Saturday, September 23, 2023

September Playlist

This seems like a good Saturday in the month of September to share a music playlist.  This time around, I'm just going to share a few tunes that are some all-time favorites of mine.  It doesn't matter if I've shared these specific songs before.  It doesn't matter if I share more than one song by the same artist.  It doesn't really matter what anyone who reads this might think.  

It's my list, and I'm sharing the music I like.  That's all there is to it, so there!

Ok.  I hope you like some of these selections too.  It's not required that you do, of course.  So, if you're left wanting after this, put in some of your own favorites, or go listen to the wind in the trees or in the dry, fall grasses, or the voice of someone you love.

And now, for our list, which goes to eleven.

Smokescreen - Lost Dogs

Great lyrics, of course.  But the thing that sticks out is the atmosphere that comes with this song.  You can almost feel the wind creeping in through the cracks of an old shack on a cold winter day, especially at the end of this track.

Restore My Soul - the Choir

This one has been a favorite for a very long time.  All of the images of being "almost there, but not quite" are relatable for all of us.  "A bridge away from justified, a step away from whole."  The song has a mesmerizing beat and I always find myself stopping to listen to the instrumentation at the end.

Give Me Strength - Over the Rhine

Apparently there are a couple of things developing here.  I like songs that use the instrumentation and sound to build a a bit of a mood for the lyrics that go with them.  "Give me time to heal and build myself a dream...Give me strength to be only me."

Echo Wars - Peter Case

I will freely admit that I would not usually pick Peter Case in an "all-time favorites" list if I were asked to select off the top of my head.  And yet, every time I'm perusing the music in our library and I see this Peter Case album, I can immediately hear the tunes in my head.

Low - Violet Burning

It's a big, grand tune.  And, to listen to it requires an investment of a sort.  But a worthwhile one.  

We could lie here together
Pulling the stars from the sky
Maybe things will get better
Maybe not, I don't know why

Forum - Undercover

Another tune that has a beat that make you bob your head or tap your feet, even when you tell yourself not to. 


Faust, Midas, and Myself - Switchfoot

Life begins at the intersection.  Great story-telling and lyrics in this one.

I Need Love - Sam Phillips

I have a hard time picking a particular song by Sam Phillips.  She writes in a way that makes me feel like a song is comfortable even on the first listen, but still fresh after several listens.

Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

Yeah.  I know.  Lots of people like this song.  Fine with me.

War - Lifesavers Underground (LSU)

And here's a tune not very many people have likely heard - as compared to the previous entry.  It's different.  I like it.  And that's why it's in the list.

And now, so this list properly goes to eleven....

Homeward - Future of Forestry

I'll just leave you with this one.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 22, 2023

More Than One Way to a Pollinator Paradise


One of the things we hope to achieve during our time as stewards of the land that we call the Genuine Faux Farm, is to work with nature and provide habitat for pollinators.  We do all sorts of things - some of them might seem strange to other growers - to support a wide range of pollinators.  We let patches of clover and daisies grow in our "lawn" areas and we try to manage when we mow to promote new blooms, while still allowing these non-lawn plants a chance to thrive.  We plant a range of annual flowering plants with our vegetables and I have been known to let broccoli bloom because I know our little friends like them.

I am sure I have a long list of ideas for others who might like to create their own pollinator paradises.  But, one thing is certain, I won't pretend that my way is the best or only way.  It's what works for us, on our farm, with our tools, our available time, and our land - most of the time.

In July, we took a trip to the Scattergood Friends School farm.  Scattergood is one of the farms we have traditionally visited to do some work and share some food each year.  Our friends there have a bit more land to work with than we do and they also have a very different landscape to work with too.

Certainly they use flowers in their vegetable planting.  And, yes, they have pasture area, trees, bushes and other spaces that provide a long range of bloom period to feel the wildlife and the pollinators.  They also worked with Xerces to establish a perennial pollinator habitat.  

While I was there, I took out the camera and took a few pictures, focusing on some of the flowers that were blooming at the time.  There were only a few of these Butterfly Milkweed plants near the edge of the planting, but I was able to get close enough without tromping through the plot.

Then, just this last weekend, we visited Blue Gate Farm.  Our friends there are also part of our peer mentorship group.  Again, there are similarities to what we do and what Scattergood does.  And, of course, there are differences.

