Wednesday, June 30, 2010


"Look at the Northwest sky," Karen called me on my cellphone last night.  Adam said the same thing a couple evenings ago. And so I haven't missed our recent sunsets, which have been extraordinary.  What is it?  Something about the heat?

Whatever it is, I'm tickled that my family admires the artwork of the universe.  I remember walking out the law school door after my last final exam of my first semester.  "I could have had a Spring," I thought, "and maybe it isn't too late."  As I biked home, I looked around, wondering why I hadn't been paying attention.  It wasn't that I'd had my head in books every minute.  After all, I'd ridden the bike to school that very morning. It must have been the foggy bubble I carried with me like Pigpen's cloud of dust.

My "now" isn't your "now," is it?  Nor yours mine?  The older I get, the more I wonder how different they are.  Consider an obvious example, Karen's grandfather's.  He hardly hears and he scarcely sees, but his "now" is as real to him as mine is to me.  The differences between you and me fall elsewhere on the spectrum. 

Looking at this from a different perspective, how objective are the things we perceive?  We've been taught from birth to think that this chair has objective physical characteristics that anyone with normally developed senses can observe.  That belief has been confirmed by various people describing the chair and treating it similarly to the way we perceive it.  Nevertheless, as one who has seen a "Matrix" movie, I can understand the idea some folks have proposed -- that we might be pawns in some alien's computer game.

Sunset photographs usually disappoint me.  This is no exception. It's too bad Jerry isn't here to give lessons.
"Not bad," says Virginia, "but I guess you haven't learned how to turn off the flash."


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Burst Bubble

I brush the curtain aside.  Is everyone still out there?  I'll close it again soon, but it's almost dinnertime and I've been bobbing in my bubble for 8 hours straight.

If I don't choose breaks carefully, my train of thought may chug into oblivion and a little carefully hoed wisdom will be lost forever.  I'm afraid one lost thought could save someone a lot of trouble so I'd better hold on tight.

In my line of work, the definitions can kill you.  I read through a ten-page one a couple days ago.  Someday I'd like to meet one of the Beltway drafters who write these things.  No, forget that.  I think I'd rather pull weeds.

This writing process is very similar to musical performance or a road race or many other lines of work or pleasure.  I suppose that's why they're called "disciplines."  Focus and concentrated effort are important to any kind of success, unless maybe you're that one in a billion persons who's blessed with pure, natural talent.  I'm not.

"Back to work," says Virginia.  "You're neglecting me.  Remember, I've got you soon for 3 solid months."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wineberry Picking

A gardener can't wait.  If he does, it's too late.  Here am I, in the midst of a writing project, and the wineberries are ripe, a once a year thing.  I refuse to let the birds and bears, or sun-drying, beat me to them, so I picked about 5 gallons yesterday morning.  I also won't put them in the refrigerator and wait, as I did with our plums a couple weeks ago.  Fortunately, I stuck some of those directly into the freezer.  Most of the rest of them grew furry coats.  (I guess even plums know enough to add layers when it gets cold.)

If you live in the city, let me suggest that picking wineberries is like a trip to the gym.  You must walk, in my case about a mile up Thunder Ridge Mountain, to patches thick with berries.

You stretch, grab and drop...
until you have all you can carry.
Hauling this weight down the mountain is a treat, provided you stop to nibble now and then.
"Watch out for the bugs!" yells Virginia.

See the green one, near the top? (Click on the picture for a better view.) I happen to know it adds a strong cinnamony flavor to the berries.  And to the wine?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Swap Meat

We recently used two thick tight blue rubber bands to turn two of our large-breed kids into wethers.  They're likely to weigh more than their moms before long and then, sometime in the Fall, I will bite the bullet and haul them off to harvest.  Earlier on, we toyed with the idea of trading market-ready goats with other goat herders so neither of us would have a familiar goat's name on our dinner plates.  As they continue nibbling our hedges, we haven't arranged that swap ...

which brings me to today's topic -- swaps.  Let's say your business has an adjustable-rate loan that's making you uncomfortable because you think interest rates are going to rise.  You run into another businessperson who has a fixed-rate loan that's making her nervous because she thinks interest rates will remain lower than hers.  She has what you want and you have what she wants.  The rest of the loan terms happen to be exactly the same, so you agree to a trade.  This is an interest rate swap, more precisely I suppose, a payment swap.  You agree to make her loan payments and she agrees to make yours. 

