Monday, May 30, 2011

Carrot Sticks

The last blog posting nearly killed me, but here I am, sputtering, sweating and, thank goodness, un-Skyped. Karen and I finally got on the river today, kayaking to Glasgow. It's been a couple years since we took that route, so it seems more isolated and unfamiliar than the Gilmore's Mill and Alpine Farms sections upstream from our place. The Glasgow take-out was packed with maybe a hundred cars, mostly folks traveling to Balcony Falls, we presume.

We're swamped with peas, a couple hours picking and a couple hours shelling every other day. In between, we have sugar snap peas, which are much quicker because you simply string them and eat the entire package. Our freezer still has peas and corn from last year, so I have to shift things around and put the new guys on the bottom. Same story for the 30 quarts of strawberries frozen this year. Today, 4 bags of broccoli joined the frozen family. Soon we'll pull up some potato plants to see what's happened since March 17.

"Tell them about the carrots," says Virginia.

She knows one of my favorite vegetables is the carrot. When a friend suggested I take vitamins instead of eating all those carrots, and all that sugar in the carrots, I told her she's crazy. She is.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

After the Bubble

“Tell me a story,” says Virginia....

When I knocked, I heard Charlie stomping in his kitchen, not a good sign. “Come in,” he yelled, as if hollering at a stubborn goat. I knew he knew why I’d chosen this time to visit. He pointed at a chair. I said “How ya feelin'?” as I sat.

“About the same as yesterday,” he said. “I don’t know why we raise our kids the way we do, or don’t. Whatever. We oughta let 'em out as soon as they can feed themselves, like most animals do. Instead, we rant and rave about things that are never the same as when we were their age, wishing they’d work as hard as we did, save their money – our money – and sacrifice for their futures. What for? When they finally settle down, they latch onto the latest false prophet and give him everything, figuring they won’t need it when the judgment day comes. Then they start all over, with our help."

“I get your drift,” I said. “Have you heard from her?”

“Of course not,” said Charlie. “She’s not going to crawl back here until our memories fade a little. She doesn’t want to hear my ‘told you so.’”

“Are you planning to say that?” I said.

“Hell no,” said Charlie, reddening, “but I might as well. It’ll hang in the air as thick as fog over the James.”

“Call her and tell her,” I said.

“What?” said Charlie. “That I believe people who can should live life in reverse? Retire first, work later if they need to? No kid should be told that.”

“She’s not a kid any more, Charlie,” said I.

He looked at me real hard, frowning, eyes partly closed, like an ex-girlfriend when I’d done something she didn’t like.

“I’m not a kid any more either, Charlie,” I whispered.

“You should've married her,” he said.

“Right, you know why I didn't,” I said. “I didn’t believe in myself enough, or anyone else for that matter, to not work hard, save my pay and sacrifice for the future. You wouldn’t have respected me.”

“So now we’re stupid together,” said Charlie. “What’s wrong with us anyway?

“We’re definitely not that,” I said, “and nothing’s wrong with us, other than we get played for suckers, one bubble after another. The others depend on people like us. We pay our debts, suffer our trespasses, and deliver them from evil.”

“Cut it out,” said Charlie. “You’re beginning to sound like that preacher.”

“Would you really want it any other way?” I said.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Power Nap

Every afternoon, right after lunch, a piano professor at UNC-Chapel Hill took a nap.  Today I finally followed his example, laid down on the bed in my office -- everyone needs a bed in the office, or at least a couch -- and watched the world turn.  Counting the turns directly to -- I was going to write "nether-land" but that's down isn't it? -- no, floating in and out and gone.  Thirty minutes later I was raring to go and I did, nearly finishing a book update by dinnertime.  That's production.

"Cool," says Virginia, "better make it a habit."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fire in the Belly

In case yesterday's blog had anyone wondering, I didn't mean to condemn the corporate world.  I had lots of fun clambering over my colleagues, trying to become a bigger dog than they were.  Those were fifteen good years, more than a fourth of my life.  It's a good way to use younger years, when fire's in the belly.

"Right, clambering, sounds like you," says Virginia.

More like trying to do the best I could.  I was lucky to join a Virginia bank holding company that valued its law department, not merely as coordinators of out-house counsel, but part of the business team.  One of my first projects was a review of all the forms customers saw.  We went through them with other departments, word for word, and deleted many provisions we decided were clutter -- because they were poorly drafted, out-of-date, or likely to be relied on once in ten years.  Does that sound like something Professor Warren, head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, talks about doing?

