Of Grit and Bone 11/13/18

About the title…

Read this first

Much to be thankful for.

The Honeybees

Where do I start?

I took the lid off the hive yesterday to finish insulating the top and return two frames of honey I’d thought about keeping for myself until I remembered they were in the hive when I treated for mites back in September.  The temperature  yesterday was in the mid 20’s so I assumed the bees would be huddled down in the bowels of the hive trying to stay warm.

Nope.

Hundreds of robust looking honeybees milling around the top frames on the hive. I find it fascinating and  exhilarating to be able to approach a bee colony with tens of thousands of bees and work with them.   I freely admit being a “new bee” when it comes to raising bees.  The learning curve is crazy steep.  I still feel like I really don’t have a clue.  Fortunately for me,  there are two new local bee keepers who have been willing to share with me their experiences, and the Internet.

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Remodel

I have been on this current  project for 3 months. Should finish up tomorrow unless the home owner wants our help on insulating or trimming. Other than some help issues and a very rainy  fall, it has been a treat to work on this project. 90% of the time it doesn’t feel like “work.”  I love what I do and I don’t take that for granted.  We took a 1120 square foot ranch, and turned it into a 2000 plus square foot home.  Added a 3 stall garage, and new 4 seasons room.

Want to say something about work and attitude.

We stopped by my aunt’s this past Saturday for lunch.  She mentioned in passing her son (my cousin) is planning on retiring after the first of the year. He is 4 years younger than I.  He’s worked in a factory setting for 30 + years.  Great union benefits.    I heard that and found myself battling feelings of failure.   That is not the first time this has happened.  Rather than just be stuck in those negative, energy sucking thoughts, I decided to tell some friends that we get together with on a regular basis about it.  Just as I’d suspected. Every last one of them (5) confessed to battling similar thoughts at one time or another.

“So what do I do about it?” I asked????

Be thankful.  (And they proceeded to list off a plethora of things in my life I do have to be thankful for.)   Just admitting those feelings of comparison and inferiority out loud to another human being, (and in this case to 5 people) then being thankful for a host of things removed the sting.

It really did.

Here are a few before and after pics of my current project…

Original house:

Back of house:

 

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Finances

In 2014 I wrote a series of posts on the financial stress I was feeling.

I sometimes think it word pictures in case you haven’t noticed. 🙂

The word picture I had at the time in my mind was this….

I felt like I was flying a loaded 747 and we 15 to 20 feet off the surface of the ocean.  Yes I was still in the air, but the waves were licking @ the wings, the weight of financial stress was nonstop and I was getting tired. Credit card debt, car loan, medical bills..etc.

Then we  stumbled across a book on personal finances that was a God-send.

Here’s a portion of the chart I put on the wall in front of my desk:

 

The chart showed where we were currently,as well as where I wanted to head.

Flash forward to today.

Our financial situation has  changed.  Same job, same basic income….

Credit card is paid off.  Car loan is paid off.  Medical bills are currently all paid off and there is a surplus in the medical checkbook.  (Although that could  change in a heartbeat).

Today there are two  different word pictures in my head.

First, the one with the airplane… We have created distance between those waves  and our plane.  Today we are at 10,000 feet and climbing.

The second word picture in my head is that of a beehive.

Imagine that 🙂

I feel like a bee going into winter with multiple frames of honey stored up.

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Well, I guess I need to wrap it up.  If you’re reading this post, I would love to hear from you as well.   If nothing else, tell me three things you have to be thankful for.

Later!  DM

 

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Of Grit and Bone September 13, 2018

About the title, read this if you’re curious.

6:39 AM. Sun is just coming up.

Normally, about this time, our resident tomcat Barron  comes to the front door and starts scratching.  He wants two things.  First, a snuggle.  He’s the only cat on the property, and since he and Libby (our Labrador) do not like each other, we are Barron’s only family.    I found him a couple of years ago , in the median strip of a 4 lane highway about 2 miles from here.   He was a half-grown kitten at the time.  If I’d not stopped to rescue him, he would have been run over.

Which means he owes me his very life blood.  🙂

(Remember that scene from the Star Wars series? That creature with the big floppy ears)

Second thing he wants is to get fed.  If I leave his food dish out over night, sure as heck, a raccoon or opossum will find it.

Here are some of the issues currently in the mix:

My Dad,  New remodel at work, the Rat Invasion, The apple crop.

