Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Plan C, Part 2

This one's just south of Walhonding, Ohio, about 30 minutes from Jess, about an hour from Al (I know), and, believe it or not, less than 2 hours from Julie (not that that's necessarily a plus).

I've gotten to love realtor speak, especially the allcaps gambit. "BRING YOUR TOOLS AND YOUR ANIMALS! A HANDYMAN'S DREAM!!!"

Right. My dream is to fall through the floor onto a pile of asbestos.

Just 2.2 acres, it sits pretty much out in the middle of nowhere in a very pretty part of Ohio. It's priced way too high, for some reason. Al and I agreed that it's a terrible investment property, whether you planned on fixing it up to rent or dividing the lot. The reason is because there are no jobs in the area because there's nothing in the area. It's like North Central Iowa in that way, but more scenic.

Seriously thinking about offering nearly half the asking price. Nothing to lose.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Plan C?

At the risk of jinxing it yet again, my promise to my mom is haunting me. The promise was to move closer to my sister and brothers in order to protect my nieces and nephews from them. I'm only half-kidding.

This one's only 7 acres (maybe 4 tillable?), and sits smack dab in the middle of the meth belt capital of Ohio, in Morrow County, or, as my brother Al calls it, "The County Of ToMorrow". It also happens to be very close to Al's place (my favorite brother [don't tell Jess]), and only 30 minutes from Jesse.

It looks to be pretty much a dump of a house, but it's got a wood burning stove. All I need is electricity, basic plumbing (and I do mean basic), television reception, and a way to heat the place. Jess has a lot of timber; he'd probably let me buy "wholesale".

Keifus is controlling my life. I rewatched Fast Food Nation last night and realized I'm Ethan Hawke's character. Could be worse, I suppose.

Anyways, just not sure at all about anything. Keep those fingers crossed, or whatever. More appreciated, really, than perhaps you'll ever know. Seriously.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stolen Seasons

It would appear the property I was interested in is no longer on the market. And not because I (unfortunately?) bought it.

A strange affair. I never really heard back from anyone regarding whether or not I'd like to make a counter-offer. Very weird. I came into work Monday morning, didn't have any emails from the realtor, and the listing had been removed.

It's a devilish thing not to know who you're supposed to be nor where you should go. Demonic, even.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Field Of Day Dreams

These are a few of the pictures Pat, a very friendly real estate lady, sent to me of the property in The Greater Titonka-Lakota Metropolitan Area.

I made an offer on the property Wednesday morning.

I'm nervous. I don't know if I'm more afraid they'll refuse the offer, or more anxious that they'll actually accept it. I'm trying not to jinx it. I'd appreciate the same concern from all y'all.

Add the fact that NPR for what seemed like most of the day took place in Des Moines and Davenport (urban farming, food safety, investing in small farms, fresh vegetable and fruit in schools -- it was truly eerie, in an infectiously positive way), and I'm beginning to believe that mom and dad are literally chomping at the bit.

Maybe I am, too.

When I was scheming late in 2007 to figure out a way to move closer to mom, I told her I was trying to find and interpret "the signs". When she got sick merely months later, she confessed that the cancer had cured her of searching out "signs" or divining any meaning from them.

Can't say I blame her.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life Isn't Too Short

It's too fragile.

I had a nice visit with my oldest brother, Jess, on the phone this weekend. He had the flu last week, and he still wasn't 100%. But he's always had such a positive attitude, possibly to match my negative one.

I told him that if our dad were alive today, he'd be ashamed of me. I hate my job, I don't respect the people I work for and with, and I work in an unforgivably despicable industry.

Jess said, "No, he wouldn't be ashamed of you. He'd be frustrated with you. But he wouldn't be ashamed of you. I'm sure of it."

I suppose I frustrated dad plenty while he still breathed. It's a shame I have to do it to him in death. I hope Jess is right.

I do wonder sometimes, often, actually, if folks who had terrible parents whom they didn't like are batter off in the end. I think in some respects they are.

I guess my advice to you young parents out there is this (yes, I've said this before): Make your kids hate you; they'll be more consolable in the end.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Where are you from?"

[Sorry to belabor the Iowa thing, guys, but it weighs heavy on my mind like a carpet stain. This is just my way of Scotch Guarding it out of my brain, so to speak.. I.e., I know, I know.]

My great-great grandfather, Edward, was too young to fight in the Civil War. His older brother, James, wasn't. After the war, the 2 of them set out for Iowa to homestead. (It's my understanding that James was a real Lt. John Dunbar type.)

So Edward eventually settled in North Central Iowa, in what's now called German Valley.