This example is a bit too simple, isn't it?  To be more realistic, let's say the loans are a little different, as normally would be the case.  To even things out, one of you pays the other some extra money, but as in the first case you agree to make her payments and she agrees to make yours.  This swap is more like the ones we see in the real commercial world.

A few years go by, each of you has made payments as agreed and you're both happy with your deal, so you're open to expanding the concept.  Your business is manufacturing and selling National Football League memorabilia.  Unfortunately, you have a bad feeling about the coming season.  You think the NFL is going to have a boring time, while you expect the American Football League to be exciting, which you think means people are going to buy the NFL stuff someone else makes and not your material.  An acquaintance is convinced you're wrong and says, "Look, let's make a deal.  I'll pay you $50,000.  If the NFL has a miserable season, you keep the money, but if the AFL has a lousy time while the NFL fills each stadium to capacity we'll split your profits."  "All right," you say.  You've hedged some of your risk, swapping what you think are unlikely profits for a certain cash payment.

"So?" asks Virginia, "what are you getting at?"

Well, after thinking through those examples, you might imagine the multitudes of swap arrangements businesspeople have come up with -- tied to weather, oil prices, crop success, financial indices, sport scores, and thousands of other measures.  Originally designed to cover true business risks, the arrangements grew into distantly contingent game-playing that sometimes merged with pure gambling.

You may have heard about swaps and hedges (and hedge funds), which have taken some of the blame for the financial crisis we're trying to shuffle past.  The financial reform bill approved by the House and Senate conference committee early Friday morning includes 400 pages of new rules regulating swaps.  The book I'm writing on that bill is supposed to explain these new rules, among all the other changes stuffed onto the bill's 2000 pages.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Air Conditioning

I refuse to read the article headed "Couple Tries to Sell Child at WalMart."  Give me a break.  Our son would have protested, "Is Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus too far away?"

It's definitely too hot.  No, I made no promises during cold January and February.  I've always thought cold is better than hot.  You can put on more clothes, but at some point you can't take them off.

All this heat calls for research -- into how to cool our house in an environmentally friendly way.  It won't happen this summer, so maybe this Fall and Winter I'll set aside some time, although by then I may forget about it.  Sort of like pain, when it's over, it's over.

On the other hand, I think I'll have trouble forgetting about getting hotter and hotter running, pulling weeds, hoeing, planting, spreading mulch, reading and not having anywhere to cool off.  Forgive me, I'm being stupid, and forgetful.  We have a pump with cool well water and a creek with a swimming hole.  We should be able to shift that coolness into our house, somehow, and I should be able to find time to jump in.
Oh, by the way, over on the left, that's Elk Cliff, the reason our farm is called Elk Cliff Farm.  Here's another shot.

I'm also being silly.  It's the attitude, stupid.  I seem to be regretting my decision to stumble through the financial reform bill.  If the weather makes me hot, the obfuscation of Congressional verbiage burns me hotter, but I'm gittin' 'er done.  If I didn't pursue this project to make me feel useful, I'd most likely find another one.

We're fortunate our house has a full English basement with a kitchen.  The former owner told us the original dining room was downstairs, which makes sense for two reasons -- cooking in the downstairs kitchen would keep the upstairs cooler and carrying meals up the stairs would be very inconvenient.  Because our bedroom two floors up is a sauna, we're now sleeping in the dining room.  I can bake cookies and pickle beets in my sleep.

"And dream about me," says Virginia.

I roll my eyes.  Sheesh.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Thanks to Karen, for a couple days my new beard looked as if someone cared and the hippie look around my ears had lessened.  Thanks to Jerry, the photographer, I'm wondering if disarray is an asset, hence this:
Doesn't it look like a haphazard hair style?  Setting a record, within 24 hours of harvesting the previous crop (winter wheat) with scissors, I've replanted, this time with watermelons, muskmelons (cantaloupe), cucumbers, radishes (to keep the squash beetles away), and flowers (nasturtiums and bachelor buttons).  As you can see, I left much of the wheat straw for background.  Besides, it'll hold the soil in place and gradually disintegrate. 

