Emma.  I must admit, I was a bit puzzled by the return envelope provided by the University of Minnesota.

University of Minnesota Admissions

Like me , you may be puzzled to notice that the UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA Office of Admissions is conveniently located in AKRON, OHIO.

Now, there are a few perfectly good reasons why the “send me more information” letter about the U of MN would go to Akron.  Here’s my list:

  • There are no longer any employees at the University of Minnesota capable of opening envelopes and selecting the appropriate college brochure information to return to the sender.
  • The state-funded University of Minnesota decided that the entry-level job of opening and returning envelopes was too expensive for Minnesota and they outsourced to Ohio, where they could pay pennies less per hour and have the employees pay taxes to the state of Ohio, instead of Minnesota.
  • They want to make sure prospective students know that bean counters are in charge of the university, so when they arrive, they will not be surprised that while the classroom may be in Minneapolis or Akron, the professor is in Toledo.
  • Due to budget cuts, the University of Minnesota is now being administered by THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, but Columbus is too expensive, so the new University of Minnesota will be located in Akron.
  • The Dean of Admissions really likes the old Pretenders song “My City Was Gone”  and wanted to reverse the economic slide of his home town.

I WENT BACK TO OHIO
BUT MY PRETTY COUNTRYSIDE
HAD BEEN PAVED DOWN THE MIDDLE
BY A GOVERNMENT THAT HAD NO PRIDE
THE FARMS OF OHIO
HAD BEEN REPLACED BY SHOPPING MALLS
AND MUZAK FILLED THE AIR
FROM SENECA TO CUYAHOGA FALLS

one year ago…”Winter Driving”

January 30, 2011 – Farewell, but not Goodbye for Carole

This week was Carole Winkleblack’s last days on the job as director of the Marshalltown Public Library.

While Carole brought many skills and talents to her position, perhaps after her optimistic personality, she will best be remembered for bringing a state-of-the-art Public Library to town.  The library is Iowa’s only LEED certified library and earned a LEED Gold rating.  In addition, it was named the State of Iowa’s best Commercial/Civic development in 2009.

The library contains Iowa’s largest solar array on the roof, has native prairie landscaping, used local limestone and brick, passive solar lighting, and a host of lighting controls and the like.  It also earned kudos for remaining in the Central Business District, helping to alleviate the trend of dying or dead downtown areas.

Carole will be the first to say the library was the work of many people, and that is true.  In a difficult anti-tax environment, Carole led the bond issue to garner 70% approval by the town’s residents who voted to raise their taxes for the new library.  Yes, it is true that many people were involved, it is also true that without the spark, enthusiasm, and attention to financial detail, that Carole brought, the library would not have been built to have such a low impact on future energy and bills.

Carole has our family’s deep appreciation for providing the leadership for this project.  Now, we look forward to visiting Carole in her so-called retirement as she and her husband rejuvenate an old Iowa Farmstead somewhere along the state’s namesake river where Carole can attend to chickens, restored prairie, saplings, children, gardens, and a classic farmhouse for a while!  Thanks Carole!

one year ago…”Easy (and cheap) Row Covers”

January 26, 2011 – Where’s the Beef?

After the post a few weeks ago when I discovered that Dean’s Guacamole dip contained less than 2% avocado, the Taco Bell meat controversy deserves some time as well. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Taco Bell claiming that the products contain “seasoned beef” are misleading because the lawsuit claims the filling is only 35% beef. Taco Bell claims it is not true. It really shouldn’t take long to figure it out right?

Looking at the legal definitions, puts this at a whole ‘nother level. The USDA definition states that “Ground Beef” must contain at least 70% beef (the rest can be beef fat). Taco Bell claims that their “ground beef” contains “88% USDA inspected quality beef,” Creed said. The rest of the recipe includes: 3%-5% water, 3%-5% spices and 3%-5% oats, starch, sugar, yeast, citric acid, and other ingredients. So, if my math is right and you use the cheapest beef (70% beef) and subtract 12% for the ingredients Taco Bell claims it adds to the “ground beef,” you wind up with something that is about 62% beef.

According to the law, “Taco Beef Filling” must contain 40% beef. Tired yet? My point in this dust-up is that it is unreasonable to expect that when you plop down a buck for a dollar meal, can anyone think that the ingredients are top of the line, or even reasonable knock-offs of what they are imitating?

one year ago…”Aftermath”

January 25, 2011 – First Aid Kit

I’ll admit, it’s the middle of the winter, things are quiet on the farm, and we’re all hunkered down inside. So, you can expect some far-ranging posts until the farm warms up.

While I was working away doing the equivalent of spring housecleaning on the computer, I was streaming old World Cafe and All Songs Considered episodes.

That’s when I ran across First Aid Kit.  No, not a medical helper, but a couple of teenage sisters from Sweden. When they were 15 and 17 they headed to the woods with a guitar and did a cover version of a song by Fleet Foxes.  Nearly 2 million youtube hits later, they have a recording contract.  Here’s another song by First Aid Kit in the Swedish forest.

Their sisterly harmonies are delightful and family knitter Linda is particularly enamored with their sweaters and fingerless gloves. So, one thing leads to another, they get selected as a showcase artist for South By Southwest in Austin Texas, start getting love on NPR radio shows and suddenly they are on high hopes gardens blog. They have arrived!

They’ve got a bit of Scandinavian quirkiness that must appeal to me with my authentic Swedish surname. I particularly like that the parents of these girls “made” them endure long hikes in the woods as well.

one year ago…”Blizzard Warning with No Warning?”

January 16, 2011 – Givin’ Some Love to the Bro

Bro recently headed up to Lake of the Woods in Minnesota/Canada for a weekend fishing trip.

Check out the “bomber” vehicle that transported them to the ice fishing house.

A more modern version of the bomber.  I don’t think too many people are making out in this Chevy van.

OK, so I’ve never caught a 10 lb walleye before.  I say if you catch a fish through the ice is it like a tree falling in the woods when nobody hears it?

one year ago…”Need to Cut Meat with Circular Saw?”

January 1, 2011 – Goodbye to 2010

I thought I’d begin the year with some of my favorite photos from the last year.

We’ll lead with the “barn dogs” one cold December morning.

Here’s a shot you can only get once a year – frost on a zinnia.

Linda Barnes

As a storm passed, we had great mammatus clouds overhead.

It’s really quite remote and quiet where we’re at – a reminder on a cold winter morning.

baby lamb and boy

There’s also a continual cycle of life on the farm.

Things can change in a hurry – a day firing the maple syrup stove turns nasty, so in goes the stove into the shed – improvisation is always a great quality to have.

Garlic – we were lucky to get it out during the wet early summer.

More invention on the farm – this time Martin’s cat feeding station.

ag incuabator, MCC susutainable agricultgure

After many years of angst and fundraising, the ribbon cutting for the ag incubator building at MCC happened this year.

cherry pie

Linda’s pies and fruit from the farm – a combination to die for!.

Devils Lake

A great lunch spot at Devil’s Lake Wisconsin.

Baptism Falls, Tettegouche

Finally, the kids at perhaps one of the world’s best outdoor playgrounds – Baptism Falls along the coast of Lake Superior.

one year ago…”Looking Back on 2009″

December 29, 2010 – A Night at the Game

We are very fortunate for the last two years to “borrow” season tix to Iowa State women’s basketball.  The seats are in the second row behind the scorer’s table.  So, today, a night at the game.

Coach Fennelly shaking hands with a “Lady Rattler” from Florida A&M (great marching band anyone?). The uniforms, however looked a lot like Gatorade bottles.

bill fennelly

Bill talks with point guard Lauren Mansfield.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be coach and have a vision in your head about how a team plays and reacts and trying to get that into the heads of five independent players on the team.

Bill Fennelly in time out

Bill looks relatively calm in this time-out.

Mascot Cy, ISU Mascot

Everybody’s best friend Cy posing for a picture.

rich fellingham, molly parrot

Rich Fellingham and Molly Parrot, the voices of the Cyclones.  It’s always a surprise, one way or another to see radio folks in person.

#11 Kelsey Bolte hits another three.  She finished with 28 points as the Cyclones silenced the Lady Rattlers.

As a bonus, Emma’s band played at the game.  During break, the Cyclones invite local high school bands to play during the games when the Cyclone pep band is away.

one year ago…”Volunteer Leave Wraps Up”

December 27, 2010 – AARP Comes Calling, Really?

Gee, I know I took a few days off from shaving over the holidays and the salt and pepper beard resembled gimpy old man Brett Favre’s face, but I am not even within a year of a milestone birthday and this comes in the mail.

Maybe by sending this early, the AARP people want you to slowly get used to the idea that you are closer to the nursing home than to Sweet Home Alabama?

one year ago…”Sticky Rolls”

December 13, 2010 – In Memory of Margaret Kanis

Today, I received the first mail item that I’ve sent that came back with the “DECEASED” stamp.  There’s something so final and cold about the official post office rubber stamp announcing a death.  Death is usually communicated in person or by voice.  It’s not that it is particularly shocking that Margaret, age 93, passed away.  But even though it’s been over 25 years or so since I worked with her, and probably 10 years since I last visited with her,  it still struck me as a loss.

Margaret worked as a cook at YMCA Camp Miller the eight or so years I worked there.  The first few years, I didn’t pay that much attention to her, but as the years went on, and especially when I became the camp caretaker for a year when the previous caretaker suddenly passed away (during the fall and winter weekends the camp opened for retreats and such) I got to know Margaret much better.

Margaret was a robust woman, strong, and slow to anger, but certainly capable of indignation.  If the mood was right, and not too many people were around, we could coax Margaret to play the piano.  She had a roaring, raucous style.  After Margaret found out my grandfather was Polish and played the accordion as well, she really thought I was OK!

I think it also helped when one year I was the cabin counselor for one of her grandchildren who was attending camp.

One of the jaw-dropping moments at camp for me was when the strapping young teen boys assigned to help in the kitchen that week were struggling and complaining about carrying what must have been a 120 quart stainless steel vat of  “bug juice” (essentially institutional kool-aid) to the counter. Margaret couldn’t stand it any more, shooshed the two of them away (one struggling on each handle) and picked up the vat herself and carried around the room as though she was moving a pan of brownies.  Margaret was no-nonsense about many things, but when you could tickle her funny bone, she would turn red in the face and offer up a great belly laugh that meant something.  Margaret also seemed to be one of those people that lived as though she had a finite number of words they could utter during a lifetime and judiciously used them, at least until you got to know her very well.

For some reason, across the years, Margaret and I clicked and had a real fondness for each other.  I felt honored when this shy woman invited me out to her farm.  I’m not sure that more than a handful of camp staff over her 25 years or so at Camp Miller ever got that chance.  She had an absolutely gorgeous farm.  She and her husband, who died many years before she did, had a dairy farm, and she lived there many years after his death.

The farm was nestled in the woods, but had some nice, open pastures and hayfields, a charming farmhouse and beautiful barn.  She had a fondness for Collies that seemed a natural part of the farm.  And at the back of the property, a river snaked through the forest.  I’d live there in a second.

Later, after she moved to town, (and she greatly missed living on the farm) on our trips to the BWCA in far Northern Minnesota , we’d stop in and visit with her to catch up on things and show off my babies and young children.  Now, I don’t think I’ve stopped since Martin was born, but we still exchanged Christmas letters, at least up to this year- she had beautiful handwriting and always included a long note catching me up on life in Moose Lake.

This year, there was no flowing artistic handwritten letter, just my returned letter to her with a hastily stamped imprint simply saying “DECEASED.” I suppose that might have been the way Margaret might have preferred it to be  – simple and direct.

Rest well Margaret, rest well.

one year ago…”Snowbanks”

December 8, 2010 – Holiday Irritation

Very few things are more irritating to me than the cheap holiday lights.

Like on this string, some work, some don’t. Last year when I carefully put them away, all the strings worked, this year when I got them out, 3/4 of them didn’t work at all or 1/4 of the string worked or 1/2 the string worked. I have slowly been buying LED strings (none of those have stopped working yet). Although the LED light isn’t as cheery as the incandescent lights, at least they go on from year to year!

one year ago…”Martin’s First Music Gig”

December 6, 2010 – LED Mag Lite Testimonial

I found this LED Mag Lite on sale at Lowe’s and thought I’d give it a try. All the LED flashlights I’ve tried to date, while being very energy efficient, didn’t put out a whole lotta light.

LED Mag Lite

This flashlight is another story – it throws a great beam, easily reaching to the top of the pine trees (and beyond) from the front porch. I no longer have reservations about LED flashlight, or at least this one!

one year ago…”2009 Gift Boxes”

November 29, 2010 – Linda’s Colleague Going to Sundance!

Today I was sitting in Linda’s office after a Lego League practice and one of Linda’s friends and teaching colleagues walks in Linda’s office and drops incredible news on us.  A movie based on a book she wrote was picked as one of the 16 films out of some 3,000 or so films submitted to hit the main stage at the Sundance Film Festival!  She also wrote the screenplay, so it was all jaw-dropping news.  In the oddest corners of the world, like at Marshalltown Community College, the creative writing teacher suddenly gets her life turned around (again)!

The book is autobiographical, called This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost.   The book is out of print and I haven’t read it, but it portrays Carolyn’s life as a pregnant 17-yr old girl in a Des Moines trailer park who joins a kind of hippie fundamentalist sect and her journey out of the cultish group.

No doubt many adventures are ahead for Carolyn, not the least of which will be seeing this part of her life played by Vera Farminga (who played opposite George Clooney in Up in the Air) along with Josh Leonard of Blair Witch Project fame.

one year ago…”Putting Bees Away for Winter”

November 16, 2010 – No Better Than This

Time for a periodic music review. John Mellencamp’s latest album No Better than This is a throwback to another time.  The album is a throwback to a time when the music was more important than the production methods.  The album was recorded with a vintage  55 year-old Ampex tape recorder with just one microphone and released in mono.

The album was recorded in three historical locations. First, in Sun Studios in Memphis where he and his musicians  dutifully arranged themselves on the studio floor in accordance with markings that had been laid down by Sam Phillips many years before for optimal acoustics.

Second, in Savannah’s First African Baptist Church which is the first Black church in North America- dating to pre-revolutionary times. The original congregation and ministry were slaves; the church, in fact, provided sanctuary to runaways before emancipation.

And finally in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio where Robert Johnson first recorded in 1936. Mellencamp sang facing the corner of the room that Johnson had almost 74 years earlier.

As for the music, all the songs are written by Mellencamp, although there is some serious channeling of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Prine.  While the album holds together well, some of the songs have serious folk, country, rockabilly, and blues feel.

While the songs were all written the past few year, if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were just-found songs written by Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Dylan.

John reminds us on the first song to

Save some time to dream
‘Cause your dream could save us all

one year ago…”High Hopes on Oprah.com”

November 10, 2010 – Veteran’s Day Rant

Veteran’s Day is one holiday I just don’t understand. Can someone please explain to me why government workers and bankers get the day off, but Veterans have to go to work? I tried writing my congressmen to sponsor a bill to change it to give Veterans the day off instead of postal workers and bankers, but it didn’t gain any traction.

Thanks to all who serve.

one year ago…”Updated Web Site”

November 6, 2010 – Drumline!

I took Emma and one of her band friends to the Drumline Live! theatrical show at Stephens Auditorium in Ames.  We had seats early, and landed in the fourth row.  It was a fantastic show.  The outfit is made out of the best of the wild and crazy southern college marching bands.

They did the usual marching band stuff, but the show was much more than that.  It was basically a living history of African-American music through time.

They started out in traditional African tribal dress.

And covered many eras of music – jazz, soul, Motown, gospel, funk, pop and rock.  The cast was extremely talented – were great musicians, singers, and dancers.  It’s hard to describe, but if you can imagine where an energetic marching band, southern gospel revival tent and burlesque show intersect, you’ll have a sense of the show.

(photos from Drumline Live! publicity; no cameras were allowed at show)

one year ago…”New Layers”

November 3, 2010 – First Lego League Practice

It’s Wednesday, so it’s First Lego League.

The team looks over the robots and the mission table.

There’s a lot of concentration during a lego league session.

The robots are programmed via a computer and USB cable.  Here, some adjustments are made to the robot program.

Of course, one of the best parts of Lego league is treat time.  We had “Lego Pie” this week.

one year ago…”City Hams”

October 18, 2010 – Mini-van Driver No More!

Many years ago, I swore I would not be the driver of a minivan. Regular cars and extended cab trucks were the only vehicles in my mind. Then Martin, the caboose, came along and getting the car seat and kids in the back of the Taurus station wagon proved to be problematic. So, I ate my words and entered the realm of the soccer mom.

To be sure, the minivan served us well. It got us where we needed to go with plenty of room. It was with a little reminiscing that I let it go last week. Now that Claire is off to college, we no longer need a minivan and downsized to an Outback, adding another 4WD to the stable. We did well by this van, it served us well and only lost about $1000 dollars of value each year we had it. It was a bit of a risk to buy a Kia many years ago as some wondered how long they’d be in business – well, as it turns out, I never would have guessed that GM and Chrysler would go under!

one year ago…”PFI Field Day”

October 12, 2010 – Francis Thicke for Secretary of Agriculture

If you like this blog, live in Iowa – Francis is the man in the upcoming election!

I wouldn’t on the blog for someone I don’t know and Francis is no exception.  He runs one of the state’s foremost grass-based dairies, has a great history of thinking AND doing.  He has B.A. degrees in music and philosophy. and a Ph.D. in agronomy.  He’s worked for the USDA as a soil scientist, received numerous awards and most importantly, is a farmer in more than name only.

one year ago…”Hog Barn Renovation”

September 28, 2010 – Updates from U of MN

Faithful readers have no doubt been exposed to my soapbox about the squelching of the film about water pollution from agricultural practices. I received an email response from the office of the President Bruininks and post it below:

I am always heartened when academic freedom and scientific integrity are vigorously championed, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your concern with me.

As has been publicly stated, “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” will be shown as scheduled on October 3, 2010, immediately followed by an open discussion of the film.

The original decision to postpone the showing of the film at the Bell Museum and the rationale behind that decision could have been handled differently and communicated more clearly by the University. At no point, however, was there a question about the importance of the issues raised in the film or whether such a film should be made and shown. We will continue to review this situation, and I am confident that we will learn from this and improve our procedures as we move forward.

