Monday, January 31, 2011

The Paperboy

Yesterday's mention of Niswander's Newstand set my mind wandering on my run this morning.  When I had a paper route, Niswander's was where the Greyhound Bus dropped my newspapers.  The driver would flip open the baggage bay and toss wire-wrapped bundles of Toledo Blades onto the sidewalk.  I'd search for the bundle with my name on it, twist the wire off, roll up each paper and slip a rubber band around it.  Meanwhile, the guy with the gray cap would pop inside to see if any passengers were waiting.  He'd be long gone by the time I'd filled my bicycle basket and spun off to make about 30 customers happy.  Friends envied my $3.50 weekly take, back when 60 cents bought a baker's dozen of doughnuts, more if you kept the clerk talking and she lost count.

A friend, I don't remember who, introduced me to sin at Niswander's.  He insisted they made the best lemon and cherry cokes.  After months, maybe years, of claiming bundles of newspapers out front without sitting inside, he coaxed me to the fountain counter.  To me, this was about as decadent as entering Joe's Bar down the block.  We didn't have pop (soda) at our house, except on Independence Day, when Dad took our orders and brought each of us our own 10-ounce bottle from the A&P.  I felt independent that day at Niswander's, looking around hoping someone would see me.

After weeks of rumors and uncertainty, sometime in the mid-1960s, the baggage bay of the Greyhound Bus came to town empty.  "Toledo Blade on Strike" I think was the Lima News headline.  I returned home empty-handed, with mixed feelings about my first forced vacation.

A few years later, this member of Retail Clerks International found himself involved in another strike, at the local Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co.  I collected a small part-time employee's stipend and occasionally marched a sign along the edge of the store's parking lot.  No scab here, I felt responsible, having filed and won a grievance complaint at age 16.

"I guess you won't be striking around here any time soon," says Virginia.

Pretty rare here, in a right-to-work state.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Sabbath

Never, never work on Sunday.  I remember the first time I noticed a violation of this rule.  After church, we drove a block over to Niswander's Newstand so Dad could run inside to buy a paper.  It dawned on me that because of us the Niswanders had to work on Sunday, so I asked another obvious question, "how come the preacher works on Sunday?"

The topic arises because, like many self-employed people, I have a bit of a problem stopping.  The sooner I finish a project, the sooner I can either take a break or begin the next one.

I just sent an update off to its editor. Look at the calendar.  It's a Sunday.  Among other things, that means I worked 12 days in a row, some of them very long days.

"You're going to you know where," says Virginia.

Yeah, I'm going to go party pretty soon when I have a whole week or more off.  I'm not going to justify my approach by spouting some religious mumbo-jumbo about legalistic behavior and the importance of grace.  If you want to, go ahead, comment.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Favorite Running Route

As I ran away from home today, I took a shot of Elk Cliff Farm so I'd recognize it when I returned.
Here's a view of our James River frontage.
Hold your breath for the Tolley Tunnel.
Let's hope the autoduct is sturdy.
I like this barn.
I keep thinking we should get one of these to run our well pump, someday to recharge our car batteries.
"You've barely reached the 2-mile tree," says Virginia.  "Whazup?"

The camera batteries died and I couldn't figure out how to get that windmill to turn.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Some of you have asked, "Who is Virginia?"

She's been called an alter ego, a muse, a figment, the female James, but never a Nazi or socialist.  Her time for name-calling may be on its way since her recorded life has been accused of lacking the trauma of reality.  Jimmy -- the fellow wearing the orange vest, who shouldn't be carrying a gun because he's a felon -- maybe it's in his vocabulary.  Or Phil, the law school graduate, who stalked her from Georgia.  There's plenty of time to grow a few villains.  And her skin, so Virgin-ia, invites redheaded passion.

Speaking of guns and orange vests, on our 4-mile walk this afternoon we spotted a sentry at the end of a neighbor's lane, close to the sign that says "No strangers."  In any other neighborhood we've lived in, we'd have called it creepy, but here it was normal.