In case you don't remember or didn't see an earlier blog posting, here's how the greenhouse garden appeared yesterday (photo courtesy of Karen; stay tuned to because I suspect she'll soon explain our standing-winter-wheat-to-bread process).  The left side has been trimmed of wheat berries, the right side awaits its turn.
While we're at it, remember the peas I spent days picking a couple weeks ago?  I've also replanted that garden bed, with sweet corn and Blue Lake green beans.
I simply pulled weeds, hoed the pea vines into rows, added some nicely aged horse manure, and planted corn and beans between the rows of peas.  My plan is to go back in a month or so and take dried peas off the vines so I can plant them next year -- unless the corn and beans make that too uncomfortable.

"I understand another friend is about to visit," says Virginia.

Sure enough:
Doyle's Thornless Blackberries

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


My muse sits on my shoulder, shaking her head.  She seems to think I'm wasting my time writing a book on the financial reform bill that's wending its way through a House/Senate conference committee.  Because my contract requires me to provide a manuscript within 2 weeks after President Obama signs the thing, I need to get a draft written now so I can update it with changes after the final version is passed. 

My current thinking is:  I've finally learned never to agree to write a book like this in the Summer.  Too many other things draw my attention:
  • Wineberries ripening on Thunder Ridge.
  • Peaches being attacked by squirrels.
  • Garden space emptied by past-prime peas waiting for seeds.
  • Wheat berries beginning to fall on the ground.
  • Corn needing side-feeding and watering.
  • Fence line begging for mulch.
  • Family doctor wanting to check out a spot on my forehead.
  • Piano needing practicing for benefit in mid-July. 
  • Virginia wanting development and recapitulation.
  • Field garden expecting more than weeds.
  • Spouse hoping for a hug.
  • Son wanting independence.
  • Exterior house trim peeling for scraping and new paint.
Maybe it's time to order geothermal cooling and pay local talent to help out.  That's not why we moved here.  Or is it?  Thank goodness I don't have to go somewhere else to work.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Working Vacation

Set your suitcase down at our house and you're liable to find yourself aching for a nap and early bedtime.  At 5:45 this morning, Larry and I were nibbling cereal and imbibing grape juice.  By 6:30 we were gently paddling the James River.  Mist obscured Blue Ridge peaks, draping curtains from the sky.  "Do you see them?" I asked, hoping I didn't have a detached retina.  I relaxed as our kayaks parted the low-floating sky.  This sort of thing, cool temperatures, and no one in sight, make a morning float worthwhile.

"See the drooping pawpaws?" points Larry, "in Alabama we rarely find ripe fruit because wildlife gets there first."  "Not so in Virginia," I answer, "we picked ten grocery bags last summer.  Karen made a pie and pawpaw wine."

Larry's my go-to guy for nature lessons.  Last week on his way North, he gave us an American chestnut tree to plant (mostly American, perhaps as much as 1/8th Chinese to make it blight-resistant).  Knowing he was stopping again on his way South, I made sure I got that sucker in the ground.  Besides, I believe we should invest in future generations and, if I'm lucky, we may get to roast some of its chestnuts before we die.  I also like the symbolism of blending Chinese and American cultures, a sign of future times as well as the past -- my father, though he was born in Bluffton, Ohio, lived until his early twenties in that land that no longer seems far away.

Needing more mulch for my garden, Boxerwood Gardens was a perfect fit for our next stop. Boxerwood, in Lexington, is an environmental education center.  I like contributing to Boxerwood ( because I can support two interests at once -- the environment and childhood education.

KB loaded up my pickup while Larry and I toured the grounds.  Quickly recognizing Dr. Munger's passion for exotic trees, Larry said, "I've never seen such a large grove of human-planted Bottlebrush Buckeyes, native to Alabama.  The evening fragrance of these blossoms is incredible."  They didn't smell too bad in the morning either.  Everywhere we went, different varieties of Japanese maples greeted us.  Admiring what is affectionately called "The Great Oak" prompted a short lecture on dendrochronology, tree-ring dating.  Larry anxiously awaited a dendrochronologist's report on a beam sample recently taken from his wife's family homestead.  Later, back at Elk Cliff Farm (our home), Larry identified two post oaks (quercus stellata) and explained that these 3-4 foot diameter trees easily could be older than the 10-foot plus "Great Oak" because post oaks are very slow-growing trees.  Later he complimented a cedar-crowded American Elm that stands along our fence line.  Let me tell you, Larry can come again any time -- he helps make our place feel very special.

