Archives for posts with tag: humor

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Most of the country is suffering a serious heat wave. The temperatures are up–though not searing. The issue is this new measure, the “heat index” that combines heat and humidity for a new measure of miserable. This, they say, is the weather of the future.

In addition to gardening, beekeeping and our other regular outdoor duties, Rick and I are working to finish the exterior of the barn. We have a crew (who seem to show up when it’s convenient for them). So, in their frequent absences, we soldier on, on our own.  Right now we are staining the exterior materials. Two coats of Sikkens.

It’s easier to apply the stain before the siding and trim materials are installed. You can do it inside the barn, away from the sun and the bugs. You don’t have to work 30 feet up, on a ladder. And you get a better finish. I’m doing the trim materials downstairs and Rick is doing the siding upstairs. We listen to the radio.

We’re tuned into a station that plays oldies-rock n’ roll. About every twenty minutes they do an update on the weather. Given the high heat index numbers, the weather report comes with health advisories–warnings to keep hydrated and minimize exertion. We just keep going. Our goal is to finish all exterior work by the end of the month so we can be free of the hassle and expense of the crew.

Yesterday, after the umpteenth warning regarding the special dangers of a high heat index number to “vulnerable populations,” I had a flash of insight. These warnings are for folks who work outdoors, or small children… or the elderly. Rick and I are both in our sixties.

“Hell,” I called up to him, “You know, they mean us!”

A Multi-Part Saga of Succession: Part 1

A.V. Walters

Any population lacking authentic leadership is in trouble. Without authentic leadership, any group can fall for the antics of power hungry posers, whose influences, over time, can only disintegrate group cohesion and direction. You know the type, charismatic thugs capable of whipping up an excitable crowd. Don’t say, “It can’t happen here.” It has.

And such was the case with our largest bee hive. It’s been a productive year, ample rain has fueled a pollen and nectar bonanza. We’ve been doing regular hive splits, trying to avoid last year’s swarming losses. Those bees have been keeping us on our toes. But in early August, we ran out of woodenware, the boxes, bottoms and tops that make up a Langstroth hive. By then, we’d split all the hives, but one and we didn’t have time to build anew. Summer’s like that. We still had plenty of honey supers–so we just kept adding “up,” giving them space to grow, and to store all the honey they were producing. We needed the honey, because all those split hives were going to need resources, heading into winter.

Finally, we were able to catch our collective breath and assemble and paint new hive parts, to split the big hive. But we were too late. When we inspected, we could not find the queen–she and her entourage had already swarmed. There were still gazillions of bees, enough for at least two full hives, but there were signs of trouble.

A queen bee reigns by virtue of her hormonal influences. Not only are the bees connected and loyal because of pheromones, but all those female worker bees’ reproductive urges are suppressed by the queen’s control. When a hive goes “queenless,” either because of swarming, accident or mutiny (yes, mutiny), the bees will endeavor to create a new queen with one of the recent eggs or larvae. This takes a couple of weeks, and in the interim, you’re at risk of a “laying worker.” Without the constant hormonal suppression of the queen, a worker bee can begin laying eggs–and exert a similar hormonal control on the hive. The worker is unmated, so she can only lay drone eggs and she does not have the full complement of pheromones. A rogue hive like this can be mean and unpredictable.

Our inspection revealed problems, there were eggs–but no fresh larvae. The laying pattern was erratic–sometimes two eggs per cell and eggs laid on the sides of the cells, instead of the bottom. These are clear indications of a rogue, laying worker bee. The laying worker bee can interfere with normal royal succession. She may kill the larval queen–or kill her on hatch. After all, who wants to give up newfound power? To save the hive, we needed to re-queen it, and quickly.

Since the hive was still huge, even having swarmed, we opted to get two queens and to split the hive into two before we re-queened. As it was so late in the season, we wanted  already mated queens. We needed them to get in, and get to work, quickly. We wanted to find Michigan, winter-hardy queens, to maximize the chances of surviving the winter. We tried to see this as an opportunity to increase our genetic diversity, instead of just the loss of a truly productive queen.

Online, I found just what we needed–and I zoomed off to pick up our new royals. Though  we weren’t happy about having lost the swarm, we were confident that we could make the best of the situation.

What? Did you think I was carrying on about something other than bees?

 

 

 

Authors + Card tables + Books =

A.V. Walters

Traverse City Authors

You’ve been there—a book fair, or an author-signing event. The author sits, with a forced smile, trying to engage. Normal people, who otherwise might manage a smile or a nod, drop their eyes and rush by. They’re too polite to intend to reject, but the result is the same. They avoid eye contact.

We love books. They entertain and inform. They take us to places, internal and external, that we otherwise would never experience. They make us think. Storytelling is probably the true oldest profession. It may be the real difference between man and the other animals. Forget tools—animals use tools.

But writing is very much an internal process. There’s not much to see. It is, for everyone except the author, pretty boring. And authors are often shy, living in the world from their side of the keyboard. It makes for a marketing conundrum. As the author, how do you sell books? As consumers, we want action—writing, by itself, isn’t dynamic.

The standard formula, the book fair, is death on cold toast. Uncomfortable for both the author and the consumer, it is Authors + Card Tables + Books = Boring. It’s like one of those sad little small town zoos, where the animals are housed in small, concrete cages. At best, you’re tempted to tap on the glass to elicit some response, or throw popcorn, even when the signs admonish you not to feed the animals. At worst, you scurry by, shoulders hunched, eyes averted.

I’ve joined an Author’s Group. We discussed at great length the challenge of the “author’s event.” We swapped horror stories of our collective experiences, trapped behind stacks of books in the entry of some otherwise kindly bookseller. We vowed not to repeat the equation.

Traverse City Authors announces its Celebration of Story. On June 14, at the Little Fleet, we’re holding a story slam benefit for Front Street Writers (a local nonprofit program for young writers.) After all, at its essence, what we do is tell stories. Come see the Authors, in their natural habitat, surrounded by good food and drink (because authors aren’t stupid), and yes, of course, books.

https://www.facebook.com/TraverseCityAuthors/?notif_t=page_fan&notif_id=1493079806456302

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friction Fit

A.V. Walters

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I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting. I have been busy with everyone’s favorite task in home building. I’m insulating.

For good reason, Michigan takes insulation seriously. Back in California I remember building inspectors glancing at insulation, with a nod and a wink. Not so here. Normally, we have winters that warrant a rigorous inspection. Without insulation, we’d spend a fortune (and a lot of natural resources) to keep the place habitable in the winter.

Because there’s little you can do to insulate log walls, the remaining areas get extra scrutiny. In part because the default—fiberglass–is such a miserable job, we considered all of our options. Rigid, closed-cell board, which is not itchy at all, was time consuming and expensive. We secured bids on foam spray installation. They were outrageous—especially because of the manual labor to install the cold-roof baffles, before the spray. Ultimately we opted for the tried and true, the fiberglass, do-it-yourself option.

We have to meet R 49 in the roof and ceilings. When you include the cold-roof baffles, there’s not enough depth between the rafters to get R49’s worth of insulation. So, we found a company that made sturdy R5 baffles AND we firred-out the rafters with 2X2s for extra depth. Then we used high-density fiberglass batts. Of course, they don’t make such things in the depths we needed, so we opted for three layers of R-15 batts to get to the R-value we needed. It has been an amazing amount of work, most of it overhead, unpleasant and itchy (on a ladder, in protective layers and mask.) With three layers, it means dozens of times up and down the ladder to fill each bay. The first two layers are “friction fit,” that is, they are held up by their sheer orneriness. The last, faced, layer is stapled.

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It’s nearly finished. Some of it has to wait—to accommodate wiring and plumbing first. I don’t mind the break, though it might be hard to go back to it. Our little house will certainly be cozy when this is all done. I’m curious to see how it will fare in summer—whether the cold-roof baffles and ridge vent will really keep the roof (and thus the upstairs) cool. In that department, we are blessed that the house falls in the shade of the hill in the afternoons and that should help us keep comfortable, too. It’s important, because we’ve opted not to air-condition.

I’m happy to be nearly finished. It turns out that the only part of this task that is not friction fit, is me.

 

 

The Sum of Its Parts

A.V. Walters–

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We tend to be do-it-yourselfers. Both Rick and I come from families where you fixed it, before you replaced it. Sometimes, if whatever “it” was, was not within your field of expertise, you paid somebody to fix it. Sometimes, cost or convenience inspired you to do it yourself. There’s a little bit of a mantra to it, even if “it” is intimidating, “Well, how hard could it be, really?”

All the way to building a house.

That history, combined with an appreciation of older things, has led us, separately and together, to a good bit of investigative repair and reinvention. My home is filled with rescue-antiques. Rick is the mother of invention when it comes to building and repairing challenges. We have accumulated no small measure of experience in woodworking, refinishing, building, tool maintenance and repair, mechanical and electronics repair (mostly Rick), art restoration and the mending and making of things in fabrics (mostly me.) We have projects upon projects. Which brings us to the Paramount question.

In the midst of my mid-life upheaval, I decided I needed an intellectual challenge (because writing novels wasn’t enough?) I wanted to learn to play an instrument, and in so doing, to immerse myself in a participatory way, in the language that is music. I had to choose which instrument would be appropriate for a (then) solo, middle-aged woman. It had to be something I could play alone, and maybe with others. I envisioned myself playing and practicing on a big porch with a view. My first choice, violin, wasn’t a good fit—as a previous car accident had left me with neck issues. I thought about the sax—but even the idea of relearning the breathing for a wind instrument, left me winded. So, I decided on the banjo, mostly because I could not think of any banjo music that sounded sad. I picked up a cheapie banjo on craigslist and began learning and plinking. I have a long way to go.

But, as things work out, once you open the door in a particular area, opportunities step in. When my brother learned that I had an interest in the banjo, it turned out he had a contact for an old banjo with history. He sent it my way.

It is a Paramount, tenor banjo from the mid-twenties. It’s beat up and beautiful. For a number of years it’s been sitting, disassembled (thanks to a “well intentioned” friend) in its case. I’m coming very close to having that lovely long front porch, overlooking the valley, so I thought it was time to get the Paramount in shape. Rick, as is his way, raised an eyebrow.

The banjo needs a lot of work. First and foremost, it needs to be completely disassembled and cleaned. Then, a new “head”—the stretched skin that gives the banjo its distinctive sound. The choice was whether to use a synthetic head material, or the traditional calfskin head that was used when the Paramount was first manufactured. We also need to replace the tuning pegs—which raised the question,again, of new versus old. The Paramounts had ingenious Page, geared pegs, new back in the day, and no longer manufactured.

In the past, everyone had said that I need an expert to help with this banjo renovation. So, I asked around and received several referrals to a local guy, who was reputed to be both better, and less expensive, than the “ship it off to Lansing” guys used by local music stores. I called and made an appointment. First, he gave me his tour of successes—a line-up of string instruments, hanging awaiting pick up by his other customers. They were lovely—so we got to the Paramount. His eyes widened when he saw the disassembled banjo. A Paramount is an impressively machined instrument, sturdy and buttressed with all manor of hardware. The expert marveled that the parts were mostly there—you could see that he was positively itching to get to the task. He knew that I had contacted him mostly for assistance with the installation of the new head—but soon his enthusiasm overflowed to the rehabilitation of the wood and the nickel-plate parts. He pointed out the accumulated finger grime on the mother-of-pearl inlayed finger board. I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. He insisted that the entire instrument be disassembled, lovingly cleaned, then reassembled, before a new head could be stretched. He was adamant that only vintage parts should be used—and of course, a calfskin head. He explained the intricacy of the stretching of a banjo head, a process not unlike stretching the canvas for an oil painting. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I was completely on board. As he described the work necessary to restore the banjo to its former glory, the dollars were mounting. He looked up at me, but I didn’t blink. I’m a pushover for any argument favoring an antique’s original integrity. I was sucked in by his description of the painstaking task. With the vintage parts and laborious restoration, my “free” banjo was fast approaching a thousand dollar rehab.

“That grimy fret board,” I asked, “what would you use to clean it?” I expected to be drawn further into the secret and arcane world of instrument restoration.

“Oh, Windex will do it.” He said offhandedly.

My heart skipped a beat. “Windex?” I’ve done enough antique restoration to know that you minimize “wet” treatments, especially near inlay or marquetry. He noticed my alarm.

“Why, what would you use?”

“As mild a cleaner as possible. Probably Murphy’s Oil Soap, with very little water, a damp cloth to wipe it clear and then dry it immediately with a soft terry.”

He nodded, “Yeah, that’d work, too.”

But he’d now handed me the tail-end of the thread that would soon unravel the spell he’d woven.

“And the nickel-plated parts?” I asked.

“Ammonia soak—you know the Windex, and then, where needed, a little steel wool.” My eyes widened and he followed up, “Don’t worry, that steel wool wouldn’t hurt for the tough spots. Why, what would you use?”

“I like Never-Dull. It doesn’t scratch and can clean most any metal finish.”

“Never heard of that.” He pulled out a polishing compound he sometimes uses.

I had to press further. “What about the areas on the neck, and the other wood surfaces, where the finish is worn?”

He looked at me seriously. “There’s a temptation to refinish that—but it’d be a mistake. As long as the wood integrity isn’t threatened, you keep the value of a vintage instrument by maintaining the original finish. You can do that with a little Pledge.”

The bubble didn’t just burst, it imploded.

Pledge?”

“Yeah, you know, or any polish and wax finish.” I had visions of 60s era homemaking commercials and gingham aprons. I needed an exit strategy.

“This is adding up. We really just need help with the calfskin head—the cleaning part is grunt work that we can really do ourselves.” His face fell. It wasn’t just that the fish had slipped the hook—you could tell that he had really wanted to get his hands on the banjo. There’s genuine satisfaction in the restoration of a beautiful old item. He nodded. And helped me repack the banjo parts back into the case. He was really a nice and genuine fellow. He was, after all, the person most recommended in the area.

I took the banjo home and told Rick the tale.

So, really, how hard could it be?

We went online, researched and ordered the replacement tuning machines, and the calfskin replacement head material. We even broke down and bought an original Paramount wrench to stretch the new head. (They look kind of look an old skate key.) There are You Tube videos that show the many phases of banjo restoration, including stretching a calfskin head.

Rick helped disassemble the rest of the banjo, and I started the painstaking cleaning process, starting with the inlaid fret board, using the materials of my choice. The expert was absolutely right (in part)—cleaned up, it is beautiful. The nickel plated, metal parts have been gently restored to their former gleaming glory. We have some wood repair still to do, but I’ve ordered all the replacement parts and look forward to the challenge of finishing the job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Mike: Part Three

A.V. Walters

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We are all, each of us, a bundle of talents and deficits. My sweet Rick would be the first to agree; he is continually amazed that a highly functional, over-educated adult, like me, cannot tell left from right, or measure anything with accuracy. The trick is, that for most of us, we focus on the talents we possess.

We completely fail at this when the object of our attention becomes a diagnosis, and not a person. A diagnosis can be an opportunity, or an excuse, depending upon how one wields it. In essence, a diagnosis regarding mental capacity gives us information about the nature (and maybe cause) of a deficit. It’s what we do with that information that matters.

A couple of decades ago, I worked as a coordinator for an Adult Literacy Program. We banged our heads against this very phenomenon, repeatedly. Students and tutors would blame their failures on learning disabilities diagnosed when the students were children, instead of looking for the work-around. Despite the educational failures of the past, we found that many of our students were highly motivated and, with individualized instructions, were able progress beyond everyone’s expectations. All too often, the diagnosis of a learning disability had quickly become the operative reality—an excuse for failure instead of a challenge for success.

I have mentioned in this series that my Uncle Mike was shortchanged by the educational system. He had speech impediments that, unrecognized and unaddressed, led teachers to believe that he was language impaired and uneducable. A second chance in his late teens gave him speech therapy—and language. Not that Mike doesn’t have deficits but, armed with language, he presented a whole new package. Mike moved away before I was an adult, so I didn’t have much opportunity to get to know the “new” Mike, the one who could talk, until many years later.

Mike is highly literate. (His keen vision and ability to quickly read signs from a distance were a godsend while traveling with him, across the country.) He reads newspapers and follows current events. He is just as opinionated and informed as the rest of the family—which is saying a lot. He is funny and, in particular, gets situational humor. He has a great memory. But, because his speech is not perfect, many expect him to exhibit lower levels of performance. Mike hides behind these low expectations and, even if it means that he’s misjudged, never puts himself in a position where he will disappoint. Surely, sometimes he fails to “connect the dots,” but I never know if it’s capacity, or training. Mike has spent a lifetime fulfilling his diagnoses.

Not that there aren’t deficits. He has great difficulty measuring the motivations of others. Perhaps an early life without language meant that he could hide behind my grandmother’s skirts, and let her do the coping for him. This is especially true when, all too often, in his human interactions he was the victim of bullying and abuse. He doesn’t get arithmetic at all—and is at a total loss with budgeting and money. Beyond that, I’ve decided to judge Mike’s skills by first-hand experience, rather than by maligned expectations.

A decade ago Mike and I worked together to set him up in his first apartment. He was thrilled with it, with its humble furnishings and independence. We bought him a modular desk, (IKEA style) that required assembly. I took the lead—never pausing to read the directions. Mike and I chatted as I worked. About half way through, Mike expressed his reservations, “Alta, I don’t think that will work.” I was tempted to press on, but Mike got up off the couch and showed me that part of my assembly was backwards! (Did I mention that spatial skills are not my strong suit?) We both laughed so hard, we cried, and then finished the project, together.

Similarly, as we approached the end of our travels, I took a back road shortcut, up a steep hill in Hancock. It’s a winding road—I know it well and I took it at a good clip. We were nearly to the top when Mike cautiously inquired, “Is this a one-way street?” It was, and he was right to question what would have been reckless in two-way traffic. Mike gets it. We have to do a better job of “getting” Mike.

The point is, Mike has a far greater understanding about what goes on around him than we give him credit for. His homecoming can be a new beginning, for all of us. We can plan for successes, instead of failures, while providing safe opportunities for success. There are many wonderful possibilities here. Mike is a little intimidated by his return to real winters—but once his health is recovered, I think he will enjoy snow and season. Already, he is recounting childhood memories of winter in a favorable light.

There are decided advantages to small town living. My hometown, Copper Harbor, has about one hundred, year-round residents. Already, I am impressed with the welcome. Family members and friends are pulling together to outfit Mike with clothing and necessities for winter living. All of us are making plans for fun and community engagement as soon as Mike is on his feet. This is a seasonal town, if he wants, there are opportunities for work in the summer. My sister told the owners of a local resort that Mike was coming, and when we rolled into town, he was welcomed home, on their marquis! It brought tears to my eyes, and a ready smile to Mike’s face. Finally, we know that he is safe and loved. Finally, Mike has come home.

 

 

 

 

Fore!

A.V. Walters

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I admit it. I am the kind of person who laughs at my own jokes. Even if I’m the only person who laughs…

This will require some history.

My ex and I purchased the property (that Rick and I are currently developing) over twenty-five years ago. A few years later, an adjacent parcel sold—and the buyers built a house. Ours was empty, so the husband in that duo, Brian, felt free to use our front panhandle as a driving range. He’d practice his golf swing, and send his dog out to collect the golf balls. The dog tired of this, at some point and, apparently, Brian’s version of sport and fitness didn’t include walking, which left our land with a collection of unretrieved golf balls. He’s a nice guy though, and we’d communicate from time to time. He’s a hunter and we gave him permission to hunt on our (otherwise posted) land.

Years later, the couple divorced and their house was sold.

When Rick and I arrived, we started a collection of those golf balls. We’d find them in the strangest spots. Some partially buried and others, under trees, as much as a couple of hundred yards from where he’d teed up, in his front yard. We’d go for walks on our property, and come back with a pocket full of golf balls, which we tossed into one of the tree cages. We have no interest in golfing.

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Last year, Brian, who missed the area, bought a lovely parcel just up the road. He’s saving for when he and his new partner can build. In the meantime, he’s hunting there, and has put in a little garden. We go right by his property on one of our regular walking routes. Lately, when we head off to walk that way, we each grab a couple of golf balls, and toss them onto Brian’s driveway, or into his garden.

