Ten Reasons Why You Need To Plant An Orchard

Few years ago, I got an e-mail from a college professor.  Seems some of his students at the time had stumbled across the following blog post on another blog of mine.  He wanted me to know  he’d heard them talking about my blog outside of class around the campfire on a class trip.  Talk about honored. Anyway, Spring is in the air.  If I want to do any pruning it needs to happen in the next couple of weeks.  So, to kick off the 2019 apple growing season, I  would like to repost the following musing.

Ten Reasons Why You May Want To Plant An Orchard.

(and if not a whole orchard, at least a couple of trees) 😉

 

Hanging scale in our sales area

1.  Photo opportunities.   Our apple orchard constantly changes with the seasons.   There is always something catching my eye and bringing me joy.

Apple blossoms

2.  It provides the perfect blend of solitude and social interaction.  I love my peace and quiet.  There is nothing more nurturing for me than spending a Saturday morning alone, picking apples.  At the same time, I do love meeting and bantering with the public on occasion, and when the mood strikes, I will load up the pick up and head to our local farmers market.

Hawking apples at the farmers market last season

3.  Supplemental income.   Sure there is some work involved in tending an orchard, but not nearly as much as you might suspect.  One Semi dwarf tree  will cost you  $20 to $25.00 and once it’s mature, it can produce between 2 to 4 bushel of apples a year. = 80 to 160 pounds of fruit @ $1.50 a pound that’s $120 to $240 gross, from one tree…per year..not bad for some additional pocket change if you ask me ;-)

4.  mental stimulation.    While the basics of tending an apple orchard are pretty easy to grasp, there is always something new to learn.   Did you know there are over 750 different varieties of apples in the United States alone, and over 2000 varieties world-wide?

5.  Keeps you physically active. Keep those muscles moving”  my grandpa used to say.  Between the pruning in the early spring, to the picking in the fall,  having an orchard provides me with lots of  opportunities  to be physically active outside, all the while,I’m getting paid  and enjoying some fresh air.  As I  get older  I will probably do more of that “you pick” marketing, but for now, I can still climb and honestly, I love picking apples.  Last Saturday, I picked about 1200 pounds of apples in about 6 hours.

6.  Provides me with lots of opportunities to bless others.  I’m not going to brag and tell you how this works itself out except to say, I try to sell mostly our #1 apples, which means, what to do with the seconds?    The opportunities  to give are all around.

7.  Get to enjoy some varieties of fruit that are hard to come by normally – plus if you can find them, you’ll pay through the nose.  Sure we have Honey crisp, was told last year they were charging up to $5.00 a pound for those little rascals.   So far this year, I’ve picked 11 crates of them and probably have at least another 8.  My personal favorite is called the Ginger Gold:

Ginger Gold.

It is every bit as crispy as the Honey crisp and sweet.   Last year we had 32 crates of these little jewels.

8.  Fresh apple cider.    You haven’t lived until you’ve had fresh apple cider pressed from your own apples.   It’s got a texture and taste you’ll never , ever find in a store -ever.  If you come to visit, and the apples are in season, you can help me press out a batch. ;-)

9.  You’ll  give the bees something to talk about.  Ever hear of the “waggle dance”?

10. Provides me with lots  of spiritual insight.

Life is full of mystery.    I believe God has hidden the answers to some of our questions about life in the apple orchard.

Pruning and suffering.  I hate it when people try to slap pat answers onto my life when I’m in the middle of something hard.  It makes me angry.  So I will not disrespect you and do that now.  Sometimes it feels like I’m getting “pruned”  and when it does, I barely have enough energy to survive, let alone  do more.

Fruitfulness (ever see an apple tree grunt?  :-)   Me neither.

Seasons.   Apple trees don’t produce fruit 12 months out of the year.  In fact, they need large blocks of “down time”  in the winter..to get ready for the next season.  They literally need that time, which is why apple trees don’t do well in warmer climates.

Variety.  Already mentioned this one, but it bears repeating.    Apple trees vary widely and differently in the type of fruit they produce.  I think people are created much more varied than culture tries to tell us.   I found an apple tree on an abandoned farmstead a few years ago like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Some heirloom variety I’m sure.  It looked and tasted just like it was designed to taste.  Definitely not some domesticated boring apple.  So why do you and I sometimes think we have to look like everybody else?   Nothing more beautiful than someone being 100% alive just the way they were designed:

As always, thanks for reading my stuff ;-) DM

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Chicken Run

I have been wanting to get laying hens for a while.

Sent the last ones packing about a year ago because we were not getting any eggs.  It’s not that they were not laying, (they were).  But because I was letting them free range, they were hiding the eggs all over the property. Then, one of the little stinkers acquired a taste for farm fresh eggs.  It finally came to a head when they started venturing over to the neighbors every morning  and stealing the neighbor lady’s cat food.

