The Philosopher’s Scales

I love stepping back in time.

Do you doubt me?

Do you doubt it can’t be done?

My favorite doorway into history is fragile,  thread bound, sometimes ink stained, original editions books… (before the politically correct crowd has had a chance to get their little hands on them.)

Back in 2007 I was doing  research for a local history project and wanted to immerse myself in the 1830’s….

On a lark I purchased an assortment of  original edition school textbooks from 1833 up until late 1800’s …McGuffy Readers, Ray’s Arithmetic,  etc. on e-bay.

And it worked.  I was able to re-enter the world of 1839 through the eyes of a teacher, and the scholar.  (Students were called “scholar” back then.)

Well, the  last few nights I have been pulling  the  First Class Reader compiled by B.D. Emerson  1833 off the shelf  and discovered several keepers.


I am an educator.

Not formally trained but, an educator, never the less.

A teacher friend of ours, who  has a  degree, and who has sat in my class room on numerous occasions, once said something to me about my teaching ability  that removed all doubt in my mind of that concern. (Could I teach?)

Anyway, back to the book…I  wanted to share a portion of a poem by Jane Taylor (  link) entitled The Philosopher’s Scales… (She died in 1824.  She was a prolific writer and poet, most famous for her poem Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. 🙂

I’m going to only share part of it.  Some of the words and her analogies may require a little digging on your part if you want to suck  the marrow out… DM

The Philosopher’s Scales

What were they? – you ask:

you shall presently see;

These scales were not made to weigh sugar and tea;

O no; – for such properties wondrous had they,

That qualities, feelings, and thoughts they could weigh,


Together with articles, small or immense,

From mountains or planets to atoms of sense;

Nought was there so bulky but there it could lay,

and nought so ethereal but there it would stay;

And nought so reluctant but in it must go: –

All which some examples more clearly will show…….


Next time he put in Alexander the Great.

With a garment that Dorcas had made- for a weight;

And though clad in armor from sandals to crown,

The hero rose up, and the garment went down….


By further experiments (no matter how)

He found that ten chariots weighed less that one plough.

A sword, with gilt trappings, rose up in the scale,

Though balanced by only a ten penny nail.

A Lord and a lady went up at full sail,

When a bee chanced to light on the opposite scale.


Ten doctors, ten lawyers, two courtiers, one earl,-

Ten counselor’s wigs full of powder and curl,-

All heaped in one balance, and swinging from thence,

Weighed less than some atoms of candor and sense;-

A first-water diamond, with brilliance begirt,

Than one good potato just washed from the dirt;-



Sometimes I wrestle with whether or not my life is accounting for much….compared to, let’s say, someone in politics,  certain professions, etc.   And after immersing myself in a poem (like this one)  my heart is again re calibrated, and tracking as it should.

(Like when you take your car into your mechanic and he does a front end alignment.)


Question for you the reader….

Are there certain authors, poets, books, poems, quotes etc. that you love, that helps you to stay on track?   I would love to hear about them.  If you have a link, post it.   DM



Pay Dirt


Couple of years ago, my aunt Rosie gave me a a cardboard box filled with hundreds of 35 mm slides her aunt Annie had taken before she died.  The pictures are mostly from Germany, Ibiza and  who knows where else  ???  A handful are from her trips to America in the early and mid 1960’s.

If you’ve ever spent any time holding old slides up to the light, looking at images of old buildings, and people you don’t know, until your neck hurts, and your brain starts shutting down, then you’ll have an idea what I was feeling last night  until……

Until I hit pay dirt.

Bingo…I saw  some familiar faces.

Even found a few  new ones with me in them.

