The country mice and the city mouse

This is the third guest post installment….written by Lucy,  I mean Kristina the Home Engineer    DM

_____________________________________

I wanted to write about feminists and abortion or the Kingdom of Heaven. But Doug said no, so I will write about them (D and his wife,  M) . A subject a little less divisive and hostile.

I met D many moons ago whilst blogging, he commented, I commented, he asked me to read his book, I read his book.

Our family was going through some very trying times and I needed a vacation. They had a bed. and breakfast.

So doing something very uncharacteristic of me, I took my son and we ventured from Seattle WA to Eastern Iowa.

To let strangers take care of us for a few days.

They had a farm! They had a pig! They had apple trees and crickets and quiet and woods and quiet. They had chickens in the basement.

As extremely weird and awkward as it sounds, it quickly became fun and easy, relaxing and safe.

They had a little potluck music get together called the Apple Jam and families came with crock pots and desserts and curious people asking where we were from and feeding us. They have sloppy joes but they are called Maid-Rites!

I have visited these two people pretty much every year for seven years [?] now. Once they came here, to the big city, by train.

Just wanted to give you all a different perceptive of these people I have grown to know and love.

I saw their last family picture and envied at how I was not in it.

First the house… Its old, its a farm. It is real wood. It has the old original house attached to it with the old wallpaper and creaky stairs. I am still trying to convince them to remodel it so I can run away and live there. The barns are huge, and bats live there. It is quite a sight to see a billion crockpots and food lined up on  makeshift ledge table upstairs. Workshops, garage, land, apple trees, built-in freezer, apple press. Cellar for safety, buckets of dry good ready for an emergency. I could go on and on but suffice to say it is the opposite of what this city girl grew up in and exactly where this city girl wants to be.

As I said I was going through a bad time and this place was my run away dream, the opposite of all I was going through, no drama, no court dates, no crying, no anger, no having to explain all the discord. Heaven.

We have joked around about us being the country mouse and city mouse, but by no means is this a slam or disrespect in any way. A different way to live. Not better, not worse. I would drop everything and pack and live in that dusty farm community in a heartbeat and enjoy the rest of my days hanging out with Mrs. M and Doug, their friends and family.

Being with them has actually helped with my ”my way or the high way anal retentive” way of living I had grown accustomed to.

Even if that meant no fine restaurants or grocery stores with vegan options or quick access to, well, everything.

Doug: big personality, he is the humblest person he knows, I’m not buying it. I call him Pig Pen [He, is turn, calls me Lucy] for he leaves messes wherever he goes. He drinks too much coffee. He cooks and takes out the garbage.  He is eclectic, he writes, he builds, he creates. He has many ideas rolling around in that bald head, much to the dismay and worriment of his bride. If he were my husband, he would have me in the fits. lol

He has rough hands and a soft heart. He loves people, he wants to help people, but he also doesn’t take much crap from people. He loves his kids. you can often tell a person’s personality by the way they dress… he wears jeans, boots, t-shirts. Bright t-shirts. By the bright t-shirts, he wants to be seen [his way of standing out] but is a plain and simple guy dressed for the work he does. Labor. He thrives on connection. He lives life as it comes and sometimes throws convention out the window. He and I could be siblings, we argue and pick at each other like that. I sometimes think of them in a parental way and other times as friends.

To this day it amazes me that they can walk into any store in any small community near by and everyone knows them!!

It’s also funny to tell people where I’m from and that I don’t eat meat. They look at me like I’m crazy…and I am..when I’m sitting in the middle of farm land.

Mrs. M  : she is shy, simply beautiful, kind, old-school wife and mother. She struggles with the same things I do. Mothers and wives worry about their family regard of geography. She is soft-spoken. She is curious and is eager to try new foods, unlike Pig Pen. When she laughs it’s from down deep. She makes her own detergent.  She finds the good in everything. She cooks, she cleans, goes out of her way to help others. She writes notes. Lots of notes. She loves thrift shopping. Maybe a bit too much. But who doesn’t love a good bargain AMIRIGHT? I think with the line of work her husband is in and maybe her childhood she saves things. I understand the need. I never had to worry about those things, but I understand it.  The last visit I was informed I was to stay a longer period of time and help D with his book. So for 2 weeks I stayed. They offer me their best bed in the warmest room and turned on the shower upstairs so I don’t have to take baths. I hate baths.