I was born in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. For the first 5 years of my life, we lived in Sterling Heights, a nice suburb of Detroit at the time.

Then dad was transferred to Findlay, Ohio, in the North West Central part of the state.

About 3 years later, we moved to Mahomet, Illinois. Dad worked in Champaign-Urbana.

Then he was transferred, about 3 years later, to Columbus, Ohio, and we moved to a suburban town called Pickerington. We lived there for nearly 6 years, or so.

Then mom and dad and I (everyone else was gone and married) moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at the very beginning of my junior year of high school. That was rough.

About 2 years later he was transferred to Springfield, Ohio, and we moved to some acreage in New Carlisle, Ohio. That Fall, I was off to New York City.

I moved back to New Carlisle in 1990. Went to another college, graduated, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee to attend graduate school.

That lasted about 15 minutes, and it was back to New Carlisle. I worked at a nursery farm for awhile, moved over to my brother's farm for a bit. I was aimless and getting kind of long in the tooth, so I moved to Colorado. Boulder, Estes Park, and finally Winter Park. I was there for 2 and 1/2 seasons. Met the-one-that-got-away, and then, after one more visit to New Carlisle, on Memorial Day Weekend we moved to Birmingham, Alabama. That was 1997.

So when people ask me, "Where are you from?", I think I'm just going to say, "Iowa."

Yeah, I like the sound of that. I say it proudly, with a good deal of charm and wit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cabin Fever

Bummer. Schmutzie posted a 6-part video of the mini-documentary at his blog that, for me, since he posted it, had become a daily ritual and a spectacular inspiration. It was pulled due, I can only assume, to copyright issues. Now I'll have to snoop around The Internet Web to get my fix.

So I've decided, once I get to Iowa, to build a 20' x 20' log cabin using nothing but native trees, tweezers and a nail file. It'll be my summer home.

What is it about us that moves one to, what, regress? Devolve? To let ourselves, yet again, be held hostage to domesticated fire? Several books and movies spring immediately to mind:

My Side Of The Mountain

Dances With Wolves

White Fang

Legally Blond

I have a severe and acute case of homesickness. But there's no "home" to go back to. Hasn't been since 1998. Is that what I'm doing? Trying to create a "home" on the prairie where it all began in the first place? Someday remind me to tell you about the first of my kin to be born in this country, Edward, son of Patrick.

What sort of retarded lunatic (yours truly) craves solitary confinement by virtue of context? Who among the sane longs to come down with a case of cabin fever?

Fear. Despair. Gotta work on that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Medicinal Marijuana?

I've been racking my brain trying to figure out a way to generate income on the 8 tillable acres in the next 2 to 4 years. So I bought the following books:

Cooking Meth For Dummies

Hey Let's Grow Some Pot!

History Of The Poppy

Coca Cultivation And Its Uses In Curing Impotency: Short Term Solutions

Schooling Baby Boomers With Fake Ludes: A Primer

Talk about some page-turners!

In the part of Iowa I'm seriously considering relocating to, there are 4 sorts of people:

1.) Farmers

2.) Retired farmers

3.) Folks whose jobs are related to farming (e.g., meat inspectors, seed dealers, implement salesmen, etc.)

4.) People who hate farming and Iowa but don't know they're allowed to leave

That last group is a tough crowd.

What I'll do eventually is make the 8 acres a grid, and farm only 4 acres a year, rotating the fallow acres with the growing acres as well as rotating the particular crops themselves, careful not to follow one crop with an unsymbiotic one, and vise versa. (I'll go into the details of this later, when I'm actually there.)

At this point, most if not all Iowans never see the "food" that's grown right next door to them, literally. The farms have become so big that there no longer is a small farm culture. Which means, ironically, that rural Iowa doesn't enjoy the appreciation for fresh food that urbanites with disposable income do. I'm gonna change that, and here's how.

After I get good at it (I'm already pretty good, though it's on a small scale), I'll approach the area schools and offer to grow fruits and vegetables for lunches. Oh sure, there are zillions of government regulations, and the FDA practically subsidizes growing fuel instead of food. But there have to be dozens of lunchroom ladies that would look the other way when the sight of my way-too-early-on-account-of-cold-frame carrots immediately launches them into a narcotic-like flashback to their childhoods.

Then I'll start a program where the school itself grows its own veggies. It'll be a part of the curriculum starting in 3rd grade. Its inherent appeal and success will spread like wildfire. I'll be an agricultural community organizer, reminiscent of my President whom I have an enormous amount of respect for.

Change the way things are grown, harvested, cooked. Change the way we live. Perspective. What really matters. Sharing a meal. The Last Supper.