Then came that nap I warned you about, two hours for Larry.  I nodded briefly, then planted a few rows of Blue Lake green beans and some sweet corn.  Remember that pickup full of mulch?  When Larry came to, off we went to my field garden to carefully lay the mulch on a protective barrier of miscellaneous materials (magazines, newspapers, cardboard boxes, rugs, blankets and plastic) underneath my electric fence.  While he kindly agreed it should prevent me from having to periodically whack weeds so they don't short the fence, I don't think it reassured him of my sanity. 

"I'm not sure anything could do that," says Virginia, "ask Jerry and Kathy."

At 9:15, Larry began to hint that his 2-hour nap needed renewal.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Marketer's Fool

I understand a recent guest thought this was funny:
They're all Brooks Adrenalines, of different vintages, aging in my closet.  My two most recent pairs -- I should say worn pairs -- are drying on our back steps.  Two expectant pairs wait in their boxes.

Since I read Born to Run, my footwear has taken on new value.  According its author, McDougall, each of these pairs has plenty of life left.  So, as I've said, they're aging.  Some day, when I've worn their soles as thin as crepes, they may yet see another race, today's version of running flats.

"What's with the new pairs, still in their boxes?" asks Virginia.

Good question.  I see that on my calendar, for July 1, 2010, I long ago scratched, "Order RR shoes before VIP exp. 8/19," something Born to Run persuaded me not to do.  Because I run about 2000 miles per year, my habit has been to order 4 pairs of running shoes each year, counting on each pair for 500 miles.  According to Born to Run, this means I've been doing exactly what shoe manufacturers want me to do -- buy multiple pairs of their latest model before they roll out the next version.  I've been a marketer's fool.

Besides, the two pairs I've been wearing for the past year continue to serve me nicely.  When the new pairs in the box wear out some day, I might switch to running barefoot or to those flimsy foot gloves.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Not too many years ago, this pianist often felt lonely and neglected, more so, I dare say, than a harpist.  Hauling a piano wherever we played was impossible, so piano players either stayed home or were at the mercy of good or bad fortune.  Many ugly tuned and poorly voiced instruments greeted us at gigs.  I had to smile 12 years ago when my Kurzweil keyboard arrived.

Unlike earlier machines, this one has touch-sensitive keys.  Almost like a real piano, the keys respond to finger pressure -- loud when I press hard, soft when I touch lightly, and numerous gradations in between.  I haven't quite figured out why -- perhaps because the gradations are not infinite -- it still doesn't match the feel of a fine grand piano.  For classical music I much prefer my concert grand.  For popular music, it's hard to beat the variety of sounds generated by the Kurzweil.

Two weeks ago, we were thrilled to perform in a huge bank barn.  As wooden as life can be, the sound in this barn was like Carnegie Hall.  Wherever you stood, the volume and quality was the same.  Acoustic architects try to create this environment in new halls and have been known to fail.  Here I am accompanying Lauren Warus, an aspiring opera and crossover artist from New Jersey.  She sang a set of show tunes and the famous aria from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, "O Mio Babbino Caro."
Now, a view of the party, looking down from the loft of the rehabilitated antique structure (both pictures, courtesy of Gerri Wenz).
"What a wonderful venue!" says Virginia.  "Sign me up, would you?"

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eating What You Know

I wonder if the Great Recession is bringing more people home to eat.  Maybe not.  I recently read in Time that restaurant food sales in the U.S. have risen from $42.8 billion in 1970 to an estimated $520 billion in 2010.  I guess that may mean people are getting even farther away from knowing where their food comes from.  An image from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle comes to mind -- the boy who had no idea the orange carrot he ate was a root that grew underground.

What is this?
Queen Anne's Lace?  No.  It's a carrot, in its second year, producing seeds for next year.

