Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Out of the Mainstream

When I worked at a traditional job, with a typical 8-6 workday, I had no idea what subcultures thrived in nearby neighborhoods. I guess I didn't have time, or find time, to discover what other people do.

The story changed when we moved here. I still don't use enough of my time to socialize with folks who have slipped through the cracks of conventional work-a-day living, but I've spied some of them. Out here in the rural mountains of Southwest Virginia we've run into a woman who schedules the payloads of huge ocean freighters, someone who counsels and trains truck drivers with tarnished driving records,  a registered lobbyist and fundraiser for a large university in another state, a water treatment plant consultant, an extremely fine furniture artist, a biosecurity expert, and many others, including the "usual" types of folks you find working from home such as web designers, IT experts, composers, authors and concert musicians.

"Don't forget some of the characters down the road," says Virginia.

Okay. I saw a strange bird on my run this morning. I guess it was a bird.
And a big bug crawling up a nearby tree.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Hassle-Free" Gardening

A number of writers describe "hassle-free" gardening or "how to garden without work." I appreciate the thought, but question the premise, which brings two things to mind: (1) TANSTAAFL? "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." (2) President Clinton's statement, "It depends on how you define alone."

After watching a movie last night (Unfinished Sky), I struggled to my feet. Leaning over to fill the wood stove tempted me to call Karen for help. It's probably not a good idea to spend nearly two hours in one position after running a marathon or putting gardens to bed for the winter. Anticipating two fine days for writing inside a warm house had motivated me to pull up the garden covers.

Yesterday began humbly. Donkeys, unlike many farm animals, seem to care about their masters' convenience. As I transferred donkey piles onto my pickup, I thought it might be a useful exercise for pampered law students. Forced average grades of 3.5 may mislead them into thinking they're exceptional. "Nonsense," a professor told me, "It's just re-scaling; now a 3.0 is a 'D.'" "Phooey," said Virginia. "Grade inflation is like economic inflation. You'll have a hard time convincing today's retiree that a 0.5 percent return on her hard-earned portfolio is a 'B' in light of today's slowly-rising Consumer Price Index. It'll stay a 'D' or 'F' in her book based on her past experience."

I pulled weeds for an hour or so before investing the rest of the day in manure, wheat seeds (I know it's probably too late but they're infested and won't last much longer anyway), and mulch. The day warmed more than expected, ideal for this kind of work. Up, down, up, down for eight hours.

My general plan is to work outside on gorgeous days, inside when the weather is frightful, and both in and out at other times. This way, "work" becomes a relative term; it can become "play." This is one of my biggest bonuses for leaving the corporate rat race.

I must admit, though, that yesterday I got carried away. Hence, the sore muscles after watching Unfinished Sky. But today I can admire the result.
I also can look forward to spring, when planting my garden will be almost hassle-free. I'll simply push aside the mulch, pull a hoe through the soft warm soil, sow my seeds, and wait for them to sprout. I won't need to pull weeds, till, or wait for a long-enough dry spell to allow me to prepare the land for planting. Well, maybe a few weeds will tease me, but a few is "fun," not "work."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bottom Feeders

Tragedy Strikes Arnolds Valley

A story twisted like a frozen pretzel had local law enforcement officials scrambling. A couple once rumored to be among the poorest residents of this rural community -- they didn't even have a working furnace in their 150-year old home -- died while entertaining their neighbors. 

In a setting eerily similar to death by lemonade, everyone at the feast succumbed to severe gastric upset or worse. Officials are now testing the leftovers.

Rumors blame the fiasco on the couple's pigs, Roxie, Mickey and Wendell, famous garbage disposals for the entire region, which may have some truth, according to Deputy Sheriff Earle Austine. Reporters spotted him leaving the scene of the massacre and followed him to a large farm on Forge Road, where he collected ice cubes for analysis.

Ice cubes? Not quite. Ice chunks would be more accurate, as in a malfunctioning freezer.

A Forge Road neighbor, a famous author of juvenile horse fiction who asked for anonymity, overheard Sheriff Austine speaking with the National Security Administration. The NSA apparently had recorded a call made from the Forge Road farm several hours earlier. "We cleaned out our freezer yesterday. Would you like the old food for your pigs?"

Within minutes of the call, signs appeared in the couple's pasture, "EARLY THANKSGIVING MEAL -- JOIN US TONIGHT!"

The Forge Road farmer later confirmed that, yes, the Thanksgiving menu bore remarkable similarity to the contents of his freezer: mini-quiches, peanuts in the shell, mahi-mahi, turkey, ham, Chinese chicken strips, conch, hot dogs, broccoli, cauliflower, greens, celery, casava, sherbet bonbons, cherries, and apple and peach pies.

"They were meant for the pigs!" he insisted, as Sheriff Austine handcuffed him and pushed his head  down into the backseat. "In fact, as our friends were leaving, he said, 'if we die, you'll know why' and I laughed in response, 'Yeah, I'd feel bad for two days.'"

"Friends! Two days!" the sheriff was heard muttering. "Fifty years at least!"

"What on earth is this all about?" says Virginia.

Let's just say Roxie, Mickey and Wendell had an excellent dinner tonight, thanks to our Forge Road friends.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Importance of Contrasts

Do you start the day with a smile? Or a frown? Or something in between? Many argue that attitude affects life. Some go so far as to say that life, itself, is a creation of our minds which, if true, would stress even more the significance of a positive or negative perspective.

The adage, "Variety is the spice of life," comes to mind. Someone who has never loved a person, an animal, an occupation, or a pastime probably cannot know the depths of despair into which a rejected lover can descend or understand the high the lover experiences when a new love blooms. Someone who thinks his or her life is a continuous stream of happiness cannot truly know the joy of a good day that follows a bad.

