December 9, 2009

Darwin Award Runner Up

My husband can't win a Darwin Award* on two accounts. First, he has already reproduced. Second, he hasn't died in a hare-brained accident.


But that doesn't stop him from trying. And if he takes the children with him in some bizarre fiasco, he may just win the coveted (cough) award.

It's turning a bit chilly here in the Midwest. Today's high is 7 degrees Fahrenheit. (No, no digits are missing. It's really just 7.) Most of us simply turn up the heat a bit in the house. But, at the farm, we don't have that luxury. We do have a wood-burning stove, which can heat up the house in about half an hour. But, it takes the work of chopping wood, starting the fire, tending it until it's going on its own, and then keeping it going through the night at intervals of about three hours. I think it's part of the charm of the cabin, but, of course, I'm not the one doing the work.

Needless to say, Hubby is always on the lookout for a simpler, faster, cheaper way to heat the house. So, when our dear neighbor, Marlin, was down to visit last weekend, and heard that Hubby was less enamored of the rustic life than previously thought, he offered to help.

"You can take my 150,000 BTU, kerosene-run, forced air, BARN heater that I got at an auction for $5 and haven't ever tried. If you can get it to work, it's yours."

Well, a new one of these puppies goes for about $400. Marlin's was no where near new. It could have been sitting, easily, for 20 years before Marlin even bought it. But it was free! Hubby was tickled and I was happy for him...thinking he was going to have a way to heat his barn a bit now.

But no.

The barn can wait. It's the house that needs the heat! So, Hubby spent the better part of a day opening it up, cleaning it out, attaching frayed wires that looked to this novice's eye like they should be replaced, and filling it with kerosene. I had to put my foot down when he wanted to fire it up inside the 600-square-foot cabin.

He was happy to compromise. Besides, this way, the cabin got heated up!

Of course, the net gain was close to zero since the heat from the fireplace was escaping through the open door. But no matter. The heater didn't blow up! It was flaming and blowing and heating!

*Honoring those who improve the accidentally removing themselves from it.

November 30, 2009

Smashing Pumpkins

In our neck of the woods, there's a quaint, little custom which has been passed down through the ages by the adolescent residents of the shallower end of the gene pool. They steal pumpkins off porches and throw them into the streets, smashing them and making a mess. Oh, what fun!

At first glance, it looked like the ne'er-do-wells were at work on our porch:

But here's what I glimpsed from inside the house one morning:

So, we're helping to fatten up the squirrels for winter. It gives recycling a whole new meaning. Rather than cleaning up the pumpkins, I decided to leave them for the animals. (I've seen birds going for them, too.)

Well, it's going on a couple of weeks now and even the animals may be getting tired of pumpkin. But, wanting to see this project to the end, i.e., completely eaten pumpkins, I am reluctant to clean up the now moldy pieces of orange adorning our porch:

As we passed by them on our way into the house yesterday, Hubby had a good idea for not only humoring his darling in her misguided attempts at this new form of composting but also for speeding up the process.

"Why don't you make them a pumpkin pie?"

Hmm...not a bad idea.

November 24, 2009

Down and Dirty

Having ventured into non-agricultural prose for a few entries now, I realize that it's high time to get back to what's going on at the farm, so here's an update on the aronia berries.

After getting them all in the ground, we spent the next few weekends walking the berries. We were a bit chagrined to find out that the cohabitants of our land, namely the deer, are curious creatures. They like to pull out the tiny plants and then drop them near where they were so nicely planted. They don't eat them. They don't like them. They're just mischievous little devils.

Fortunately, once replanted, the little seedlings are not much the worse for wear. The only problem is when we can't find the little seedlings. Imagine trying to find a brown stick about five inches long with a root ball about the size of a golf ball on the dirt ground among the dead weeds from the past summer. Ugh!

We estimated that we had about a 5% loss the first weekend. The next weekend, things were similar, but not as bad as the first weekend. The berries have now lost their leaves and the deer have probably had their curiosity satisfied.

So, the next big chore is to mulch between the berries to keep the weeds down next spring. We use hay from our organic fields and consider it our secret weapon in the fight against weeds. It works splendidly for the garlic because the new garlic shoots just push right up through it in the spring. With the berries, however, we have to leave the little shoot exposed to the sun and mulch around each one...a much more labor-intensive proposal. So, as Andre gathers hay bales and delivers them to the rows, I am on my hands and knees spreading hay between plants.

And guess what? You see a lot more from this position, at least when we're discussing the earth. It seems when we walked the berries, we weren't close enough to the actual plants to be sure of what we saw. As I commune with them at their level, I see a short shoot more easily than when I was standing. It turns out our estimate of 5% loss is quite high! Maybe farming isn't so hard after all. (Read: she's fooling herself again here.)

After hefting 50-pound bales of hay, breaking them apart, spreading them on the ground, doing my best inchworm imitation for a couple of hours this past weekend, I am aware of muscles I didn't know I had, only because they are burning in pain.

And only about 20% of the job is done.

Ah, but Thanksgiving is coming up and there will be offspring to help!

Yeah, right.

November 16, 2009

My Recent Trip to Girlie-Land

When I was young, my Sis was the tomboy of the two of us. Then, somewhere along the way, I joined her ranks. Here is what I usually look like:

I'm a stay-at-home Mom, artist/web designer, and organic farmer. There is really no need for me to get dressed up at all. Ever. And I certainly don't have to wear high heels, put on makeup, or fix my hair. (People around here are lucky I bother to shower.)

Then came THE WEDDING!

No, not my own (although I did get cleaned up for that one 13 years ago.) Hubby's brother/cousin (it's a Russian thing) asked him to be the best man. He also asked me to stand up for him as a groomswoman (very cool, I know). Well, if I had just been invited to the wedding, I could have pulled a dress out of my closet, slapped on some flats, run a comb through my hair, and been good.

But since I was to be in the wedding party (a first for both Hubby and myself), I needed all the accoutrements: the dress, the correct shoes, some appropriate bling, two months of weight-loss exercise at the Y. The bride mused that it's pretty easy for the guys to get prepped for the occasion -- they rent a tux and look great. Done. Oh, yes, and Hubby had to shave, too. Big deal.

I think my family sensed that I would need some help pulling this off and they came to my aide. Hubby went dress-shopping with me and we got the first one we saw. It was absolutely gorgeous, the correct color and length for the wedding party, and fun to dance in (a must!). I ordered the pewter, high-heeled, shoes to go with it and spent a few evenings practicing walking in them so I wouldn't break an ankle at the wedding. I have a whole new appreciation for those Dancing With the Stars women. I think a woman should win every time, just because she has the handicap of dancing in high heels. I got my nails done. A friend accompanied me to the Y and also lent me a scarf and some rings. My 11-year-old was there, fortunately, to give me makeup advice. Even though she's a novice, she runs rings around me. Sis got me outfitted with some more jewelry. Things matched! I had different items for different outfits! It was so new and exciting! My Aunt got me to join her on the morning of the wedding to get my hair done, another first for me.

All I have to say is what fun it was! I really enjoyed looking like a girl for a weekend. It was a pretty long road from Point A (baseball-cap-sweatshirt-jeans-wearing Lizzie) to Point B (Princess Lizzie). Here I am at Point B (I'm on the far left behind my daughter):

Not bad, eh?

