Friday, December 4, 2020

Farm News - December 2020

We certainly got out of the habit of the monthly farm newsletter on the blog - but that is partly because we got into the habit of posting something nearly every day since April.  But, it is clearly time to give an update of what is going on at the Genuine Faux Farm.

Put on your hat and your gloves.  Make sure you are dressed warmly and have proper footwear.  Make sure you are clear of the tractor, keep your toes out from under the implements and don't have loose clothing dangling near the power take off.  And please, please.. when I ask you to weed the beans, don't PULL the BEANS!

What is Still Available from GFF in 2020?

It is December.  We did not plant a late Fall/Winter crop in our high tunnels this year (for a whole host of reasons), so our offerings will be simple.  Sorry - we only have pictures of lettuce.

We will have eggs.  We will have broiler chickens (frozen).  And we still have garlic.  There may be a smattering of golden beets and an odd item or two.  The key here are the eggs.  Our current laying flock is consistently providing 5 to 5 1/2 dozen eggs each day.  They may slow a little in the colder weather, but they will produce -which means they need to get moved - hence our motivation to make sales!

We are also hoping to pull out our inventory of cookbooks, bags and maybe t-shirts?  We have to find them first.  Then we would like to offer them so they get used!  Maybe making interesting and useful Christmas gifts?

Our anticipated deliveries for December are as follows:

  • Dec 9 (Wed) - Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • Dec 16 (Wed) - Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • Dec 22 (Tues) - Waverly and Cedar Falls

Farm Retreat / Foresight 2021

We keep pushing the farm retreat back as our other duties continue to eat up available time and energy.  But, that has not stopped us from doing some research and having good conversations between the two of us.  Again, nothing is finalized, but we want to keep people informed of where the wind appears to be blowing - if only so you can give us feedback if you wish.

Goals for 2021

  1. Simplify our production and sales plans to account for many fewer labor hours.
  2. Increase the percentage of 'enterprises' on our farm that are successful by identifying those we are best at, those we like the most and limiting ourselves to a subset of ONLY those enterprises.
  3. Recommit the Genuine Faux Farm to a set of core values and do our best to make sure our farm enterprises reflect those values.

Core Values

Diversity and Environmental Health

It seems a bit odd that we want to recommit to diversity by simplifying our crops and we are not saying that we did not like the diversity we worked hard to maintain in prior years.  What we are saying is that there are many ways to achieve healthy diversity on the farm and we just need to pursue it differently because life at the Genuine Faux Farm is changing, like it or not.

Connect People to Nature and Where Food Comes From

Once again, there are many other ways to make this connection other than direct sales via a CSA or farmers' markets or farm credits.  We are still committed to this principle, we are just likely to change how we are going to go about it.

Address Food Insecurity

While we have done what we could for this in the past, we may actually have an opportunity to do more here than we have in the past.  The consistent paycheck that comes from Rob's employment actually gives us the flexibility to rely less on farm sales - we may be more able than ever to pass product on at low (or no) sales prices to address local food insecurity issues.

Maintain a Healthy Balance

We have really made adjustments over the past two years to find a balance between hard work, service to others, and our own health and well-being.  So, when a call comes that help is needed - we are among those who are ready to answer that call.  But, also - we want to live lives that are open to awe and willing to express gratitude.

Veggies 2021

Valhalla and Eden - the High Tunnels

The high tunnels are the most valuable growing ground we have and we intend to use them in 2021.  The question, of course, is how?

If 2021 is anything like 2020, we expect that the two of us will do 95% of the work on the farm.  And, yes, we both expect to be employed by someone other than our farm (Wartburg for Tammy and PAN for Rob) in 2021.  We are pretty certain we can manage a fairly complex and interesting (to us) growing plan for two high tunnels and their surroundings.  On the other hand, the other 5 acres of growing area we have?  That has to stay simple or we will fail.

We are considering using one of our high tunnels to grow out some pepper seeds for Seed Savers.  The plus side there is that we only harvest when the fruit are ripe for seed production and otherwise concentrate on growing them out healthy while looking for any off-types that we should remove.  Otherwise, we will maintain variety in the high tunnels - in part because we want to feed ourselves (of course), in part because we think it is the healthiest way to raise produce in a high tunnel.

What will we grow?  Well, that depends on... everything.  Including how we intend on disposing of the produce.  But, it is a sure bet that we will have lettuce, spinach, green beans and tomatoes in some volume.

Fields in 2021

Well, we do have about 1800 garlic planted and we have our asparagus patches (including a new one started this year).  So, we have to maintain those.  Otherwise, the most likely field crops for 2021 are green beans for seed to sell to Seed Savers and... well, we're not sure.

The most likely candidates include winter squash, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and potatoes.  We may grow out some cucumbers or melons for seed crops (Seed Savers again).

And, of course, there will be intercropped flowers and herbs.  As you know, we do that to support pollinators and other beneficial critters.

And, where will it go?

This is the hardest part for us.  But, we are fairly certain that we are moving completely away from the weekly individual sales models.  There simply are not enough hours in the day for us to do our jobs, grow the produce, care for the animals AND handle sales promotion, tracking, packing and delivery.  It is hard to admit that we have limits and even harder to step away from something we have done since 2004 in some fashion or another.

At present our plan for disposition of the veggie crops are as follows:

  • certain crops for seed production
  • key crops for bulk sales
  • donation of crops to the food bank
  • trade for volunteer labor with willing individuals
  • minimum order amounts of key crops to individuals who wish to can/freeze - for example 20-30 lbs of tomatoes.


Poultry 2021

We liked how our 2020 poultry plan worked out for the most part.  Yes, there were issues at times - but that will be true for every year and every plan.  Our plan for 2021?  Do that again, with minor modifications... depending...

What does that mean?  

Laying Flock

Well, we have a laying flock that we are actually really enjoying.  This has got to be the nicest tempered and easiest to deal with flock of hens we have EVER had.  And, they are producing pretty well.  At the very least we will see them through to next Fall.  At the most, we will order a similar number of chicks to be delivered in the Spring (assuming the postal service still delivers).

Broiler Chickens

Time to be brutally honest here.  If we rely only on sales direct to the consumer, we drop the broiler chickens except for a small batch for our own use.  Why?  Well, of the 450-500 birds we processed this year, 350-400 will go to one place - Jorgensen Plaza.  So, as long as Jorgensen Plaza can weather the pandemic and continue with their orders in 2021, we can consider raising broilers.  If not them, some other larger contract would be necessary for us to continue.

If we get the larger contract, then we're also willing to have additional birds available for direct to consumer sales.  If we don't, maybe it is time to move on.

Turkeys

We like our turkeys - most of the time.  If there is an order of preference, it would be hens, turkeys and then broilers.  But, again, turkeys are a sizable investment on our part that can really be troublesome if we can't get them sold.  Of the seventy turkeys raised in 2020, forty-five were sold to two purchasers.

Once again, if we can secure those two larger sales, it makes sense to do what we did this past year.  If not?  Well, we'll see.  But, I could see us just running a 25 turkey flock and going from there if that's what must be done.  It would be easier in some ways, but probably inefficient given the scale of what we do.

