Americans have been saving more the past two years, and spending less. This hasn't boosted our "economic growth" which, as I understand it, depends on trillions of dollars in growing consumer spending. Government stimulus has picked up some of the slack, but can't, or shouldn't, indefinitely.
"So what's a good citizen to do?" asks Virginia. "Bite the bullet and buy Twinkies and Hostess Ho-Hos?"
I don't think so.
Where do we go from here?
(1) Return to spending the way we used to. This is commonly considered great for the economy but not so good for the environment.
(2) Save and spend wisely. This is commonly considered not good for the economy and better for the environment.
I hope we're thinking about the contradictions. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is sponsoring a forum on housing policy, which may include a rethinking of our attitude toward homeownership Other departments, such as Commerce and Energy, should force us to rethink our presumptions about the economy and economic growth.
I'd hate to see us slide into a Greater Recession, and am glad to see that the rear end of the stimulus package is getting going on projects to: (1) lower the cost of solar power; (2) reduce the cost of batteries for electric vehicles 50% by 2013; (3) double our renewable energy generation capacity (wind, solar, geothermal); and (4) stop wasting so much energy. I'd like to think that good growth is possible in ways we haven't yet discovered.
The most important thing I learned in planning school back in the 1970s (Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina) was that everything is interrelated. You've probably heard about the "butterfly effect" -- that a small difference in initial conditions may cause large changes in the long term.
"Sounds like apples and oranges to me," says Virginia.
Maybe. The point is, if we don't look at the big picture in a comprehensive way, each step we take may make more of a difference, and in a different direction, than we expected. For example, we didn't anticipate that our focus on homeownership might encourage people to over-extend themselves and eventually default on their loans and walk away from their homes. When the former president asked us to buy cars and trucks after 9/11, some of us didn't realize this bought right into reliance on Middle Eastern oil.
"Buy fresh, buy local" appeals to me for several reasons. Likewise, "Buy local, support local businesses" and "Grow your own." Each of these, exercised on a broad scale, has important implications for national, and world, economics. Should I care?
Seventeen miles felt much like a marathon this morning. Having a running partner makes the miles easier, but the more I talk out loud to myself, my legs seem to know I'm alone up there. Every now and then I had to remind myself of the old saying, "if it hurts, you're working too hard." Then I'd let my arms dangle, shorten my stride and concentrate on how lucky I am, here and now, instead of fretting about there and then.
I keep playing with the apples I mentioned a few postings back. More than 20 quarts of applesauce later, I recently turned to apple juice (which offers a noteworthy byproduct, applesauce).
See, mixed in with the goats' milk, a couple half-gallon jars of apple juice and a bit of applesauce?
As I ran today, visions of not the usual waffles kept filling the cartoon balloon floating above my head. The clincher was, about 5 miles from the finish line, an odor drifting from a roadside woods. For years I thought apples were teasing me. Now I know better, the villain is pawpaws, which smell much like apples. Instead of the oat cereal or waffles that normally follow my long run, two seasonal favorites would cleanse my palate -- freshly picked sweet corn with Karen's home-made cheddar, followed by apple dumplings to be manufactured immediately upon my return.
Help yourself to one in a bowl, with goats' milk or yoghurt.
"I thought you were going to say pawpaw pudding," says Virginia.
There's a thought, except a little pawpaw goes a long way with me. Besides, they're not quite ripe even if I smell them. Soon their time will come.
Feeling squirrelly is becoming second nature to us here at Elk Cliff Farm. I prefer the term eccentric, but squirrelly appeals this time of year because another definition of the term fits. Karen put up a bucket of yellow peppers today while I, hoping for a late first frost, planted a final patch of October beans (a/k/a dwarf horticultural beans) and worked on a batch of apple jelly.
"Why the yellow fence?" yawns Virginia, saying what I want her to say. You tell me.
A couple days ago, Karen asked why I didn't plant any zebra tomatoes this year. Well, I didn't,....
I feel lucky when both tomatoes and pumpkins volunteer. And look here, on the left, I didn't plant any of that New Zealand spinach.
Would you like to see some planned tomatoes and green peppers?
"Those aren't green," says Virginia.
They were supposed to be, and I haven't figured out what happened. If you know, let me know, would you?