Here are a few of my personal favorites:


Rock’n the Lederhosen

(That’s my mom on the left, then me, my brother and cousin Carol.  I can still feel those stiff leather lederhosen chafing against my legs. )


Picture of my dad picking ear corn 

Doing the math, dad would have been about 37 here…about the same age as my eldest daughter. That is just surreal. 🙂

Butch and Feedie

Butch and Fede  

These guys are my grandparents two farm dogs.   My aunt Rosie said this about Butch and Fede  when I posted this on Facebook last night:

“If either of them heard the word “Pickup” ; they would be there before we would… was funny… Butch was a b’day gift to Johnny for his birthday one year and Fede just happened to come around the farm and we adopted him”


Re-thatching a  house roof in the old country

I have no idea where that house is or who is on the roof.  Not sure if Annie took that picture because there was a family connection or just because it was a scenic shot.  It doesn’t matter.  😉  It made the cut.

Good thing I didn’t just pitch the box.  You can’t tell who or where 95% of the pictures were’s that 5% that makes it all worth while.

I’ll close with one more.  If you’re a long time reader, you may have seen it before:


That’s me on the left, Aunt Annie and my brother Steve.  Same trip to America…1961?  Out on Grandpa and Grandma’s farm house porch.   Looks like they were still trying to dress me up.  Probably the last time I wore a bow-tie.


On Writing…(2)

Memorial Day morning someone stopped by our place for a visit.  During the course of our conversation,  our guest brought up my newly published book.  They’d read it, and wanted to get two additional copies.  Can’t remember who said what next, but the next thing I knew, we were talking about several things they’d wished I’d done differently.

I genuinely wanted to hear their thoughts, because after the dozens of times I’ve been over that manuscript, revising, editing, deleting, correcting, etc.  my brain has become jaded.   Back in 2008, I’d shown the first chapter of my rough draft to someone else who considered themselves a writer of sorts.  After I listened to their input, I ended up with a writer’s block for three years. 😉

Lessen learned.  Be very careful with whom I share my rough drafts.

As we sat at our kitchen table Monday morning,  my guest told me he wished I’d spent more time talking about such and such.   Then later in the book, he wondered what book it was he was reading?  I seemed to be spending much more time talking about certain people than I needed.   I’d included the lyrics of a song by Alison Kraus half way through the book..He felt that I’d stolen the thunder for the story it was supposed to be introducing, not to mention, in the song, the  story happened on a mountain, whereas, in my book, the incident took place on the plains…..

My guest is a thinker.   I like him.

I said to him, “Where were you a year ago???!

“Next time, I write something, I  said, I would love to get your feedback.”

I  may have taken some of his suggestions into account if we’d had this conversation a year ago, but at this point, the book  is what it is.

I was thinking  more about our conversation this afternoon.  Before submitting my final (11th) revision  to the printer,  I had  eight different sets of eyes perusing all or parts of my earlier drafts.

Eight sets of eyes.

Some specifically, looking @ basic grammar and others,  giving input on readability and flow.

I gave it my best shot and I’m thrilled with the end product.

I’ve never had a class in writing.

Not that I wouldn’t be interested, but it would really depend on who was teaching.

I do read books and articles on the topic to improve my skill.  Couple of years ago, a young woman with a bachelor’s degree in writing spent a few afternoons trying to mentor me, but other than that, I am a work in progress.

Are there still details I might change, after listening to my latest guest…?


And maybe not.

Last night, a quote by Theodore Roosevelt kept coming to mind.

   ” It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”


Thanks to all of you that stop by this blog and interact.  Work is currently taking up  most of my creative energy  so I’ve not replied to several of your comments like I would normally do.

Good night 🙂




Stories Of Hamlet Folk and Such

“I like the story line and the characters. There is mystery, romance and drama. It feels like I am sitting down to visit and catch up with people I know…. My husband who doesn’t usually like this type of program stops to watch it.”

Review on Amazon


BBC meets Little House On The Prairie = Larkrise To Candleford.

Set in 1840 northern England.   Wife and I stumbled across the series a couple of weeks ago.   The review that clinched it for me, was someone saying “Best thing they’d ever seen on TV, in their entire life….and I (DM) would tend to agree. 🙂

Here’s a link to the first episode:

The website ( has all 38 episodes on it, and they are free.

Too good to keep to myself.

You are welcome. 😉


Are you familiar with the series?  What did you think?