In a way, I was also lucky to leave that company for a mortgage business that filed for bankruptcy 6 months after I arrived, and then to work for a Maryland bank that didn't expect much from its legal department.  Changing jobs develops skills you might not learn if you stayed in the same company your entire career.  Sort of like moving to a new place, people greet you with, "who are you?" and "why should we trust you?"  After locating grocery stores, dry cleaners, and ATMs, the honeymoon is over and it's time to show why you're worth knowing.  After a couple changes, you find yourself thinking both, "I know you know more than I do about this place" and "yeh, you can trust me because I know what I'm doing and I can help."

What else can explain the gumption to quit after a year in what I'd long thought would be a dream job?  Number one, a supportive spouse.  Number two, a different kind of fire in the belly and another dream.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Just Desserts

We've been at this farming thing for 5 years now, maybe settling in.  Karen mentioned rabbits at dinner tonight.  Bambi (venison) I've gotten used to, and Billy (goat), Donald (duck), Chanticleer (rooster), Tom (turkey), I suppose Roger might as well be next.  I have yet to name a plant.  Maybe I should.

Before that seems very long ago.  Talking to some new friends on Saturday reminded me of 17 years ago and earlier, when I was their age driving to work each day. "You never regretted it, did you?" they asked, referring to dropping out of the corporate rat race.  Yes, no regrets, to quote a tattoo that's seen around these parts.  Maybe I should get one.

I've kept in touch with only one person from those days.  He's the only one I bounce ideas off and the only one I know who reads my books now and then.  No one around here except Karen has any idea what's in them.  What are all those rats up to?  Same old, same old, or have they moved on to new horizons?  Hey, any of you rats raising rabbits?

I understand a former boss has retired, appeared on MSNBC not long ago.  He used to convene all of us every Monday morning at 8 to review our weekly reports.  His language was worse than another former boss sentenced to 7 years in a penitentiary (mail fraud and racketeering; interstate transportation of forged securities) who kicked a hole in his office wall one morning and splintered a fake antique chair by tossing it across the room.  By the way, soon after he got out of prison, he was charged again, with a similar mortgage fraud scheme. He pled guilty and went back to jail.  The judge said during sentencing that his criminal activity could not be stopped "short of isolating him from all contact with humanity, like putting him on a desert island."

"Those were the days," says Virginia.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Yeh baby, ya pick 'em and squish 'em...
stir 'em up and cook 'em...
to a rollin' boil...
add sugar, bring 'em to another rollin' boil for one minute and skim off the foam, which is as good as Pixy Stix or Sweet Tarts,...

then put 'em in sterile jars for a very hot water bath.

Jammin' done, cruise the garden and stir-fry some veggies.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Apocalypse Not Now

I understand that Family Radio spent millions on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the doomsday message. In 2009, the nonprofit reportedly claimed in IRS filings that it received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks or other publicly traded securities.

"That's a fair amount of money folks turned over," says Virginia.

It's not worth much if you know you won't be around any more after May 21, 6 PM.  It reminds me of the mathematician, whose name I forget, who suggested discussing the existence of God in terms of probabilities.  Ask yourself how important is the existence of God.  What value would you place on it?  A million dollars, a billion dollars, a trillion dollars?  Let's say a billion dollars.  Consider, if you think the chance that God exists is 100%, then the expected value to you of belief in God -- 1.0 x $1,000,000,000 -- is $1,000,000,000.  Then consider, if you think the chance that God exists is 50/50, the expected value to you of belief in God -- .5 x $1,000,000,000 -- is $500,000,000.  That's still a lot of green bills.  Now consider, if you think the chance that God exists is only 1 in 100, then the expected value to you of belief in God -- .01 x $1,000,000,000 -- is $10,000,000.  That's still worth a lot to most people.  So is it worth believing?  (By the way, a short youtube video on expected value is available at

"That's downright silly," says Virginia. "What's the point?  Belief is cheap?  God is rich?"

Yeah well, belief may require more than nothing, like maybe changing the way you live or putting your life on the line once in a while.  No formula is going to answer the real question.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Animals in Trouble

He's pretty hard to see in this picture, but the Imposter, our number two rooster, is sitting in this tree. Double-click on it and look for dark feathers right in the middle.
"Now why is he up there?" says Virginia.

Because he's a smart rooster.  Of the 9 that arrived a month or two ago after a friend called to ask if we wanted some roosters, he's the one that slipped away before meeting his fate in the killing cone.  And now, he knows that to escape the weasel or whatever it is that killed 4 hens a few nights ago, the higher the better.