The valley rumbles tonight. This summer it rumbles almost every weekend, either from clouds bumping together or sticks of gunpowder shooting skyward....
nothing like it once rumbled, long ago, when native Americans roamed these mountains. Historians will tell you this was hunting ground, not home to permanent settlements, more than a thousand years ago when arrowheads landed in what are now my garden beds. But let me tell you the truth....
a tribe once inhabited the James River Face, this ridge overlooking the James River and Arnold's Valley, back before those names existed....
"What's that white scar on the mountain?" asks Virginia.
No scar, it's a field of Antietam quartzite boulders, some as big as trucks and small houses.
"How did it get there?" Virginia wants to know.
...after two years with barely a drop of rain, the residents of the James River Face were ready to move on. As they gathered their belongings, a couple of missionaries appeared from nowhere. "Pray with us," said the strangers.
"Why?" asked the thirsty natives. "What do we have to be thankful for?"
"These beautiful mountains, the skies, your friends, your families," the missionaries replied.
"The skies bring us nothing but parched lips," said the Americans. "If your god is so important, ask him to bring us water."
The missionaries prayed. They prayed and they prayed, but blue skies mocked them day after day.
Finally, the natives had no more stomach to share the little they had with the crazy strangers. They strung them on wooden crosses, lit a huge bonfire underneath, and began to dance.
Hundreds of feet pounded on the mountainside. The moans of the people echoed through the valley, bouncing back and forth, louder and louder. The dancers failed to notice the sky turning gray, darker and darker, until sparks crashed from cloud to cloud and water streamed down their faces. Under their moccasins, the earth rocked and rumbled, tossed and tumbled, until the mountain fell upon them.
Even if the God of the missionaries had spoken, he was not remembered. Instead, the place became known as "The Devil's Marbleyard."
A friend asked if I've been running. He asked because he'd read some of my latest postings. He seems to think running is good therapy and takes your mind off bothersome topics, and since I've blogged on some of those topics I must not have been running. He's right about running as therapy -- sometimes. He's wrong about my not running.
In fact, I've been gradually increasing my running, now over 40 miles per week. Knock on wood (I probably shouldn't mention it). It feels good to get out and go. Well, not right away. It takes a mile or two. Often I get to the point when I feel as if I could run forever. Not "fast" like I used to run. Slow and easy. Not long ago my son saw me loping along and commented that it hardly looked as if I were running. I'm realistic enough not to take that as a compliment on my form; he meant I looked as if I were walking.
"What's the point of all that running:?" asks Virginia.
To prove I'm not getting old? Nonsense. I know I'm getting older every day. That has nothing to do with it.
Because I'm getting old? Maybe. I believe I've commented before that when I was in my twenties I hated waiting in lines. Now, unless I have another appointment, which is highly unusual, I don't mind waiting. I must admit I don't really "wait." Since my twenties, I've learned to be prepared. I usually have a notebook handy, or something to read. These days my office can be anywhere.
Running forces me to wait. No notebook in hand, my mind writes poems, works on book updates, gazes into nowhere, or thinks about recent news stories.
"Ah, so you blame it on running," says Virginia.
No, it's this stupid blog. The more controversial, the more hits.
Some folks apparently believe, without saying it, that the Muslim religion attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, when in fact it was a group of rogue extremists. Accordingly, no Muslims should be allowed to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.
I ask myself this question: "Would the same brouhaha accompany a proposal to build a Christian church two blocks from the World Trade Center?" I doubt it. So what is the connection between the 9/11 massacre and the mosque (which, though pretty much irrelevant, I understand cannot be seen from Ground Zero and which accompanies strip joints and other establishments for which some spiritual enlightenment might be appropriate)?
Nonsense, fed by the wacky grizzly woman, a former Speaker of the House, and others who should know better. Let them draw their absurd analogies to countries that weren't built on principles like ours, and may those analogies come back to haunt them in any bids for public office. As for analogies, it might be appropriate to compare a proposal to build a cathedral near the site where a priest molested young boys or a fundamentalist church near an abortion clinic bombed by a professed Christian. In this country, I'd like to think we know better than to condemn an entire faith based on the behavior of a few miscreants.
So what if a poll says 61% of Americans oppose the proposed mosque? That is exactly why the founders of our great country chose to establish the infrastructure they did, with checks and balances and difficult rows to hoe for Constitutional change. Sometimes we let our emotions carry us away. Later, when common sense returns, we're glad we had time to reconsider.