Thank you for your commitment to the mission of your alma mater.

Sincerely,

Robert H. Bruininks
President

one year ago…”Clean Garlic”

September 27, 2010 – Google Maps Might not Show the Best Route!

Thanks to Claire for pointing out this new feature of Google maps.  I put in I wanted to go from Des Moines to China.  By george, it did it – taking me over as much land as possible.  It included a 2,756 mile kayak to Hawaii, then overland in Hawaii, then a 3,879 mile kayak from Hawaii to Japan, overland in Japan, and finally a break from kayaking as it suggested a short 486 mile jet ski from Japan to China!  The route is 11,124 miles and it should take 38 days and one hour according to Google.

I think the time calculation must not take into account carrying your kayak and jet ski overland across Hawaii and your jet ski overland in Japan.  That’s got to add a week to the trip! Who’s going to be the first one to try this and then have their family sue Google after the kayak overturns in Puget Sound and drowns the poor sap trying to kayak to China!

one year ago…”Big Tomato Day”

September 25, 2010 – Doing the Parade Thing

Today was the community celebration day in Marshalltown. There’s a couple of new groups in town that wanted to get some visibility.

The “Eat Smart, Move More, Live Well” is the name of the program.  Linda’s involved with a supporting group called Harvest from the Heart of Iowa – a local food group.  Eating healthy is just one component of the larger group.

Linda passed out flyers and Martin carried a local goat!

Even though the day was rainy, some people are perpetually sunny!

one year ago…”Photo Friday – The Face”

September 24, 2010 – U of M Public Relations Disaster

After an uproar, the Troubled Waters film I blogged about a few days ago is back on, according to the University of Minnesota officials, who all seem to be playing with a different playbook and set of rules as the reasons and rationale seem to change daily after a PR director stopped the release of the film.  Does every work of literature, poetry, film, publication, brochure, theatre production now require the imprimatur of the head PR person, or just those that she disagrees with?

Many questions remain – like how the head of PR at the university stops the film, and then is unavailable/unwilling to comment during the week the uproar rages in the newspapers while the University President is in Morocco (I’m sure there’s a good reason for the President of the University of Minnesota to be in Morocco during the first weeks of the new academic year!)

So this situation violates two “Intro to PR” principles. First, by disappearing while the story broke and unfolded – the “U” let others define the story by their lack of response and absence of the PR person not making statements, in this case for many days. Secondly, there is no better way to bring public notice to something you want hidden than to ban it and have ensuing firestorm bring the item to everyone’s attention, rather than just the few academics who might have otherwise seen it. The university is now adding additional screenings to accommodate a much higher anticipated audience than the film might have otherwise had!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #178″

September 21, 2010 – Troubled Waters at the University of Minnesota

I don’t quite know how to explain this one, but here goes. Hey, I can chime in because I have two degrees from the University of Minnesota and am greatly saddened by the events of the last few days. Here goes a quick overview. Private donors give the University of MN money for a film documenting the impact of agriculture on water quality. They hire an Emmy and Peabody award-winning film-maker whose work appears on PBS NOVA series and other respected channels. The film shows the impact of commodity agriculture on water quality. The donors think the film is great.

Two weeks before the film’s premiere on campus and statewide public TV, a University PR person pulls the plug saying it hasn’t met the University’s scientific review. Well, it turns out it does pass the review (remember, it’s not a schlock filmmaker, she’s put out accurate, interesting work for years). OK, so that doesn’t work, now the explanation is that the film shows specific sustainable farmers that sell farm products, so the university can’t release the film because they will be promoting products by companies – and these are bad mega companies – an organic milk co-op and a grassfed beef company.

News flash to U of M – Hey, you know that new football stadium, I think it’s called “TCF Bank Stadium,” I’ve got a secret to let out of the bag – shhhh, the bank sells products. And about that Cargill Building of Molecular Genomics on campus, it might surprise you, but Cargill sells BILLIONS of dollars of products. And hey, you’ve gone as far as not only naming structures after companies, but entire university programs – that Carlson School of Management for instance. And by golly, what a coincidence, the Carlson company sold 38 billion dollars worth of products and services in 2008. I expect all those names will be removed in light of the new university policy that prohibits university mention of companies in any university-related publication or film, even if they aren’t funded by the U of M!

To read more about the bruhaha, check out the Land Stewardship Project page, with links to NPR, Star-Tribune, Pioneer Press and other media outlets stories on the film.

one year ago…”Barn Update”

September 14, 2010 – Dear Blank…

Dear Vegetarians,

Please stop eating all our food.

Sincerely, the herbivores
—————————
Dear New York,

Way to be creative about your name.

Sincerely, York, England
—————————-
Dear Fantasy Football,

You should rebrand yourself as a contraceptive.

Sincerely, Lonely Wife/Girlfriend
—————————
Dear 2012,

They Fall for it Every Time.

Sincerely, Y2K
————————–
Dear Guy Who Stole My Bike,

Thanks for leaving my helmet behind. Now if I fall down walking home, I’ll still be protected.

Sincerely, bike-less girl
————————-
Dear Joke Writers,

Please mind your own business. We should be able the cross the road without being harassed for personal information.

Sincerely, The Chicken
————————
Dear Corn,

Please leave some room for the rest of us to grow.

Sincerely, All the world’s other domesticated plants
———————–

All these and more can be seen on Dear Blank, Please Blank – a serious time-waster of a web site that Emma showed me. If you’d like to share your own “Dear Blank, Please Blank” that just flashed through your mind, just put it in a comment!

one year ago…”Gettin’ the Cub Runnin'”

September 11, 2010 – Graphic of Obesity Epidemic

I ran across this animation put together by the Center for Disease Control showing the instances of obesity in the United States from 1985-2009.  It’s very startling how quickly obesity has blossomed. There are huge implications for public and private health spending as obesity-related chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other diseases become much more prevalent.

one year ago…”Carrot Harvest”

September 7, 2010 – Subey-Deux

With Claire out of the house, our mini-van days are behind us! Ever since we bought the girls an old beater Outback, we’ve liked the car, especially in winter, when it is just a beast in the snow.

2007 Subaru Outback

So, we picked up a 3-yr-old Outback. We like to name our cars, and this one’s name came quickly to us – since the first outback was simply named “Subey” the 2nd one is naturally Subey-deux!

one year ago…”Garlic Cleaning”

September 4, 2010 – Monarch Migration Respite

This is the second year we’ve observed our farm windbreak as a respite for migrating monarch butterflies.

monarch butterfly

We’ve had strong south winds for the last few days, and many monarchs gather on the north side of the pine tree windbreak, waiting for the strong winds to subside. With all the flowers and blooming buckwheat, if they are hungry, it is a nice butterfly B & B!

one year ago…”Mazie Ready for Makeover”

August 29, 2010 – About Those Eggs…

I thought I should chime in on the factory/commodity egg recall.  To our customers, the stories from the Iowa egg factories do not come as a surprise – hens in cages so small they cannot even spread their wings, piles of manure 8 feet tall leaning on the doors of the buildings, maggots crawling on the factory floor.

Compare this to smaller-size traditional production (see our eggs above). I know this is the way of the world, and why it only costs these mega-producers 54 cents a dozen to produce a dozen eggs.  What gets under my skin is the lack of transparency and hijacking of the images of small farms.  You know the package of eggs, with the nice red barn or pastoral scene that evokes a traditional farm image.  Like repackaged mortgage securities, there’s no way for the consumer to know the true source, since the eggs are branded under many different labels.  So as a consumer, you have no idea who’s behind the eggs – in this case – here’s a litany of documented problems with the owner of the recalled egg factories:

  • DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay $2 million in fines  for health and safety violations at a DeCoster farm in Maine. U.S. Labor secretary Robert Reich said conditions were “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop.” Reich’s successor, Alexis Herman, called the state of the farms “simply atrocious.”
  • The State of Iowa designated DeCoster a “habitual violator” of environmental regulations.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed to a $1.5 million settlement against DeCoster Farms on behalf of women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by some supervisory workers at DeCoster’s Wright County plants.
  • 51 workers were arrested during an immigration raid at six DeCoster egg farms. His farms had been the subject of at least three previous raids.

This is part of the price we pay for eggs that cost 54 cents a dozen to produce.

Predictably, the blame for the poisoning lies with the consumers according to industry spokespeople:

“Some people may not think of an egg as you would ground beef, but they need to start,” says Krista Eberle of the United Egg Producers’ Egg Safety Center. “It may sound harsh and I don’t mean it to sound that way. But all the responsibility cannot be placed on the farmer. Somewhere along the line consumers have to be responsible for what they put in their bodies.”

I appreciated the response of another food safety expert to this:

If consumers are being held accountable as the last line of defense in the food safety farm-to-fork line, then the egg industry needs to be explicit about it, says Carol Tucker-Foreman, an assistant secretary of agriculture under President Jimmy Carter who’s worked on food policy at Consumer Federation of America for decades.

“Should egg cartons be required to carry a message that says ‘Warning – to protect your health and the health of those in your household, you should assume that these eggs are contaminated with salmonella enteriditis and must be handled carefully in order to avoid possible illness?’ ” she asks.

At the end of the day, this presents one of the dangers of an industrial food system with hugely centralized operations – one bag egg (pun intended) can lead to the recall of a half-billion eggs.  This is not a system that has much resiliency and as former Secretary of Health Education and Welfare under President George Bush said, offers those who want to harm us a quick and easy path to contaminate the food supply – whether it be in a mega meatpacking plant or elsewhere in the system.

Kudos to Fareway Grocery and Trader Joe’s who have committed to not buying eggs from these farms ever again.

one year ago…”Field Day at Grice Farms”

August 18, 2010 – A Tale of Two Deliveries

Today there were two deliveries at high hopes. A pair of Birkenstocks for Linda delivered by Fed Ex and the package was left in the mud room attached to the house.

And this box of thin balsa-wood like unassembled berry boxes delivered (in a manner of speaking). For some reason the UPS driver thought that the best place to drop off this package on a rainy day was to leave it alongside the driveway halfway between the road and the house!  It might have been better had it been under the spruce tree!  Needless to say the thin wood was wet and some were warped and we weren’t enthused about using boxes that were wet and had a chance to mold for food – so, the true story won’t be that UPS screwed up, it will be how they respond to the screw up.

one year ago…”New Part-time Gig”

July 4, 2010 – Are You Smarter Than The Dean of Agriculture at Iowa State?

Before you read, quick, what have cows eaten for the last few thousands of years?  Remember that later on in the post.

Iowa State deservedly so received a black eye in an article regarding the search for a new director for the Director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. The Chronicle of Higher Education – the flagship journal of those in higher education wrote an article about the botched search.

In a nutshell, the search committee, composed of a broad range of people, selected four candidates to interview on campus. Of these, they recommended two to the President. Ricardo Salvador was the preferred candidate and another was acceptable, while two were deemed unacceptable. The job was offered to the 2nd candidate and at the same time the 1st candidate was sent a flush letter. The 2nd candidate eventually declined and the university was left with no other options. Now the hiring process has been hijacked by the hiring of the 2nd consecutive “interim director.”

According to the article in the Chronicle, an comment Ricardo made during a presentation that “cows evolved to eat grass” is counted as his downfall (this is a state whose agriculture is dominated by corn and confinements and feedlots that feed ruminants corn; the emperor did not appreciate this comment that suggests there was a lack of clothing.)

The Chronicle interviewed the Dean of Agriculture and asked her if she believed that “cows evolved to eat grass.” She said she had no opinion. (As though this is a question that is one of opinion!). The Chronicle continued to push her and finally she said something to the effect that she was trained as an entomologist and should not be expected to know about everything! Hmm. I’d think for $227,000 dollars a year, a Land Grant university could find some genius who is underemployed who is not an animal scientist who might have a broad understanding of agriculture that includes the knowledge that cows are ruminants.

Obviously, the Dean knows the answer, and no matter who was in that position might have answered the same. There is a structural problem. The problem is that the concept of a Land Grant University funded by public taxes, no longer serves those who pay the taxes, but captains of industry, much like many politicians in Washington serve who do not vote for them.

Somehow, this seems appropriate on the anniversary of our democracy. There’s still work left to do!  A recent billboard for Iowa State urged students to “Change your zip code and change the World.”  If the University blocks progress on changing less than 2% of Iowa farmland and intercedes to maintain the status quo, there is no hope the world will change anytime soon.  There are many bright faculty and students at Iowa State – they deserve leadership that allows them to do just that –  change the world.

This may be in Iowan’s DNA.  A Boone city councilman mulling over an ordinance to allow wind turbines:  “I think it’s really wise that we don’t jump into this until we make darn sure that everything is proper and there’s not going to be issues down the road, because it could really come back and haunt a lot of people,” Councilman Gary Nystrom said. “There are a lot of ideas that come up, but we don’t need to be the first ones to test them.”  Yep, let someone else get all the money and benefits of new technology and we’ll be happy here with our abacus and flint tools.

one year ago…”Happy 4th”

July 2, 2010 – Love to the Brotha

While at work yesterday, my bro emailed me this photo of a fish he picked up earlier in the day while fishing on Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities.

It’s a nice scene – an empty lake, blue water, blue sky, and an unexpected fish on a Thursday morning.  Can’t say I didn’t wish I could change places with him.  I’ll have to see what I can do on vacation later this summer in Minnesota.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #169″

June 15, 2010 – In Case of Fire

OK, so of all the photos Claire’s taken in India, the “in case of fire” sign has been most interesting to me.

I am particularly impressed with the first instruction, which is usually left off similar instructions in the US – that is to yell “AAG AAG” or “FIRE FIRE.”  Come on admit it, if you saw a fire you’d yell and scream on your way to push the fire alarm!  I’m not sure I would have thought to yell “AAG AAG,” but I’d be OK with shouting FIRE repeatedly. It also sounds interesting to try to use gunny bags as fire beaters.

These instructions are much different than those at my employer, which our only task is to get out of the building, not help anyone out.  I was really taken aback at one question at the building safety hazards class that if the fire alarms went off and the elevators were disabled, that if there was someone who was unable to walk down the stairs, that you were to leave them at the top of the stairs (six story building) and wait for the fire department to carry them out – and not try to assist them.  We were assured that the fire doors on each floor would keep them safe from the flames (let’s not worry about toxic smoke suffocating them long before the flames arrive).  No doubt, this is one case in which company policy would be violated in short order.

one year ago…”Drying Strawberries”

May 4, 2010 – Thoughts on Youth Coaches

I didn’t think I’d write about a situation Martin was put in by his little league coach last year – but the triangulation of a few events, brings it finally to bear. Martin played t-ball for a couple of years and last year was in his first year of real pitching ball – at seven years old.

A few games into the season, when it appeared that Martin was still picking up the knack of hitting the ball, he came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. Martin stood and watched as the pitcher threw three called strikes, as Martin stood still with the bat on his shoulder – not even attempting a swing. He ran back to the dugout, tears streaming down his eyes, and bravely took the field with his glove, while his parents and spectators all wondered quietly to themselves why he didn’t even take a swing.

On the way home, Martin told us that he wanted to swing, but before he went up to bat, the coach told him not to swing at any pitches and that he might get walked. So Martin listened, and suffered the humiliation of standing there, bases loaded, and not swinging as the coach instructed, while all the spectators and his parents saw him not even try to hit the ball.

So what’s the coach’s motivation to put a learning boy in that situation? What could possibly be so important as to not let a seven year old play? I don’t know, but can make some assumptions. For what it’s worth in a league of seven and eight year old boys, his son was the “star” of the team. His older brothers were good high school players. Was the rest of the team just an accoutrement to his son’s exploits? Did he have to win at all costs, even at this level?

So earlier this year, Martin came home from school and said he thought he’d “take a year off” from baseball. I commented that there were lots of fun things to do in the summer and remarked that we didn’t even get a sign-up sheet from school. He said that the sheets were passed out weeks earlier and that he (who brings every paper home religiously) had thrown it in the trash at school.

So all you good coaches out there – never doubt that you have the ability to encourage and engage players in a lifelong love of the sport and a team. Martin learned a different lesson. I was thinking about this as I drove home and saw all the fields filled with kids, but not Martin among them.

But when I turned in the driveway, I was happy to see Martin and Emma playing catch in the yard.

one year ago…”A Walk in the Spring Forest”

April 13, 2010 – New York Farm Workers Bill

An article in the Fruit Growers News caught my eye this week. A bill is before the New York State Senate to grant new protections to farm workers. “If passed, the bill would give farm workers rights to overtime pay, a full day off every week, freedom to form unions and other benefits.”

According to the New York Farm Bureau president, if the bill passes “It will irreparably damage our family farms’ ability to produce local food for local New Yorkers.” It’s good to know that Farm Bureau is now a strong advocate of local foods, but evidently believes that eliminating church-going is one of the sacrifices we need to make for local foods!

But to me it sounds a bit like a discussion this country had when slavery was abolished. Heck, even pre-civil war era slaves has Sundays off! I thought I’d look at our founding father’s attitudes towards agricultural workers in comparison to the modern day Farm Bureau. At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s slaves had Sundays and evenings off.

How about George Washington? “The work-day at Mount Vernon was from sunrise to sunset, with 2 hours off for meals. Sunday was a holiday. Slaves also received 3-4 days off at Christmas, and the Monday after Easter and Pentecost as holidays. If a slave was required to work a Sunday during harvest, Washington would allow them a day off later, and sometimes compensated them with pay.”

Any New York readers out there that can shed more light on this bill’s progress/political setting?

one year ago…”New Blackberries”

April 7, 2010 – Random Advertising Thoughts

What’s the deal with the cell phone commercials I saw during the NCAA tournament? I was especially struck with a commercial disparaging phones that were incapable of surfing the web while you talked on the phone.  So, if I’m understanding this correctly, first cell phones become ubiquitous and allow you to ignore those you are physically with while you talk with and text those out of your sight.  Now, with the new phones that allow you to surf the web while you talk, you can not only ignore those that you are with, you can also ignore those that you are talking to while you watch videos or make reservations!  This is a great country!

That brings us to the next thought – I’m not a marketing genius, but I think I could probably do better than the company that designed the following ad I grabbed off a web page.