Okay, here's a better picture, but you needed to see the whole tree first.
Now that we're down to 3 hens, while we wait for our 13 month-old chicks to grow up, Lex and Rosie (our Boxers) are missing their daily egg treat.  Karen would hand each of them an egg, which they would crack open, lick from the shell, then for a snack dessert, eat the shell.  Come and admire their coats, will you?

To brag a little on our trained hens, they lay their eggs here.
See the hinge at the bottom of the photo?  The door you can't see, down below in the picture, is only open when we retrieve the eggs (or take pictures).  Karen cut these doors inside the barn, so we can reach into a coop she built outside on the front of the barn. 

Yesterday, Karen asked me to take some pictures of Darla, just in case, I think.
That is, just in case Darla failed to survive surgery this morning.  Her vet removed an abscess and lymph node nestled between her carotid artery and jugular vein.  She seems a bit tired, but gobbled down a bottle of milk in no time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Abilene Paradox

Soup Bones?

Today, a different kind of root, not the kind you find in gardens, occupied this writer's time.   I was scheduled for a root canal on the left side, but the endodontist quickly determined the badly cracked tooth couldn't be saved.  "Back to your dentist," said he, "for extraction."  As we shook hands goodbye, he added, "Maybe I'll see you again someday."  Convinced that this endodontist wasn't looking for work, I said, "I may be back soon to see you about a tooth on the other side." "What's that about?" said he.  I explained that the area above a molar was sensitive when I touched it with my tongue, more so after eating.  "Should I look at it?" he said.  "Sure."

Several probes and x-rays later, we agreed to shift the scheduled root canal to the other side and the doctor was back in business.  To see what he did, minus the peg, check out this video:  An hour later he said, "Don't forget to call your dentist and schedule a crown," as we shook hands again.

Before I spun a goat milk ice cream fruit smoothie for lunch, I left a message for my dentist, asking to schedule the crown, and before I finished drinking the smoothie, my phone rang.  "Can you come at 3?  We just had a big cancellation."  "Sure."  Off I went.

I arrived at my dentist's office partially numb, assuming he wouldn't work on both sides of my mouth the same day.  When he asked, "Which should I do first?" I thought he meant which tooth today.  After a few minutes of hemming and hawing, I figured out he was willing to do both procedures today if I were game.  As usual, I preferred to get as much as possible over with instead of sleeping (or not sleeping) on it.

This reminds me of the Abilene Paradox, the tendency of humans to have as much trouble managing their agreements as their disagreements.  "What on earth are you talking about?" says Virginia.  Without realizing we agree on something, we do something else because we're willing to go along with the group.  In this case, I figured the dentist wouldn't do something he was perfectly willing to do (both procedures at one appointment) and if we hadn't kept talking, he might have assumed I didn't want to have them done during the same visit.  See and

An hour and a half later, I said goodbye, numb on the left, renumbed on the right, and $2,000 poorer for the day.   By the way, those aren't soup bones in the picture up above.  That's my tooth.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Morning Stroll

This morning's garden tour discovered Doyle's Thornless Blackberry almost-blossoms,
wild raspberries invading the blackberry patch,
soon, peas,
broccoli brains,
pea brains,
a flying saucer landed,
oh, and speaking of brains, some sage flowers,
a potato flowering,
"and don't forget Chy's bouquet," says Virginia.  Chy was in a dressy mood this morning.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

First 2011 Strawberries

While reading court decisions this afternoon, the western sky grew gray, warning that too long a wait might deprive us of dessert.  That did not happen.
"Dessert?" says Virginia. "They look more like a main course to me."

And she's not a fruitarian.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Found Objects

An older brother bemoans the lack of rain in Kansas, where the mercury reached 100 degrees (F) today.  A year ago, or maybe two, they had a season of record rains.  Meanwhile, some folks around here complain they can't get their gardens in because it's been too wet.  Silver Queen sweet corn climbed into our garden this afternoon.  After several more plantings, with luck, we might have sweet corn into November like last year and the year before.