While Tammy and I both work off the farm now, this is not true for our friends at Blue Gate.  The farm produces their income, so they need to be aware of money-making opportunities, while also working to provide pollinator habitat.  

What it looks like when a larger bumblebee flies right in front of the camera!

Of course, our friends at Blue Gate recognize that a healthy pollinator population is a key for the production of many of the crops they hope to sell.  But they also look to the beautiful flowers as a source of income, selecting a wide range of blooms that they can harvest and sell as flower arrangements.  So they select many of their annuals based on blooming habits that provide excellent cut flowers over a longer season of production.

While Blue Gate might not use borage or marigolds as much as we do (because neither provide excellent cut flowers for sales), they are also intent on providing habitat.  They're just hoping that their efforts can be repaid both by flower sales and by pollinator services.

In all three examples, the Genuine Faux Farm, Blue Gate Farm, and Scattergood, diversity is a central theme.  That diversity provides a longer bloom time and provides different flower types that appeal to a wider range of pollinators.  Also, in all three cases, there is wild space, there are perennial and annual plantings, and a desire to avoid insecticides that will kill the pollinators.

Yet the biggest similarity might be the hearts of the farmers that want to build these Pollinator Paradises - even if the ways they go about it are different.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Three Weeks

This Thursday, I was considering the migration of the swallows from our farm (and elsewhere).  Already, we have had multiple visits from swallows who are from regions to our north.  I was trying to remember how far they flew each day (55 miles) and knew I had that factoid here.  So, I will share this as a Throwback Thursday post because it's a good one.



It was just three weeks ago that we entered the month of September, and I've only just gotten used to the idea that we are actually residing in that month.  I am still startled to notice that schools are in session and that Tammy is now fully into the semester at the college.  I am both dismayed and a bit alarmed that the sun comes up later each day and goes down sooner.  There are tasks that I told myself should be easy to get done during the month that I have not even started and there are changes I promised I would make that are still promises - but not reality.

Three weeks.  It doesn't seem like much time at all - yet it can be all the time in the world.

The first days of April this year brought snowfall to the Genuine Faux Farm.  The big, fluffy flakes floated down from above and drew me outside with the camera to see if I could capture a pleasing image or two.  Even if they weren't the nicest pictures in the world, they served as an excellent reminder of what was at that time.  

There was a moment, as I stood outside and the flakes landed on my hands and head (well, hat actually), that time felt like it stopped.  There was silence - except for the sound a snowflake makes when it lands.

But, then I blinked.

And three weeks had passed.  There was no snow.  The grass had greened.  Some of the earliest plants were starting to show interest in waking and displaying their greenery.

The sun woke us up earlier each and every day - unless it was shy and hid behind the clouds.  And, that same sun found more to see in our landscape, so it stuck around a bit longer into the evening - painting the sky as it finally admitted it had seen enough this time around.

Three weeks and the world had changed enough that a stranger might not recognize that they were in the same place that had existed just twenty-one days ago.

Three weeks is about how long it takes for a Barn Swallow chick to hatch and grow big enough for it to take its first flight.  In three days more, it has likely left the nest for good.  In three weeks, we can see the first German-bearded Iris bloom and, sometimes the last for the season.  It's a special bloom season when we see them for four weeks.  We often transplant lettuce seedlings we started in trays after a little more than three weeks.  

Going back to our Barn Swallow friends, they are currently migrating, typically leaving our farm in September (we usually see the last of them on September 15, but many leave September 1st).  They travel an average of 55 miles a day, so in three weeks they will have covered approximately 1,155 miles.  That is approximately the distance from our farm to Galveston, Texas. 

Three weeks.  So little time - and so much.  I can either allow myself to be upset that so much has changed, but I have not accomplished what I wanted OR I can be encouraged and I can think about what I will be able to do in the next three weeks.

Because a lot can change over that period of time.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Zealot or Zealous?


If a person were motivated enough to dig up my views and how they have changed (and not changed) over the years they might find that I am no different than anyone else.  There will be themes and topics where my thoughts and opinions have morphed and adjusted as my experiences taught me.  But there will also be numerous guiding principles that have been relatively consistent.  They too, have changed, as I learn and grow.  Yet they have been refined because I have always sought to be better and do better - as much as I possibly can.

You could say that I have exercised a great deal of zeal in my effort to learn throughout my life.  But, would you say that I am a zealot?  And, if you did, would that be a good thing?

