Log Jam

If you enjoy writing, have you ever felt like you have a mental  log jam?   Words, ideas, half  baked developed thoughts   jammed in there so tight, nothing wants to flow….

That is a picture of my brain. 😉

So, since the words refuse to flow,  I  thought I would share with you some photos I’ve taken since January.

I am one of those people that love the four seasons, including winter.  Not trying to diss anyone, but give me in a pair of Carharts , warm pair of boots, a good stocking hat,  my 4 wheel drive (if I have to go somewhere)  then bring it on.

I am not alone.

Have you ever read the account of John Muir  going outside as a thunderstorm rolled in on the west coast?  How he climbed a big pine tree so he could experience nature in all of her fury?

Well, you won’t catch me climbing any pine trees, but I have been known to go outside more than once in a blizzard just for the experience…


We had a beautiful ice storm late February:

Ice on the fence


Ice on a corner post

Then, before you know it, it  was March.

Sunrise in the orchard

Then April:

Our first hive in the distance

I uploaded this picture from my phone a week ago. Google photo took the liberty to send me that edited version.

Our version of cherry blossoms  is when our apple trees are in bloom… They usually last at least a couple of weeks.

Apple blossoms

You know Spring has arrived when the morels start popping.

Last week , found my first batch:

Finally, we have 4 laying hens.   When they are stressed or not getting enough  sunlight, they  stop laying…well you can see by this last picture we have turned the corner on winter….


Another (4) egg day! 🙂

I always think of Robert Fulghum’s story Not Even Chickens, when I go out to look for eggs.

I am a rich man.

I have 4 chickens. 🙂

Another evening at a beekeeping class

The chiefest cause, to read good bookes,

That moves each studious minde

Is hope, some pleasure sweet therein,

Or profit good to finde.

Now that delight can greater be

Than secrets for to knowe

Of Sacred Bees, The Muses’ Birds,

All which this booke doth showe


From the preface to First Lessons In Beekeeping

     I am inhaling a 6 week evening class on the basics of beekeeping.  Last night was week 3.  There are 35 men and women, boys and young ladies in the room,  all spell-bound by the wisdom we are hearing. (“and learning the secrets of the sacred bees”) 😉

    It is one thing to read a good book, it is something entirely different, to be able to interact with someone in person.

ie.  “This is what they suggest in the book, BUT……………. Here is what I’ve discovered happens  if you do that in our area.”

     Our instructor Jim has been keeping bees  for ???? (Not sure how many years)   I do know he  manages  around 400 hives in a three state area.


       And on a personal note….

    Last Saturday and again on Monday,  I had the opportunity to mentor two different people interested in either starting an orchard or tending existing apple trees.  Both spent a couple of hours with me as  we talked specifics.  I enjoy those kind of opportunities.  It feels like I am passing the torch on to the next generation myself,  although in this case, both students were at least as old or older than myself). 😉

    Back to the bees…..

      I feel like a racehorse in the gate at the Kentucky Derby when I think about managing a bee hive (or 3)….

    The creative juices are already starting to flow…..


Wild bee in our  orchard

2012 growing season

Wild Flowers on the Brain


photo by google

Of late, my brain has been percolating on a new project…

A couple of them actually.

Honey bees and wild flowers.

Our small apple orchard already and consistently provides me with loads of joy and I think bee hives and a field of wild flowers would dovetail nicely into my life.

For  years, random people in my life…I’m talking random… would say, “You need to get honey bees!”..and I would think..”yea, right,  like I need another ball to juggle….”


I am finally at the place where I would like to take the plunge.

We live on  4 acres of property…most of it, is taken up by buildings  but there is an acre of ground just north of our windbreak that is just sitting there, growing a nice crop of weeds.  I’ve toyed around with planting more apple trees out there but the 100 apple trees that I currently manage, more than satisfy that “itch” for an orchard.

So……………what I’m wanting to do, is plant that field  permanently into wild flowers that would bloom throughout the summer (so once the bees are done with pollinating the apple trees they would have an acre of flowers to work in and not have to travel too far.

I have been fascinated with wild flowers for years.  I think it’s the artist in me. 😉

There are several details that still need to come together, the biggest being money. 😉

I could hire the field work done, but properly prepping a field for flowers after this many years of growing weeds requires much more attention and work than just planting it into corn or beans.

The cost would not be as much as an investment in a tractor and rotor tiller but would still be a couple of thousand dollars, plus I would have to be dependent on someone else’ s  schedule and flexibility.