I often hear folks gripe about "not being able to pray in public schools." Yes, we and our children may pray in public schools -- silently, wherever we want. No, we may not coerce other people into praying in public schools. Look at it this way. Some day, when our child has a Muslim teacher, that teacher will not be permitted to ask the student to bow and pray with him or her.
"You sound a little irritated," says Virginia.
Well, it can be frustrating when a gaggle of senators and representatives fail to speak out because they're worried about election results.
A couple new friends invited us over yesterday evening to snare apples and share meatloaf. I'm an oink when it comes to free fruit, but I didn't feel too embarrassed because you still can't tell we were there. In the back of my mind is a return trip, if I can figure out what to make. I'm beginning to picture long rows of canned apple juice next to our tomatoes.
Do you know why their tree branches droop to the ground? Because V sings and talks to them. She learned how to do this years ago when she and D lived in Findhorn Community, Scotland. I talked to my new pea, beet and kale seedlings all day today, trying to get them to grow fast so they're too big to be bothered by rabbits and free-range birds, not that either are going to be pests for long in light of recent history at Elk Cliff.
We need to restore Elk Cliff Karma. Two days of turkey sacrifice invited predators to our gentle farm. Gone are eight turkeys (us), five ducks (coyote) and three chickens (hawk and opossum). What's next?
My mind, as usual, went macro based on micro experience. We're mass murderers, every one of us. Burning oil not only may be shortening life on Earth, but imagine all the animals and plants that die getting the oil to us (for example, think Gulf of Mexico or the giant freighter cutting through the seas). Eat veggies? Dissect a green bean and examine it with a microscope. Swat! Darn mosquito. Take a step. Did something squish? Drive at night. What's all that goop on the radiator? Order something on the Internet. What did UPS terminate on its hurried path to delivery?
Maybe I'm strange ("no maybe," says Virginia), but isn't it ridiculous how we, as individuals, expand our tiny portions of the world into monstrous importance? As thoughtful and considerate as we can be on normal days, illness or simply "getting up on the wrong side of the mattress" can turn us into self-centered jerks.
I had to laugh at myself this weekend. Elk Cliff Farm has temporarily turned into the killing field, as we suffer our turkeys into freezer wrap. I think I've mentioned our "deal" -- our hope to make this project of ours as self-sufficient as practicable, and if we can't do the killing then maybe we should stop eating meat.
That part is not fun, even though our turkeys have done their best to persuade us not to like them. They don't turn in nicely at night like chickens do, so because we don't want them making deposits all over the goat barn (including the milking stall) we coax them, cajole them and often toss them in the direction they need to go. In the process they're likely to scratch a little human flesh or strain a little muscle (ours). Whenever we're around, they like to check everything out, with their beaks.
I don't mind the cutting and packaging so much. What's not fun are the involuntary shudders, mouthing and flapping that precede peacefully shuttered eyelids. If you're a vegetarian PETA member, I can understand your position. If you're into animal rights, yet fill your refrigerator with fine cuts from the deli counter, then I don't understand your hypocrisy. That's what made me laugh at myself yesterday afternoon -- as if there's any connection between your lifestyle choices and my decision to not eat meat unless I can play the role of the butcher you might wish to deny exists. See, there I am, making that connection again.
A picture may be worth a million words. Look down below, near the middle, where the neat double row of American boxwoods leads from the front of our house down to the road. See the row of trees a little to the left? There we are with the turkeys.
"Very nicely done," says Virginia. "You've left it to our imaginations."
This is a muskmelon, not quite as ripe as I prefer, but with a little careful carving we had it for dessert last night. I've discovered I need to plant enough -- of everything -- to feed free-range chickens and ducks. The problem is they lack discretion and discipline. My alternative is to figure out a fencing system that guides them where I want them, to make our friend, Pat Foreman, proud (author of City Chicks, The Chicken Tractor, and other books).
Scott, my friend who was concerned that the soil sample he provided me in a goat feed bag was too rich, need not have worried. My baby pomegranate trees are loving it,
as is the green pepper I'm hoping will enjoy an extended season in my greenhouse.
I used the rest of the soil to plant the peach pits from tasty fruit our dentist delivered.
"Um. I see," says Virginia.
Either she has x-ray eyes or she's using her impressive imagination. All I see is a crust-less mud pie.