Perhaps my mom and dad could finally feel free to be proud of me, because I can't think of anything else right now that would make me more happy beyond description. Seriously.

Oh well. I suppose daydreaming is an art more than a business. Go figure.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Cow wants to be outside and eat grass (after it's milked) in the early morning.

Cow wants to go back inside in the early evening to be milked again.

Instead, cow stays in an enclosure standing in its own poop and is fed corn.

Corn doesn't agree with cow's stomach, and becomes gassy.

Cow gets sick; wants to go outside and eat grass and poop.

Cow, instead, is given antibiotics with its corn.

Cow gets sicker; meat is affected; still standing in own poop.

All cow wants to do is go outside and eat grass. And poop.

There was a great article in the Birmingham paper yesterday about one of our local farmers' market farmers. They raise beef, poultry and pork. The beef is grass fed. They let the chickens forage. And they let the pigs forage, for acorns. She said the acorns give the pork a wonderful flavor.

Articles like this make me feel less alone. And stories like this one make me believe I can do anything if I stick with it.

Here's the thing: Free-range livestock eats what it needs to be healthy, suffers less stress over the course of its life, and has some dignity. Because of these simple things, it tastes better, and, that's right, it's better for you.

I think I read where Michael Pollan said that a cow with a stomach infection, if left to its own devices to eat grass, will have a completely healthy stomach in less than a week.

No antibiotics needed.

I'll shut up now. (For awhile.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sour Grapes

Well that's the last time I grow heirloom plants. What a disastrous year. Rot before they're ripe, cracked crowns, yellowing and dying leaves, flesh-eating alien zombie robots from outer space and the future. You name it.

But boy the few I had (and by few I'd say probably 10 bushels) were delicious.

But next year, if I have time, depending where I am, it's a more traditional, hardy variety. Maybe Better Boy, or Beefsteak. I'll do them from seed again, absolutely. But these finicky heirlooms are so not my bag.

Fall arrived down here yesterday. Absolutely gorgeous day. I was stuck inside all day watching football and golf. This really has to be the last weekend I blow off. I've got way too much to do, either way. Roll Tide, though. Er, Go Bucks.

If you haven't seen it, check out Bottle Shock. Bill Pullman is probably one of the worst working actors we currently have to suffer through. But it's based on a true story, and Alan Rickman is physically incapable of being bad in a movie. Plus, it's about wine, and the sublime nobility of growing food. Grapes in this case.

(But if you're in a bad mood or down for any reason, stay away from The Soloist. Very good movie, but it's pretty tough. Is it just me, or is Robert Downey Jr. in the top 5 best working actors category? Jamie Foxx was incredible.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blind Melon's "Change", A Perfect Song

I was having a great though all-too-brief conversation with Keifus at his blog (visit often) about this song. Here's the video. (Weird, I know. Imagine that.) I wasn't sure how to format/present this post, so I think I'll do it in bullet points. I miss that bit.

-It only has 3 chords. Keifus and I got into a knock down drag out fight about the fact that technically one could assert that it actually has 5 chords, if you count the open A9 and the Asus. While Keifus is ultimately correct, if you're gonna nitpick, most guitar players would agree that A, A9 and Asus are generally considered 1 chord. The reasoning behind this, if I'm not mistaken, is that the sus and 9 version of the chord, used the way Hoon does in this song, are more melodically driven than chord driven. (Note: It wasn't much of a knock down drag out fight, as you might imagine. More like: "Oh. Good point.")

-There are 2 things instrumentally about this song that, were either omitted, would render the song imperfect.

1.) The addition of the mandolin part (which, ironically I suppose, really underscores the Asus/A9 beautifully)

2.) The bass player plays a double bass

I don't suspect it's a double bass because of the video. It has to be. Note the tone and timbre of the bass sound. Reminds me of this. (That's the end vamp from Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover". Go to about 2 minutes into the video. And yes, they're playing it in 7/4 time.)

-As much as we would like it to be sometimes, life isn't a movie. But if mine were (which it is), this would be the soundtrack to this particular act of my life-movie.

-There are 2 things which every perfect song has to have in order to be perfect: melancholy and joyfulness. This song has them in spades. (And clubs.)

-The cited lyrics quote the second verse as ending this way:

"But I know we all can't stay here forever

So I want to write my words on the face of today

And then they'll paint it."

But I swear, since I first heard this song way back in '94, that he sings:

"Before they paint it."

I think I'm right. But it is odd because that particular quote is on his gravestone. So I might be wrong.