Modifications to the Process

Let's assume we will raise poultry as we did this past season.  If that is the case, there will be some projects to improve our efficiency.  First, we will look to build or acquire a trailer that will make transport of our poultry to the processor easier on us.  Hopefully resulting in fewer trips and less lifting of heavy cages (100+ lbs) up to shoulder level.  We don't mind exercise, but we do mind potential injury.  We are also looking at a permanent fence for the turkey pasture, a water trailer and a back up feed bin.  Frankly, if we get one of those, it had better be that transportation trailer with the fence running a close second.

And, where will the poultry go?

Again, this is all in the planning phases.  If you read the above, you know that the larger purchases we have had in place for the past couple of years are critical.  We are likely to make individual sales of broilers or turkeys because we can limit the number of sale and delivery points for each of those to keep the labor in that area down.

It's the eggs we're trying to get a handle on.  One option on the table is to continue with direct sales on an every other week basis as we typically do in the winter months.  Another option is to get the egg handler's license and sell most of our eggs at one time to one location.  The latter is made difficult because the state has really put a hold on that process because of the pandemic.  Either way, the reality is that we must keep the labor requirement for sales low if we are to be successful.

And - Everything Else?

If you have read our blogs and/or if you have paid any attention to the Genuine Faux Farm over the years, you know we set high goals for ourselves.  And - there is always too much - or so it seems.  Even so, we seem to be able report a fair amount of progress every single season.  That is great.  

But, we recognize that we need to address the high rate of failure that comes with a hyper-diverse operation such as ours.  Our spirits have worn down a bit and we need to manage failure differently than we once did - at least for a little while.

Our plan to handle this is to simplify the farming operation (which is in progress based on what we show above) and to address some long term projects that need to move forward to help us address our new method of failure management. 

And that, as they say, is something for another day -and another blog!

Be well everyone!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Dreams of Chickens

It was morning and the door to the Summer Cottage (portable hen building) had just been opened so the chickens could explore their pasture, visit with Crazy Maurice the weeping willow, eat their grains and exercise their wings, legs and lungs.  The clouds overhead held the memory of continuous rainfall and much of the ground in the pasture was only visible through the ripples of standing water.

The hens rushed to the doorway.  And stopped.

The desire of their hearts, if I can be so bold as to pretend to know what a hen actually desires, was to eat that grain, chase a few moths and rest in the shade of the willow.  The building is, I suppose, nice enough for night-time sleep.  There are perches for those who want them and straw for those who do not.  But, there is daylight and it is time to be out of this building.  There are dust-baths to take and clover to sample.  The turkeys in the nearby pasture often provide entertainment and the rooster sounds ever so much less obnoxious when he is OUTSIDE!

But the clover was under water and there was no dust to be seen anywhere in the pasture.  And thus, the debate.  Do I jump down and explore?  Do I dare hope that I will find tasty food and interesting things to do?  Or do I just stay up here?

In the end, the answer was simple.

There were many more hens behind these hens and those birds still had unaltered dreams of what the out of doors might bring.  Their dreams will force the chickens in the doorway to visit reality.  A new group will take their turn and stand on the precipice until they too will be forced to alter their dreams to face the reality of another wet day on the farm.

Not too worry.  They'll come back to the building again tonight.  They will find their perches and their straw.  And they will sleep so they can again dream of grain, dust baths, clover and the shade of the great willow in their pasture. 

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ed note: a prior version of this was published on this blog on December 30, 2018.


 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Cultivating a pollinator paradise

The sky was slightly overcast, so the sun did not bleach out the color with its light. There was only a light, sporadic breeze — just enough to keep a person comfortable. In fact, this was one of those rare times on the farm that I saw something I liked that made me stop what I was doing to go get the camera.

The purple coneflowers and oregano reached peak bloom at the same time. If you looked closer, you would see other plants that had blossomed earlier, or would flower later in the combined herb and natural wild area we maintain to support pollinators on our farm.

If you build it, will they come?

This picture tells us two stories. The first is what you might expect — there is beauty in nature. There is healing for the soul if you can just transport yourself to that field at the moment when it dresses up to show off. It is then that you truly appreciate the whole year of preparation needed to put on this spectacular show.

The second story is one of absence. The flowers were clearly in full bloom and the weather was beautiful. But, there are no pollinators in this picture. Coneflowers and oregano (and the other flowers in the area) are plants that often attract a whole host of invertebrates, yet I observed very few while I stood there to take pictures. The wind was calm, there was plenty of light, temperatures were moderate and it was a typical point in the day when there would be significant insect activity. This area should have been humming at this moment.

But, it wasn't. 

Something is going on

Our farm sees pollinators as important employees, and we do what we can to pay them by providing food and habitat throughout the year. We maintain permanent wild areas and avoid disturbing the soil in parts of the farm so ground-nesting bees and other friendly critters can have a place to thrive. We use intercropping techniques to incorporate annual flowers that encourage pollinators to visit and stay in our fields where we grow fruits and vegetables. We mow around clover patches when they are in bloom and then mow them down when they pass peak to encourage a new flush of flowers. 

While it is true that we do continue to observe many interesting creatures on our "Pollinator Paradise" (or so we like to call it), we have been alarmed that we can work so hard to provide habitat and not see certain flowers swarming with all sorts of pollinating insects. 

Something is going on here, and it has a direct impact on how well our farm performs. Clearly, the combination of reduced habitat and the excessive use of pesticides bear a cost that our pollinators are paying. In turn, this cost is passed on to growers of food who rely heavily on these workers.

Pollinators hard at work

Zucchini and other squash are most successfully pollinated by squash bees. A squash flower needs to be visited six to 10 times by squash bees in the early morning to set fruit properly. It takes even more visits if other types of bees are the primary pollinator. Our zucchini and summer squash production numbers have gone down per row foot over the years and we have seen more instances of fruit that were not fully pollinated. These cull fruits tend to not fill out properly or yellow and rot off while they are small. We have observed this decline in production over the past eight years on our farm.

We will grant you that weather conditions can prevent visits by pollinators, so it is not unusual to have a period of time every season where there are more culls due to poor pollination. But, there is a difference between seasonal variability and trends across multiple seasons.

Despite our observations that pollinator populations are decreasing, we are still convinced that our efforts are worthwhile. Five years ago, we targeted our melon crops for a new growing strategy. We reduced the number of melon plants by one-third and replaced them with more annual flowering plants such as borage, zinnia, buckwheat and calendula. In response, our melon production actually increased by 30%. And, before you tell me that was an aberration, we repeated those production numbers the next two years with the same system.

One-third fewer melon plants, 30% more marketable fruit and many happy pollinators leads to a couple of pleased farmers. But, this should not take our focus away from the big picture. Pollinators are in decline and it is important that we address it now. We need more people and more farms providing habitat, and we need to break our reliance on the pesticides that threaten our pollinator populations.

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Are you interested in seeing more content related to the Pesticide Action Network?  Take the link to the GroundTruth blog.   Your "favorite" farmer is featured there once a month on average.

Originally published on PAN's Ground Truth blog on July 9, 2020.

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Monday, November 30, 2020

Standing in the Rain

As small-scale vegetable and poultry farmers dedicated to local sales, we have become experts at numerous things.  We're very good about doing lots of laundry.  We can tell if there is an invader in the chicken yard from the other side of the farm.  We know when the broccoli heads are at peak harvest quality.  