As we drew closer our guess proved right.  It was Jim, out checking his traps, carrying his "over and under" Baikal double-barrel shotgun/rifle.  He opened the Russian gun to illustrate its dual purpose, handy for deer or coyotes as well as birds.  He's always teaching us something, this man with a solar-operated dog feeder, a BB recycler (shoot at the target and the BBs roll down a chute for re-use), an elevator that carries firewood from his garage to his living room, an outdoor shower heated by a few hundred feet of rolled black garden hose, and a house he built himself using many materials (including windows, doors and shake shingles) collected from construction site dumpsters.

We met him about 12 years ago in the James River.  I mean that literally.  While we were fishing, up from underwater swam Jim and three kids, all snorkeled and flippered.

"I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making Time

Two days blog-less, I doubt if anyone really cares, but I might wonder if I'm still alive, buried in snow or wrapped around a tree on the way down from Burks Cabin Lane.  Today I feel snowed under deadlines, but not too deep to toss away things I'd rather do, because if I did that the work would lose its point.  We didn't leave the rat race to race rats.  I'll change my calendar if I must.

So, as the grass turned white at noon, I headed up to Arrowhead Lodge, where I feel most comfortable writing and practicing.  I'm writing a trio.  Those words on paper create a contract.

"Oh, please," says Virginia, "what about me?  Did you tear mine up?  I've counted the I's in this selfish rant.  You've already passed a dozen."

She's right, if you count hers.  Besides, what's a blog for?  Some day you'll read one without that capital letter and you'll probably wonder what's up.  No, her contract is intact, waiting, knowing that extended prose takes even more patience than a blog or a poem.

See, a whole paragraph free of that cap.

"Big whoop," she says.  "It was still there."

Make that four paragraphs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kathy's Cake

I took a dancing lesson from my sister today, with some counseling yesterday from my mother. It was a cake walk.

Following their instructions, see, I baked a cake for a friend who's turning 50 today -- not an ordinary cake, but a cake roll, the kind of birthday treat we always requested when we were kids.
While the large flat rectangle baked in our upper oven (20 minutes on the nose, you were right, sis), I dropped powdered sugar onto a dish towel, see above.  I let the cake cool while I ate a carrot (she suggested "a few minutes"), then flipped it (cake, not carrot, smarty) upside down onto the towel.
Right away I rolled it up -- "like a jelly roll" she said.  I never much cared for jelly rolls and have never made one.  I think I figured it out.
Unroll, she said.  Monkey say, monkey do.
Now for the funnest step of all.  Yes, I'd remembered to let the ice cream soften up a tad, just as she prescribed, even though I doubted that I should get it out of the freezer while the cake was still baking.

"I was watching as you rolled up the ice cream," says Virginia.  "I couldn't believe you washed your hands after every time you licked your fingers. Congratulations!"
Piece of cake.  All you have to do is follow the fine recipe. Oh, don't forget to put it in the freezer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Old Milwaukee, the Cadillac of Furnaces

Every now and then we need to clean the catalytic converter on our wood stove. This requires a complete shutdown and cooldown and means for a couple days we get to rely exclusively on our antique Old Milwaukee oilburner. According to one repairman, it was the Cadillac of furnaces 50 or 60 years ago, "we can still get parts," and it'll chug along forever with consistent maintenance. He even said he'd keep it instead of buying a new, much more efficient furnace. Ironically, I agree except in the summertime, when it'd be nice to have central cooling. Because we use it as a backup and supplementary to our wood stove, it may not make a whole lot of sense to replace it.

When we bought this house, we paid $1,000 or so to fill the 500-gallon tank and it lasted 18 months. We refilled it half way a couple weeks ago, figuring we don't want much oil sitting around if we decide to get a HVAC unit this year. You can do the math. How long would it take to make a new furnace pay for itself? Very long, unless oil prices went sky high.

"How can we figure?" says Virginia. "You didn't say how much a new furnace costs."

Well, if you figure we spent $500 per winter the past 3 winters, that suggests a very long payoff period. The $4,000 furnace we put in our little cottage lasted 8 years, the same period someone else mentioned from their recent experience. $500 per year times 8 takes us to $4,000, but that doesn't include whatever fuel runs it. Yes, a furnace should last longer than that, but how much longer? Not as long as the Old Milwaukee, bet your booty.