We have no idea whether Brian has, or ever will, notice. Or, if he’ll ever piece it together, in any way—that the golf balls he lost two decades ago are the same ones mysteriously appearing on his new property.

But, Rick and I are laughing. I guess that means that we’re well-suited. It’s enough of a joke, just between us. We’ll continue to enjoy our walks, and life’s little pleasures, as we still have a couple of dozen balls left to go.

 

 

 

 

“There Are Raspberries in the Woods!”

A.V. Walters

At the top of the incline...

At the top of the incline…

Yesterday was hot and muggy. My big chore for the day was watering and feeding the garden. We have poor soils, so initially, as we build the soils with organic materials, we are also fertilizing with a ground, whole-fish mixture. It’s a messy venture, with mixing in 5 gallon buckets and then pouring back into a watering can–or, for the fruit trees, into our special, slow-feed (cracked-bottom) bucket. Just watering is an exhausting exercise in hose dragging (three hundred feet of heavy duty hose to three locations) and the alchemist’s fertilizing concoction stinks. It splashes all over –and, in the heat, red-faced and sweating, I was quite a sight (and smell) even from a distance.

Our neighbor happened by. She’d been hiking up in our hills. We haven’t seen each other in weeks and she stopped to catch up. The whole neighborhood is in a tizzy over the loose and barking dogs. So far, nobody has the nerve to press the sheriff to do something about them; that day is coming. The barking, especially late at night, is driving everyone crazy. I’m always surprised that people aren’t more direct. We exchange stories. She’s kind enough not to mention my fishy, disheveled state. But, she seemed a little more agitated than just the usual barking dogs annoyance.

Just as she was about to depart, she turned to me and said, “You know, there are raspberries in the woods.”

“I know.” I gestured towards the house we’re building, “We’ve been so busy… I haven’t had time to get back there.”

She nodded, then wrinkled her face, obviously dissatisfied with my response. She leaned forward, almost conspiratorially, “No, really, you should get back there. They’re ripe…really lovely.” And then she repeated, lowering her voice, “There are raspberries in the woods.” I thanked her and she headed home, disappearing through the pines.

I was pretty spent from my morning’s chores. The woods are cooler and the suggestion to pick berries was stuck in my head. Fresh raspberries… I could make sorbet. Wouldn’t that be lovely on a hot, sticky day? And, it’s been weeks since I walked in the woods.

There are raspberries in many parts of the back-forty. Marilyn hadn’t been specific about which area got her so excited. So, I ambled west, down the south side of the two-track, figuring that if I didn’t find anything I’d cut north before it got too steep. It was lovely, a light breeze and a near full canopy of shade. I found plenty of berry canes, but the berries were not ripe in the shaded areas. I headed up the hill, hoping they’d be further along in the sun, up on the ridge.

I crested the top and saw red berries almost immediately in what had become a jungle of brambles since I was last there. Just as I turned to find the trail, I came upon three teenage girls who were taking turns cutting a log with a bow saw. I was stunned. So were they.

“Hello,” I said, “What are you doing?”

A fresh faced blond in braids responded, “We’re camping.”

“Ah,” I said, “I meant, what are you doing, here?”

“We’re camping. We’re with a Christian camping group. We come here every year.”

“You come here, every year?”

“Yes, at least for the last few years, since I’ve been coming. We have a lease with the owner.”

“And, the owner’s name is…?”

“I don’t know, but our camp counselor might.”

“That might be helpful, because I’ve owned this property for over twenty-five years and I’ve never leased it to anyone.”

By now, the girls were looking a little nervous. They stood up and brushed themselves off.

“Perhaps you should take me to your leader,” I smiled. They didn’t get the joke. Maybe it’s too old. Maybe I’m too old.

They led me, single file, down the trail to where it widens along the ridgeline. We came to a campsite with about a dozen tents. The trails were neatly swept clean of leaf litter. There were “furnishings” made from cut logs, tied together with heavy twine: a big dining table; log stools; and storage shelves full of packs, tied, shoulder high, between trees. A combination tent/lean-to held coolers, half buried in the ground. Everywhere around me, young teens were busy, working together to establish camp. I was taking note that they seemed well organized, and supervised. It almost felt like another world had sprung up in our woods, like they were playing house there, with their swept trails, neat lines of tents and twined furniture. But it wasn’t lost on me that they were cutting quite a bit of wood. Most of it looked like deadfall. I am sensitive to people cutting wood on the property. The other two girls ran ahead to find their counselor. The blond stayed with me, as she narrated what the campers were doing.

Her companions came back, with another girl, just a couple of years older.

“Yes,” she said, “Can I help you?”

“Well, it seems that you are camping on my property, without permission. And if the girls are right, this is something you’ve been doing for years.”

“Yes, we have been using this site for several years, but we have a lease with the owner.”

“I’m the owner.”

She looked flummoxed. “I’m not sure what to say. We’re a Christian group.”

“Me either. But I need to point a few things out — you’re storing your coolers, your food, on the ground. We have bears here and that can attract trouble. Your storage areas are too close to the ground–again if there’s food in those packs, the bear can easily get to them.”

“Thank you. I’ll mention that to our supervisor.”

“Okay, maybe you should take me to your leader.” She didn’t smile.

“They’re all in a meeting, over by the other camp.”

“The other camp?”

“We have two camp sites. We compete with each other.”

“Oh. I guess we should go there.”

So, the counselor, the blond, whose name was Emily, and I began the hike over to the meeting. I guess since Emily found me, she became a permanent part of the entourage.  The counselor asked me to let her know when we were no longer on my property. We hiked for some time and then I told her that we were at the property line. We still had some ways to go before we reached the “headquarters.” At one point, we ran into some other campers, the counselor stopped to ask where the meeting was being held–and then directed Emily to take me there. We proceeded down the trail, with Emily in the lead chatting about the camp and what they did. In the distance, we could see a group of women, sitting in a circle next to a van. As we approached them I informed Emily that once we’d arrived, it would be inappropriate for her to stay–that my business and concerns were with those in charge. She paused and then told me that she would leave, but first she needed to introduce me. I found that to be charming, especially under difficult circumstances. Finally, I was introduced to the woman in charge of the camping operation.

She explained that they leased the camping area from the owner–and gave the name of my neighbor, to the north. She believed that they were on his property, but if that was not the case, it was a mistake. I told her that the camp I had first encountered was on my property, and not by just a little. It was located about two thirds of the way into our back forty. She apologized and added that they were, after all, a Christian Youth Organization, dedicated to teaching wilderness camping to young men and women.

I couldn’t help but say that one of the first wilderness lessons was about knowing how to read a compass and a map, and it appeared that the leadership of this group had failed miserably at this threshold skill. I explained that I was angry–not specifically at her, and I didn’t want to direct my anger at someone who wasn’t personally responsible. I said that I also wasn’t crazy about the fact that the girls were cutting wood on my property.

“They don’t cut living wood.”

“No? I’ve found cut stumps, in the past, from live trees cut down–I’ve been finding cut logs for several years now. And, I’m afraid that I’ve been wrongfully blaming my neighbors.”

She wasn’t really listening and jumped in to explain, “We teach no-impact camping. The girls are instructed not to cut down any living trees.”

I paused, “You do understand that this situation puts me at some risk?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “We wouldn’t put you at risk.”

“Well, I expect that your lease with my neighbor contains release language, and indemnification language, and that there is insurance coverage, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Well then, since we don’t have a lease, we aren’t covered by any of those protections, are we? Your girls could be injured and then I’d have something to worry about, wouldn’t I? That’s especially concerning since I’ve seen what I consider to be unsafe camping practices. What’s my current exposure if one of your girls is injured by a bear, because you store your food on the ground, right next to their tents?”

“We can leave, right away.”

“That’s not what I’m asking for. But, when are you scheduled to leave?”

“Next Saturday.”

“I need to talk to whomever it is that’s in charge of the lease arrangements. I’m not trying to run you off, but I need to get this straightened out, so that I’m not exposed because of your mistake.”

“Perhaps you can draw me a map, or show me where your property line is?”

I drew her a map, showing her where the property line was, and gave her my contact information, so the Director could reach me to iron this out. Then, I headed back down to our building site to tell Rick.

“We have a problem.”

“What, no berries?”

“We have an infestation in the woods.”

“An infestation of…?”

“We have an invasion of young Christian Campers.”

He could barely believe it. But, it did begin to make some sense. For those of you who follow this blog, you know we’ve had problems with woodcutting. All of the cut logs we’d found, it didn’t make sense. But now–now that we had “competitive camping” on the property, it made all the sense in the world.

At no point in the thick of it did I stop to consider what impression I may have made. There I was, dressed in grubby construction clothes, red-faced, drenched in sweat, and smelling strongly of fish. I can only wonder what they all thought.

When I checked my email, the Camp Director had contacted me. He confirmed what I’d feared–that the group had immediately broken camp. I hadn’t wanted to run them off–just to bring their occupation of the property into some arrangement more formal than trespassing. Still I mentioned all the cut logs (more than thirty at last count) and I referred him to a previous blog in which I’d railed about unauthorized cutting on the land. (https://two-rock-chronicles.com/2015/04/19/a-storms-a-brewin/)

When Rick and I re-visited the campsite, there wasn’t a trace of them. Even the leaf litter had been re-spread, carefully and evenly, over the trails and their site. The only reminder was an impressive pile of cut wood–which they’d said they’d leave.

We’re trying to work out “compensation” for the use now–something in the vein of some volunteers, next Spring, to help with tree planting. We’ll make it fun and educational–maybe we can help some young people to get involved in understanding why we plant for the future and for forest diversity. I think it will all work out in a win-win kind of way.

But we’re left wondering about my neighbor. Why couldn’t she just tell me we had a camping invasion? What’s up with speaking in code? Now, Rick gets a glint in his eye and whispers, “There are raspberries in the woods.” I have to laugh. And, those Christians? I can only hope that they can forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

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And, at the end of this adventure, I realized that I’d completely forgotten to pick berries.

Snow or Blow?

A.V. Walters

It’s been an adjustment, moving from California back to the land of winter. Winter is not just a season; it’s a culture. It’s been cold this last week, single digits and below. And, it’s not a joke—people really say it, wherever you go, “Cold enough for you?”

In the past few days, we’ve seen about nine inches of new snow–the dry, powdery, fine stuff that you see in really cold weather. It doesn’t stick. It won’t pack for snowballs or snowmen. It’s tough to walk on. It blows every which way, with even a puff of wind. When Rick is out with the snow-blower, he looks like his own mini-blizzard. Everyone has their own little microclimate, depending on how close you are to the lake, how frozen the lake is, or isn’t, and whether you’re in hills, woods or cleared areas. Driving into town, today, put us through three distinct climate changes. Even people who live a scant few miles from each other compare constantly. And, it’s competitive.

If you look on the weather map, where we live is a funny little comma-shaped blotch, where we get the most snow in the “Mitt” of Lower Michigan. When I visit my brother, 180 miles south of here, I am always surprised at how little snow he gets. I try not to be belittling. Where my mother lives, in Keweenaw County on the Upper Peninsula, gets the most snow in the state. With that guaranteed advantage, you wouldn’t expect that she’d be competitive, but she is. We talk every day.

“Snowing down there?”

“Yeah. About six inches. Rick’s out clearing now.”

“Really, six inches? New Snow?”

‘New snow.’ That’s code for whether or not you get credit for it. It’s either snow or blow–old snow that’s just being whipped up and redistributed by the wind. Blown snow still needs to be plowed, still impairs visibility, still drifts up against your door in a wall that has to be shoveled before you can even step outside, but you don’t get credit for it. Snow or blow, though, it’s still beautiful.

This competition is harmless. It’s designed to give Northerners something to talk about through their dry, chapped lips. It’s a bonding experience. It masks the envy underlying the shtick of snow removal. Yesterday we met with a guy who has a Kubota with a front mounted snow-blower and a heated cab. The King of Kings. We’re a couple of rungs down from that– a Kubota with a 3 point, rear mount snow-blower and many layers of goose down and scarves. Because ours is a rear-mount, our snow-blowing has to be done in reverse gear. Rick has become pretty good at it. I tell him he’s the Ginger Rogers of snow-blowing—doing everything the King of Kings can do, only backwards. (And, in heels?) Below us there’s a whole field of snow removal–folks who use blades (or plows) (truck or tractor mount), walk-behind snow-blowers (with or without attached snow shields), snow fences, and a vast array of shovels and scoops. Snow removal is what Northerners do in the winter for exercise.

There’s strategy involved, too. We waited one season before we put in our driveway, so that we could chart a path less likely to drift over. Some folks plant trees or shrubs for snow breaks. Others place seasonal snow fencing to deflect the wind and discourage drifting in areas they have to clear, or they pile accumulated snow as a barrier. Farmers will leave sections of corn stalks standing–for the same reason. But the corn field next to us, left uncut last fall, is neck deep in snow. No help there. Of course none of this compares to last year, when we broke records for snowfall, fully double what we’re reporting this year. This year is colder though–if it keeps up we may break that record. The Great Lakes are well on their way to freezing over (and then it’ll really get cold.) The local weekly does a full column of weekly winter weather.

Things move slower in the winter. Drivers move more cautiously on slippery roads and schedules are buffered by the need for extra prep. If you have an appointment, you need to add extra time for shoveling and scraping beforehand. Depending on the weather, that could mean an extra hour. (Not including the extra ten to fifteen minutes it takes, just to suit up.)

There’s a funny running debate about whether it’s better to leave your windshield wipers up or down, in winter weather. I can see reason for putting them up if you expect freezing rain. A week ago I walked out to the car after sleet, only to find it encased entirely in a cocoon of clear ice. The wipers were stuck to the windshield. It took me ten minutes just to get into the car (where I keep the scraper.) It was another twenty minutes until I could see enough through the windshield to drive. As you drive around the North, you can see some cars parked with their wipers pointed up, like antenna. My dad opined that, like life preservers in chilly Lake Superior—it only makes the bodies easier to find. As far as I’m concerned, if the snow is up to your wipers, you’re not going anywhere, anyway. When he ribbed me about asking if I should leave the wipers up, I countered, demanding what strategy he favored.

“Me? I’d just keep the car in the garage.”

 

Feed The Soil, Not the Plant!

A.V. Walters–

It’s the organic gardener’s mantra. If the soil is healthy, the plants will be healthy. If the soil isn’t healthy, there’s little you can do for the plants, that isn’t ultimately bad for the soil. Chemical fertilizers are the equivalent of an IV drip. Maybe it will do in a pinch, but it’s no solution to the nutrition issue. Do things that are good for the soil, and you will be rewarded with a healthy garden. It’s almost that simple.

I’ve been soil building for over thirty years. Trouble is, I keep moving on and leaving my efforts behind. This year we will have a garden. Last year we didn’t have our well in, so it wouldn’t have been responsible to put in a garden. Instead, I took soil samples and sent them in to the extension office for testing.

The results were grim. Our soils are largely glacial deposits. Sand, and lots of it. We’re deficient in most of nutrients for which they test. Most importantly, there’s not a lot of organic material to hold what’s there. With straight sand, it’ll take a good bit of soil building before we have something to hold the nutrients and to hold moisture.

That said, it’s not a disaster. Our delays have helped. We’ve changed the location for the garden–our first pick didn’t have as much sunlight as we thought. Being here has let us learn more about the location, the winds and how the sunlight falls. This land hasn’t been farmed (conventionally or otherwise) in at least thirty years, so the good news is that there are no bad things in the soil. We just need to build it up. The fastest way to get that process started is to add compost, or composted manure. And we’re lucky. It’s easier to amend sand than it is to lighten heavy clay.

I watched last winter as the Amish farmers spread manure on their fields in February and March–really in the middle of winter. At first I was surprised, but thinking more, it made sense. The fields are frozen, so their teams (they farm with draft horses) don’t get mired in the muck from early spring rains. The composted manure doesn’t care when it is spread, it’ll freeze now, but then “activate” when things thaw, and the early rains will carry the nutrients into the soil. It’s an efficient use of winter down time. I knew then that I’d need to watch for a supply of composted manure, come February.

And, this past weekend, there it was. A craigslist ad for 100 tons of composted cow manure. I forwarded it to Rick. He laughed. Meanwhile, I went to the internet to get the weight to volume conversions and I did the calculations.

I assured him, “No sweetie, we don’t need 100 tons.”

“What do you think we need? Says in the ad that there’s a ten ton minimum.”

“We need fifty tons.”

He could hardly believe me. But if we’re going to jump start this garden, and if we’re serious about it, that’s what we need. There’s the garden, and then more for our small orchard. We’ll need to amend deeply in the orchard. (Thank God for the Kubota and the backhoe! Maybe, if it’s a light enough mix, we could use the snowblower to spread it!) (I wonder what Rick will say about that.)

You can see where I get the idea.

You can see where I get the idea.

Rick is a nice boy from Southern California. I don’t think there’s any way in the world that he ever thought that he’d be the kind of guy to purchase fifty tons of composted manure. He’s shaking his head. I’ve negotiated with the dairy owner for a good price. So, now we just need to find a trucker to haul it. This isn’t a case where owning a pick up will help. This is easier said than done. I haven’t yet been able to find a hauler. The primary crop in these parts is cherries. Cherry farmers use flatbed trucks (with stacked bins.) A flatbed won’t work for manure. I’ve asked around, so far with little luck. Once I disclose what I want hauled, I’ve detected a near-immediate, and serious lack of interest.

It may take a while or so to get this all arranged. That’s good, because in the interim, I’d like to haul all of the trees we cleared last summer over to the new garden site to do a burn. Nothing helps a new garden like bio-char. Winter isn’t just about seed catalogs and dreaming. Sometimes there are garden chores that are best saved for the dead of winter.

 

Banking on Winter…

A.V. Walters–

After several false starts, I think we can finally say that it’s winter. The last eighteen hours have dropped six inches on us, with another five or six expected over the next two days. More than that, the temperatures are dropping. The next week promises single digits and lower, if you count the wind chill factor. It’s not last year’s record breaking snows and recurring ‘polar vortex,’ but it is winter.

We’re a bit concerned about the heat in our little basement apartment. So far we’ve been fine—interior temperatures in the low sixties, which works for us. When we did the remodel, we did connect the apartment to the heating and cooling for the house—then we promptly blocked it. The landlord keeps it way too cold in the summer and way too hot in the winter. In addition, she has dogs—lots of dogs. I’m allergic to dogs, so a shared HVAC system isn’t going to work for me. I’m a mess when I visit my mum, with just the one dog, so blowing three dogs’ worth of winter dander into my living space is a non-starter.

Up until now, we’ve done fine with a little plug-in baseboard heater. After all, it’s a (walk-out) basement apartment. Nearly two sides are imbedded in the ground. As a baseline, underground keeps things warmer than at the surface.

Our landlord’s heat ducts run above us, and that warms us up a little more. The furnace is in the basement—two rooms away; it’s collateral heat. Still, we start to worry when our interior temperature drops into the fifties, a tad chilly, even for us. At that point, I begin baking. While Rick loves the goodies, it’s not exactly a heating strategy (and threatens to send us both into spring portly.)

With the snow drifting around the house, and with silent thanks to my dear departed dad, I finished up our regular snow removal chores by ‘banking’ the foundation. It’s an old-fashioned insulation strategy. I piled the snow up about four feet against the cinder-block foundation walls that are also our exterior walls.

My dad grew up in the far northern reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When we returned there, he had a local-yokel solution to most of the problems posed by extreme weather. To be really effective, my dad used to make us bank the house two or three feet thick, cautioning us not to pack it against wood or other surfaces that could be damaged. We don’t have quite that much snow yet, but today was a good start. In the next few days, with the snow we’re expecting, I’ll finish, and bank the foundation anywhere that there aren’t windows. Rick smirked a little at my efforts, but I noticed that he packed snow over areas of shallow or exposed pipes. He’s not eager for a repeat of last winter’s pipes freezing.

It’s “cold snow,” light and fluffy. With a grin, Ricks tells me that it’s snow—but that it’s a dry snow.