-The entry of the slide guitar and the drums after the 1st verse is highly reminiscent of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes". Though the drummer doesn't drop from 4 stories on the kick drum the way Moon did, the effect is similar. Further, I wish the guitar solo after verse 2 had used the same slide guitar. More perfect.

-Blind Melon, I thought, was always a departure from the grunge sound, consciously. They were kind of a jam band, which, I think, accounts for the utter funkiness of the bass lines, and the drummer's freewheeling play between the snare and cymbal bell off the beat toward the end of the guitar solo. Really great stuff.

-If I live in Iowa this time next year, today I'd have driven up to grampa's secret river/pond/lake stash in Minnesota (if I could find it) and fish for bullhead.

-I'll admit that the lyrics verge on the trite side, but because they just walk to the edge and yet don't jump, and the fact that they're delivered with an honest and almost innocent earnestness, I'll let them pass. (Read somewhere that the 1st line of the song came to Shannon after he woke up on his mom's couch after a 3-day coke binge.)

The late '80s and early '90s were good years for me. Having a renaissance of truly great rock --- Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, among others -- that's just ham gravy on the mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Modest Proposal

I hope I'm not sounding too... self-righteous. To be sure, I know of no bigger hypocrite than yours truly. I'm just thinking out loud.

1.) You must grow your own vegetables, or know personally who grows/cans them.

2.) You must kill what you eat, or know personally who killed it.

3.) You must process your own beef/chicken/pork, or know personally who processed it.

3a.) You must milk your own cow, make your own butter, cheese, cream, or know personally who milked/made it. Newsflash! Making cheese isn't that hard.

4.) You must go fishing more a lot. (MANDATORY!!!)

5.) That whole seasonal/regional eating thing that people are so crazy about but don't do.

I love oranges, grapefruit and lemonade. It wouldn't be much of a drive for me here in Bama, but I'm not sure Keifus would be pleased with the cost of mail order citrus fruit.

Eating seasonally can be a drag, for obvious reasons. But it's critical.

Unrealistic? Sure. Draconian? Probably. Necessary?

Let's ask ourselves in 50 years, unless we've devolved into flesh-eating robot zombies from outer space.

Better yet, let's ask our grandkids.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Work Ethic? What Work Ethic?

There's a great article in this month's Esquire that seems appropriate to some of the things I feel myself going through. Stephen Marche basically claims that modern American work culture has evolved such that we work more so we can... work more. That innovation leads to more free time, free time we can use to... have less free time.

Anyways, Marche says it much better than I can.

Oh, and it's been raining down here nearly non-stop since Friday night. Very dreary. It's not helping.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Buffalo." "Titonka." "Titonka." "Buffalo."

The Titonka property won't go away from my heart. And it's gotten over 25% cheaper over the last 6 weeks.

Hog holding stations. How bad can that get?

(Answer: Really bad.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, again: My dad spent his entire youth trying to get off the farm, and I'm trying my entire middle age to get on one. What does Morpheus say? It would seem fate is not without a sense of irony?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Plan B?

Jesse, Julie and Al got back late Sunday evening. Jess called me. He said everything went just great. The cemetery was rough on Julie because mom and dad lie right next to Eldin and Verna.

My cousin, Barry, told Jess I was thinking of moving up there. He said there was a house for sale next to him, in Stilson, that I could get for a song. My other cousin, Chris, said that no members of our side of the family are allowed in Stilson, Iowa. Everybody laughed hysterically.

So, living in town on very little acreage? Could still have a tomato orchard and, my newest vegetable garden invention, a "sweet corn shed".

There's a house in Burt that I could possibly get for what I might get when I sell my piano. Mom and dad are buried in the Burt cemetery. It's said that there are more people in the cemetery than live in Burt.

I could visit them everyday.

It's all so very scary and sad, but are they trying to tell me something? I ask them what I'm supposed to do every night when I'm sitting outside gazing at dying plants sipping on a Miller Highlife. And I listen. I listen intently.

Dad: What am I supposed to do?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fried Hamburgers

It was 1986. I had just graduated from high school. In late Spring/early Summer, dad and I drove to Iowa for a family reunion. Just the two of us headed to Lone Rock.

When we got there, my cousin Wes showed up. He was in the middle of a cross-country motorcycle trip from California. He was starving, so grandma, my dad's mom, fried him up some hamburgers in one of her ancient caste-iron skillet.

It may indeed be the case that nothing burps like bacon, but I think it's pretty hard to top the smell of browning ground beef. It should be characterized as an endorphin.

Grandma died Wednesday afternoon. She was 98 years old. She would tell you that she had 90 real good years, 5 pretty good years, and 2 not-so-good years.