Historically, a Zealot was a member of a Jewish sect in the first century AD that put themselves against Rome and polytheism (the Romans recognized a pantheon of gods).  They were aggressive in their opposition and uncompromising in their opinions and beliefs.  The term "zealot" now refers to any person who is fanatical and uncompromising as they pursue their beliefs and ideals.  

That leaves me with a question.  I have been told that I was zealous in my pursuit of learning and that I show zeal when I promote intercropping or pollinator planting.  I take that as a compliment.  But, is it a compliment if someone tells you that you are a zealot?  

The first-century Zealots were so committed to their points of view that they came to despise fellow Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Romans.  Some even resorted to terrorism and assassination, killing those they felt were friendly to Rome (it didn't matter if the "target" was a Jew).  One issue here is that some Zealots became so set in their views that they no longer considered persons who did not wholly agree with them to be worthwhile humans.

I wonder sometimes how those people found themselves going down that path.  And then I realize that people in every age of the world have taken that same journey.  It's a journey that starts with an ideal that seems right and appears to have real value.  Over time, that ideal gets jeopardized by alternative viewpoints that may or may not fully agree with a person's perception of that ideal.  Some people take the time to learn and re-assess what they know - hopefully coming out on the other side with a more complex and complete understanding of the world around them.

Others militantly reject anything that doesn't appear to line-up without further consideration.  Eventually, they begin to devalue anything who doesn't agree.  And once you don't think another idea has any value, it doesn't take much more to decide the person who has that idea also has no value.

That's when we have a problem - in my opinion.

In the end, I decided that I was ok with someone telling me I was zealous in my pursuit of learning.  Or that I have shown zeal over time in my efforts to encourage people to support a wide range of pollinators.  But, the word "zealot" bears with it the possible implication that a person is, in my opinion, no longer an effective advocate for the things that person has zeal for.

For example, I presented at an event where I was talking about pesticide drift.  It can be a difficult, and often polarizing, topic.  And, one person could not contain themselves, aggressively and uncompromisingly expressing an opinion that clearly set boundaries of good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable, decent human-being and something unworthy of mention.

Eventually, they were asked to allow the panel - who had worked hard to prepare for this event - the opportunity to share their information with the audience, some of whom were getting a bit impatient with this person.  Even if some of them - and some of me - agreed with some of this person's sentiment.

So what was the problem?  If we had some point of agreement, why was it that many of us grew tired of what they were saying?

Well, I don't know about the other people in the room, but my problem was that they were actually eroding the credibility of what actually could be a pretty good argument.  The result of being this kind of zealot is that you push others who might actually agree with you AWAY and you harm the ultimate cause.

I know this is not how that person saw it.  In fact, I am certain they now feel that my opinion no longer has value because I did not stand beside them and denounce that which is evil with the same zeal (and agenda and language) that they had.  They let me know that I had sullied myself by my very presence with people who were clearly "them."

There was more to it than that as well.  But this is not the time to cover it.  Instead, I'll leave you with this.  It is one thing to be zealous, to have energy for sharing the good agendas in your life.  It is quite another to force that agenda on others.  The life of a zealot is not for me.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Too Late - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday.  This is where the farmer (Rob) gets to share a hobby he enjoys with you.  It doesn't matter if you collect stamps or postal history or if you just like to learn a new thing or two, all are welcome here.

Now, let's take our troubles and worries and crumple them up into as tight a ball as you can manage.  Give that ball to your cat, or your dog... or your goldfish.  The cat will probably end up batting them under the refrigerator, the dog will chew them up so you won't recognize them anymore, and the goldfish...  well, it probably won't do much, but once you soak your troubles in fishtank water for a few hours, they don't look as impressive as they once did.  Don't have a pet?  Well, we are crumpling up virtual pieces of paper, so give them to your virtual pet - maybe an elephant, if you'd like.

Let's see what new things we can learn this week!


One thing that I think most of us can relate to is the way time can get away from us all.  And the other thing is how valuable time can be to us.  Postal services around the world, for as long as they have been in operation have been intensely aware of both of these things.  They know that we will wait until the last minute to get that envelope full of important, time-sensitive materials (like maybe - a tax return?) to the post office to be mailed.  They also know that their customers pay attention to how long things take to get from here to there!