And we have been very good at standing in the rain.


People who have outdoor jobs, such as farming, can probably relate to the "Five Stages of Being Wet" that we introduced for the first time in the early years of the blog.  Sometimes, you get wet because you don't have a choice.  The job (whatever it is) can't be brought to a halt just yet, so - there you are.  At other times, the job can't continue once things get too wet, so you keep pushing until it reaches that point.

I can recall numerous times that we were pushing to get a 'few more things' planted just prior to a rain.  We would keep an eye on the skies so we would know if we needed to be ready to pack it all in.  But, there was a huge difference between a rain that caused us to rush and gather all the equipment and go versus those light or steady rains that we would just tolerate as we continued with our task.

There were even more times that we pushed to harvest despite the rain, even when it was quite heavy.  You see, if you have two to three deliveries a week, you can't just 'not harvest' when the weather is less than ideal.  Of course we plan our harvests so we pick things that won't be adversely affected because we are working with them in the wet.  "One and done" crops like lettuce or cauliflower are often good choices, but I never did like harvesting wet root crops.  There are only so many times you want to say to yourself, "I know there must be a carrot in the middle of all that mud I just pulled up."
 

So, I told you those stories so I can tell you about our tolerance for standing in the rain.  

I can recall numerous farmers' markets where we dealt with downpours, strong winds, and continuous rains.  There were even multiple events where it was cold (35 degrees) and the rain was falling sideways in a stiff, northwest wind.  I remember multiple CSA distributions in rainy conditions.  One season, we had nine consecutive Thursdays (typically our Cedar Falls distribution) where it rained during the entirety of each of our two and a half hour delivery periods.

It was not uncommon for us to stand outside the shelter area so our customers could stay dry and we very rarely packed up early, simply because we knew there were some folks who had to come later.  And, if there were still people on our delivery list that had not arrived to pick up their share, we stayed until 'closing time' because that's just what you do. 

I have realized that I have become less willing to stand in the rain than I once was.  Or, more accurately, the reasons I accept as being good enough to stay out in the rain have changed.

I will stand in the rain, the cold and the wind - for hours if I must - for someone who needs me to do so.  I will work in the pouring rain if the task really must be done - I will not forsake it just because I don't want to be cold and wet.  There will still be times that I will stay in the field, work in the pasture or remain on the tractor when conditions are not optimal.  After all, that is part of what I bargained for when I decided to be a grower and raise poultry.

On the other hand, I will no longer stand in the rain for the sake of potential business.  I won't get soaked for the possibility of another $x in sales.  But, I will stand in the rain for you.

I realize this is a fine distinction.  Perhaps I can make it clear this way?  If someone specifically needs me to stand in the rain to get them food that they need - I'll do it.  If someone else's tent blows over and their product is exposed to the elements, I will be among those who will rush over and help them get things under cover - even if I get soaked doing it.  If I'm in one of our fields and I know another ten minutes will finish the task, I can handle getting cold and wet.  If someone has a flat by the side of the road, I'll help them change to a spare even if (and maybe especially if) conditions are poor.  And, if my spirit wills it, I will stand in the rain because I want to.

I just don't see the need to stand in the rain because some unwritten rules says I am supposed to.

This has been a gradual revelation to us over the past several years.  Our farm share customers have probably noticed that we have been trying to move to locations that provide us with more (rather than less) shelter, preferably with indoor options when the weather gets difficult.  (Of course, the pandemic kind of set that idea back quite a bit - oh well.) They have also probably noted that our delivery times have gotten more compact, while still maintaining some flexibility.

Perhaps it is because we now place a higher value on our own comfort than we once did?  Or more accurately, we consider our own discomfort to be enough of an 'expense' to cause us to look for alternatives. 

It is actually even more complex than that.  Over time, we have come to realize that our willingness to be soaked rarely paid off.  At farmers' market, rain usually signaled the end of customers coming to purchase, even if it cleared up well before closing time.  And, with CSA distributions, we had the same number of shares to deliver whether we were soaked or not.  Wouldn't you rather make deliveries without being soaked?  With a rare exception or two - we would prefer to stay on the drier side.  

After all, if we get damp on the farm, we just go into the farm house and change into dry clothes (and maybe, ironically, take a shower).  Get caught in the rain 45 minutes from home?  Welcome to exploring the world of being damp for at least 45 minutes.  Did we tell you about the time the farmers' market in Waterloo experienced a downpour, complete with wind knocking over tables and tents?  It rained and blew so hard that some of our produce washed away and went down the storm sewer that was hundreds of feet away.   After the clean-up, we squelched into the nearby box store, bought clothing and went into their restroom to change.  Yep, we started taking a change of clothing with us to any market or delivery that looked like it might rain from then on and we started backing away from farmers markets the next season.

So, here's to the next time we get caught in the rain and we have a choice of whether we want to get to shelter or if we want to feel the cool drops landing on our shoulders.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Personal Connections - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  Grab your favorite beverage (but keep it away from the paper collectibles!), put on the comfy slippers and pet the purring feline or the puppy with the big eyes.  Take a few moments and enjoy - perhaps learning something new or interesting in the process.

Why?  Because it's Postal History Sunday!

 Today's question is a paraphrase of a question I received from three different people over the past month.  

" How does a person select a theme or a topic for their collection?"

Finding a Focus

Postal history is an incredibly broad area that has plenty of room for people with all sorts of interests - there is plenty of room for creativity here!  I do recommend that a collector find some way to define what they are looking for because this hobby is like any other collecting hobby, you can easily be overwhelmed in so many ways.  It isn't hard for a collector to gather so much that they aren't even able to appreciate or enjoy what they have.  Some people just succumb to the weight of indecision with the sheer volume of options - and there is little enjoyment in being overwhelmed!

One of the easiest ways to start is to find a personal connection that has corresponding material that you find attractive in the hobby.  

For example, my heritage on my Mother's side of the family is Norwegian.  I went to college and lived for a time near Decorah, Iowa, AND I lived for a couple of years in western Minnesota near Morris (and Benson).  How can I parlay that information into a collecting topic?

Norse-American Centennial Issue of 1925


Enter the 1925 postage stamp issue that commemorated the 100-year anniversary of "organized Norwegian immigration" to the United States.  In 1825, the sloop Restauration sailed form Stavanger on July 4 and landed in New York City on October 9.  The ship was determined to be carrying too many passengers for its size (52 passengers) which resulted in a fine, confiscation of the ship and the arrest of the captain.  A month later, President John Quincy Adams rescinded the fine and confiscation and ordered the release of the captain.

Two stamps were issued as a part of a centennial celebration that had its focus in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin).  The 2-cent stamp (which depicted an artist rendering of the Restauration) was valid for standard letter mail within the United States and the 5-cent stamp paid for the Universal Postal Union letter rate between nations.

The ensuing celebrations featured music from several small colleges, including Luther (Decorah, IA), St Olaf (Northfield, MN), Augsburg (Minneapolis, MN), and Augustana (Rockford, IL).  For those who wish to learn more, you can start with wiki and go from there to verify and find details.

In short, the stamps have a connection to my heritage, to the college I attended and to places I have lived.  Suddenly, I have a focus I can use.   Let's see what we can find!