Free ranging chicken sounds good in theory, but  a chicken has no concept of property lines, and when they can fly over a 6 ft fence, good luck telling them they have to stay home.

But in the back of my mind, Robert Fulguhm’s  essay “Not Even Chickens” continued to cast a long shadow over my life.

I really do feel like a rich man when  I have a few chickens.

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So, while the desire was there,  that didn’t mean I was just going to act on it.

Financially, I wanted having chickens fit into the big picture of our life and not be a slow bleed on our finances.

And then last week, I had enough discretionary  money saved up between my monthly stipend, some cash I got for Christmas, and then more cash for my birthday to buy some chickens.

I figured 6 or 7 chickens would be perfect.

Decided to put out some feelers on a local garage sale site on Face book.

30 minutes later I had a lead.  Lady had 13 pullets born in August, that had just started to lay.  She was looking to get a different breed.

The only catch, I had to take all 13.

Then we started to talk money.  I asked her what she wanted per bird?  She wasn’t sure.  How much would I pay her?

I hate dickering.  Told her that right up front.  Didn’t want to insult her, by being too low.  She would just need to set a price and I could say yes or no.

Having bought chickens before, a fair price for a young laying hen starts around $10 a bird, and could be as much as $12 to $15, especially if you’re only getting a few.

She said, “Well I raised them from babies …I would like maybe $3.00 a bird but if that is too much we can talk.”

Sold!

Told her I could pick them up  Saturday morning.

As we finished loading the birds,  She teared up as we put them in the back of my pick up.  I could tell the chickens were her pets….her babies as she called them.

“They need to ride in the cab if it will fit” (the cage). 

Temps that morning were single digit.  I had brought a tarp,  my intention was put them all in one cage together, throw a tarp over the cage for the ride home.  (They would have been fine).

Well, the cage fit into the cab, (barely).

The ride home was interesting.

13 chickens taking up 2/3’s of the front seat.  I managed to get the drop cloth under part of the cage.  Wasn’t long before they were crapping past the tarp.  I noticed my coffee mug was directly below an untarped portion of the cage.  ;-(

I was glad to get home.

I really didn’t want to keep all 13 of the birds, so I put an ad on Craigslist Sunday morning.

Pullets for sale – $10

6 pullets for sale. Born in August 2018, just starting to lay. (Brown eggs) $10 firm. I had to buy the whole lot when I picked up these birds…few more than I really need.

Had an offer in 2 hours.  Delivered those 6 hens  Monday morning.

Paid $40 for 13 hens.  Sold 6 for $60.

So there are now 7 happy healthy laying hens on the property and I’m $20 ahead.

Just got home after an hour cooped up with 13 nervous birds

Early morning view of the chicken house.

Life lesson in this for me again is this…

God knows the desires of my heart.  He is not some cosmic Genie, nor is he a killjoy. He is unpredictable.  And sometimes, in the most unexpected ways, he shows himself in my life.  DM

 

Winter Sketches

I have two stories that rumble around in my head  each winter, when the weather gets testy, this year I added a third.

First story

(And you may have heard this one before).

Growing up, my Grandpa would talk about a train  that derailed south of his farm in the dead of winter, January of 1929.   The train derailed and “turned turtle”  (went over on it’s back)  when it hit a hard snow drift.  One of the engineers (Roscoe Stevens) was trapped in the wreckage for over 3 hours.   Grandpa said, (and I have this on tape) ” I can still see that man…had a damn rod as thick as my arm over his arm…he was laying there, couldn’t move. Both engines were lying in the ditch. then the doctor hollered,” Does anybody got some whiskey??? Come on, get some! If you got nothing, get some! We’ve got to have whiskey for this guy.” they poured the whole pint in him. He was suffering….It was 35 to 40 below. You don’t ever forget those things…”

Here are a couple of pictures of that train wreck:

 

Second story

You may have heard this one before too,  that can happen around here.  😉

Back in 2011 I  stumbled across the poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong on-line. She was a pioneer mother who lived from 1789 to 1891.  She wrote a series  poems called “Sketches Of My Life.”  One of the most powerful accounts happened in 1831.  They lose their provision of salt, which in that time apparently was a life and death situation. ( I know it had to do with food preservation for the coming year, but not sure how that all works…)

“Our salt was in a gum,

And was standing on the loft,

But met with a bad accident,

when the cover got shoved off.

I had some in a box,

That was standing down below,

Not enough to last till spring,

And we knew not where to go…

Elsie asks  a man who had been selling salt if he had more to sell?  He didn’t, and didn’t know when more would be in.  He said...”If I go for salt, I’ll freeze to death, and perish in the snow.” 