How have postal services defended themselves when their customers push that time envelope and still expect the miracle of quick delivery to the destination?  I thought it might be fun to look at mail in the 1800s and see how it was handled then.

I'm sorry, but we didn't get this letter in time

During the mid-1850s, speedy and affordable mail services were desired, and even demanded, by the business communities who relied on the post to execute their business.  They were swift to point out failures to deliver in a timely fashion, which encouraged post offices to mark letters and mail that were received after the mails closed.  It was a simple line of defense."Hey!  The people who sent this to you messed up, so talk to them if you got it later than you wanted!"


The French were proud of their rail system and the 'star' configuration that set Paris at its center.  They utilized mail processing cars on these trains and there were complex schedules for mail transit using these rail lines.  

Often, rather than going overland via a shorter distance, mail would travel to Paris on one line of the 'star' and then go outward towards its destination from Paris.  This typically resulted in a faster delivery than a direct coach service might have provided.

The reliance on speedy railway services raised expectations for timely delivery of the mail, which means a May 18 postmark at Cambrai in France was typically expected to arrive on May 19 for delivery at Tournay, Belgium.  And while we are at it, Belgium's rail system actually advanced more quickly than France's.  So, it is possible they were even more likely to expect rapid mail transit than the French.

So, here I am looking at a folded letter that was postmarked on May 18, 1860.  It is properly prepaid with a 40 centime French postage stamp.  The red box with the "PD" marking shows that the postage was recognized as paid.  And then there's that additional marking in black ink:

The words "après le départ" translate to "after the departure."  Post offices had to set a cut-off time after which items could no longer be accepted for that day's scheduled conveyance.  Trains, in particular, had a schedule to keep and the mailbag had to be ready to go and be on time.

The individual who trotted in with this piece of mail was probably breathing heavily and might have even tried to convince the postal clerk that there must be some way to get it on that train.  But, alas!  They were too late, and the postal clerk made absolutely certain to document that fact by putting this marking boldly in the center of the address panel, for all to see.

Arrival at Tournay two days after mailing.

The French postal service was sensitive about their reputation for timely mail service, so they applied the "Apres Le Depart" marking to any item that was received after the scheduled close of the mail.  It is important to recognize that the closing of the mail for a particular departure does not imply that the post office itself was closed for business.  In fact, some post offices had multiple mail closing times to reflect mail bound for different directions or conveyance methods.... or a different train on the schedule.

a sample train schedule from Basel (Switzerland) to Strasbourg (France)

I suppose two days for the delivery of a letter may not seem all that terrible in the grand scheme of things.  But, we need to remember that the post was the primary method of communication between businesses and time... as some have said in business... is money.

The Dutch wanted timely mail too...

"Na posttijd" is translated literally as "after post time," which clearly fits the same purpose as the French marking shown above. This folded letter was mailed in Wageningen on September 6, 1858.

Wageningen and Arnhem were both located on an operating rail line at the time of the posting of this letter in 1858.  So, it seems that it is likely the na posttijd marking was an indicator that the mail train was missed.  Perhaps no such marking was used for coach or other service?

However, 20 km is equivalent to 4 Hollands Mijls, and each mijl was equivalent to roughly an hour long walk.  Technically, any service could have arrived at the destination in one day as long as the letter was received at the post office prior to the carrier's departure!  Sadly, I suspect no one was willing to walk this item to Arnhem, so it waited for the mail train that came through the next day and the letter arrived in Arnhem on September 7.

You might notice that this letter bears no postage stamps, something that is uncommon for items in my collection.  However, it was not at all uncommon in the 1850's for items to be mailed unpaid with the intent that the recipient pay the postage in order to take possession of the letter.  The large, penned "5" on the front of this letter indicated that the 5 Dutch cents of postage were due on delivery from the recipient.

Maybe it wasn't the sender's fault...

In 1855, Milan was part of Lombardy, which was administered by Austria.  Parma was a duchy ruled by a member of the Bourbon line, but had as recently as 1847 been ruled by a Habsburg.

Wait!  What's this Habsburg/Bourbon stuff?

If you are like me, I have only so much brainspace.  And references to the Bourbons and the Habsburgs don't mean much to me without a quick reminder - so maybe the same holds true for you?  The Bourbons have a French origin and the Bourbons in Parma were Spanish.  The Habsburgs, on the other hand, were Austrian.