First Day of Issue

By the time we reached the 1920s, stamp collecting had become very popular and the issuance of new stamps was becoming an event.  You may or may not recall, I have mentioned the concept of event covers in a prior Postal History Sunday post.  A First Day of Issue Cover is simply a collectible item that commemorates the event of the stamp being issued on a certain day by including a postmark with that date AND one of the designated towns or cities for the first day. It just so happens that Decorah was one of the towns selected for the first day of issue for the Norse-American stamps.

And, it also happens that Benson, Minnesota was also one of those cities!

Aha!  Connections galore!

But, Is It Postal History?

This is where my personal interests depart a bit.  I am more interested in studying rates of postage, routes taken to deliver mail and the whole process of how mail systems did what they do.  First Day Covers (FDCs) are the commemoration of an event (the issuance of the stamp) that, in turn, commemorated another event or person(s).  Most FDCs were created simply as collectibles and many of them, especially in more recent times, did not even go through the mail as a letter.

Even so - I still own a couple of FDCs for these stamps.  The first cover in this blog post has both stamps postmarked in Benson, MN on the first day of issue, May 18, 1925.  The seven cents in postage is an overpayment of the 2 cent rate.  But - the person wanted this as a collectible - they did not care that 5 cents of postage was 'wasted.'  The second cover in this blog post was postmarked in Decorah on May 18.  This one properly pays the postal rate of the time.

In short, I am interested enough in the event that I happily found these items and enjoy learning about them and viewing them.  Good enough.  But, I don't really consider them postal history.


Adding the Postal History Bit

You could guess (and you would be correct) that a significant percentage of these stamps were issued to the post offices in the towns and cities that had the highest population of Norse-Americans.  So, it makes sense that if you are looking for postal history with these stamps on them, you will see much of it coming from towns like Northfield, MN (where St Olaf College is located).

How much better would it be to find an item from a bank, to someone in Norway that includes the 2 cent Norse-American stamp as part of the 5 cents of postage needed to send that letter to Norway?  In my opinion, it is LOTS better.  

My collection - my opinion counts the most!  Bwahahahahaaaaa!


Or perhaps, we could find an item to Sweden from St Paul, MN?  This one also pays the 5 cent rate to a foreign nation and was posted a year and a half after the whole Norse American celebration was completed.

I appreciate these two covers because it is fairly clear that the stamps and the event they commemorated were not necessarily the main focus of creating the piece of mail.  This makes it postal history, rather than event commemoration, in my mind. 

For the cover above, I also appreciate the irony that the postmark suggests that airmail would save time.  The year, 1926, was still quite early for airmail and this was mailed prior to Lindbergh's famous Atlantic crossing (note: the first crossing of the Atlantic was in 1919 by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown).  In other words, air mail was going to do next to NOTHING for an overseas letter.  It was going to go via boat, and that's all there was to it!

And A Sidelight

It's a collection.  It's YOUR collection.  So - it is ok if you want to have some stamps in the collection that aren't on a piece of postal history.  One of the fun sidelights you could participate in is finding varieties in the stamps themselves.  Sometimes the inks for the stamp printing come in different shades for stamps that were printed over a long period of time.  

And, sometimes, the method of printing introduces some variety.  For example, the Norse-American stamps were printed in 2 colors.  And sometimes the colors did not exactly line up like they were supposed to.  It can be interesting to find copies of the stamp with a 'fast ship' (too far left), a 'slow ship' (too far right), a 'sinking ship' (too low) or a 'flying ship' (too high).  But, if you ask me, it would be more fun if you found these varieties on a cover that was properly mailed to an interesting location!

Can you imagine a "sinking ship" stamp on an envelope mailed to Bermuda?  Or maybe a 'slow boat' to China?  Perhaps a "flying ship" to Friedrichschafen Germany, where they often launched the zeppelin airships?

And yes, I'd love to find a piece of mail from 1825 that actually references that sailing from Stavanger to New York City.  Or maybe something that discusses the incarceration of the captain and his subsequent release.  Now that would be something!

Thank you for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  I hope you have a good remainder of the day and a fine week to follow. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Quiet

 "You're so quiet.  I can't believe you don't say anything.  I mean, how can you be so quiet?  I almost forgot you were there!"  exclaimed one of the members of our group as we walked from rehearsal to a quick lunch at a local sub shop.  In response, I just shrugged my shoulders.


It was actually a pretty good question coming from a person who was far more outgoing than I ever would be.  Unlike so many other folks who were extroverted in high school, this individual actually seemed to be truly curious - with a bit of actual concern thrown in for good measure.  I am sure, from their perspective, that my presence in the group was a bit confusing.  He's with us, but he doesn't seem to be with us because he doesn't say much of anything.

What were they to make of that?

And what would they do if they realized I could summarize everything the rest of the group had said for the past hour in less than a minute?  I mean, I had nothing to add - if I had nothing to add, why should I open my mouth?

Play Ball!

It was not uncommon for me to play some baseball with a couple of other friends on a regular basis in junior high.  Essentially one person would pitch and one would hit.  And if you had one or two others, they would chase down whatever was hit.

It was a familiar place and a familiar activity.  I usually had some connection with the others who played, but it wasn't necessary - it was baseball!

One day, when I was the 'fielder,' I yelled encouragement, jokes, and good-natured ribbing at the other two participants.  Of those two people, one was a very good friend who knew me well - it didn't seem odd to him.  The other was a ... well... distant friend?  So, he did not know me all that well.

After we called a break to hunt for a baseball that had gone into the tall grass, he gave me an odd look and said, "What's with you?  You NEVER talk that much."

I just shrugged my shoulders and found the missing baseball.

Say What You Mean

The high school class was U.S. Government and the teacher, someone I had come to respect, was trying to get students in this required class to provide some opinions about a particular topic.  

It was high school, so there was very little volunteered discussion and most of the answers were filled with "ums and ers" and very few had much substance beyond the basics.  Per the norm, I didn't volunteer.  But, I did answer when called upon.

I gave a concise four-sentence answer that expressed what I understood about the question at hand and then ... stopped.

A girl next to me who could be described as extremely outgoing and very talkative looked at me and said, "Holy crap!"

It wasn't because I was quiet that she commented - it was because the quiet individual just encapsulated an entire, relatively complex, position in a compact paragraph.  I understood her meaning because I had seen the look that went with her words before.

I gave her a quick look and a small shrug.

Words With Purpose

I was leading a discussion-based class that focused on morality, ethics and science as a professor of computer science.  As was always the case in every group of people, there were talkers and there were 'quiet folks.'  Some of the quiet folks might have been quiet because they were lost, tired or unwilling/uninterested in participating.  But, there were also the quiet listeners and thinkers.  The ones who might suddenly erupt and cause everyone else to say "holy crap!"

After a few weeks of class, I talked about the spectrum of people with respect to introversion and extroversion.  And, I asked them what they thought I was.  The general response was that I must be an extrovert.  Until one of the quiet students broke out of her silence and said - "You are working hard to be an extrovert because it is your job to to be one right now. And you don't have office hours right after your last class so you can recover."

Holy crap.

Nice call.