Do you ever wonder who makes money if you pay off your no-annual-fee credit card balance in full each month? Do you ever worry that your credit card company (the card issuer) will close your account because you don't pay any finance charges since you never carry a balance from one month to the next? And how can the card issuer afford to give you points for your charges, redeemable for cash? A couple times a year, I go online and either apply my points to help pay the next month's bill or to send me a check.
"Be quick about it," says Virginia.
"All right," say I. "Usually 4 parties besides you are involved in each transaction and each is well-motivated. The network (party 1) charges a fee (interchange fee) that gets paid to the card issuer (party 2) by the retail merchant's bank (party 3), which collects it and a little more from the merchant (party 4) by paying him less than your purchase amount. The network charges fees for its services to the card issuer and the retail merchant's bank. Of course, the merchant charges you more than it paid for whatever you bought."
"You didn't answer the second question," says Virginia.
"Oh yeah," I say. "Don't worry too much. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 included a provision that prohibits a card issuer from terminating your account prior to its expiration date solely because you don't incur a finance charge. Your card issuer might be able to come up with another reason."
"Wow, that's exciting," says Virginia, "and here I was, fretting that I was cheating someone out of something."
"I bet you were. Have a great weekend."
"No cash for me," she says. "I'm using my cards wherever I can."
I received a PDF file of my new book today, 2 weeks and a day after I provided the manuscript. It's on track to be available next week. Talk about instant press!
What's even more remarkable is the Federal Reserve Board announced a few new regulations on Monday, 3 days ago, and they're mentioned in the book. We might be "first to market" on this one.
Thanks, Diane and Leanne. I guess this blog posting will have to serve as an acknowledgments page. I don't see many of those in this kind of book.
If it were a novel, release might be scheduled for next May. If it were a scholarly treatise, next December might be a stretch. I suppose it would be too much to ask those editors and reviewers to hurry up.
"You're not a scholar?" asks Virginia.
"One who has done advanced study in a field?" Maybe. I knelt in our field and fairly closely studied our baby donkey this afternoon. Held him tight.
Today the Arrowhead Trio returned to Hans Gal, born near Vienna in 1890. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Gal was dismissed as Director of the Conservatory in Mainz, Germany and all of his works were banned. He returned to Vienna, only to be forced to flee when Hitler annexed Austria. He settled in Edinburgh, where he died in 1987.
We're preparing for a concert in Lynchburg on September 26, where three trios will play trios. Each trio is expected to play three selections. Our three are the three movements of a Hans Gal trio (unless we change our minds).
Today we scrambled into this music, our brains searching for patterns in motives and melodies and rhythms, sort of like trying to catch ringneck snakes in a poorly lighted Arrowhead Lodge. Ah, here's one, grab it and hold on. There's another. Each time through, each time we stopped and struggled over a few bars, again and again, the pieces stuck together better.
As with learning in general, the ultimate task will be getting to know this piece well enough to explain it to others. If we don't understand it, we can't explain it. If we think we know it and can't explain it, then we don't really understand it.
We must find a way to make this "modern" twentieth century music interesting to a first-time listener. As musicians, that is the explaining we must do. We need to play it so folks hearing it for the first time don't turn off and go wandering away into minds-ville. We want to catch their interest and take it along as the music twists and turns. We need to figure out how to do this with music many people won't consider singable after one hearing.
"How about playing like Charlotte Moorman?" Virginia suggests.
No chance. Ms. Moorman (1933-1991) was a cellist arrested for indecent exposure and given a suspended sentence after she performed Nam June Paik's Opera Sextronique.
The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (that’s right, no commas in there) included a 1,118-word provision on gift certificates, store gift cards and general-use prepaid cards. The section prohibits dormancy fees, inactivity charges and service fees unless:
(1) the consumer hasn’t used the card in the past year;
(2) specified disclosures have been given;
(3) not more than one fee is charged in any given month; and
(4) any additional requirements set by the Federal Reserve Board have been satisfied.
The section also prohibits expiration dates, unless the date is at least 5 years after issuance and the terms of expiration are clearly disclosed.
The Act gave the Fed until February 22, 2010 to finalize regulations, and specified an effective date of August 22, 2010.