I’m not sure the photograph and the text are a good match.  Perhaps the ad agency had a low budget for an image gallery and this photo was the best match for urging people to go back to school? Or I could be reading the ad incorrectly – just maybe the elderly gentleman’s name is Grant, and I can qualify to have him come live with me and take care of my children and household while I return to school?  Furthermore, I’m not sure that this guy would even stay alive through four year’s of college!

one year ago…”Early Strawberries”

March 22, 2010 – Paul Simon and Ali Farokhmanesh – Separated at Birth?

Did anyone else notice the startling resemblance of new-found college basketball hero Ali Farokhmanesh and singer Paul Simon?

Ali (known as “Stroke” to his teammates) and the Northern Iowa Panthers shocked the college basketball world, when he hit the winning three-pointer in games against UNLV and Kansas, and brings his team to the sweet 16.  I’m sure there’s a nice spoof entitled “50 ways to beat a Jayhawk” just waiting to be produced, but I don’t have time for more than one verse:

Just shoot off the key, Ali
It’s all quite simple you see

one year ago…”Dinosaur Egg”

March 9, 2010 – Discarded Toyota Marketing Slogans

As the owner of a 2010 Toyota Corolla – the first new car I ever purchased, it is with mixed emotions that I relay the following abandoned Toyota marketing slogans.

Once you start driving a Toyota, you’ll never stop!

Toyota. Moving Forward. Whether You Want to or Not.

Have You Driven into a Ford Lately?

Holy cow, even we didn’t know the Prius could go 94 mph!

And word is that Toyota is in talks with Infiniti to purchase rights to the Infiniti slogan “Infiniti. Accelerating the Future.”

one year ago…”Boiling Sap”

March 7, 2010 – Real Life Marauder’s Map

For all you Harry Potter fans, here’s a real life marauder’s map!  This is the “Sprint Family Locator.”

It’s available on any computer or our cell phones. This shows on a map where two of our family members are at this particular time. The girls thought it was a bit creepy for us to be able to know where they always were, but it sure comes in handy for wondering when someone will be home for dinner, knowing when to pick them up from a sporting event in Fort Dodge or Mason City, or if Dad is still moving on his ride home from Des Moines on a slippery night.

You can even zoom in to a very detailed level to locate someone – on this photo, it looks like Linda might be in a greenhouse – shocking, I know! Best of all, it just costs $5.00 month. I wonder what the implications for law enforcement are regarding placing people at the scene of a crime with all these GPS enabled phones? I can get emails at times I request for locations of any family member. We have shared the password with the kids, so they could also see where we are at.  It gives them precious minutes to get the dishes done or boys out of the house when we are on our way home!

one year ago…”Maple Sugaring Part 2″

February 7, 2010 – Winter Driving

It’s amazing that mechanical devices work as well as they do in weather like this.

Today it was snowing and about 28 degrees, so most of the snow was melting on the highways as though driving in the rain – only difference being when the spray hits the sides of the car, or anything else, it freezes on contact.

What do you call the bunch of ice that forms behind the wheels of cars in winter?  Where I come from they are known as “clunkers.”

one year ago…”New Hay Feeder”

January 31, 2010 – Cedar Rapids Post Flood

I had a chance to attend a meeting (actually I presented about wind energy) near Cedar Rapids. I arrived about a half-hour early and was curious about the recovery after the 500 year flood in 2008. I was struck at the lack of progress in recovery – still blocks of abandoned homes.

You can still see the water lines on the door in the first house.

The next house down the block.  The neighborhoods were eerily quiet. No sidewalks shoveled, no cars parked in the street – quiet. I thought of all the effort that people had put into the houses in the 10 square miles that flooded – all in a zone that was never expected to flood. I thought about Katrina and the differences – although the loss of habitation in the neighborhoods is similar, residents of Cedar Rapids did not live with the fact that their homes were below sea level. I can imagine the critters and the like that have moved into these houses with broken windows, and holes in the walls.

The video above is from a web site, the Cedar Rapids Flood Story that tells of the progress and frustrations of falling out of the national news cycle.

The city is stuck with a 5.5 billion dollar repair bill, and has received about 0.3 billion in aid. All the politician’s speeches the days after the flood, were just that – photo ops.  The city now faces an unprecedented loss of tax revenue (75% of downtown businesses remain closed) as a result of homes and businesses off the tax rolls, along with a recession, and an unprecedented repair bill. People of Iowa do not need to to travel to other countries or New Orleans for mission trips as long as Cedar Rapids remains is disarray.

one year ago…”I’m Melting”

January 17, 2010 – Sausage or Sprinkles?

The following Christmas card offered a great point of discussion in our family.

I looked at it, thought of who it was from, and said, “What great humor to put little smokie sausages in a cookie cutter for a Christmas card!”  However, more conventional eyes saw red sprinkles, not sausages in the cookie cutter, which makes more sense, but isn’t nearly as much fun as a giant cookie cutter full of sausages.

one year ago…”This is the Nice Day?”

January 15, 2010 – Winter Wonderland

The overnight delivered the perfect conditions for sharp, needle-like frost, known as hoarfrost.  The delicacy of this phenomena is in its fragility and inability or survive wind or sunshine – two common elements of winter.

farmhouse in frost

The house looked like a Christmas card.

hoarfrost on barbed wire

It added more barbs to a piece of barbed wire…

frosty pump handle, hoarfrost on pump handle

and added needles to this pump handle.

one year ago…”New Record Low at High Hopes Gardens”

January 8, 2010 – Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference

This weekend is the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference, held again this year in Marshalltown at the Community College.

Here’s the sign point the way to parking.  It was a very cold evening/day, as it has been the last week or so, struggling to get above zero.

The snowbanks and drifts make it look like, well, somewhere farther north and colder than Iowa.  Tomorrow, som ruminations/reflections from the conference.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday# 149″

December 30, 2009 – ISU Women’s Basketball

One of the best things to do on a cold winter night is to go to a college basketball game.  The girls have season tickets that have been passed down to us through two other families for second row seats behind the scorer’s bench at about mid-court.

Here, current star Allison Lacey puts up a three – she is one of the best point guards in the country – she is averaging about 19 points, 7 assists and only 1.5 turnovers a game.

Kelsey Bolte is another hot-shot, second leading scorer and deadly from the outside.

Of course, it all starts with Coach Fennelly – he has a rare lifetime contract, has brought two teams to the Elite 8, and has the women off to a 10-1 start this year.  Last year, only two teams in all of college basketball had a higher average game attendance – national champion UConn and traditional power Tennessee.  The games are fun, the team play up-tempo, and many of the starters are from Iowa high schools.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #148″

December 21, 2009 – Winter Solstice

I had great concerns about getting the bonfire lit.  To start with, it was buried in a four foot snowdrift with lots of wind-blown snow inside.

I had a few old pallets lying around the farm, so I stuffed those with newsprint and piled them on top of the fire.

We had youth from the church come over early and they helped stuff newspaper in every possible gap in the pile. About three gallons of old fuel oil from the tanks int he basement completed the incendiary preparations.

Dr. Rev Eslinger led the procession with the playing of the pipes.

Brian shared a few stories, words of the season, and offered a time to reflect on the year past and year to come around by the blazing yule.

Combustion!  A rousing success as the fire overcame the snow. I was relieved as the 120 or so attendees mark the bonfire as the highlight of the evening.

Martin and Hayden helping to light up the longest night of the year.

one year ago…”Awful Wind”

December 12, 2009 – Thanks to Mr. Squirrel

For the first decade or so we lived on the farm, there were not many squirrels. There are now some – I’m not sure if they found the farm again after a long absensce, or if all the trees we planted have now encouraged them to come and stay.

squirrel

I’m thankful for this squirrel as he spent most of the fall picking up all of the walnuts that fell in the lawn so I didn’t have to. Thanks Rocky!

one year ago…”Photo Friday – Weathered”

November 20, 2009 – Bobcats Reach State Championship

After having never made the state football playoffs – ever – and coming off a 3-6 season, this year’s 13-0 record and berth in the state championship game was a big treat for Marshalltown.

Twenty minutes before game time, this is what the Marshalltown side of the UNI-Dome looked like.

This is what the Iowa City side of the dome looked like.  The fairy-tale season ended with a loss, but was a great run for this team with undersized numbers and size, but oversized heart.  The front page of the Des Moines Register led with this story – the first few lines reproduced below.

Marshalltown, Ia. – This city loves to surprise you.

Think Marshalltown is all about factories and smokestacks, pork processing and furnace manufacturing? Think again. The city has a sparkling, $20 million YMCA, an international virtual-reality company, a surprising arts scene and a Main Street district filled with businesses.

Think the city of 26,000 is as white-bread as most of the rest of Iowa? Think again. The school district is nearly 40 percent Hispanic, and the city boasts sizable Bosnian, Ukrainian and Sudanese populations as well.

And think Marshalltown is a place where the high school football team never plays in November?

Think again about the 13-0 Bobcats, who have played the role of underdogs all season – much like their city. The UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls will be a sea of blue and red tonight, filled with about a third of the city’s population watching the school’s first state championship game when the Bobcats face No. 1 Iowa City High at 7:05 p.m.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #142″

November 1, 2009 – BBall and Music

Today was a day in Ames.  We went to see the first exhibition game of the year for last year’s Elite Eight Iowa State women’s basketball team.  The girls now have season tickets in the 2nd from the floor a few feet from center court thanks to a good friend.  After the game, it was a short walk next door to the Band Extravaganza to see a concert of the Iowa State symphonic, wind ensemble, jazz and marching bands.

This year’s ISU marching band is 329 members strong – 24 tubas alone!  It was a great sound to hear the band within the confines of an auditorium – no loudspeakers needed!  The girls were especially enthralled to watch a band an age level up as they are both in regular band and marching band and Claire plays keyboards in the jazz band.

one year ago…”Farm Auction”

August 25, 2009 – Craigslist

There’s a very interesting article in this month’s Wired magazine about Craigslist founder, named, oddly enough, Craig Newmark.  The article spends some time berating the site for not being all it could be in terms of design and profit.  The site only charges fees for a few kinds of ads, mainly help wanted in large cities.  Best estimates are that these ads earn about $100 million per year.  The rest of us get to post and browse free classified ads.  Craigslist gets more hits than Ebay or Amazon.  Many people think that with a redesign of the site, or making sponsored ads or charging a minimal fee that Craigslist might be worth a sum in the billions of dollars on the open market.

When asked about why he doesn’t try to make more money from a potential goldmine of a site, Craig’s philosophy comes through as he “already has a parking space, a hummingbird feeder, a small home with a view, and a shower with strong water pressure.”  What else does he need? He also dislikes meetings and tensions between technology and internal business units.  At Craigslist there is no tension between the marketing, sales, and technology groups, because there is no marketing or sales departments.  He’s put technological back-door roadblocks in place to prevent automated searches across all of Craigslist locations, insisting it is for local commerce only.  I think I’d like this guy!

one year ago…”Good Old Small Town Life”

August 23, 2009 – “We Know People”

We have a friend who works for the USDA seed bank in Ames, preserving many varieties of seeds.  One of the latest plants to be grown out for fresh seed was a variety of Hungarian parsley.

world's tallest parsley plant

photo credit: ISU News Service.

This plant grew to be about 7 feet 10 inches tall. The whole story can be found on an ISU news page. The plant is in the process of being certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as it beat the old record by nearly 2 feet!

Now if you ever have to roast a whole cow and need a garnish, is the parsley for you to grow!

one year ago…”Bioblitz”

August 19, 2009 – Completion of First Round of College Visits

Today was a trip up to Northfield, MN to visit a couple of colleges – St. Olaf and Carleton. These are the last two on the initial list. Now, we may or may not do visits when school is in session. It looks like Claire will have a difficult decision, but perhaps it will come down to finances in the end. If the top three school choices are a toss-up, it might depend on the financial aid package each is able to offer.

one year ago…”Costa Rican Agaratum Folklore”

August 17, 2009 – Goodbye to PowerShot A510

My faithful carry-around digital camera died this weekend.  Like an old car, it had acquired many quirks that should have sent it to the dust heap a while ago, but I was able to live with the defects.

Most of the problems dealt with the lens retraction.  I experienced the dreaded Canon E18 error on many occasions and was always able to fix it with a bit of pushing/pulling on the lens.  No more.

Although it’s not a sentient being and it’s rather anthropomorphic to asses human qualities to it – this little camera has in some degree been the lens through which my life, or at least the images I care to share, have been broadcast to friends, family, lurkers and random visitors.

The replacement camera will cost about the same as this one, but have 3x the megapixels, half the thickness and twice the viewfinder screen.

one year ago…”Blackberry Skeptics!”

August 11, 2009 – Monsanto, Seed Prices and Farmers

Last week I went to a farmland leasing workshop hosted by ISU Extension – the purpose was to look at what was happening with farmland leasing, cash rents, and farm profitability.  The outlook was not good for commodity farmers.  A “perfect storm” of higher energy costs, higher fertilizer costs, lower ethanol demand, higher seed costs and record crops did not paint a good financial picture.  However, of all the profit pressures, the one that worried the economist most was seed prices.  So, I wasn’t surprised when just a week later, Monsanto announces a 42% increase for its new line of GMO seeds.

A story from Bloomberg is included below, along with some of my commentary following.

(Bloomberg) — Monsanto Co., the world’s largest seed maker, plans to charge as much as 42 percent more for its new genetically modified seeds next year than older offerings because they increase farmer’s output.
Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans will cost farmers an average of $74 an acre in 2010, and original Roundup Ready soybeans will cost $52 an acre, St. Louis-based Monsanto said today in presentations on its Web site. SmartStax corn seeds, developed with Dow Chemical Co., will cost $130 an acre, 17 percent more than the YieldGard triple-stack seeds they will replace.
Our pricing has the flexibility built in to ensure the grower captures the greatest return from his seed investment, irrespective of market volatility, Chief Executive Officer Hugh Grant said today in a statement.
Grant is introducing new modified seeds that boost yields as part of a plan to double gross profit from 2007 to 2012. The new soybeans, which resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, produce 7.4 percent more soybeans per acre than the older version. SmartStax kills insects in multiple ways, reducing the amount of conventional corn that must be planted to deter insecticide resistance.
SmartStax pricing is higher than we initially expected,  Vincent Andrews, a New York-based analyst at Morgan Stanley, said today in a report.
Pricing for SmartStax is at the high end of expectations, Laurence Alexander, a New York-based analyst at Jefferies & Co., said by telephone.
Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean seeds were planted on 1.5 million acres this year and will be planted on as many as 8 million acres next year in the U.S. with a potential to one day reach 55 million acres, Monsanto said.
The company is pricing its seeds to share the benefit of increased yields with farmers, said Mark Gulley, a New York- based analyst at Soleil Securities. Prices include seed treatments designed to protect seedlings from pests and disease, Monsanto said.
They are in essence splitting the value of the extra yield 50-50, Gulley said by telephone.

I am especially taken with the assertion that Monsanto will take half the yield profit gained by the seeds via increased seed prices. The notion that they are “essentially splitting the value of the extra yield 50-50 with the farmer” is absolutely absurd to me. Monsanto assumes that the only two factors are seed cost and farmer profit? The farmer still shoulders the risk of high energy and fertilizer costs, risks associated with weather and crop failure. If the crop fails due to weather, is Monsanto going to “refund” their 50% portion of the yield? Yeah right.

If I had money to throw around, it would be in a open-pollinated corn company. Sooner or later, it will be more profitable to have a lower yield, along with significantly lower seed costs. When’s the last time any working stiffs got a 42% increase per year?

one year ago…”Presenting… Linda at the State Fair”

July 24, 2009 – Who Put a Spell on Mark?

Today there was some magic at the farm.

1993 F150

This 1993 Ford F150 turned into…

2010 Corolla

a 2010 Toyota Corolla!

This is a milestone for me as this is the first new car I have ever purchased.  I always bought used cars and trucks and sold my cars when domestic cars hit 150,000 miles and imports hit 200,000 miles. But the fact that I could get $4500 for my old beater pickup truck worth a few hundred for a a new Corolla at 1/3 off was a deal I couldn’t resist.  To top it off, the sales tax can be deducted from this year’s taxes as well.  Best of all,  on the 50 mile trip home, the car pegged in at 43 mpg.

After negotiating the price over the last few weeks via e-mail by with Des Moines Toyota and other dealers, I was able to walk into the dealer, complete all the paperwork, hand over the Ford, and drive away in less than an hour.  It was also the first vehicle in about 15 years I bought in the state of Iowa and didn’t have to drive to Minnesota or Wisconsin for the best deal.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #125″

July 22, 2009 – Kudos to L.L. Bean!

I occasionally use this blog to rant about poor products or customer service. In fairness, I thought I should rave about good experiences.

L.L. Bean Buckle

When we were in Maine, I bought a deeply discounted leather and green canvas attache case at a L.L. Bean Outlet store in Ellsworth. Now, a few months later, the one of the buckles (pictured above) was lost (my fault).

I contacted customer service asking if I could purchase a replacement – and about a week later a pair of the exact clips arrived in the mail – free of charge!

one year ago…”Hosting Costa Ricans at High Hopes”

June 5, 2009 – News Flash – Crunch Berries Aren’t Real Fruit

It has recently come to my attention that a judge refused to grant damages to a woman who claimed damages after eating Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries for four years. She sued for damages from false advertising after finding out that crunchberries were not real berries and in fact, were not fruit.

The judge did not look kindly on the lawsuit, in part because “This Court is not aware of, nor has Plaintiff alleged the existence of, any actual fruit referred to as a “crunchberry. So far as this Court has been made aware, there is no such fruit growing in the wild or occurring naturally in any part of the world.” Thus, since the plaintiff was unable to locate any waving fields of flowering crunchberries, her claims were summarily dropped.

This falls on the heels of a similar case whereby “froot loops” were discovered by the court not to contain any fruit, and the plaintiff dismissed as a poor speller.

I suppose as a result of these failed cases, my pending cases against “Special K” not really having any “Special Potassium” and my recent discovery that grape nuts contains neither grapes nor nuts may be in danger, especially if the case is heard by either the crunchberry or froot loops judges.

one year ago…”Enough Already – Battered by High Winds”

June 3, 2009 – “Classifoods”

Here’s another interesting approach to marrying editorial content with advertising in a print newspaper. This kind of coupling of content with ads has made Google rich – now here’s an example of a print paper – the paper serving the Bar Harbor, Maine area – melding features with local food advertising.