Besides,  and this is important…

I want to work the soil myself. (Must be the farmer in me.) 😉

I hate debt, and will not borrow money unless it pencils out long term. A dozen hives and an acre of flowers would take quite a while to generate $5,000…

So I wait…

And learn…

And put out feelers…


And on a completely unrelated note, I moved (it’s called racking) the hard apple cider into smaller containers last weekend.  1/2 gallon of it, is covered with cheese cloth and exposed to the air so it will continue to ferment and morph into apple cider vinegar..the rest is still hard cider.  When I tested it with the hydrometer, it tested at 10.9% alcohol content.  That was fast.  We’re not big consumers of alcohol so, I’ll probably turn most of it into apple cider  vinegar.


Keep It Simple

When I stopped by our self serve apple wagon on Saturday, there was a van parked in the road, with eight Jr high girls milling around  and a mom trying to take their picture.

The mom said to me….”So you’re the guy who always wished he could have had a lemonade stand when he was growing up?”

Her question took me off guard,  then it dawned on me, she’d read the instruction sheet on the apple wagon:


General Instructions

This is a self-serve stand because…

  1. We trust you
  2. We’re busy
  3. Inside of me lives a little boy who always wished he could have had a lemonade stand.

     We  do spray so make sure you wash the apples before you eat them.

The apples are $1.50 a pound, just put them on the scale leave your $ inside the chicken.

There are plastic bags in the hanging dispenser if you need them.

Thank you for your business! DM’s Orchard


The wagon and how it’s run does several things for me.  It is a social experiment…. I am convinced the majority of people today will live up to your trust in them if given a chance.  And that trust is validated week in, week out, where I live, and has been for the past five years.

Second, I like to mess with peoples heads and challenge their ability to trust the next guy.  Here’s how it works:   When you buy apples off the wagon, you stick your money  in an un-attended peanut butter jar, sitting inside a metal chicken 🙂

If you’re like me, you’ll probably think as you drop your money in the jar…

What about the next person ??? Can they be trusted to leave that $5 or $10, or even $20 bill alone when they stop?  And the answer is most of the time yes.

Finally,while yes, we can most definitely use the income from the apple sales, at the end of the day, this is a hobby for me.  This is a fun way for me to spread a little serendipitous joy in a world that is seriously in need of it. There is more to life than the almighty dollar.

Here is a picture of some Cortlands after going through the antique polisher equipped with horse hair polishing brushes that you will find on the wagon:


I didn’t know this until just last year.  Apples naturally have a wax on them but due to the way  commercial orchards process apples, many times that is removed and an artificial wax is reapplied.

I like to keep it simple.

Simple is good.




Survey Says….

August night2012

7:30 last night, our phone rang.  We don’t have caller ID, but since there is a lull in the political calls, I though there was a pretty good chance it was one of the kids.


It was a call from the Department of Agriculture.

The long arm of the law had finally caught up with me….

“Hi, this is Janet… I am calling to follow up on the Department of Agriculture survey that you should have received in the mail… You did get one didn’t you? “

I had but had already decided not to send it in.  It felt like one of those obtrusive meddlesome/ none of their business forms, but now that I was on the phone with a real live person who was just doing her job, I felt like  a little kid who’d been caught skipping school.

So we began.

She asked me a series of questions related to our apple trees, the questions gradually becoming more and more personal.

Pause-  I am not a  rebel.

I pay my taxes, play by the rules, yet have lived long enough now to have watched our government red tape/ bureaucracy    continue to morph and grow like  the thunderheads of an approaching storm.

Its just the nature of the beast, bureaucracy has a built in growth mechanism and unless there is someone in power who intentionally chooses  to dial it back, it will always continue to grow.

I don’t believe Uncle Sam should have any business keeping tabs on my apple growing hobby, other than whether or not I pay my fair share of income tax.

Because it is a hobby.

The department of Agriculture has  already said our setup is not large enough to qualify for a “farmstead exemption.”  It needs to be a minimum of one acre and ours is not.

Anyway, at this point in the conversation, something inside of me welled up and I blurted out to Janet.  “Is there any way you can take my name off your list?” 

Pause…..”Well, no there isn’t…. pause…But...pause, you do know this survey is voluntary..right?”

( I did not)

“I have to tell you, Janet said, In the past, there was a large highlighted disclaimer on the front of the envelop that said it was optional, and as I look at this years envelop, that is missing. (even though it still is optional)

I then voiced a couple of reasons why I  was asking…she agreed and chuckled…I told her she sounded like my mom.

How old are you? she asked…I told her..“Yep, I am old enough to be your mom.”