What is this?
Here's another hint.
Yes, it's a blooming artichoke, dagnabit.

Here's something more common.
Whole wheat.

Our biggest volunteer stretches sunward.
"I'd bet you're pretty excited about something that's ready to pick," says Virginia.  "Happy Mother's Day!"

"It's also Son's Day," I say.  Both were born on June 18.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Setting Up a Photo Studio

How do you set up a photo shoot?  Let me tell you what I learned last weekend.

Step 1.  Do your own thing.  In our case, buy a little farm, add as many animals as possible, and grow a big garden so we can feed ourselves and our guests without many trips to a grocery store.
Step 2.  Invite friends to visit.  If one of them is a professional photographer, focus on his or her significant other, especially if she loves animals.  Reel her in with lots of animal photos on your blogs, including many amateurish pictures of beautiful subjects.

Step 3.  When the photographer says, "I like your blogs, but the text is more distracting than the pictures," start collecting people who have lines in their faces.  Call them faces with "character," "life experience" and "history."

Step 4.  Establish low expectations.  After all, a farm has lots of poop piles.  Portray it as rustic, antique and un-air-conditioned (all true).

Step 5.  Set a date.  Once that's done, you know they're probably as crazy as you are, so relax.  After all, if they find the place disgusting, they can drive away.

Step 6.  When the car arrives, ignore all the strange-looking luggage piled in the back and pretend you're going to sit under ceiling fans and sip mint juleps.  In fact, begin by offering iced tea and, as a joke, raw goat's milk, then introduce them to your week-old goat kids.

Step 7.  When you notice his eyes roaming parlors, porches and patios for studio space, pull out your list of possible portrait models and suggest ways of appearing to accidentally run into them.

Step 8:  Set the hook by inviting his better half into the barn to help milk, gather eggs, distribute feed, and sweep goat detritus.

Step 9.  Take your guests for a "Sunday" drive (any day's okay), wander into town and slowly drive past empty storefronts with "For Rent" signs.  Gulp when he starts calling numbers.

Step 10.  Leave your friends alone to sweat and swat flies while you pick peas without sweating or swatting.  The air-conditioned storefront sounds better and better.

The rest is easy.  Here's what we did Monday morning.

Rise at 6:30. Shower for the first time in 2 weeks so my hair looks fresh and dry on top of the jowls the photographer insists I not shave because, well, he never says so, but I like to think his inclusion of me in the shoot means my face has character although I realize friends often receive special treatment.  Besides, I don't want the storefront smelling like goats and rotting gardeners.  
 Got everything?

At 7:30, after double-checking mental lists, drive to Green Valley Rental Center, owned by the father of Ruth, Rooster's significant other, in the hopes that he might have the now-lost (#@!&$!!) telephone number Rooster offered Friday night at a music party.  From Wal-Mart parking lot, call Ruth's, not Rooster's, number, which Dad offered.  Ruth says Rooster's on his way to his shop.  Buy cardtable, computer desk, brown paper, bottled water (handy for once, but when are we going to ban this stuff?), and bar stool.

Find Rooster's basement auto repair shop with no lawnmower/weedwhacker, lots of rusting hulks and body parts.  No Rooster.  Call and leave third or fourth message.  Drive to music store to visit scheduled model David, who might be able to reach Rooster.  Doesn't open until 10, so go on to City Hall to meet the Commissioner of Revenue, a very nice grandmotherly-type, who says a business license isn't necessary because Jerry isn't charging anyone anything.  She and her assistant grandma admire Jerry's work, convenient on IPhone and IPad, and agree to receive a certificate of insurance on their fax machine.  Walk two blocks to visit The Advocate, local alternative monthly rag, owned by Doug with character in his face.  Not in. Go downstairs to Washington Street Purveyors, where Jerry is purveyed 2 bottles of Layer Cake shiraz.  Retrace steps to get fax, then try David again, no Rooster.
At 10:45, park at the curb outside 115 S. Main.  Watch Jerry fret, call owner in case we have time to run another errand before she arrives, and report that she's on schedule.  11:00, Watch Jerry sweat.  11:01, phew!  Jerry probably wants to hug Sallie but doesn't as she opens the door.  Unload.  Assemble the computer table from easy-to-follow instructions in American-ese while Jerry sets up screens, reflectors, computer...Lights! Cameras! Action!