Remember the Holy Roman Empire? And, yes, I've heard the joke that the Holy Roman Empire was none of these.  Thank you Voltaire

It is this Austrian connection that explains Parma's participation in a postal agreement (Austro-Italian League) that maintained favorable rates for mail between its members.  Members included Austria, the Kindgom of Lombardy & Venetia, Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and the Papal States.  

The letter below was sent from Milan (Lombardy) to Parma, which was both the name of the primary city and the duchy.  Mail between them could be prepaid at rates that were roughly equivalent to Austria's internal postage because they were part of this postal league.

Rail service was still extremely limited in the Italian states because Austria wanted to suppress development of anything that might support a growing sentiment for the unification of Italy.  It would not be until 1859 that the Milan-Bologna rail line, which ran through Parma and Modena, would be fully placed into service.  

This letter was mailed in 1855.  Perhaps there was a short railway spur in Milan that carried this item towards its destination.  But, it probably was carried in a mail coach most of the way to Parma.

Whether this folded letter was put on a train or not, there is a marking in Italian that reads "dopo la partenza" or "after departure."

There is a September 2 postmark in Milan followed by an arrival in Parma on September 4 for a 120 km trip - mostly by coach.  With an average speed of 8 km per hour, it would take 15 hours of continuous travel, but the dedicated mail coaches probably traveled faster than this. So, it is possible a person in Parma might expect to receive a letter from Milan in a single day.

So - perhaps there was another reason this letter was delayed?

There are two slits in this folded letter that are indicators that the item was disinfected at some point on its journey.

The third cholera pandemic had been particularly deadly in 1854 and reached places in Italy where it had not previously been found in the following year (see p 30 of the monograph linked here).  It was at this time that various individuals were discovering that contaminated water was the source for most outbreaks.  But, even so, disinfection of the mail continued, if only to show the public that something was being done to control the disease.

In fact, you can see that I featured this same cover in this Postal History Sunday that talked about treatments of the mail in attempts to halt disease. is possible the reason for the dopo la partenza marking had nothing to do with the late arrival of the sender at the post office and everything to do with the disinfection process itself.

Or maybe, we just missed the boat...

The letter below was mail in February of 1858 from Triest to Pola.  There was no active rail line between these two cities on the Istrian peninsula at that time and the entire area used Austria's postal services.

Nach Abgang Der Post

Triest was a major port city on the Adriatic Sea and there were significant business concerns that utilized mail services regularly in that community.  Pola, at the time this letter was written, was also a port city on the Adriatic*.    Sadly, the backstamp is not clear enough to determine the arrival date with certainty, though it looks like February 9 (after a Feb 6 sending date).   

Another postal service and another language.  This time, our marking on the letter is in German and it reads "nach abgang der post" which means "after the post has left."

It does not seem possible that this marking had anything to do with a train since I cannot find any record of railways there until decades later.  Of course, it is always possible that a mailcoach was missed, but I think that this letter may have missed the boat!

Both cities were reasonably significant ports on the Adriatic Sea and it seems reasonable to expect coastal steamers to carry mail between them.  It is also reasonable to expect that there were also mail coach routes.  So, I can't say for sure whether this missed the next scheduled boat or the next scheduled mail coach.  But, one thing is for sure - it missed something! 

*Pola is now a part of Croatia and is known as Pula.  The distance, via ground routes, is approximately 140 km between Trieste and Pola.

It's nice that you wanted to catch the Asia, but....

Persons who availed themselves of trans-Atlantic mail services in the 1860s were often well-versed in the comings and goings of the mail packets (ships) and would often write a directive on the envelope or wrapper for a particular ship sailing.  On the bottom left of the envelope shown below we see the words "p(er) Cunard Steamer Asia from Boston April 25."  The docketing at the left indicates that the contents were datelined April 24, 1866 but, sadly, the contents are no longer with the envelope.

Generally speaking, the postal clerks at exchange offices (those post offices that handled mail to and from countries outside the United States) were charged with getting the mail to the destination via the fastest available route.  So, the docket indicating which ship this item should sail on was not as necessary as it might have been in prior decades. Still the sender of this piece of mail found it necessary to try to show that an April 25 sailing departure was expected.  

Is it possible they put it there in an attempt to impress upon the recipient that if it did not go that way, the postal service might be to blame for any delay?