But I must say that I am exhausted! I really don't understand how women do this every day...or even more often than once every 13 years!

November 10, 2009

Falling for Fall

Some time back, enebriated by the promise of spring, I dissed the other seasons. Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm not too proud to admit that I might have been wrong. (I did make a good case for spring being the best of the four children of Mother Nature.)

Then I went out and snapped this shot on a lovely, unusually warm, fall evening. The pond is clear, the air is clean and calm, the land is beginning its autumnal nap, getting ready for its hibernal slumber. Life on the farm is slowing down. Our cats are scoping out their favorite barn beds. The deer, in search of food, are nosing ever closer to the trees near the house. (Watch out, hunting season is just around the corner!)

So, I take back what I said about the non-spring seasons. Fall does have its charms.

Winter in this part of the world, on the other hand, is another matter.

November 5, 2009

And To Think I Was Going To Delete These

After all the tedium of switching over to a new computer, it's time to see what this new puppy can do.

Well, to really explore all the bells and whistles of an application like, say, iPhoto, let your eight-year-old have a little quality time with it. Here's what mine came up with:

Hey! I didn't know you could take a picture of your eye and see it four different(?) ways! Wow!!!

Or, how about this one? Somehow she manages to get the audio/video recorder working, get the lyrics and moves up on the screen (my computer does karaoke duty) and dance around my desk, sometimes perilously close to my brand new 24" iMac. (It goes to show that you don't need to know the words to sing a song.)

(If you can't see the video, and you want to, please click here to go to the original:'s worth it!)

October 26, 2009

Apples to Apples (an update)

Thanks to all of you who thought of me last Tuesday. Yes, it happened as predicted (for the fourth or fifth time). Apple came out with its new iMacs!

Only one problem -- no update on the 24" one that I had sitting in its box in the front hallway.

So, what to do?  Here were my three choices:

1. Send back the unopened, 24" one, at my expense, in exchange for the new 21.5" one (that has the same amount of RAM) which was due to be in stock in 5-7 business days and then shipped out, maybe. A net savings on this deal would be about $130 but the time added to my already accumulated month would be another two weeks, easy.

2. Send back the 24" one, again at my expense, in exchange for the new 27" one (obscene, really) with a stocking date to be announced and a shipping date some time after that, maybe. This option would cost me about $500 extra. The time on this one would be even more than the time on the first option.

3. Open the damned box in the hallway and get back to work.

After consulting various friends and relatives who were as obsessed with the debut of the iMacs as I was, (probably due to my keeping them apprised of it day in and day out for some weeks) and finding out that, since I had originally opted for a bit more in the 24" one, even though it is old now, I wouldn't be missing out on much just keeping it and moving on.
So, you can guess what I did.

October 20, 2009

The Apple of My Eye

As a part-time web designer, I, of course, work on a Mac. The iMac from about 2005 that I have (a dinosaur in computer time) died a slow and painful death about a month ago. All was backed up by Hubby on his server in the basement, once again making me really feel for people who don't have a computer genius in the house.

After combing craigslist for nearly new Macs, and with a birthday coming up, we decided I could splurge on a brand new iMac. I ordered the 24-inch screen, 4 gigs of memory (I'm a memory hog when I work), loads of other things that don't matter as much, and got a free printer thrown in with the deal. Oh, joy!

This was September 26th.

I calculated the arrival to be on September 30th. Instead of a delivery, I received the first of many phone calls from Kevin at MacMall.

"I'm sorry, but we are out of iMacs and Mac Minis because Apple is rumored to be announcing upgrades of these computers."

A bit of clarification -- unlike most companies which continue to produce an item and simply add a new item to their inventory, Apple stops manufacturing the model that it is planning to unveil in a new and improved version. Those models disappear from Apple stores and, unfortunately, from Kevin at MacMall. Then, everyone speculates about when Apple will roll out the newbies. So, I got caught up in the vortex of swirling anticipation that Steve Jobs creates every time he has a new release. After all, the new one is reported to be totally awesome and less expensive. All I have to do is be a little patient.

"Apple usually rolls out a new version of a model every 203 days. It's been 227 days for the iMac and the last upgrade didn't do much to improve, so, they must be coming out with something soon."

This is the kind of hard-hitting, reliable intel you can get from the myriad Mac Rumor sites.

"They always announce a new release on Tuesdays."

"No, this year, it's going to be on Wednesday, October 7th."

October 7th came and went very quietly.

"Now they're saying October 9th."

Also quiet.

"Well, let's go back to the Tuesday idea -- October 13th."


After much discussion with Kevin (who has Mac colleagues, another dependable source of information), and dovetailing with the Tuesday idea, we decide that it must be October 20th. Another reason that it's got to be this time is that Microsoft is releasing a new version of it's operating system this week and Apple wants to steal their thunder.

Guess what happened yesterday, October 19th? Our friendly UPS driver delivered an "old" iMac to my house.

Hmm...I am both excited and angry. I was waiting patiently! What are they doing sending me the computer I ordered?

I call Kevin.

Me: "How can this be? I thought there weren't any more 'old' iMacs."

Kevin: "Don't open it" he says conspiratorily. "They're going to announce tomorrow."

So, today is D-Day, or, should I say "A-Day".

Think of me when they make the announcement on the news, or don't.

October 14, 2009

Making the Grade

Yesterday marked the first parent-teacher conference of the school year. My last child, Maya (eight years old, in third grade) is proving to be my most intriguing one when it comes to schoolwork. I did have a taste of things to come with my second daughter, but nothing like this. (She ended up turning into a straight-A student, just like her other two siblings.)

But not Maya.

Here is a child who has memorized her times tables up to 11 just for fun, but has trouble with one-digit addition and subtraction. (I guess multiplication is more glamorous.)

She can navigate you to our farm 100 miles away with all the twists and turns involved but can't find the hospital on a cartoon map of a generic city.

She can spell any word she's seen once, but refuses to "circle the spelling word in the following sentence" and such.

So, as you may have guessed, her grades are not too hot. The teacher (who is no fool after a quarter century of dealing with this demographic) knows that Maya knows her stuff, but recommends that she slow down and take care and review her work and go for extra points when available. All great advice. There's only one problem.

Maya doesn't care about her grades.

This morning as she cuddled up in bed with me, I asked her about her track record so far in school.

"So, Maya, what do you think about your grades?"

"I don't care. Grades are just stupid numbers."

After 20 years of teaching, myself, I had come to the same conclusion, so I really had nothing to say to her. I just laughed and gave her a big hug and hoped that, someday, she will care about what she produces. I'm pretty sure she will.

It just won't be grades.

October 5, 2009

Material Girl

Thanks to all who sent out encouraging thoughts this past weekend as we conquered the planting of 1,000 little aronia berry seedlings. It must have worked because all went swimmingly! In farming, the odds for such success are usually against us.

Kim, Rick, John, and Dec all showed up to help. Thank you all! Without you, it wouldn't be done now. A nice lunch was had by all. Andre stayed late to make sure each tiny plant was watered in.

During a break in the planting, Andre had gone into town (about 10 minutes away) with Maddie. After what seemed like longer than it should have been for them to return, Maya voiced the same thing that Dec and I were thinking..."where are Dad and Maddie? They've been gone a long time."

"Hmm. I don't know. I wonder what's keeping them." I responded.

Maya replied, "Maybe they've been murdered."