It’s About Time

A.V. Walters–

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Lately, my job has been sanding. It gives me a lot of time to think. I work in a bubble—face mask, ear protection, hat and eye glasses—for safety, but it keeps me in my own head. Of course, there’s always the day job, so my attention is split, part to regular work and part to building. While I sand, Rick has been busy working the site, rough wiring, and building, installing the boards that I’ve finished sanding.

In the Zone

In the Zone

I learned sanding from my Dad. I think I earned that chore as a little kid because I was observant and, well, anal. I have a constitutional tolerance for the tedious. Now as I sand, I hear my Dad’s voice—and it’s a comfort.

“No, go with the grain. There, that’s it.”

The task of sanding is so integrated with my childhood memories that the sandpaper, the smell of sawdust, and the feel of sanding are enough to bring my Dad back. His voice and advice is a part of the physicality of the job. I’m using the sander he advised me to buy. I’d burned through two Black & Deckers, prepping my house for a paint job, when he said I needed better tools. So here I am, twenty-six years later, still using the Porter Cable he’d recommended.

We’ve had a lot of trouble with lumber on this project. We’ve rejected nearly a third of what we’ve ordered from local building supply houses. We even tried the local “specialty” builders’ outfit—and paid a significant premium for what was supposed to be custom picked lots. You can get quality lumber from the discount guys, but you’ll have to spend a ton of time picking through it. So, we swallowed hard and tried a “pro-builder custom order.”

It was a more than a disappointment. It was just as junky as if we’d picked from the top of the rejects pile at the discount stores. For this we paid an extra 25%? I called to complain. Rick and I sorted the pile into junk, usable and good. The sales guy lives not far away; he said he’d drop by. When he did, he looked at the pile and shook his head. “Yeah, that’s just not right.” Even then, it took two more deliveries to get it right. Another delay.

Every glitch just burns daylight. We’ve had snow flurries already so the delays are really a problem. We want to achieve a “defendable” enclosure before any serious snow accumulation. As for lumber, we’re back to hand picking on our own—it’s cheaper and, if you get junk, you know who to blame.

“Check your sand paper. See, if it clogs up like that, it’s time to change the paper.   Here, let me show you.”

“Daddy, how will I know when it’s done?”

“You’ll know, honey, your fingers will know.”

My dad had a belief that sometime, in our past, there was a Golden Age of Tools and Materials. Even when I was little he would curse the shoddy workmanship in building supplies. When materials fell short of the mark it was the fault of some national disgrace. I grew up to the litany of, “Goddamn Canadian nails!” or “How can they sell this shit!” He cursed like a trucker.

Rick shares this creed. He’ll eye a 2 X 6, shake his head and throw it back in the pile. “You just can’t get quality materials anymore!” (Another kind of echo from my Dad.) Picking up yet another bowed or twisted 2 X 10, he points out the wide soft wood between the growth rings, “See that, plantation lumber, grown fast and weak.”

Was there really ever a NeverNeverLand of strong nails and straight lumber?

I don’t believe it for a minute. It’s an argument about quality that’s been going on at least since the Industrial Revolution—and probably back beyond that—to the woodworking guilds of the Middle Ages. Wood is an agricultural product. Trees are not perfect. What makes lumber true, is time. Time and effort. Somewhere in the chain of commerce someone has to care enough, or make enough money, to make it worthwhile to spend the time to do it right. It’s the same for building and for any craft. In a world of mass production, suppliers will produce any product that will sell. Unfortunately that means that the quality will be as marginal as the market will bear.

As my father aged he became more and more of a fine craftsman. He complained less about milled lumber, not because it got any better, but because he bought raw, and milled and finished it himself. Towards the very end of his life the furniture he built was more art than craft. He was not fast. He certainly couldn’t have made a living at it. But he knew the work was good and it gave him great satisfaction. He reached the point where he’d select wood for its “flaws,” knots or whorls, and then fashion the piece to highlight these natural features.

In the months before he passed away he and I were enjoying morning coffee at a walnut table he’d made. “See this?” he tapped a spot where the grain swirled and rippled, catching the light. “That’s where I let the sun out.” He smiled and ran his hand along its smooth edge.

Rick and I are building a log cabin. The purveyors of the materials would prefer we call it a log home, but ours will be a modest dwelling that fits within the cannons of the design’s history. It’s suited to the simple lines of its primitive forebears. There is a lot of natural wood. Rick is taking the time to position the beams to their best advantage, even to straighten them with weird clamps and strapping devices of his own invention. I don’t think a builder could afford that level of care on a paying gig. This will be our home.

A traditional log cabin would have beams across the log perimeter, with a heavy plank ceiling that served as both the ceiling above and the floor for the second level. We searched for the right material that would work, and be in the spirit of a log cabin. We settled on kiln dried, southern yellow pine, beveled, tongue and groove, 2 X 6s. It was a special order so we had to take the quality on faith and wait several weeks for it to arrive.

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When it did, it was a huge disappointment. The wood was much more knotty than the catalogue description. It was not “finish-milled” and ready, as described. Rustic shouldn’t be synonymous with slivers. This wood bore the deep mill markings, chatter and the “tear-out” that you get when the mill’s blades are not sharp. Worse yet, the wood arrived moldy. And I’m not talking about the ubiquitous blue stain that comes with some pine. This wood was alive with green and orange colonies of mold. (Again, I can hear my Dad’s voice, “Kiln dried, my ass!”) Our expensive special order was a bust. We had to decide whether to reject it (and pay the chunky restocking fee AND wait for new wood) or whether to roll up our sleeves and solve the problem, which brings me to sanding.

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I am neither as strong, nor as skilled as Rick in building. I am really just a knowledgeable gopher, but I can sand. And that’s what we did. We bleach treated all the areas of mold and then sanded it all to remove any sign of mold or mill markings. All 150, 12-foot lengths, both sides. (There I was, sanding pine, a wood my father didn’t think was worth burning!) It took me an extra two weeks—while Rick worked on site grading and electrical. It’s up now, and looks really good. A silk purse from a sow’s ear.

I have my hands on my hips now. “Really Daddy, how will I know, how will my fingers know?”

“You’ll know it’s done, honey, when it’s as smooth as a baby’s ass. You just keep sanding ‘til then.”

 

My Dad's Sandpaper Box

My Dad’s Sandpaper Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Territory, New Toys…
A.V. Walters

In the early days...

In the early days…

No! Did I say toys? Tools, tools, really it’s new tools! It’s a whole new world of what one needs to do—snow, building, planting. First, after carefully reviewing the used market for almost a year, we got the Kubota tractor—which we we’ve needed for road grading, excavation, and will certainly need for snow clearing. Rick cut in the driveway and dug out the foundation for the cabin with it—it’s no toy.

Then, I saw a good deal on a log splitter, on craigslist. In Two Rock we heated with wood and we split it all by hand—both of us. Of course, Northern California doesn’t pack nearly as much of a winter punch as Michigan. We used to use about two cords of wood a year to keep toasty. Here we figure we’ll need about five. The log splitter was a good call. I used it, feeling like a bit of a traitor to my trusty maul and wedge. But in an afternoon, without breaking too much of a sweat, (though it is still work) I split about a cord. Wow. We already had chainsaws (when we met, Rick and I owned the same brand and model of chainsaw. Kismet!)

The generator/inverter was a no-brainer. So far, there still isn’t any power to the site. (Though it looks like next week the electric company will bring in the underground lines for power—with phone and internet piggybacking in the trench.) Everything needs power—nailers, sanders, lights, saws. So the generator can’t be considered a toy by any stretch of the imagination.

Back in the spring, we were looking at the costs of excavation—road, foundation, well line, septic. It was daunting. We’d already bought what’s called a back-blade (it’s like a big scraper) so, my next job was to look for a used backhoe attachment for the Kubota. It took awhile—It was my job to make it work financially—to make any purchase pay for itself with savings from what we’d otherwise be paying others. I also had to learn about what implements would fit on our tractor. There’s a whole culture of tractordom—sub-frames, hydraulic kits, three-point attachments and PTOs. Things need to match—and I’m not talking about accessorizing. I found one—and we finally hooked it up. It was quite a feat—first, installing a sub-frame, and then uniting two pieces of equipment that weigh tons. The conjoined parts look like a large, prehistoric insect. Usually, I’m not one much for mechanized things, but horsepower does have its advantages.

Rick immediately started digging the line for the well. He’s far more mechanically inclined than I am, within an hour, he had the levers and controls figured out, and he was trenching like a pro. I’m a little jealous. I want to dig, too. (Don’t worry, my turn will come.) In the meantime, I’ve become quite the craigslist maven. Hey, there’s still a snow-blower to consider. A 3 point snow-blower is a thing to behold—throwing a veritable fountain of snow 20-30 feet in the air. Winter is coming… they’re tools, after all, not toys.

Faux Foe

A.V. Walters

So kitch, they're okay

So kitch, they’re okay

We all have our pet peeves. My brother, for example, cannot endure the sounds of others eating. He has to play music. It just drives him crazy. My sister can’t stand the low hum of a truck idling. She once got up in the middle of the night, walked down the block and confronted a young man working on his truck. (Really, it was late…) When he laughed at her, she sealed his fate. After all, she owns the local general store, and she would no longer let him do business there. (Too bad for him. And, a smoker, too.)

My quirk is not so volatile. I’m annoyed by faux anachronism. It started young. As a kid, I would become peeved at the sight of a Landau top on a car. You may remember them, synthetic leather (don’t get me started), roof bonnets, designed to look like a convertible. Why on earth would one put a perishable surface on the enameled, steel roof of a car?! I gathered that the object was to imitate the upper class Sunday touring buggy of years gone by. (And in so doing, to create a vehicle that would age poorly and look trashy. Go figure.)

That was just the start. I’m a history buff. I like antiques and old architecture. I love the feel of old machines and their workings. I still sew with a 1906 era, treadle sewing machine. I don’t mind eclectic, as long as it’s authentic. I don’t mind reproduction, so long as it’s true to the original and as well made. And, I like things to be period appropriate. I remember that when old style stoves were popular one high-end manufacturer made a heavy reproduction nostalgia model—but it sported modern electric burner coils. For this, appearance over form or function, consumers could fork over thousands of dollars.

I could only have been nine or ten when a family in our neighborhood “updated” their 50s tract home with, of all things, plantation-style columns. I marched right to my mother to demand that she stop them. It just looked sooooo dumb! How could they! Just the sight of this tacked-on grandiosity embarrassed me. She laughed. Not that she disagreed with my aesthetic perspective but she was surprised, even alarmed, by my vehemence. It only got worse. As their remodel continued, they added fake shutters to their windows! (And, the shutters were mis-sized; were they to actually close them, they wouldn’t even meet in the middle—much less, protect the windows. Augh!)

The list of things that would trigger my peevishness grew—vinyl siding, faux brick or rock embellishments, wagon wheel yard art, lawn jockeys, you name it. (Oddly, I exempt plastic, pink, flamingoes, because they’re so off the chart as to be funny.)

We’re starting the building process and it’s bringing out the snob in me. Gladly, Rick and I are mostly on the same page. It’s about windows. Modern technology has given us beautiful windows, inviting light and air into our homes, without sacrificing energy efficiency. Historically, window glass was a major expense, and small panes made window glass transportable without too much breakage. And, they didn’t have the technology to produce large panes of quality glass. So our visual history of homes includes many-paned windows. Even though they interfere with the view, and the old single panes guaranteed a winter chill, the look does have a cottage feel. Even I admit that. But, believe me, the solution is not fake dividers. You can actually pay extra for grids to ruin your view! It irks me, just to see grids in windows. Rick just shakes his head. He is, after all, married to an aesthetic nut. Good thing he doesn’t like things artificial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thunderstorms

A.V. Walters

The good news is that our new basement has proved itself to be watertight. Good thing, too. We’ll be needing that. Michigan sees a lot of wild and wooly weather. I’ve been telling Rick about Great Lakes thunderstorms for years. Though we’ve been here near a year—the weather has not cooperated to show off its best thunderstorm stuff. That is, until yesterday and last night.

It was tremendous. We had dramatic, roiling clouds, winds, driving rain and amazing lightning. For hours! I timed it and the lightning flashes were about 30-40 per minute—and it lasted from late afternoon yesterday until the wee hours of the morning today. Finally he had the chance to see the full-blown spectacle of non-stop lightning, with its  rumbling and crashing soundtrack. Nothing like California. The cats are both CaliforniaCats, too. Kilo was cool; Bob was flipped out about it. Nothing in their experience prepared them for the noise. I’d attach a picture, but unless you’re really good with a camera, lightning isn’t easy to capture. I’m not that good.

Years ago, I visited my sister in Southern California. It was her birthday—a little wine and conversation got us on to the topic of thunderstorms. California is wimpy in that department. That’s a blessing, because with California’s dry summers, Michigan’s lightning would burn California to a crisp! The evening ran long; wine and nostalgia are a potent mix. Two weeks later she packed up and headed “home.” Afterwards, she acknowledged that the conversation made her family so homesick, they decided to abandon the dream of sunny California. I don’t know the statistics now, but then, Michigan had the highest “rate of return” for folks who’d moved on, but couldn’t stay away. Some folks just can’t settle in to a climate that lacks actual weather.

The not so good news was the rain. We got almost four inches overnight. I’m not really complaining, we needed it—but there’s no roof yet on that basement. It’s watertight, but in this case it held the water in. So we came to the site the next morning to a wading pool. We briefly considered having a small lap pool in the basement. Four inches is too much to bail—so Rick headed to the hardware for a pump. A couple of hours later—we were back in business.

 

 

 

 

 

Bunker Mentality–

A.V. Walters–

IMG_1868

We’re building. It’s a small footprint, our cabin at the edge of the woods. We picked the site for its view across the valley, and so that we’d get sheltering shade in the summer. We are months behind schedule. If I were the type, I’d be getting close to panicky. On our walks, I note that we’re seeing the occasional flash of early color in the trees

Initially, we had weather delays—frost well into May, administrative delays—title and permitting problems and then, a comedy of errors on the foundation.

This county requires that building plans be prepared by an architect or a licensed “building designer.” Since we’d already drawn up our plans, we went with the building designer method—to check for technical and structural details, and to make the plans look professional. We informed the designer that there was a slope to the property—but he wasn’t concerned—I guess he figured it wasn’t his department.

When the approvals were finally complete, we hired a local mason to build the foundation. Though Rick is a builder, there are very good reasons to hire out parts of the job to those with greater experience. Most of our building proficiency is from California, where foundations are usually poured concrete (with lots of rebar reinforcement.) California has earthquakes, and they take their foundations seriously. Michigan foundations are often built with concrete block—especially for smaller buildings like our little cabin. It’s heavy work and we are not young.

The plans called for a crawlspace—just enough of a foundation to meet the frost requirements for local code. It’s a cabin, nestled into the gently sloping hillside, with a cozy, low profile. We knew we might have some adjustments because of the slope. We consulted with the mason. He didn’t see a problem, maybe a couple of extra courses of block. He instructed Rick on exactly how he wanted the excavation to be done. Rick did the digging, per instructions, with the Kubota. As he did so, it started to look like the back-side of the hole was a lot deeper than the mason had described.

IMG_1883

On the mason’s return, he too, was surprised by the depth of the hole. He accused Rick of not digging level and true. Measurement proved that it was almost perfect, (a little less than a half inch off, across a forty-foot run.) The mason shrugged. He’d have to go at least an extra two courses of block—and he submitted a revised bid. We nodded. The price seemed fair. After all, what do we know from masonry?

A day or so later, he advised that the wall sill wasn’t high enough, to address issues of drainage and slope, he’d have to go yet higher. This crawlspace was exceeding crawl (except in timing.) We’d gone past duck walk to homo-erectus—though still not a legal height basement. I ran down to the County permits department to advise of the change. The clerk asked me why we didn’t just go all the way, for a full basement. Oh no, it’s just a little cabin. That would be thousands of dollars more and we didn’t really need a basement. It’s a cabin—and with the extra height, we’d be giving up on that snuggled-into-the-hillside look.

It was a Friday night. I went into town for milk and beer. I ran into our buddy, Linus, from up the road. He was picking up a pizza. Linus works at one of the cherry farms, but used to be in heavy-equipment and construction. During cherry harvest he works long days—and pizza-to-go is part of the equation.

“How’s it going with the foundation?”

“Well, it’s a lot deeper than we thought. We’re up to ten courses.”

He nodded. “So you’ll be pouring a floor, then?”

I shook my head. “No, we’ll still keep it to a crawl space—now, it’s just a tall one.”

“No, you’ll be pouring a floor… a four-inch slab.” It wasn’t a question.

I looked up at him. “We really weren’t planning on a full basement, it’s too high.”

“I doesn’t matter. At ten courses, you pour a floor for stability.” He was nodding his head with certainty. He doesn’t talk much, and, for him, this was pushy.

“Yeah? You think so?”

“Four inches—no less.” His pizza was up. He nodded at me, “Tell Rick I said so.”

The weekend was a running debate. We had to have a serious discussion with the mason. Could this be true? Why hadn’t he said anything? Rick reconfigured the plans for a full basement, just in case. If you have to pour a floor, you might just as well go the full twelve courses for a legal basement. And, if you’re putting in a full basement on a slope, you should put in a door on the downslope for a walkout, and, yeah, maybe a window, for light. We tried to imagine our little cabin, perched up on an eight-foot high, block foundation. A bunker. An eyesore! “Don’t worry,” Rick assured me, “If we have to go this route, we’ll bury as much as we can. We’ll landscape it.”

IMG_1904

Monday morning was telling. Rick put it direct to the mason. “A friend said we should be pouring a four-inch, slab floor—for structural reasons—any truth to that?”

The mason didn’t meet his eyes. He scuffed his boot in the sand. After a long silence, he offered, “Well, it is a good idea.” Why hadn’t he said anything before? That made the decision. I zipped up to the county offices with Rick’s revised plans. The clerk nodded.

“You won’t regret it, a basement is really handy.” She smiled, a little smug. But, she’d been right.

For the next couple of days we watched as the courses of concrete block grew, towering above us. We looked for the bright side. You can always use extra storage… right? Rick could have a shop downstairs. We could move the laundry down there, too. And, we told ourselves, the added height gave us a hell of a view from the front porch. The foundation price was now double the original bid. We sighed and wrote progress payments.

During the foundation work the mason’s little daughter took ill. Really ill. She was hospitalized for over a week. Though we only lost one “official” day of work, the family’s trials cost in “attention” time. Who could blame him? If I had a little one at risk, I’d be glued to her. These are the important things in life. We were happy to accommodate.

We did have a little tiff over the details of the floor. We wanted a vapor barrier under the slab. The mason didn’t want to deal with it. We insisted. It wasn’t the norm, he said. He got more than a little grumpy about it. In the end, we’re the owners—we insisted and prevailed.

With the block work and floor complete, the only remaining thing was to insert the rebar and pour concrete into the wall cores. We were anxious for completion—because then the project would be ours again. With us at the helm, we could make up for some lost time. Rick asked the mason about the rebar placement. Given his California roots, Rick was concerned about what looked to be sparse reinforcement. After all, we’d doubled the wall height, so for structural reasons, now was not the time to go light on strength.

The mason threw a fit. Was Rick questioning his professional integrity? He was almost yelling now. The mason went to his truck and took out his copy of the Michigan Code Book. He shook it in Rick’s face. “It’s all in here. I don’t go by California code. I go by Michigan rules. We don’t have earthquakes here!” He threw the book back into the cab of his truck and left for the day.

Tired of being at a disadvantage, Rick came home, went online, and purchased his own copy of the Michigan Code book. But, in the meantime, we had little choice but to trust the mason. He came the next day for the “final pour.” It was a relief. After our inspection, scheduled for the following Monday, we’d finally be able to start our building process. I paid the mason.

Well, “we” failed the inspection. California, Michigan, it doesn’t matter. The code is pretty much the same, no matter, and the amount of rebar in our foundation didn’t meet code. (So much for “professional integrity.”)

I emailed the mason. He called, livid, like it was our fault—accused us of pissing-off the building inspector. We told him to speak to the Inspector, himself. Apparently, that conversation set him straight. We didn’t even have to say that he should read his own Code Book, instead of shaking it in our faces. He was whipped and compliant.