So here we are with a classic choice. Would buying a new furnace be better for the environment? Hmmm. A few years ago I posed a similar question to someone promoting hybrid cars. Should we hold onto our 15-year old Volvo that continues to be very dependable or should we exchange it for a new vehicle? It would save fuel going forward, but what about the cost of producing the new car and the cost of junking the old one? His answer was, keep the old one and buy an efficient new one when it conks out.

"You're comparing apples and oranges," says Virginia.

She's right. A new furnace would offer several advantages: (1) more efficient use of the energy source; (2) as we age we may prefer not having to hunt for firewood, so our $500 per year cost could go through the roof (see, we have costs beyond $500 -- gas for the chain saw, blood, sweat and tears); and (3) a new unit could also cool this hot house in the summertime. Besides, we might be able to find a unit with very low operational costs, such as a geothermal or solar option. And the longer we wait, the more options might present themselves.

I'm not interested enough to do gobs of research at the moment. Maybe you can help me with suggestions.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thrills of a Geek Week

I kind of like the shorter workweek someone proposed to create jobs for more people. Would that mean I need to hire someone to help reduce the workload around here? Karen's the only one who knows how many hours I put in. Many acquaintances think I'm retired. Perhaps they don't know you can wander around listless quite a bit if you throw in a few hours after dinner.

This week I neglected the homestead, focusing on two things -- the Arrowhead Trio concert Wednesday night and a major book update -- although I did visit the greenhouse first thing every morning and ran at least 4 miles each day (usually around our field, accompanied by Lex and Rosie, who dashed circles when they thought I was heading out the door). I tumbled down the stairs, fixed my apple cider vinegar tea (with the "mother"), and wandered out to see how the 10 varieties of lettuce were doing. Two more breeds haven't sprouted yet. Each day I microwaved oatmeal, squeezed an orange and grapefruit and filled the rest of the glass with grape juice, read my breakfast, then headed back upstairs to research and write about the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. Or maybe I went to Arrowhead Lodge to practice piano for a couple hours first, not that it did much good for Hans Gal. Poor fellow, I'd bet he turned over in his grave, especially on the night of the concert.

I tried to prepare the audience for his trio, calling him a twentieth century Bach who wove melodies back and forth among the instruments. One of our responsibilities as musicians is always to know who in our group is "on first" and to convey that to the audience, sort of like a game of musical chairs, lacrosse or soccer. I warned them that, if they were like me watching hockey, they might have trouble keeping their eyes on the puck. Maybe it's my fault I saw quite a few heads nodding. I think it's safe to say we've put that trio to bed.

Likewise, tonight I sent the book update to my co-author for his review. He'll probably invest his free time tomorrow (Sunday) looking for the jokes I've hidden among its 70 pages.

"I bet they're hilarious," says Virginia.

Definitely hard to find, definitely.

Oh, a couple days ago I set about building a couple coldframes, but we're out of screws even though quite a few are loose around here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Importance of Context

If you're looking for a job, perhaps the courts could use you. About 15 years ago, my friend, David Stemler, and I wrote a book on the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). That's the law that requires the "Good Faith Estimate" (GFE) of settlement costs you receive when you apply for a home loan, and the settlement statement (HUD-1 or HUD-1A) when the loan closes. Since the book was published, we've updated it 2 or 3 times per year. Back in the early years, it often was hard to find court decisions that dealt with RESPA -- 50 per year was a hefty number. That's no longer the case. I found nearly 500 cases decided between July 1, 2010 and January 2011.

RESPA imposes many other requirements. For example, it prohibits providers of the services involved in obtaining your loan (appraisals, brokers, lenders, real estate agents, pest inspectors, etc.) from paying money to each other unless services are actually rendered. For example, lenders can get into trouble if they give tickets for sporting events to real estate agents who refer loans. I've sometimes wondered if Congress ought to pass a similar law for health care -- for example, restrictions on drug companies flying physicians to Hawaii for classes on a newly approved pill.

RESPA also requires your mortgage loan servicer to respond in a timely manner to your "Qualified Written Request" for information about how it has applied your loan payments and any other questions relating to the servicing of your loan. To be a "Qualified Written Request," you must include specific information in your request (such as enough information to identify you, your loan and the information you want) and send it to the right address.