For now, cheer the chives,
nurture the nasturtiums,
and peek at the pea.
These guys are hard to find, but you know they're there because your cabbage leaves are holey and, as you can see in the little web, they make deposits.  Forget about dropping them in gasoline or soapy water.  Around here they simply get squished.  At least this one did.
  Some thinning is in order, in this lettuce bed.
Speaking of lettuce, volunteers are always welcome.
"Tell me," says Virginia, "who's guarding the artichokes?"
Maybe some child or parent knows.  Let's call him Art for now.  When our son was little, he would often ask me, after I returned from a run, "What did you bring me?"  I would hand him something I found, like this guy, who was sitting by the side of the road a few days ago, waiting for a rescue.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Macroprudential.  That's a word most of us don't use very often, or even knew before last week.  In a sense, "macroprudential" is the current Federal Reserve chairman's bookend to "irrational exuberance," coined by his predecessor on December 5, 1996.  Irrational exuberance expressed Greenspan's concern about what led to the current financial crisis (which, by the way, isn't over yet, don't kid yourself) and Bernanke is using it to describe what the federal government is doing to prevent more trouble -- regulating with an eye to possible effects on the entire financial system (macroprudential regulation), in contrast to simply looking at whether a particular institution might have problems or fail (microprudential regulation). 

"Stop," says Virginia.  "That's all we need to know."

She's right.  That's all you'll read here about it.

It's interesting to think about words and expressions we know today that we didn't know 20 or 10 years ago.  A lot of tech words come to mind, these are easy to think of -- camcorder, CD, flash drive, boot, email, DAT, download, upload, MIDI, cellphone, text message.

Reaching a little bit -- s/he, what's her face, foodie, localvore, Jazzercise, muggle, blamestorming, gaydar, grrrl, threequel, frankenfood.

And with the recent revival of Ayn Rand, "Who is John Galt?"  (character in Atlas Shrugged)

This reminds me of a children's book I wish I'd written -- "The Frindle" by Andrew Clements, with its main character, a fifth grader named Nicholas Allen.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Promise, an indication of something favorable to come:
A garden does not promise, in the sense of assuring that something will happen.  A garden is never "mastered."  A gardener doesn't know what will come along -- a tornado, hail, windstorm, varmint, pest, disease, or thief-in-the-night.  Something stole our six 3-week-old chicks a few nights ago.  We naively thought they were safely enclosed in an antique chicken coop.  This, too, could happen to a strawberry...

or to future wheat berries...
 to my grove of young pomegranates...
or to the whole shebang -- flowering arugula (left forefront), cilantro, garlic, potatoes, carrots, peas and beyond.
Meanwhile, it's fun to watch green beans grow fast...
and parsnips big and tall.  This one, planted last fall, looks as if it may provide seeds for this fall.
The parsnips offer rich leaves and thick celery-like stalks.  Can we eat them?  Yes, but what will happen next?  Tony, in The Two SmallFarms Newsletter. Issue Number 270 - March 31st , 2004, writes: "...parsnip leaves are toxic and exude natural chemicals called furocoumarins. These toxins can provoke an irritating rash somewhat like poison oak if you get them on your skin or rub them in your eye. The roots don't carry the furocoumarins at all, but you will notice you never see bunched parsnips in the supermarket" (see the mention of parsnips in my immediately preceding blog entry).

On the other hand, on September 29, 2010, "Dustee Pines" wrote: "Parsnip leaves are absolutely lovely to eat! I enjoy eating them! I just made a batch of beet soup with them for supper tonight. I use the relatively younger leaves or the small to mid size. Wash them and chop them up and cook them in your favorite dishes. if the stalks are small, I use them and if they are large I just use the leaf. I am not partial to them raw -- just cooked. They add a lovely aroma and flavor to your food. I put them in mashed potatoes, soups, stews and savory pies! I am Alive and Well! I typically put them in recipes for a longer cooking time. For mashed potatoes, I put them in right at the beginning of the cooking time. For soups, I put them in with my other vegetables. So for chicken soup -- it is lovely! If you are not concerned about allergies, give it a try -- maybe in smaller quantity -- just one or two leaves to see how you do.~ Cheers to Beautiful Food!"

"She was alive then," says Virginia.  "Is she still?"

I'd bet on Dustee and her "give it a try -- maybe in smaller quantity."  Sometimes we're quicker to lean on legend than learn the truth.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Concert Talk

I didn't run into anyone during my run in a sprinkle yesterday afternoon.  Au contraire later, at the intermission and reception for the Marlborough Quartet's concert at Wilson Hall.  You know those columns in local newspapers that mention people for the sake of mentioning people, such as:  "Natural Bridge.  Mr. and Mrs. George Leicester enjoyed a three-day visit by their son and his wife, Jack and Jody Leicester of Wilmington, North Carolina.  Ruby Redd received first prize for the first mature Wando pea of the season at the NB Garden Club meeting on Tuesday."  Well, here's the latest concert report.

T, who's been on sabbatical, recently returned from four months in New York City working on Liszt, practicing on two grand pianos in his mother-in-law's home.  She used to have three.  He'll be performing guess who -- Liszt -- in September.  Liszt is hard, with big bulky chords swiftly changing.