ELLSWORTH:  The Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander today launch a new advertising vehicle for people who grow, raise, sell, eat or admire food. That vehicle is a classified ad that, instead of appearing in the Classified Advertising section of the newspaper, is published in the Arts section where the weekly food, restaurant, recipe and wine features appear. It’s a new concept “marrying the ad to the news content.”

New concepts call for new names, so we have dubbed these new ads  – Classifoods.

Here’s a really new concept: the ads are free this month. Free ads are one per customer per week.

General Manager Terry Carlisle cooked up the idea after attending a workshop in Boston at the annual New England Press Association (NEPA) convention in February.

At the NEPA convention this year, one of the presenters was encouraging us to think outside the box using classifieds as an example. Why do they all have to run in the back of the newspaper? Why not marry them with their news content if that makes sense? He showed an example of a successful food classified page that was running in the Lifestyle section of a newspaper next to the food page.

It was a recipe for experimentation.

To introduce Classifoods to readers and advertisers, the newspapers are offering the ads for free for the month of June. After that, regular classified rates apply.

Any food-related goods and services can appear in Classifioods – from seeds that grow into food to kitchen sinks where we clean up after a meal. Our first issue features a wide variety of foods, including pet foods.

one year ago…”Fruit on the Way”

May 23, 2009 – Perc Tests

We are soon to get a new septic system.  Ours is rather archaic and it’s time for a new one (I’ll spare you all the cruddy details).  The guys who are putting it in, said we could save a bit of coin if we did our own percolation or “perc tests” to see how big of a drain field we’d need based on the drainage characteristics of our soils.

First, you dig four holes three feet deep, mark a point a few inches below the surface, and fill the hole with water and measure how far it has dropped in a certain time period.  Repeat this until three readings are close to each other (the first few readings, the drop is large as the soil saturates.

We had a helpful recorder so we could haul water and time measurements.

one year ago…”Oil Change Girl”

May 22, 2009 – Chimenia

The cousins from Minneapolis came down for Memorial Day weekend.

That means it’s time to take out the chimenia once again.  We burned wood from some dead branches we cut up after using the chain saw, tractor loader, and two brothers to get down.

The chimenia is great for roasting marshmallows to a golden brown (check out Emma’s).  I like the chimenia since it is portable, it can be moved around the yard, depending on the wind and not leave a burned spot on the ground.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #119″

May 6, 2009 – Mud Room Renovations

This doesn’t look like much, but for those that have visited, it may give hope for things that we just don’t see anymore, but others do. The ceiling in the mud room is half sheetrocked and half open to the rafters. I thought I’d use the old barn boards from the shed deconstruction to make a new ceiling instead of buying new lumber – just recycle the old.

I’m also going to put it over against the wall facing the house to cover up the additional bubble foil insulation I put up last fall. Always a project at high hopes gardens!

one year ago…”Out with the Old, In with the New”

May 5, 2009 – Feeding the World?

A common admonition about organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world and that the crowning achievement of modern industrial agriculture is this claim to “feed the world.” I was very much taken aback to find the following graphic that shows of the 10 most undernourished countries in the world, eight of them receive no corn exports from the U.S.

This graphic is taken from a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy report on ethanol.

one year ago…”Fruit Tree Blossoms”

May 3, 2009 – Another Skystream Greets the Wind

Today we were fortunate to attend a dedication ceremony for another Skystream wind turbine.

Gary has a CSA between our house and Ames and decided to put one up as well.

He has an excellent site, with no obstructions and on the top of a small hill – looking to the south, it’s the highest point of land for miles.  As great as April was for our production (over 550 kwh) this site brought home aobut 100 more kwh.

I greatly enjoyed the combination garden blessing and turbine dedication – Gary used a combination of milk and honey to dedicate the turbine and offered others a chance to come douse the turbine and offer a hope or observation for the future.

one year ago…”All Work and No Play Make Mark a Dull Boy”

April 27, 2009 – Energy Group

I was invited to be part of an amorphous group looking to increase efficiency of small and medium-sized farm energy use and use of renewable energy. The participants included a wide range of parties, including I-Renew, Iowa Environmental Council, Farm Bureau, Alliant Energy, Iowa State Extension and Engineering, Rural Electric Co-ops, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Practical Farmers of Iowa, among others.

We met at a research area owned and designed by Grinnell College. I love this photo that shows and environmentally and aesthetically conceived building, wind generator, and artisitic monolith in the adjacent prairie.

I hope that the group is able to come up with actionable plans that meet everyone’s needs and can usher in new ideas in farm energy use and creation.

one year ago…”A Constant Battle”

April 17, 2009 – What’s Wrong with This Envelope?

Here’s an envelope from the City of Duluth that I saw a parking attendant put on my car in Duluth a few weeks ago. (I was in a space after the yellow line stopped on the curve, but the winter salt and grime obscured the white hatches indicating no parking – the ticket was a warning, but I got the envelope as if it had been a real violation.)

So now the City of Duluth has outsourced its parking fine payment to Tarrytown, New York.  It strikes me that the computer systems needed to implement this system and the and unfamiliarity the New Yorkers have with Duluth streets seems like a bad idea.  I wonder if the city bean counters considered the additional loss of the local multipliers of the local people who lost their jobs processing payments, who might not be able to find a new job and go on public assistance!

This reminds me of  an article about McDonald’s in Hawaii outsourcing their drive through order-taking to a call center in Texas.

“It takes a little getting used to on the order-taker’s side, but I think with practice, they become more and more comfortable working with our local clientele,” Okazaki said.

McDonald’s said the new system is delivering more accurate orders and speeding up service, but there is no cost savings. “We haven’t pared back on our labor force at all. In fact, we’ve been able to have our crew members concentrate more on their particular position,” Okazaki said.

Evidently, it is now too complicated to both listen to an order and put the items in a bag.  Now the “put the hamburgers in a bag” people will be able to perfect their “loading burgers in a bag position” without having to learn to coordinate listening and putting food in a bag.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #114″

February 18, 2009 – Calling the Turd Herder

OK,  so this won’t be the most fuzzy and warm news from high hopes gardens, but it’s February, so expectations cannot be too high.  The last couple of weeks whenever a toilet flushed, other drains in the house have gurgled.  It most likely means that the vent is partially or completely clogged, or the septic tank needs attention.

The vent was the first thing to check. The roof of the house is about 30 feet off the ground and the extension ladder is 28 feet.  So, I put the ladder in the tractor bucket and raised it up a few feet.  I crawled up there and on the north facing slope, saw some ice, a steep slope, and encountered a general unwillingness to make the full crawl up on the roof.  I thought it would be best to call a plumber.

Then, just two days later, when liquid started backing up in the basement floor drain, and I made the call to the “Turd Herder.”  Well, the herder had had the unfortunate experience of having a 300 lb cement lid to a septic tank land on his foot the day before, but he thought he could make it out when his boy got out of school at 3:00.  He called shortly after and said he wouldn’t be able to make it after all, so I had to call AAA Septic.  Somehow, it seems like a letdown to call AAA Septic after having a chance at the Turd Herder.  But AAA was fast and efficient.  Here’s a view into the opening of the tank.

To make a short story long, he relayed the “good news, bad news.”  The good news was that we could flush, the bad news was that he couldn’t get the bottom 2/3 of solids out of the tank and said we’d need to hire a backhoe this spring to dig the tank out to the bigger cleanout six feet under.  Because we have discovered we have a rinky-dink system (a 500 gallon tank, draining through an old cistern and then through one drain field), instead of that fix, we signed up for a new system this spring.  So, you could say the the backup in the basement was our stimulus package.

one year ago…”Same Story, Different Day”

February 6, 2009 – 2002 Prizm Hood Latch Failure

Linda had a scary drive to work this morning. The hood opened at about 55 mph and folded back onto the front windshield, cracking the windshield. She was able to safely get the car safely stopped without further incident.

The hood is crinkled, the windshield cracked, hood hinges trashed and the front quarter panels where the hood attaches are bent. I checked the NHTSA web site and filed a consumer safety complaint. Not so surprisingly, out of 11 complaints filed against this make/model/year, almost 30% are for this situation (and the last three are all hood latch failures at highway speed). If you have a 2002 Prizm, check the latches! And if it happened to you, visit the NHTSA web site.  I’m sure not everyone knows about this site, and the more problems that are reported, the more likely an investigation to determine the cause can get started.

I went into the local Chevy Dealer and got only a smart-alecky response from the service manager who’s response was “Do you know how many Prizms were made?”  The obvious answer is “Obviously not very many since Chevy stopped making them half-way through the 2002 model year.”

one year ago…”More Snow”

January 24, 2009 – Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup

From the “Never Eat Anything Your Grandmother Would Not Recognize as Food” department comes a revelation that depending on the manufacturing process used, high fructose corn syrup contains mercury. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the most common ingredients in processed foods. Young children, especially, are urged not to ingest mercury. It’s kind of freaky that parents may be unwittingly be adding to their child’s mercury intake by feeding them Quaker Oatmeal to Go or Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

In a nutshell, the production of hfcs involves using caustic lye which can be produced by a manufacturing process that uses mercury cells. Many countries have outlawed this process, but the United States has not.

Here’s a list of the top 15 offending foods from the report:

Just because a food isn’t on the list doesn’t mean it is safe – the study just took samples of 55 supermarket foods.  The group that released the study urges an immediate ban on this practice that leads to unwitting mercury ingestion. You can read the press release for further information and more details and suggestions.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #104″

January 11, 2009 – PFI Conference Wrap-Up Part 1

OK, the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference has now come and gone. It’s time for some reflections on the meeting.  First, it was a treat to meet a very successful sustainable farmer, Joel Huesby, of Thundering Hooves near Walla Walla, WA.  Linda was set to introduce him, so she fetched him from the airport and was able to spend some time with him.  Perhaps the most fun was when we took him out for dinner along with holistic vet Will Winter after the conference ended.

Some things that Joel has done include having the only, or one of the only, on-farm USDA inspected “mobile abattoir” or slaughterhouses on wheels. The carcasses are then transported to the cut-up facility that Thundering Hooves also owns.  Because slaughtering techniques and treatment of the animals before slaughter and during processing are very important to meat quality, (and respectful to the animals) Joel’s keen eye for detail led him down this path.  Only recently have people like Temple Grandin brought to light humane slaughtering procedures.  Just think how much less stress those animals have in them as opposed to those getting loaded in a truck, moved down an interstate and held in holding pens at a slaughterhouse.

I’ll give you a piece of Joel’s story, in his words, copied from Thundering Hooves web site:

In the summer of 1994, I had an epiphany, a life-changing realization, and I haven’t been the same person since. I remember the day well. I was out burning a field of wheat stubble, trying to quickly rid myself of what I thought at the time was the bothersome organic matter in my way, so that I could plant alfalfa that fall. Only a couple of weeks earlier I received the yield results from a crop of snap beans. I had grown them under contract for a local cannery and yielded 5 tons per acre. This was a good yield, but the cannery was only paying me $102 per ton based on the tenderometer reading (the cannery’s measure of the quality of the beans based almost solely on the timing of the harvest, which is determined by the cannery!) This came to a little over $500 per acre. Then I started to do the rest of the math per acre. Seed cost $100, fertilizer $60, water $120, weed control $35, equipment $80, land payment… operating loan payment… insurance… interest… taxes… And oh yes, I got to pay myself with what was left over!

I saw problems on my farm that weren’t being addressed. The dirt was blowing away. The soil wasn’t holding moisture. I was barely scratching a living. Worse yet, the canneries and the fuel man and the parts man and the fertilizer man and the aerial spraying man and even the migrant workers were all making a living from my land, but not me.

The way things were going; I had to ask myself, “How long can we keep doing all this?” “Should we get out?” We watched as other long-standing farm families were forced to sell everything and move to town. Were we next?

It had become painfully apparent to me that my choices were to either get a job to support the farm and my family, or to borrow more money and fall further into debt until we could no longer make the payments. Our story was not unlike countless other producer/farmers in the commodity business across the country.

What makes this story — and our farm — unique is what I decided to do about it. Remember the wheat stubble I was burning that day? From that fire, as I watched the land turn to black, rise in a dark smoke, and fade into the sky, so also my dreams of making a living in modern commodity agriculture were set ablaze and blew away. Let’s face it; it had been a failure since the beginning – on all levels -financially, ecologically, socially, and personally. At that time I did not yet know where to turn, nor what to do next. All I knew was what did not work for ME. So it was that from that moment I resolved to do NOTHING the same again.

As the weeks went by, I came to view my farmer brethren across the country as being caught in the same circular living from which I had just divorced myself. We always needed bigger equipment to farm more acres faster, and more and more fertilizers to get bigger yields that made greater supplies that lowered prices which meant we needed bigger equipment and on and on.

I could see no future in this for me. Like a giant whirlpool with no way out, I could literally hear the great sucking sound of our finances being pulled up from our farm if I stayed in the present paradigm.

So, what to do? It sounded intriguing to say, “I will do NOTHING the same again,” but what did that really mean? I began to read more and think more, and slowly it dawned on me why my farm was not supporting my family and I. I had broken the law. I was a criminal. Not in the legal sense, but in a much more vast, universal sense. What do I mean? In a nutshell, here is my confession; I had compacted the soil, fed it artificial food, removed organic matter without putting any back, laid the ground bare, disrupted the soil community of microorganisms by use of tillage, poisoned the soil with chemicals and dumped my commodity on the market and wondered why I got a dump price.

one year ago…”Congrats to Linda”

January 5, 2009 – More Perplexing Instructions

I bought a new antenna for the TV for the digital cross-over and was quite bemused at the last warning on the installation instructions!

I’m really curious how many drunk and pregnant women find themselves in a situation where they need to install a TV antenna?  I’ve never been both drunk and pregnant, so maybe some of the female readers can help me out on this one.  I know pregnant women often have strange food cravings like jalapeno peppers on ice cream, but tell me, during a night of binge drinking, do pregnant women have an uncanny urge to install TV antennas? More importantly, how do they have the foresight to have an uninstalled antenna at hand?

I’m also baffled by the imperative “Do not throw antenna at spouse.”  I guess it’s ok to throw the antenna at neighbors, children, or people you are shacking up with, but somehow spouses get extra protection from intentional antenna hurling?  Chime in if you can offer up your view on the dangers of  drunk, pregnant antenna flingers.

one year ago…”Rain in the Desert”

January 1, 2009 – Burning Up the New Year

Tonight was one of the most anticipated nights of the year for the kids of high hopes.  The annual deep winter bonfire.

All year the fallen trees from storms, old wood lying around the farm, and leftover wood from construction projects finds its way to the pile in the middle of the pasture.

We usually try to light up the night sky on the longest night of the year (dec 21 or 22), but the weather was terrible that night so we moved it to New Year’s Day instead.  The burn pile this year was topped with a 90 year old spruce that was sparkalicous.

After the fire there’s a nice potluck meal in the house and people mosey back  and forth between the house and fire as the evening progresses.

one year ago…”Paint in a Petrified New Year”

December 14, 2008 – Tree All Dressed Up

Even though we tried to pick a narrow tree, this one is still pretty fat once it gets into the house!.

My favorite part of this year’s tree is the tree topper which didn’t fit on the top, so instead is sticking out near the top on the right side.  This placement is somewhat controversial between the people who like the non-traditional placement and those who think it just plain looks dumb.

I bought some of the LED lights on clearance this year for the tree.  I was surprised how bright they are.

one year ago…”Bird Tracks in the Snow”

November 22, 2008 – Stringtown Grocery Visit

Near Kalona Iowa is an Amish-run grocery store that we find to be quite fun to shop. On this trip we found 4 oz jelly jars that are not available in any of the usual places, and even online, we found few, and the ones we did find would be about $30/dozen jars after shipping. We found them at Stringtown for $6.98. Earlier in the year, we found a sleeve of 30 dozen canning lids that we purchased.

This horse and buggy are in the horse parking lot next to the store. The store is lit by gas lights, has the old wooden floor and lots of bulk items repackaged into smaller packages.  We had also hoped to go the the “Scratch-n-Dent” store next door, but arrived at 3:05 and it closes at 3:00 on Saturdays.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #96″.

November 18, 2008 – Handy Blogging Archive Software

One of the unintended benefits of the this blog is as a “scrapbook” of sorts for our kids. I think it will be a hoot for the kids to look at in years to come. The only problem is that the software I use to create it requires server software and all the info is stored in a database – so doing a backup of the site is all fine and good, but will not be something you can put on a cd or flash drive and view – it requires the web host server to work.

I found some free software called HTTrack which captures an HTML mirror (copy) of a web site you indicate. So, now I have an offline copy of the blog that only needs a web browser to view and that is portable and can be viewed on any computer.

one year ago…”Digging Gladiolas”.

November 15, 2008 – Home-made Cider Press Info

I’m all for do-it-yourself when you can. I found this great idea for a home-made cider press on the blog of the Deliberate Agrarian.  It looks feasible to make and is ingenious in using an old scissors type car jack as the pressing mechanism – if you’re interested click the link.

The “inventor” is also the same guy who brought us the whizbang chicken plucker.  I ordered the plans for that and we go round and round as to whether we want to butcher our own chickens.  We’re getting closer after our local locker stopped doing chickens and now it’s a half-dozen Sunday drives to the nearest locker that still does chickens.  I suspect that sooner or later I’ll have a whiz-bang!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #95″.

November 4, 2008 – More About Mavericks

I’d like to join in the national discussion about Mavericks. There are a long line of Mavericks on both sides of our family. We haven’t always been proud of the Mavericks, but ironically, even though the Mavericks were on both sides of the family, and even though the Maverick owners never met because one lived in the backwoods of northern Minnesota and the other in a Twin Cities suburb, ironically, it came to pass that the Mavericks on both sides of the family were eventually replaced by Thunderbirds.

Linda’s family had a Maverick during her formative pre-teen years. My Uncle Dick was the biggest Maverick that I’ve known. He had at least three Mavericks that I remember and may have had more. He found them cheap and had his own salvage yard of parts so he could replace parts as they failed. He realized that buying a dead Maverick was much cheaper than buying an alternator, for example, and because he had the room to store the cars, had his own junk yard and drove the Mavericks for many years. The nameplate in the photo above is from one of my uncle’s Mavericks.