Here’s a  toast to all of the Janets of the world who, while just doing their jobs, they are secure enough to know when it’s OK to speak up, press the pause button,  and not just mindlessly follow the rules for rules sake.



Sitting here in the kitchen just now, a picture on our frig caught my eye….


Picture of Winston and I


A passing comment by my dad  when I was 14, is still bearing fruit to this day. Dad was reading The Power Of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale in his stuffed leather chair after work one night, and as I walked by he said..”You need to read this Junior.”

So I did.  Up until then, it never entered my mind, I had any control over what went on in my head. I gradually discovered  I could influence my emotional well-being more  than I realized, just by paying attention to my mental responses to life.  (Does that make sense?)

So you might say, I have become a seeker  on how we as humans can cultivate a more healthy thought life, all the while staying rooted in the reality.

I have no time for simplistic Polly-Anna type drivel, nor spiritual “name it and claim it”nonsense not tried on the anvil of life….

Having said that,here’s a link to my favorite quote about attitudes.


In my 40’s I came across the story of Winston Churchill and realized there was  a man I wanted to know more about.  Almost single handedly  (it seemed)  he had been able to inspire of the people of England  in the midst of their battle with Nazi Germany…

churchill quote

How did he do that?  I wanted to know.  Later I realized he was not always up, he too wrestled with the dog days of depression..but he also had some hobbies  to encourage himself and recharge his batteries emotionally.

Some of the activities  he used included slipping away to his farm in the country, painting, and feed apples to his pig.

Churchill said this about his pig:

“Dogs, look up to you, cats look down at you…but a pig looks at you as an equal.”

I told my wife, I wanted to get a pet pig and name him Winston. (We already live in the country,  had the apple trees planted, and since Winston Churchill was now one of my heroes.. it only seemed natural that I should get a pet pig.

I called a local farmer who raises pigs and asked if I could buy a baby pig next time he had some for sale. I forgot to mention I wanted a male, so we came home with a female piglet, whom I tagged “Winston.”

She started out as a 20 pound piglet, and two years later when I finally had to tell her “good-by,” she was pushing 650 pounds.

Here’s some random things about pigs you may or may not know…..

They are highly intelligent…right up there with dolphins and chimps.

They  love to have their belly rubbed/just like a dog.

They are social.

That stereo type about them being dirty is not 100% accurate.  They  don’t have sweat glands so in the summer, hanging out in the mud hole is a way to keep themselves cool.

When pigs are forced to live  in a confined area, they will do their bathroom duties in one area- and keep their nesting area clean.

Here’s another picture of her eyes that I find almost haunting….

There is intelligence behind those eyes.

beautiful eyes2

I miss her still….




Of Grit and Bones… 10/23/2015

Dear Lisa,  Thought I would shoot you another quick update from my week…

A lot of big stuff happened via phone calls this week…

My cell phone rang while I was in the tub Tuesday night.  When I got out, I had a voice mail from the nurse at the Urologist.  She was following up on a PSA blood test and asked me to call her right back.  She’d  tried two times and even though it was only a couple of minutes later, the office was closed by the time I tried.

You’d be proud of me.  I didn’t let the  “not knowing  what the nurse wanted to tell me” rob me of a good nights sleep.  I was pretty sure the numbers were still elevated, but since I had just had a biopsy in April and things came back fine, I hoped it was a routine call.

8:30 the next morning I reached Jen, the nurse.  After she verified who I was, she let me know my numbers while still elevated were stable,and they would see me next Spring for my annual check up.

Ah, the simple joys of life… (reasonably good health.)

Wednesday night we got a phone call from our friend Leslie. She was calling to let us know, our friend Helen had passed away quietly in her sleep the night before.  Helen was a remarkable woman, lived to be 92, and the last several years have been filled with suffering.  She lost her sister, husband and grandson all within a few months span.  Broke her hip (I think) (and maybe one of her arms)..but due to the fragile nature of her bones, her age, and what her body had done the last time she had surgery, they decided the best thing to do was just put her in some kind of brace.

Thursday morning, I was 30 feet in the air, framing a roof.  Phone rang, it was daughter #3.  I answered because she was only a couple of days from her due date.  She was calling from the hospital to let me know, she’d just given birth to a beautiful baby girl….it was her first baby.

That same  morning,  a large formation of wild geese flew over us, headed South.   They were several thousand feet up.

What a breath taking sight.

My whole crew stopped for a minute just to take it in. ( One of the simple perks of working outside.)