"Oh, I doubt it, Honey. Don't worry." I assured her. After all, it's not hunting season quite yet.

After a pregnant pause, Maya found a silver lining to her dire scenario.

"If they're dead, I call Dad's Blackberry!"

She'll text you with the details of the funeral.


October 1, 2009

Wish Us Luck

When you're taking a break from your usual activities this weekend, maybe enjoying a cold beer or a glass of wine, maybe sitting through a commercial while watching a favorite TV show, take a moment to send out some positive thoughts to your old friends at Double K Farms.

This weekend, we are hoping to plant 1,000 baby aronia berry plants on our farm. If you haven't heard, aronias are the latest superfood. They are higher in polyphenols and antioxidants than blueberries and are reported to fight cancer!

In order to accomplish this somewhat monumental feat, we need the following (focus those positive thoughts):

- the cooperation of Mother Nature (right now, she's a bit rainy)

- the help of good friends and family (got it! Thanks, everyone. You're the best!)

- the tractors to work properly

- the tires on the tractors and carts to stay inflated

- the deer not to take too much interest in the little plants

- and whatever else I haven't anticipated (and I'm sure there are at least a couple of things that fit this category!)

Thanks, in advance, for your warm wishes.

May all the harmonies converge this weekend in southwestern Iowa!

September 1, 2009

The Necessities of Life

I'll bet you don't know what items are indispensable for the college crowd these days.

As a parent of a teenager going off to college, I imagine your list would look something like this:

mattress pad (for the bare bones dorm bed she was assigned)
sheets, blankets, pillows (of course)
cleanser (the dorm room was dirtier than we had expected)
toilet paper (no explanation necessary)
textbooks, pens, pencils, notebooks, etc. (regular back-to-school stuff)
a lamp
some hangers and storage boxes for the clothes and shoes
a bus pass
a meal plan

All the normal stuff, right? Well, if you stopped there, you'd be falling short.

On the night before leaving my future leader of the free world at San Diego State University, I was informed, somewhat urgently, that, after settling in, there were a couple of items that she still absolutely needed to be able to be fully engaged in the life of the mind:

a beach towel
ice cream

I do not make this stuff up.

August 21, 2009

Lucky Girl

One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, three are hardly possible.

Henry Adams

Here I am with my dear friend of 25 years. You may have surmised that this is not a recent photo. It is, in fact, from 25 years ago when we met in Paris as poor students. We've vowed to get back on our regimens and meet up again next year for a new shot which will, no doubt, rival this one.

So stay tuned!

And call an old friend.

July 28, 2009

Guys and Dolls

One of our favorite things to do anytime of the year, but especially during these warm days and cool nights of summer, is to sit on our patio in the evening and talk, sip something, watch the passing deer, and linger until we're ready to drop into bed. Most times, the topic of conversation is pleasant but unremarkable: current farm happenings, what the kids (far and near) are up to, how the neighbors are faring, religion, politics, etc.

But last weekend, the talk turned to relationships.

In particular, our personal relationships: the one with each other and, even more interestingly, the ones in our respective pasts. Until this moment in time (Friday, July 24th, 2009), we had only cursorily dealt with prior loves (and we've been together for almost 16 years). So, it was pretty momentous.

Heady from our evening of verbal intimacy, the next day we were working on the gables of the barn. Hubby was on the ladder about 20 feet up and I chose that time to ask him a little more about our recent breakthrough convo.

"So, Honey, what did you think about last night?"

"NOT NOW, Honey! I'm on the ladder!"

Oh, gotcha. Sorry!

Here's hoping for another opportunity before 16 more years pass.

July 20, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changin' *

As Hubby and I were cleaning out the garden barn, our eleven-year-old joined us and mostly sat on the lawn mower and watched. At that age, children are too cool to do anything in the barn. To her credit, though, she is a very helpful girl and assists willingly in the slightly less earthy areas of life around the house.

We had transported an old desk to the farm to put in the barn as a work table for me. We put a pallet on the dirt floor, put the desk on it, and happened to place a chair nearby. Our daughter asked Dad what Mom was going to be doing in here. He turned to her and jokingly replied that Mom could sit and write at the desk. Our girl pondered this image for a moment, a bit confused as to how one would write without a computer, and, after arriving at an idea that translated into her vernacular, in all seriousness, said, "Oh, you mean old-fashioned blogging!"

Of course, that's what he meant.

*Song title courtesy of Bob Dylan, who is even older than I am.

July 10, 2009

Some More Tao of Farming

Let us gaze upon the beautiful wheat of this summer that will probably not be harvested to be used as food for people who make bread. Such are the ways of the world these days.

But wait! This is not a negative piece. I simply wanted to thank Mother Nature for producing the awesome sight seen here. Because of the current system of economics and insurance, it is more profitable for us to forsake our lovely wheat and collect the insurance for it. (For the gruesome details, see previous post.) Nevertheless, there is no cost to appreciating it for what it is -- the fruits of our labors and the bounty of Mother Earth. Also, it will not be totally forsaken as it will be baled along with the clover for hay for some very lucky cows!

If we look at this event as an instance in time along a continuum of life, the monetary rewards become stripped of their importance, to some extent. Not everything valuable is directly related to money, fortunately. So, I take a page from the fabulous writings of my daughter, Julie, and give you a list of those farming things that do put a smile on my face, time and time again:

(Here is that smile, by the way)
  • cooking over the open campfire in the firepit we made
  • watching the children run wild and grow like weeds
  • sitting on the patio watching the deer walk up the ridge across the pond, stopping at their salt lick, looking over at us, and heading on to the forest (maybe minus one during hunting season)
  • enjoying 'Denny and Alan time'* complete with matching wool pajama tops
  • hiking our land...yes...OUR land!
  • taking pride in the home and barns we built ourselves
  • checking on the beavers and their dams on the creek and wondering just how many trees to share with them
  • putzing in our respective barns
  • taking the raft out on the pond, disturbing the great blue heron so that she dropped her fish (sorry!)
  • cuddling farm kittens and enjoying their antics, watching them grow
  • tractoring around
  • napping
  • gardening
  • mowing
  • fishing
  • viewing the moon and stars without the interference of city lights
  • welcoming friends and family from near and far (Marlin can't wait for Jayne's visit)
  • basking in the friendship and protection of our beloved neighbors
  • reveling in the changing of the seasons and enjoying the charms of each one: planting new items in the spring, harvesting wonderful fruits in the summer, witnessing the colors of the fall, catching snowflakes in the winter
  • looking forward to retiring on our little slice of heaven one day.
Cheesy? Maybe.

True? Definitely.

*A reference to the good ole' boys of Boston Legal as they solved all of life's problems at the end of every show on a fancy balcony with a glass of brandy and cigars (we use wine and snacks).

July 8, 2009

The Tao of Farming

Live and learn.

You win some, you lose some.

C'est la vie.

All these axioms may help us face little failures in life but I'm seriously considering putting farming in a class by itself.

Farming's axioms could include:

No matter what you do, you will fail.

Everything is for naught.

It's a zero-sum game and you'll get zero as the sum. Every time.

You get the idea.