It was well known that Cunard Line sailings left on Wednesdays, alternating between Boston and New York.  The next available sailings (by other lines) were on Saturdays.  This Wednesday sailing was in Boston, but the letter was mailed in New York, which means the letter probably had to be in the New York exchange office on Tuesday (Apr 24) to reach the Wednesday ship departure in Boston*.  But, what happens when you get to the post office too late and the mailbags intended for the Cunard Line's Asia have been closed and are no longer available to stuff one more letter into them?  

Well, the postal clerk takes note of your intent for a April 25 departure by putting a marking that reads "Too Late" on the front of your piece of mail.  Then, he strikes the cover with a red New York marking with the date of the NEXT available sailing (April 28), providing an explanation to the recipient that it was NOT their fault that this item arrived a few days later. 

I wonder if the clerk would have bothered with the "Too Late" marking if the sender had not tried to place an intended departure date on the cover?  My guess is that they would not have done so.

*The Appletons' United States Postal Guide gives some of the postal schedules for some of the larger cities including New York and Boston.  However, it only provides a look at the Boston foreign mails and no mention is made of the New York foreign mails.  In Boston, letters destined for a New York sailing were to be posted no later than 7 pm the previous day.


Well, once again, you have frittered away a chunk of time and politely listened (or read) while I shared something I enjoy.  I hope you found parts and pieces of it interesting and perhaps you learned something new.  I hope you join me next week for a new Postal History Sunday.

Hey!  Where did that wadded up ball of troubles go?  Oh, the elephant took it?  Ok, that's fine with me.

A Couple of Resources

There are numerous philatelic and postal history resources out in the world that have helped me get a foothold on some of the things I share here.  Here are two that had some influence on this week's Postal History Sunday.

"Appletons' United States Postal Guide - 1863," D. Appleton & Co, reprint by J. Lee

Lesgor, R, Minnigerode, M & Stone, R.G., "The Cancellations on French Stamps of the Classic Issues: 1849-1876," Nassau Stamp Company, 1948


Thank you for joining me today!  Have a fine remainder of your day and an excellent week to come.

Postal History Sunday is published each week at both the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you are interested in prior entries, you can view them, starting with the most recent, at this location.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Not That Simple

We are drawn to the simple answers for a very specific reason, I suspect.  

Because - once we accept a simple answer, we can stop thinking.  And, thinking is a dangerous pastime!

Unfortunately, accepting a simple answer and putting a halt on your thinking is, in my opinion, even worse.

I was actually beginning to think that I could stop this blog post right there.  Point made.  Nice and simple.  Don't accept the simple answer or the simple opinion at face value and work a lot harder at critical thinking and putting what you hear under the microscope.  It doesn't matter the topic.  It doesn't matter if it already matches something you happen to agree with or believe.  It doesn't matter if you're inclined to disagree.  In fact, it doesn't even matter if you think you have covered some of this territory before.

Think.  Question.  Ask.  Accept that very little in this world is easy and most everything is complex.

And it can be stinkin' hard to do.

So, do it anyway.

I Hate Beets

I am going to bet you all thought I was going to go off on some highly philosophical or current event tangent after all of that.  You weren't?  Oh.  Now I am not sure you're telling the truth, but that doesn't really matter.  What matters (to me) is the point that I am trying to make.

We like to take simple either/or decisions and make them a part of our identity.  Oh... oops.  That is kind of philosophical.

So, about those beets...

Beets are one of those vegetables that we have identified as being one of the most polarizing among the persons who have patronized our farm over the years.  Some people just LOVE their beets and others look at us like we are offering to poison them as a reward for them giving us money.  Kale and eggplant rank right up there with beets - but we're not talking about them now, are we?

I was once a hater of beets.  Beets!?  NO thank you!!  I did not even want to look at them.

Then, I started farming - and some people wanted beets with their CSA farm shares.

Well, I guess I can grow them.

And, harvest them....

And, clean them....

And, maybe it would be cool to try some different varieties...

And then people asked how they tasted.  Uh oh.

The point is this.  There are many, many different varieties of beets.  There are golden beets, striped beets, red beets, white beets, beets for beet greens, cylindrical beets, round beets, etc etc.  Beets have a range of tastes and textures.  Yes - they are all still beets - so they do have similarities.  But, there really is quite a diverse range for different palates.