My uncle Dick also liked to visit the “Hinsley Mall” as he called it. He was a recycler decades before it became trendy. The Hinsley Mall was an old-style dump on Hinsley Road – the kind that has been replaced by “sanitary landfills.” Here, stuff was not immediately buried. He picked up all kinds of aluminum, scrap metal and other things to collect and in some ways acted as a metals speculator, keeping piles of sorted aluminum, copper, and iron until he thought the prices were high enough to cash in. The Hinsley Mall was also a great place to watch wildlife, including the black bears that frequented the dump near dusk most nights.

It pains me to this day to go to the sanitary landfill and see all the good things that have been thrown away. I keep thinking I’d like to make a deal with the landfill to scrounge and give them part of the profits from reselling goods from the dump that are still good. I’d call the store the “Hinsley Mall.”

one year go…”More Child Labor”.

November 1, 2008 – Farm Auction

Last weekend there was a farm auction less than a mile from our house.  I love farm auctions, but hadn’t been to one in quite a while – since this one was so close, I couldn’t turn it down.

People huddled around an auctioneer is kind of a timeless scene.

This photo probably could have been taken many decades ago as all the “junk” on the hay wagon in the foreground was probably at least that old!  Not too many finds, the best probably being about 15 stainless steel malt cups for 2 bucks, a small trailer for 7 bucks, about 40 pounds of like new stainless steel bolts and nuts for 2 bucks, a box of angle brackets for a buck, two hammers for a buck, a large collection of chicken feeders for 7 bucks, and six new ax handles for 2 bucks.  Now, if I just had time to start selling the stuff I don’t need on Ebay!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #93″.

October 27, 2008 – Lucinda Williams

This week Linda and I snuck out to see Lucinda Williams play a grand old theatre in Des Moines. Lu is one of those artists that’s hard to put in a category, so she’s never on commercial radio. She plays rock, country (Cline, Willie, and Waylon type country, not Garth, and other hat acts), and blues all with her own sound. We got fifth row seats, so had a good view.

Lots of her fans are worried now that she’s happy. Don’t worry, she can write happy songs as well as songs that walk on the unpleasant side of life.

one year ago…”Garlic Planting”.

October 21, 2008 – Mortgage Meltdown and More…

I’ve restrained myself from commenting on the mortgage mess for some time now, but today is the day, so if you come here to read about the farm, skip this entry and hook back up with us tomorrow.

I work for a large mortgage company 30 hours week in addition to the farm and have some thoughts on the meltdown.

Does anybody really believe that prices of commodity products have any real link to the supply and demand of those products? I look at the cost of a barrel of oil and cost of a bushel of corn over the past few months and shake my head in disbelief.

On the corn side, Chicago corn futures rose to an all-time high on Monday June 9th, 2008. The new-crop July 2009 corn contract scaled an all-time peak of $7.20 per bushel. This week when I went to the local co-op to pick up some turkey feed, the price was $3.50 bushel.

Earlier this summer, crude oil prices topped out at $145 per barrel and last week dropped to $61 per barrel.

So what’s the real price of these items, and what/who is really controlling the market price? Supply and demand have not swung a factor of 100% less for corn and oil in the last few months, but yet the price for each is less than half of what it was in June.  So supply and demand are no longer the leading factor in determining a good’s price?

The stock market is a similar story – in some ways the prices are all just make-believe, not cemented in any concrete factors other than what people believe will happen. As an employee of one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies and banks, I’ve had a front row seat to the housing and mortgage crisis. This isn’t a crisis that is unforeseen as Alan Greenspan tried to explain. Maybe my simple co-workers and I aren’t sophisticated enough to understand what has happened.

But I clearly remember 2-3 years ago sitting around the office with my co-workers and for months marveling at the make-believe in the mortgage industry. Our company was a leading mortgage provider and as other companies passed us up in the rankings, we skipped further and further down the charts and saw profits climb not nearly as fast as our competitors who were offering loans that defied common sense and historical measures – for example loans valued at 125% of the appraised value and loans granted on “stated income” where a maid at a motel 6 could say she earned $250,000 a year and the mortgage company would not require verification of income.

Our company faced a near revolt among the loan officers when a number of years ago the company changed the way appraisals were ordered from a system where the loan agent ordered an appraisal from a buddy, to a “blind” appraisal where appraisers were not assigned by a loan officer, but by a “blind” central assignment system so loan agents couldn’t get cozy with appraisers and inflate values. The loan reps saw their competitors doing this and they were losing market share. We knew that these exotic loans were building a house of cards that would only last as long as house values rapidly appreciated.

The simple-minded people in our cube farm knew that it was not possible for housing prices to increase 20% a year (sometimes a month in some markets) forever and when something happened that reversed house prices increases, the whole house of cards would tumble down.

What we didn’t anticipate in the housing melt-down was the impacts it would have on the rest of the economy. So far, the crash has been relatively good for our company – the two companies that practiced these exotic loans (Countrywide and Washington Mutual) are now both essentially gone, so in the long run, the conservative lending practices will reward my employer. I’m a little disappointed that the so-called free-market politicians did not let the prices of financial companies drop to their real bottom, so well-run and managed companies could be rewarded for their discipline and buy the failed companies, but instead the government has come in and “rescued” these failed companies – thus preventing the prudent companies from being rewarded for their approach by buying ex-competitors on the cheap who gambled, won big, then failed.

One of the most amusing stories I’ve heard is people who appear at foreclosure hearings and ask one simple question: “Show me that you have custody of the mortgage note that is the legal document that shows I owe you the money. Otherwise I won’t pay, because any bank could come in and say they own the loan – you must produce the note that you have when you purchased my mortgage note from the loan origination company.” The loans have been sold so many times, some up to 7-8 times, sometimes split into 3-4 different mortgage pools or securities and the original note was lost in the rush to securitize and repackage the loans. Many judges have thrown the foreclosures out of court, because the legal status of the foreclosing entity could not be proven.

At some point, we will once again need to make things or provide services that have a tangible value – trading imaginary prices of goods to other people who think they can make a living based on the value of the imaginary price of a good doesn’t really provide a service any more.  When futures traders try to justify their service – it is to provide a guide and guarantee of a price of good for some time in the future that helps those producing it today plan and invest – but when it comes to the wild prices swinging 100% in a few short months, it has the opposite effect and injects great uncertainty into the system.  So my thought is we need an economy based on real goods and services – much of the making of real goods has been moved off of US soil.  So with every time of change comes opportunity – we have the choice of scaling up entire new industries or chasing the same old jobs.  It is a great time to be an innovator once again, as we look for new pathways to work that produces something of value.

one year ago…”1,000 Blog Entries”.

October 5, 2008 – Morning Sun Party

Today was a wonderful event hosted at Morning Sun Farm (if you look closely at the top of the barn that is in the beginning phase of restoration, you can see the old faded name painted on the barn).

It was a celebration of life and friendship following the end of treatment for breast cancer.  The folks at Morning sun celebrated and thanked their friends in a big way, hosting a hog roast as part of a big dinner.

They also made sure some music was on hand, including this group complete with a washtub bass (I  missed the name of the band).  The afternoon was delightful, with warm thoughts, warm food, and warm friendships.

one year ago…”The Reconstruction Begins”.

October 3, 2008 – Green Consultant

High Hopes Gardens had another inquiry regarding the wind turbine.  A former real estate agent from Des Moines is branching out to be a “green consultant” whereby she can offer advice and research to consumers regarding real “green” products and “greenwashing.  Part of her education is to do some research concerning quality and reputation of green products and installers.

She was curious to see and hear our impressions of the service and abilities or our wind turbine installer.  She was very pleased to hear of our experiences and can use them to help guide others.

one year ago…”Sorry State of the South Side of the Hog Barn”.

September 30, 2008 – Dried Soybeans

Here’s a shot for all of you who always wondered what a soybean plant looks like right before harvest.

This field is ready to harvest.  You can see each pod contains about 3 beans and each plant has multiple pods.  These are not the edible soybeans more commonly known as edamame, nor are they specialty beans destined for tofu, but soybeans that will probably be used for oilseed production or animal feed.

one year ago…”Turkeys and a Storm”.

September 29, 2008 – Corn and Bean Harvest

Most of the neighboring farmers are out in force now harvesting soybeans.  The corn was planted very late and is not yet dried down.

The scale of today’s commodity agriculture is exemplified in this photo – a modern tractor and wagon to transport the beans to the elevator can l no longer fit in the barn built around the turn of the century – the doors are neither tall nor wide enough to accommodate this equipment.

one year ago…”More Folks Poking Around the Farm”.

September 24, 2008 – New Wind Farm in Neighborhood

About 20 miles form us a 150 MW wind farm is being constructed.  It is about halfway between our farm and Ames. It will contain 100 towers when completed and power 30,000 homes.

I liked this shot of the the old and new – the Sherman County one-room school house and a few of the new turbines.

These machines are massive next to ours – the towers are 260 feet tall and each blade is 125 feet long (compared to our 70 foot tower).  The generator weighs 100,000 pounds.  The interesting thing about this wind farm located in the middle of Iowa is that it is constructed and owned by Florida Light and Power!  From what I’ve read, the construction costs are about equal to a coal power plant, but once they are up, no charge for fuel for the lifetime of the turbines.

one year ago…”Hops Harvest”.

September 21, 2008 – Monarch Bed and Breakfast

We’ve had healthy south winds the past few days, which has made the migration to Mexico difficult for the butterflies.

So, they wait patiently on the lee side of the windbreak trees I planted many years ago.  I never intended the trees to be used in such a manner, but I’m pleased they are.

They’re not picky about the kind of shelter – here they are also in a maple tree.  It’s a nice sheltered place for them, and along with the resting accommodations, the nearby flower garden provides some food while they patiently wait for the wind to switch.  We’ve been pleased to be hosts to this Monarch bed and breakfast for hundreds of butterflies the last few days.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #88″.

September 12, 2008 – Alltel Prepaid Wireless Review

OK, I know many of you don’t come here for wireless reviews, but I’m sure some will find this as a result of a google search. Emma is now old enough to practice managing her own money. She made an annual budget for clothes, school lunches, entertainment, etc. and we set her up with a credit card/checking account and bi-weekly deposits.

She had a big paycheck from babysitting saved up and wanted to get a prepaid cell phone. She researched and found Alltell wireless would be the best package for her. Her first transaction was to purchase the phone and initial service. She was very excited when the phone arrived, activated it and found she could not receive calls. Try customer service – closed. She calls the next day, they try some things and say it should work the next day. The next day it still doesn’t work and she calls back again and reached 2nd level tech support. They can’t get it to work and say take it into the local office. She reports this to me and my response is you paid for a new working phone, not a phone DOA, call back and ask for a return.

She calls back the next day and they say return it to the store even though the instructions with the phone say to return it via mail after receiving the “RMA Code.” She emails the appointed email address to get the “RMA Code” and two days later it finally arrives (keep in mind the 15 days you have to return a defective phone are ticking away with every delay). I’m thinking they’re sending a prepaid label and number in the mail for the return. Wrong – she finally gets an e-mail with the RMA number (why it takes upwards of 2 days is beyond me – every other transaction I do online responds within minutes).

She calls for clarification on shipping – it’s on her dime to ship it back with verificaton of delivery, but she shouldn’t worry since she is supposed to return it to the store anyways. And they way they won’t refund the “activation fee.” So I go to the Alltel web site store locator and find a map of the nearest store location. Actually, this is nothing other than another delay because the store is on the other side of town than depicted on the map on the Alltel web site and driving directions are to a random house on 12th street in Marshalltown – this is following the directions on the Alltel web.

You know what’s next, I get to the store and they refuse to take the phone. I argue for a bit, the CSR fumbles with the keyboard and says there’s nothing they can do. I kindly say, that I’ll spread the word and walk out the door. So I am. I enclosed a nice letter explaining the poor phone, poor service, miscommunication, and wild goose chase I encountered and kindly asked for the entire amount back. I’ll keep you posted what their response is.

Alltel Response:

Emma was grateful to receive her entire purchase price back from Alltel, including activation fee, so was only out on priority mail return shipping, verification of delivery, and run-around time.

one year ago…”Buckwheat Cover Crop”.

September 2, 2008 – Please Flush

I found this sign above a urinal in the Masonic Lodge in Des Moines and couldn’t resist snapping a photo. I must admit, it was creepy taking a picture in a public restroom, even if I was alone.

In some ways it is easy to apply this photo to the current political process. To my way of thinking, campaigns spend too much time playing “gotcha,” misrepresenting and degrading their opponents, and way too little time talking about things that are really important to our country like offering solutions to fix the economy, the war, immigration, energy policy, and social security. We need a reasoned debate on these important issues.

One of my favorite politicians was a true maverick, Henry A. Wallace, who was Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President under Roosevelt. Before he was VP, he founded Pioneer Seed Corn company (now owned by DuPont). When he was first trying to get farmers to adopt his new hybrid corn that yielded high, but lacked the good looks so important in the popular corn rating contests, he said in one of his most famous quotes “What’s looks to a pig?”

one year ago…”Another Big Canning Day”xxx.

August 31, 2008 – Masanobu Fukuoka,

I can’t let it pass without noting the death of Masanobu Fukuoka at age 95.  Fukuoka might best be described as the most pre-eminent Buddhist farmer.  He advocated an approach to agriculture which some describe as permaculture, others might call natural farming.  His most widely circulated book is The One-Straw Revolution.  It’s on my winter reading list as I’m a bit sad to announce I haven’t yet read it myself.

Here’s a short summary (well, not so short) of Fukuoka’s perspective on farming.

one year ago…”Photo Friday “Insignificant””

August 15, 2008 – Gun Safety

Many years ago, I promised Claire, I’d teach her to shoot a gun safely.  I’ve either forgotten about it, been too busy, or it wasn’t the right time because of animals in the pasture, but she asked again recently and I said, “Let’s go.”  She was a bit surprised, so we went to the back pasture in a paddock without any animals and went over the basics.

We went over the characteristics of a rifle and a shotgun and got a chance to shoot small versions of both – a .22 rifle and .410 shotgun.

I told her about how I learned to hunt.  The first year I went, I was not allowed to carry a gun, but just to watch and observe.  The second year, I was allowed to carry a gun and “practice” shooting, but wasn’t allowed to have any shells – just the empty gun.  I still remember the first time I followed a duck on the bead of the gun right in front of another hunter’s head.  It was a sobering lesson in losing track of the situation when game appears.  The third year, I was allowed limited shooting with a single-shot gun.

So today was just the introduction – we set up a milk carton on a stick and she was able to hit it with the shotgun but not the rifle.  We’ll take more target practice in the next few months to get competent.

one year ago…”Building the Hives”

July 29, 2008 – Someday!

Ever since we moved in, I’ve been meaning to take this old, heavy pump out of the basement.  That day never came, until today, when in a fit of basement cleaning, I decided it was time to get the sawz-all and cut it loose from its pipes.

I’m happy to report that the removal was uneventful – I drilled a couple small holes in the pipes going through the wall before tearing into it to make sure it wasn’t holding back water – we think it was for an old cistern that is now filled in with dirt in the front yard.  It sure was an ugly thing and really prevented full use of that part of the basement in terms of shelving and storage.

one year ago…”Peaches”

July 22, 2008 – Hosting Costa Ricans at High Hopes

As part of the Costa Rican exchange, after our visit to Costa Rica agricultural sites this past February, the Ticos are now visiting Iowa and it is our turn to reciprocate for the warm welcome we received.

The stage is set for dinner and dancing – it turned out to be a perfect July evening – in the 70’s with a dry north breeze.

Here’s the group that is visting Iowa.  Four of the members of the group we met in Costa Rica, the others are new to us.

Here “Lonna and the Pretty Good Band” start the evening off right after a dinner of iowa sweet corn, watermelon, hot dogs, rice and beans, and strawberry, apple, and cherry crisps and cobblers from fruit from the farm.

Lonna, the caller, started us out easy in a circle dance.  Despite the language barrier for some dancers, they would quickly catch on the the steps and as music and dancing are a universal language, there was much laughter and levity.

Whoo! The circle comes together!

Annie, our neighborhood piano tuner and musician arranged the band for us.

Lonna did the calling for the dancers.

Swing your partner.

Heel to toe and ’round again.  Emma kicks off her shoes and enjoys a dance.

Martin was very popular with the ladies and danced every dance in good form.

As the band played into the evening, the shadows fell as the music went on.

For those of you with Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, you can click the icon above to see 15 seconds of the dancing with Ticos, complete with music!

one year ago…”Dilly Beans”

July 18, 2008 – Visitors from the East

The last few days we had some visitors from the east. I’m not sure what the blood relationship is called, but my grandfather and his grandmother were brother and sister. He is my Mom’s cousin. At any rate, Bob came along with his wife Philothea and their son Anton.

We had a nice visit – they have a farm in SE Wisconsin where they do many of the same things as us, and many more – including a smoke house, timber land, and an old mobile home converted into a recording studio. I totally forgot to get pictures – everytime I thought of it, one of the group was off somewhere else. We’d like to try to get to return a visit this fall, so we’ll get some photos at their place.

one year ago…”Local Food at high hopes”

June 23, 2008 – “EcoHeartland” Film Crew

Today we had a visit from a couple of documentary film makers, Nick and Max Cain.


They are putting together a documentary entitled “EcoHeartland” described as “Two brothers, one a filmmaker and the other an environmentalist, take a road trip across the nation to spotlight innovative environmental projects coming from the American Heartland.”  We had a nice visit and interview with them and look forward to seeing what they find on their tour of “flyover land.”

one year ago…”Invasive Plant”

June 20, 2008 – Visitors from Afar

This week we had a visit with some neighbors from the past. When we lived in Ames (I won’t say how many years ago) the family of “Dr Jay” lived next door with their three children. They were the first or one of the first “adult” friends we made as we transitioned from college to post-college life. They were good for us as they had kids and a family and still were fun people to be around – a jolt for young adult who had not yet crossed over the line into parenthood.


Dr. Jay, one of his daughters and two grand children were back in Iowa and spent the night. Among other things, Jay is a compulsive gatherer of firewood (I can relate) and studies pacifism in early 20th century evangelical churches. It was good to see them and catch up with them since the last time we saw them in Portland, many years ago.

one year ago…”Emma at Work”

May 24, 2008 – Flat Martin (aka Flat Stanley)

Flat Stanley is a popular children’s book where Stanley has the misfortune of being flattened underneath a billboard that falls down on him. He soon discovers that life paper-thin does have its advantages, like being able to slide under closed doors, being used as a kite, and being able to cheaply mail himself for traveling.