The Quiet People

Not every person who tends towards introversion behaves the same way or likes the same things and not every quiet person appears to be an introvert all the time.  In fact, some quiet people can really get going when they are with someone they know well and trust.  And, they can often do well when their role calls for being more open and expressive.

Anyway, there are some things that seem to be true for most of us - I can't be sure of this, because we don't talk together to compare notes ( Hey.  That was an 'introvert joke.'  If you are an introvert you may now indulge in a quiet inner smile.  If you are not, you may continue to be confused.)

The quiet people aren't always sure about the purpose of small talk and they often spend more time listening than they speak.  In fact, you might be surprised how much they listen and how often they take what you might think is a 'throw away' comment to heart.  Sometimes they nurture the wrong things for far too long and it festers.  Some quiet people can almost 'bleed out' in front of your eyes when something hits too close to home.  At other times, they can take the glow of an implied compliment and fan it into an inferno.  You won't necessarily know its happening, because they won't advertise.  Just trust me that it does happen.

The quiet people are often unconvinced that you care to hear from them - sometimes because they aren't sure they have much to offer - and sometimes because they are pretty sure you really don't want to invest in listening.  And even if they are pretty sure you are willing to listen, they usually self-edit just to make sure they don't overstay their welcome in your life.  For that matter, they often delete some of the words they might say because they are (often painfully) aware that what they say could hurt you.

The quiet people don't always want to be alone.  They often value companionship as much, but differently, than other people do.  One difference is that they don't always want to experience the stress of interaction for interaction's sake.  Add a little purpose - like a board game, or a volleyball match - and it can work pretty well.  Put them in a large gathering and they won't feel comfortable enough to talk much until it's time to go and they can help put some things away (assuming they lasted that long).  Sometimes, the quiet person just wants to be in the room where it is all happening, preferably accompanied by a special person or two who won't completely abandon them to the 'heathen extroverts' cavorting about the place!  (and sometimes they just want to get out of that place and go read a book!)

The quiet people take solace in conversations that have a predetermined purpose.  And sometimes, the quiet people write words - because they know others who want to read them will - and those who tire of them can move on.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

What I've Learned About Giving Thanks

Here we are, once again, doing our best to celebrate Rob and Tammy's favorite holiday - Thanksgiving.  If you were able to enjoy a holiday meal and are now feeling too full to move, it's a great time to do a little Thanksgiving reading.  Not only will we offer our annual Thanksgiving blog post, we'll also offer links to prior year posts on the topic for those who still don't feel like getting up just yet!

Thanks Requires Effort

Let's just recognize the elephants in the room and move on from there, shall we?  The pandemic has gotten worse.  People are being stupid about politics and about taking sides.  It has been difficult.  I've said it and I've acknowledged it.

And, so what?  Every year brings trials and worries.  Some years seem worse than others and some years we handle it better than others.  Certainly, there have been many big and difficult things for us to deal with of late and they won't just go away until we actually deal with them.  What makes it worse is our human tendency to accentuate the negative and give so much more weight to the one bad thing that happened in a day than the ten good things in the same time span.

If you want to be grateful - you have to put some conviction into it!

"If gratitude were easy, it would not be nearly so wonderful and fulfilling as it is when we work to give meaningful thanks." (from 2017's Thanksgiving post)

Easy gratitude is cheap and cheap gratitude does not last.  It might feel good for a few seconds, but it sure won't take much to tear it down and cover it up with a single negative moment.

Gratitude vs Taken for Granted

I appreciate the concept of a holiday set aside for giving thanks (at least that's how I see Thanksgiving's purpose) because I think it is critical that we all force ourselves to recognize the things that benefit us on a regular basis.  Things that we take for granted - things that we should NEVER take for granted.  But, because of their consistent presence, we still do - because we are humans.

Who are the people in your life that you benefit from their presence on a regular basis?  What are the things, places, organizations and services that you often use and your life is better because they exist?  What about the moments that you experience, the artistry you have observed or the natural wonders you have seen?

Did you see a sunset recently?  I mean - have you really looked at a sunset?  Appreciate and give thanks.

Did someone say 'Thank you' as you held a door open - and really mean it?  Appreciate and give thanks.

Was somebody at the --fill in the blank-- office willing to listen to your complaint and then do their best to fix it?  Appreciate and give thanks (even if you were grumpy at the time). 

Stop looking for the bogey man and start looking for the grace, love and goodwill that we can experience once we stop trying to throw dirt over it all.

In our case, we need to slow down a little so we can acknowledge the good things.  Like so many of you, our hurry to get everything we're supposed to do done winds up burying the things we should be grateful for...

In 2016, we wrote:

"... we sometimes work so hard at trying to do the things we think are right and necessary to fulfill our customers' trust that we may not be transmitting to you how honored we are to be able to work for you.  We give thanks for all of the fine people who support our farm by buying our products.  Thank you for being understanding when things don't go quite as we planned and thank you for telling us when you are pleased.  Those little nuggets are fuel that burns for days, weeks, months and years on our farm."

Tammy and I are grateful that we have had the opportunity to serve so many good people over the years.  We hope you have never felt that we take you for granted.  But, if you have felt that way, please rest assured that we work, every day, to remember - and to give thanks for you.

And if you are family or friends that sometimes feel as if we keep speeding by as we run from one task to another?  We also remember you on a daily basis and we are so pleased that you still are willing to admit that you know us!

Grace and Courtesy
Just last year, I wrote a paragraph that really speaks to me today:

"Grace and the courtesy it entails are necessary because it is difficult to show true gratitude when there is a lack of civility.  Grace implies tolerance for differences and acknowledgement that we don't hold all of the answers.  I shudder to think how bad things would be if it were all left up to me.  This is not just about manners, even though good manners are a good place to start.  This is about offering understanding and forgiveness and accepting understanding and forgiveness offered."

To be honest, last year's Thanksgiving post is one of my favorites and I was tempted to re-post it with edits.  But, that felt easy (see my first point) - so I guess I didn't think I should do that!

I continue to work on how I offer grace to others and to myself.  I realize that some people conclude that grace is essentially to "let something that troubles you go."  The extreme seems to be that you should forget whatever it was.  I don't see it that way.  I still believe you should remember because that is part of your experience and remembering can help shape you to be a better person.  But, I also believe that grace is to let the part go that prevents you from being kind, being better, and recognizing the positives for which you should be thankful. Grace gives you the ability to move forward and grow into the person you were always meant to be.

There Are Still Miracles

We short-change ourselves when we convince ourselves that we need miracles with a capital "M," a giant, blinky sign and a supporting marching band complete with baton twirlers.  Heck, I think most of us think miracles need to be ALL capital letters and a chorus of angels bigger than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  

In 2014, I wrote that "the very act of being farmers gives us a front row seat to the miracle of life.  If you don't think it is a miracle, then I challenge you to watch something grow from a seed to a full plant."

I think it is mistake to think that miracles are something that happen TO us.  Instead, I think we might be better off if we consider miracles something we plant and nurture until they reach their full power and strength.  It's a slow process that just might encourage us to take them for granted.  The process may even lead us to expect the wrong thing and we may even become disappointed, so we have to show some grace, let it go and use the experience to become better versions of ourselves.