It took another week to get it finished. The inspector told him exactly what he expected in reinforcement—even more than what code would have required, but by this time, the mason was cowed and obedient. We helped with the final pour. Now we have the strongest foundation in the county, a literal bunker. If there’s ever a tornado or a hurricane, we know where to go. Oh yeah, and turns out the vapor barrier, we fought over, is Code, too!

IMG_1914

The foundation took a little over a month. Not too bad, considering all the changes and hiccoughs. It’ll be nice to have a basement, and there’ll be that incredible view from the front porch.

Spam, Spam, the Menu Plan

A.V. Walters

 

Hey bloggers, we all get spam, right? Do you read yours? Sometimes, it’s tough to tell whether it is spam. After all, you’d feel bad thwarting some poor commenter–for bad grammar or other minor sin. (Though I’d love to have a chat with all those folks who want to convince me that I could make oodles, if only I’d stoop to online marketing.) We want to be inclusive. We just don’t want spam.

A few days ago, I received the spam shown below. Hell, somebody made a mistake. They sent out their whole playbook–complete with optional fact inserts. (You know, so you can personalize your spam.) I laughed so hard, I almost peed my panties. Of course, I’d seen most of these–just not the whole list. I goes to show you that the spam forces out there are organized. They speak the language of ambivalence (and flattery.) To keep our blogs clean of the senseless blather of marketing hitchhikers, we must be vigilant!

Because I never want to be guilty of failure to attribute someone else’s work, I will disclose that this compendium of spam comes courtesy of

http://topfunnyweddingcaketoppers.com/
topfunnyweddingcaketoppers.comx
cheribracker@hotmail.com
192.230.42.130

 

And here it is, in excruciating detail….

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
{It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if
all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers
made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more} useful
than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.

{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch}
your {rss|rss feed} as I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
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Thanks.|
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{approximately|about} it!|
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{blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}.|
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{blog|website|web site|site}. I stumbledupon it 😉 {I
will|I am going to|I’m going to|I may} {come back|return|revisit} {once again|yet again} {since I|since i have} {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} it.

Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change, may you be
rich and continue to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|
Woah! I’m really {loving|enjoying|digging} the
template/theme of this {site|website|blog}. It’s simple, yet effective.
A lot of times it’s {very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard}
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in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging. You have
touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.
Any way keep up wrinting.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to be} up
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guys I’ve {incorporated||added|included} you guys to {|my|our||my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey}! Someone in my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared this {site|website} with
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{Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style and design|design and style|design}.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to be} up too.
{This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
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P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic
but I had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind letting me know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you’re
{utilizing|working with|using}? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 {completely different|different} {internet browsers|web browsers|browsers} and I must say this blog loads a lot {quicker|faster} then most.
Can you {suggest|recommend} a good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider at
a {honest|reasonable|fair} price? {Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I appreciate it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.
Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|
Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was
a amusement account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!
{By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you a quick heads up.

The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet
explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}. I’m not sure if this is
a {format|formatting} issue or something to do with {web browser|internet browser|browser} compatibility but I {thought|figured} I’d post to let you know.
The {style and design|design and style|layout|design}
look great though! Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…

{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}!
{Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to
{books|textbooks}, as I found this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} at this {website|web site|site|web
page}.|
Does your {site|website|blog} have a contact page?
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I’d like to {send|shoot} you an {e-mail|email}.
I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
Either way, great {site|website|blog} and I look forward to seeing it {develop|improve|expand|grow} over time.|
{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for
{a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage} to go ahead and give you a shout out from {New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita}
{Tx|Texas}! Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep
up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!
I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so I decided to {check out|browse} your {site|website|blog} on my iphone during
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phone|phone} .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G ..

{Anyhow|Anyways}, {awesome|amazing|very good|superb|good|wonderful|fantastic|excellent|great} {site|blog}!|
Its {like you|such as you} {read|learn} my {mind|thoughts}!

You {seem|appear} {to understand|to know|to grasp} {so much|a lot} {approximately|about} this, {like you|such as you} wrote the {book|e-book|guide|ebook|e book} in it or something.
{I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that you
just} {could|can} do with {some|a few} {%|p.c.|percent} to {force|pressure|drive|power} the message {house|home} {a bit|a little bit}, {however|but} {other than|instead of} that, {this
is|that is} {great|wonderful|fantastic|magnificent|excellent}
blog. {A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will} {definitely|certainly} be
back.|
I visited {multiple|many|several|various} {websites|sites|web sites|web pages|blogs} {but|except|however} the audio {quality|feature} for audio songs {current|present|existing} at this
{website|web site|site|web page} is {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {marvelous|wonderful|excellent|fabulous|superb}.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar
one and i was just {wondering|curious} if you get a lot of spam {comments|responses|feedback|remarks}?
If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it, any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}?
I get so much lately it’s driving me {mad|insane|crazy} so any {assistance|help|support} is very much appreciated.|
Greetings! {Very helpful|Very useful} advice {within this|in this particular} {article|post}!
{It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will
make|that produce|that will make} {the biggest|the largest|the greatest|the most important|the
most significant} changes. {Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}..
{Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme. Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this
website|this site|this web site|this amazing site} yourself?
Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying
to|planning to|wanting to|hoping to|attempting to} create {my
own|my very own|my own personal} {blog|website|site}
and {would like to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find
out} where you got this from or {what the|exactly what the|just what the} theme {is called|is named}.

{Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could not} be written {any better|much better}!
{Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article} reminds me of my previous roommate!
He {always|constantly|continually} kept {talking about|preaching about}
this. {I will|I’ll|I am going to|I most certainly will} {forward|send} {this article|this
information|this post} to him. {Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have a good|have a very good|have a great} read.
{Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just}
like my old one! It’s on a {completely|entirely|totally}
different {topic|subject} but it has pretty much the same {layout|page layout} and design. {Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb} choice of colors!|
{There is|There’s} {definately|certainly} {a lot to|a
great deal to} {know about|learn about|find out about} this
{subject|topic|issue}. {I like|I love|I really like} {all
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{You made|You’ve made|You have made} some {decent|good|really good} points there.
I {looked|checked} {on the internet|on the web|on the net} {for more
info|for more information|to find out more|to learn more|for additional information} about the issue and found {most individuals|most people} will go along with your views on {this website|this site|this web
site}.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, I {log on to|check|read} your {new stuff|blogs|blog} {regularly|like
every week|daily|on a regular basis}. Your {story-telling|writing|humoristic} style is {awesome|witty},
keep {doing what you’re doing|up the good work|it up}!|
I {simply|just} {could not|couldn’t} {leave|depart|go away} your
{site|web site|website} {prior to|before} suggesting that I {really|extremely|actually} {enjoyed|loved}
{the standard|the usual} {information|info} {a person|an individual}
{supply|provide} {for your|on your|in your|to your} {visitors|guests}?
Is {going to|gonna} be {back|again} {frequently|regularly|incessantly|steadily|ceaselessly|often|continuously} {in order to|to} {check up on|check out|inspect|investigate cross-check} new posts|
{I wanted|I needed|I want to|I need to} to thank you for
this {great|excellent|fantastic|wonderful|good|very
good} read!! I {definitely|certainly|absolutely} {enjoyed|loved} every
{little bit of|bit of} it. {I have|I’ve got|I have
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Gypsies and Win-Win

A.V. Walters

Cozy kitchen

Cozy kitchen

I have a sister who moves all the time. She’s not an economic refugee; she has a comfortable life. It’s just that she and her husband seem to have itchy feet. They buy a house, fix it up, and then, when even a faint whiff of opportunity calls them elsewhere, they are gone like the wind and the process starts anew. I used to say that her middle name was “never-in-ink,” based on the damage that her peripatetic ways did to my address book. At one point she had three homes (and an orchard with a pole barn) in three different countries! We joke that some people go on vacation and send postcards—my sister buys real estate. Her defense? Well, they needed somewhere to park. The process has slowed some, maybe it’s age. More likely, the real estate juggling has diminished because they bought a big boat that now takes them from place to place, to satisfy some of that wanderlust.

Rick and I are not like that. We are homebodies, gardeners and people of roots. So it’s surprising that in the past eight months we’ve moved three times—with another planned before the end of the year.

We did love our little honeymoon cottage in Empire, but it was, after all, a “vacation” rental and that means that we had to move on once the “season” started, or pay the steep hotel-like rates that tourists pay. In a vacation area, the season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Some people extend a little beyond that, for a second-wind season that we call “color.” So, we packed up and moved again.

The problem with living somewhere this beautiful is that, if you’re not a grower (cherries, apples or wine grapes), the most lucrative business for locals is the tourism industry. The county is chockablock with cottages, B&Bs and little hideaway granny units that are rented to tourists by the day, or week. It’s almost impossible to find a longer term rental because everyone is cashing in on the vacation market. Rick and I are building, this summer, and we needed a place to stay—somewhere near the building site—until it’s ready to occupy. We’re getting a late start because of the heavy winter and delays in permitting. That put us smack-dab in the middle of the vacation season—no reasonably priced housing. We checked with our soon-to-be neighbors (two of whom have vacation rentals) but they needed the tourist rates. We considered buying a trailer, or even a heavy duty tent—though that’s a tough transition with cats. Then we stumbled on what looked like a win-win.

 

An old-fashioned look.

An old-fashioned look.

Back in Petaluma, each year in April, we volunteered for an organization, Rebuilding Together, that helps to renovate homes for elderly or low income owners. Often the services are critical to letting them stay in, and maintain, their homes. It’s a great organization—and it was where we met, Rick a volunteer builder and me—volunteer grunt labor. This year, April came and we noted that it was the first time in a long while that we weren’t on a Rebuilding crew.

In preparation for our impending relocation to Cedar, I went around introducing myself to all the neighbors. Some of them I’d known for years. I bought this property over two decades ago, and so I was that absentee owner from California. I thought we should re-connect in more of a, “Hi, we’re moving in,” kind of way. At each stop there were the usual discussions—“we’ll be building, yes, my husband is a builder… no, it’s not a summer/vacation home, we’ll be living here….” One neighbor in particular took interest—“Does he do work on the side?” Apparently some years ago she considered renovating her walk-out basement into a rental. She hired some fly-by-night-guy and it went badly from there. After a considerable investment (and some bad blood) she fired the guy and the job sat, unfinished—in fact, it had barely been started. Though I’d only just knocked on her door, technically I’d been her neighbor for years. Maybe that’s why she felt so comfortable telling me her life story and all her woes, though it seems to be a common thread in my life. People tell me stuff.

It didn’t take long before I thought—hmmmm, she needs renovation work, we need a place to stay… I connected the dots. I suggested it to Rick, before I approached the neighbor. It would be a big undertaking—not to be entered into lightly. Oddly enough, it was an alternative to our usual, April volunteer gig. This was a win-win—there was something in it for us, and it could work for her, too. When we approached the neighbor, she was intrigued, but wary. It took her weeks to decide (and we even had to interview with her priest!)

So that’s where we’ve been for the past month, or so. We’ve been building a little apartment. We were running on a short time frame—after all we had to be out of Empire by June 1. And, as usual, it was on a shoe-string budget. Another project brought to you by Craigslist. We pulled many 10 hour (and a few 15 hour) days until we reached the point of “habitable.” We still have trim-work (baseboards and window trim, etc) to do, but we moved into this little pied-à-terre the first of June. It’s just across the road from our building site. As soon as our permit is approved (which is taking longer than we thought) we’ll be building, yet again, only this time (for the first time) for us.

Still work to do, but a comfortable way-station to home.

Still work to do, but a comfortable way-station to home.

We’re not like my sister. We’re not gypsies. We’re itinerant builders, looking for a spot to call home.

Of course, there is next April…

 

 

 

 

e) All of the above…(every little bit helps)

A.V. Walters–

INVEST IN SOLAR AND WIND POWER!

INVEST IN SOLAR AND WIND POWER!

Now that we have warmer weather–we can all do our bit to save energy and enjoy the best the season has to offer!

You, too, can participate–use solar and wind energy!

SUN AND WIND--FAST AND FRESH

SUN AND WIND–FAST AND FRESH!

(a little rope and two trees.)

Marshmallows or Popcorn

A.V. Walters–

marshpop

Surprisingly, it turns out that Rick is making the California to Michigan transition better than I am. I still have a foot in each world. I’m still on political and activist email lists for California and Sonoma County. I still check the weather for Two Rock.

I have an off-beat sense of humor. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. Sometimes it reveals an underlying sense of order that is just a little out-of-step with the “regular” world.

This was never more clear than, a decade or so ago, when I received a telephone call from my sister, whose home had just burned to the ground. (“Defective dryer wiring.”) She was near hysterical.

“It’s gone, everything…(sobbing)…”

“Everybody get out okay?”

“Yeah, we weren’t home—Bill was at the neighbors, when they saw the smoke…”

“Pets out, too?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s left… like, how high are the walls?

She broke down again, “Nothing. Nothing’s more than waist high. Just smoldering embers. (Sobbing) What am I going to do?”

Here, perhaps I should have paused to think. But I didn’t.

“I dunno. Got any marshmallows?”

Needless to say, it wasn’t well received.

From this, I’ve developed my theory of Marshmallows or Popcorn. It seems to me that any disaster has radiating circles of impact. If it’s your disaster, it’s Marshmallows. You are close enough to feel the heat; you’re the one feeling the loss. Someone else’s is Popcorn—you’re role is, essentially, an observer. It seems we humans make a spectator sport of disasters. Rick calls it the Rubbernecking Rule—you know, how you just can’t help but slow down and look at an accident. You read an obituary—and check the age. You hear that someone has cancer and the first thing you ask is, “Did he smoke?” It’s a way to handle loss that isn’t yours. Intellectualize. Engage from a safe distance. The psyche wants to understand and, at the same time, dissociate from the loss. That’s Popcorn. The news cycle essentially feeds on our addiction to Popcorn.

I read that there are very strong indications of an intense El Nino cycle, brewing in the Pacific. Ocean temperatures are significantly elevated. In any normal cycle, this could lead to drought conditions in California. Right now, though, California has already seen a number of abnormally dry years. Rick and I were discussing it, the double whammy of ocean warming and El Nino, and whether that fell into an underlying climate-change warming pattern.

Generally they report California’s water status in terms of snow-pack and reservoir levels. We know, though, that that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s a short-sighted measurement that doesn’t reflect the impact on the environment, or what happens in rural areas, where folks and farmers rely on well-water. For them, annual rainfall is critical to recharge the aquifers. I thought about our lives in Two Rock and our life and friends back on the farm.

“What will we do with yet another year of drought?”

Rick looked over at me, “What do you mean, we?” He grinned. “I live in Michigan.”

So, we do the math: Time + Distance = Popcorn.

 

 

The Broken Back of Winter…

A.V. Walters–

We’ve stopped tallying the snow totals. Once you’ve bested the old records, every additional inch isn’t quite so crucial. Last night dropped another four, wet, sloppy inches—but we no longer have a handle on the running accumulation. Instead, we’ve joined the ranks of the Spring Predictors. My mother called the other day to inform me that “The back of winter is broken!” Mindful of some of her earlier pronouncements, I demanded, “What, is this some guy from the Almanac, again?”

“No, no. This was the weather guy, on TV. And he had a map! He explained the whole thing.”

“Okay, Mum, I’m game. What’s his theory?” I clicked on the Ebay icon and scrolled through vintage light fixtures. I didn’t have much hope for this, the newest prognostication.

“The polar vortex thing is done. It’s been influencing the temperatures all winter, had us in it’s grip, it did. But the regular jet stream pattern is re-emerging. By the weekend we’ll have seasonal temperatures!”

I flipped to the weather site. Sure enough, the temperatures are predicted to jump this weekend.

“Yeah, mom. I’m seeing it here, too. Maybe you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. He had a map!”

Meanwhile, Back in California…

A.V. Walters —

This, we miss.

This, we miss.

In California, they’ve had the warmest winter on record and the third driest. My California friends have raved about the weather (even while admitting that the drought is a problem. But hey, if you’re going to have a weather calamity, you might as well enjoy it!) Knowing I’m a gardener, they’ve sent photos of Spring, to tempt me from here, under my blanket of snow. Late rains finally brought the green back into the hills of Two Rock, and that’s good for—emus!

Green Hills for Grazing

Green Hills for Grazing

Emu Views

Emu Views

Yes, Emus! Back on the farm, Elmer’s daughter is raising four emu chicks. She wants them to be guards for her organic duck operation. The emus we reared last year are a little skittish around the ducks—and there were some duck injuries when raucous ducks agitated their delicate emu sensibilities. Ducks were stepped on. The solution is emus who have been raised with ducks. So that’s what Deb is doing.

Emus at the Feeder

Emus at the Feeder

Up Close

Up Close

A Quiet Moment in the Pen

A Quiet Moment in the Pen

So, our teen emus, Kelvin and Gatsby, will be stuck with sheep duty. That’s not such a bad gig, more turf, more freedom, better view. Nice work, if you can get it.

Emu Teens. You have to wonder, is botching the job the way out of chores?

Emu Teens. You have to wonder, is botching the job the way out of chores?

After some early garage and barn living, (Deb is not so crazy, as we were, to keep emus indoors) the new babies are settling in nicely.

Can we come out, yet?

Can we come out, yet?

Now, they stay with the ducks. Not that they socialize, but they are comfortable sharing space. Right now the emu babes are about the same size as the ducks. In the future, the emus will shoot up, no doubt surprising the ducks! They’ll serve as their guardians from predators. The teen emus were doing okay at the guardian job; during their tenure the duck losses stopped. Coyotes, foxes, and even hawks were discouraged by the emu presence. However, it wasn’t working because the emus themselves were injuring the ducks. Clumsy emus.

Ducks above, emus below.

Ducks above, emus below.

It’s nice to hear how things are back on the farm. We’re biding our time, waiting for the snow to melt. Then things will get very busy around here.

Emu Huddle--For these last pics, I asked Deb where the fourth emu was. Apparently, Number Four was occupied pecking at her red shoes!

Emu Huddle–For these last pics, I asked Deb where the fourth emu was. Apparently, Number Four was occupied pecking at her red shoes!

Cabin Fever Paranoia

A.V. Walters

Police Blotter

Police Blotter

For most of the locals, this winter is a little long in the tooth. They’re tired of it, and getting a little crabby. It’s showing in the local paper. At last report, the snow total was 228 inches, just three shy of breaking the county record, to date. Since then, we’ve probably had at least three inches. That means that this year will be a record double header—in both temperature and snowfall.

You’d think everyone would be excited. Where’s their pride in being here, and witnessing this little bit of weather history? Noooooo, people are ready for Spring and are tired of all this. The headlines are revealing: “COLDEST, SNOWIEST—Winter to Break Records; Man and Wildlife Cope.” The deer and wild turkeys are suffering with the cold and deep drifts. The wildlife guys, at the DNR, have suspended the rules against harboring ducks and waterfowl. They need open water on our rivers and inland lakes so they can take off, and it’s not easy to find. People are finding, and rescuing downed ducks. So, if officials catch you harboring a duck, they won’t prosecute. They’re even giving out information on where you can find open water to release them.

Even the snow plow drivers, are weary. “It’s starting to wear on all of us… It’s always fun in the fall, to start plowing, but by now, it’s not fun anymore.” (According to their supervisor.)

A week or so back, a couple warmer days and fierce winds broke up the ice on the Lake Michigan. Suddenly the lake, which had reached over 80% ice coverage, was once again a wild and thrashing deep blue. It was impressive. I mentioned it to the guy in the local grocery store. He nodded, acknowledging the really awesome power of a Great Lake.

“Plus,” I continued with some enthusiasm, “With the Lake open again, you know what that means?”

He just looked puzzled.

“We’ll get more lake-effect snow.”

He just groaned and put his face in his hands.

We’re in another cold snap, now—you know, Polar Vortex, the sequel. We hiked up to the bluffs to see the lake. It’s starting to fill in again—frozen out almost to the visible horizon. They say it’s back up to 50 %– in just days. And, it’s snowing. The paper says that, with all this snow, there are concerns about Spring flooding.