We go to thrift stores, Amish discount stores, Walmart and lunch. We take walks with the dog. We decided this last trip that the house needed some sprucing up and emptying of accumulated stuffs. I tested my ‘clutter clean-up’ job skills. [I’d actually love to be one of those, but I’m a bit too hard on folks..so I’m told] we gathered everything up in one spot, wrote out decluttering plans, bought some storage stuff and went to work. Mrs. probably had the hardest time getting rid of stuff. I know I do. She did great tho and got rid of dusty forgotten duplicate things and made a promise to have the rest of the house done by the time I get back this year…which is coming up soon, girl!

Something I told her she remembers…. two things to think about .. do you need it and do you have a place for it [not hidden away] if not..don’t buy it. I don’t know if it’s a woman thing, or a people thing, but we tend to have things scattered and not in the same place, like bathroom goods stored in 3 places or important paperwork in different rooms. Sometimes we don’t realize how much stuff we have until we can get it all together.

We talk of life, love, hardships, relationships. The good, the bad. We have made charts on the chalkboard, lists and talked how to make a better world.  They live a slower life, a quieter life. No TV, just a computer. They had never seen the show Hoarders, we watched a few episodes. They both love books. They have wallpaper on a wall that looks bookshelves. They keep ‘the books’ on paper.

She would never tell Pig Pen that he leaves his stuff around. When I brought it up, he asked her if she agreed. She did. He put that in his mental file and helps more around the house.

Does it seem like I’m being weird about these two people? I probably am. They fascinate me. Because they are different yet the same. They are so kind. Everyone I have met there is so damn kind. In the city it’s so easy to lose that. I miss it. Even in our little church fellowship community it’s not as common.

I’ve met the kids and have nothing but nice things to think and say about them. They’re kind and funny and sweet just like their parents.

Doug’s mom and dad are the best. I wish I could move in with them and let Janet cook for me and tuck me in bed and let Don shake his head in wonderment that I keep a pig inside my house. He has a farm and still grows soybeans and corn.

One visit I actually carried homemade cinnamon rolls home to my son from Janet! Can you believe it? She is the quintessential mom/grandmom who wants to feed you and love you and remembers what you tell her!

They do not attend a conventional church. They have a group of friends that get together once a week to pray, read over scripture, exhort, encourage and listen to each other. And there again…I just wanted to embed myself into their lives. Doug doesn’t like to impose his faith on anyone, doesn’t mention it much on his blog, but he and  M keep the greatest commandment:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Thanks for letting gush on and on about your family and lives. I could think of many more things to crow on about them.  I’m not a creeper honestly. I crave the simple quiet real life you all have and am blessed beyond measure to know you.

kristinap2008-003

Kristina the Home Engineer when she met Winston the pig

Wild Flowers on the Brain

honey-bee-flowers

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….”

But…

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.

 

Apfelwein…..already at 5 %

Apfelwein: German for Apple Cider

There is 5 gallons of raw,(  freshly pressed) apple cider,  sitting  in a food grade five gallon plastic bucket, fermenting behind me as I write.  I checked it with the hydrometer yesterday, it is already up to 5% alcohol content since I started.

This is my first attempt at making hard cider (freshly pressed, raw apple cider juice intentionally handled to morph into alcohol.)

I mentioned a few weeks ago, my latest life goal/ project is to become a fermentation master.

Some of it I hope to bottle up for gifts, some of it I hope to make into apple cider vinegar and some of it for personal consumption.

It is almost impossible to find (or buy) raw unpasteurized apple cider. Big brother has made it illegal to sell to the public without first being pasteurized, which is all well and good, but in the process, the good stuff is killed along with any potential harmful bugs. (just like its almost impossible to buy raw milk…unless you own a cow or buy it on the black market, it is not to be had)

I had to grind and press 2 bushel of apples to get 4 and 1/2 gallons of cider. The  #2 apples sell for $30 a bushel.   $60 worth of fruit,  2 hours of my time. and over $1000 of equipment  ( the whizbang apple grinder and a cider press.)   When someone recently suggested I could sell the cider for $6 to $8 a gallon I just kept quiet.    I told my wife, this stuff is conservatively worth $25 a gallon before it’s fermented.