The Federal Register on April 1, 2010 (Happy Fool’s Day!) included the Fed’s final regulations, about a month late – except they weren’t really final because the Federal Register for this morning, August 17, 2010, amended those final regulations, all of these effective five days from now, on August 22, 2010. Let's be fair to the Fed. In the meantime, Congress had changed the rules for applying the August 22 effective date (in a statute the President signed on July 27).
Guess how many words are in the regulations?
11,684, ten times the number in the statute. That is, 3 pages in the Act, 21 pages in the regulations.
“What on earth took nearly 12 thousand words to say?” asks Virginia.
-- About 6,250 words to define 4 types of gift cards and exclusions.
-- About 1,550 words to describe the required disclosures.
-- About 1,375 words to address the prohibition on fees.
-- About 1,680 words to explain a limited prohibition on expiration dates.
-- About 810 words to tell when the regulations take effect.
“I think I know where you’re headed,” Virginia reads my mind. “How many words are in the financial reform bill?”
“I’ve estimated 340,000,” I say.
“So you only have 3,400,000 words left to analyze, interpret and explain,” she says.
At least 6,110 pages. Sigh.
“Brighten up,” she says. “It’s lifetime employment.”
Hey, my life’s going to continue longer than that, if I have anything to say about it.
Michael Lewis, in The Big Short, mentions Ben Hockett, who like the two founders of Cornwall Capital, believed "that people, and markets, tended to underestimate the probability of extreme changes." Unlike them, he was concerned about global warming and other real life disasters, so Ben "bought a small farm in the country north of San Francisco, in a remote place without road access, planted with fruit and vegetables sufficient to feed his family, on the off chance of the end of the world as we know it." (Page 120)
Now, I like Michael Lewis and think he's mostly right about the subprime mortgage lending debacle, but this picture of buying a farm "planted with fruit and vegetables" is what gets many city slickers into trouble. Unless the farm comes with hired help who are staying on top of everything, you might find it planted with fruit, but you won't find it planted with vegetables "sufficient to feed [a] family." It won't get there without a lot of back-breaking exercise, experimentation and persistence.
Not that I know much about it. Ask me in another ten years.
"Come on now," says Virginia. "Tell the truth."
The truth is, we've barely started. We still visit a grocery store almost every week and I'm not so sure I want to eliminate those visits. I've been looking for chocolate, toilet paper, ice cream salt and new running shorts, and haven't found 'em yet on this little farm.
I smell you. I smell where you've been. You may think a mint or mouthwash makes you clean. You can't hide it. Smoke indoors and a week after you've left, I still smell you. (Just in case you had no idea.)
It's the same with me, I'm sure, broccoli breath out the nose, heavy dose of garlic last night (unless you ate some, too), shoes flavored with goat, turkey, chicken, duck and donkey dung. Two hundred years ago, a splash or maybe a shot glass of perfume or cologne smothered other scents for a while. Ah, ah, ah, choo! I think I'm allergic. I heard that doctors back then could diagnose with their noses. Now we disguise ourselves with daily showers and poison underarmor.
What's a reasonable annual income? $600 a year in Somalia? $43,000 in Norway? I guess these numbers, supposedly for the poorest and the richest country, measured per capita, are based on gross domestic product divided by the number of people in the country.
How about $50 million for a country singer (Chesney)? Or $2.3 billion for the head of an investment firm (Paulson)? Something inside me approves the first but is very suspicious of the second, possibly because I'm trying to finish The Big Short. Maybe when someone earns these amounts of money, the FBI should join the IRS to try to determine if something's wacky. Maybe the IRS should send a note to the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
Virginia says, "I read somewhere that people who earned their wealth are happier than people who inherited it."
That's just like her, changing the subject, trying to get me thinking about something worth thinking about. No, of course I wasn't about to mention the un-American idea of a maximum wage or income.
"People who earn their wealth are more likely to say it contributes to happiness," says Virginia.
That's not a big surprise. Most of those who inherited wealth never learned what it's like to be poor.
I ordered a double dip ice cream cone. Many of us ordered three or more. We can't help ourselves. Our presidents have been telling us to do it for 9 years, backed up by suits full of numbers. It's the only way out, so far as they know. Every one of us has become a minor league Bernie Madoff, except most of us use our own money, Ponzi schemers from the days we were born.
"What about the little children in Zimbabwe, the Congo, Burundi, the poorest countries in the world?" says Virginia.