She goes home,  and tells her children the situation.

When I got home, I told my children

What the man had said,

Then William said, I’ll go myself,

And take that big old sled.

“Mother do not be uneasy,

None but lazy people freeze,

Because they will not exercise,

They are so fond of ease.

There is no fear for me Mother,

I will jump and kick the sled,

I will keep myself in exercise

Run, and kick the wagon bed….

Their team was good and active,

All four year olds and strong….

The account goes on…

Fifteen year old Will and his little brother take off on a 90 mile trek in the dead of winter with their team. They have to cross a frozen river, deal with winter storms, not get lost, be on guard for  roving Indians, (all while mom is at home second guessing herself, with the rest of her brood).

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This week, just to make sure I was on my game  because the weather man said we were in for it, we were going to get a “Polar vortex”,what ever the heck that was, I decided to add a third story to my winter attitude folder.

I decided to reread a portion of  novel The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

It was perfect!

It was just what the Dr ordered!

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Pause.

I am torn.

Torn because I love winter.

I love winter storms.

I love being snowed in.

I love busting through drifts with my 4 wheel drive pick up.

Last thing I want to do is mock someone to whom the winter storms are a heartache.  (My parents are in their 80’s and I know it can be hard on both of them).   The thing is, from my vantage point, all of the negative, naysayers are the only voices I hear.  Fellow lovers of winter weather  seem to be either a dying breed or keeping their thoughts to themselves.

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I grew up on a farm.

On the farm, when you have livestock, you don’t get to stay in the house when it gets cold.  Sometimes just the opposite.  Those are the times when stuff starts to break. Water lines to the cattle get frozen or the pilot light to the tank heater won’t stay lit, etc. etc. Christmas morning if you have milk cows (like we did)  the cows still need milking, haying,  might even have more manure to pitch than normal if you keep the cows in the barn overnight so they don’t freeze their utters off. 🙂

So here I am now in the year 2019.

All of our children are grown.  No longer have cows to milk, tank heaters to keep lit. none of it.

Predictions of winter storms stir up within me feelings of thankfulness.   I feel like some little creature tucked away deep in my burrow,  Cozy.  My larder is full.  The house is staying warm. Smell of freshly baking bread is in the air. Garden seeds have started coming in the mail.  The new little heating pad that goes under the seed starting tray is working like a charm.

I  feel better.   Now you know.

I got into a conversation yesterday with a young mom  about this past weeks weather.  She asked me what I thought about it.  I paused, looked her in the eyes and told her the same things I’ve just told you here.

She smiled and said, “I feel the same way.”

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Here’s a picture I took earlier in the week in front of our house:

Got to run.  Need  to go to the bank before they close.   Take care. DM

 

Lois

I met Lois 13 years ago.

She and her friend Floe had signed up for  a class I was teaching at our local community college  called “Bible for Dummies.”

Lois was 80 years old.  Farm wife.   She had a couple of hundred chickens/ sold eggs on the side.  Sharp mind.  Quiet, sweet personality.  I remember thinking no way is this lady 80 years old…65 maybe. Floe told me on the side Dave her husband could be a little “overbearing.”  Said Lois didn’t get away from the farm much.  Hard worker.  It was “good she was able to take a break and get away from the farm for a few hours.”

After that class ended, wife and I would occasionally stop by Lois’s farm and buy eggs.

We read in the obituaries a few years ago, Lois’s husband had died.   I think we may have gotten eggs from her one time after that.  I think of Lois every time I drive by her farm.   Christmas night, feeling nostalgic  I googled her name to get the address of her farm.  I was thinking about dropping her a note.     Two addresses came up for Lois.  Her place that I knew about  and a 2nd local address.  It was a care facility.  White pages said she was 93 years old.

As I was driving past the exit to the care facility  this past Thursday morning I thought, what the heck, I’m going to stop and ask if she lives there.  No harm in that.

Walked up to the front door. Doors were locked.  Needed a security code to get in.  Off to the right, were the instructions and code numbers.   Punched them in, sure enough, this time the door opened.  Straight ahead was an office with two secretaries and a resident, so I popped my head in the door and asked, “Does a Lois, so- and so lived there?”

The secretary in charge looked at me as shook her head slowly  and said “Nope.”

I went on to tell them the details of why I there…It was spur of the moment.  Wasn’t even sure she was there, just that the computer said so.  Told her about the class Lois was in years before with me.  Told them I’d occasionally stop by her house to buy eggs, but it had been a while…

At this point, the secretary does some non-verbal signals with her eyes toward the resident sitting in the chair next to her desk, three feet in front of me….

It was Lois.

I did not recognize her.