Here is a photo of our beautiful wheat that is just about ready to be harvested. Last year, we lost most of our wheat crop to the floods and we didn't have insurance. We did manage to recuperate some of our losses as organic wheat went for $18/bushel (as compared to regular wheat that was going for about $5/bushel) and we got about 50 bushels off our land. (We should have gotten over 700 bushels.) So, we were able to pay for the combining, had a little money from the wheat, and milled some of it into flour for our CSA members and ourselves.

We re-planted wheat for this year AND took out insurance on it. (We're pretty bright.)

Well, last weekend, we traveled around our land and were thrilled that the wheat was looking very good (full heads, ripe, drying out like it should) and the clover and grass we planted this spring was coming up just as we hoped under the wheat to make hay in the late summer and fall. Of course, not all the fields were primo, but the fact that SOME were really excited us. Our farm was really coming along. It wasn't simply comprised of weed fields anymore. Our planning was working out. And, remember, we were insured.

What could go wrong?

We did what we always do. We called our mentor, Dan, to schedule the combining of our lovely wheat. He had the sad duty of informing us that organic wheat prices had fallen to $6/bushel.


OK. OK. Let us recover ourselves. OK. We'll be OK. We had counted on the insurance to pay around $9/bushel. But that would only happen if the crop failed. What do we do now that we have good wheat that will only bring $6/bushel?

Do you see how unfair this all is?

So I proceeded to call the local grain dealer to find out the exact going price of organic wheat. Kevin was very happy to take my call but also had a sad duty to perform. Not only is organic wheat going for very little, it is not going AT ALL. He knew of NO ONE wanting wheat. Everyone he knows has wheat leftover from last year. He is recommending that we find a place to store our wheat (another expense) for at least two months and then, MAYBE, we'll be able to sell it. No guarantees.

Too bad we didn't have the floods this year.

July 1, 2009

All Grown Up

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." Mark Twain

And a less benevolent, albeit true-at-times one,

Mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young." Unknown author

But I digress.

Let's stick with the Twain quote. It's much more appropriate.

My eldest daughter called me today with a question I have been waiting 20 years to field: "Tell me about my heritage." My first reaction was to laugh with recognition that yours truly was about the same age when she had the wonderful opportunity to spend some months with her own grandparents, basking in their love and picking their brains for that all-too-dwindling oral history of our family.

My response was to refer her to my initial entries about our ancestry: I Finally Got One and Coming Full Circle Times Two. Not to brag, but these do seem well-written and succinct, two qualities appreciated by the young.

Her next question was just as much fun.

"What, exactly, is meant by 'organic'?" (See recent entry about said daughter's new job.)

I love it!

So, I proceeded to give her about an hour's worth of organic farming, from the global issues of sustainability and feeding the world's population to the big, bad evil Monsanto, Syngenta and Bill Gates and their monopoly on conventional farming and their interest in the Svalbard Seed Vault to the history of farming itself to the reason organic food is here to stay to the politics of it all and everything in between.

I could feel her almost taking notes over the phone.

"Wow, Mom, you know so much! Can you jot the main points down and send them to me in an email?" So, I guess I get to take the notes. Oh, well. That's OK.

I'm just glad I was ready and had learned so much in the past seven years.

June 23, 2009

Always Listen to Your Mother

Joined by our four wonderful girls, we enjoy life on the farm as often as we can.

I must come clean.

Even though this sentence can be found in the About Me part of this blog, it is not entirely true. Most weekends, we are joined by our two younger daughters -- Maddie, 11 and Maya, 8 -- over whom we still hold some sway, which is tenuous at best. (As a friend/therapist reminded us recently, our job as parents was pretty much done when they were 4 or 5 years old.)

The older two girls -- Julie, 20 and Amelia, 18 -- are off on their own now and can't be bothered with this organic farming experiment that the old folks are on.

Therein lies their mistake! (Bwah-ha-ha)

A recent case in point:

Julie, our 20-year-old, recently called me to tell me that she was being sent to a trade show in Chicago as part of her new job. She called me as she was on her way to the show. She was panicking. She felt out of her element and at a loss, lacking in background. This is the young woman who has traveled the globe, commands the respect of her peers and colleagues at Loyola University, and can talk her way out of just about any situation -- in two languages! But she never really wanted to pay attention when the subject was organic farming.

I pause to take a moment to revel in the satisfaction that rarely comes with motherhood.

Her new job, you may ask?

Representative for the the Agricultural and Fisheries Division of the Quebec Delegation in Chicago.

The trade show she was attending?

The All Things Organic international trade show.

Can you say karmic justice?

June 18, 2009

Guess Who Likes Beet Greens?

When one grows one's own food, one tends to get a bit more careful about what one discards when preparing said food.

Let's take beets.

A little background...I have been trying to grow beets for three years now. Each year, I have planted at least two rows (usually four or five) of a couple of varieties of beets. Out of a cumulative 100-plus row feet of beets, mother nature blesses me (in a good year) with maybe one meal's worth of beets per season, i.e., about six beets.

This year was different. I planted only two rows in a new spot, added loads of compost, a little boron (which, I found out, beets need) and was pleasantly surprised to get a meal's worth about two weeks ago with the promise of a few more meals left in the rows for subsequent weeks.

Don't get me wrong, the rows were by no means full of beets, but they were exponentially better than in any prior year.

But back to the greens.

We brought home that beautiful, first, beet harvest. As I contemplated cutting off and discarding the greens that I had waited three years for, I felt a little silly. Why throw these beautiful greens away? So, I cleaned them up and sautéed them up with a little garlic, salt and red onion. I placed them as a bed under fresh tomatoes and herbs and grated parmesan cheese on top. Much to my surprise, everyone really liked the addition to the salad! Even my Mom commented that she really enjoyed the greens. I was thrilled.

So, you can imagine my utter dismay when, upon arriving at the farm last Tuesday evening, two large female deer were leisurely grazing INSIDE MY GARDEN. Apparently, a storm had damaged the fence and they were able to get in. Even worse, however, is that they evinced a particular fondness for the beet greens. Up and down the two rows of beets, all that remained were half-eaten beets and deer hoofprints.

Balance was maintained in the universe, I suppose. I had my one meal's worth of beets yet again this year.

June 9, 2009

Re-thinking That "Green is My Favorite Color" Entry

So, I've mentioned previously that I'm hopelessly in love with Spring. Well, yes, after a winter in Nebraska and Iowa anyone would be, I suppose. But, heady with all the new life of the season, I forgot about the other green things that come with the season, namely, weeds.

But, before we tackle them, let us enjoy the memorable fishing experience that Maya had with our beloved GodCarol (yes, she is very close to the Almighty). We stocked our pond three years ago and had not fished a single item out of it, mostly because we are not fishermen. Carol happens to be an expert and shared her knowledge with Maya and actually caught a decent fish! Thanks, Carol! Now we know that our pond has fish in it. And we have Maya, the eight-year-old, to teach us what to do to repeat the event.

The problem with Spring is that many folks want to usurp it for their own purposes. It's not just the time that life returns. It is also the time when the school year ends, children graduate, (I've got one in the above picture and will have more in the years to come, as you can see), and, because of said graduations, relatives arrive to visit, dinners must be prepared, couples argue about said relatives and dinners, other couples get unnerved about the family presence itself, other members chafe at each other because they are not used to each other, other members contemplate the meaning of life and relationships and everything under the sun.