Born Verna Bates, she was a remarkable woman. She and her husband, Eldin, never had much. They didn't even own the land they farmed because Eldin's dad, Lemuel, son of Edward, was tight. They were essentially tenant farmers. Only if they were too sick to work did they go to the doctor, and paid him what he charged in cash right there. I suppose it was a much different time. People were tougher, more resilient, thrifty, proud. Resigned, I suppose you might even say, in their stoic way.

I blame the ever-vain baby-boomers.

Dad saw to it that they both were taken care of. It was nothing short of his duty, and he did it gladly because of all they had given him growing up, not least of which was a chance at a college education.

Verna Bates. Buried a baby boy. Buried her husband. Buried her youngest. Buried a son-in-law. Buried a daughter-in-law. May she rest in everlasting peace.

Thanks for the post. Sounds like something similar to what's happening in some Minnesota communities.

(I can't go. It's not that I'm busy. It's that I'm emotionally unequipped to deal with another trip to Iowa. It took everything I had to drive up there for mom. My sister understands, but I don't think my oldest brother will. I guess he'll just have to be mad at me. Which is fine, because I've been mad at me for quite some time.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

By James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I've sinned against my legacy. I need to get that back.

You people on my Internets.

You've never met me, but I think you know me as well as someone could be known in here. So I wanted to say that your kindness, compassion and support these last 6 months or so moves me to tears.

I can never pay y'all back, but I can guarantee you free copies of my (maybe) forthcoming memoir, Lost In Iowa: My Search For Redemption On The Northern Prairie. Only the paperback edition though.

Anyways, thanks for reading. I hope you can enjoy more here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Birthday Card

I apologize if talking to you and dad is distracting, visiting with you as if you're both standing right there next to me on my back stoop, watching the rain soak the tomato plants, imagining dad complaining that I'm mowing the grass too low. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop talking to you.

I was telling dad that he had to go before you did, because I don't think he could've abided you wasting away in that hospital. He was certainly stoic and strong, like Jesse, but, then again, you were you, and you meant the world to him. I.e., you were stronger in the end.

I apologize if pretending to watch movies with you two is annoying. We never did get to watch Pride And Prejudice together, but we both know that dad would've fallen asleep 20 minutes into it.

Did you hear me tell you that I wish Jess had been just a little less... protective of me when you got sick last year, and a little more... insistent that I move up there ASAP? I don't blame him. It's my fault. I hope you're not put out with me.

I apologize for not being able to move on yet. I suppose it'll occur to me eventually that in order to honor both of your lives, I have no choice but to move on. (Though I think I might have to convince Cameron to marry me and have a son, because Augie is the only grandson with our last name, and I suspect he might be gay!)

I apologize for imagining that you're both laughing at that.

Anyways, I hope where you guys are, they have reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger, Murder, She Wrote, and Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. It'd be only fair.

Happy Birthday, mom. I miss you dearly.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ladies And Gentlemen: We Have Fruit

Noticed the first one Friday after work. About the size of a pea on the plant I named Comeback Kid. (Only 2 others have names: Bruiser, a 3-plant cluster thick as a jungle with foliage the color of a kept promise, and stumpy, a sad case whose best days might be met on the compost heap.)

As of this writing, I've counted 9. The plants themselves are growing 3 to 5 inches a day. I guess heat and humidity ain't all bad.

Beautiful thunderstorms Sunday afternoon at about 2:20. More storms Sunday night into Monday morning. We needed the rain. The plants are at that sublime stage of being impervious to too much water. I know rain can be a pain, getting caught in it, or ruining a play date. But rainfall is a blessing.

It's a wondrous time of year for tomato growers. I should be eating tomatoes already had it not been for the early spring rains and the lateness of their installation. But I don't care. Every day at lunch I walk down their rows, examine their blooms, train their vines, admire the pungency of their toxic odor. It's Zen. For me, anyway.

I miss Block Head. She was a great helper, where helping included laying down exactly in the way.

If you can believe it, as I get older and more jaded and cynical, I'm actually getting more naive. Which is to say, I'd love to think that Mom and Dad are smiling down on me in the evenings, when I walk the rows with a Miller Beer in hand, admiring 81 plants that started as seeds measuring a single millimeter. Or that it was they who sent that needed rain, with me out in it with my twine, tying up a fragile "leaner" that'd lost its way, me there just in time to let it rise back up straight.

I would love to believe that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Potato Salad

For the last month I've been trying to make my mom's potato salad. It's a very simple recipe:



onions (green onions are best)


mustard (for color, jokes my brother Al)



Amounts you do by feel/intuition, like she did.