Have you noticed the rash of gratitude lists that appear in the month of November, often under the guise of "mindfulness?"

Virginia says, "I'm grateful for my partner, my pet, my children, my thoughtful neighbors, the rising and falling sun, the multitude of stars in the heavens, my heart, my lungs, my smooth skin, my rich lips, my low cholesterol reading, my indoor water faucets, my clean underwear, and my ability to gather, cut and split firewood. Or maybe, I'm grateful for my productive laying chickens; our recent warm spring, summer and fall; my kind, thoughtful friends; our home-grown meals; our healthy livestock; our gentle animals; our bountiful pasture; our large stack of split firewood; and our elderly, ever-loving dog."

Yes, it is good to be mindful of those things. To be truly mindful, it's also good to remember the things that did not make these lists.

Virginia says, "I think I know what you're up to. You have a feeling many readers have not recognized the subtle intellectualism of your most significant other."

Perhaps. I'm not grateful having to leave my cozy couch to trek a hundred yards through a brisk wind to close up the chickens for the night; meddlesome folks offering uninvited advice; hypocritical eaters who only buy feedlot meats and coconut milk that have traveled thousands of miles to the dinner table, killing countless living creatures along the way; sick goats and donkeys that make me feel guilty for not calling a vet; a milking machine that stutters in frosty weather; hunting for hay in late winter; the filth firewood drops on its way to the wood stove or the obstinacy of a cold hearth; and a whiney pet that follows me everywhere; or the fact that her blog is more interesting and much more popular than mine: [Actually, I do like that.]

"Ouch," says Virginia.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fiddling on the Roof

My new shop is nearly finished. All I need to do is install a floor, add a couple walls with insulation, find a good wood stove, and arrange for Fred to put in some receptacles.

Here's the carpenter finishing the metal roof.
"Is that Karen?" says Virginia.

Yes, well, uh, she's up there thinking about how we're going to train the GOS pigs to weed my garden beds. If they can find truffles, certainly they can learn which plants to dig and which to leave.

Meanwhile, I took a 10-mile run around the neighborhood. Our local billionaire moved an old church from Canada to his backyard. Someone said it serves as his wife's studio for the few days per year she finds herself in our county. If you click on this picture you might see its steeple behind the house.
The fellow spent a few dollars on a long black fence. Do you think I should tell him what's wrong with this picture?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Winter Gardening

Many gardeners have called it quits until spring. That's okay. Some golfers have, too, and swimmers, but not squirrels. They're busy collecting nuts.

This nutty squirrel finally planted lettuces, spinach, and kale in the greenhouse today. First, I had to clean away the dead tomato plants that made the place look like a dismal, but dry, swamp. Then, I sprinkled rabbit gold here and there. Now, having placed seeds in little rows, I must remember to keep them watered. It's important to keep lettuce seeds moist until they sprout. Forgetting to water them daily leads to the failure of many lettuce plantings, and it's even more important in a greenhouse where it doesn't rain.

I'd taken advantage of a seed saver's fall sale, so now I'm looking forward to pretty lettuces, like Yugoslavian Red Butterhead, Mascara, Red Leprechaun, and Rossimo, to brighten up old green favorites such as buttercrunch, buttercos, and romaines. I'm anxious to taste Crisp Mint, which is supposed to have leaves like mint. Will it be minty in flavor as well?

Meanwhile, three (of ten) of my garden beds have pretty well settled in for winter. One of them contains ancient barley and wheat sprouts from seeds provided by the Kusa Society. Think waving fronds of grain as the Lion King roars from a cliff.

Kusa Society millet sits in buckets in our bedroom, the result of 50 seeds of each of several varieties planted in the spring. What will we do with millet? I recently tossed some into a bread recipe, for extra crunch.

Garlic sprouts rim another bed filled with organic hard red winter wheat, something that's not easy to find around here. I surfed the Internet and paid nearly as much for shipping as for the bushel of seeds. Did you know a bushel of wheat plants about 2 1/2 acres? Like free mulch from Boxerwood Gardens, that bushel has found its way into several other gardens.

"And like the sweet potato slips you bought last spring?" says Virginia.

Let me mention my 2013 sweet potato story. In 2012, I planted about 50 slips. This year, I decided to order 100. Just as my finger aimed at the final click, I noticed that for only $8 more I could get 200 slips. Certainly, $8 would make the giving away of 100 slips worthwhile. I changed my order to 200.

The instructions called for 8 bunches of 25 slips each, 4 different varieties. When they arrived, I discovered that each bunch had about 37 slips. Whoa! After planting 125, I still had more than 125 to give away. Our next door neighbor, for one, seemed pretty happy about that.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Almost every closet contains skeletons, which is one reason many good people aren't politicians. Why open the can of worms and embarrass yourself and your family?

Instead of running for Congress, some people do other things.

A little art, perhaps:

"What is that?" asks Virginia.

Our latest skeleton.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Equalizer

Our son attended one of the first public middle schools that required uniforms. Two basic lines of thought emerged. One, that forcing children into the same clothes was undemocratic, regimental, and not conducive to creativity. Two, that identical outfits would breed school solidarity, alleviate some of the common conflicts such as obvious class differences, and focus attention on more important matters than dress.

For us parents, the uniforms proved convenient. No arguments about what to wear.

Like those middle-schoolers, every few months I pull this uniform from  my closet and just get dressed and go.
I could be off to my job waiting tables, a gig on stage, an opera, or a White House ball. Whatever the function, the choices are easy, underneath, unseen.

"Yeah, right," says Virginia. "You don't think people in the know notice whether your suit is off-the-rack or tailored, the plainness of your shirt or its ruffles, or the quality of the bow tie and shoes?"

This country boy has never heard 'em squawk, probably never will.