I think now is a good time to grow some miracles:

Next Steps

Sure.  It's the Genuine Faux Farm Thanksgiving Post.  It is full of grand thoughts and beautiful and, hopefully, compelling ideas.  Lots of pretty words and an attempt at using a soapbox to make a tiny difference by encouraging one or two other people.  But, can we identify some specific actions we can take when we are feeling overwhelmed, upset and angry?  

I don't always know those answers.  But, I can offer some thoughts that work for me sometimes.

"Each day, we try to take a little time to recognize something that makes us see value in our surroundings.  Rainbows.  Friendly and extremely "helpful" cats.  A droplet of water on a broccoli leaf.  A few moments with family.  Another five pounds of spinach.  A note from someone telling us they appreciated something we did.  An opportunity to go help someone with a task of some sort.  A beautiful piece of music.  Or a flower.  Or some time with our best friend."  2015 Thanksgiving post.

Miracles start with a seed.  Miracles require caretaking.  Miracles grow because we put effort into them.

And for that, I give thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Personal Day

Rob's employment with the Pesticide Action Network comes with a couple of flexible holidays that can be used at his discretion.  For the most part, they are intended to allow workers to take a day off for birthdays, anniversaries or religious holidays that aren't the same as observed national holidays.  Since Tammy had to work on her birthday, Rob chose not to take that day as a personal day.  Instead, he moved it to the day prior to Thanksgiving.  

Did you want a blog post from the Genuine Faux Farm today?  Well, this is it!  A picture of a stuffed dragon and a few words.

We're taking a Personal Day today!  

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

I'd want more tools than just a hammer

The idyllic picture of the traditional farm in the United States often features the sun coming up over a big red barn. A rooster crows in the background and a few cows walk their path to the pasture. There are all sorts of green in different shades and forms, implying a variety of healthy crops. Perhaps there is a hay bale or an old tractor in that picture as well. And the farmer, if visible at all, might be wearing a broad-brimmed hat, hiding their face from the sun and from your view.

While this portrayal no longer reflects the reality of most farms in the U. S., I believe that it still holds some basic truths about the value of a healthy farm. One of those basic truths is that diversity is a key to a self-sustaining and successful operation. There is evidence of a healthy crop rotation and the integration of livestock and wild edges on this farm. And the farmer, when visible, still wears a hat with their face often hidden from your view.

Limiting the farmer’s toolbox

A farmer is at their best when the toolbox is full of options at their disposal to handle the uncertainties of farming. My own small farm utilizes cover crops, crop rotation, natural habitat strips, cultivation, intercropping, succession planting, water drainage swales, mulches, and integration of livestock for fertility. Row crop farmers in Iowa could certainly use each of these tools to their advantage as well ⁠— and some of them do, and have done it well for generations.

My concern is that we are allowing corporate interests the power to limit the choices of skilled farmers everywhere, making it that much harder for us to succeed. Agricultural technology development has been centered around insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides in recent decades, and our institutions and regulatory structures have supported this technology. Even the genetically engineered (GE) seeds being developed are primarily concerned with traits that are tolerant to multiple herbicides.

This absurd focus on only one farming technique is equivalent to filling your home toolset with nothing but different hammers. 

The pesticide-first paradigm takes options away from farmers who would rather have the choice to use different approaches. Soybean farmers find themselves deciding to plant dicamba-ready GE seed "defensively" to avoid damage from chemical trespass even if they do not intend to use dicamba themselves. A farmer that might like to add a small grain or alfalfa to a rotation may find that they inadvertently re-activate residual chemicals in the soil when they add phosphate fertilizer prior to planting. Farmers who would like to use cover crops as a part of a soil health program may find that herbicide residuals from persistent use over time could inhibit germination of those cover crops.

Is it any wonder that at a time when commodity prices are low and farmers are struggling to make ends meet, many of our most skilled farmers are deciding to rent their land out to larger, corporate entities and hire themselves out as operators? Our institutions and regulatory structures favor larger, inflexible farming systems centered around one tool (pesticides), while punishing those who would like to use a broader set of tools on a wider range of crops.

Reduced opportunities to farm

In the meantime, the face hidden under the hat of our farmer is aging; our institutions and regulatory structures support continued farm consolidation, impeding new farmers from joining the ranks of those in the profession. If a person is not privileged enough to be a part of a transition plan with an existing farm, one of the limited paths of entry is to grow alternative crops on a smaller acreage. 

Sadly, farms like mine find themselves struggling to keep growing food and raising crops due to the difficulties posed by pesticide drift and misapplication. Beginning farmers who do have access to land and infrastructure find themselves in the same untenable situation our skilled, experienced farmers are in. But, they’re trying to succeed without the wisdom of experience. We’re all farming on a landscape that promotes the use of only one tool — a hammer — and discourages the use of the others.

And when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

What can we do about it?

We have multiple opportunities to influence decision-makers and to direct policy that will support the broader use of tools in the farmer’s toolbox. Each of us has the right to contact our elected officials and tell them what we think and encourage them to make changes that will address these problems. 

We can ask questions of and make statements to those who seek office. In Iowa, we can vote in the primaries on June 2 so we can influence who challenges for these positions. In November, we can vote again to select those we feel are most likely to listen and act as we need them to.

Let’s put farmers and workers back on those diverse, healthy farms. And maybe, just maybe, when you look under the brim of that hat, you’ll see the tiniest bit of a smile.

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Are you interested in seeing more content related to the Pesticide Action Network?  Take the link to the GroundTruth blog.   Your "favorite" farmer is featured there once a month on average. 

Originally published on Pesticide Action Network's Ground Truth blog on May 28, 2020.

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Echo Chamber

If you are one of those who have read this blog for a while, you will recognize that I tend to balance what I say as much as I am able.  I prefer to be as thoughtful as I can and I do my best to show respect for others as I put things down for some few others to read.  I realize my understanding is imperfect, so I try not allow my opinions to become fully entrenched - preferring to continue to improve my understanding so I can better represent myself and the things I choose to say something about.  And I still feel like I fail at least as much as I succeed in my efforts - but I hope I am setting a high bar to leap over.

Like so many other people - I have been struggling of late.  I am upset that so many people are 'content' to repeat the same tired (and unfounded) arguments on so many things, without actually exploring the worlds of fact, logic and empathy.  We're drawn to the 'fantastical and dramatic' explanations by 'self-important self-promoters' who make their noises for the attention rather than the intention.  And, it seems we are so quick to draw lines in the sand and choose sides.

We struggle because of the echo chambers we all put ourselves into.


I pull the door open on its slides, revealing a dark room that smells of old hay and dirt.  The door rolls shut behind me and I am alone.  When I speak, I hear only myself or things that sound like me.  There are whispers that encourage me to be my worst self.  I don't know if these voices actually come from me or if there is something else in this echo chamber of a room that is trying to break me down into something I do not want to be.  Or maybe I do want to be that thing - and the thought shames me.

"If they don't agree with you, they are stupid."  says one voice.

"They're out to get you and they will ruin it all." says another.

"They have betrayed you and they will not listen, just give up." rasps a third voice that still sounds too much like me.

"Tell me again what you believe, because you certainly have it right!" says another.

"There's no reason to double check that.  It agrees with what you believe, so it must be true."  "You can't trust them, they don't see things the same way you do." 