Bob -- the physician who warns his 50-year old male patients that their libidos are about to wane; his clients blame him and their wives thank him -- says he works seven days a week but is a big fan of chamber music.  He played baritone horn (and was it trombone?), in high school.  When he arrived at VMI, the talent he thought he had abandoned was coaxed into commission.  That was the end of that, except I urged him it wasn't/isn't and told him about my other Bob friend who picked up his saxophone after 50 years and hasn't let go of it since.

"What's Karen up to?" asked an octogenarian.   "Milking."  "You have cows?"  "No, goats."  "What do you do with the milk?"  "Drink it, make yogurt, cheese, etc."  Then the inevitable, "I don't like the smell or taste of goat milk."  "Taste ours and if you're like everyone else who tastes it for the first time, you'll say, 'it tastes like milk.'"  "No," said she, "I've had it; I don't like the taste." Back and forth, persistent, until she wore down, "I guess my son must have done something wrong."

"We missed you this spring," says E, referring to Garth Newel's adult chamber music weekend.  "Yeah, the application deadline came too fast."  "Are you going to Lexington Play Week?"  "No, I have trouble being cooped up a whole week in the summer."  "I understand," she says, "that's why I feel claustrophobic in the summer."

C says, "You're always wearing that big smile."  It's the monkey on my shoulder.  "How's your flute?"  "It's there; that's about it."  "Are you playing it?"  "Well, our flute group gets together now and then, sounds terrible and goes home.  Can't get around to practicing."

On to Jim, who like us used to live in North Carolina.  "How's your garden?"  One year he got behind and needed help thinning his parsnips.  His daughters didn't want to help, but they did.  Soon they developed a rash and he took them to a dermatologist.  The doctor couldn't figure it out and consulted with another, who went through a list of plants that cause similar rashes.  Parsnips.  "That's it, they were pulling parsnips."  So be careful.  When you harvest parsnips, wear long sleeves, long gloves, or be careful, just in case.  "My peas have blossomed," I said.  He shook his head, "Mine are pitiful, about this tall."  He opened his thumb and forefinger to one inch.  "Must be missing nitrogen," he said.  I said, "In North Carolina, I always planted my peas February 2.  This year I heard February 22 is the magic date around here, like March 17 for potatoes."  "I planted them in March," he said, "when we lived in North Carolina we planted by the signs; summer garden on Good Friday."

D wo-manned the drink table.  She seems to have settled into her husband's retirement from piloting tugboats in Alaska.  For years he'd been gone two months, home two months, gone two months; now he's home all the time.  D was accompanied by F, plant purveyor and D's former part-time summer boss.  "How's the greenhouse?"  "Great, almost full of tomatoes and other seedlings.  Do you use sterile media?  It seems to me that wouldn't be good for the good stuff in the soil."  F laughs, "No, except for seed starting."  "There's no reason except to cut down on weeds, so you know that what's coming up is what you planted?"  "That's right."

"That's it for this week's concert report?" says Virginia.

That's it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Yesterday, after milking, I drove off to pick up a load of manure, wending my way down our lane with about ten people milling around, four or five unexpected to look at goats and four or five planned to pick up some kids.  Where did we put that sign?  "Elk Cliff Petting Zoo: $ 8.00 entrance fee."

My soil amendment suppliers, not the horses but their owners, have turned into good friends.  I'm afraid I often overstay my welcome.  This time we talked about rabies, which appears to be more of a mystery than settled fact, infected by notions aimed at protecting humans from faint possibilities to the detriment of animals that haven't a hint of disease.  And trout.  Three hundred rainbows were delivered to their almost-all-natural spring-fed pond.  "They'll grow fast. Karen and Adam are welcome to bring their rods in a month or two."  And performers.  They recently attended a 3 1/2 hour concert.   Important:  You've got to quit while the listeners still want more.

After laying a couple rows of black plastic in the field garden, it was time to fire up the brick oven.  While we ate pizza with friends of our son, I thought to ask, "Is your father named Owen?"  "No, but my uncle is."  Owen Young, cellist with the Boston Symphony, stayed with us in Salisbury about 10 years ago, a guest who felt like a friend.  Having professional musicians as guests came with our association with the Salisbury Symphony, which offered to place guest soloists in homes rather than hotels, if preferred.  Who would have guessed that 10 years later his niece would connect with us, too?

"Cool," says Virginia.  "Connections, old and new."

[See for Karen's take on this coincidence -- "It's a small world afterall," April 30, 2011.]