We love the local paper. It covers all the small town stuff, high school sports, ice-fishing events, bowling, that kind of stuff. Rick loves the police Dispatch Blotter. This week though, the police blotter showed that winter is taking its toll. A paranoid caller complained. “…the Road Commission [snowplow] is purposely placing snow at the end of his driveway.” (Rick had a good laugh, at that one.)

Pipeline Postscripts

A.V. Walters

mid feb

I lived in California for thirty-five years. Rick lived there all his life. It is in our blood to be water-thrifty. Conservation is a lifestyle issue—not to flush every time, short showers, dozens of little tricks learned over time to save water. That is not the culture in Michigan. Doing dishes, my brother doesn’t think twice of letting the water run, while a conversation or other task takes him away from the sink. Watching, I squirm. Here people have lawns, and they water them, with sprinklers.

With our uber-winter this year, many have had their pipes freeze. There are four communities in Upper Michigan where the entire towns are at risk of freezing pipes. (Our water temperature at the tap is 36 degrees.) In L’Anse, Michigan, the townsfolk are being advised to let their faucets run—constantly, to keep the mains from freezing solid. Some developments were built with plastic supply lines. Plastic won’t conduct electricity. If your plastic lines freeze you’re in trouble. The advice there is to cross your fingers and move out until Spring. (You’re crossing your fingers in hopes that the pipes themselves won’t burst, leaving you with an even worse mess when the thaw comes.) The utility wonks in L’Anse are telling people not to shovel the snow away from over their water lines. (Too late for us, eh?) It’s often a surprise to people from milder climates that a good layer of snow actually insulates from the more extreme cold.

Now that the welders have zapped our lines clear, we’ve been told to leave the tap running, all the time, until Spring. Our water-miser ways may have even contributed to the freeze in the first place. We’re struggling with what feels to Californians like water waste. My natural inclination is to shut off the tap—always. Now we can’t and I’m having trouble with that adjustment. You can hear the water run. You wake up at night, foggy-brained, thinking that you need to get up—someone has left the tap running.

I’m trying to adjust my attitude for the duration. Think of it as a water feature, I tell myself, you know, like a fountain. That’s the ticket. Don’t folks use water sounds for relaxation? I try to reconcile my discomfort with rationalization. After all, this water comes from Lake Michigan. I’m just recycling it—through the house septic, through the sandy soils of Empire and then back to the Lake. In the meantime, as a renter, I’m glad I don’t pay the water bill.

 

 

 

 

 

Training Cats

A. V. Walters

Who, me?

Who, me?

I’ve always had well-behaved cats. I train them as kittens. That’s right, trained cats. I’m from a large family where good behavior wasn’t optional. With kittens, I use a squirt gun to enforce the House Rules. It’s about boundaries. Some places are okay for cats and some are verboten.

Bob came to us as an adult stray. He is a genial cat, not bright but friendly. In fact, he is clueless. As a kid, I had a school teacher who, when confronted with less-than-perfect indoor etiquette, would demand, “Where were you raised, in a barn?!” In fact, it was a slur on the agricultural kids—the farmers and the French-Canadians. But I try to remember it as a cautionary guideline, with Bob. After all, he’s a twice-abandoned farm cat. And, as a matter of fact, he was raised in a barn.

When he first arrived on my door-step, Bob had no boundaries. He felt fully entitled to get up on the kitchen counters or the table, and help himself to whatever goodies were there. Well, something had to be done about that! I used a spray bottle and Bob learned. What he learned was that he could not go on the counters if somebody was around! Bob learned to be a sneak. So, we redoubled our efforts. To reduce temptation, we made a concerted effort not to leave anything out. Butter went into a covered dish. The dishes were mostly washed after a meal. Meat scraps went into the freezer (not the garbage) for disposal later. And we watched, like hawks, to catch him in the act. That was the tough part, because, as a sneak, Bob was good at quietly committing his mischief. The only notice we got was the thump of his feet hitting the floor, after his forays. He had a well-practiced innocent look. “Who me?” (Though, there were clear Bob prints on the countertop.)

For the most part, he’s well-trained, now, though there are the occasional lapses. The most egregious of his sins is his propensity to lick the cream-cheese frosting off of the carrot cake. After icing the cake, it needs to sit out for a bit to set up. Bob did it again, last night. Rick came in to a freshly iced, and licked, cake. We’ll need to be more diligent about putting the cake away—or covering it. And, well, it’s back to training… We can’t have cats mixing with cakes.

I’m glad that we’ve had such success with him. Most people think you cannot train a cat.

Dry-Run–

A.V. Walters–

We’re learning. It turns out that this little rental has taught us many valuable things about living with season. We’ve learned that ice dams are common in older homes (and inexcusable in new ones.) We’ve learned that it’s really important that one’s water supply lines be buried deep enough. It’s the coldest, snowiest year in decades; so, it is a good test for us. We’re holding up, and we’re learning.

Oh, we have no water.

Even back in sunny California, there would be cold snaps from time to time and many people would have their pipes freeze up. I remember, when I first moved there, I was aghast that many (especially older) homes ran their pipes on the outside! When I lived in Oakland, our water supply line entered the house on the front—above grade! In the winter, I wrapped that pipe—first with foam pipe insulation, and then with towels and plastic. We never had our pipes freeze. Here, water supply lines are buried deep (hopefully below the frost-line– about 48 inches, around here.) Sometimes, it’s not deep enough.

Did I mention we have no water?

If it’s any comfort, it’s not just us. A couple of other properties in the village have come up dry. There’s a whole triage routine to this, first you root around under the house to see whether the pipes under the house are frozen solid. You check the meter (if it’s running wildly, you have a burst pipe—if it’s not running at all (even with open faucets) you likely have a frozen pipe. This little cottage has heat tape on the pipes. We learned that after the water stopped, when Rick was running his diagnostics. Once you’ve identified that the problem isn’t under you, you need to find out what it is. If it’s in the Village water main—they need to fix it. If it’s in the line between the main and the meter—you need to fix it. This is where it’s good to be renting. The standard solution (after you call the landlord) is to call in a welding company who will essentially use jumper-cables to melt the ice in the line. Not many companies will do this kind of work—they say the liability is too high. Huh? Wow, that’s not the kind of response you want to hear…

So, we’re still waiting for water.

Today is day three. We’re carrying water, by bucket, from the neighbors. We’re starting to look a little scruffy and the dishes are piling up in the sink. The company that still does this kind of work is in high demand right now. Take a number.

And, there’s some small-town humor in it. I went to the Village office to start the “who’s side of the line” investigation. Our friendly clerk took down the information. When I gave my name, she looked up, “Oh, you’re the one that got married last week.” It was a statement, not a question. They run all the vital statistics info in the local paper. I have a distinctive first name.

“Yup, that’s me.” Yup, that’s us. Geezer newlyweds. Later, the village crew came down to investigate the problem. You just know that they’d all been told. Later, a neighbor from down the block dropped by to assure us that we could come get water at his house. Small towns talk. It’s not a bad thing. People in town see the construction cones. They read the paper. They hear that some folks got married, and some are froze-up. It’s about community.

Our future building plans keep adjusting. We are now serious about adequate insulation and ventilation in the roof, in order to fend-off ice dams. And now, you know we will bury our water lines—deep. This little cottage has been our dry-run for winter living. We just didn’t know how dry.

 

Postscript:

Finally, they came to free up our lines. That freed me up to run to the store for dinner groceries. At the checkout, the clerk (who lives around the corner from us) nodded, “I hear your pipes are froze up.”

I smiled, “Not anymore, the guy’s there now, fixing it.”

“Runs down the driveway, does it?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded knowingly, “You folks keep a tidy driveway, could be part of the problem.”

“What’s that?”

“You know, you could leave some snow in the driveway—for more insulation.”

I howled. “I’ll tell him.”

So it’s a small town. They talk, they notice. They hear about troubles and they have opinions.

 

 

 

 

The Other Side of Winter II

A.V. Walters

Too windy even to bury the car!

Too windy even to bury the car!

It’s blowing and cold out there. It is snowing, but the wind is so strong, that it’s tough to tell what’s new snow, and what’s just being whipped around and redistributed. The usual storm pattern swoops across from the west or northwest. We look out and the snow is horizontal. We’ve noted from the national weather maps that in the center of the county, near where we’ll be living come spring, there’s a pocket of particularly heavy snow accumulation. One look at the winds today tells the story. All the snow from here ends up there. I see a Kubota in our future.

Without appreciable new snowfall (indeed some areas now have less than before) the driveway has drifted over and needs another shoveling. Rick has taken the laboring oar on snow removal. He maintains a beautiful driveway and paths through the yard. He’s learning to sculpt them so that the wind helps keep them clear, though in some places, drift, it will. I’d love to brag about his efforts, but since much of my family lives far north of here (and with really heavy snow) they’d just scoff. My niece reported on her facebook page the other day that she and her children are tobogganing off their roof. We just can’t compete with that.

Still, some things are universal. No matter where you are, everyone complains that, shovel as they may, they just hate it when the plow comes and negates their hours of work, filling in their driveways with road accumulations. Rick bemoans that it isn’t just more snow, plow snow is heavier and crustier. If you let it sit it will turn to a driveway-blocking wall of lumpy ice. It’s not an observation; it’s a conviction.

This past week our local weekly paper did a feature article on ‘the snow plow drivers of Leelanau County.’ It’s appropriate. Those guys (and they seem to be all guys) are doing a hell of a job keeping the roads clear in this record-breaking year. Now, in mid-January, our to-date snow-fall total is 152 inches, which exceeds the usual seasonal total. Only two weeks ago the paper quoted a local meteorologist as saying that we’d hit our 150 and then it would stop. Think again. Anyway, I had to laugh when the veteran snow plow driver stated that his pet peeve was when homeowners would push their snow into his road. (Apparently it makes for a rough ride.)

The Other Side of Winter

A.V. Walters

I get comments, (mostly by email) from friends and family when I post a blog. They’re usually supportive but, occasionally, they’re smart-assed. There was a range of comments on my last post. Apparently everyone wants to know–how are these two transplants doing with winter? It makes me wonder if bets have been placed. One friend thanked me for posting a positive perspective on the season. This is, after all, one of the most intense winters in decades (which is why everyone is so curious as to how Rick and I will handle it. Of course, to us, it’s all new.) My sister set me straight.

I guess my warm and fuzzy “snow dusting” blogs are pissing her off. She lives waaay up north, and they’ve had so much snow, that they’re running out of places to put the stuff. My mom reports that the snow banks are between 10 and 12 feet high. My mom is delighted; but she’s not doing the plowing. For many, they have to get up early to deal with the snow before they go put in a full day at work. For my sister, Kelly, lately that’s been three or four hours of extra work each day, hand shoveling out her entry and the path to her chicken coop. Today she was especially heroic—she snow-shoed over to my mother’s satellite dish, to clear it, so my mom could get reception. (Poor mum, last night she missed Downton Abbey!) Kelly’s husband also puts in several hours each day with the plow—besides their home and store, he keeps a number of other families clear.

Kelly is not alone in her frustration. She runs the town’s general store, so she hears about it from everyone. Over the weekend a colorful, but not particularly volatile local came into the store, stomping the snow from his boots and railing, “I’ve had it. Snow just isn’t fun anymore! I’d suck someone’s cock if the bastard would just blow out my driveway!” He hand-shovels, and has run out of places to put the snow. Now, he’s loading it into a wheelbarrow, then carting it across the highway, where he shovels it again, mostly up over the existing banks and into the woods. He hopes the Road Commission doesn’t notice that some of it strays onto the highway. (You’re not supposed to shovel your snow into the roadway, though the plows feel free to fill your driveway with road snow.) Keweenaw County checked in earlier this week at 167 inches for the season, and that was before the most recent foot, or so. I guess this all helps to keep the northerners fit.

So here I am, singing the praises of the beauty of winter. Add to that, I work from home—I don’t need to shovel out everyday—and Rick has taken up most of that duty, in any event. My family and I talk, everyday. Discussions about the weather are sometimes charged. There’s a fierce one-upsmanship to even the most casual comparisons. My mother called first thing this morning, and demanded to know, “What’s your temperature?!” (“Oh, hi mom. It’s 9.”) “Yeah, well it’s minus 7, here. Visibility is so low, I can’t see the mountain!” Really, it’s much milder here; I can’t compete.

Yesterday, my brother called to warn me about “wind chill.” (We’ve actually had a Wind Chill Warning.) We’re in a cold snap—it’ll put us in the single digits and negatives for the better part of the week. Really, though I’ve been in California for thirty-five years, I didn’t slip into a coma. I do remember wind chill. It seems that everywhere, but here, it is really snowing. My brother (a few hours south of us) has seen 14 inches in the last two days. My mother (well north of us) has seen even more. Us? A dusting, maybe five inches over the past four days, barely enough to shovel every day. Today, we are seeing the beginnings of the “big storm”. We check the radar by keeping an eye on the weather websites.

Critters here are challenged, too. It’s tough when, everyday, you have to dig deeper for your food supply. The last two nights, rabbits have come to clean up what’s left of the birdseed we threw out for our jays, juncos and chickadees. We get squirrels, too, and that makes me nervous. The squirrels can get into the engine compartment of your car. Sometimes they’ll even eat the insulation on the wiring. I mentioned it to Rick, who noticed that the squirrels seemed particularly interested in hanging out under and around his truck. (He went out to check the engine compartment—just to make sure there weren’t any rodent condos going in. Believe me; you don’t want to tangle with squirrel HOAs!)

Inside, (though I don’t think it’s any gotten any colder) the cat has taken to snuggling up all day on the electric baseboard heater. It hasn’t the charm of a good woodstove, that’s for sure. It’s a little pathetic, but we all do what we can.

Our local papers are full of weather reports and snow records, too. Our year-end snow count topped 100 inches. The local Meteorologist promised that the colder temperatures would slow the snow. Also, he points out, if the Lake freezes over, it will lessen the “Lake Effect” snow. If the Lake freezes over? Look at a map. See how big Lake Michigan is? They don’t call it a Great Lake for nothing. When a Great Lake hits 90% ice cover, it’s said to have “frozen over.” (Normal winters usually see a 50% cover.) How often does a freeze over happen? Well, in the last 110 years, only four times (1904, 1976-1978.) His report is otherwise scientifically problematic, saying (and I quote), “Northern Michigan only gets 140 to 150 inches of snow each year. We’ve already had 100 inches, so that leaves January, February and March to get an additional 50 inches.” What? So, if we reach our statistical norm, someone’s going to turn off the snow?

We’re lucky. Nestled next to the lake like this, we get the snow, but not so much of the cold. Inland areas can get bitterly cold. And, we have great winter gear. My oldest sister abandoned the state a couple of years ago, saying she never wanted to be cold again. When we decided to move east, she gave us all her winter gear—coats, hats, scarves and mittens by the bin-full. (We’ve got so much down, we’re up!) We have no excuse for being cold, or for staying in. In fact, as soon as I finish this, Rick and I are headed off for a walk. We thought we’d go take a look and see what the Lake is doing.

Rick’s Hat-Trick

A.V. Walters

It’s a season of firsts for us. Rick’s first set of snow tires (I get mine on Wednesday,) and our first snow shovel. These are all steps in acclimatizing ourselves to winter. Of course, I think that I have the advantage, having grown up with it. But thirty-five years is a long time to be away, and I’m not so sure whether the old memories can help to thicken blood that’s been made weak by extended, California living. Our friends and family are on the edge of their seats, watching Rick. Really, can a born and bred California boy survive the challenge?

When I was a teen, up in Copper Harbor, the test for new residents was whether they stayed for (and survived) the winter. Like many summer-tourist towns, we had plenty of summer-people. The Cottage Crowd may return, year after year, even generation after generation, but they are never locals until they’ve stayed for the winter. I think the same is true in Empire. I watch the locals take note of our progress. We are new AND we came specifically for the winter. I see their lips purse in expectation.

It is a friendly town, and not unlike my old haunts in Copper Harbor. Our first Thanksgiving there included a young couple whose car had broken down. Far from their own families, they were out for a Thanksgiving ride when they found themselves on the side of the road. Ours was the first house they came to. There was no question about it; we insisted that they join us for dinner and, later, the men went out to fix the car so they could return safely to Houghton.

Empire has a similar welcoming feel. People at the little grocery store in town greet us like locals. People we meet on our walks have introduced themselves—told their life stories and now wave when they see us. We knew that we had arrived, last time we were at the hardware store. We buy our eggs from the hardware lady—she keeps chickens. Last time we were there, just before Thanksgiving, she asked us if we had plans for the holiday. I told her we were headed to my brother’s, downstate. She looked concerned—they were expecting some snow, did we know that? I nodded, and said we had new snow tires and were happy to check them out. She looked unconvinced. Finally she took a business card and wrote her number on it.

“If there’s too much snow, you be sure to come over to my house for the holiday. It would be terrible to miss out on Thanksgiving dinner, because of the weather.”

That was that. We’d been invited to dinner. I guess that means you’ve arrived in a small town. The weather was lovely and we did make it to our appointed holiday plans. Still, it was nice to know…

As a kid, I never wore glasses—so despite my deep bench of winter experience, I’d never had to deal with the cursed annoyance of the instant blindness when your eyeglasses fog over the second you step inside from the cold. Rick showed me his trick for this; he laps the edge of his knit-hat over the top of his eyeglass frames, and it minimizes the fog-over when coming back indoors. So, even a California Boy can teach me a new trick for winter.

That’s Rick’s hat-trick. And you thought it was going to be about hockey, didn’t you? We haven’t got to that, yet!

A.V. Walters–

ec cover

Many years ago, I worked waiting table. The head waitress at the restaurant was a very funny woman with an incredible sense of presence. One day, she used the restroom on break and, unbeknownst to her, she got the back of her skirt caught in the waistband to her pantyhose. She returned to the dining room floor with one side of her ass exposed to the world. The woman had class. When a patron called it to her attention, she turned, looked, and without missing a beat, she said, “I suppose now you want me to turn the other cheek?”

I would have died on the spot. I’m not sure I’ve confessed to this before, but I am not a technical person. I struggle with it–especially so since Two Rock Press is a small concern and I try to be professional about it. You can only imagine my mortification when I discovered (thanks to a kindly reader) that the Amazon download for The Emma Caites Way was bollixed. We’d accidentally uploaded the wrong file. Folks who downloaded it ended up with a version that was not fully edited–once they hit the later chapters, it was all highlights and alternate wording. My deepest apologies. So, if you are one that downloaded previous version, throw that trash away. There is another free download day for The Emma Caites Way on December 2. (You may receive a notice from Amazon.)

If you haven’t previously taken advantage of the free Amazon download (Kindle version)–lucky you, you missed the muddle! Feel free to enjoy it now. Hey, tell a friend. I’m feeling so relieved that this was an easy fix, I feel like celebrating. So, come on and celebrate with me. Enjoy a free copy of my award-winning, life-affirming, deliciously fun, romp and triumph of a novel, The Emma Caites Way.

What, now you want me to turn the other cheek?

Hope the wind doesn't blow!

Hope the wind doesn’t blow!

Taking Leave(s)

A.V. Walters–

Six years on the farm cured me of a common American delusion—the need to clean up after nature. In rural living, nature is just too big to consider tidying up after her. Sure, if you make a mess (like after cutting firewood) you could clean it up, you could even mow, if you wanted or needed to. And, weeding in the garden makes good sense. But beyond that, I figure that nature is pretty much on her own.

When we left Two Rock, we gave away the lawnmowers. I don’t think I’m likely to live anywhere where I’ll need one, again. However, at our little, Empire rental, there is the issue of the leaves.

Our neighbors are positively obsessive about lawn care and leaf removal. I acknowledge that if you have a lawn, it’s better for the grass to remove the leaves. However, our garden implements are in storage—deep in storage. I’m not digging way to the back of the unit to find a rake so that I can collect the leaves at a rental. Besides, Empire is very windy. I note that there are often leaves there one day that are gone the next. (Sometimes, even in the direction of our obsessive neighbors.) In the old days, when I lived in the city, I used to enjoy raking leaves. But then there was the problem of what you’d do with them. If the city has a decent recycling program, it makes sense. But it makes no sense to gather them, only to pay to have them put in a landfill somewhere where they’ll never breakdown naturally.