This past weekend I came damn close. I used spicy brown mustard instead of yellow. And served it with polska kielbasa. Good dinner.

Growing up, on our birthdays, we could have for our birthday dinner whatever we wanted, including the variety of cake. i forget what my brothers' main courses were, but my sister's and my choice was always ringed baloney with fried potatoes and corn. My sister's cake was german chocolate, as was my oldest brother's. Jack, the middle kid, went back and forth from german chocolate to my brother Al's choice, chocolate cake with white fluffy frosting. That was my choice as well, most of the time. But I think for a few years I asked for angel food cake, to my family's dismay.

She sure did do a lot for us.

This weekend:

Pepper Place Farmer's Market first thing in the morning

summer twine fest 2009


prune the crepe myrtles shading the plants by the planter

go under the house (note to self: Take your phone! You never know!)


That'll do for now. Have a great weekend, guys.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


No fruit yet, but plenty of blooms. (Because I didn't get them in the ground till Memorial Day weekend.)

Nice rain Sunday morning during Wimbledon and then a bit more yesterday, so they're all set for water for awhile, though my makeshift cistern is very full.

Made 2 4'x4'x10" planters and 7 42"x42"x10" planters, in which I'm composting the richest stuff you've ever seen. I happen to like that smell. Some don't.

The days are long and hot, and my air conditioning duct work is messed up, so I haven't been using it. Pretty rough. I need to get under the house and see what the deal is.

Other than that, still 30 minutes at a time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend

Four day weekend. Thank god. Rain possible here and there every day, but it's looking promising.

To do list:

Get the bigger plants in the ground

Scythe/mow around the plant cage boxes

Gather up the cut grass and start yet another compost heap in the corner of the raised planter by the shed

Loosen the soil/weeds/compost in that planter for use as compost for growing plants

Drag the really long 2x10s from the deck fire from behind the shed and put them in the middle of the yard to kill the grass for future cold frames

Chain smoke

Drink too much (but only after 5PM)

Shave my beard off (for heaven's sake)

That'll do. If I get half of that done, I think my mood will improve greatly, though that's not saying much since it has nowhere to go but up.

Life is so damnably short. I guess that's why we need pain: just to make it seem longer.

Happy Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"your eyes have their silence"

Her eyes. That was all that was left of her at the end. Green, like the waters of the Gulf in late April. Alert. Present.

Up until the last few hours of her life, she was there. Unmistakably sharp and aware. But she was so weak it was all she could do to say even just a few words. I often found myself interpreting for her to her delight but not to her surprise. We had a sort of shorthand. You see, I'm the youngest of 5, Julie, my sister, being the oldest, and 4 boys. Al, the second youngest, is 4 and 1/2 years older than I am. So when he went off to college, I was, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

When I think about just how frustrating that must have been for her at the end, having so much to say, to ask, to want to share, and yet unable to to her own satisfaction, or to ours, I'm unmanned. When I think about the indignity, the humiliation of her circumstances that fate bestowed upon the most dignified person I've ever known, it takes every last bit of will power not to sob uncontrollably.

So I just go ahead and do anyway.

I told her it was okay to go, that everything would work out just fine, that I'd be just fine. But you know what? I'm not so sure I was being completely honest with her. All I seem to have these days is a deafening silence, and I've never felt more alone, more abandoned ever in my life.

Courtesy of a very dear Irish friend of mine named John:

In Memory Of My Mother



I do not think of you lying in the wet clay

Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see

You walking down a lane among the poplars

On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -

You meet me and you say:

'Don't forget to see about the cattle - '

Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland

Of green oats in June,

So full of repose, so rich with life -

And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after

The bargains are all made and we can walk

Together through the shops and stalls and markets

Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,

For it is a harvest evening now and we

Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight

And you smile up at us - eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh

Friday, May 8, 2009

Windmills And Bunkers

Okay, nobody and I mean nobody sees rain as a blessing more than I do. But, I mean, come on already. There's a severe weather alert till tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure the 6 seedlings I put in last Saturday are toast. If only I had more to plant as a backup.

Oh. Wait.

Mostly despair this week. Don't know what's brought it on. I guess the rain. This weekend is all about the tomato cage boxes. And getting more plants in the ground. Maybe. I'm a little gun shy after this week.

The weekend of my mom's funeral I was driving around Morrow County, Ohio, when I came into Fredericktown, a small burg just northwest of Mt. Vernon, and I saw a chicken cross the road, right there in town. This isn't the start of a joke. It just occurred to me at the time just how... appropriate that was.

Say. When did we stop having a couple few hens in the back yard? When exactly did that become white trash? When did farming become inferior, relegated to the few idiots who couldn't do "real" work? When and why did urban become superior to rural?