Consider this: You get a mortgage loan from a local bank, which chooses to service the loan instead of selling the servicing rights to some other company. A year and a half later, you notice your payments haven't been properly credited to your account, so you send a letter about this. RESPA requires your bank to answer you fairly quickly.

Now consider this: You get a mortgage loan from a local bank, which chooses to sell the servicing rights to another company. A year and a half later, you notice the same problem as in the previous paragraph -- your payments haven't been properly credited -- so you send the company a letter. According to a recent court decision -- wrong, I dare say, -- RESPA would allow that company to ignore your letter.

How did the judge come to this conclusion? He turned to a poorly drafted sentence in Regulation X, which implements RESPA: "[A] written request does not constitute a qualified written request if it is delivered to a servicer more than 1 year after either the date of transfer of servicing or the date that the mortgage servicing loan amount was paid in full, whichever date is applicable." Because the servicing company received your letter more than 1 year after the servicing rights were transferred to it, your letter wasn't a "Qualified Written Request" and, as a result, the servicer didn't have to respond.

"Well, I guess that makes sense," says Virginia, "after reading the sentence the court quotes, but the result doesn't make sense to me, the borrower."

It doesn't to me, either, and my money's on other courts disagreeing with this judge. I'm quite sure HUD intended the sentence to have a limited meaning -- referring only to a servicer that receives a letter after servicing has been transferred to another servicer. Otherwise, the response requirement would disappear for up to 29 years of a typical 30-year mortgage. (And Lenders that want to retain servicing might even transfer servicing for a few months and then get it back, in an attempt to escape the response requirement.)

A look at the RESPA statute suggests the judge is wrong. The statute clearly applies to the letter received more than a year after the servicing transfer. On the other hand, the statute gives HUD the authority to adopt regulations and exemptions, so one could argue that the quoted sentence amounts to an exemption. I imagine HUD, or the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, will clear this up before long.

By the way, if you want to send a letter to your lender or servicer, HUD offers a sample letter and guidance at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Suspension of Disbelief

"Billy Elliot" (see previous blog post) did not disappoint. A show as good as this encourages the audience to practice something, write, compose, choreograph or whatever else one might wish to pursue or perfect. It also brings to life the "suspension of disbelief." For three hours, we're asked to believe -- that in a town where everyone sings and dances, its striking coal miners have no other talents for making money if the mine closes, and two of them think their son and brother should not waste time on ballet. I'm mostly kidding; no, we're asked to believe, for a few hours, in the fiction presented by actors for our enjoyment. We know we've entered suspension when a man sitting behind us sobs into his handkerchief and our own cheeks are damp.

Then the curtain falls, the house lights turn on, and we're reluctant to return to disbelief. Our toes try to point uncomfortably. Our mouths attempt to form British accents. Teachers from long ago float in the peripheries of minds. For moments, we regret canceling lessons and maybe we think about writing a check to a local arts organization.

By the next day, life has almost returned to normal.

"Pure silliness," says Virginia.

No, it wasn't silly at all. Maybe a thousand people joined to applaud a cast of talent, to invest an afternoon in something other than routine.

"I mean," says Virginia. "It's silly to leave it all behind. Dream a little, will you?"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arrowhead Trio January Concert -- Gal, Moszkowski, Schickele

I'm looking forward to seeing the musical "Billy Elliot" this weekend. Karen's dusted off her ballet shoes and I've been limbering up, in case we go somewhere after. I imagine what will impress me most is the kid's ability to sing and dance at the same time. I've seen how out of breath the contestants are on "So You Think You Can Dance?"

Lately I've been thankful I'm more of a pianist than a singer. It can be tough keeping a voice in shape through the throes of winter and seasonal allergies. Often when I'm sick I still can play piano, at least until the sneezed-on keys get sticky.

"Get to the point," says Virginia, "you're building up to something."

She's beginning to sound like a broken record. Check out yesterday's blog entry if you don't know what I mean. All right, I was just thinking how self-centered blog entries and Facebook status entries can be, especially when artists post their own accolades. Then I reconsidered, it's a tough world out there, if they don't promote themselves, their friends might not even know.