I’ll start with my dad.  Dad is 86.  Until a week ago, he was still driving.  Mom and him would go out daily for lunch. They moved to town in May, after 50 plus years on the farm.  Last Tuesday I got a call from my sister in the morning.  Dad had fallen and was en route to the hospital.   Pretty sure he’d broken his leg. (He did)  Quite a bad break.  Doctor told my dad and sister (who is a  nurse) before going into surgery, there was a very real chance he might never be able to walk again.  Surgery went better than expected.  He will be able to walk, (will probably have a limp) but considering the alternative, that was very good news.  My mom, was already scheduled for hip surgery before all of this happened.  Looks like the two of them will both be using walkers in the near future.  They are so thankful to be surrounded by a large network of extended family. That’s the sort of thing you don’t think about when you’re in your 20’s or 30’s, healthy, and living La-Vita Loca. (Living the crazy life.)

It has been so touching, humbling, encouraging, energizing, and inspiring to watch how different ones have stepped  forward to use their individual talents to help out.  One sister is a nurse. She spent the first several nights with dad @ the hospital.  Another sister, has the gift of administration.  Between the two of them, they have coordinated  all of the communication between the various health care entities, rehab,  scheduling who is available to drive when and where.

Wife and I have been  staying overnight with mom, helping drive her to her various appointments, etc.

You may have already seen this action photo of the crew who helped move them in May:

Several of you  have come to mind recently.  (Marilyn, Val, and Di to be specific)  All of you have had to say good-by to your mom within the past couple of years, and that thought has  energized me to make the most of the time with both of my parents.

    Work. I am in the middle of a large remodel.  It has been a mixed bag.  House is situated out in the middle of 40 acres of timber.  Yesterday we could hear the walnuts falling.  It continues to keep me physically fit, and it pays the bills. I get to work with my son on the project. He scheduled his work load to be available to help. Considering, I started taking him to work with me about the time he was 5…he is a gift to have on the crew. On the negative side of the ledger, we’ve just finished  enduring almost 2 weeks of nonstop rain.  Financially that cost me in rental equipment, and lost productivity.  I saw some yellow fungus  starting to grow on the side of house Monday.   One of my new co-workers decided to not show up the day we set roof trusses (between rain showers, over the existing house)  That ticked me off.  His phone has been surgically  attached to his hand so I know he could see me calling to find out where he was.   He didn’t answer.  That proverb about a faithful man…who can find?  Yep, they are getting harder and harder to find.

The rat invasion

Normally I equate rats with an active farmstead with grain and fresh feed supplies..(we don’t have either)  Well, when I got on my lawnmower 3 weeks ago,  4 large healthy rats came tumbling out of the mower deck.  We have a lawnmower with a 6 foot deck.(the mower is in  front rather than underneath.)

Creep-ed  me out.

Two of them were as large as squirrels.  I  had noticed half a dozen holes around the perimeter of our red barn (rat activity) but never gave it any thought until that day.  As I looked around the basement of the barn, I could see multiple spots where the rats had dug tunnels right up through the concrete floor.  The thing is, the barn is less than 100 feet from our 110 year old farmhouse with a limestone foundation.  Come winter, the last thing I want is for that horde to send some scouts over to our house.   So, I bought a 9 pound pail of rat bait.  It was gone in 3 days. Bought a second. Same thing.  Talked to Dave @ the store, he recommended the more expensive stuff. I am on my 3rd 9 pound pail of super-duper, heavy-duty rat bait.  At $50 plus dollars a pail, the novelty has worn off. (and one feeding is supposed to kill them)

There is definitely a life lesson in all of this for me.

And finally the Apple crop.

Another Japanese Beetle invasion decimated 80% of our Gingergold and Honey Crisp apple crop this season.  Each female beetle can lay up to 60 eggs in the fall.  Last season, I thought..it couldn’t get any worse.

Well, it did.

Japanese Beetles on a Ginger gold apple

(I think they look like Christmas tree ornaments.)

Japanese beetles on peaches 2018

We did manage to save 2 bushel of peaches. Bartered for some peach wine, and peach pies from the neighbors.

In spite of the rats, the beetles, the no-shows at work, and the rain,  I have a remarkably flippant, detached attitude most of the time.  I can trace it right back to a book my dad gave me when I was 14.  He said to me, “Junior, you need to read this book.”   

I did.

Norman Vincent Peal’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking.

It changed the trajectory of my life.

Not saying I’m on my game 100% of the time…but can’t imagine what life would feel like to just focus on the nasty.