At the hospice, my brothers and I spoke at length about our current state of affairs. They're not exactly Obama fans, nor Bush/McCain fans. We are, all of us, fans of our dad, who could best be described as having been a Teddy Roosevelt fan. Fierce, rugged independence. Responsibility, accountability.

My brother Jack, the middle child, was going through some rough spots in his adolescence: drugs, alcohol, stupid friends. He was working at a filling station in town, driving the tow truck, and he caught on fire. The whole thing is hilarious today when he recalls it, but it wasn't at the time, obviously. That weekend of the immolation, my oldest brother Jesse and dad were outside raking leaves when Jesse, pondering Jack's adventure, said to dad, "Boy, Jack sure does have some bad luck." To which my dad responded, not missing a beat, "There's no such thing as bad luck; just bad judgement."

That was dad.

Anyways, Al and Jesse and I basically agreed that we need a revolution. Not one that will be televised live. One, rather, that's quiet, almost unnoticeable. And maybe even one that's in line with our current President's agenda. I'll talk about this some more later, when the cages are lit by the setting sun, finally. I'll just say that our fallback position is Jesse's back 40, where a gorgeous srping-fed stream cuts through the woods. Windmills and bunkers. And living in a corncrib powered by a car battery that's constantly recharged by egg-laying chickens somehow. Or something. Still working out the kinks.

I.e., we get the sense that folks will get so fed up that they'll quietly and gradually slip off the grid, not by any means necessary, but by the best ends justified.

Happy Mother's Day.

(To you, too, mom. I miss you so much.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Eye Of The Beholder, And All That

"Department of Public Works

City of Birmingham

Dear switters

This letter is to notify you that your property was investigated on 4/23/2009 and a warning was issued for violation of City Ordinance Section 11-8-8 for: Overgrown/Junky Yard.

All grass, weeds bushes, saplings or sprouts (9 1/2 inches or greater in circumference) shall be cut to a height range of from two (2) to four (4) inches on the entire lot; including abutting alleyways and the area between curb and street. At least 50 percent of any right of way, alleys, unopened roads, etc. that adjoin a lot are to be cut. Vegetative cover shall be maintained after weed removal. There shall be approximately 2 inches of grass or other ground cover remaining. All cleared vegetative materials, as well as junk, inoperable motor vehicles or man-made debris located on the property, shall be removed from the site and disposed of properly and legally.

Please bring the above referenced property into compliance with City Ordinance on or before Monday, May 11, 2009

A follow-up investigation will be held in seven days. If the property is still in violation a citation may be issued, and if we are unable to contact you a warrant will be issued.

Please notify us if and when the property is brought into compliance. This will allow for a follow up inspection to verify compliance with City Ordinance 11-8-8.

You cooperation is appreciated.


Department of Public Works"

Overgrown, sure. But junky? It looks like the meadow in Bloom County.

I recall William James writing about seeing a homestead in West Virginia and remarking how unattractive it appeared from afar. But as he neared it and saw its efficiency and efficacy, he was stunned by the beauty of its harmony with the surroundings. I believe his philosophical conclusion was that most people are stupid.

So I called and spoke to Inspector Jones and told him what I was up to, namely,  2009: A Tomato Odyssey. I explained that I needed the grass to be tall enough to go to seed to make my "green manure" that much more green. He was skeptical at first, wondering who in his right mind would have 60 tomato plants in a postage stamp-sized yard. I went on about my project.

I think I must've touched something from his childhood, maybe a grandfather's vegetable garden or his grandma's potted plants, because the more I explained what I was doing, the more and more he got on board.

He said to try to keep the yard visible from the street scythed down at least. Then he wished me the best of luck. I did refrain from asking him what "weeds bushes" were. Never heard of that variety. Nor did I thank the Department for the complete confusion the "9 1/2" in circumference" paragraph caused, despite the helpful numerical (2) (4) clarification.

I'm with Billy James: I really hate people, because most of them are stupid. And each and every day I'm astounded by a person's mind-bogglingly willful ignorance. But every once in a while, if you're sincere and earnest, some of them actually do listen.

More rain yesterday, and more today. I'm starting to feel like I'm a bit player in "This Bulging River".

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

Put 6 seedlings in the ground Saturday morning. They're about 4-5 inches tall. Then dug 23 more holes and made 5 more cages. It rained on and off all day. I was soaked.

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me was particularly terrific. The panelists were Charlie Pierce, Amy Dickinson, and, my favorite, Paul Provenza. A dream team, though I think Amy was a little drunk.

