Archive for June, 2013

Easy Cheese ™

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Some months ago, Franco and I got off on the wrong foot in the mornings. My habit was to greet him first thing in the morning with a scratch behind his ears, and I think I must have caught him once when he was still pretty sleepy, because he started grumbling at me whenever I’d say hello to him first thing.

Franco stays downstairs, and our bedroom is upstairs. So when we go to bed at night, he really doesn’t see us until the next morning.

Franco has always been a grumbler. It is my belief that a dog needs a way to let you know they are unhappy. It is unacceptable for them to bite or be aggressive in any way, and I think Franco recognizes this. So he and I have come to terms with his grumbling.

I thought long and hard about how he and I could turn this morning situation around. I figured we should be happy to see each other after a night of separation. I happened to remember the examination rooms at Franco’s vet, and got an idea. One of the standard items in these rooms is an aerosol can of cheese. I think they like it because it occupies the animal for a while. It takes some time to lick up, and is sticky enough that even once it is in their mouth, some smacking is required to get it all swallowed.

So I bought a can of Kraft Easy Cheese ™ from the corner store, and did the experiment. I made a line of cheese across the fingers of my left hand that first morning. I walked downstairs. Franco was still stretched out on his rug. I sat down on the steps and called him. He came somewhat curiously. I held out my hand, he took a sniff, and cleaned off my fingers. I gave him a scratch and he did not grumble. Score one.

We’ve been using this technique for some weeks now, and the grumbles have ceased. In fact, he is usually watching for me when I come down, and reminds me with his eyes if I happen to have forgotten his cheese.

This morning was a bit different. I think we must have run him pretty hard yesterday, because when I came downstairs and sat on the step, he did not come up to me. I found him fast asleep on his rug, so I walked up and moved my cheese-lined fingers near his nose. He must have been very tired, because he licked my fingers off without getting up this time. He registered his pleasure by thumping his tail on the floor, and I guess that is good enough for me.

Some Bad News

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

My last post was about a young family of skunks taking up residence at the cemetery near the end of our road. There were four of the little guys clearly curious and unafraid of me. Last night on my walk, I found the scene changed up there. My guess is a complaint from one of the cemetery visitors prompted the cemetery officials to mow the area where the little guys were playing. One skunk was dead near the road with bugs all over his body. The other three were nowhere to be seen, and I hope they had the sense to vacate in time.

Skunk Patrol

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

skunk1On our walk this afternoon, Franco and I headed up the hill toward the cemetery. We noticed some serious erosion along the road as a result of the rain we’ve gotten the past couple of days.

When we get to the cemetery, Franco is often busy with his nose as I head to the end where Renee Michaelson is buried. I try to stop and pay my respects whenever I’m in the neighborhood. I got most of the way to the grave when I encountered these little guys just off the cemetery driveway.

skunk2Yes, they are absolutely cute, and in retrospect, I wish I’d have stayed around and taken some more pictures. I got to thinking about bear mothers not liking anyone messing with their young, and figured it was likely that skunk mothers might feel the same way if they encountered a guy and his big dog messing around. So we walked away (quite briskly!) It was over so quickly that I don’t think Franco was even aware of the small interesting creatures that were so close to him, and I’d say that may have been a blessing.

A Sweet Thing to Say

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I do enjoy feeling good about my accomplishments, and also like to help people feel good about theirs. If I were to be my own therapist, I think I’d throw back to my time in K-12 school. Positive feedback didn’t seem to be in vogue then. I was a fairly bright and socially awkward child, and the less attention I got from my adult teachers, the more I craved and demanded it, and the less forthcoming it seemed to be. So I think I grew to adulthood with an unmet need.

Just the other day, I got word that one of my college professors and longtime friend had received a prestigious award for a writing project she had done. I sent her my congratulations, and she replied with the following:

“Thank you for the kind words, Ted. I’m not into planting trees, chopping wood, building things, and vegetable gardening, so I write instead. It has been a rewarding project.”

I think her admission of the things she is not into comes partly from reading this blog. I worry that sometimes in my exuberance for the life I enjoy out here, I may alienate some of my friends that live in town and haven’t the physical stamina to do the things I do. So I replied,

“Chopping wood heats the house for the winter. A book like yours feeds curious minds for generations. I’m glad you write. Ted”

It came from my heart. Not only her writing, but all the teaching she has done throughout the years that helped disorganized piles of snot like the young version of me develop into reasonably thinking adults. I was heartened by her reply,

“What a sweet thing to say! Thank you.”