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Well, time for me to wrap it up.

Bus leaves in 45 minutes. DM

 

Jack the plumber and other stories

My niece bought a coffee shop last month.

The previous owners had allowed me to sell my local history book in their gift store so I stopped by this week to restock.

I ran into a  high school class mate.  We decided to do coffee Saturday morning.

Saturday, as I sat at the main table, I was concerned I was sitting in someones chair.

“Not to worry,” they said.

One of the regulars, (Jack) is a plumber.  I’ve seen Jack around town for 40 years.    He was heading to work on a water heater after he left the coffee-house.

My classmate asked me to guess how old Jack was after he left…I guessed 80 only because I knew he was about my dad’s age…

88.

Jack is 88.  He has the energy of a man 20 years younger.  Now think about it for a second.   On a Saturday morning Jack was installing a water heater for someone.  I thought I was doing good to be at the coffee shop on my day off by 7:30. 🙂

My dad used to say “The word retirement is not in my vocabulary.”  Another one I’ve heard him say is, “Do what you love and  you’ll never have to work a day in your life…”  Those little ditties were  being lived out in front of my Saturday morning in the person of Jack.

Pause.

I am still reading  John Muir His Life And His Letters And Other Writings.   I started using the highlighter.  The guy was a poet.

Came across another nugget the other night.  He was telling a friend goodby….

He wrote:

“I don’t envy you.  You’ll have a hard time keeping your heart light and simple in the midst of this crowd of madmen.  Instead of the music of the wind among the spruce-tops and the tinkling of the waterfalls, your ears will be filled with the oaths and groans of these poor deluded, self-burdened men.”

Reading that admonition by Muir to his friend, confirmed for me yet again this impulse to keep my heart light and simple in the midst of life.

Yes,  sometimes I wished I had a little more wiggle room when it comes to finances.  If I had the option,  would I rather spend my life making lots of money in a job I hate with the goal of someday slowing down and enjoying it, or make a lot less and enjoy myself now.

As a firstborn, formerly driven workaholic, I can now take a nap  without shame.  (That is no small feat.)  I  no longer hear the voice of the old German taskmaster who  lives in my head.  I know he’s still up there, but he no longer in charge.

The old German.

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And on an almost unrelated  note.  We had a crop failure this year with the apples.  (we have a small orchard of about 100 trees) In June we had a nasty hail storm.  The apples kept forming but 90% of the crop was severely blemished. Still OK for cooking, cider, etc. but not marketable.

2017 hail damaged apple

Had two different Amish families come and pick some for cider.   I know they probably thought I was nuts to just give them away…but hated to see them go to waste and I was darned if I was going to deal with snarky comments.

I would rather give them away or let them rot.

“keep your heart light and simple, in the midst of this crowd of madmen…” John Muir

Later! DM

 

 

 

Of Grit and Bone 6/10/2017

Read this earlier post if you’re curious about the title (Of Grit and Bone)

Monday evening of this week I had an encounter with a raccoon.

Back story: We have (4) laying hens.  I separated one of them from the rest of the flock recently because they had started to  peck on her.   In case you’ve never been around chickens, they really do have a pecking order and they can be vicious.   The chicken they were picking on is my personal favorite. She is a broody hen….(the impulse to sit on her eggs until they hatch.) That trait has all but disappeared from most chickens. As chicken breeds have been genetically manipulated and bred for specific traits (ie. fast growing for meat, or designed to lay lots of eggs, etc) one of the  unintended consequences has been they have lost their motherly inclination… Things are not any better when it comes to the roosters… by and large, they  have forgotten how to do their courting and mating rituals and  become brutish….Historically, farm chickens would do courting and mating rituals (much like a prairie chicken or wild turkey).

It is really rather disturbing.

Anyway, I went out before dark to lock up the broody hen and there in the doorway to the hen-house, was a raccoon. It  ran into the small area with my broody hen sitting on the perch, not three feet above.  I’ve never heard such a scream, and I’ve been around plenty of raccoons over the years.  It sounded almost demonic. Another (5) minutes and the hen would have been history.  I ran back into the house to grab my 12 gauge, but by the time I returned, the raccoon had escaped into the bowels of the barn.

 

Thursday morning, I got sucked into the middle of a domestic dispute.   Husband and wife were going at each other right in front of me.…and in an unguarded moment, I said something to the wife. She looked so broken and humiliated and said something about him doing this in front of me…

That was a mistake.