"Busy morning, eh?" says Virginia.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Local Heroes

Fifteen years ago, after I resigned my corporate position, I thought I'd wander in and out of downtown establishments and get to know the local heroes.  I think I devoted one morning to the project before becoming involved in other things and forgetting all about it.

When our friends, Jerry and Kathy, from St. Louis, arrived last Friday, Jerry began to explain his idea of a working vacation.  He wanted to photograph some Virginians who carry the experiences of their lives in their faces.  He'd given us a bit of an advance warning, so Karen and I had begun listing candidates.  We weren't sure what he had in mind, but his blog had offered guidance (

Kathy and Jerry jumped into the local music scene by joining us at a twice yearly music party thrown by our dear friends, David and Linda Krantz.  A couple months before each party, David and Linda invite folks to register for 10-20 minute slots. The result is an eclectic mix of music performed by musicians with varied skill levels -- from novices to regular professional performers.  Jerry had a double motive -- to hear some interesting music and find models.

Soon after we arrived, I began to realize that something about Jerry's proposition was motivating me to resurrect my dream of wandering among local heroes.  I was surprised by how many of them I knew.  So I wandered.

We were so preoccupied with the party we forgot to pick up goat feed.  As a result, Saturday found us on an outing to Lexington.  "Whoa," said Jerry, as he spotted an empty storefront.  He pulled into a parking spot and dialed the number on the "FOR RENT" sign.  "This guy's serious," I thought.  "Would you be interested in renting this space for a day or two?" he asked the lessor.  A back-and-forth exchange followed, with a call-back or two, and, wouldn't you know, he'd rented the space for Monday and Tuesday.

By Sunday afternoon, our hunt for portrait subjects had resumed with a sense of urgency as had Jerry's planning, which obviously had been clicking through his brain for quite some time.  Monday morning was filled with preparations, as Jerry and his new assistant, me, proceeded to track down models and a few props for the unfurnished space -- a cardtable, a computer stand, a stool, and some bottled water.  We also visited City Hall to see if we needed a business license and to find a fax machine to receive the certificate of liability insurance required by the lessor. We arrived at 115 S. Main fifteen minutes early.

At 11:01, Sallie the lessor sallied forth.  "You're a minute late," said Jerry, somehow confident she would take it with the good humor he intended.  He was right; Sallie did.  We proceeded to set up the equipment Jerry had packed into the back of his Honda Pilot.  I changed into a tux shirt and bow tie, becoming the new studio's test case.  Soon I made a follow-up phone call and, as luck would have it, one of our prize candidates was hooked.  "I drove 800 miles to take your picture," Jerry repeated the line he had used on Rooster at the Krantz party on Friday night.  A half hour later the posing stool was no longer mine.  Jerry's dream was off and running.

Mine, too.  After two sessions, my dream resumed.  We strolled around town, like two Mormons on a mission trip, dropping in on possible subjects.  At Jerry's nod, negotiations would begin, or a shake of his head and off we'd go.  By 2 PM Tuesday, when his lease ran out, Jerry had completed nine sittings and I'd talked to more than twenty local heroes.

"I wish you'd let me pose," says Virginia.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Old Man River

"Water is gold," a friend of ours insists.  Elk Creek and the James River border our little farm on three sides.   Strangers flock to fish from our shores or take out or put in for a day's float.  We feel fortunate and inclined to say yes.

Sometimes we wonder at presumptuous users and takers, like those who carve a tree without asking, who plop down and don't look up as we walk past, who leave their trash for us to dispose, or, almost incredibly, have the nerve to pass our permissions along to others.  Do they listen to the words when they sing along "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" with Aretha?
Sunday, as we relaxed on our peninsula, a flotilla of tubes approached, floating suspiciously close to our shore.  I hesitate to use the word "our" -- to claim ownership of this natural beauty seems almost a sacrilege -- but then when I see what too often happens (for example, BP in the Gulf of Mexico), I wish I could buy more and exclude every stranger.