A good rule of thumb I’ve developed is, never miss an opportunity to tell someone that deserves it they’re doing a good job.

Wabi-sabi

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

I think it was on our Grand Canyon hike that Steve introduced me to the concept of wabi-sabi. If it wasn’t there, it would have been a good place to introduce it. As Steve explained it to me, wabi-sabi is the randomness of nature taking on a spiritual beauty. Looking over the railing at the canyon, one experiences a large eroded plateau, but the beauty is breath-taking. Teddy Roosevelt said that the Grand Canyon is a sight every American should see, and I second that notion.

wabiToday on my normal walk with Franco after supper, we came upon a flowering wild chokecherry tree. I happened to glance over at it as we were walking by, and something stopped me dead in my tracks. The clusters of flowers were just beginning to blossom. Some were pointed toward me, some away, some up, down, left, right, but the overall effect of the blossoms, leaves, and branches in the waning sunlight set my poetic soul ablaze. The picture, even in high resolution didn’t capture it, but then I didn’t expect it to. That moment during today’s walk reminded me to keep the radar dish turning. That a wabi-sabi can smack you between the eyes at any time, and that the sensation can be life-altering.

I Heart Mulch

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

mulch1In our decades of gardening life, we’ve never had any extra mulch to spare for the garden. It has been a scramble to feed the maw of our compost drum over the years, with none left over for piling between the vegetable rows to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. That is until this year.

One of our good gardening buddies told us about the City of Hancock, and their technique for accumulating lawn waste. You can drop your stuff off for free if it is in a biodegradable bag. And they encourage people from the community to drive back to the leaf pile and help themselves. Well, on several of my trips to town, I’ve done just that, and have accumulated leaves and grass clippings to spare.

mulch2So this year for the first time we’ve been able to do our planting and then mulch around the plants. Everything looks so much neater in the gardens now, and when I move the mulch aside, I see moist earth below.

One thing I’ve found interesting when I open the bags of yard waste and spread it out, is the diversity of environments the leaves come from. I’ll get a run of pine needles (which I save for the blueberries,) then some maple leaves, and even one bag containing a fair number of chestnuts.

Now the compost tumbler is full of good stuff for the gardens, and the ever spreading area of mulch is blanketing this year’s crop, which will be rototilled in for next year’s crops as well. The only downside so far is the rose bush prunings. My habit in the summer is to go BAREFOOT. My feet, tough as they are, found some wicked rose bush prunings in one of the rows. It found them because they impaled themselves into my feet. I walked gingerly down that row for a while, I can tell you.

Tomato Progress

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

tomatoFinally finally we got the tomatoes in the ground today. Gosh it has been a struggle to get the garden going this year. Planting the tomatoes is a major milestone, though.

Alice and I have developed a technique that works very well for us. I haul the water in buckets from the pond and stage them near the scene of operations. Then, using a spade, I dig 4 deep holes in a row. As I’m digging them, Alice follows with the watering can, and fills the holes about half full of water. Then she lays out the plants for me. I tap them out of their pots and put them as deep as I can into the muddy hole. Then I pull the surrounding dirt in, and after the hole is all filled in, I sculpt the dirt into a basin around the plant so the water won’t run off when I water the plants. The tomato cage gets poked into the ground next. I then open a bag of leaves I’ve been stockpiling, and mulch heavily around each plant. Then on to the next plant.

Astute readers among you might notice a trend in the jobs we each pick to get the tomatoes planted. To give you a hint, Alice walked out of the greenhouse without a speck of dirt on her, or the smell of dirt on her. I, on the other had, had dirt spots from head to toe. My fingers were on my hands, I was sure, but they were not visible under the dirt. Dirty fingernails? Hah! You couldn’t even *see* my fingernails.

This is no complaint on my part. Alice staged everything I needed so I didn’t have to get up until a row of 4 plants was completed. And, by golly, I like getting into the dirt; while Alice doesn’t. We both do the part of the job we like, and we get the job done between us.

Perfume in the Air

Monday, June 10th, 2013

appletreeI spent a lot of today indoors running errands from place to place. It was a nice day weather wise too, not too warm with a bit of a breeze. The mosquitoes have hatched with a passion, but that is good for the swallows, who seem to be positively enjoying life lately.