Here goes. Any nearby readers, if you've got next Wednesday night free -- we realized too late we're competing with Andrew Young speaking at Washington & Lee U -- you might check out Kendal Hall, Kendal at Lexington, for The Arrowhead Trio's next concert, see below.

The Arrowhead Trio will offer selections of twentieth century music at Kendal Hall, Kendal at Lexington, 160 Kendal Drive, 7:15 p.m., Wednesday, January 19, 2011. The group will play Hans Gal’s “Trio,” Maurice Moszkowski’s “Suite in G minor,” and Peter Schickele’s “Serenade for Three.” The members of the trio are Winston Davis, violin, John McClenon, clarinet, and James Pannabecker, piano.

Hans Gal, born in 1890 near Vienna, was appointed Director of the Mainz Conservatory in 1929 but was dismissed in 1933 when Hitler came to power. His work was banned from publication or performance in Germany. He eventually became a lecturer for the Department of Music at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and a British citizen. His clarinet trio is polyphonically complex, with moments of lyrical beauty.

By 1908, Moszkowski reportedly was a hermit of sorts, refusing to teach composition because "they wanted to write like artistic madmen such as Scriabin, Schoenberg, Debussy, Satie…” and perhaps Hans Gal. The Suite the Arrowhead Trio will perform was scored for two violins and a piano. The second violin part has been transcribed for Mr. McClenon’s clarinet. Perhaps the following story is true. Hans von Bulow filed this entry in an autograph book, “The three greatest composers are Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. All the rest are cretins.” When Moszkowski saw it, he inscribed underneath, “The three greatest composers are Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer and Moszkowski. All the others are Christians!”

The third composer, Peter Schickele, born in 1935, may be better known for his association with P.D.Q Bach, the “last and by far the least” offspring of J.S. Bach who has been called a “pimple on the face of music” and “the worst musician ever to have trod organ pedals.” Schickele’s “Serenade for Three” includes variations on a theme from P.D.Q. Bach’s “Oedipus Tex” and a rousing barn dance. A recent coup was Shickele’s creation of the musical score for the film version of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Judge Me Not

I've been self-employed for 17 years, except for one 18-month diversion prefaced by a wiser brother's "why would you want to do that?"  Januarys tend to welcome me to each new year with a reminder of the benefits, as if I need one, such as -- when the inevitable snow falls or ice gathers, I can admire it through a window or retrieve my cross-country skis from the barn.  In fact, it's a perfectly good excuse to stay inside and get some work done, work I then won't have to do on balmy Spring-like days.

This January has been no exception.  As a result, I've immersed myself in court decisions.  Today I read one that worried me a bit because it contradicted something I've written.  I almost left it dangling, certain to pester me in the middle of the night when a train waked me and sent me to the bathroom.  One of the advantages of advancing age is a tendency not to procrastinate about things like this.

According to the judge, a provision of the financial reform bill (Dodd-Frank Act) relating to the Truth-in-Lending Act did not take effect until January 1, 2011, the first day of "the taxable year" following enactment of Dodd-Frank.  I didn't remember this.  In fact, I remembered using too many words to explain what I thought were possible effective dates, none of which was January 1, 2011.

So I pulled up the Act and searched for the words quoted by the judge as calling for January 1, 2011.  They appeared once in the Act, at its very end, after the last section:  "(b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after the date of the enactment of this Act."

"You're boring your readers," says Virginia.  "Cut to the chase."

All right.  The section referred to has nothing to do with the topic the judge was addressing.  The effective date for that topic lies elsewhere.

"Assuming your search function worked," says Virginia.

Yes, good point, but I'm not going to spend half of tomorrow reading the bill word by word, something I've already done several times.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Manure-Heated Greenhouse

Our outside thermometer read 22 degrees early this morning, while the greenhouse temperature was 30 degrees.  The big compost bin may be working!  It steams slightly, more when I turn it with a shovel.  Now, at 10:30, under cloudy skies, the gray sky has warmed the outside temp to 28 and the greenhouse to 45.

"So what's next?" says Virginia.