"They are taking the people you love away from you."  "It's better if you just cut ties before they drag you down with them."  "It doesn't matter if they suffer, they deserve it."  "They attacked you, defend yourself!"

"There is evil afoot but we'll stand with you."  

Then it dawns on me that the door is still right behind me.  And, I open it.  And the light floods in.

"You don't want to go there!  That's where THEY live!  Come back!"

I close the door.  And I walk away.

Then I shake your hand and listen to your story and find the humanity, the flaws, and truth in it.  And I hope you will also listen to mine and find the flaws and the truths.  Perhaps we'll find a better idea that is a combination of our understandings.  

And, maybe we'll identify the evil that was afoot...  after all, it was telling us all about itself in that echo chamber.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

In the News

Welcome to this week's edition of Postal History Sunday!  The blog post where you check in your worries for a time and learn something new and hopefully - interesting.  Remember, if you wish to see one of the images in a larger format, you can click on the image.

I realize that newspapers and magazines no longer hold the same prominence in our culture as they did even a decade ago, but in the 1860s and 1870s, periodicals and required substantial attention from the postal services around the world to get these items from the printer to their various destinations.

While letter mail was typically the first thing addressed in postal agreements between countries, they could not escape the fact that newspapers and other printed documents required a different type of handling.  You certainly don't have to read the blurb shown above.  It's just a sample of text from the 1867 convention between the United States and the United Kingdom that mentions newspapers and other "printed matter."  I offer it only as proof that this kind of mailed matter got its own treatment!

Remember - you are reading a blog written by a postal historian who enjoys collecting these things - so he just might write a blog simply because he found something he likes!  (oh no!)  You see, I have been aware of the existence of mailed newspapers from the 1860s in the collector's market for some time.  But, normally, the nice looking items have prices that exceed my budget... and the things that are a price I can willing to pay?  Let's just say I can smell the must and mold through the computer screen most of the time.  No thank you.

Well apparently, there are more examples of Italian printed matter than the market will bear, or I just happened upon a person who was happy to sell at a lower price - so I was able to pick up a few things that illustrate the mailing of newspapers and printed matter.  How cool is that?

You have now been able to view the Belluno, Italy newspaper of March 2, 1871.  It almost looks as if it was never removed from the wrapper band that was used to keep it all together as it went through the mail.  I suppose I could gently remove it to view the rest and then work carefully to put it back in the wrapper....  but, maybe not.  I'm pretty happy with it the way it is.  That, and, well, the news probably is a bit dated.

This newspaper I show above cost only 1 centesimi to mail to Vittorio, Italy, and maybe it cost less than that!  Wait... what?

Letter Mail in Italy

Let me back up for a second so you can see the whole picture.  Above is a piece of letter mail.  It cost 15 centesimi to send from Chiavari, Italy to Torino, Italy.  The envelope is a personal or business correspondence and it weighed no more than 10 grams.

Letter mail provided great flexibility.  You could mail one item and you could seal it up, placing whatever you wanted (within reason) inside the envelope or folded letter - as long as it was flat.  The only reason the postal service might open the letter is if they couldn't find the addressee and it went to the Dead Letter Office to be processed.

You could include a picture, an invoice, paper money, a newspaper clipping, a lock of hair and even, perhaps, the letter you got from Aunt Mable so your cousin could read it too.

Printed Matter Mail

Printed matter mail, on the other hand, could not be sealed up.  It had to allow the postal workers to be able to check contents to be sure there weren't personal messages or other non-permitted material being snuck in with the mailing!  The item above was mailed from Torino to Allessandria (both in Italy) for 2 centesimi for items weighing up to 40 grams.

2 centesimi for 40 grams vs 15 centesimi for 10 grams.  

Ok - I think we see an advantage for the printed matter folks to send their newspapers, magazines and advertising!  But, it only makes sense.  People were used to paying, perhaps 5 to 10 centesimi for a single copy of a newspaper at a newstand.  Even if you could pass your costs on to the customer, it was unlikely that readers would pay that much more for the privilege of mailing it to their home address.

Newspapers and Journals

The next item is a sample Farmers' Journal of Agricultural Practices in Italy.  The white band at the bottom essentially indicates that this sample is being provided 'gratis' and that the recipient should not delay in sending in for a subscription!  At top right is a 1 centesimi stamp that is paying for the mailing of this item from Casale Monferrato.  Sadly, the "where it was sent to" portion has been lost.  But, it is safe to say it stayed in Italy - and likely landed somewhere in northern Italy.

There was a 'concessionary' rate that provided a discount for newspapers and magazines that pre-sorted their bulk mailing by the destination and the route the items were to take to get to that destination.  In fact, some bulk mailers paid even less than one cent per item if they were regular customers.  A weekly newspaper got a better rate than a monthly magazine, for example.  The thing is, there weren't stamps with denominations for all of these fractions of a centesimi - so they just used the 1 centesimi stamp and the bulk mailer simply paid the bill at the agreed upon rate.  In some cases, the stamps were adhered to the newspaper before printing and you can find examples where the printing goes OVER the stamp.

If you think about it, this makes a great deal of sense for the post offices as well.  They can count on consistent business rather than the whims of those who send a single letter at a time.  A pre-bundled batch of newspapers to go from Belluno to Vittorio required about as much handling as a single letter from Belluno to Vittorio - until you got to the delivery part.  And, yes, they typically weighed more.

When I unfolded the Farmers' Journal item, I found it was a larger piece of paper that was printed as four separate pages on each side.  Other than the title page, it was all advertising for agricultural implements, plant stock and other items.  At a guess, the actual sample of the journal had been wrapped inside this covering and is no longer part of the whole.

Perhaps someday I will find an actual copy of this Farmers' Journal of Agricultural Practices.  Then, I'll brush up my Italian - and learn something new!

I hope everyone has a wonderful day and thank you for joining me on Postal History Sunday.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Trending

Sometimes it is nice to think about the things we are enjoying in our lives - if only to remind ourselves that there ARE things we enjoy.  With that thought in mind, I thought I'd share a few things that are 'trending upward' in our household right now.  

Besides, it's Saturday - it can be healthy to change things up a little on the weekend.

A picture we like to look at

It was a great hike and the tall trees threw snowballs at us.  And, this picture hangs in the kitchen where we can see it every time we go out the back door.  But, perhaps, now that it is getting colder outside, we should put a 'warmer' picture up in that spot?

Fuzzy, sleepy critters

 We have a glider rocker in the office.  I don't often get to sit in the glider rocker.  You can guess why.

But, Bree does know how to be a love sometimes.... when she's not whining, chewing plants or having a hairball.  Oh, wait!  This was a positive post!

And I'm positive she's going to whine, chew plants and...  never mind.

There is always music

We always love our music.  Admittedly, Rob tends to be the one of the two of us who puts the playlists together, but Tammy makes her opinions known.  So, in the end, it is a collaborative effort.

A few tunes that we're appreciating right now:

Please Let Me Be - Future of Forestry

Thunderhead - the Elms

Tears in the Ground - Sam Phillips

Take the Moment - Classic Crime

How about music AND video?

Generally, we don't do much along these lines.  But, someone pointed us at this video and it was just too fun not watch a couple of times.  Now, we share with you.