On my normal walk with Franco this evening after supper, I was struck by how full the apple trees are of blossoms right now. All these are wild apples, probably planted by deer or bear, and not pruned or fertilized. Yet there is not a leaf to be seen on them, because they are so full of flowers. And they smell heavenly. If the frost holds off and enough pollinators show up, we should have a good apple year.

Dancing Alice

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Alice was dancing around the house this afternoon.

We *use* our house. We’re in and out a lot, often having accomplished something not particularly clean. We have a large dog who frequently attaches himself to unwholesome particles which swish off him as he comes through the door. Grime has built up on both our outside doors over the years. At least once a year at spring cleaning time we attempt to get the stains out, but usually give up after poor results.

Enter Steve and John. We learned from them about a product called MR CLEAN MAGIC ERASER. They seemed so enthused about it that we bought one, although we, being trained as scientists, are pretty skeptical about things being magic. Alice decided on one last try to get the doors clean before we resort to painting them.

She got out the magic eraser, and her jaw dropped. She asked me to stop what I was doing several times and take a look at how the doors were coming. She was so happy about the job it was doing, she was dancing! I have to admit if a product deserves the name, “magic,” then this is the one.

I Made a Chair

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

chair3I’ve done a lot of woodworking, but have not yet tackled a chair. I think I’ve been reluctant because of the way I’ve abused chairs in my life. From a teenager until not that long ago, I delighted in rocking back on the rear legs of the chair while sitting down. Perhaps I subconsciously feared all that destructive chair behavior would translate into bad karma during the building process.

chair4This winter we had some loggers come through our property to widen the right-of-way where the powerlines cross. When my neighbor learned of the impending logging, he asked if he could harvest some cedar branches from some of the doomed trees. I said, “Sure, but what do you want them for?” He explained he was planning to teach a friend of his how to build one of his beautiful rustic chairs, and needed some bent cedar branches. “Could I be a part of the class too,” I asked him? He agreed, and we worked together to get the cedar branches into his truck for the upcoming workshop.

chair5Again, I kind of forgot about the chairs, and in the middle of the spring crush of projects, I was asked when I’d like to build the chair. “How about tomorrow,” I said. I was so far behind anyway I felt that one more project wouldn’t make a difference. We agreed to start the day after that, and I showed up at his place at 9:00 am, planning to spend a couple of hours.

chair6Step one was to select the cedar poles for the uprights. These were laid out on a piece of plywood that had the uprights lofted full size, including the angles for the cross pieces. Once in place to our satisfaction, I drilled and screwed them together. These became the two sides of the frame of the chair.

chair7Next we chose some pieces of cedar of similar size that had just the sweep we were looking for to attach the sides together. When these pieces were installed, the frame of the chair was essentially complete. Lunchtime had come and gone, and the afternoon was waning. Several hours of work were all that was required to have a recognizable chair sitting on the workbench. The time flew by for me. I could hardly believe the day was over, and I was eager for the next day’s work. I was learning, contributing, and creating a very nice piece under my neighbor’s patient eye.

chair8Once the frame was in place, it was time to start bending the red osier dogwood branches that my neighbor had gathered. These would form the head, arms, and seat of the chair. We began with the arms, carefully aligning each piece so it lined up with its neighbor and swept around the angles in a pleasing manner. Then we went to work on the head of the chair. Each piece was carefully bent next to its neighbor, nailed and countersunk until the arms and head were finished. Oh, it was coming out nicely.

chair9The seat was next. Several parallel lines of dogwood were attached to the cross pieces of the seat and back of the chair, and the tops were allowed to run wild. Once they were in place so we could see what was going on, we went about weaving them near the top of the head until we were both happy with the pattern that was made. These pieces were then nailed in place, and the chair was done.

chair11We put away the tools, put the chair in the back of the truck, and took it to our place. Alice saw it and sat in it for the first time when there were still a few sharp points of nails that needed to be ground down. She was warned, but was not about to be deterred. I was strongly encouraged to get the grinder out and fix up those nail points, which I did.

Every Memorial Day, Alice likes to sit on the porch had have a beer in memory of her Dad. who passed away almost 30 years ago. This year she had her beer in her new porch chair.