She's right, I'm talking about the first world, we who got there first and are doing our best to ensure the others never get there, even while we're on a mission to convert them. It's almost embarrassing to find out they can stay alive, although barely, without a McDonalds, Wal-Mart and Lowe's or Home Depot on a nearby corner. We must sign them up for our addictions.
"Is that why the stock market bounces up and down?" asks Virginia.
Maybe. Nothing has changed. We like to think something has, that Ford's One Ford Plan (One Team, One Plan, One Goal), GM's first profitable quarter, the banks' repayment of taxpayer injections and a $100,000 Tesla have turned things around. For a few days we cheer. Then we reconsider. Uptick, downtick.
Buy fresh, buy local -- unless it costs too much. Winter's coming. Most of us aren't squirrels any more. Like boycotting gasoline stations on Tuesday, it's a great idea, so long as we gas up on Monday or Wednesday. Change our way of life? No way. We refuse to surrender.
We'd rather leave simple math to our children, or our children's children, when even more people sharing this planet will finally have brains enough to harness the sun. It's never too late.
When I began my round of the garden this morning, chickens were attacking my sprouting Blue Lake green bean seedlings. Shoo, shoo! Once again, I had dillydallied, hoping the expected would not occur. I ran to execute my plan.
I found a 6-foot board and used the table saw to rip it into three 6-foot boards. Our miter saw cut each board into three stakes. A yellow-handled sledge hammer pounded the stakes around the future bean patch. I spread some Sto netting (used for applying stucco) over the stakes and lightly tapped a staple here and there to hold the netting in place.
Twelve hours later, the chickens have not pestered the seedlings. I'm not saying they won't.
When I resumed my morning rounds, I heard windy wings singing to the corn. No shoo for you.
Do you see something missing in the next picture?
"They're not going to reproduce, are they?" says Virginia.
Our ducks seem to like yellow muskmelon blossoms. They didn't touch the watermelons, which look the same to me. Maybe they smell different.
So much for beasts. Here's a vegetable you might not know...
and an elderly version of a plant I displayed earlier on this blog.
Look again. The next generation is greening up. You might have to click on the picture to see.
Finally, here's a current picture of the pomegranates.
Each time I run to the cabin I pass a half-cut oak tree. Why did someone abandon this month of fine firewood? Did a forest ranger shoo him or her away with a citation? Licenses used to be a bit of a joke. For $25, you received a permit to cut dead trees and remove lying timber. You were supposed to log each time you removed a truckload, so you made an entry once in a while.
To me, it's great-looking firewood. To you, it might be an eyesore. In a nest of honeybees inhabiting a fallen tree, I see a swarm for an empty hive and sweet stuff to harvest. You might see a hefty exterminator's bill. Last weekend my sister saw the promise of patio furniture in a rusting metal table. Someone else we know recently described the best shaving experience ever. A disposable razor felt so fine. When she finished, she discovered she hadn't removed its plastic guard.
Chy (pronounced "shy"), the most recent addition to our livestock pantry, looks like a pet to many. To Karen, Chy is: (1) a guardian (donkeys protect chickens, goats and turkeys from coyotes and foxes); (2) a producer of extremely nutritious milk; and (3) a friendly pet.
"Think plow," says Virginia.
True. Maybe Chy will help me in the garden, burning grass instead of gas.
Today I resumed reading between seemingly endless lines of bureaucratzy, pulling no weeds except figurative ones.
For some reason, I remembered a deep sea fishing trip we took from Fort Lauderdale. As we cruised through the Inland Waterway we passed a giant statute of a human's middle finger. "What's the story?" I asked the captain. According to him, the owner had first installed a large statue of a naked woman. When folks complained, he yielded and installed a bird instead. The critics remained unhappy and even more irritated.
When we visited Florence a couple years ago, I waited an hour or so to view Michelangelo's David. He's pretty big, I dare say bigger than the naked lady in Florida, and his picture is everywhere, even in respectable publications. Yes, he's inside now, but that wasn't always the case, and as I understand it, the reason is not because the neighbors were upset.
Virginia pipes up, "I bet the sculptor of the naked woman wasn't as talented as Michelangelo. We must protect our young from inferior artistry, don't you think?"
Oh, I get it. Is that what those long lines were, outside the American Idol tryouts, demonstrators against the bad singers who didn't get past Simon but received a few seconds of national exposure anyway?