The apparent captain of the flotilla hailed us as his cohorts stuck their toes back into their shoes, dismounted and shoved their gear onto our shoreline.  This explained the presence of the unfamiliar pickup we had earlier considered locking into our field.  Captain B inquired, "Enjoying the River?" I said, "Yes, and you?"  "Hi, I'm _____; R gave us permission and unlocked the gate for us this morning."  "Oh he did?" said I, "...well, things have gotten out of control so we're going to put a different lock on the gate and from now on we'll expect everyone to ask us for permission each time they enter."

Not an auspicious beginning perhaps, but Captain B grew on us, proving to be loquacious and somewhat likeable.

"Lived here all my life," said he, and eventually, "if anyone bothers you, let me know and if I can I'll make things right."  He mentioned that his grandparents were cremated in a trailer fire a few years ago and the big C claimed his father shortly after.  His grandmother left him a house free and clear.  "All I have to do is foot the taxes," he said. 

"You've got a great place here," he continued, "fenced in so my pit bull, basically an overgrown chihuahua, can't get out and a guy can drink a couple beers without a hassle.  Lots of good-lookin' women pass by.  I can look but can't do anything about it, now that I'm married."

I asked, "Do you have any kids?"  He said, "No, but I like practicing."  I laughed, "That's good for you."

"He didn't really say that, did he?" asks Virginia.

He did, indeed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Tidbits for seasons of life:
Teenagers of the moment,
dive into the wet dew of morning,
weed, thin carrots and watch
them thrive into tomorrows.
What is this delayed gratification?

Everyday waiting, change, surprise,
never nothing.  On a winter’s morn
something is in the works,
a spade in the compost pile
turns steaming spectacles,
wriggling worms a riot.

     (excerpt from a long poem, Conversations with a Garden, by this blogger)

A miniature lightning strike?

"You should have planted fava beans when you planted peas," Virginia says. 

"Now you tell me," I say.  "Where were you when I planted the peas?"

All I can do now is watch what 90-degree days do to these cool-weather plants, and wait for next year to try again.  In the meantime, I think I'll enjoy their blossoms.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


One of the trees I planted three or four years ago reminds me that when I was eight or nine, I plopped from the top of a small plum tree into a mash carpet of rotting fruit.  For now, I'm focusing on the purples I can reach while standing.
"What are you going to do with these guys?" asks Virginia.

"Pose a still life, for starters," I say.
"I think this one may have gotten too close to a buckeye," says she.
Pie, salsa, jam.  I've already violated one rule:  "Never put firm plums in the refrigerator."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sexy Goobers

"Peas, peas, peas, peas.  Eating goober peas.
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas."

My father's collection of Kingston Trio record albums has come to mind.  Why?
See.  The peanuts I planted less than a month ago have suddenly turned sexy.

Southern now, having lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line most of my life, the culture sinks deeper and deeper into my roots.  I might have to stretch to bring my father's history with me, but I can try.  As a conscientious objector in the 1940s, he worked on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  How's that?

Oh, and I remember him singing, "Peas, peas, peas, peas.  Eating goober peas," not often, but once in a while, maybe just with me (and the Trio).  That song, I understand, was a favorite among Confederate soldiers, especially near the end of the War when, after being cut off from rail supply lines, boiled peanuts became their emergency ration.  Maybe the Mennonites and Quakers, digging post holes and wielding shovels, sang that song, too, up on the Parkway.

Those peanut flowers surprised me this morning.  Something I've been looking forward to also appeared.
We'll be eating Blue Lake bush green beans very soon!  And something else...
"Black Beauty?" guesses Virginia.

That woman's smart.  Yes, indeed, zucchini.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Poindexter:  Choose one or more of the following:

(A) A bookish or socially unskilled person.
(B)  Someone who is overtly nerdy, geeky or bookish.
(C) The nerdy young nephew of The Professor, Felix the Cat's archenemy and bad guy scientist.
(D) Deceased U.S. Senator from the State of Washington, former resident ghost of our farmhouse.

I hope that in the future, like today, people who Google, Yahoo, Bing or whatever "Pannabecker" don't find a definition like the first two, although in a weak moment I might admit it would be appropriate.  I'd prefer "an eclectic friend" or something like that.

"Why Poindexter?" Virginia sets me up.