I know better….

Yesterday morning I wound up in the ER.   Got nicked by my skill saw on my forearm.  Could have been much worse.  Forty five minutes and three staples later I was back in the saddle.

After my trip to the ER, I crawled  into a 4 ft high attic  to move loose, dusty  insulation.  Temperature was forecast to climb into the 90’s  so wanted to get that part of the project done while it was still cool.

It took the better part of two hours…..reminded me of my days on the farm mowing bales of hay.  You would be covered with dust and chaff…absolutely no air movement.

Good thing I love my job 🙂

This morning my siblings and I went out for breakfast with my parents.  Dad celebrated his 85th birthday today.  What a gift to still be able to hang out with both of my parents.  I don’t take it for granted we  get along.  That even came up in passing while we talked. One of the branches of our family is relatively well off financially, but lots of interpersonal conflict. Before the old man died, he owned  7 farms.  Take a 160 acres farm @ $8,000 an acre times (7)…you get the idea.

How was your week?

Describe it in 10 words or less.  DM

On Writing (1)

I was thumbing through my 2009 Journal the other night and came across a review  Seriouswhimsey had written about me .  I’d forgotten all about it.

Her words stirred something within me.

Here is a portion of what she said:

“I am an explorer.  I love discovering new places in the blogging world.  Once in a while I come across a treasure which absolutely compels me to share it:

      Meet Heart to heart.  The first time I read this Midwest Farmer’s writings, he had me laughing out loud, and wanting to send Christmas Cards to a pig.

     Doug is also a general contractor- a manly man- who happens to have the eye of an artist, a tender heart, a riotous sense of humor, and an adorable wife who looks so young you’d never dreamed they’ve been married thirty years – unless they took their vows when she was, like six….

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OK,  here’s the deal.  It feels like there are two different people in my brain who write on this blog.

Sometimes, the words feel  forced and wooden, and other times I feel relaxed and the words just flow.

(That doesn’t mean I don’t expect to  edit after the fact, because I do…it’s just that sometimes even when I feel the stirring to write the end result is strained, while other times,  the end result does a better job capturing the real me as when I’m  relaxed.)

I am not alone.

Imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered Wordsmith John Muir wrested with the same thing… 🙂

As I continue to slowly make my way through the book  John Muir  His Life and Letters and Other Writings, I came across  the following words last night:

 “…in letters to friends, Muir complained that in town he is unable to compel the right mood for the production of readable articles….”As yet I have accomplished very nearly nothing,” he writes…. “how astoundingly empty and dry – box-like!- is our brain…

     The fact is that Muir’s personal letters, like his conversation, flowed smoothly and easily; but when he sat down to write an article, his critical faculty was called into play, and his thoughts, to employ his own simile, “began to labor like a laden wagon in a bog.” … There was a consequent loss of that spontaneity which made him such a fascinating talker.”

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john muir the writer

John Muir 

Here’s to a new year of fascinating , engaging, and thoughtful writing!  The last thing I want to do is clutter up your inbox with dry,wooden, boring words.

Life is too short.

 

 

 

Of Grit and Bone 10/12/2015

I mentioned last week I am currently reading a book on the life of John Muir (see previous blog post)  There was a letter he’d written his sister Mary who still lived at home in the book.  He longed for more specific  news  on the home front and sent her a sample of the kind of letter he wanted her to write..

Mary, you should put some grit and bone of that kind in your letters. Here is an example:

     Dear John,    We are pretty well, but are fast growing weary of the many changes which now seem to be of daily occurrence.  We now live in a room made in the upper part of the barn next the orchard.

     We reach it by an outside stair.  It is hard carrying up the wood and water.  Once I slipt and fell with an armful of burr oak firewood and sprained my weeping sinew.  The cattle  live in the house now – the cows in the cellar, the horses on the first floor, and the sheep upstairs.  Nan will not go past the cellar door, but we do the best we can.

      The apple trees are dug up and planted upon the cold rocky summit of the observatory where I am sure they will not grow well.  The cattle do not stand the severe weather well this winter.  They stand drawn together like a dog licking a pot.

     Aunt Sally is married, and Lowdy Grahm has whooping cough.  Write soon or sooner.  From your sis Mary.