Different hair style and her face was puffy.   I’m guessing she’d put on 20 pounds.
I asked how long she had lived here?  Secretary guessed maybe 3 years.

All this time Lois just sat listening to me banter, then reached up and grabbed my hand…didn’t let go until I left.  I looked her in the eyes and asked “Lois, do you remembered me? 

 “Yes” she said in a quiet voice.

We all  had good laugh.

Secretary said she thought I was joking initially.

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I’m still processing that little adventure.

I did write Lois a letter last night and pop it in the mail.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine going from the  active lifestyle that I have currently… where I can do whatever I want to do, make home-made bread, have a big garden, tend 80 apple trees, build furniture in my wood working shop, ferment sauerkraut, have a dog…..to moving into one room where all of my earthly possessions have to fit.

(And I couldn’t bring my dog).

Libby (our dog)

I watched a friend of ours (Helen) transition from living on her own, to moving into two different care facilities as her health declined…She pulled it off with amazing grace.  I’m not so sure I want to wind up like that.

(Not so sure I  have too much say in some of those details either.)

Radio DJ Friday morning was talking about her grandmother.  Grandmother lived through the depression of 1929-1939.  She said her grandmother had a remarkable cheerful disposition, in spite of all she went through. She asked her grandmother how she did it?

Grandmother told  her… “It is a choice.”  

Would love to hear any thoughts any of you have on this issue of aging, transitioning from one  season of our lives to the next.

I am taking notes 🙂  DM

 

Boundary Issue

A new menace  moved into our neighborhood yesterday.

Remember our  tomcat Barron?

Little half-grown kitten I rescued 2 years ago in the median strip of a local highway.

He’s our  cat.

Awesome mouser.

Affectionate.

No longer lives in the house with us. Just comes scratching @ the door in the evenings for a few minutes of snuggling, then he heads back outside.

He does this almost every night.  Loves to have his cheeks scratched.

Heck, there are many days, where I have found him waiting for me when I get home from work.  I’d swear he is part dog.

I grew up with cats on the farm.  Never, ever had one with his kind of temperament.

Got a call yesterday from our neighbor to the West.

Said two young guys and a girl in a black SUV were out setting traps in the ditch for raccoon just west of our place.   She told them both her and our cat liked to hunt in that ditch.

They just scoffed at her.

I went out after she and I talked to see if I could find the traps.  It looked like they didn’t put a trap on our side of the road, but did set one right across.   My first impulse was to take it (the trap)  but after calling a friend who is a retired conservation board member, he  said, as long as the traps are in the ditch, and not on our ground, they are 100% legal, and I would be in the wrong.

My best plan would be to talk to the boys and ask them to remove it, but that would be entirely up to them.

I keep thinking about that trap being a metaphor.

Stay tuned.  DM

Reflections

I (DM) got a phone call two weeks ago from our local nursing home.  Halley (director of activities) wanted to know if they could stop by in a bus, then I could tell them a little bit about our setup.  It wasn’t going to work with my schedule, but I did offer to come to town to the nursing home and do a little program.

That was yesterday morning.

It was a hoot.  I made up a version of Jeopardy.

Guys against the girls or as  we put it. drones against the worker bees.

Some of categories included: Apple Trees, The Birds and the bees, Enemies of the Orchard, and Johnny Appleseed.  Rather than me just talk, it was an interactive presentation.  Even with my helping  (just a little) the drones lost.  I started out asking if any of them could remember the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940?  (Several could)  Reason I asked that was because before that storm, Iowa  was number 2 in the nation in terms of the apple producing states, second only to Michigan.  The blizzard and ice storm  decimated the apple trees and since farmers could not afford to wait 5 to  7 years for a paycheck, the orchards were plowed under and turned into corn fields.  How sad. 😦

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The following ditty I found on line, was in the back of my mind as I looked out over the men and women sitting before me:

“What do you see nurse?
What do you see, nurse… what do you see?
Are you thinking – when you look at me:
“A crabbed old woman, not very wise;
Uncertain of habit with far-away eyes,
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice ‘I do wish you’d try.'”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe;
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse. You’re not looking at
me!
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still.
As I move at your bidding, eat at your will:
– I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another;
– A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon a love she’ll meet;
– A bride at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep;
– At twenty-five now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home.
– A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast.
Bound together with ties that should last.
– At forty, my young sons have grown up and gone,
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn;
– At fifty once more babies play ’round my knee
Again we know children, my loved ones and me…
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years
and the love that I’ve known.
I’m an old woman now, and nature is cruel.
‘Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart.
There is a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now again my bittered heart swells;
I remember the joys, I remember the pain
and I’m loving and living life over again;
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last;

So open your eyes, nurse, open and see…
not a crabbed old woman.
Look closer… see me!”

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Pictures compliments of Google images:

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