Because Miles Poindexter, sometimes pronounced "pawndextuh," grew up in our house and then moved to Walla Walla, Washington, where he practiced law.  Drawn to Spokane to be a prosecuting attorney and judge, he was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Congress and, in 1910, to the U.S. Senate.  From 1923 to 1928 he served as U.S. Ambassador to Peru, where he was reportedly known for partying and being popular among the fairer sex.  He lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1928 and returned to Elk Cliff Farm where he died on September 21, 1946. 

That reminds me.  I must build a classy sign to post near our driveway:  "Elk Cliff Farm."

Since we moved here, several members of the Poindexter family have dropped in.  Today it was Miles Poindexter, III, the original Miles Poindexter's great-great-nephew, returning to Florida after captaining a "rich guy's yacht" to Maine for the summer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pea Time Squared!

It's pea time.  Two garden beds have come to fruition, consuming 9 hours of yesterday's rest and much of this morning, leaving me to neglect weeding the corn, writing about financial reform....

"...and Virginia," says Virginia.

Yes, Virginia.  My back feels as if it has done a lifting marathon, after bending over, kneeling on this knee then on that, sitting, squatting, trying every position I could think of to harvest those pods.  I managed to stick 11 quarts of shelled peas in the freezer a couple hours ago, but I'm not half finished.

Pea pictures later, maybe.  First, I want to show you a purple coneflower...before:
..some pink hollyhocks nearby,
and an x and o of a Yellow Prolific squash plant.  Maybe this will be the year we'll try frying their blossoms.
Oh, by the way, for the second year, the New Zealand spinach I planted in 2008 has returned by its own volition.  This "3-season" spinach will last into early winter.
For comparison's sake, here's some standard spinach.  My marker disappeared, so I'll guess it's Bloomsdale Longstanding.  It could be Tyee.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mexican Bean Beetles

Let me introduce Mr. and Mrs. Mexican Bean Beetle, my nemesis in the green bean patch.
Don't they look almost like friendly ladybugs?  Far from it, these guys will munch my bean plants to lace, if I let them.   To try to reduce the damage, I squish them between my forefinger and thumb.  Then I search the area for evidence.
Those two pests attempted to create about 35 offspring, which I also squished in eggo.

"You're a mean, nasty bug killer!" says Virginia.

Mea culpa.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Burgers frizzle on a grill,
future basses coo in bassinets,
crickets scrub wings good luck
above drying hay where fireflies flicker.

“Listen,” he says, “do you hear?”

“Yes, creek waters wandering,
wind whistling winter wheat,
and almost, gardens growing.”

“No, something else.”

“Ssss,” the hiss...
          of a copperhead.

"This reminds me of something I read not long ago," says Virginia, "that advertisers have long missed the boat by their use of music in commercials.  Rather than sounds that draw viewer interest -- for example, burgers sizzling and babies cooing, which studies have shown draw most people's attention --they have used music that doesn't."

"Your singing," I say, "that would draw attention."

"Better Gaga," says Virginia.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Purple and Red

Last year, for the first time, I planted purple salsify.  Its sometime moniker, the "vegetable oyster," teased me into ordering seeds. Although I'm not a big fan of oysters, I am a fan of growing as many varieties of vegetables as reasonably possible.  And, once I grow them, I tend to like them (ground cherries excepted).  Our salsify crop was meager, and I will try to grow more.  One plant remains from last year.
The flower is a gem, isn't it?  Even more interesting are the stages of this flower.  Here, I'll show you.  On the right, brown, seeds are developing that I hope to plant this Fall.  See the flower that hasn't yet opened?
Let's turn now to what our son has called his "favorite vegetable."  Much maligned, I don't know why, a fresh beet, roasted, is sweet and tender.  Here, a friend of ours picks her first beet ever.  Tug a little.  It doesn't take much because the bulb sits near the surface of the ground.
"She seems pretty happy with the size of that puppy," says Virginia.
"May I see it?" says a hollyhock.
 Sure. Open wide.
Now don't cry.
Soon, tomatoes...
and daisies. "Phone home!"
Returning to our theme for the day, here are some larkspurs, volunteering among the peas, from a planting 3 years ago.