I visited my brother this weekend. He has not raked at all this season. He lives on a tree-covered city lot, in a village with a great many trees. When we arrived, the leaves were deep in his front yard—in some places, a foot deep. Like many suburban folks, he secretly believes that the wind patterns deposit all the nearby leaves in his yard. He supports this theory by the fact that the leaves lay in deep drifts over his lawn, even as his neighbors lawns are relatively leaf free. And, he notes that some of the leaves in his yard are oak leaves, and he has no oak tree. Of course, those same neighbors, whose yards are clear, have been diligently blowing and/or raking those leaves into neat piles and removing them, regularly, for a couple of months. Still, my brother clings tightly to his leaf-conspiracy theory.

He lives in a community, where, if you deliver your leaves to the edge of the street (there are no curbs) the village will regularly send around a big, leaf-sucking rig to spirit away one’s unwanted autumn harvest. These leaves are then composted, so suburban homeowner’s can maintain their tidy lawns and feel positively righteous. If one doesn’t rake and remove, there’s always the possibility that the Village could cite you, or worse. I decided that I could help out by raking his leaves.

Waiting for Pick-Up

Waiting for Pick-Up

It went well at first. It was actually fun, wading shin deep and using my rake (and my body) as a plow. Soon, though, it became clear that I was going to run out of street-edge on which to deposit the autumn harvest. (And he has a corner lot!) The neighbors have tidy, minimalist leaf piles. The more I raked, the crazier my pile got. I began to marshall the leaves to the edge of the yard. A simple pile wasn’t going to do it, more like a line. Then, a wall. As I worked, the wall got taller, and deeper. I wasn’t sure what the rules were—just how thick could my wall get and still be leaf-suckable?

I started getting comments from neighbors as they walked by: “I sure hope you’re getting paid for that!” (I’m not.) “That looks like a lot of work!” (Yup.) “What are you gonna do with all them leaves?” (I dunno.) Some kids came by waving and laughing at the height of my leaf pile. One almost launched herself into it but I caught her eye, and brandished my rake, “You do, and you’ll have to rake it back up!” She giggled and ran off.

By the time I finished, I’d built a veritable fortress with my leaf-wall. It was three to four feet high, and at least as deep, running some 160 feet on two sides. I don’t know if it will work for the leaf-sucker, but I’m not really concerned. I don’t live here.

I was going to bury this car, but my nephew came out and caught me.

I was going to bury this car, but my nephew came out and caught me.

So, Ya Takin’ Bob?

A.V. Walters

A Snaggle-toothed Bob

A Snaggle-toothed Bob

Among farmers, especially livestock farmers, I sometimes sense a certain… offhandedness—not quite callous, but a level of indifference, to the needs of animals that go beyond maintenance. I suppose one gets a thicker skin when you have to handle them all the time, in all kinds of circumstances—and they’re bound for the table, in any event. On our way out of Two Rock, I encountered this repeatedly in comments made about our move.

Granted, we were moving all the way across the country. And, that alone is an overwhelming enough undertaking. Still, repeatedly we fielded the question, “Ya takin’ Bob?”

Bob is what’s known as a barn cat, having been twice abandoned on our farm. Initially he was Don’s cat, but Don and his wife bought a house and moved into town. While residing here, they had acquired a little farm menagerie—two dogs and two cats. When they left, they picked one dog to take, and abandoned the rest. The other tenants absorbed Don’s leftovers. We shook our heads; even Elmer thought it wasn’t quite right. But, the critters all managed to find homes, of sorts, amongst the neighbors.

I’d have taken Bob in a heartbeat. After all, he had become Kilo’s best friend. My cat, Kilo (also a rescue cat), has a habit of finding feline playmates and inviting them in. I met Bob this way when I first moved to the farm—suddenly, I had two tabbies in my front yard, playing and hunting gophers, together. The two look alarmingly alike and, more than once, I’d opened the door for Kilo, only to find it was Bob I’d let in. Bob is a charming and social cat. He is sweet but dumb and, hey, good-natured and dumb isn’t so bad on a cat.

I was disappointed when another tenant beat me to the Bob adoption program. So, Bob moved to Stan’s, at the opposite end of the farm, and we saw less of him. For a while, we hosted Bella, Bob’s sister. She didn’t like Kilo, (or any other cat, for that matter) and took her leave to live with yet another tenant, so she could be an only-kitty. It was a matter of musical cats for a while. Then, Stan moved to another farm, taking Bob with him. I thought we’d seen the last of Bob.

Months later, Don alerted me to the fact that Bob was back on the farm! Don had seen Stan pull up in his truck and dump Bob at his old, former home. Elmer fleshed the story out more—he told me that Stan had called to see if he could return as a tenant. (When Stan’s new landlord learned he had a cat, he’d been given the option—leave or get rid of the cat.)  At the time, our farm had no housing available, so I guess the obvious solution was to abandon poor old Bob. (Personally, I think Stan’s landlord put the choice to the wrong critter.) The funny (not haha funny) part of this story was how incensed Don was about Stan’s treatment of Bob. Huh? If that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black.

Bob was traumatized by his sudden dislocation and disappeared for a few months. Then, one spring morning, a very skinny Bob was on the doorstep with Kilo. Bob had found a home. He’s been with us ever since. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised, or offended, when hearing that we were leaving, each of our neighbors asked that question, “So, ya takin’ Bob?”

Of course we’re taking Bob! One doesn’t just abandon a family member. And, maybe there’s the difference between farmer and non-farmer. We have pets. Farmers have animals.  And yes, I wish I could have taken the emus.

Bob, from a safe distance.

Bob, from a safe distance.

Two Chickens, Two Eggs

A.V. Walters

In the best of circumstances, a healthy chicken will produce an egg a day. From time to time, or if under stress, a chicken will occasionally miss a day or two. When winter darkness comes, egg-laying goes. (It’s why commercial egg operations use artificial lighting.) Chickens will usually try to lay in a protected area. The chickens in our front yard have each picked a hollowed out spot under the redwood tree. We collect the eggs everyday. In fact, it’s one of the tasks that Rick especially likes.

What you don’t see, is extra eggs.

Yesterday, Rick found an egg just out in the grass, a yard or two in from the fence–no hollowed out nest–just an egg, sitting there. He picked it up and carefully set it aside. It wasn’t an especially good looking egg; it was a little dirty and mottled looking. Later, he quizzed me about the egg numbers over the past few days.

You see, we’ve been collecting two eggs a day. Rick figures we’ve been set up for another round of Farm Humor. That egg is a rotten-egg-bomb. Our front yard chickens couldn’t have laid it. The numbers don’t work.

We have a suspect. One Bad Egg. We don’t yet have a plan. We could just carefully dispose of this suspicious egg…or we could keep the joke going……

 

Remember, The Gift of Guylaine Claire and the award-winning The Emma Caites Way, are free ebook downloads through July 4, on Amazon.

Coop d’État

A.V. Walters

“Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss”

These chickens are aggressive. They made it absolutely clear who’s in charge in our front yard. Because the emus are so much bigger, we forget that they are still little kids. If ever there was a lesson that you’re as big as you think you are, this is it. Right from the get-go, the chicken-bully (as we call the more aggressive of the two) started harassing the emus. When they’d bend over to eat, she’d rush over and peck the emus right on the top of their heads! The message was clear—the chickens are in charge!

The emus have learned to steer-clear, and give the chickens a wide berth. At times, they can eat together, (if I make sure there’s ample chicken food.) But, in their meanderings, the two species have a different agenda, and don’t choose to keep company. They’ve made their peace, but it’s not friendly.

Bob, the cat, was hiding under the lower, redwood branches. He’d crept in, to check-out the chickens. The emus spied him and took off in hot pursuit. They split up and triangulated their attack. The poor cat nearly didn’t make it over the fence, in time. And that was Bob, a cat they know and like! (Well, like may be a bit strong, but they know he’s not a threat.) Were the emus defending the chickens? Or, having been demoted in their own yard, merely defending their dignity against an unsuspecting target? And, just what was Bob doing in the redwoods, anyway?

Bob, from a safe distance.

Bob, from a safe distance.

Rick had it in his head that he could solve the underlying animosities by swapping out the bully-chicken for a more self-possessed, well-mannered chicken. (We live on a chicken farm, so we have access to spare chickens.) My sister shook her head. Even from 2,500 miles away I could hear her tight-lipped nonresponse. (The woman has her own chicken issues, I tell ya.) Finally, not one to hold her tongue, she cryptically said, “Won’t do any good; it’s about pecking order.”

I hate to admit it, but I’m enough of a political Pollyanna that I actually like the idea that deposing one bully could solve the problem of tyranny. Apparently Rick does, too. We’re not naïve. We read the papers. Has there ever been any coup that didn’t just install the next bully? I was in no hurry to do the chicken swap but yesterday Rick put chicken replacement on our to-do list.

We stuffed the chicken-bully in a box, and walked over to the chicken barn. We let her out and she immediately blended into the crowd. As for the replacement, how do you pick? What do you look for? Essentially, it comes down to who you can catch.

Not as easy to catch as it looks

Not as easy to catch as it looks

We returned with the replacement chicken and put her in the nighttime cage, to let the two chickens get to know each other through the safety of the bars. The squawking started almost immediately. The emus perked up—trouble in Chicken World could only be good news for them.

It’s official. The new chicken is the “low hen on the totem pole” resident of our front yard. The formerly docile chicken has stepped up to bully role. She doesn’t much like the new chicken and she’s loud about it. We’ve gone from nasty to noisy. She woke me up this morning, at sunrise.

The emus seem to like it. With the Chickens occupied with their own disputes, the emus are left, more or less, in peace. And actually, it looks like the emus are enjoying spectator status. I feel like I should serve popcorn. Funny how I can hear my sister’s “I told you so,” loud and clear, from across the miles.

Post-script:

Not so easy, this chicken swap. The new chicken was just too…well… chicken. She sat cowering in the corner of the porch all day.

Chicken chicken.

Chicken chicken.

Rick decided that it wouldn’t do. Another chicken swap was needed. We captured her and returned her to the barn. Rick rounded up a bunch of chickens, and then, using portable fence panels, thinned until he had just the chicken! The Goldilocks of chickens, not too bold, not too chicken. This one is just right. We brought her back to the yard and she settled in immediately, friendly, without being deferential. I think this chicken combo will work. Who knew it would be so involved? Now we need to see how the emus react.

Relaxing by the pool.

Relaxing by the pool.

Don’t forget, The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire are available as free Kindle downloads on Amazon–July 1 thru July 4.

Not By The Hair of My Chinny-Chin-Chin

A.V. Walters

Today the goats got out. I don’t know how. I was on the back porch, talking on the phone to my mother, and looked up to see two goats staring at me. “Rick!” We rounded them up and brought them back to one of the old sheep barns where they’ve been staying, ever since one of Elmer’s tenants abandoned them. They herded pretty well over, but balked at going back in through the gate. One of them appears friendly, the other a little stand-offish. We were taking note of their demeanor, because these are the goats that have been recommended to us for our front-yard-emu-training efforts. These goats are full grown, but little.

There have been some strange goings on, of late, with gates and locks—and this goat fiasco fit right in. The gate was wide open. The gate peg had been laid neatly on top of the fence post, indicating that the goat escape was no accident. We need to get to the bottom of this, since there’ve been mysterious issues with our gate, and we don’t want the emus out on the road.

Getting the goats into their pen was a bit of a feat; once we got to the gate, they took one look and weren’t so interested in cooperating anymore. We had to trick them, with carrots as bait. (It turned out not the best goat treat. Who knew?) Once inside the pen I came to the conclusion that maybe these goats had been abandoned for a reason. Indeed, that was when “friendly” suddenly wasn’t. The more it became clear to them that they were being returned to the pen, the more aggressive she got.

Friendly Might Just Be Aggressive

Friendly Might Just Be Aggressive

She originally liked being patted on the face, but when confronted with a return to captivity, she started pawing and then butting. She’s only knee high, but a butting goat is no joke. You don’t dare turn your back on it. (Rick had noted the same behavior when he’d passed by their pen, about a week earlier.) Taking no chances, I decided to climb the fence to make my escape. Her shyer companion isn’t as friendly, but isn’t a butting problem either—she follows her more aggressive friend, but keeps her distance.

Shy Is Looking Good

Shy Is Looking Good

Finally we got them re-situated. It was a lesson learned. (No, not “Don’t look a gift goat in the mouth.”) We now know that we don’t want these goats in our yard. It’s enough that we have to watch out for emus and chickens (but not having to go down to the hen house for eggs, is a plus.) I really don’t want to have to defend myself from aggressive goats. The great goat escape was a minor annoyance but it’s one that will save us grief in the future. So, the verdict is in, No goats.

Who’s Chicken, Now?

A.V. Walters

Emus aren’t, by nature, guardian animals. They’re actually pretty skittish and, if you want them to guard a herd, they need a proper introduction. Emus are very social animals, but they need to learn who is part of their flock, so they’ll know who isn’t. Gatsby and Kelvin have been running-off anything that comes into the yard, such that we can’t always tell if they’re being nasty, or just overly-friendly. Sometimes, it’s hard to know the difference.

I once had a cat that seemed gregarious and friendly but, at that time, I didn’t have many visitors in my life. Then, when people would come over, the cat would disappear. It turned out that he was petrified of anyone but us. It’s taken years to get him to be comfortable around visitors and strangers. (Rick may argue this point because this cat will still scoot away from him, when he walks into the room.)

And so it is with the emus, they are very comfortable around us, and most of our friends. So, we thought that they were generally, friendly emus. And, well they are, but only within their comfort zone. When strangers come by, they can be a little nervous, and potentially dangerous. That’s the good news… and the bad news, about emus. If they know you, you’re family. If they don’t know you—you are a potential enemy.  As we’ve said before—they’re not real bright. It’s kind of a binary system, they’re either on, or off. If an emu is afraid, then you need to be a little afraid. You need to pay close attention if they start to hiss or huff. Because, not far behind that, is an instinctive, and potentially devastating, kick.

It’s not just with people. The emus are comfortable with our cats; they grew up with them. But they clearly make the distinction between ours and the feral cats from the dairy, next door. Those cats get run off (I suspect with some glee.) It occurred to me recently (when a visitor earned himself a solid hiss) that our emus needed finishing school, so to speak.  So, we decided to start small.

Since there is the possibility that the emus may be guarding chickens, it was a small enough place to start. First, we put an empty cage in the yard, for a few days—that garnered some interest—and soon enough, it became part of the landscape. Then, two days ago, we dropped a couple of chickens into the cage. The emus were wary, to say the least. They scooted around, wide-eyed at the new arrivals’ cackling. (They do seem to be particularly noisy chickens.) We gave it an overnight, and the following day, we opened the cage.

Here come the chickens

Here come the chickens

Now, these emus are teenagers. They’re not yet full sized, but they’re a lot bigger than a chicken. But when it comes to new experiences, they’re still just babies. The emus headed to the far side of the yard. Then, after watching from afar, they slowly inched closer to size-up the new invaders. The chickens are full-gown and about as bright as… well, chickens. They, in contrast, are totally nonplussed by the emus. The emus alternate between being cool about chickens, and being spooked. They walk around like it’s no big deal, but if a chicken corners them, Kelvin, in particular, reacts like her life is at risk. Even though she’s the bigger of the two, she is also the most jumpy. (Boy, does she take after her mother, or what?) For his part, after an initial nervous phase, Gatsby invited a chicken to “dance” (doing the characteristic, emu drop and roll.) The chicken was non-responsive—clearly ignorant of the emu rituals of engagement. I can only hope that the emus aren’t put-off. They’ve managed to share food dishes and yard without serious incident. So far, we’re calling it a success, in a measured sort of way.

Who's stalking whom?

Who’s stalking whom?

Clearly, it’s a good thing we recognized the need for this. These emus have some manners to learn before they head out into the world to take on their security work. We don’t want to raise thugs, after all. We’ll start here, quietly with chickens and, in a week or so, we’ll trade up to goats. Goats, you ask?  Well, Elmer has a couple of goats that were left behind by tenants (this is typical, Elmer) and they’d be perfect for hardening off a couple of flappable, emu trainees. In a few weeks, maybe they’ll be ready for sheep.

Breaking Bread

Breaking Bread

Rick nods to Elmer, noting that we have two cats, two emus, now, two chickens and soon, two goats. He says that if we start building a boat, anytime soon, people should pay attention to the sky.

chick-n-emu 4

 

Online Timing

A.V. Walters

I cannot tell you how many friends have been after me to go online with social media. I always resisted, citing my privacy concerns. So, finally I did it, just in time for the Edward Snowden revelations and this blizzard of media attention to privacy issues. No, I’m not happy about it. And now all those same friends are laughing and emailing me about having chosen the worst possible environment in which to “go public.” What nobody is mentioning is that, while the government is a problem, multinational corporations have NO constitutional limitations on what they do with your private information and they are out there, swapping your personal info like bubble gum cards. (Buy Them, Trade Them, Collect the Whole Set)

I heard on the radio yesterday that Orwell’s book, 1984, has been an overnight success in sales in the past few days. Too bad George missed the peak. Everybody’s trying to find a way to sell their novels.

The Spam Review

A.V. Walters

Does anyone else read their spam? I fully trust WordPress to save me from the horrors of the spam kingdom, but recently I took a renewed interest in the junk file. Something about my post, “Revealing” caught the attention of the spam-spiders. I have no idea why a post on art restoration (oops, maybe that’ll do it again) would garner so much spam. The overwhelming majority of the spam came from one vendor. I’d mention it by name, but then I’d just be giving it the very name-recognition attention it was seeking in the first place. I’m a firm believer in not rewarding bad behavior. I’m dying of curiosity as to what sly and secret algorithm garnered that flurry of electronic litter. So now I read the spam. I’m looking for some connection between the blog I write and the junk it attracts.

Perhaps the art restoration (there I go again) blog contained words leading one to believe that I was a high-end shopper and would be interested (oh-oh, here we go) in high-end leather goods or handbags or coats or men’s accessories. In truth, I’m not much of a consumer. My first-choice venue for shopping is Craigslist. Indeed, I confess, I am a Craigslist addict. In particular, I love to peruse the construction materials section. I know, it’s weird. I find it reassuring that used/recycled or mis-ordered materials are available, in case I ever need to (literally) rebuild my life. I once remodeled a kitchen (cabinets, appliances, fixtures and flooring) almost entirely from craigslist. That’s when the addiction started. Some people watch television, when I’m stressed, I scan the listings for unwanted construction materials. My sister suggested a particular microwave and I nodded and said I’d wait to see if one got listed. I’d completely forgotten that most people shop in stores. I saved a bundle on that kitchen. Mostly though, I avoided stores. That poor spammer is really barking up the wrong tree.

In my last post, I mentioned that a particular phrase was “ringing in my ears.” It was just a phrase, not a subject of discussion. My spam box filled with remedies for tinnitus. Actually I do have tinnitus, so it took me a minute to trace back to what I’d said that would lead to that advertising pitch. For just a second, I wondered what they knew about me. I don’t mean to be internet paranoid, but in fact, they are listening. My last book included a lot of Catholic references, and I did a good bit of research online. Now, I’m plagued with pop-up ads for Christian Singles. (Oh no! now what will the spammers do with me?) It’s a funny bit of cat and mouse, this. But I have the ultimate power–I press delete.