Well, need to wrap this up. We have Helen’s funeral in the morning, then we are taking a mini road trip to meet the latest addition to our family. Alcina Kyra  6 pounds 9 oz.  18 inches long.

Stay in touch.DM

Here’s a poem titled Wild Geese by Mary Oliver I wanted to include:

Here are a couple of pictures from the week:

brady addition 2015 (3)

Two story addition I am currently working on. The peak on this side is close to 30 feet up. (and I hate heights) 🙂

large formation of geese

  (I did not have my camera on me, so I found this picture on line that is similar.)


John Muir (Sierra Club) longed to stay in touch with his sister Mary after he moved away from home. At one point he wrote her and said:

” Mary, you should put some grit and bone  in your letters… 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

So anyway, this series of  letters  I’ve titled Of Grit and Bone are my baby step attempts to do just that.  DM


“The Greeks didn’t write obituaries when someone died…they just asked one question….”Did he have passion?”  From the Movie Serendipity

In 1999 I read an  article in Reader’s Digest  that changed my life.   It was called “50 Things to do before you die.”

Wendy Swallow Williams, the author  suggested  writing a list of things you’d  like to see happen.

This was 10 years before The Bucket List  craze.

Anything could be on the list.

As you would write the list, don’t  let money be a factor; just take some time to dream.  Before you die, If God would make a way, what are fifty things you’d like to do?

Maybe you’d like to take a trip…or several trips.

Maybe you’d  like to learn how to play the piano or ride in a helicopter.

Maybe you’d take a 6 month extended trip across the United States and see people and places.

The key was  to take some quiet time and let your mind dream.  Wendy  had listed several places she wanted to visit, skills she wanted to acquire, etc.

I spent some time and identified 25 things I wanted to  do…if you’ve never done this sort of thing before, it is not as easy as it sounds.


It’s been 16 years since that first list…here is a portion of  my current list:

1.  Take a cross country motorcycle trip

(I did end up getting an 800 CC Suzuki  Intruder/  got my license…rode it for a couple of years then changed my mind…too many people locally were getting killed on bikes.  I’m not so concerned about dying.  It’s getting into a motorcycle accident and living the rest of my life in a wheel chair...that concerned  me.

2.  Work on a potter’s wheel   (done)

3.  Take a trip to Ireland

4,  Write a book   (done)

5.   Run the mile without stopping

6.  Learn how to swim.

7.  Take an extended trip (several months if possible) across the US and see people and places

8.  Record a song  (done)

9. Take a painting class  (done)

10.  Have a Bed and breakfast  (done)

11.  Speak in front of a large crowd  (I’m thinking @ least 5000 ) (I love to push that fear envelope)

12. Take a class in self -defense  (done)

13.  Learn how to make wine

14.  Visit Germany. Sprekenze Deutch? 😉

15.  Visit New Zealand

16.  Host an outdoor concert among our apple trees (done)…(  and we’ve had 7 16 of them since I first wrote this list)

17.  Be totally out of debt including our mortgage ( 99% done on this one)

18.  Go whitewater rafting, (done)

19.  Float down our local river until it connects to the Mississippi River.

20 .  Take up kayaking w/ my wife

21. learn to fence (as in swords)

22. sing or perform in a band or music group that sounds excellent

23.  plant apple trees and beautify our grounds (done)

24.  get up close to a gorilla/ look into his eyes.

25. ride 1 day @ least in RAGBRAI  (it is a week long bike ride across Iowa)

26. not be overweight and keep it off  (I dropped 35 pounds 2 years ago/ got too thin/ I’m just 5 pounds above where I’d like to be currently)

27. complete a Narnia display  on our property complete with a wardrobe and false back door leading into the woods

28. learn how to play fiddle

29.  scuba dive with tanks

30.  get a really good camera w/ a zoom and close up lens so I can perfect my picture taking abilities

31.  grow 75% of our own food

32. learn how to butcher a large animal

33. visit Muir Woods

34.  Ride the train from Saint Paul to  Seattle too see friends

35.  Take a road trip down the coast of Oregon from Seattle into California

Hopefully you’ll not come away with the thought I’m advocating  a ‘health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” because I’m not.  On the other hand, some of us have gone to the other extreme, thinking it would be nonspiritual to have such a list.

As much as anything, my bucket list has enriched my life 10 fold.  It has allowed me to channel my energy (passion) for life and see tangible fruit.