All of which brings me back to the weeds. The weeds at the farm are almost out of control. (I'll get to them eventually, don't worry.) But I am reminded of a National Geographic article I read about ten years ago. It featured an African farmer who grew a crop for grain. It was full of weeds. When some well-intentioned Westerner asked him why he allowed the weeds to grow rather than killing them with some Round-Up type of herbicide, the farmer responded that he harvested the weeds and fed them to his cattle. Given the desert conditions, he was glad to have the weeds to feed to his animals.

Another anecdote that came to mind while contemplating the omnipresent weeds was the one where the neighbors of a certain homeowner got together to comment on said homeowners lack of mowing. The response by said homeowner was that he was "growing children that year". This is our thought as we notice our grass growing at home. Mowing is not high on the priority list when you have live, little beings clamoring for your attention.

But back to tackling the weeds...just last weekend, one of said relatives, my sister, Dec, spent a couple of hours cleaning out the Brussels sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower. They should do well now. We also mulched the tomatoes and peppers and eggplant before the weeds can take over. I still need to clean out the herb garden and the asparagus bed. And don't get me started on the potatoes and squashes! Ugh!

I guess it's the price one pays for growing things that you want amidst things that you don't want. But those things you don't want are part of the life that comes in the spring. :)

May 12, 2009

Nice Doing Business With You

I must begin this entry with a shout out to Akin's Building Center of Clarinda, Iowa.


(I'd put up link to them, but they don't see the need for a website. It probably wouldn't bring them any more business than they already have.)

As you may have read in this space, we've been building a barn on our land. We got the roof on a couple of weeks ago and it was time to order the walls. We shopped around and found that our local (Clarinda) hardware store had the best deal, so we ordered from them, by phone, one day last week.

They said they could deliver the panels of metal and skylight plastic panels (they even had them cut to our specs for no extra charge). I told them we'd be at the farm on Saturday and could they deliver it all then? (They were very upfront with us that the delivery charge would be $12.50. I thought we could stomach that and gave them the green light.) 'Round about 11am on Saturday morning, there was a knock on our cabin door. It was the guys from Akin's with our walls.

They brought the panels, corners, and screws (which we hadn't ordered, but which they knew we would need). Andre helped them unload the materials and we contemplated the next phase of building the barn. (The goal is to make it more or less waterproof so that we can install a bed so that Andre can finally get a decent nap!)

I don't usually share personal, financial information, but, in this case, I must tell you that the total for the wall panels, et al, came to over $1,500. The reason this is significant is because all of the preceding happened without any money changing hands. We hadn't been in to Akin's to pay for anything that we had ordered and yet, somehow, it all came! I guess they knew we were good for it.

We went in later that day to settle up.

It was in no way out of the ordinary for the folks at Akin's.

God bless 'em!

April 20, 2009

Yep...Green is My Favorite Color

I have tried for many years to live by the following quotation: "To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring." (George Santayana) Sounds good, doesn't it? We love that fall foliage in New England, don't we? It gives us a reason to tolerate winters in Nebraska, right? But, as I get older, I am more interested in what is true than what should be true. I check my feelings and...
I confess this day -- I am hopelessly in love with SPRING!

Witness the dependable emergence of grass in mid-April (which has already been mown once! Ah, the wonderful smell of it!).

Witness the sprouting of lettuce, spinach, peas, turnips, and mustard greens in the garden.

Witness the blooming of flowers after a long, winter's sleep. (They're hard to see, but trust me, they're there!)

There are good reasons why we love spring so much -- the re-birth, without fail, of the world every year; the warm rains that bring life to the ground; the literal birth of the farm animals as if on a schedule; the voluptuousness of warmth, seedlings, and life all around us. No wonder there is a quotation that reprimands us for being so in love with spring! The other seasons probably got together and worked on it since they were so far behind in the race for human predilection.

I swear to keep working on discovering the beauty in each season, but I refuse to try to temper the fact that spring has it goin' on, by far, over all the other seasons!

Happy SPRING, everyone!

April 3, 2009

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Yet another update on Musical Cars.

Dear Reader, you are simply not going to believe what I have to report this time about our car situation. But it is all too true.

At precisely 12:06am (that's just after midnight for you am/pm challenged folk) a couple of weeks ago, there was a knock at our door. Now, one teenager is in France so I didn't think it could have to do with her. The other teenager was safely tucked into her computer in her room. The younger children were long gone to slumberland. So, who could it possibly be? Should we even answer the door? Is one of our neighbors in trouble? Should we get the bat? Well, no, if it were a robber or intruder of some sort, why the knock? A polite thug? These thoughts are not coherent because they occurred in a flash, and they occurred, as I mentioned, at 12:06am.

Omaha's Finest*, it turns out, work the night shift, and the fact that the rest of us may be sleeping does not deter them from carrying out their duties.

And what was the infraction that brought this particular officer to our door, you may ask? Well, the fact that one of the cars in our driveway had Iowa license plates on it. I couldn't believe my ears. I even asked quietly if it was a joke. I was assured by the officer that it was not a joke. Uh-oh. We were busted.

A little background...we have the six cars. Three of them are licensed here in Omaha, Nebraska, and the other three, two trucks and a car, are registered in Iowa since we use the trucks on the farm (which is located in Iowa and on which we pay taxes) and the car to go back and forth delivering produce during the growing season. Right now is not the growing season and the car has been on vacation here in Nebraska. Logical, no? Well, no, as it turns out. You see, the rule is, any car that is located in the state of Nebraska for 30 days or more must be licensed in Nebraska. (Oh, did you figure out that it's a little bit cheaper to register a car in Iowa than in Nebraska? Yes, we have deep, dark motives for our anti-social behaviour!)

Our visitor was understanding and gave us some ideas about how to redeem ourselves. I spent the next half a day getting bumped back and forth among various municipal departments that handle such matters and finally was told the following: one of our neighbors must not have a life and called in the fact that a car with an Iowa plate was sitting in our driveway for more than the 30 days maximum. We were instructed to keep the car parked in a garage when not in use.

Seriously? Seriously.

It seems to me that said neighbor should be given the bill for the taxpayer dollars that were wasted in having that officer come to our house at midnight (he probably gets time and a half for working the night shift) and another bill for wasting my half a day calling around and another bill for all the time city bureaucrats spent on the other end of those calls trying to figure out what to do with us. And for good measure, let's add a penalty on top of it all for just being silly.

Ah, what a perfect world that would be!

*For those of you across the pond, police officers

March 17, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere and Nary a Drop to Drink.

(a.k.a.: A second update on Musical Cars)

Those of you who follow this blog may find it hard to believe the following: I was without a car this morning. Yes, we have six cars for three drivers, but, as fate would have it in her twisted sense of humor, the planets aligned this morning to make it impossible for me to drive anywhere. You see, one vehicle is at the farm. One is the one My Honey drives to work and he left early this fine morning. One is the one our teenager drives and there's the rub. She took her car to the shop to try to figure out the cause of its dying now and then. Rather than get my big, fat, you-know-what out of bed at o-dark-hundred this morning to give her a ride, I gave her the keys to the car I usually drive, assuming that, with the plethora of cars around here, that I'd be able to take the little ones to school this morning in some sort of secondary conveyance. Ah, was I mistaken! Of the two cars remaining, one was in the garage and the other was right behind it, jacked up with a missing wheel, rendering both unusuable.