 

 

Mum’s the Word
A.V. Walters
Mother’s Day is coming and it makes me think about my mom, and other moms who’ve had an impact on the way I think. I was blessed with a truly great mother. She was, and remains, interested in everything, creative, opinionated, charming, indulgent and still disciplined. She hung out with the greatest bunch of friends, mostly women, who were raucous and fun. My mother is a potter and so we found ourselves growing up at the edge of the world of creativity and craft and, on a good day, art. (We didn’t want to get snooty, after all.)
But mothers (and women) come in different stripes. It took me a little longer to open my eyes and appreciate all the things they had to offer. I had a boyfriend in college, Lionel. One weekend we went to visit his parents and to help a friend hang a gallery show near their home in Toronto. I was nervous, meeting the parents, and all. I needn’t have been. First, and it was the weirdest thing, his mom was the spitting image of my mom. They could have been sisters! I immediately felt comfortable with her and, I think, she with me.
Lionel had regaled me with stories of what a great cook she was, yet he couldn’t make toast. When it was time for dinner, I was not too surprised that the men-folk retired to the den while mom was left to do the cooking, alone. She closed the door to the kitchen. I joined her and offered to help. She assigned me to make a salad–and then she closed the kitchen door. The kitchen was stuffy and hot, so I asked why she kept the door closed.
She laughed, “Oh, habit, I guess,” taking a stick of butter out of the fridge, “They think I keep kosher.” She smiled.
During dinner (and it was great), she asked Lionel if he’d be back the next weekend for his cousin, Marsha’s wedding. From his response, it was obvious that he’d completely forgotten about it. He asked who she was marrying! His mother rolled her eyes.
“She’s marrying David! She’s only been dating him since high school, where have you been?”
Between bites, he responded, “David? No, he’s such a dweeb. She can’t marry him.”
Lionel’s mother paused a long moment before she answered, “Well, your cousin’s no prize either.”
Lionel almost choked on his dinner. That ended that conversation. I learned that different families communicate in different ways. I’d observed a push-pull in candor that was different in my family–but clearly worked for them. Lionel and I broke up shortly afterwards. I’ve never given him much thought over the years, but I think about his mother, frequently.
Happy Mother’s Day out there, to everyone in all their wonderful and different ways.

They Grow-up So Fast

A.V. Walters

When the two baby emus made their run for it, we realized that the small pen in the back yard was too small. Still, they could have said something, instead of just making a jail break and heading out for the highway. A growing emu needs room to stretch its legs. (And, we can appreciate that, because if there’s one thing a emu has, it’s legs.) There’s a balance; too little space and they get bored and nervous, too big a space and they are intimidated and cower in a corner.

IMG_0750

IMG_0740

So, with the help of some folding pen-panels from Elmer, we secured the front yard.  Now they have a forty by eighty foot area with trees and bushes, and grass almost as tall as they are—enough for any growing emu. They seem mollified and haven’t made any further escape efforts. (Not that we’re giving them much opportunity.) They roam about eating the greenery, and have decided on a favorite corner for their hangout. The new digs won’t eliminate fence running (that’s an emu fact-of-life) but it has stopped the neurotic pacing. Also, the emus seem very much in tune with the sounds of our voices (even when we’re inside the house) and that appears to give them some reassurance that they are not alone and unprotected. (I know, I’m anthropomorphizing again, and being an overly vigilant parent, but when I talk on the phone, in my office, they gather at the steps outside and munch away quietly. If I move to the living room, they munch away under the window, there.)

Huh?

Huh?

It’s still too cold at night for a complete outdoor lifestyle, though that’s coming soon. It might have happened this week, but I’ve been down with a bug. When I’ve got chills and fevers I’m less inclined to banish the babies to the elements. Now that they’re in the front yard—we need to parade them through the house, morning and evening to get them to their little emu warming station in the back bath for the night. It’s quite a production—much emu cheerleading banter—to get their enthusiasm up—followed by a mad dash to the destination (front door or back bath.) The emus will follow you if you walk fast or run. But they’re not smart. If they’re distracted along the way they’ll forget the objective and then wander around the house, which, given their messy proclivities, is not a good thing. Rick is much better at it than I am. They really get that cheerleading vibe from him and follow at a clip. I spend more time in emu roundup mode, rather than leading.

IMG_0728

They are destination happy. Once outside, they barrel around in circles at full speed.  And, full speed is impressive. Their legs have grown and they can really move. Standing around, they’re knee-high, but when they do their happy dance, they come up to mid-thigh. An adult emu can run 30 miles per hour. I haven’t clocked these little guys, but they outrun us.  The “lawn” is hip-high on them (shin-high on us) and, running, they look like they’re speed-swimming on a sea of green. All this cavorting and dancing I take as a sign of healthy, happy emus. In the evening, they’re eager to come back in and canter after us to settle in under their heat lamp to relax after a long day of emu vigilance.

IMG_0724

Most of their food now comes from grazing, putting a welcome end to the endless chopping of their early days. We still give them apples, as treats. It pays to have something they want, to get their attention. At some point we’ll have to move these guys to the pastures, where the sheep are—and we’ll probably need those treats as bait. There’s a tension to how much we handle them. There is one kind of contact they tolerate and, if they’re relaxed, actually seem to enjoy—they like having the front of their necks stroked. (We’re suspecting that neck contact is important to them. If the chicks are nervous, they’ll pace and crisscross each other with their necks. Also, the few times an adult emu has displayed what might be considered affection, it “caressed” with its neck.) But, we have to remember they are not pets. They need to develop a tolerance to human contact without making them dependent, so “training” is not an option. (Besides, they’re not that bright—think of the term ‘bird brain’ in the context of a 150 pound, flightless locomotive.) Still, it’s fun and gratifying to step out on the front porch and immediately have two emus hurtling in your direction to see what fun or treats are in store (and because they like to be near us.) In fact, I think I’ll go check on them, right now.

Apple treats, anyone?
Apple treats, anyone?

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

R.R. Edwards

I had just turned onto our road, after a trip into town, and about half way down the half-mile stretch to the house, I spotted a couple of odd creatures standing in the road. As I got nearer, it became obvious that they were, in fact, some kind of bird. At first I thought they might be a couple of escaped chickens and, as I got closer I saw that, in fact, these were escaped birds. But, to my amazement, these weren’t chickens making a break for it—they were our adopted emu chicks, on the loose and halfway to the highway! The last time I’d seen them, they were in the yard, running around the enclosure we’d set up for them.

For a few seconds I just sat there, a bit stunned and unsure what my next move should be. They stood there, staring back, just as unsure about their next move. When I inched the car forward, the chicks answered the question for me—they started heading back down the road in order to put distance between themselves and the mysterious, iron beast that had blocked their path.  So, following their lead, I began my very own, emu round-up, behind the wheel of my trusty steed.

The emus were surprisingly “cooperative”—they kept scooting along at a relatively brisk pace and, only once, did one of them threaten to take off, across an adjacent pasture by squeezing through the fence. Fortunately, he kept moving in the right direction and, when the fence ahead of him ran out, popped back out, onto the road. When we arrived where the road split, (straight, the road took you to the neighboring dairy, and to the right was our place) I managed to steer them in the right direction. Now that we’d arrived at the house, the next trick was going to be getting them either back into their pen, or into the house.

At this point I had to hope that “Mother Nature” (in a twisted sort of way) would take over, and that the chicks’ bond to me was strong enough to overcome their confused and somewhat panicked state. I got out of the car and slowly approached our feathered charges, afraid that all my work would be for naught, and that they would bolt. But, as soon as I called to them, their little heads spun around and they came running up to me, cheeping away. They were clearly thrilled to have been found by a “parent” and would have happily followed me, anywhere. Since it was lightly raining, and they looked a little soaked from their adventure, I led them inside where they could huddle under the heat lamp to dry out.

After telling AV, “Guess what who I saw standing in the road,” I realized how lucky we were, in so many ways. Once they got out of their pen, they could have headed in any direction. We’re surrounded by miles of open pasture, and once out there, they would have been next to impossible to find. The fact that they’re “fence runners” kept them on the road, between fences, but they had covered a quarter-mile, in a relatively short amount of time, and had I been back much later, they might have made it to the main road and hitched a ride to just about anywhere. Or, when confronted by me on the road, they could have “flipped me the bird,” and taken off in any direction. (And, these little guys, at the tender age of 1-month, can out run me!) All kidding aside, we lucked out that our little birds are home safe. I would have assumed that, once out of their pen, they would have stayed around the house, looking for us or a way back inside. But like most youngsters the thrill of adventure dulled their sense of self-preservation, and down the road they happily trotted. Clearly, the trials and tribulations of parenting (and youth) are universal.

 

 

Easter Emus

A.V. Walters

It’d be quite a joke, wouldn’t it, to give someone an emu chick for Easter? Precious and cute and the size of a teacup, they’d have no idea what was coming. It’s Easter and our two remaining chicks are a month old. They’re the size of small geese. Cleaning up after them is quite a chore.

The good news is that they are gaining body mass at an amazing rate and soon they’ll be fully outdoor birds. Already they spend the bulk of their daytime hours outside in a kennel enclosure. They’d much prefer if we spent the day out there with them, but, after an initial panic, they settle in and spend their days munching on grass and doing the emu dance. At this point they’re too big to be prey for hawks, so I can relax, go inside and get some work done. We know that in the wilds, they’d be out and about already, but we are protective guardians and want them to be fox-proof before we put them out in the pasture.

Since they get so upset if we pick them up, this week we’ve reverted to herding them. Their first trip down the nine steps to the back yard was quite an adventure (it looked like emu snowboarding) but now they take the steps like pros—nothing to get excited about, just out for a stroll. We still run them in the kitchen at night (and give them apple treats.) Mostly I continue this because it’s so fun to see Rick do the “excite the emus” run. He’s raised kids, so he knows the universal language of baby talk. It is universal—even emus respond. I can’t tell who’s more adorable, the emus, or Rick with the emus.

For a few weeks we lined the interior of their little tiled room with newspapers. Not only was that a messy affair, but we don’t take a paper. We are fully digital in the news department. At first Elmer provided some, but country folk are stingy with their newsprint. Everybody uses newspaper to start their woodstove fires. When I found myself snitching the free papers from the stands in town—well, something had to be done. I’d started rating them by their absorbance—not the measure of print-worthiness to which most writers aspire.

Rick solved the problem. He bought a roll of heavy craft paper and cut numerous templates of the floor—emu carpet. Now I pick up—and then every couple of days just roll a layer off and dispose of it. Like I said in an earlier post, Kids, don’t try this at home.

And that emu dance! It’s quite a sight now that these guys are thigh high. (It’s even more impressive with the adults, because, as you might have guessed, this dance is the early training for emu courtship.) I know that we have happy emus when they do the emu kicking roll, dance steps and then hurtle around the enclosure at breakneck speeds. (I’m really understanding that expression, now.) I’m hoping for rain today because the emus love water, and I’ve heard that they dance in the rain.

 

Pictures later

 

 

Country Fresh

A.V. Walters

Even while I lived in the city, I hung onto my rural roots. I gardened and produced most of my summer fare from a postage stamp-sized back yard. I canned jams from the plum tree, and I hung my laundry out in the sun, to dry. So, it should come as no surprise that, when I moved to the farm, not only would I want to continue these patterns, but there’d be some room for expansion. But when I explained my plans to Elmer, he seemed a bit alarmed. Not at the gardening, that made perfect sense. And, like a lot of country folk, he fully supports canning. The problem arose when I asked Elmer to put up a clothesline, of all things!

He squirmed at the notion, “Why the heck would you want to do something like that?” I was ready with my environmentally friendly, power-of-the-sun, low-carbon-footprint, Pollyanna diatribe.

“Well, we have a lot of wind, you know. It whips up the dust, and all. So, you’d want to be sure to bring it in before the afternoon winds start up.” He didn’t sound convincing, and it seemed like a strange response—a little wind would be exactly the ticket. In what better environment could there be to dry laundry? (I’d failed to note the almost-complete absence of clotheslines, in the area.)

Elmer never did help out with getting that line up, and given his reaction, I didn’t press it. After a while, I bought the materials and installed it myself. And, he was right about the wind and the dust. If you left the laundry out, late in the day, you’d have to wash it, again. But our mornings were still, and my line was set up to take advantage of the morning sun.

One morning I pulled a fresh towel from the line and headed into town for a swim. (There’s nothing like a vigorous work-out in chlorinated water to clear your head.) As I walked back into the changing room, I caught the unmistakable stench of cow manure. I laughed to myself and thought, somewhere there’s a farmer in here, for sure.

I’ll have to admit, here, that when you’re exposed to something a lot, you become, well, desensitized and… I live next door to a dairy. So, when I grabbed my towel, I almost choked. That farmer was me! And that certainly explained why they don’t hang their laundry out. Oh my! And that was the end of my energy saving foray with country laundry.

Someday, I’ll live somewhere with a different background aroma—and I’ll go back to the clothesline. (Rick said he thinks he knows the perfect location.)

Indoor Emus?

Kids—Don’t Try This At Home

A.V. Walters

We really don’t have much in the way of options in this. We are renters. We don’t have easy access to a barn or a shed or other outdoor structures that we don’t mind being trashed by five of the messiest creatures on earth. Still, these emus are technically babies. They still need to have an environment that is heated until they reach a body mass that is large enough keep themselves warm. We put them outside now for several hours each day. It’s a shorter run if it’s cloudy, or if, like today, it’s raining. I’m watching to see when they start to tremble, at which point I’ll haul them back in and put them under the heat lamp.

While they’re out frolicking, I take the opportunity to clean their little room. I’m so relieved that it is a tiled bathroom. Even then, I line it with newspapers everyday, so that I can just roll up a day’s worth of filth, and dispose of it. You cannot believe how much “trash” is generated by five emu chicks! They’ve almost tripled in size since the first day we took them in, at the beginning of the month. They’re growing, eating and you-know-what, at a prodigious rate. It’s not surprising—an emu reaches adult size and weight in about a year. By comparison, it means they need to grow the human equivalent of a year’s worth, every month. They are now knee high, without much of a stretch. (And that means that their “mess” extends up the walls, that much higher now.)

It raises the issue of how one measures emu growth. Their flexible little necks complicate the equation. Extended? On tippy-toe? (And yes, they’ll stand on tip-toe to look into the trash bin, to peck at any odd spot, or over a low enclosure.) The knee-high average is just standing with no effort at extension. I suppose the best way would be to weight them, but they’re so wiggly that I can’t figure out how to get them back on the scale. Just weeks ago, when we weighed them in at teacup size, it was a relatively easy proposition. I can’t imagine doing it now.

And, fast! They can run. Together they move like fish in a school, (well, a school of kindergarteners) en masse with sudden, inexplicable and semi-choreographed changes in direction. They also dance and play—a series of hops, often preceded by rolling over and then followed by a group mad dash in every direction, knocking each other down if at all possible. It keeps up laughing.

With any luck, two will have a new home by week’s end. The first potential adoption fell through when the gentleman realized how fast they’d grow, and how hard it would be to relocate them for his scheduled move in eight months. “Maybe next year.” Ha! Do you think I’m going to do this again? But now, there’s a much better prospect in the works. Every now and then, when I worry about how to adopt-out emus, I realize that it’s not really my problem. (Yeah, I know. If it’s not my problem, then why am I up to my knees in emus?) I’m just a renter here, and these are Elmer’s emus, after all. Well, you know, I could just move away…

Naming Emus

A.V. Walters

Understand, these are not our baby emus. We are merely foster parents, keeping bodies and souls together until they’re big enough to handle things autonomously. (Read—until they are bigger than the things that want to eat them.) They are grazing animals; over their lifetimes, most of their dietary needs will be met by mowing the lawns or fields where they’ll live. In light of that, my relentless chopping of greens and worrying over nutritional requirements is downright silly. But, I’ve failed as an emu foster parent before, and this is looking like my last chance at it, so worry I will. These five babies are in our charge, and I will do the best that I can.

More upright, more stable on their feet!

More upright, more stable on their feet!

For now, I chop up kale and apples into miniscule pieces, toss in enough emu chow (can you believe they make such a thing?) to make sure that they get their vitamins, and feed them as often as they’re interested. Then, I clean up after them. They’re a lot of work.

It’s a good thing that they’re cute—which is my version of Darwin’s Law—survival of the cutest. It applies to all baby creatures (on a relative scale—have you ever seen a baby hyena?) It probably applies to all relationships—they work as long as cute lasts. By that I don’t mean the obvious attraction to physical attributes, I mean that inner essence of the self that shines through in those moments of unguardedness—that’s cute enough for me. I see it in these little emu babes already—the first signs of personality (emuality?) peeking through.

Close up cute.

Close up cute.

They are each very different, at about two weeks old. It may be birth order—just the developmental advantage that comes with hatching five or six days before the youngest of them, but I think it’s much more than that. Some are bold and curious, others find more comfort sticking with the pack. I understand that. I was the fourth out of five (in quick succession.) It’s not that I don’t credit my parents with raising us, but I think by the time you get to four, the younger ones just follow along, doing what the others do.

We are trying not to name these emus (at least, formal names.) They are not ours, and naming is the privilege of the ultimate, emu adopter. Some will be farm emus and never will have names. (You may have noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Emu don’t have specific monikers, just enough to identify gender.) Some will be pets. I can’t say whether emus will ever answer to names—other than perhaps a call to dinner. It’s not clear to me whether emus engage in that kind of pet/keeper intimacy. Though I’m fond of them, I don’t find any demonstrable intelligence in the emu behavior I’ve observed. Much of their actions appear to be hardwired—though I’ve not given them much opportunity to show higher learning.

You see their markings are distinctive.

You see their markings are distinctive.

Still, it’s helpful to be able to identify individual emu babes and so we’ve got nicknames for them based mostly on their individual markings. As they mature, the stripes and distinctive markings will fade, as will the titles they now carry: Two Dot, the oldest and boldest; Dot Dash, just as big but less likely to investigate or venture solo; Blondie, lighter colored than the others, independent and extremely gentle; Sleepy, well, that tells you; and C3, named for the markings on the back of his head—it looks like he was labeled. C3 is the baby. He struggles to keep up with the bigger guys and then immediately afterwards, crashes into a deep sleep. He’s the one I worry about.

Of course I use ‘he’ and ‘she’ loosely here. There is no clear way to identify emu gender at this age—except by inverting them and groping around in there—and even then, only if you know what you’re doing. I’ve looked it up on the net and haven’t decided whether I’m up for that, with this passel of squealing, kicking baby chicks. There are theories about identifying emu chick’s marking patterns and likely gender. They certainly do have distinctive patterns—however, ours don’t seem to match the patterns shown in the photos on the internet. Perhaps we have a tribe of chicks with some new gender form, but I doubt it. Your mileage may vary.

Also, they say that emu personalities are largely gender based. The females are more aggressive, though I don’t think I could separate that out from the effects of birth-order development, at this stage of the game. Gender does make itself clear down the road when they reach sexual maturity. The females’ throats develop in width and they vocalize in a deep thrumming, almost drum-like sound. It’s impressive. The males, I’m afraid, just grunt, snort and occasionally whistle. (Insert your own joke here.) That’s about two years down the road—we won’t be around when these emus can tell us more about who they are. Since we’re not promoting these emus for breeding purposes, I don’t know that gender matters. It certainly doesn’t if your job is to guard sheep. Still, it’s a very basic question, and most folks want to know—is it a boy or a girl? I think that that says something more about how we relate to the animal kingdom, than anything to do with the emus. We pick names to express gender, to tell more about the critter, or the person, even before we meet.

I’m no good with names, anyway. It runs in the family. We joke that names just don’t stick in a big family. When she calls your name, by the time your mother gets to using your name, she’s usually run through most of your siblings’ names anyway. (Jim, John, no… Bob, no, Bill….) So, names don’t stick easily in my head. To make a name stick, I need a voice or a story. I rarely remember faces—at least not without a voice.  But if I get to know your voice, the name will stick. Or, if you tell me your story, I’ll usually capture the name along with it. If I’m lucky, the face will come with the voice. Once my mother came to visit as a surprise for my birthday. I came home to find her and my sister in my kitchen. I didn’t recognize either of them! Granted, I had a bad head-cold, and it’d been several years since I’d seen them, but I didn’t recognize them until they spoke. Unfortunately, before that had happened, I’d turned to my husband and said, “There are strangers in our kitchen.”

There are strangers in our kitchen.

There are strangers in our kitchen.

So giving these little birds names isn’t high on my list of priorities. It’s more important that I keep them fed and safe. It’s fun to watch their antics and to see traits revealed that will tell you about the ‘who’ of who they’ll be in their future. Maybe that’s how it was for my mother, with five little kids within six years.  It must have been a blur, like five little emus slip sliding across the tile of my kitchen floor. It makes me wonder, is there a name for that?

What's the name for that?

What’s the name for that?

So, Here’s the Drill…

(And, this is only a drill.)