Something different to eat

We were introduced to the Loco Moco at Koke'e State Park on Kauai.  With rice, hamburger, eggs and gravy, this certainly classifies as a 'comfort food' as far as we're concerned.  The recipe we link is not necessarily a 'recommendation' as Tammy simply made the Loco Moco how she felt like making it (and it tasted great).  However, we realized it might be a good idea to link a recipe so others can at least see what we're referring to.

The other nice treat was breaking out one of our bags of frozen asparagus for our veggie recently.  In the past, we've always kind of figured we'd get all the asparagus we wanted during asparagus harvest in May to early June.  This year, we had some excess - so we decided to try freezing some.  While it isn't the same as fresh, it was still a treat.  We'll call it a win.

There are a few dishes that we have encountered over time that we have enjoyed enough for Tammy to try her own hand at.  It might be time to think about Cincinnati chili again?

Have some Poirot with that?

Tammy and I enjoyed picking up a set of dvds of the most recent British TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring David Suchet, earlier this year as we began to realize that the pandemic was going to encourage us to look to a bit more home entertainment. If I recall, this box set was seasons 8 through 13 and we have spread viewing of these out over the past eight months.  Sadly, we have one more installment to view.

Night-time reading

We both enjoy reading when we can.  With a little enforced 'down time' for me recently, I was able to plow through a couple of books that I have been waiting to read.  


Jim Butcher's Dresden Files have been on my reading list now for several years.  I will readily admit that I came into the series in the middle after someone else recommended them to me.  And, frankly, that is likely all to the good because Butcher had settled a bit into his character development at that point.  The books classify as urban fantasy with a little noir and supernatural all over the place.  

Oddly enough, I find I am now reading them more to see how the characters grow and change over time than I am to see how the plots move.  Huh.  Who knew?

If Tammy wants to share any of her reading, she will.

How about some flowers?

 We have a few indoor plants that have decided they will gift us with color.

Have a great weekend - and I hope you, too, have some good things trending in your lives as well.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Missing - Teamwork

I remember putting the cello into the back of the Mercury Marquis and driving to the community theater for another rehearsal of Annie Get Your Gun.  Members of the pit orchestra actually just played in the wide aisle in front of the stage - but you use what you have.  The members of the orchestra were comprised of various community members and a smattering of a few high school students and the cast was a fairly diverse group of people from the community.


After so many repetitions, everyone in the orchestra could repeat all of the lines by the time we got to the dress rehearsals and we knew when the audience was supposed to laugh.  And, like the cast, I suspect we were a bit relieved AND pleased when people did, in fact, laugh at the right times and be somber when the play called for it.

There were, of course, things that did not go as planned and there were stressful moments.  In one scene, the main characters are on a 'boat' and Annie proceeds to 'shoot a bird' that was flying by.  A stuffed bird was supposed to drop from the ceiling and land at their feet.  There was some rustling and it did not materialize.  The actors covered well and suggested to the audience that it 'fell in the water.'

That same bird materialized later, dropping from the rigging and landing on the two main characters during the 'kissing scene.'  I realize that wasn't supposed to be the funny part - but it went over well.  It became part of the 'lore' we all took with us as a part of our team effort once we completed our performances.

I took pride in doing my part as well as I could, of course.  But, I think I was happier still to be a part of a group that worked together to create something.

Later on, I would get to experience these feelings again in high school for My Fair Lady and at college for productions of West Side Story and Die Fledermaus as a member of the pit orchestra.  I was even involved in a movie spoof titled "Star Trak."  Imagine that!

And who could forget the effort it took to be a staff member for a six week Upward Bound Program.  Talk about the importance of working as a team to accomplish a big (and complex) goal!  


I have good memories of time spent with a group of people in Madison, Wisconsin playing co-ed volleyball.  Tammy and I were on a team that was mostly comprised of current students at the University of Wisconsin and we were not long out of college ourselves.  We actually would get in some practice at open volleyball nights and played enough that we were fairly familiar with each others' strengths and weaknesses.  We actually made it to the finals, and after a hard fought and very close match, prevailed to win the league.

We enjoyed spending time with that group of people and we gained something valuable by figuring out how to reach our potential as a group.

I remember staying at my parents house while we all worked to replace the roof on their house in the country.  It ended up being more work than we thought it was going to be when we discovered the underlayment needed to be replaced.  I recall long days where everyone did what they were able to do to make the job happen.  You were assured to sleep well once you got over the aching muscles!  And we all managed to NOT fall through the roof.  That's always a plus.

Once again, I recall the event with fondness because we all worked together.  Each person offering their abilities as they fit best for the overall project.  A warm meal at the end of the day - even if it was simple - never tasted so good.  But, it sure was hard rolling back out of bed early the next day!

And hey!  We even helped put up a yurt once!


There was a database building project that a class I facilitated at University of Minnesota-Morris undertook as a service learning project for the Land Stewardship Project.  There are so many moving parts with these sorts of efforts - but in the end - the class pulled together and there was, in fact, some useful progress that was made for the client.  I remember feeling pride in the young people who found ways to work as a team, despite the fact that this was a class and it was their learning that was the real focus - whether they knew it or not.


I do not mean to imply that there were not struggles and uncomfortable moments during each of these group efforts.  There were times when people were unhappy with each other and moments when I just wanted out.  And there were flaws - always flaws.  But, somehow, the flaws never seemed all that big once the group became a team.  

Flaws became a decorations.  A part of the lore that makes the story of our working together unique.

In recent years, the big team projects I have been involved in have largely revolved around the farm.  We typically would introduce a few people to the farm to help us with our work here in late spring and they often would leave in late August, sometimes staying longer.  We would start with some uncertainty as to how everyone would work together and then we would suddenly realize that we had pretty much reached a certain level of peace with the roles people had.  We would be better at accessing strengths and dealing with weaknesses.  

When it came time for people to leave, Tammy and I would try to be sure to have some tasks that showed completion in hopes that those that were leaving would feel a sense of closure.  I suspect it didn't always work out, but we tried.

Once everyone left for the season, there was always more to do.  And, there was always a combined sense of relief (oh, thank goodness I don't have to manage a bunch of people all the time now!) and grief (but, I actually liked working with a team to make this farm successful!) when people moved on.

We worked together as a team with the goal of doing what we had to do to raise quality produce on the farm and I got something positive (beyond the produce) from that.  

Sometimes, we even built a high tunnel.


The only consistent workers on the farm this year were... Tammy and Rob.  And even they were involved in other things, so they could not dedicate themselves to the task.  Don't get me wrong.  Tammy and Rob are a team - and we are working on a bigger project than just a farm.  We're building a life together - and that takes some effort - and it is worthwhile.

However, I was wondering why I was feeling a sense of dissatisfaction recently about - well - everything.  And I realized that I might simply be missing the satisfaction of working on a difficult project with a larger team of people who bring their diverse skills and opinions together to accomplish a goal.  Building a life is a long game - but sometimes we need some shorter games to help us see progress.

Perform a musical.  Roof a house.  Build a yurt.  Play volleyball.  Make an Upward Bound Program successful.  Build a database.  Harvest the garlic.  Put up a high tunnel.  Grow peas and cukes.

Teamwork.  It's what I am missing right now.  

Maybe it's what we're all missing right now.