Well, time to call it a day.  We’ve had lots of wind here the past couple of days.  Got an e-mail yesterday regarding a roof I shingled last Fall. Seems some of the shingles blew off, so that’s where I am headed first thing in the morning.  Couldn’t have happened to a better roof (not.)  2 story/ 9 on 12 pitch/ about the middle of the roof…the toe holds are no longer there so I have to figure out a creative way to reach the area.  It is a good thing I love my job.





My Book Manuscript

My grandpa  used to tell me stories from his days when he was a kid growing up on a farm a mile from where I grew up.  One of the stories he told was about a train wreck just south of town.  If I heard that story once, I heard it fifty times.    When my son John was 10 years old, I took him over to interview Grandpa and record him.


train wreck

Picture of the train wreck south of my grandpa

That was in 1999.

In the interview, I asked grandpa about the train wreck, farming with horses, the story about his brother and him making moonshine…was it really true?

It was.  In fact, Grandpa and the boys had an actual route where they delivered the stuff, and on this occasion, Grandpa told me something I’d never heard before.

He gave me the family recipe for making moonshine.

The interview lasted about 40 minutes.

It is priceless to me now that he is gone.

In 2007 I came across that tape and listened to it again.  You can hear the coffee pot percolating in the background the first several minutes.   After the interview was over, I decided to do an Internet search on  local history.

I found a gold mine.

I came across an account of two men retracing a hundred mile long, early pioneer trail on foot in the early 1920’s, that passed right through our area…this was 75 years after the fact. It stirred something in me.  The desire to retrace that same route myself on foot…but before doing so, I decided to immerse myself in local history.   I purchased old maps, out of print county history books, anything I could get my hands on which might give me clues into life in Eastern Iowa from 1839 to 1900.

Through a chance conversation with a woman who owned a local antique store one day, as I was looking for old books, she told me me  her dad,  had also spent considerable time researching that same route.  She asked me if I would be interested in looking through the many newspaper clippings and personal correspondence he’d had with various people he’d interacted with.

I have included several of those things in this book.

I came across enough material to make  several movies. (Think Little House On The Prairie.)

Last Winter, I finally finished the rough draft of a book.  A compilation of many of the stories I read, plus some of my personal reflections.  A friend of mine lined up two different people to edit the rough draft, and just last week I finally finished making all the corrections.

All I have left to do is find someone to help create the cover, tidy up a few loose ends then send it to the printer.  I plan to create a small Kickstart or Gofundme page in a few weeks.  Print on demand publishing prices have dropped considerably since my last book. With any luck it should be in print by this May.

It is an act of love, 9 years in the making.



“…the riverboat pilot is the most unfettered independent human on the earth.”

Mark Twain


We watched Ken Burns  PBS special on Mark Twain this week.  I told my wife of 37 years she reminded me of Livy (Mark Twain’s wife of 34 years.)

Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Clemens) said of her:

She is the best girl, and the sweetest, and gentlest, and the daintiest, and she is the most perfect gem of womankind.”

A few of you have met Mrs DM in person, what do you think? 😉

Wife proceeded to tell me, I reminded her of Twain… my sometimes biting humor, my independent, non-conformist streak, and my Midwestern farm boy roots.

I was having similar thoughts  myself as we watched the biography but would never have voiced it out loud had she not said it first. 😉

Twain was many things during his formative years, including doing a  stint as a river boat captain.

I myself have regularly thought  life is like trying to pilot a barge on a big river.  Especially when it comes to looking ahead, trying to anticipate what’s around the next bend.

river boat steam boat

When I heard that statement : “the riverboat pilot is the most unfettered independent human on the earth.”

I instantly connected with it, for  you see,  I am one of the most unfettered independent human I know, and have felt that way for years.  I think being self employed and making a living with my hands feeds into it.

Here is a snap shot of  my past 24 hours:

Got off work at noon yesterday because we finished installing metal on the cattle shed we were working on and it was too windy to start on the roof.  I love spontaneous time off 😉

When I got home, I called the Newhall locker that was processing  1/2 of an organic grass-fed beef I’d found on-line compliments of a buy sell or trade page on Facebook.  Just so happened it was ready to be picked up.  Total cost of the meat  averaged out to be $3.09 a pound…that included the steaks, roasts, brisket, hamburger,  butchering, everything…$3.09 a pound!!!