A.V. Walters

This must be what it’s like having triplets. We now have five emu chicks in our care. I swear, the older ones have developed a swagger. They are dominant, and clearly in charge. (As in charge as anyone can be, of emu chicks.) The two youngest struggle to keep up and are the first to nod off after exercise or a meal. (Sometimes nodding off while standing in the middle of the food dish.) In the past day or so, the volume of food they eat has quadrupled. They finally have the technique down and are eager to demonstrate their belly-stuffing proficiency. Their food (chopped kale and apple bits) must be finely minced. I feel like a cook at a high school cafeteria, all the work and none of the appreciation.

We’re trying to imitate what would be the normal emu-raising techniques of the average emu dad. (In the emu world, the female lays the egg, and that’s it. The male hatches them and raises the chicks.) At this stage they would need a lot of warming time (and, apparently sleeping time) underneath their dad’s umbrella of warm feathers, so we let them spend a lot of time under the warming lights in their “nest.” We take them out, four or five times a day to “run” them—they need practice walking (and also running.) Because they are enormously messy, (they eat a lot, and so…) they are confined to the tiled areas of the house. (In fact, for one or two of those exercise breaks, Rick has to watch them while I clean their nest and the area around it—you cannot believe the mess made by five, very tiny birds—weighing only about 14 ounces each.) While exercising, we have tissues at the ready. I swear, they must poop their body weight each day. Released to the kitchen area, they run from end to end. (Actually, they’re kind of led—being hard-wired to follow two, tall legs.) Their little emu feet are not designed for slippery tile floors, so once they pick up speed, there’s a good bit of rolling, sliding, and a little bit of crashing, in the mix. I’m convinced that the older ones are doing this on purpose. Yesterday one ran at full tilt, and then went into a high-speed slide, just as he reached the lower rungs of the chairs in the breakfast nook. He slid clear through, under the first chair, stopping squarely under the second.

Out for a walk.

Out for a walk.

I have to give them credit. In less than a week they have managed bipedal locomotion, even standing on one foot to scratch the occasional itch! They mostly eat standing (an entirely different balancing act.) They have (for the most part) mastered pecking at and snagging small food items and then getting the whole business down their gullets. This is quite impressive for creatures whose brains are smaller than an almond.

We look forward to the day that it’s warm enough to take them outside. Actually we need to get an enclosure before we try that (again!) The other day, we thought a little excursion would be good—it was warm enough and sunny. Before we could get the stragglers out the door, two of them had taken off, at high speed, in different directions. We rethought the whole deal and dashed to round-up the two speedsters. They’re quicker than we are—so now, fencing first.

With the little guy, straggling behind.

With the little guy, straggling behind.

They’re fed about four times a day, and that’s a lot of chopping. They have emu “kibble” available all the time, but prefer the fresh, so I chop. It feels as though regular life has been pushed to the wayside to make room for emus. It’s a lot like parenting, without the backtalk. (Well, there is a little peeping.) Already, we have one adoptive home waiting. Some of these emu-babes will find homes as sheep guardians. A couple will be pets and some will stay here on the farm to guard the sheep here.

Are we missing someone?

Are we missing someone?

This fostering gig will be short but intense. The emus will stay with people until they are big enough to have a fair shake with predators, (especially foxes.) They have to be too big for a hawk to carry away, and they will need to get to know the kinds of critters that they’ll be guarding. (Mostly sheep, but one family will have them to guard their free-range chickens.) It’s all in a day’s work for emu foster-parents. At least they’re not asking for the car keys… yet.

Emutude

Another Emu Adventure!

A.V. Walters

It was clear, as soon as we arrived, that something had changed with Mr. Emu. When he’s sitting on eggs, he is generally in a trance-like state. He is wary but once he recognizes me (aided by the apple treats he gets) he is friendly. Yesterday he started hissing as soon as we rounded the top of the hill. It took only a moment to discern the reason for his agitation—as a little emu babe popped out from underneath him. Then another. Mr. Emu is in protection mode.

Proud father

We changed the water and gave Mr. Emu an extra-generous helping of diced apples—emu candy. As soon as he’d relaxed, he stood up. He frequently does that—I think he’s showing off his eggs/babies. (Rick’s rolling his eyes as he reads this.) I’m anthropomorphizing again! Rick doesn’t put much stock in the depth or profundity of emu thinking. So, when Mr. Emu stood, he revealed four baby emus—stunned and blinking in the light. There are still three un-hatched eggs yet to go, though there are no guarantees. It was time to get busy on our plan to secure Mr. Emu’s household.

Five and Two

Emu adults have little to worry about in the predator department. At over five feet tall, and with a nasty kick, in this area the emus are sometimes used to protect sheep. They can (and do) easily prevail over coyotes. Some think that the emus bond to the sheep but I think it’s just more likely that they have an instinctive hatred for dingos/dogs/coyotes (well-intended adults)—anything in the predator category. Other than the occasional (but very rare) mountain lion, the area hasn’t any prey animals big enough to threaten an emu. Not so, though, for the chicks…

They are just little bitty guys, a tempting morsel for any number of our local small carnivores—hawks, coyotes… but mostly foxes. A fox is small enough to hide in our spring grasses, undetected by even a diligent emu dad. And besides, with so many chicks, dad’s attention is split and a fox could make off with a chick in a heartbeat. We have lost chicks to foxes before.The Emu Five

So, the plan was to install a fox-proof fence, with extra screening at the bottom (like crib-bumpers, since once an emu baby broke his neck in the fence.) This time we were going to cover our bases against all known emu baby hazards. We still had some time—Mr. Emu and his miniature charges are pretty safe in the immediate post-hatch period. A fox won’t stare down an adult emu, and at first the chicks need to stay warm underneath their daddy’s skirts.

Today was supposed to be the big fence building day. Except… I received an unrelated call from John, a former emu breeder. We addressed his concerns and then I announced that Mr. Emu had hatched four emu babies. John congratulated me/him/us and then launched into a barrage of questions—where was I keeping them, what was I feeding them, what did I plan for exercise… I stopped him. I explained that these were Mr. Emu’s babies, how he raised them was his business, and that they were where they belonged, under their dad. John was horrified. “But the foxes will get them!”

I explained that we were headed out to put up a new emu-perimeter. John was not convinced. “You don’t know—the foxes will get them. It was a real struggle for us with the baby emus. The foxes would climb fences. It’s a bad, fox year, I’ve lost several newborn lambs this spring.” John set me straight. Did I think a mere fence was going to outwit a fox? Our emus wouldn’t stand a chance—they were dinner. It was a short call after that. John would hear of no other solution but to kidnap and hand-raise. We had to “bring them in.” Anything else was just a feeding program for the foxes.

Hand raising these emus wasn’t quite what we had in mind. We have a very busy spring planned. But was hard to argue with John’s emphatic insistence. He was, after all, the local emu expert.

Baby emus require elevated temperatures for weeks after they hatch. Usually they’re warm and cozy under their dad. My house is hardly what you’d call warm (though I’m proud to say it’s cozy.) So I scrounged around for a heat lamp and scurried into town for a thermometer and a sack of ratite feed.

The feed store only had the adult emu food. The clerk said I could use it for the chicks if I supplemented with finely chopped kale and apples. I’ve done this before, you need to cut it all into teeny tiny pieces. Armed with supplies I headed home to outfit the nursery. It’s a good thing we don’t use that second bathroom. The shower stall is a perfect place to raise birds. Once we’d stabilized the temperatures (to emu temp—about 90 degrees F), we set out to steal the babies.

Mr. Emu was no more friendly, today—until—again— he got his apples. Emus are not smart (Rick’s rolling his eyes, again, at the obvious.) They can be dissuaded from the obligations of parenthood with just a handful of treats. As usual, he stood up, revealing that there are now five baby emus! One was so recently hatched, that he was wobbly and couldn’t stand very well. We quickly started with the apple barrage—distracting Mr. Emu’s attention with goodies as we deftly scooped up four of the chicks, placing them in a deep, cardboard box. Each chick squealed when grabbed and relocated to the carton. With each squeal, Mr. Emu hissed and lowered his head (a sign he may be getting ready to kick.) We decided to leave the new hatchling with his dad for another day. He was too vulnerable and his sibling chicks would literally walk all over him.

Our box now loaded with our squirming, chirping charges, we slunk back down the hill with Mr. Emu’s babies.

Well, it’s for their own good. Right? Even well armed with the specter of voracious foxes, I feel guilty stealing his family. (Even so, we’ll be back tomorrow for the straggler.) This time, we are determined to save those little emu babies.

new home

Now, safe and warm in the shower, the emus quickly pecked down their first meal. This was a huge relief to me, because sometimes you need to teach little emus to peck and eat. It’s one of the first skills that their dad demonstrates. We were lucky that our charges got some of the fundamentals down, before we made off with them.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode of, Operation Emu!

Boomerang Advice

A.V. Walters
Once I had a very long conversation with a census worker. He confessed that he loved to scuba dive, but that he’d gained some weight and his wet suit no longer fit. As soon as he lost the weight, he was going to get back to it. I looked him squarely in the face and said, “Buy a new suit.”

No, that wasn’t necessary–he was using the new suit as an incentive for the diet. So I asked him how long it had been since he’d been diving. Ten years.
Clearly, the new suit wasn’t enough of an incentive and actually, instead of being a carrot, had turned into the stick. He felt guilty about the weight and used that guilt to self-flagellate and deny himself the pleasure of an activity that would enrich his life and would probably help him to lose weight. I told him so. He looked liked I’d slapped him.

About a month later he was back on my doorstep. He’d come to thank me. With the new wet suit, he’d been diving and was feeling more alive than he had in years. Of course, then he asked me out–and I declined. Why it is that I get into these conversations with perfect strangers is another thing entirely, but the message is to get to the business of enjoying life and accepting the challenges presented. Every time we put off being who we are, we lose time–the most precious commodity of all.

It’s advice that, once given, should always be taken right back. Look in the mirror. What aren’t you enjoying today? Get to it.

Furry Ground-Blight

A.V. Walters

We do the garden walk everyday. It’s a way to check how things are doing, see what’s ripe and do a little weeding along the way. Admittedly, after last year’s debacle, I’m constantly checking the tomatoes for any sign of (I’m afraid to even say it) blight. By August, you expect a little bit of yellowing or leaf curl, but a true blight is a sight to behold. It can wipe out whole patches in a matter of days. The best you can do is to quickly dig out the affected plants and dispose of them—far away. Do not compost a blighted plant, especially towards the end of the summer season. It can infect your compost pile, which, if it doesn’t get hot enough thereafter, will spread the disease with every innocent looking shovel full of black gold. (By this time of year I don’t have enough high nitrogen materials to keep the compost cooking—especially this year when it’s so dry that even the weeds are gray.) Bottom line: Don’t ever risk composting blighted plants. ‘Taint worth it!

So, it was with some angst that yesterday’s walk revealed a tomato plant in full wilt. A Black Crim, too, one of my favorites. Blight? Too early to tell and it didn’t really have the signs. Was its drip emitter plugged? No. And then, the big question, any sign of gopher? We’ve never had a gopher problem with tomatoes. Last year, a friend of ours said gophers were going after his tomatoes, big time, and we could only wonder if different gophers might have different food preferences. Gophers—picky eaters?) In fact, some of the tomatoes are planted in bottomless buckets—ones that were cut in the early days of bucket farming, before I was aware of the dangers of that Furry Ground-Blight.

Our tomato plants are not small. Most of them are taller than me. They’re held up by our super sturdy, tomato cages but, by this time of the year, they’ve extended well beyond the perimeter of the cage. Rick has had to stake some of them because the weight of the plants has even the super-sturdy cages listing. And, it’s tough to find the cage in that jungle, let alone the bucket. There’ve been no major gopher signs in the immediate environs. So, yesterday afternoon, we did a triage watering to see if it had any effect. Sure enough, by evening the patient had perked up considerably. That’s a good sign.

First thing this morning I went back out to check. I’d left my morning schedule open, just in case I needed to quarantine that wilted tomato. Sadly, it had wilted again. I pushed my way through the foliage to get a look at the bucket and the drip emitter. And, AHA! There it was. The evidence. The loose pile of loamy soil was directly in the bucket. Damn gopher!!!

It is a relief that it’s not a viral problem. But, I don’t remember if this particular tomato plant is in a bottomless bucket. That’s a big issue. Following this morning’s revelation, we resolved to retire all of the bottomless buckets, next season. But, if this was a drilled-out bucket, we’ll need to worry about gophers that have learned to go in from the top!

Next season, we could have a serious problem. Don’s little, field-farming venture (the squash and pumpkin plot) has failed. Undone by gophers, is the official reason. And it is true that his “crop” has been hit hard by gophers. We include his pumpkin patch on our garden walks, and the ground is perforated with gopher holes. Every week we could count more and more of his plants, succumbing. There’s more to it, though. Don wasn’t really ready, or geared up, to harvest and market the produce. That may be okay for the pumpkins—we still have time before the Halloween, pumpkin season, and I’m sure he’ll harvest what pumpkins he has left. Pumpkins will endure enormous levels of neglect, but the other things, zucchinis, crooknecks and cucumbers, require attention and harvesting. Don never stepped up to the plate on this. There are zucchini’s over there the size of Buicks! And the crooknecks look like ancient gourds. He’s given up, and the field is now, Gopherland. He’s got a major case of the Furry Ground-Blight.

From our perspective, this is a debacle. He’s essentially breeding gophers over there and, next season, there will be more of them fur balls and they’ll be my problem. (Thank God for buckets.) So we’ll need to determine whether our poor Black Crim was the victim of a subterranean attack, or whether we need to worry about gophers mounting the ramparts of our defenses. I watered the patient again this morning. With extra water, it may be able to limp to the finish line. It’s a shame, that plant must have a bushel of tomatoes on it—beautiful green ones. During my inspection this morning I got the first two and hopefully, not the last, ripe tomatoes from that plant. We shall see. And, as usual, in Two Rock, we have a late season for tomatoes.

Rick is fuming. (Well, as fuming as Rick gets.) He’s determined to get this varmint, though he’s had limited luck with his trapping efforts in the past. Last I saw, he was muttering under his breath, “Rodenator.”

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the Rodenator is an expensive, propane fed device that explodes, frying underground varmints in their burrows. (“Hold my beer… watch this!”)

A.V. Walters

I’ve been tapped…

I’ve been blogging away, quietly, for months now and, suddenly, I’ve been tapped for a bloggers’ award. (A Bloggie?) I’m a little surprised, since my blogging efforts have been, well, quiet. It is very sweet to have someone you’ve never met (but yet, have come to know) reach out and give you the nod to let you know that your efforts are appreciated. Thank you Sarah—half a world away and still a part of this strange, new kind of community.

I understand that there are rules about these things—which has delayed my response, a little. So, for those people that I will, in turn, nominate, the summary of those rules is:

a) You must thank the individual who has nominated you;

b) You have to turn around and tap ten others, to recognize them with the same award;

c) You need to tell seven things about yourself that you haven’t already revealed in your blog, and;

d) You must post the award symbol somewhere in your blog.

For me, the most difficult will be the seven revelations. Blogging was a challenge, for me, from the start because I so jealously guard my online privacy. I don’t do Facebook or the kind of personal, social media that is readily available. Some years ago I had an unfortunate experience with a stalker and I learned how cautiously one had to guard one’s sense of privacy. All the writers and self-publishing folks said I had to Facebook, and tweet, and blog (oh my!)  There was no way I would do Facebook (or, the pictorial kinds of “sharing.” I hate to break it to the Facebook folks, but those aren’t real friends. It took me almost a year to agree to do an author photo and, even then, I did it as a spoof. So, I decided to try blogging instead.

In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I was dragged into it—but you wouldn’t know it once I started. I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing that one little corner of my life—a rural/gardening perspective. It’s an important sliver of who I am. I find solace and warmth and humor in the everyday of rural life. It has almost nothing to do with my more formal writing, so far there’s not even a gardener in any of my books. (What’s up with that, eh?)

I’m not a very good blogger. I am forever getting notices that tell me I need to “optimize my online presence.” I just shudder. I’m not technical, can’t even figure out how to post photos—there’s no way I could do all that technical stuff to “reach out to a wider audience.” I can’t even get the Twitter feed thing going. I have no idea how the people who did find me, did so. I laugh when I read the word searches that brought people to my blog—usually about gophers, or bucket farming, or some poor soul desperate for a solution to those damned noisy mourning doves. (And I have no remedies to offer that don’t come from the end of a double-barrel. Sorry.) But blogging seems to have stuck and, whether it sells books or not, I seem to be here, to stay.

Thank you

As for this award, I’m touched to have been recognized. (“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”) So, thank you, Sarah the Gardener. I’ve loved watching and hearing about your garden, in its Down Under oppositeness. I’ve learned from you just as I hope others may have picked up a tidbit or two from me. (For example, until your last entry I didn’t know pepper and eggplants were so temperature fussy for germination. I thought I had bad seeds! One of this year’s eggplants seedlings came up after eight weeks, and there was Sarah, explaining to me just why.) So thank you, thank you, thank you (and the seedlings thank you, too.)

There are others…

I have come to enjoy many other bloggers. I’ll nominate the ten, but there are more. These ones are special because they showed me that there are others who take the garden pleasures seriously. I am not the only one whose very favorite thing is to go out to the garden to see what’s for dinner. There are some blogs that I follow just because they make me laugh, sometimes uncomfortably so. And finally there are blogs from whom I learn and enjoy a little different perspective, even wickedly so. They are, in no particular order:

1) Soulsby Farm, A Very Small Farm—for giving me faith that there are younger people out there reaching back into our agricultural heritage. http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/

2) Planthoarder—for a glimpse of gardening and what’s in the weather back home and totally luscious photos. http://planthoarder.wordpress.com/

3) A Stay at-home Scientist—for a touch of gardening and a spoonful of science that speaks directly to the heart of this wonk. http://stayathomescientist.com/

4) Cristian, because he’s very, very, young, and yet runs full tilt at writing what matters to him, and because he has his own aesthetic. http://cristianmihai.net/

5) Catherine Caffeinated because she gives out pep talks and dispenses the self-publishing scoop (at least her version) unselfishly and with a dollop of humor. (Though the pink is a little much.) http://catherineryanhoward.com/

6) All the fearless contributors at Fresh Ink, for their bravery and for providing and using a platform to showcase new writers. http://fresh1nk.wordpress.com/

7) For the chronicler of Joe’s Shitty Ideas, because you make me laugh and sometimes wince. http://joesshittyideas.com/

8) Clotilda Jamcracker, because she gardens, she has a wild perspective, she’s a hoot and makes me think. http://www.clotildajamcracker.com/

9) Dianne Gray, because she writes, and writes about writing and takes her characters as seriously as other people. http://diannegray.wordpress.com/

10)  A French Garden, because she has lovely photos, she gardens with sincerity and she’s so brave to have picked up and followed a dream. http://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/

And now the damnable revelations……

1. I have a cat named Kilo (No, not that! Because when I rescued him he weighed 2.2 pounds) and my cat has a cat, named Bob.

2. I’ve known all about the Hispano-Suiza since was about four because my dad thought it was important and loved to hear us little kids say it. Excellence at all cost!

3. I just learned that you can eat pumpkin greens! (Not that I’ve tried them, yet.)It’s a good use for those creeping vines once you know that you’ve got all the pumpkins you need (and, then a little, in case the gophers get them.) One year we went to harvest a lovely pumpkin, only to find the gophers had hollowed it out and eaten the interior then, stuffed it full of dirt! (It was actually, pretty impressive.)

4. I am a news junkie and a policy wonk. Moving to the farm helped a lot because it made me cut back on my news sources. Of course, you could keep busy full-time, just on the net… At least I got rid of the television.

5. I am not a technical person. I can’t even put a photo in the blog! (I don’t have a camera, and couldn’t transfer the photos if I did. (There’s only so much begging one can do… Rick?) I almost rejected this award because of the requirement that you post the award logo on your blog. I’ll have to figure it out.

6. I just sent two pounds of Manzanita ash to my mother in Michigan.

7. In 1974, I was an E.C.S.S.A. cross-country running champion. (Yeah, go a ahead, figure that one out.)

And, that’s it. I addressed all the responsibilities of this awesome honor and I can now go back to regular blogging… once I figure out how to post that darn picture. (Rick?)