Fortunately, it was an unexpectedly warm and beautiful spring morning here in Omaha (60+ degrees) so the little ones didn't mind walking the few blocks to school. They even called a friend and made an event of it, bless their little hearts. Fortunately, also, I didn't have anything planned that necessitated a car. Fortunately, finally, the teenager felt the need to get her car back from the shop (they couldn't figure out what was wrong, by the way) at lunch time (friends were meeting at a local restaurant, after all) and, therefore, freed up my car for moi! I still didn't need to go anywhere in particular.

But, hey, order was restored in the universe.

March 13, 2009

No Greenhouse? No Problem!

Here's a little DIY greenhouse for those of you, like myself, who just can't wait to get the vegetable garden going and who don't have the space or money for a fancy greenhouse outside.

Exhibit #1:

White plastic shelves are set up with grow lights and plastic sheeting over the whole thing. The plastic sheeting keeps the inside at a comfy, jungle-like atmosphere. (This creates nice humidity for the seedlings and cuts down on the need to water.) The peppers and eggplant love it! We happen to have two, large, south-facing windows which are perfect for this set-up. Don't be cheap, still need the grow lights! The sun is not around enough hours of the day at this point in the year.

Exhibit #2:
A few trays of seeds planted in tried-and-true mixture of peat moss/vermiculite/Azomite are placed on empty boxes so that the seedlings will be as close as possible to the lights. Once they grow a bit, I remove the boxes.

Exhibit #3:

All shelves are filled with seedling trays. In addition to our regulars of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant (all of which need the early start to do well in the summer here in Nebraska/Iowa), this year we are also doing some fancy cauliflower, trying Brussels sprouts (again), some cabbages, some leeks, and some artichokes.

Exhibit #4:

The beginnings of the artichokes!

So, let's itemize:

One four-tier shelving unit (Lowes) -- $25
Three grow lights ($10 each) (Walmart) -- $30
Plastic sheeting to cover (Lowes) -- $20
Six Seed trays with clear covers ($4 each) -- $24
Peat moss/vermiculite mix (Lowes) -- $10
12 organic seed packets ( -- $40

Total: $149 (the first year...after that, it's just the seeds and dirt...$50/year for hundreds of dollars worth of fresh, organic, tasty food!)

Our set-up is six times the above, but we plant one to two thousand different plants for the gardens at the farm. With the single set-up described above, you can probably get about 240 plants started. That should keep the home gardener busy for the growing season!

Let me know how it goes!

March 10, 2009

An Update on Musical Cars

As luck (ha!) would have it, all five of the vehicles were lined up just right for a nice snapshot the other day.

(Number six is at the farm.)

I have come to the sad realization that I have been complicit in the stockpiling of vehicles. It seems that there is a good reason to have each and every one. When My Honey suggested selling the Lexus, I balked. ("That's the car I usually drive, it's paid off, it's not worth as much to anyone else.") So, we move on to considering the little Toyota truck. ("Well, it gets the best gas mileage, My Honey drives it to work.") Ok. So, how about the big red truck? ("It's useful for taking loads to the farm, it has the extended cab for the girls.")

Do you see how it happens?

Much to My Mother's bemusement, we have also come to understand how we are the embodiment of a pattern established generations ago of "Guys who Accumulate Vehicles and the Women who Love Them".

So, here's to you, Grandma and Grandpa! May you rest in peace knowing the tradition survives!

March 7, 2009

Getting Goosed

Way back in 2006, before ground was broken for any cabins or compost bins or barns or woodbins, we toured our newly purchased farm with our children. On that particular day in May, some geese were happily cruising around the pond. At one point, they must have finally gotten tired of our intrusion into their blissful afternoon and took off.

Maya, in the foreground, watches the geese head north from the pond. One can be seen, if you look carefully, in about the center of the photograph, just above the horizon. Andre was off to the right, unhappy that he didn't have his shotgun with him as a goose flew right over his head on its way to Canada.

We jump to 2009.

I was awakened this morning to the sounds of honking. Assuming it was either a dream or birds flying overhead and would pass quickly, I ignored the noise. After all, it was before 7am! But, the honking grew louder and more insistent. I finally got up, looked out the bedroom window, and saw four lovely Canada geese floating on our pond, evidently chatting with each other. It was enchanting to watch their movements for the better part of an hour. Then, as suddenly as they arrived, they flapped their wings and took flight.

It was worth the wait!

(Click on the photo to enlarge it and actually SEE the geese taking off!)

March 3, 2009

Musical Cars

You would never know there's a recession/depression/high gas prices/any problems at all with the economy by the burgeoning fleet of vehicles in our driveway.

It seems there is a bug that infects a man who becomes a farmer. This bug drives said man to buy used cars/trucks/tractors 'til the cows come home, as it were. It has taken over My Honey for the past couple of years. (Until this bug struck, we were happily driving a 1998 Lexus, which we still have.)

First, of course, we needed a farm truck. We bought an old Ford F-150 when we bought the farm in 2006 and it is worth its weight in gold at the farm. (Four-wheel drive and all that, you know.) OK. Fine. I'm down with that. Every farm needs a farm truck.

Then, we had to have truck in which to go back and forth to the farm. (Don't ask why. There is no cogent answer here. The old Lexus could have served just fine in this capacity.) So, we bought a shiny, red truck last Valentine's Day (very a propos, no?) This truck was only a two-wheel drive, however (a fatal flaw on the farm during snowy, wet, muddy, almost any weather).

So, naturally, that leads us to "a truck that goes back and forth to the farm and has four-wheel drive". "But, of course!", you may say. Yes, of course. My Honey would agree wholeheartedly. So, the search began for a four-wheel drive, SUV-type car/truck that fit the bill. Enter 'Little Blue':

Little Blue is a 1993 Ford Explorer that needed front end work. (Oh, joy of joys!)

Look at this face. He thrives on fixing these old things.

Meanwhile, paralleling the "trucks that go to and live at the farm" My Honey came up with "I need a truck to go back and forth to work and has decent gas mileage". Meet the 1982 Toyota that gets better gas mileage than almost anything out there! (Are you keeping a running count? We're up to five vehicles now, and I haven't even mentioned that our teenage daughter has my old Nissan. That makes six!)

No, the number of drivers has not increased. We're still at three (counting the teenager).

Fortunately, all of these purchases are in the hundreds of dollars, not thousands. But still...

Here is part of the fleet in the driveway.

In the interest of efficiency, I asked My Honey if we could get rid of something. He promises that if he gets the latest vehicle working, we may be able to sell the red truck.

I'm not holding my breath.

February 25, 2009

Green Acres

This entry is added by Andre Konstantinov.

Everyone at work, as soon as they find out that we own a farm, always starts: "Greeeeeeeen Acres is the place to be".....

Is it THAT unusual to own a farm?

I once worked for a small software development company in Glenwood, Iowa. It was, in fact, my first job after I married My Honey and got my Green Card (one of the many, many reasons that I married her...really!). They used to joke that if I did not behave, they would take away my "Pink Card". I did not mind. There was love and care in these jokes. They loved me and I loved the people I worked with.

At that company, it was fairly typical to take off three weeks in September to go and harvest, say, 60 acres of beans. I was a wide-eyed immigrant, graduate student at Creighton University in physics, just taking it all in. Good Lord, I didn't even know how 'John Deere' was actually spelled. Seriously.