As a reference point, hamburger is currently bringing $4.00 a pound in the local grocery store.

Last night I baked an apple/ wild black raspberry pie with a lattice crust.  The berries grow wild out behind the barn, and the apples..well, you probably know where I got them.  There were some extra berries and apples that wouldn’t fit into the pie shell so I finished them off.

I was up this morning at 2:30 making  sour dough bread.   I took a lot of liberty with the recipe and it turned out to be some of the most interesting, tasty home-made bread I’ve ever had.

So, how about you?  What life metaphor(s) describe how you view the world?

(If you are a long time reader of my farm blog, then you may remember this one)

Sara’s Reader

Or     “Why I love local  history “


Pretend  for a moment,  you were a crew foreman for 10 years.

Then  a new job  takes you out-of-state.

25 years later  you  step back into your old  position  at the same company and  realize things have really gone down hill  in the time  you ‘ve been  gone.

There are new faces on the crew. People  are padding their time cards, leaving work early to go  road drinking…and worse,  most of the crew think this is normal.

What do you have that the rest of them don’t have?



Hang on to that word…perspective.  I’ll come back to it in a minute.


Last weekend  I  grabbed a Mcguffey Reader  off  my shelf published in 1833.


Not a reprint but an original addition. Back in 2007 I was doing some research on a local history project and bought several old books on E-bay on a lark. This was one of those old books.  I noticed for the first time, the name  Sarah Ann Strawn dated 1838 in the inside cover.

Just for fun, I did some checking on the Internet to see if she was mentioned anywhere at all.

I hit a gold mine.

I found her mentioned several times.

I’m not going to give you too many details of her life just yet.. 🙂 but I will tell you  this…Between Sarah Ann, her husband Will and her mother-in-law, there is enough raw material  to write a whole new  Little House on the Prairie series….anyone want to help me????

Getting back to Sarah…

Sarah Ann marries when she is  just 17.    Her and her husband  Will   owned a hotel that entertained this young man  on several occasions:

I wondered what it was about their story that stirred me so?

Was it just the thrill of discovery?

A lust for knowledge?

It wasn’t until yesterday that I was finally able to connect the dots and put a name to my inner angst.

Their story gives me Perspective.

When I read about Sarah’s mother in law  with 7 sons carving out a livelihood in 1831, dealing with Indians  on the rampage murdering neighbors it gives me perspective on how good I have it.

When I read about harsh midwest Winter storms dumping 2 feet of snow and ice  and  young families  trying to keep warm in a 24 by 16 ft log cabin and all they had to eat was corn dodgers, salted pork and coffee  it gives perspective on how comfortable I have it.

When I read about how a  families meager salt  supply  runs low so a mom  is forced to let her 15 yr old son and his  7-year-old brother travel 90 miles with 3 yoke of ox to get salt in the dead of winter, it gives perspective on  worry and anxiety.

When I read  about an economic bubble popping   in our nation in 1837 which plunges our country into 5 years of  extreme deprivation, it brings perspective in these uncertain economic times.

    Found a quote on history that  also speaks to me:

     “The writers of history seldom give more than the rise and fall of nations, biographies of great men, kings and princes, and but little or nothing of the common people – a matter of far more importance, and more interesting.

To know the intelligence, opinions, tastes, amusements, method and means of living, routine of every day life, the hopes and fears, which swayed and controlled a people, would be far more interesting than the life of a prince socially far removed from and having no feelings in common with the masses”

So what do you think?

What would you do if  the electrical grid were to go down for a month?

What if  we experienced the popping of another economic bubble and all the wage earners in your home were suddenly out of work…long term?

It really does come down to our perspective.  (attitude)

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my stuff.  (I originally wrote this on my original heart to heart blog that is currently off line.  A  couple of you may remember it.) DM