Having finished my latest project, except for the editing, I've decided to embark on a new one. The idea came from Sussey, our Sussex hen, who recently spent 21 days broody, entranced until three eggs hatched -- and from our current sitter, unnamed, who has about a week and a half to go. Our friend, Pat Foreman, chick expert, author of City Chicks (http://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Foreman/e/B001KC4DGO and http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/garden/10books.html), warned that if the hen is messing in its nest (her words, not mine), we might want to dis-entrance her by gently lifting her up so she flaps her wings a couple times.
How can they do this 21-day thing, I'm wondering. Could I? It would have to be Meditation 501 or more like 1001, some number way up there in grad school. Wearing an empathy belly could not compare to this feat.
"You're joshing," says Virginia.
"Doubting Thomas," I accused her right back. I"ve already contacted the Guinness folks and they're 100% behind me. In fact, if I can hatch even one of a clutch, I will be in the 2011 edition with a big box all the way around my story. The Perdue Farm has offered me a tidy sum just for finishing, whether or not I become a proud mother/father.
So, beginning tomorrow, I'll be sitting on a bottomful of brown eggs, which I hope to keep at 99-101 degrees, depending on the hygrometer and thermometer that will be my only constant companions, except of course for the eggs.
"Don't forget to turn them," says Virginia.
Duh, as if I don't know I've got to do that at least twice a day for the first 18 days. I promise not to mess in the nest. In fact, I'll be looking forward to a break every now and then.
Whenever we roast a chicken or turkey, it seems a shame to throw the bones away. I like to use them for soup. Soup on a 90-degree day, though, doesn't have the appeal it has in the middle of January. Hold on a minute! I heat up our canning kitchen in the summer to put away tomatoes, pickles, corn and other foods, so maybe those bones present an opportunity.
Put them in a pot, add just enough water to cover them, and boil for awhile. Then strain the broth and fill seven sterilized quart jars, leaving 1-inch headroom. Carefully place the jars in a pressure cooker, tighten the lid, and fire up the burner. When steam begins to escape through the blow hole, set the stop cock on top in its 10-pound position. As soon as it starts rattling, turn the timer to 25 minutes and don't forget it. After the timer beeps, switch off the heat and remove the canner from the burner. Wait an hour or so for the canner to cool, then open it.
Remove the jars and let them come to room temperature.
"What did you write on them?" asks Virginia.
"8/09 T. Broth."
Finally, stick them in a cupboard next to their brothers and sisters. Down there, lower left.
Pizza is popular at our house. Karen and I built a Pompeii brick oven three years ago and, as with our hot tub, we've proven wrong the naysayers who predicted "you'll get tired of it soon and never use it." The only pizza lull of any length occurred December to February last winter when our patio was knee deep or more in snow, except for the neck-deep pile under the edge of our roof.
Guess what we had for dinner tonight.
Would you like to see inside?
Setting those bricks to form the dome was a project to remember.
The door is a removable piece of concrete made to fit in this opening. See the hole above? That's the bottom of the chimney, which is outside the doorway, a very important concept. When we bake bread, we remove the fire and close the door, which keeps the heat inside for a long time. When we bake pizza, we push the fire around the edge of the bottom of the dome and drop pizzas directly onto the hearth. The oven is so hot, the pizzas are ready to eat in about 3 minutes.
"How's your garden?" Virginia asks, as if I had prompted her.
I did what I said I'd do in yesterday's blog. I skipped my morning run and headed straight to the garden, where I pulled weeds, finished digging garlic, and planted green beans. Here's the first bed.
The green beans are hiding under the lightly turned soil in the foreground, watered this evening after afternoon showers failed to show. See those crepe myrtles? Here's another view.
We called these "soybeans" when I was growing up. Today, hoity toity, it's "edamame." Ed ain't my mommy.
Speaking of mommies, here's something I grow for two reasons: (1) they seem to repel squash bugs; and (2) my mother likes them.
Today is Thanksgiving in August. Her parents visiting, Karen pulled together a localvore dinner, everything from our farm, almost -- turkey, mashed potatoes, squash, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers.
As I wander my garden beds, green beans are conspicuously absent. I'll plant more tomorrow. We had some early on, but Mexican bean beetles, followed by rabbits, destroyed the later plantings. Onions and garlic also appear to be missing, but they're simply waiting to be uncovered.