Then Sunday afternoon at about 2, the skies opened up and we got roughly 13 inches of rain in 20 minutes. Dang. The last thing tomato seedlings need is massive amounts of water.

Turned my white trash compost heap, and, despite being in the sun in the afternoon, it's actually composting. I love that odor; it smells like... possibility. And garbage. It's right outside my back door so I can just throw vegetable peelings out there. But I really need to figure out how to shade it so it composts faster. I had it all figured out last night after 3 glasses of wine, but for the life of me I can't remember what my idea was. Note to self: Carry that ThinkPad and pen your big brother Jesse gave you at the hospital, you idiot.

This weekend is all about the cages. Saw Saturday, put the boxes together Sunday. I.e., get the sawing over with before Mother's Day so as not to disturb my neighbor's picnic.

Sunday afternoon was very maudlin. When you hate your job, you can never make enough money. When you love what you do, money somehow works itself out. It's a mystery, in that Shakespeare In Love sense, I think.

There's a foundation in Birmingham that helps people financially dealing with cancer. They need volunteers to help with anything from getting people to their treatments to making meals for them. I think I need to volunteer.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Growing Tomatoes From Seed

I badly needed a diversion. So I ordered 2 packets from Burpee's: Belgian Giant Pink, or some such. An heirloom plant, allegedly. Each packet, as advertised, was to contain roughly 30 seeds. I ordered 2 packets because I thought, surely, not all the seeds would germinate. Well, each packet didn't contain 30 seeds. More like 45. So as I placed the individual seeds in the soilless germinating mixture on an early April Saturday morning, said mixture ebbed while the seeds seemed to impersonate the baskets of fish and bread loaves. So I decided to plant multiple seeds in the small germinating cups. Surely, I thought again, attrition would rule the day and I'd have at least 2 dozen or so viable seedlings.

Nope. 1 week later, every last one of the seeds had germinated. So there I was with 55 small paper cups of tomato seedlings. Some with 1 seedling, some with 2, many with 3. Even some with 4.

I'm overwhelmed.

I've been making tomato cages out of the lumber I salvaged from "40th Birthday Deck Fire 2007". A 16" box made of 3/4" x 5 3/4" decking; 5' pieces I've ripped into 1 1/2" slats for the vertical supports; and 16" bamboo horizontal slats salvaged from last year's tomato pyramids. Not exactly elegant, but simple enough, providing distracting problem solving projects. And the price is right. (Free, minus labor.)

So, yeah, about 80 seedlings are currently sunning themselves on my back stoop, probably wondering to themselves, as they gaze upon my 1/10 acre, "Err... So where's he gonna plant us again?"

3 words: Tomato Orchard.

I've not mown my backyard since last fall. So I've been digging holes 6' apart about 24" in diameter and about 12" deep. I'll add a bit of seasoned cow manure, and maybe some seaweed. Add the fact that I over-seeded rye grass in October, and you don't need much imagination to realize that after some back-breaking digging, the top soil has quickly become The Great Prairie-like. It's a sight to behold, to be sure.

But as I do the geometry, that will only account for about 35 holes. So looks like I'll have to dig another hole in the middle of each 6' square. That might yield 50, at best.

I'm tired all the time. But my appetite has returned a little bit, and the work is honest, if slow.

It's all for her. I feel her presence, for lack of a better word, so I ask her advice on this and that. Sometimes there's an answer, usually me talking to myself.

A Tomato Orchard. Keep in mind the growing season down here is ridiculously long. The plants will be 6' tall and I'll have fruit from the middle of July through October, god willing, if all goes well. (Obviously I'm gonna have to give some seedlings away. I'll think of it as a spiritual tax.)

But I can say I do honestly feel her close, usually in an unexpected cool breeze I don't deserve. And it's explicably devastating. Perhaps, sooner rather than later, hopefully, it'll be less devastating and more... therapeutic.

Ironic, isn't it, that my mom* and dad spent their entire childhoods trying to get off the farm, while I'm spending my entire middle age trying to get on one. It would appear fate is not without a sense of humor.

I'll keep all y'all posted, if you'd care to follow me on this "trip".

Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord,

And fill to the brim our cup of blessings.

Gather the harvest from the seeds that were sown

That we may be fed with the bread of life.

Gather the hopes and the dreams of all,

Unite them with the prayers we offer now.

Grace our table with your presence, and give us

A foretaste of the feast to come.

-from the Lutheran Liturgy for High Communion (from memory, so, sorry)

*Truth be told, I have it on good authority that my mother would've been perfectly happy as a farm wife. She told me as much. It was my dad who couldn't wait to get away.