Several things come to mind:

1.  I may insert black plastic drainpipes with the hope that they'll bring more of the heat directly into the air.  As it stands now, the outer layers might be serving as insulation, keeping the heat in.  Any chemists out there with suggestions?

2.  I'll place some wooden slats across the top of the compost bin, and on top of them put seed-starting flats.  I resisted the urge to order a few heating pads to place under seed flats, because I want to keep this project free of traditional energy usage. The compost bin may serve the same function as the heaters.

3.  I should completely fill the bin.  I suspect the more mass, the more effective it will be.

4.  I may add another bin or bins to the greenhouse.

5.  Several commenters on other blogs expressed concern about the compost burning the place down.  A couple years ago wood chip mulch started a fire in nearby Lexington.  I doubt this will be an issue with the moist manure mix I'm using, so long as I keep the straw and other carbon elements well distributed, but I'm keeping an eye on the possibility.  Perhaps I should find a thermometer with a probe that measures the highest heat in the pile.
"What's that white stuff?" says Virginia.  "Looks like tinder to me."

She's right.  I emptied our paper shredder this morning and failed to turn it in well.

6.  For next winter, I want to consider a solar heater of some sort, with solar panels.

7.  It's about time to get seeds started -- for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and other early spring feeders.

8.  Eight varieties of lettuce, two types of broccoli, and some cabbage have sprouted in the two raised beds.  They're growing very slowly in the cool temps.  I wish I'd planted them earlier, but there was no greenhouse earlier.
You may need to click on the photo to see a couple rows of tiny lettuces.
Above you'll see some broccoli.

If anyone has experience with manure-heating, please don't hesitate to comment.  If you have trouble getting Blogspot to accept the comment, try the anonymous option.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


America, let's make a deal and turn off the screamers -- whether democrat, republican, libertarian or whatever.  Simply switch to another station or find something else to do.  If all of us stop listening, maybe they'll shut up.  They're bound to when the money stops rolling in.

"That's easy for you to say," says Virginia.  "How much time do you spend watching TV or listening to radio?"

Hey, I was screaming the other day.  When I realized no one was listening, I felt like an idiot.  The mirror cracked.

I smell turkey soup.  Karen cooked one of our frozen flock yesterday.  The bones went into a stockpot.  Soup's especially welcome in cold weather.  Tonight's low may reach the teens.

"You're avoiding me," says Virginia.

Maybe it's time to toss her into the soup, maybe one of those self-help books ("Virginia's Soup for Civil America")?  I've heard they usually sell better than novels.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thank You

As we left to take our son to the airport this morning, I said I would need to focus on firewood this coming week.  What do you know? Manna from heaven had arrived with dew in the night!  At the corner of our property, which poor drivers tend to visit from time to time, firewood littered the roadside.  "I wonder if it'll be there when we get back," I said.

We forgot the gift until we returned and saw it waiting.  For whom?  Certainly the previous owner had noticed it sliding off his truck or bouncing out of sight.  Why didn't he stop to retrieve it?  Maybe his radio had been blaring and he didn't sense a thing.  Maybe he wrecked at the corner and abandoned his load (not likely, it wasn't a full load).  Maybe he stole it and when it slid off he was afraid a pursuer would catch him reloading.  Maybe he realized his truck was overtaxed, so he purposely lightened his load.

Enough hours had passed, so I decided to assume the firewood was abandoned, for whatever reason, that it was waiting for me or someone else, most likely me, because it rested on my land.  Still, as I threw it over the fence, I felt a tad guilty that some poor soul had met misfortune and I was abusing his trust by not saving it for him.

"Maybe he was the guy who drove through the fence a few years ago and left a pickup in the field," says Virginia, "and he was repaying you for the damage."

Exactly.  Or maybe someone else was leaving me an anonymous late Christmas present, and wouldn't he feel bad if I wrenched my back moving the firewood to our woodshed?  Maybe he'd been sawing up one of our trees and quickly departed when our lights turned on.  No, that would have been a bunch of trees -- a sycamore, a couple oaks.

"Right," says Virginia, "or maybe he'll be pounding your door tonight asking what happened to his stuff."