The story has been adopted by many elementary teachers to a fun project. Martin’s teacher traced his outline on a piece of paper, Martin colored it to look like him, and then was laminated and sent off to Auntie Kathy in California. The recipient of a Flat Stanley has an obligation to take Flat Stanly with them and document what Flat Stanley does and where he goes, then send him back in the mail with the stories of his journey.

Clint Eastwood brought his daughter’s Flat Stanley as his guest to the Academy Awards. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought his son’s Flat Stanley on the campaign trail.


We were very surprised to see that Auntie Kathy had made international travel arrangements for Flat Martin! Here is Flat Martin at a train station in Frankfurt, Germany with a co-worker of Auntie Kathy. Also as part of his European vacation, he visited Amsterdam.


When Flat Martin got home, he went for a ride in the real Martin’s car seat!


Flat Martin hangs out with Martin in the barn.


Flat Martin was getting too lazy, so we made him mow the lawn!


We tried to show Flat Martin how to drive the tractor, but he wasn’t so good!


He was good, however, wrapping around the wind turbine pole where his flatness really helps!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #73″

May 14, 2008 – Blog Problems

Recently I noticed that the blog was being invaded by link spammers. It wasn’t visible on the pages you see, but it was in the code (index.php for you programmers) and as a result, when someone did a search and returned a result from high hopes gardens, links to various pharmaceuticals and other typical spam were in the search results.

I found out that it was a result of a security hole in the older version of WordPress I was using. It was a bit complicated to upgrade as I also use a custom theme and couldn’t do a quick and dirty update. But I managed the update fine and then went looking for add-ons to improve security. I found one that added another level of password security anytime someone touched a file on the web server. So I installed that and I was immediately password protected out of my own stuff! I could not access any of the administration panels to delete the add-on. So, while my blog looked fine to the outside world, I could not add or delete anything to it on the server, even if I FTPed and deleted the folder that held plug-in. I was stuck in the deep mud. Messages to Yahoo, the add-in community, and WordPress did not help me, although I did find out the reason it did not work was that the add-in was only designed for a web server running a certain kind of software – nowhere in the instructions did it tell you this – so my web provider did not support one of the needed files, so I was in never-never land.

After a few days of waiting and searching for an answer, the only way I could get back was to delete everything from the web server and reinstall everything from backups and new install packages. But now we’re back!

one year ago…”Emma’s New Fun”

May 3, 2008 – All Work and No Play Make Mark a Dull Boy

Linda and I snuck away from the farm for 20 hours this weekend to Iowa City.  We had tickets to see Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, a couple of acts I saw at SXSW in Austin, TX last year.  Steve is a rare hippie country singer, but his latest CD is more folk with a hint of hip-hop and won the Grammy for best contemporary folk album this year.  I got the last two seats in the house about a month ago.  The Englert was a nice venue, restored by a big community effort.  There is a tuxedoed man to greet you at the door and volunteer ushers wearing black pants and white shirts.


He played a good mix of his old tunes like Copperhead Road and most of his new CD.

Before the show we ate at Devotay – a fine dining restaurant that features hordes of local producers and run by Chef Kurt Friese, who is one of the founders of Edible Iowa River Valley magazine.

Of course, we stopped at Prairie Lights Bookstore as well and did well to keep the bill near 100 bucks.  We picked up Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, a compilation honoring the late Paul Gruchow entitled The Grace of Grass and Water, The Flower Farmer, by Lynn Byczynski, which updates the Organic Flower Farmer which is the single most valuable how-two farming-related book we own.  We also picked up the latest Wapsipinicon Almanac, a seasonal magazine still using the traditional Linotype press and good writing published in Anamosa, Iowa, and Red Bird, the latest book of poetry by Mary Oliver.  We couldn’t wait to read her latest, so after the show, we took turns deliciously reading alternate poems until we finished the book.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #70″

May 2, 2008 – Up and Coming Materials Engineer?

I was in and out of the workshop this afternoon and when I returned one time, Martin had a piece of wood in the bench vice and was trying to turn it to observe, and ultimately try to break the wood. Dad counseled him that it is indeed important work, that we should try different kinds of materials, but that we should also wear some goggles in case a piece flew towards his eye.

So, he tried odd pieces of things from the garbage – vinyl, wood, sticks and watched deformation and shear at work!

one year ago…”Tree Mulching”

April 26, 2008 – Stocking up on Fuel

We’ve always bee forward-looking about having supplies for future times. Years of canning food for the winter, buying meat by the hundreds of pounds at a time, and most recently signing up for a wind turbine. Now, I’ve locked in most of the fuel to heat the house next winter. There’s no one who predicts that the pellets will be cheaper next fall than they are now – so “investing” in this cost now will probably beat money invested in the market! With corn prices rising with no end in site, it will not be cheaper to burn wood pellets rather than corn in the corn stove.

We hauled home 4 tons of wood pellets home today – this is about 1/4 of the pile – these are tucked in the attached garage.

There is a bit of a strange warning on the bag:

I’m glad that the “Not for Human Consumption” warning was on the bag before I drizzled the wood pellets with a light raspberry viniagarette dressing for my daily requirements of fiber.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #69″

April 20, 2008 – Manure Handling 101

Even though the ground is still very wet, we couldn’t put off cleaning the hen house much longer. The last few years we were able to do an early spring/late winter cleaning, but this winter did not provide that opportunity.

We had a better system this year – to keep the scoopers engaged the whole time, we alternated between loading the tractor bucket and a small trailer – while one was off dumping, the other could stay and be filled.

We also moved much of the winter household compost as it never really heated up this winter and acted more as a storage area than true composter. This bin is designed with removable panels, so here it is with the front panel removed, ready for scooping.

The resulting pile ‘o stuff – soon to be properly turned and magically turned into black compost for future gardens.
one year ago…”Putting Down Roots”

April 9, 2008 – Paragon Prairie Tower

There’s a new landmark on my way to work – the Paragon Prairie Tower in an office park in Urbandale, IA.

The placque adjacent to the tower gives this as part of the explanation of the tower.

“The Paragon Prairie Tower rises from the landscape as a dynamic symbol of the the accomplishments and aspirations of the people of Iowa and the Midwest…The Paragon Prairie Tower recalls the presence of agricultural structures such as grain silos, where for generations we have traditionally stored the bounty of our harvests.”

The description mentions that the scene is of native prairie plants dancing in the wind – but I also see human figures in the tower.

The tower is made up of hundreds of thousands of glass fragments from Ravenna, Italy and stands 118 feet tall.

Here’s a close view of the individual tiles that make up the mosaic of the tower.
I just wish they would honor the tower by planting the native grasses depicted on the tower in the grounds around the tower instead of the same old irrigated kentucky bluegrass and fescue that is ubiquitous around every midwestern office park!
one year ago…”Equipment Day/Fresh Air”

March 26, 2008 – Earth Hour Approaching

Last year a group of people in Sydney, Australia started what they call “earth hour.” Earth Hour is a voluntary one hour time period where people and businesses turned off their lights.  Over 2.2 million people and over 2,00 businesses turned their lights off last year in Sydney, including the Sydney Opera house.  The sponsors (The World Wildlife Federation, Google, Hewlett Packard) hope it sparks thought and discussion about the effects of global warming.  As a bit of a reminder, just this week a 160 square mile piece of ice broke off from the antarctic ice shelf and will soon drift into warmer waters and melt.  This year’s event has moved beyond Australia and promises to involve many more people.  The earth hour is set for 8-9 pm Saturday March 29.

one year ago…”Moving Fencing Material into Place”

March 24, 2008 – High Hopes Handy Hint

Maybe I’ll start a “handy hints” category.  I’ll see if I come up with more, but we’ll start with this one that works for farm and town.


Whenever you need to bring a propane cylinder to town to refill for the grill, set it in an old milk crate.  The tank won’t roll around in the back of your truck or in the car!

one year ago…”Getting Piled Up Chores Done”

March 16, 2008 – Happy St. Urho’s Day!

Oh my – this important day has already reached us without fanfare or warning. It is the day to celebrate St Urho’s banishment of the grasshoppers from Finland to save the Finnish grape crop. Some people have claimed that the story is not entirely accurate, but then again, nobody argues with the guy who claims to have moved the snakes off the Emerald Isle?

St. Urho got some good run in the Minnesota Monthly magazine with excerpt from an article about Minnesota Favorites.

Minnesota is known for wild rice, hotdish, and mojakka. Okay, so maybe the Finnish-American soup (pronounced MOY-a-kah) hasn’t quite caught on yet outside of ethnic enclaves. That soon may change: the annual St. Urho’s Day Mojakka Cook-Off held in Cloquet has helped popularize the fish- or beef-based stew since the event’s debut in 2003. According to the Ode to St. Urho, the Finnish hero ate culla mojakka effery hour to maintain his Samson-like physique. A remarkable feat, considering we weren’t able to finish the bowl we sampled at the Family Tradition Restaurant in Cloquet, due to its odd tinge of allspice and rutabagas. At least it tastes better than lutefisk. For more information, go to www.mojakka.com.

one year ago…”Artists in My Music Collection Night at SXSW”

March 14, 2008 – Mud

I had to get the truck out of the shed to fetch a new appliance this week.  It wasn’t a good day to drive out of the shed.


The soft ground makes me leery to drive off the gravel, unless I have to.  It was the dishwasher that died, so we used it as an opportunity to get a more energy-efficient  model and to try a new brand – Bosch – as I haven’t been impressed with the trio of Frigidaires we put in when we moved in.  Linda asked in an email what skills it required – here’s my answer – “Skills?  I have skills.  Mainly heavy lifting, swearing trying to get it into a cavity, and hooking up water, drain, and wires.  And a lot of laying on the floor in puddles of water. That’s about it.”

one year ago…”American Music Night at SXSW”

February 13, 2008 – Looking for a Wife? (I’m not)

Linda sat down at the computer and found a web browser open with the following in the Firefox “search in page” panel.


I could imagine it might be a bit of surprise to sit down to your home computer and find out that the person before you (most likely your husband) had searched for a wife, and been given options to view the next wife, previous wife, or highlight all wives!

Actually, Claire is to blame, she was doing an assignment on a famous person’s wife and used the search box.  Not a good thing to be looking for so close to Valentine’s Day!

one year ago…”Snow Sculptures”

February 8, 2008 – Smartest Cities in America

Today Forbes Magazine published a study of the “Smartest Cities in America.” There was only one state in the union with two cities represented – and no, it wasn’t a state on the East Coast or the West Coast, but Iowa!

If anybody’s keeping track of these things, Ames, IA, home of Iowa State University, came it at number 6 in the nation and Iowa City, just slipped into the top 10.  Here’s the list:

  1. Boulder, CO
  2. Bethesda, MD
  3. Ithaca, NY
  4. Ann Arbor, MI
  5. Corvallis, OR
  6. Ames, IA
  7. Lawrence, KS
  8. Cambridge, MA
  9. San Francisco, CA
  10. Iowa City, IA

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #60″

February 3, 2008 – Google Yourself!

Every once in a while, it’s good to google yourself to see what comes up.  I did that yesterday and found two publications in the past few weeks have included quotes by yours truly.  One was a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about Stern Tanning Company’s relocation from Sheboygan Falls to Milwaukee.

Iowa farmer Mark Runquist, who raises sheep, also is eager for Stern Tanning to ramp up its business.

The Runquist family’s small organic farm, located near Marshalltown, has used Stern Tanning to help create around a half-dozen sheepskin rugs annually over the past five years. The rug sales help supplement the family’s farm income, and Runquist said there are few other U.S. tanneries that provide sheepskin tanning.

The other story was from the Cedar Rapids Gazette concerning the public hearing on the proposed coal-fired plant permitting.

“I’ve sat through five presentations by Alliant on this plant and they’ve given us every conceivable opportunity to ask questions,” said Iowa Valley Community College District Chancellor Tim Wynes. “Don’t make this decision based on a fear — fear of the unknown.”

But in this case, the unknown fear was bigger than most the Iowa Utilities Board has previously considered — the fear that carbon dioxide emissions of coal-fired power plants may be deemed so damaging that federal regulators step in to halt their use or require extremely costly environmental controls to capture the carbon. “Alliant management should be fully aware of and financially responsible for this risk,” said Mark Runquist, a plant opponent from Melbourne. “Alliant plans to benefit financially by the operation of this plant. They should assume the risk.”

So, if you haven’t lately, it’s good to Google yourself to see what’s out there about you.

One year ago…

January 30, 2008 – Garage Keeper

Last week’s Thingamajig Thursday was part of this piece of folk art made by our friend and art professor.


The eyes are a couple of electric fence insulators and the body is a brightly colored combination of found wood.  Even though it has been outside through blizzard, cold, storm, and ice, it has maintained its color while keeping an eye on the place.

one year ago…

January 28, 2008 – A Crime in Some Neighborhoods

Here’s a picture of a crime scene in some neighborhoods…


OK, maybe crime is too strong a word, it’s against the rules in many suburban and urban neighborhoods. There’s even a group promoting the long-standing practice of drying clothes on a line and have started the “right to dry” and “National Hanging Out Day” (April 19) campaigns. There’s even a powerpoint presentation entitled “Laundry, An inconvenient chore?” Here’s some of their reasons to dry clothes outside

  • Save money
  • Conserve energy and the environment.
  • Clothes and sheets smell better
  • Clothes last longer. Where do you think lint comes from?
  • It is physical activitywhich you can do in or outside
  • Clothes dryer fires account for about 15,600 structure fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries annually. The yearly national fire loss for clothes dryer fires in structures is estimated at $99 million.

It’s worth a trip over to the site to poke around.
one year ago…

January 22, 2008 – One Corn Wagon Emptied

The heating season better be over half complete!  The first wagon of corn is emptied.  100 bushels gone.  We’re on schedule, since at one time, I looked up the average coldest week of winter and it was January 22 – the average low temperature bottomed out on that day and slowy started rising afterwards.


There’s one more wagon, but in true delayed gratification style, the harder wagon to scoop out corn is in the first position and the easy one second.  My thinking is, near the end of the season I want it to be easier, not harder to get the corn.  The second wagon is a gravity wagon that I can fill up the buckets from a chute, instead of scooping out the top of a wagon.  When it warms up to a temperature where it is not bone-chilling to be outside, I’ll jockey the wagons around to get the current wagon closer to the door of the shed.

one year ago…

January 16, 2008 – Can I Meditate?

After Martin got his jammies on, he shouted down the stairs to us, “Can I meditate?”

We gave him the ok to go ahead and meditate, a bit puzzled.  We wondered what a 6-year-old meant by “meditate.” We waited a while so he could do his thing alone.  Finally, we couldn’t stand the mystery of what he meant by meditate (and he was quiet), so we sent Emma up to investigate.  Here’s what she found!


There was an exercise in meditation at church last weekend and Martin at least seemed to pick up on the leg and arm posture and felt inclined to climb a platform like the presenter did so people could see him.  Namasté Martin.

one year ago…no entry

January 14, 2008 – Public Hearing on Coal Plant

Today was the public comment period for the coal plant.  I was in the minority position.  I expected that most, if not all of the local construction and trade unions would turn out; they did.  Trade unions have much to gain personally during the construction of the plant.  Local government officials were also wildly enthusiastic about the plant, both donkeys and elephants.  There were a few surprises for me – first, the former director of the county conservation board spoke in favor; the administration of Linda’s school – the Iowa Valley Community College District spoke in favor, and most shocking to me was that the local hospital spoke in favor of building the coal plant! 

I had to remind myself that the utility board was there to consider the power plant on the merits of the plant according the Code of Iowa.  Most of the endless parade of supporters seemed to think the mission of the utilities board was to create jobs.  Even though the people speaking out in favor of the plant far outnumbered those in opposition, I’m not sure that the notion of job creation is/should be central in the minds of the utility board in making their decision.

one year ago…no entry

January 11, 2008 – Congrats to Linda!

Linda has worked tirelessly for many years, mainly on her own time, to try to establish a sustainable agriculture program and entrepreneurial farm at Marshalltown Community College where beginning and established farmers could rent a section of a 140 acre farm to start a farming enterprise. 

She just found out that Congressman Tom Latham has agreed that it is a concept whose time has come, so it earned a $250,000 appropriation!  More details are forthcoming.  She’s still waiting for the new farm bill to get through congress to see if there will be a tiny slice of the farm bill for the program as she has met with Senator Harkin and his staff about the concept as well and it was very well received. 

one year ago…

January 9, 2008 – Ouch!

There’s a lot of good things to be said about a fender-breaker.


No one gets hurt; better this week than last week in the rental van.

One of the drivers in the family turned from a wet road onto an icy road and nudged a truck waiting at a stop sign.  This is what $1700 in damages looks like.

one year ago…

December 26, 2007 – Winter Visitors

This winter is especially hard on birds and animals that forage of the ground. The thick mantle of ice make the ground and seeds and such inaccessible. We put up a bird feeder for the first time in years (the cats used to catch the birds, so the stopped). But so far this year, the cats have not bothered the birds. Either they have grown too old, or found better sport elsewhere.


This is a female Downy Woodpecker at the suet feeder.

one year ago…

December 19, 2007 – Band Day & Drug Sniffing Dogs

Today Claire’s band had a “day off” of school and they rented the indoor football practice facility at Iowa State and practiced their Fiesta Bowl program all day, then played at an Iowa State basketball game where they filled in for the ISU pep band that was off on winter break and not on campus.

The real band is down to the right and on the video screen Claire is behind the red-head (as if you can see it!)  But many of you have much better imaginations and eyesight than I do and will be able to make her out.

I sure appreciate the director, Mr. Lee.  They aren’t leaving until after Christmas, but their luggage and most of the instruments left for Phoenix in a truck yesterday.  All of the students were to have their luggage at school before the morning bell and Mr. Lee used the “Trust, but Verify” method.  He had all 130 some kids line up their luggage, introduced the town police and drug sniffing dog to the students and invited the students to wait in another location while the dog verified the luggage was clean.  It was, but I thought it was a nice touch, just to reinforce the expectations set before the trip concerning behavior and representing their school, town, and state in a positive manner!
one year ago…

December 12, 2007 – Another Outsider’s Perspective

Yesterday Des Moines Register staff writer Mike Klein wrote a story about a reporter from the Rocky Mountain News who moved to Iowa for the nine months before the caucus to cover the candidates for his newspaper.  Following is an exerpt from the piece:

His first impressions were “mind-numbing” drives between muddy fields. “Then I see little cornstalks growing out of the ground. Little things. Then it grows into this big plant. Then it dies. I got sad,” he cracked. Early on last spring, he was astounded at Iowans’ sense of entitlement. He watched Iowa reporters ask candidate Mike Huckabee why he had been ignoring Iowa. Huckabee had visited Iowa a dozen times already.