I scribble that nonsense only to show you that these small matters which occur in the neighborhood and which you do not think worthy of note are still of interest to us when so far from home”…..Affectionately JOHN

We had guests this summer from the East Coast.  One of my regular blog  readers stopped by with her two daughters on their way home from a family reunion to spend an afternoon with the Mrs and I.  The following is a follow up note I wrote this morning to her based on some suggestions from John Muir on how to write a letter. 😉

Iowa   823 feet above sea level,

October 11, 2015

Dear Lisa

It’s still dark outside as I write…. Been thinking I wanted to jot you a note to stay in touch.

Yesterday was a big day.

Normally I save Saturday’s to play catch up around the farm, but I needed to work on my brother-in-law’s new house. There is still another week of framing to do  before it is ready to shingle.

Before going to work,I  set up the self-serve apple wagon along the highway. That normally takes about 15 to 20 minutes by the time I get all of the signs posted.  After that, I made a mad dash to the farmers market to drop off two  baskets of apples.  Another vendor  graciously offered at the beginning of the season to sell my apples so I didn’t have to set up..   While I love the interaction with the public on a Saturday morning, I have too many other things going this season to carve 3 hours out of a Saturday morning. When I went back at 11 to pick up my apple baskets, only $7.00 worth of fruit had sold.  Judy (another vendor) said she would buy any remaining Suncrisp I had left.

” They make awesome apple pies! she said.

Since there was almost a full bag left, I traded her two bags of peanut butter cookies for 10 pounds of fruit.

I wonder sometimes how many of the older vendors are on fixed incomes.  It has to be hard to bake all of those cookies, breads, and other goodies and have to take them home when  they don’t sell.

There was a light mist in the timber and the low-lying areas as the sun was coming up.  The neighbor’s black Angus spotted me when I stopped to take a picture.

IMG_5533 - Copy

When I got to the job site, a mist was coming off the bog…

IMG_5535

Mist on the ground

We framed all day,25 feet in the air. Worked until almost 7 o’clock. We do have a lift with a 12 foot cage to work at that height You would NOT catch me up there if I didn’t have that under me. 🙂

My brother-in-law invited me to stay for supper after we finished.  Took a couple more photos on the way home…here is one of my favorites:

IMG_5543

Silhouette 

Well, hope this note finds you well. Write soon!  Your friend DM

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Have you ever lived far from home?  Remember the feeling of getting a personal letter?  Tell me about  a time you heard from someone that really encouraged you.  Why did it?

The Writings Of John Muir

I came across a quote by John Muir earlier this Summer and was struck by the force, word pictures, and the originality of it    Got me to thinking, I wonder if the other things he’d written would have the same zing.  So last week I finally received a book I’d bought on a hunch.

It is called : John Muir His Life and Letters and Other Writings

907 pages of pure escape.

Before discovering that quote (which I will include at the end of this post) the only things I could tell you about the guy was he had something to do with helping to establish some of the National parks with Theodore Roosevelt, had a woods named after him in California, and according to an anecdotal story, climbed a tree in the middle of a thunderstorm “Just to experience it first hand.”

I asked two of the guys I was working with last week if either one of them had heard of John Muir? Neither one of them had, although the guy with the college degree did say, he “thought he’d heard his name before but couldn’t tell you anything about him.”

Give me a book with personal letters and journal entries any day over formal biographies.  They give an intimate glimpse into a person’s life that can’t be done any other way.

I’ve discovered Muir and I share several things in common….(interests and personality traits)  As I’ve shared some of my discoveries  with my wife, repeatedly she’s commented, “Boy, he sounds a lot like you!”  (Even to our shared interest in saving, pressing and drying of wild flowers.)

So there you have it.

I’m all about balance and pacing myself, emotionally, spiritually, etc.

Thought I would give you a little peek into a book that is allowing me  to pull that off currently.

________________

Here are some excerpts from John Muir.

You may recognize the first one.  Think I included it in a blog post earlier this summer.

“The mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength and beauty. ….  the winds go to every tree, fingering every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells; they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending them in lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or limb as required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering and cooing through the branches like a sleepy child, now roaring like the ocean; the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with ineffable beauty and harmony as the sure result…

….. pines six feet in diameter bending like grasses before a mountain gale…..” 

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“Keep close to nature’s heart….and break clear away once in a while,

 and climb a mountain, or spend a week in the woods.

Wash your spirit clean.”

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john muir quote

How about you?  Did you ever hear about John Muir while you were in school?

If this is the first time you’ve ever heard about him, I would encourage you to look him up on line, then come back here and tell me something you discovered.   DM