Exactly.  That's why I put it back where I found it.  Someone else can hassle the consequences.  (Did I really?)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nosey Neighbors

"Your greenhouse sure is empty," says Virginia.  "Why don't you fill it with pots and get started?  Stick a heater in if a night's going to be too cold?"

I don't want to use a heater, which might not only be expensive but might burn the place down.

"What's the point, then, for having it?" she says.  "You could set up a hydroponic garden and grow tilapia or perch in the water."

Patience, patience.  Some day that may happen.  Remember, the greenhouse arrived at the end of Fall.  I didn't have a chance to get things going this season.

"Oh, come on," she says. "You've managed to finish a bunch of book updates, run hundreds of miles, practice piano for a couple concerts, and write a few poems.  Certainly you could have devoted some time to the greenhouse."

Yeah, well, get off my back.  You're probably feeling neglected yourself, like the woman who says our donkey's too thin.  Go ahead, sick the greenhouse protection society on me.

(Some people need to listen instead of talk so much.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dispensing Our Collection

In 1994, after buying a Victorian home in North Carolina, we sold most of our things at a yard sale in St. Louis and moved, planning to buy what we "needed" to outfit the new old house.  We had enough left to fill a 16-foot U-Haul truck. Four years later, we replaced the Victorian with a bigger "country club" home and bought some things to make it look lived in.

Four years later, we had another yard sale and moved to Arrowhead Lodge and the little cottage next door, in Virginia. Allied Van Lines filled a 52-foot semi-trailer, but didn't anticipate the hill in our lane.  "Are you working today?" the driver asked.  "No."  "Could you drive your pickup up and down the lane as we gradually empty this truck?"  "Sure, Karen and I can do that."  So went the day, the scariest moments involving the transfer of my 9-foot concert grand onto our 7-foot pickup bed, with Karen driving while the two movers and I held on tight -- so much for my original plan to disappear for the piano moving.

Four years later we moved into this farmhouse, again using our pickup to transfer what we needed, but with no semi -- and the concert grand stayed.

Four years later, we aren't moving.  I don't think.  If we did, we'd probably need two 52-foot moving vans unless we had a giant yard sale or auction.  I wasn't planning to get rid of anything until today, when I read my sister's blog posting ( and discovered that my best friend has suggested doing it.  So I began taking inventory and discovered the job is bigger than the inventories we took when I worked for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P).  Actually, an inventory probably isn't necessary.  We could simply start taking pictures and posting them on Ebay, not a bad idea.  Think how much easier picture-taking is these days, and so much cheaper, not having to buy film and pay for processing.

"Come now, you've got to be kidding!" says Virginia.  "You're just getting started on the greenhouse, and the goatherd has settled in nicely."

Hmmm.  It might make sense to get a head start on 2012.  Six years in one home is a long time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fire Hazard

Karen reported a warm 50 degrees (F) this morning. That, combined with her cleaning out the barns to add to the greenhouse compost bin, and a dwindling pile of properly sized firewood, pulled me outside.  I snapped on my Christmas coveralls, sharpened the chain saw, and set to work.  Suddenly it felt as though I was standing naked in cool air. "What is that cold stuff running down my leg?"  Colder than water, boom, my brain figured it out and shut off the saw.  If it had waited much longer this blog entry or any others might never have been conceived.  I changed into different clothes and tried again.

I don't know what got into me, burning through 4 tanks before stopping.  (Actually, 5, but we can't count the first one.)  Usually I'm spent after two.  The five truckloads of logs Adam and I collected a couple months ago have been reduced to 5 or 6 thick challenges.  After they're conquered, it'll be time to rent a logsplitter to finish off a big pile in the corner of the woodshed.

"Wuss," says Virginia. "Didn't I see a new awl leaning against the woodshed wall?"

Yes, pretty new, but I'm not a wuss -- I'm a realist.  As Hellgate demonstrated, this fellow has trouble staying upright.  Put an awl in his hands and, well, even Virginia better not come close.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Welcome, please come in,
your table waits over there
or there, you must find it

now is your chance
to re-arrange the deck
you've been dealt

fifty-two by fifty-two.

-- dictated this morning by Virginia