My mother-in-law was in her mid 60’s when she passed away.  She told me just a few years before she died of brain cancer not to wait until I was her age to travel and do those things she’d always wanted to do but never seemed to find the time or money to pull off.   Her husband (my father-in law) had already died by this point (He  was in his early 60’s when he’d passed away)…so at the time of my conversation with her, she was planning a trip to Ireland with a girl friend…

She said to me:

      “Doug, do those things  you want to do while you can…there  is no guarantee you’ll be able to  later….look at me.

 Jack and I planned to travel and do these things when he retired…we never made it….”

That conversation gave me permission to pursue my life with even more passion, if that is possible…

 Someone with passion

Better Than Pumpkin Pie


Last September, during the busiest part of harvest, I had several smaller pie pumpkins left over.  I hated to just throw them away  but I didn’t have much time to mess with them either, so after a little research, cubed the pumpkin into chunks and stuck them raw into 1 gallon freezer bags.

Fast forward to December.

I decided to make a pumpkin pie out of  the fresh pumpkin. There was more pie filling left over than could fit into my pie crust.  Hated to just throw it away so I baked the excess filling in some little oven safe bowls.

When it came time to eating the extra, I put a spot of cool whip on it, and honestly, it tasted just as good w/o the pie crust.

Fast forward a week.

On a lark, I pulled another gallon bag of  cubed pumpkin out of the freezer,  this time, skipped the pie crust all together…just baked it in oven safe containers.

It disappeared in 2 days.

Fast forward another week.

Made another batch of fresh pumpkin pie custard, (which I decided to name it)  this time dumped the whole 6 cups of pie filling into a 9 by 13 pan.

It is to die for.

It is a completely different animal than your store-bought pumpkin pie filling from a can.

10 times more tasty and has a unique texture that has really grown on me.

Here’s the deal.  I am all about saving time and keeping it simple.

Blanch the pumpkin if you want at harvest time before freezing. (I’ve done both and have not noticed any difference in the finished product.)

Thought I would post this easy, made from scratch, fresh pumpkin pie custard (pie) recipe and share it with you.

Side note- Before I bagged  the fresh cubed pumpkin, I  froze the cubes on a cookie sheet over night, so they were not all clumped together when it came time to use it, in case I didn’t want to use the whole gallon at the same time.   (In my case, I am using the whole gallon bag at a time.  1 gallon bag =  about 6 cups once it is cooked and mashed down)


Fresh Pumpkin Pie filling

(or custard)

Remove frozen pumpkin from freezer, place in a large pot of water and cook it on low to medium heat. (covered)  Normally, it starts to boil about an hour into the process.  The goal is to let it come to a  low boil for about 30 minutes.  Total time from taking it out of the freezer to done boiling approx. 1 and 1/2 hours.

Drain off water..be careful, might want to let it sit for a little bit to cool off so you don’t get a face full of steam….

After water is drained off, you should have cooked pumpkin cubes 😉

I have just been leaving the pumpkin in the large pot after I drain off the water,  adding all the ingredients (which I will list in a second) then beat it with a beater for a couple of minutes on high.  Totally a preference thing here in terms of texture.  If you have a food processor and want to puree the pumpkin more, that is up to you. I am just telling you what I am doing (remember, I’m all about keeping it simple) 😉

Add 4 eggs

1.75 cup of milk (I’ve experimented with whole milk, condensed milk, 1% milk,etc.  At this point, I just use whatever I have in the frig that is opened.

1 cup of brown sugar (again, I’ve experimented, with various sweeteners.  currently using some Demerara Cane Sugar crystals only because I had a lot of it in the cupboard and wanted to use it up)   side note-  this is about 1/2 the amount of sweeter the regular made from scratch pumpkin pie recipe’s call for.  Trying to watch my sugar intake and it still tastes delicious w/1/2 the sugar content.

1.5 to 2  teaspoons of vanilla

Once all the ingredients are in the pot, I mix it w/my little hand mixer for a couple of minutes.

Pour into 9 by 13 pan. Forget about the pie crust. Who needs pie crust 😉

Cook (uncovered) in preheated oven , 15 minutes @ 425 F.

Turn down oven to 350 and cook approx. another hour. (test like a normal pumpkin pie filling…cook until knife comes out clean)

Top with cool whip and you are done. 🙂


I originally wrote this post last Winter on my farm blog…we are again in the middle of harvest season, and plan to start laying up the pumpkin cubes later this afternoon.. DM

Short Clip Of Our Newly Acquired Antique Apple Polishing Machine

Week ago, I made a quick 600 mile trip to Northern Wisconsin to pick up an antique apple polishing machine, that I had found on e-bay.  We fired it up yesterday while some friends were here visiting.  Check out this 40 second clip:

Let me know what you think.  DM