Oh yeah, the company developed agricultural loan software.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would care about things like 'yield', 'pounds of nitrogen per acre' and 'mechanical weed control'. I grew up in a city. Food came from the grocery store, and it did NOT have dirt on it.

Twelve years after that time, having bought a farm, I find myself quite versed in the intricacies of ancient tractor makes and models. (I even own a few of them.) I watch the weather with genuine interest. I chart the rainfall. I know when the ground will freeze and thaw. I quiver with anticipation during the fall hunting season. I love that My Honey has just begun her seedlings in the makeshift greenhouse that was once our living room.

I've come a long way since the days of writing code for ag loans, and I'm glad of it!

February 19, 2009

My Better Half

I've got to hand it to My Honey.

The rain barrel was finally empty of water or ice. The new spigot had been purchased (and brought to the farm this weekend). Elements had converged for the optimum time to repair the barrel. Only one problem -- six inches of freshly fallen snow had arrived in the night.

Undeterred by the weather, he slithered on the ground and climbed into the barrel to attach the new spigot.

What a trooper!

We're all ready for spring.

Thanks, Honey! You're the best!

February 16, 2009

Good luck

My superstitious/traditional (not mutually exclusive here) Russian hubby decided that we needed horseshoes over each of the two doors in our cabin at the dacha*. So, we devised a plan. Our neighbor up the road, who has horses, must have a horseshoe lying around that he didn't need. Since he trusts us with his horses and gives us free rein (tee-hee) of his barn, whether we're going riding or not, we made a trip up there and, lo and behold, found a horseshoe. Picking it up and taking it with us, we were both filled with unspoken, yet utterly palpable guilt, of course.

Returning to our cabin, we face the next small dilemma -- how to hang the horseshoe, ends up or ends down. For the answer, we consulted Wikipedia:

In some traditions, any good or bad luck achieved will only occur to the owner of the horseshoe, not the person who hangs it up. Therefore, if the horseshoe was stolen, borrowed or even just found then the owner, not the person who found or stole the horseshoe will get any good or bad luck.

Makes sense. We are confirmed in our guilt. We move to Plan B.

Cut to a trip into town for supplies.

We found ourselves at the farm store where new horseshoes were readily available for a nominal price. We bought two and decided to secretly return the ill-gotten gain to our neighbor's barn as soon as humanly possible. No need for negative juju here. We're talking luck after all.

The new horseshoes are in place, granting luck to all who enter our beloved cabin. The old, liberated horseshoe, with loads of character, history, and rust IS STILL IN THE TRUCK! UGH! We can't return it until next weekend. DO NOT ENTER our cabin until then! You have been forewarned.


*Russian compound of house/barn/gardens outside of the city wherein to grow produce for the winter and to simply have fun in the summer.

February 13, 2009

Multiple Media and Me

Gone are the days when one would put pen to paper...the days of what is dismissively called "snail mail" (as if slow were bad. Hmm...I can think of some things...well, let's leave that for another entry). Gone are the days of long-awaited family missives, keenly anticipated news from long-distance friends, sweetly scented love letters, a 150-year-old journal in verse, no less, of an ancestor as she traveled around the world, alone, by ship. (True story.)

I'm sure I'm not the only 40-something that has wondered if she can keep up with the rapid pace of technological advances. I may have a leg up on things since I have children who span the gadget gamut from 1988 to 2001. My eldest Skypes and Facebooks me. (Sometimes, she even SkypeCries me...sorry Honey, but we're hoping to coin a term here. You understand.) The second daughter texts me and calls me on her cell or IMs me from her bedroom to my desk, all within the confines of our home. (My husband says I'm child-rearing by cell. What choice do I have?) The younger ones are learning the ropes of MySpace and Gmail (where I can feel like a pro, thanks to the tutelage of their older siblings).

Thirty years ago, yours truly studied abroad. The coolest innovation in communication at the time was the aerogramme. It was a blue, one-sheet letter, purchased at the post office, that could be folded in three and had self-adhesive flaps and postage (less than a traditional letter) already attached. I thought it was the bomb! (I know, anachronistic use of the term...forgive me.) It was used all around the world. I thought nothing else could make the world smaller. I had no idea what was on the horizon.

I remember spending time and thought composing. I was sure that letters I received from family and friends were given the same consideration. Each piece of mail was a treasure.

One correspondent who held a special place in my heart was my maternal Grandma. I was pretty sure she hated writing letters, but she wrote to me (all the more meaningful, don't you think?) She wrote religiously, and so did I, to her. I loved receiving her letters. They were a lifeline to my family halfway around the world.

Upon her death in 1991, 13 years after I had spent the year abroad, I went rummaging through her dresser drawers (a forbidden act for a granddaughter who had so respected her grandmother, but, hey, I was still young and curious).

The tears swell in my eyes even today when I remember the moment that I discovered, much to my surprise, neatly collected in a simple rubber band, in a top drawer behind her unmentionables, all of the letters I had sent to her from that year in my life...the time I lived incommunicado from my family, so far away, so alone. I grabbed the packet of letters and tucked them into my suitcase for the ride home. (Who else would want them?) I keep them with the letters I received from her that year...the letters I saved for all those years, as well. (Note to my children...look for these letters when I go.)

Will email be able to follow the act of snail-mail? Are we saving those emails that mean something to us? Or, do they end up in our accounts for so long that they disappear by default after 60 days?

I, for one, have printed hard copies of all those emails My Honey wrote to me when we were courting long-distance. (They total about a ream and a half of paper...note to children, look for those in the basement. You might make a nice love story book with them and make a little money!)

Let me just put this out there...if you have feelings for someone close to you, write that person a real letter. It will mean more than you know.

February 10, 2009

A Man's World

So, we're building a new barn. The old one, which was actually rather new, was rolled up in a ball by a spring tornado last year along with the garden shed. Thankfully, the main two cabins were left untouched. Note to self -- get that building insurance before the coming spring.

With the help of our neighbor's son and his friend, the skeleton is in place for the new barn. The next step is the metal roofing material which can be had at any decent hardware store. The problem with the decent hardware stores in town is that they are used to dealing with men. My man, however, is busy working all day, so I thought I'd take it upon myself to get some prices on roofing material from the three or four various hardware stores in the area. Having been building things for some two and a half years now, I've learned one basic assume I don't know what I'm doing until I "talk the talk" of construction for them, not unlike entering a password in order to gain access, or, at least, strutting by in a bikini to gain attention.

I begin by boning up on the Internet...gauge numbers, widths, linear feet prices, and such. Then, I go to the various stores and let them see that I am price shopping and sometimes get a cute young thing who has a brain in his head and sees that I actually do know what I am talking about. The more interesting conversations are on the phone with the not-so-cute older things that are sure that I don't know what I'm talking about.

Liz: Hello. I'd like to get some prices on roofing panels.

Old Guy: OK. Well, what exactly do you want? (tone = "Ha. She'll be stumped now!")

Liz: Well, I'd like to know how much you charge per linear foot for your 36-inch, 29-gauge, 13-foot, metal, ribbed, white or there a price difference depending on color?...roofing metal, and I need 32 sections of it to cover 1,248 square feet of a barn roof.

Old Guy: Oh. Well, just a minute. (Obviously shaken and calling to his more knowledgeable buddy..."How much is blah blah blah?")