Then an odd thing happened. Sprengelmeyer started to like Iowa, even more than he did when he got his first taste of the state in 1988 – on a caucus road trip with three Northwestern University student newspaper cronies.

“If you are not from Iowa, you think of it as a boring place. But I grew up in the desert (Albuquerque). The scenery is dynamic here,” said Sprengelmeyer, 40. “I’ve been to the pearl button factory in Muscatine, to the cheese factory in Kalona. I fell in love with Marshalltown, an interesting place going through this big transformation with immigration issues. Iowa is more diverse than people realize.”

The reported M. E. Sprengelmeyer, also wrote a column for his paper about what he found in Marshalltown.  I thought it was a very accurate, well-done piece for a reporter coming into an unfamiliar town. Â Often times people who live in a place are unaware or oblivious to some of the things he mentions in the article.

one year ago…

December 3, 2007 – In the News

There have been a couple of recent stories in the news about our neck of the woods. NPR produced a story about immigration and visited with people in Marshalltown, including a woman that went on the trip to Mexico with Linda and Claire’s high school principal. In addition to the audio story, there is a video story link below the story photo from a local coffee shop talking about the caucuses that features some folks we know. The old ladies steal the show in my book!

The New York Times travel writer gushed about the renewed downtown Des Moines. He said in part:

It was not long ago, as most Iowans will tell you, when East Coast stereotypes about this Midwest city were fairly accurate. Bleak and foreboding, a city with a desultory and desolate downtown, few places to eat and little to do once the candidates returned to often dreary hotel rooms. For the hordes of campaign staff members, reporters, television crews who have encamped here for the caucuses over the past 30 years  – great story, yes, but suffice it to say that Des Moines wasn’t the draw. But the other night in Des Moines, I had dinner with a colleague and the Iowa state director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at a vibrant restaurant, Lucca, in the heart of a gentrified neighborhood called the East Village. The restaurant had more panache and better food than many places I’ve eaten in Washington, D.C. The East Village streets, spread out under the State Capitol, were aglow with lights – lavender, icy blue and, of course, red and green  –  strung out for Christmas. They were bustling with boutiques, bookstores, coffee shops, culinary stores and Smash, an edgy T-shirt shop where the proprietors were listening to Band of Horses while making slightly off-color T-shirts celebrating the Iowa caucuses.

Although Iowans still can’t quite put them up to talking smack about the improvements in their state, at least there are outsiders who can come in and do it instead.

one year ago…

November 16, 2007 – Making Money the Old Fashioned Way

I travel rather seamlessly between two disparate worlds - my job in the mortage technology group of Wells Fargo and the farm.  Mortgage finance is now a pertinent and unfolding story.  I marvel how much better rewarded (financially) mortgage finance work is than farming.  This week the Wells Fargo CEO came out and said it was the worst housing crisis since the great depression.  He was roundly criticized by some for not following the finance party line, which is trying to reassure people that everything is all right and keep on spending.  To his credit, Wells Fargo is one of the few companies that did not fall prey to the easy, if suspect, moneymaking financing schemes that have/are crashing down.  That’s not to say that something won’t come out later, but to this point, the company’s conservative finance position has allowed it to keep making profits, even in these times when other banks are reporting losses of BILLIONS of dollars.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old Smith-Barney slogan “We make money the old-fashioned way, we earn it.” It’s ironic that the company that used to be Smith-Barney has been merged into Citicorp, one of the biggest losers in the latest meltdown.  It makes me think about the notion that you can get something for nothing that has infected American society.  People who have bought houses and expected their value go up tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in the span of a few years without doing anything. People who have structured the mortgage loans in new and possibly illegal ways (perhaps only still legal because the law always takes a long time to catch up with crooks in suits).  There have even been cases where people who had their houses recently foreclosed asked a simple question at the foreclosure hearing -Who owns my mortgage – prove it.  Since some people thought to ask that question, 14 homeowners in foreclosure had to have proceedings halted because the “owner” could not produce the mortgage deed showing the finance company’s stake in the loan.  The loans have been sliced and diced so many ways and co-mingled with other loans to make them look legitimate that the trail is broken. Â  Likewise, I’ve come across reports of the same mortgage that was sold to multiple investors.

Hang with me, we’ll get back to the farm.  So what has happened to a country that rewards fund managers to play with numbers on a computer get million-dollar salaries, while others who produce the things necessary for life – farmers, electricians, carpenters, cheesemakers, teachers, and meatcutters are near the bottom of the economic scale?  I don’t have any answers, but I do know a sustainable society cannot indefinitely exist on paper gains only and ever-expanding profits for people that don’t “do” anything.  That’s not to say the finance and providers of capital are not necessary – they are, but the only sustainable way is to invest in enterprises with real worth.  Finance used to exist to help real things happen, now, too often it is an end to itself, with no connection to production of goods or services.  Futures markets are just one such thing – people trading pieces of paper for the future value of commodities – like corn or petroleum future traders.

So I wonder, will there be a time in the future that the work of those that produce real goods and services be rewarded for the importance of their work to society instead of their value to some mysterious financial market?  What do you think?  Will sustainable jobs ever be rewarded?  Will a time come when making money the old-fashioned way – earning it, will come back into fashion?

one year ago…

November 10, 2007 – “You’re Invited to Watch a House Burn Down”

Martin received an unusual invitation in the mail the other day.  Here it is:


How could you turn down an opportunity like this only about 2 miles away? It was an old house on a property with a newer house and this one had seen better days and was claimed by ‘coons and other critters.


Here are the three boys, watching the fire, including the host, all dressed up in fireman gear.


The firemen used it as a training, although, they really didn’t want to put the fire out.  Previously to this day, they had filled it with smoke and practiced retrieving straw dummies in their respirators, etc.


They just wanted to prevent other things from burning.


Without fire hydrants, rural fire departments set up these temporary pools for the tanker trucks to dump and go get more water.

one year ago…

November 9, 2007 – Mellencamp

Tonight we went to the Los Lobos and John Mellencamp concert is Des Moines.  I’ve finally figured out Mellencamp – he’s a folk singer trapped in the body of a rock-n-roll star.  He’s got the weight of all these much-loved rock hits from his younger days – “Hurts so Good” “Jack and Diane”  But at his heart, he keeps writing some of the same songs over and over - songs about America – with justice and liberty for all.

I think some people don’t “get” the satire in some of his songs, especially “Pink Houses.”  One of his most recent songs about the nooses in Jena, Louisiana is the latest example of John Mellencamp’s America with justice and liberty for all.

The most talked-about part of the concert happened when he invited John Edwards up on stage for a moment during an acoustic version of “Small Town.”  Along with cheers, there were angry boos, which aren’t quite as noticable in the video than in person.

You can see his version of Small Town with the introduction of Edwards on this clip from YouTube of last night’s show.

one year ago…

November 5, 2007 – Grain Bin Collapse at Melbourne Elevator

Around 8:00 this morning, as a semi-truck was loading grain from this bin, some workers heard some popping noises and buckling and quickly told the semi-driver to drive the rig out immediately.  Not much later, this 95,000 bushel grain bin collapsed and would have easily buried the truck and driver.  Everybody is thought to be safe.


You can see a new shiny bin next door – there were lots of workers around, putting the finishing touches on those bins that are much larger than the older one that collapsed.  There is still no reason given – it was a very windy day, but the bin was full, they were working on an adjacent bin, but the cause is only speculation at this point.  All the bins were full – so all this corn will have to be trucked out to somewhere else once the investigators have a look. It’s hard to get a sense of scale in this photo, but if you look just to the right of the left-most bin, you can see the top of the 2nd story of the old Melbourne school.


Here’s another closer view.

one year ago…

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 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 10, 2007 – Baxter Oil Company Web Site

The good folks at Baxter Oil Company who have installed our furnace/AC and corn stove now have a web site created by high hopes gardens! I used one of the Yahoo Templates and web hosting so it would be easy for them to update without having to pay a web developer for simple changes. It’s nice to live in a place and do business on a handshake!

one year ago…

September 26, 2007 – Family Homecoming Royalty!

We found out earlier this week that Martin was the junior boy in the Homecoming Court!


Here’s Martin with the Homecoming Court at the Coronation at the high school auditorium.


Last year he talked often about Ashlen one of his three “girlfriends.” She was the junior girl in the homecoming court. Here they pose after the ceremony. I don’t think either Linda or I ever even attended a homecoming coronation in high school, so it is sometimes strange what your kids get you to do!

He got to ride in a red mustang convertible during the parade and did the royalty thing at the football game as well.

one year ago…

September 23, 2007 – A Small World!

Today one of our new neighbors had some folks over to play some music at her new place and invited us over. (Yes, she is in our township, so we now may have to amend the slogan of high hopes garden’s farm music slogan to “The Original Live Music Capital of Logan Township!”


She’s the one behind the piano and the one with seven pianos in her garage!


I’m bad at remembering names, but another jammer.


Here’s the “small world” section of the entry.  This is Tim Jenkins, renowned in this part of the country as a fine dance caller.  I noticed his shirt was from a place close to one of my relatives who lives even more “off the grid” than we do in SW Wisconsin.  I asked if he knew him and his eyes lit up and turns out they play together a frequently back in Wisconsin. 

one year ago…

September 21, 2007 – Fall, Up Close

The state’s main commodity crops are in drydown.


Here’s a group of dried soybean pods, about ready for harvest. The first combines are out this week. I started scrambling a bit today when I saw our neighbor starting on corn. Since he’s the one that loads up our wagons for the corn stove, I spent a good part of the day getting the current contents of the wagons unloaded. One had ground broiler feed, so I scrambled to find enough empty garbage cans to accomodate all the feed. The other had some corn left over from last year, so I bagged all that up as well. Now I’m ready when he comes over to fill up our wagons.

one year ago…

August 20, 2007 – 1st Day of School for 2

Today is the first day of school for Martin and Emma!  It’s time for a different schedule around the farm now, although with Claire not starting until next week, it will not be all at once shock.  Now, I need to think of what the most pressing jobs around the farm will be.


It was much easier putting Martin on the bus this year with a year under his belt.


Martin and Emma pose for the traditional first day of school photo.

one year ago…

August 17, 2007 – They Call Me the “Bat-Man”

Last night, I awoke in the middle of the night to some strange sounds. After a while, I figured out it was a bat in our bedroom. There are some pretty firm division of labors in our household (and some not so firm), but I immediately knew that a bat in the bedroom fit into the “crunchy bug” category, and therefore the solution to removing the bat relied on my ingenuity as I saw Linda duck under the sheets.

Hmmm. First step, dash out of the bed and shut the bedroom door so the critter doesn’t get into one of the kid’s rooms. Mission accomplished, hop back under the sheets to make sure Linda is still OK.

Plan A. Take the shades off the window and remove the screen while draped with a blanket. Wrong answer – the screens don’t come out easily with the new replacement sash windows and the shades seem screwed into the window frames.

Plan B. It’s looking more and more like direct contact is needed. So I run downstairs and put on shoes, long-sleeve quilted shirt, jeans, thick leather gloves, and a hat. I grab a plastic basket about 1/4 the size of a laundry basket. Now, I’m ready to initiate bat capture. Bats aren’t necessarily bad critters – they just don’t belong in the house! We had seen one flying outside while we were outside watching the meteor showers. I think it must have flown in the door on one of the many beverage runs by adult or child into the house. It’s the second time we’ve had a bat in the house in 10 years, so it isn’t a common occurence.

So, I’m all dressed up, with a blanket draped over me, trying to figure out how to catch it. I’ve got about 1 inch of exposed flesh between my shoe and pant leg (did not put on socks). Of course, the bat managed to fly into that bit of leg and I just dropped the blanket on the bat and then gingerly unfolded the blanket until the bat was revealed and put the basket over it. Then I slipped a piece of cardboard under it and brought it outside and didn’t want to have it close to the house, so I put it in the back of the truck and drove to a wetland about 5 miles away and released it into the air. The trip was rather erie – middle of the night, intermittently pea soup fog condensing on the window so fast I needed the wipers on.

The marsh is right next to a four-lane highway, so I felt a little sheepish out in the dead middle of foggy night pulled over, doing something that looks unusual. Thankfully, nobody stopped to “help” so I was able to get back home and back to sleep. Sorry, I wasn’t too motivated to get the camera, so there is not a picture of the critter.

one year ago…

August 14, 2007 – Improving a Little Corner of the Farm

A year ago this spring we seeded some native plants in an ugly part of the farm that was essentially a mudhole.  The low spot collected runoff from rains on the adjacent fields and would be under water for a few days a year.  The cows liked it as well and continued to break off the sod around its edges to increase its size.  To see what it looked like them see the blog entry from March 28, 2005.  Last year, it was fenced off and at least grew a nice cover of weeds.  In the middle of this summer, we started finding some non-weed plants that must have been part of what we planted!


There is swamp milkweed – in this shot with both a monarch and some ferocious-looking black killer fly (looks like a beneficial predatory insect to me!)


On the very edge is a black-eyed susan.


Then there’s this plant that I haven’t yet identified.  Ideas?  At any rate, it is full of small fluttering critters as well.  In addition to these, we noticed some prairie cordgrass and sedges.  The area is still mostly weeds, but may be turning the corner and the natives are a magnet for many insects.  It is heartening to see it go from a sterile mudhole (growing by the year) to a more natural place, adding a bit more diversity to the place.

one year ago…

August 13, 2007 – Restored Marshall County Courthouse

Last week when I had my camera in hand in town, I couldn’t help but stop and take a snapshot of the Marshall County Courthouse.  It truly is a landmark, taking up a city block in the middle of Marshalltown, Iowa – a town of about 25,000.  I remember a historian once remarking you could tell what was most important to a culture by observing what its biggest buildings were – the biggest buildings were once churches, then government buildings, of which this is an example, and finally buildings of commerce today.


The courthouse was dedicated in 1886. It was constructed of limestone from Marshall County at a cost of $150,000. Much later, there were several attempts to replace this building with a “modern” county-city building; all of them failed (we can imagine what a “modern” 1975 building might look like today!).

The State Fire Marshall ordered the building repaired or removed in 1973. At this time the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends of the Courthouse Committee, a newly-formed organization, decided to save the building. A referendum barely passed to restore the courthouse, but it passed (huge thanks to those who fought to save it!). The courthouse was remodeled at a cost of $2.7 million dollars in 1975 and remains the centerpiece of the city today.

one year ago…

August 12, 2007 – Iowa State Fair Day

Today we went to the Iowa State Fair.  Since it was so hot, we decided to try something a bit different.  Rather than battle 100,000 or so people for a place to park, eat, and stand in line in the heat, we arrived there about 5:00 pm and stayed into the evening, to experience the fair after dark.


There was virtually no line at the butter cow, at the big boar and farrowing exhibit, and other places there are usually long lines.  We’ll do that time period again!


Of course, you can get nearly anything on a stick at the fair.


But to my mind, the coolest is the new “Energy on a Stick.”  Over a year, this wind turbine will produce enough electricty to run all the power needs for the 11 day run of the state fair – midway, lights, cooling etc.  In total, it will provide 1/4 of the fairground’s annual power needs (the grounds are open to other events year-round). 

We always look at the displays and compare the blue ribbon winners to stuff at our farm and think that if we ever were organized enough, we may do quite well!

This morning Linda and I presented the service at church where we talked about the sustainability of local foods.  So today was a bit of a relief day after getting ready for the service and party simultaneously.  The service was well received – we even got applause at the end!  Dennis Keeney, former director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture was in attendance and thanked us as well. 

one year ago…

August 6, 2007 – Step into Another World

There’s a place in downtown Melbourne that hides its secrets well.  “Vern’s Implement” always has a yard full of old farm equipment along with an accesssory lot along side the road on the way to our place.  In the past, I’ve bought a thing or two from Vern.  He’s also got a small retail store complete with the old general store type wood strip floor, big wooden entrance door, and a couple of aisles of different size bolts, nuts, etc. in old wooden bins. A while back, I had a hard time finding a certain length bolt in a 5/8 width – not at big box stores, not at True Value – all the while, the right one was sitting at Vern’s.

Back in the shop it really changes.  I swear Vern doesn’t like to work on equipment made much past 1950.  I thought I might get him to work on my ’47 Cub, but he has other work he evidently enjoys more and said he didn’t have time.  (I don’t think he likes mundane repairs.)  He also has an older solar array on the front of his house – probably from the 70’s – so he is obviously a tinkerer.


Here he is, looking at a steam-powered, steel-wheeled tractor from the early teens.  He has fabricated missing parts, rebored what needs to be re-bored, and finally painted it.  It’s a massive hunk of machinery – you can see the back steel wheels are about 5 feet tall.  It takes about two hours of burning before the engine is ready to go.


This shows the back of the tractor and some of the gears – there is one “gear” – forward and back. This is in the way back of his shop and to get there, is like traveling through a tractor graveyard, with all kinds of other tractors in various states of repair/restoration – it’s got the feeling of an old blacksmith’s shop.  I’m sure there are other places like this (at least I hope so) but they are getting rarer by the day.

one year ago…

August 3, 2007 – Mousehole Days

This weekend is the annual “Mousehole Days” celebration in Melbourne. Tonight was the fish fry at the fire station.


Here’s Martin with Fire Engine #1 – the oldest in the fleet.


Here he is on the deck of a middle-aged truck.


This tells you about how big the town is – around 600 people call it home. It’s the 125th year of the town as an incorporated city. Of course, we’re in “suburbs” a few miles out of town.

one year ago…

August 1, 2007 – Bridges

Tonight about 7:00 my sister called me and asked if I knew where my brother was (he lives in the Twin Cities) and she was worried that she couldn’t reach him via his cell or home phone.  She was relieved to find out that he was in Orlando with his family, so she could quit worrying that he was on the bottom of the Mississippi River off the I-35W bridge.


Just a couple of days ago, Claire and GJ were so struck by the bridge that crosses the Mississippi River in Burlington, IA that they stopped to take some snapshots of it. 