I have no very little tolerance  for people who try to work me over  on a price of something I’m selling.

On another fermentation note…

I wanted to transfer the peach mead that I started fermenting a few weeks ago into another container this week.

Sampled some of it first.

My oh my.

Smooth and mellow.

Again, you can’t buy this stuff anywhere.

And finally, I am experimenting with a batch of what I will probably  call Jailhouse hooch.  Had a guy that used to work with me that did a little time in the Cook County jail.  One day over coffee break he gave me skinny on how they made hooch when he was in jail. …the only change I am making is instead of using a garbage bag and hiding it under my bed, I’m using a food grade plastic pail  😉

I started a batch this morning.

1 pound of firm fresh strawberries, 3 pounds of sugar, 3/4 t of baking yeast, one gallon of cold water and a 1 gallon food safe plastic bucket.   Before the fermentation process started I got a reading on the hydrometer.  It registered 60./ potential alcohol content 15%.

We will see.

I am taking copious notes in case I hit one out of the park. DM

EverClear

everclear

 

Back when I was eighteen, I used to bum a menthol cigarette off Mike Cooper at break. It  started when he teased me and offered me one, knowing I didn’t smoke.  Not wanting to look like a sissy I  smoked it.
This  went on for ten days.  I can still remember the day,  I went from doing it to fit in, to actually thinking about it, and looking forward to having a smoke at break.

Right then I knew something had shifted in my mind….I was on the precipice of taking up smoking as a habit…did I really want to do that????

Naaa….better quit while I was ahead…sissy or not, in the eyes of my construction co-workers, I decided to back away from the ledge.  No  more cigarettes…that’s not to say, I didn’t try a few other things, but those are conversations for another day.

Pause-  (I hope those of you that smoke don’t think I’m judgmental, because that is not where I am coming from.)

I’ve never regretted that decision to stop before I really got started…especially after watching my grandpa Conley, laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to oxygen struggling to breath. He whispered, it felt like someone had a pillow over his face….all because of a lifetime of smoking.

Anyway, a new interest,  has gradually been  creeping into my life the past few weeks.  It started  when I got a call for a gallon of freshly pressed apple cider.    Merle, who is a foreman at a business I occasionally do carpentry work for, wanted to find some fresh apple cider for his wife.   She was making “apple pie” for a labor day get together.  Legally, I can’t sell fresh cider, but I can give it away..so I  pressed a bushel of ginger-golds  for Merle,  and quipped, “I wanted a sample of this “apple pie” when it is ready.”

.  The following Monday, Merle called and said, he wanted to return my plastic jug, and send home a quart of apple pie..

Oh my.

It was the sweetest, most tasty drink I have sipped on, since I don’t know when….

His wife also sent home the recipe.  Fresh apple cider, cinnamon sticks, a little sugar…and…190 proof alcohol.

Moon shine…Ever clear…and one of the things about this concoction is you can not taste the alcohol.

I had one small glass of it, the night I brought it home ….

and been thinking about it ever since….

In my worldview, having an occasional drink of alcohol in and of itself is not wrong. The issues lie more in the areas of self control, moderation, financial,  addiction, and the butt load of spin off issues that come with it.  Alcoholism runs in both sides of my family, and my wife’s as well.  I have experienced first hand (some of) the long term heartache that comes with alcoholic addictions.

Do I really want to go further down that road?

At some point,  and I’m not sure where that point is,  our physical body, and the alcohol start calling the shots, and and as a friend of mine who struggled with  this addiction told me, “It’s like there is a monkey on your back, and when he pulls the chain, you feed him.”

So, right before logging on this morning , I dumped the rest of the apple pie down the sink.

Side note- I’ve written before about my grandpa sharing with me the family recipe for making moonshine.  It is a piece of family history I found intriguing.  There is a little part of me that feels some sort of connection with the past, (by entertaining the idea of cooking up a batch or two of my own apple pie)…  but then I think, you know, that same grandpa that shared that recipe with me, also had his battles  with the bottle…

and that is a part of my family history, I would just as soon not repeat….ever.

 

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.

Nope.

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.

 

Winston

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

poster

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.

…skipping….skipping…skipping.

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….

 

 

 

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