Other Old Guy: (His interminable coffee break rudely interrupted) It's $2.75 per linear foot.

Old Guy: It's $2.75 per linear foot.

Liz: OK. Thanks. And, I assume you don't have it in stock (since no one else did, again, the learning curve in action), so how long would it take to get it in?

Old Guy: (Showing, once again, his utter dispensability) "How long would it take to get it?"

Other Old Guy: Three weeks.

Old Guy: Three weeks.

Liz: Thanks so much! (Touché)

February 5, 2009

"Life" and "Lost"

It has come time on the new blog to rant. I'm sorry, but I must!

The wasteland that we call Broadcast Television usually doesn't let me down, only because my expectations are so low. I know that there will be weeks of re-runs, other weeks of pilots that may have seemed like good ideas at the time they were proffered, and yet other weeks of inane reality shows. Same ole, same ole.

But, every once in a while, there is a show actually worth watching! A few years ago, an NPR* commentator predicted that the shows of the upcoming year would be Lost and Desperate Housewives. Well, being a loyal NPR follower, I tuned in to see what they were like and got hooked on both of them. Unlike my hero, David Letterman, I do know, "what the f$%k is going on in Lost" since I have watched it religiously from the beginning. And the Desperate Housewives never fail to satisfy.

Then, just last year, against all odds, along came another new show that had some promise...Life. It is one of those "critically acclaimed" but, I'm guessing, hardly watched shows. It centers on a detective who is given a second chance. Golden Globe nominee Damian Lewis ("Band of Brothers") plays complex, offbeat Detective Charlie Crews, who returns to the force after serving time in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Crews' new lease on life has provided him with a Zen-like outlook, peace of mind and no need for vengeance, an attitude which can be challenging to maintain when someone he cares about is threatened -- or when he is investigating the mystery surrounding the murder he was falsely accused of.

There are three plot lines going all at the same time -- Charlie does his day job of being a detective and solving crimes, he maintains a hidden room where he charts the ongoing progress of the conspiracy against him, and he works on finding the guy who did the deed that Charlie was accused of and served time for. Interesting, deep, and circuitous, no?

One other little note...I have been waiting for many weeks for the return of Life. New episodes were scheduled to start up again last night, February 4th, 2009, which they did. One small problem...the new episode was directly opposite the latest new episode of Lost! And no where around either one of them was a show anywhere near worth watching!!! Why, oh why??!! Why couldn't they have put them in different time slots for us geeks to be able to enjoy both, live? (Yes, I know one can watch online after the fact, but it just isn't the same now, is it?) Well, I was forced to choose. I chose Lost (for technical re-play reasons) and watched Life this morning on my PC...not nearly as satisfying. But what is an intelligent, demanding, television viewer to do?

Thanks for listening.

*National Public Radio - The voice of some intelligence in these matters.

February 2, 2009

Day by Day

In this part of the world, we don't pay too much attention to the prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil. It doesn't really matter which way he goes, we Midwesterners always have at least six more weeks of winter at this point in the year. We're used to it, so it's alright. But, having spent some of my formative years just north of Phil's stomping grounds, I still get a little thrill when his day rolls around. Even if he predicts more winter, the fact that Phil's day has arrived means that spring can't be far off.

Even more entertaining than watching a reluctant rodent being pulled out of his cozy hole is the movie, Groundhog Day. Bill Murray stars as a sullen, sarcastic news reporter who is stuck living the same day over and over again....until he gets it right. Along the way, however, he gets to act with impunity, knowing no one will remember his actions the next day. I'm envious. Do-Overs to the max! (Yes, I know it's just a movie, but still...)

His progress in the movie is through his own learning experiences, unencumbered by the passage of time (beyond one day). It's a great movie -- full of fun stuff, serious stuff, and a moral that doesn't hit you over the head. Thoroughly enjoyable and...timeless. (Ha!) Put it on your Netflix wishlist.

One of the more subtle lessons in the film is that of judging a small town like Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (a real place, by the way). We see through the cynic's eyes, as the story opens, that it's a non-descript, podunk town that he can't wait to leave behind. As the story unfolds, our antagonist, stuck there, begins to see the charms of the town. These charms are expressed in family ties, shared history, social cooperation, and a willingness to accept the newcomer, no questions asked.

Down on our farm, even though they call us "the crazy Russians", we know that it is said with affection, we know that we will never get a bum deal from our small town, we know that our neighbors will always watch out for us, and we know that a handshake is a deal-sealer. People around us are more interested in us succeeding than failing, they realize that we have something to offer, and they know that we're all in this together. I must admit that I used to discount small towns as insignificant. My bad. They are truly the backbone of this great nation and I count myself lucky to be someone who understands why.

January 29, 2009

Coming Full Circle, Times Two

Part One

Once upon a time, in a small county, in a quiet place, a young man decided to build a farm.

*Etching of Farm of Prier Squire Wilson,
my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather.
"Out the old Eddyville Road at the First Bridge",
Ottumwa, Iowa, circa 1850.

The generations that followed him were peopled with more farmers, teachers, an engineer and inventor (my Great-Grandfather, Fred Wilson, invented a corn picker, among other things), more teachers, I'm sure (note to my children: we've more than fulfilled our quota of teachers for one family. You may all go and do other things...please!), a girl who married a traveling salesman who became a millionaire, and, eventually, a psychologist named Jan. (Stay tuned.)

Part Two

Once upon a similar time, in a small kingdom, in a faraway place, another man (actually a boy of about 14 years) decided to hop on a boat and go halfway around the world to seek his fortune in a new land. He left his hilltop village in the Pyrenees and sailed to New York with a tag around his neck saying, "Jose Serrano, Hollister, California" where he would go and tend sheep (something Basques are good at) as per his sponsor's arrangement. He later bought some dry, desert land in the Central Valley of California. Today it is the richest producing land in the world. (Just add water.) His son was a cattleman and hay farmer.
His grandson got his doctorate in history (and, yes, became a teacher) and his name is Martin.

Denice and Fermin Larrey, my Grandparents,
with a prize-winning cow, circa 1940.

Martin and Jan met in high school in California and later married. Each went on to much higher education and had us five children. The only giveaway that they had come from farm families was the garden we always managed to grow, wherever we lived. Some of my earliest memories are of planting, weeding, harvesting. I also remember visiting my Grandparents' farm and climbing on haystacks, and going horseback riding, and milking cows. It all seemed so far away from what was going on in my immediate family where academics and study were so valued (not that that's a bad thing, mind you). But, as I think about it now, I remember some other things. My Mother cooked what was in season. (It's all the rage, now, but then it was just the way good cooks cooked.) We shopped at farmers' markets whenever we could. (It wasn't chic, it was the way to get the best-tasting food.) My Grandparents sent oranges and almonds from California at Christmastime, when they were at their best. What a treat! So, the rhythm of the seasons was living on in them and being passed on to me all along.

I grew up and went on wonderful adventures overseas, became a spy for a while, had some higher education myself, and, you guessed it, became a teacher. Then I met my husband, Andre, who is Russian. Russians have a very strong, vibrant tradition of having a family farm, a plot of land, a dacha. So, Andre and I spent a couple of years looking for our own piece of land. We found it near Clarinda, Iowa, about 150 miles from where my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather did the same thing over 150 years ago. What a circle!

Our dacha compound near Clarinda, Iowa.