The tragic collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis hits home to many people, no matter where they live.  Most of us cross a bridge over a river daily and we can all easily put ourselves in the place of the folks who were on that bridge when it collapsed.

As a native Minnesotan, (and now Iowan), I-35 is easily the Interstate I have most traveled.  I spent much time at the northern end, in Duluth, MN and been as far south on it as San Antonio, TX.  I still drive on it every day I go to work.  Linda grew up in the Twin Cities, so we have both been over that bridge countless times.  It’s just amazing to me it could drop in a flash.

one year ago…

July 28, 2007 – A Night on the River

Friday night Linda and I snuck out for some live music.

 
Cross Canadian Ragweed and Los Lobos played in an outdoor ampitheatre along the river in Des Moines.  Los Lobos, “Just another band from east L.A.” was the headliner.  The encore was “La Bamba” and they invited about 25 of their new closest fans up from the crowd to dance and since on stage with the band.  It was a fitting end, as the artist who wrote La Bamba – Richie Valens, performed the song for the very last time in the Surf Ballroom in Mason City, Iowa in 1959; shortly thereafter, he was in the plane with Buddy Holly that crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper.


I was first attracted to Los Lobos back in the 80’s – their folky ethnic sound was dangerously close to the “Chmielewski Fun Time” and “Jolly Brothers” polka bands that were a staple of my childhood.  Even though the polka bands and Mexican folk cross thousands of miles, the music must share some deep roots.


Opening act was Cross Canadian Ragweed (not really from Canada, from Oklahoma/Texas).  They didn’t seem to like playing in the daylight and we didn’t go to the bar show later than night – the two strongest songs were covers that ended their set – Todd Snider’s “I Believe in You” and Ray Wylie Hubbard”s “Rock and Roll.” (Thanks to Shannon from Cross Canadian Ragweed for correcting the title on the Ray Wylie song, now correct on this entry.) 

one year ago…

July 21, 2007 – Harry Potter and the Dilly Beans

Welcome to potions class, high hopes style.


Here are the instructions. Insist that each of the Harry Potter books be read out loud, together as a family. Link farm chores with additional reading. Kids are under the parent’s spells and gladly do work they may normally complain about! Today we read a few chapters while we prepared to make dilly beans – sitting around the kitchen table cleaning and cutting beans to the right length to stuff in jars.

one year ago…

July 20, 2007 – Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge

Today we took our out-of-state guests to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center near Prairie City, Iowa.


There is a beautiful interpretive center nestled into a prairie hillside.  The site was at one time destined to be the site of a nuclear power plant, but those plans fell through, and it became the largest reconstructed prairie in North America. It is a grand experiment to try to turn corn and beans back into native vegetation to give those around here a small taste of what it might have been like when the first pioneers came this-away.


Blazing Star – commonly naturalized for home and butterfly gardens – liatris.


Cup plant – Saves water by the design of the stem and leaf – you’ll see this one is holding water just below the flower.

one year ago…

June 24, 2007 – Anniversary/Roadside Natives

Today was our 18th anniversary! We pretended to live in the city today for something different. We went to Des Moines and went for a walk around the new trail around Gray’s Lake, dined at one the city’s “happening” restaurants – Centro, stalked the aisles of a funky gourmet/organic market, drove down Grand Avenue from downtown to the end of the suburbs and watched the city change from lofts, apartments, grand brick houses in tree-lined neighborhoods, finally making way to the strip malls and beige houses in treeless housing tracts. A stop for ice cream prepared on a cold granite stone ended the day.


I didn’t bring the camera, so today’s picture is of a tiny prairie remnant close by our house – purple coneflowers, compass plant and more have somehow survived.

one year ago…

June 23, 2007 – “Invasive” Plant

An invader has crept into my garage.


This plant has snuck under the garage door, ran behind some sheets of plywood (8 feet long), worked its way up the plywood, found a window and is making its way into the wall propane heater.

Today Linda made the trip tp Decorah to the Dorian Music camp at Luther College to pick up Claire after a week of band camp. Between her fellow bandmates, old and camp friends and other camp friends, she had a great week and Mom was treated to some outstanding music at the end-of-week concert.

one year ago…

June 17, 2007 – Hank’s Guitar

In Neil Young’s Prairie Wind CD, there’s a song about an old guitar.

This old guitar ain’t mine to keep
Just taking care of it now
It’s been around for years and years
Just waiting in its old case
It’s been up and down the country roads
It’s brought a tear and a smile
It’s seen its share of dreams and hopes
And never went out of style
The more I play it, the better it sounds
It cries when I leave it alone
Silently it waits for me
Or someone else, I suppose
This old guitar has caught some breaks
But it never searched for gold
It cant be blamed for my mistakes
It only does what it’s told
It’s been a messenger in times of trouble
In times of hope and fear
When I get drunk and seeing double
It jumps behind the wheel and steers
This old guitar ain’t mine to keep
It’s mine to play for a while

This isn’t surprising as a guy who’s been around as long as Neil has no doubt collected many guitars. But this guitar has a bit of history longer than Neil – it’s Hank Williams’ Martin D-28 guitar. Neil bought it in a music store in Nashville in the 70’s and still plays it today. That leads me to my question for the day. Who deserves the guitar? Who should Neil Young pass the guitar onto? Back to the family to Hank Jr. or Hank III? To a country player who stays close to the roots of Hank’s music or is a good picker – Dwight Yoakam or Vince Gill? A member of another extended first family of country music – Roseanne Cash or Rodney Crowell? One of his friends – John Mellencamp? A younger person who has already established a body of work like Ryan Adams or Jeff Tweedy? If you’ve got an idea, put the name in a comment below.

one year ago…

June 13, 2007 – Native Grass – “Needlegrass”

It must be time for some roadside botany!  The weather has turned hot and sultry.  Just a few steps down the road from our driveway a native grass is nearing the end of its seasonal lifecycle.  Needlegrass is a very ingenious native plant with a great seed planting strategy.


In this picture, the mature needlegrass is the grass that has turned brown and silvery. It’s a cool-season grass which means it matures early in the season.


Here’s a picture of one of the seedheads.  You’ll notice the sharp point on one side and the braided stem alternating dark and light bands.  When the seed falls off the plant, it lands point side down, then as it dries out, the dark and light bands wrap around each other and “drill” the seed into the ground as the light and dark bands dry at different rates in the sun.

one year ago…

June 9, 2007 – (Close to) Home On the Range

On Thursday everyone but me went to Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa, about 45 mintes south of us. Â The refuge contains over 5,000 acres of reconstructed prairie, with funding to add about 2500 more acres.  It’s been about 17 years since the first reconstructive plantings, so it is starting to look like a real midwestern tallgrass prairie!  There is an engaging interpretive center, appropriately built low into the ground as to fit into the open spaces. Great place for kids and adults alike.

There’s not many places in the US you’ll see a sign like this!

The bison currently graze about 800 acres of the refuge.


It’s nice to have a peek at what the original landscape may have looked like – although it is thought that this part of the tallgrass prairie was home to more elk than bision.  There are elk in the refuge, but this trip the bison were out.

Photo Credits for this day go to Claire.

one year ago…

May 28, 2007 – Memorial Day 2007

It’s Memorial Day 2007. I take this time to pause and remember those that have gone before us, especially those that may have died in the past year.


This year we went to Maple Grove instead of Logan Cemetery. They are both old township cemeteries, about equal distances from our house.  The deaths that we noted as a family were a step-aunt, choir director from church, and two goats, Blaze and a newborn goat.


Here’s the old warming house. 


A peek into a world gone by is the back door of the warming house, left ajar to show the original bathroom.

one year ago…

May 22, 2007 – Spring Garden\Garden-Fed Kids Eat Healthier!

Here’s a view of one of the gardens. Linda’s probably got 85-90% of the garden in. We could use a good rain as we haven’t had one since the deluge April 26.


I’ll stop back here in July for another photo.

Today, a report came out in the April Journal of the American Diabetic Association that found that young children who regularly eat home grown fruits and vegetables eat more than twice as many fruits and vegetables as their peers who do not have a garden!  This is a huge difference.  The researchers from St. Louis University Medical Center found that the kids who grow up eating home-grown produce prefer the taste of fruits and vegetables to other foods.

one year ago…

May 20, 2007 – Raccoons Make Poor Electricians

As life on the farm goes, one thig leads to another.  About 5:30 a.m. one of the goats started bawling.  Nellie had managed to escape over the barn door and separated from the herd, was freaking out.  In going out, I let the dog out and Maizie promptly chased a raccoon up a power pole.


The raccoon was perched above a transformer and I feared for the damage the raccoon could do to the transformer (our electric co-op printed a list of reasons why transformers fail, and animals were the #1 reason).  I contemplated taking the raccoon out with a .22, but thought only two bad things could happen – I could miss and hit the transfomer or other piece of the electric grid, or I could get the raccoon, and its fall could break something on the way down – so I decided to lock the dogs up again and hope the raccoon would climb down on its own.  If it wasn’t 5:30 am Sunday morning I may have called the co-op for guidance.  About an hour later, we heard a terribly loud buzzing, arcing sound, the power blinked off briefly, and when I went out to make sure all the fuse boxes were intact, I found the crispy raccoon at the base of the power pole, its fur all singed. It was kind of creepy – so I showed all the kids and impressed upon them the importance of not messing with electricity!

one year ago…

May 16, 2007 – Technical Communication Conference

I’ve spent the last three days in downtown Minneapolis at the national conference of the Society for Technical Communication.  It’s the kind of place where you’ll see somebody wearing a hat that says “RTFM.”  For those of you not in the know with that particular acronym, the kinder, gentler version is “RTM” Read the Manual.

Whisked from the wide-open spaces of my usual surroundings to the heart of downtown Minneapolis was quite a contrast.  I did see one strip of green grass about as wide as half a sidewalk, but other than that, it was all pavement and concrete.

Technical writers sometime have a reputation for being picky or particular.  One of the presenters went way over the top.  The session presented an approach information layout.  I needed a quick review of design principles, so I went.  The first part was very good, this particular uber-geek, previously a Stanford physics doctorate, had a neat grid-based layout that resulted in neat, clean, uncluttered layouts. 

Then he got into some topics that showed that the layout was more important than the content.  His website is almost completely pdf files (just in case the viewer would change the font size in the browser, for accessibility issues, for example.)  He locked his content in PDF so it could not vary in presentation from his design.  Even his e-mails, he puts a hard return after each line so he’s sure where the lines break if the recipient has a wider or narrower e-mail pane open, and made sure the last line of each paragraph was as long as the lines above it.  This, of course, requires adding or subtracting words from the paragrph to make sure the last line was the correct length.  Fortunately there were a lot of groans in the audience for this obsessive-compulsive non-reader centered approach.

one year ago…

May 15 2007 – It’s That Time of Year

It’s mid-may.  Too many things vie for my time this season.  Get the garden/trees in. Start up the new batches of livestock and poultry.  Then there are the things that I like to do that get left in the dust – wander the woods for morel mushrooms, roam the lakeshores for crappies.


When we picked up our lambs over in Tama county, we were offered morels.  So, even if I don’t get out, I’ll still be able to have some of the seasonal delights.

one year ago…

May 4, 2007 – House Under Cardinal Attack!

A pair of cardinals are building a nest in the shrubbery less than two feet from our big picture window.  The male bashes up against the window thousands of times daily.  At first I was worried the cardinal would hurt itself, now it is just annoying!  Evidently, each time he is successful in warding off the intruding cardinal (his reflection), so it goes, over and over. 


We’ve tried closing the curtains, pasting Martin’s artwork on the window, and hanging a dishtowel outside to wave in the wind, but he is very determined.  He escorts his lady each time she gathers a piece of nesting material and when she comes back to weave it in the nest, the attack begins. 


Here he is during a quiet moment.  I hope the nest is successful – we can see directly into the nest through the window and it would be cool to see the eggs and hatchlings, but the nest is only a few feet off the ground, so I’m guessing at some point the eggs or baby birds will end up as cat food.

one year ago…

May 1, 2007 – ClustrMaps

You may have noticed the new world map in the left navigation bar. I was excited to put the map on this page to see the locations of visitors to the blog.  Being a bit of a skeptic, I’m not sure the map portrays “real” visitors.

You may notice numerous visitors worldwide, and although I do get a comment from overseas now and then, I think this map grossly overstates “real visitors.” Here’s what I think is really going on. Right now, in my “spam” comment folder are 106 messages for the usual body part extenders, mortgages, drugs, and hot stock picks. My guess is most of these dots represent comment spammers and not real visitors. I’ll probably take it off, unless someone has an idea or source for a map that doesn’t include the spammer’s locations.

one year ago…

April 29, 2007 – New (Old) Bookcases

Yesterday Grandpa Dave and G’ma Ann came down for Grandparent’s Day for Martin’s Kindergarten class. Martin had a great time showing off his classroom. But Linda got the biggest surprise of all, two stacking barrister bookcases circa 1906. They were originally her grandfather’s furniture and have been from Iowa, to Arizona, to Minnesota, and now back to Iowa.


They look great in the living room, flanking the entertainment center and just seem to belong. Linda can still smell her grandmother’s house in the bookcases!

one year ago…

April 10, 2007 – Claire and Emma Visit Wind Farm

Today Emma and I (Claire) went with the 4-H Jr. Conservationists to visit a wind farm in Blairsburg, Iowa. 

The farm has over one hundred wind turbines located on farmland in the area.  I went representing the high school Envirothon team, along with 2 other members of the team.  We learned a great deal of information to help us with our presentation for the state competition. 

Here’s a picture of me and the other two envirthon members that went on the field trip.
 

The wind turbines were much larger than they appeared.  The base was the size of a small room and had a ladder leading to the top.  This picture is one of 2 platfroms inside the turbine for workers to rest on.  It’s about 85 feet above us to the first platform.


This is my friend (let’s call her “Polly”) posing against the turbine. On the trip we also visited the Calkins Nature Center.

one year ago…

April 7, 2007 – Getting Ready for Easter

Today, the kids started getting ready for Easter.


Who doesn’t have fond memories of dying Easter eggs as a kid or with their kids? The amazing transformation from white to brightly colored eggs is magic.

Egg dying is always a bit of a quandary at our house as all of our chickens lay brown or green eggs. We have to buy white store eggs to dye. It’s hard to put that package of sterile commodity white egggs into the cart.

one year ago…

March 23, 2007 – Guest Lecture

Today was a day of errands and more errands. At noon I was a guest lecturer to a business class at MCC talking about the benefits/process of forming a LLC. The errands continued until 9:00 as I needed to drive Claire to Ames for a meeting at church regarding their trip to Boston this summmer.

one year ago…

March 21, 2007 – Committee Work

Today, I attended two meetings in Ames. One with Practical Farmers of Iowa to talk to them about the system design of their new food cooperative. It is one of the missing links in a local food system. The press release about the project follows:

Practical Farmers of Iowa to launch Iowa Food Cooperative

AMES, Iowa—Iowa consumers soon will find it easier to have their pick of a wide variety of Iowa products, under a project starting through Practical Farmers of Iowa. Practical Farmers of Iowa has received a grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to launch an Iowa Food Cooperative.
The Cooperative, when launched early next year, will be similar to ones now operating in Oklahoma and Nebraska. The effort will sell only food and non-food products that are produced by members of the cooperative directly to consumers.
The benefits of a direct-to-consumer distribution system like this are many. Consumers know more about the products they’re buying and they are supporting our Iowa economy, while farmers are getting the best price they can. Customers will know exactly who produced the food, where it was grown or raised, and what production practices the farmer or rancher used. “You don’t just order five pounds of generic hamburger, you order it from a specific producer. Our food has a story, and customers of locally raised foods are part of that story,” according to Eric Franzenburg, president of Practical Farmers of Iowa.
The Iowa Food Co-op will be modeled on the successful Oklahoma and Nebraska Food Cooperatives. The older of these two, the Oklahoma Food Co-op, has nearly 1500 different items available each month. As of February 2007, the coop has 1000 members, 101 of them are producers. Total sales average $25,000 – $35,000 each month. The advantage for consumers? “We are discovering the unique and authentic regional tastes of this area and rediscovering the importance of local food production to healthy, local communities,” said Eric. The project also recognizes that Iowa is unique with various local and regional farmer-led food distribution efforts. The project will work with these efforts to help deepen and broaden the base of consumers who buy products directly from farmers.
PFI is a non-profit sustainable agriculture group dedicated to farming that is profitable, environmentally sound, and healthy for consumers and communities. Founded in 1985, PFI has over 700 farmer and non-farmer members throughout Iowa.

The second meeting was at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. There was a meeting to discuss mechanisms for small niche agricultural producers to have access to capital. It was a brainstorming session for another Leopold project.
one year ago…

March 4, 2007 – Frustration Begins to Set In

Eight to nine days after the power went out, our neighbors on the roads a mile east and a mile west still don’t have power. We are lucky to be part of a small rural co-op and had our power restored in 3 days, the neighbors are part of a multi-state power company with over 1 million customers, with much larger resources, and are still waiting for power. Another vote small and local over large and centralized?

A couple of days without power is an adventure, but eight days in the winter turns to misery fairly quickly.


Here’s a hand-made sign just a mile due east of us offering instruction to the local electrical foremen! You’ll also notice the tractor and red generator working to keep the people warm inside and pipes from freezing.
one year ago…

February 20, 2007 – A Dark Side of Rural America

Sunday morning a house less than a mile from us was intentionally set on fire.  It points to one of the problems I see with absentee ownership.  Someone now from Connecticut owns this property (proudly displaying the “Century Farm” signs that indicates 100 year ownership of the farm by the same family).  The house had been rented for at least the last 10 years and nothing had been done to it.  As windows broke, they were replaced with plywood, the porch roof was collapsing – all while the owners were collecting rent and when the renters finally stopped paying, they were kicked out and the house had reached the point of no return, so the owner simply had the house burned.  A sad story all around.


one year ago…

February 19, 2007 – I’m Melting

Finally, the cold has ended in earnest! The driveway is starting to melt. Ever since I was a kid, it’s been my job to make drainages for snow melt in the spring – dig channels, make pathways to drain the snowmelt puddles away. There  is some utility in doing this – draining the puddles prevents them from freezing in a skating rink at night and I’m sure it helps usher in spring a little faster.