Two solid months of writing allowed unwanted plants to take hold. I'll get up early tomorrow morning and begin my attack. After 6 days straight, I won't miss my daily run.
"You're addicted," says Virginia. "Watch out for withdrawal."
About 3:30 PM yesterday I emailed the "Practical Guide to the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act" to my publisher, a few minutes ahead of deadline for the "manuscript." Doesn't that word sound a bit antiquated? Not really, authors still use their "mani" (hands) quite a bit. If you want to preorder a copy, please visit http://www.sheshunoff.com/ and click on "Don't Get Blind-Sided."
"Yeah, right," says Virginia. "I could buy a bunch of music scores for that price. So what did you do on your first day of vacation?"
Well, I've missed three August 1 deadlines, so eventually I worked on those. But I started the day by running to Arrowhead Lodge and playing piano for an hour and a half. I ran back home and dug up half of my garlic. What a pain! I should have taken my eyes off the "manuscript" a month ago and simply pulled them up. That would have saved me a lot of time and effort. Now the stems have dried and practically disappeared, so I have to hunt around with a spade.
In the midst of garlic breath, Karen invited me to help harvest our first turkey. We repeatedly thanked him for his sacrifice, as we've heard native Americans would do. Karen's an old hand at chickens by now and impressed me with her knowledge of birds by giving me a lesson in windpipes, crops, lungs and even testicles. Our little pot of 145 degree water would have handled a chicken just fine, but this tom had to be dipped half and half. Plucking reminded me of squeezing pimples, not that I have any experience with that (thanks Adam Sandler, for "Zittly van Zittles"). 18 pounds wait for tomorrow's roasting.
I also read some more of "Hellgate," about the Hellgate 100K mountain trail run that begins a mile down the road from our house. I won't be signing up unless Larry, my friend from Florida, does. December 11, Larry.
Oh, lightning knocked out our power for about 3 hours, which got me thinking about a 5 megawatt solar plant.
My sweet peppers have Rip Van Winkled me while I attended my 10-week financial reform submersion course. Book done and submitted and hoping to take some pictures of teeny peppers, I searched around the tops of my plants, finding only blossoms. As I stood to walk away, I caught a glimpse of something down below:
They're either Early Hungarian Sweet Peppers, which I thought were supposed to be red, or some wacky version of last year's California Wonders from which I saved seed.
What I intended to shoot were these giant squash, known as Tater Pumpkins, according to our neighbor, Feenie.
He said his mother sliced them into strips, rolled them in brown sugar, and roasted them "sweet as candy." I guess that's why they're officially named Georgia Candy Roasters.
A couple garden beds down lie a few watermelons I'm hoping will have time to mature before the winds blow cool,
along with some butternuts.
"Did you sign your name on that squash?" asks Virginia.
Nope, although it looks like it. You may need to click on the picture to see what she's talking about.
As I ran along the country roads of Ohio last week, I remembered the Riverfront Mile, a 1-mile road race in St. Louis along the edge of the Mississippi River. As I recall, the finish line was visible from the starting line. Being able to see where we were going seemed to make that mile shorter than four times around a track.
I've finally reached that point on this book I'm writing. Three more days and it will be finished. I now have a schedule for those 3 days and if it gets interrupted for some reason, it won't matter much because the hard part is done. I've saved dessert for last.
"What on earth does any of this have to do with running Ohio roads?" says Virginia.
Well, I was thinking, how about planning a race called "The Country Mile?" Outside Bluffton, where I was visiting, most of the country blocks are square miles. As I ran, I came across several spots where I could see a mile ahead. Police would only need to block off one intersection, and that would only be for 10 or 15 minutes.
No train tracks. Make a note of that. I remember hearing about one race that went very well until a train chugged in and blocked the route. The runners who had to wait were very unhappy. I'd like to order no train this week, please.
When I look back thirty years
I wonder how I got here.
I did not expect my future,
I did not plan it.
I knew the dreams I had were fiction,
professional basketball player,
Supreme Court justice,
father of six or seven.
My short-term goals were something less,
chosen just before each gentle turn
I charged with focus down the line.
Then something happened,
I shifted right, then left, then right again,
and I landed exactly
where I wish I had dreamed
I would be today.