And, you can prepare beets so many ways.  You can boil them, grill them, roast them and pickle them.  You can mix them with other ingredients or you can just put a little butter on them.  You can cook them so they are really soft or make it so they have a little crunch.  Once again - still beets.  Once again - a surprisingly wide range of tastes and textures for different palates.

I Like Beets Most of the Time

It turns out, I like beets most of the time.  I prefer the golden beets over the other types.  I like them roasted or steamed and a little real butter melting on top.  But, I've found that I'm just fine if red beets are prepared in these fashions.  In fact, I'll tolerate cooked beets in most forms now.  But, there are still times I do not like them.

This did not happen overnight.  First, I had to be willing to learn more about beets.  Then, it took a while to explore the world of beets and learn about it in my own time.

After that, it took me awhile to get over my own, self-applied label that I am a person who 'doesn't like beets.'  I had to admit that I might be wrong and that this label doesn't apply to me.  I even had to face up to the fact that some folks who know that I am a self-described 'beet hater' were surely either going to be disappointed in me or were going to take an inordinate amount of glee in my 'conversion.'  

In the end, I discovered that the responses of others who felt I had to either love beets or hate them did not matter - because they haven't taken the time to know beets like I have.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Pick One Thing - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to this week's edition of Postal History Sunday.  Grab yourself a snack and a beverage of your choice, put on the fuzzy slippers and banish your troubles to the cellar for a little bit.  If you leave them down there long enough, they might be a bit paler and less daunting when you see them next time.

Meanwhile, I'm going to explore a few postal history items this week and we'll see if we can learn something new.

This week, I thought I would have a little fun by selecting a few items that I do not think I have shared in a Postal History Sunday blog before.  The idea is for me to find some interesting fact or feature for each item I share - without any particular theme in mind.  If the plans fails to make any sense, you can just allow yourself to be amused while I go about whatever it is I am going to do today!

Armistice at Villafranca

Sometimes knowing a little bit of history can give you an interesting angle for a story around an old piece of mail.  This folded business letter was mailed from the port of Triest, which was part of Austria at the time, to Villafranca di Verona, in the Kingdom of Venetia.*  The Triest postmark is September 6 and the letter dateline tells us that it was mailed in 1859.

Because the Kingdom of Venetia was also under Austrian control at the time, the postage amount was based on the internal Austrian postage rates.  Austria's internal rates were determined by a combination of distance and weight.  This letter traveled over 150 km, so it qualified for the longest distance rate of 15 kreuzer per loth (Austrian weight unit).  And, sure enough, there are 15 kreuzers worth of postage stamps on this letter.

Just two months prior to the mailing of this letter, on July 11, 1859, French Emperor Napoleon III and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria signed an armistice that ended a war between Austria and allied France and Sardinia/Piedmont.  Part of the motivation for the peace agreement were the grievous losses to both sides at the Battle of Solferino, just 25 km to the West.  It's an interesting nuance that Piedmont/Sardinia was not present at the table for these negotiations.

Of particular interest to me is that this typical business letter from someone in Triest to someone in Villafranca illustrates that, despite the momentous events going on there, life continued and businesses continued to execute transactions - stubbornly behaving as they always had and, perhaps, pretending that business as usual would remain business as usual. 

* Villafranca was established in 1185 when the Council of Rectors in Verona decided to establish this settlement on its border with Mantua (Mantova), as this was a strategic location.  They established the town as a tax-free settlement, hence the name villa franca.  At a guess, they used the tax free status to encourage people to settle there and help establish the town.

And the French get Savoy

And here is what happens when you pick one thing to talk about for one cover, you end up remembering a related thing on another item and you can't help yourself - you've got to bring it up.

Shown above is a folded letter - one that is full of advice for a, probably, younger protege.  This cover was mailed from St. Michel in the Duchy of Savoy to Troyes, in France.  The cost for a letter between these two entities was 60 centesimi and the postage stamps on the cover add up to precisely that amount.

The mailing date of January 23, 1860 is very interesting to me because not long after this letter was mailed, St Michel, and all of Savoy (Savoie), would be transferred to France from Sardinia.

If you will recall, France and Sardinia/Piedmont were allies against Austria.  In fact, Napoleon III and the Count of Cavour (Piedmont/Sardinia) met in secret to devise a plant to provoke Austria.  If they could get Austria to attack, then France would be "obligated" to join Sardinian forces due to treaty stipulations.  In other words, they wanted an excuse to declare war.

Essentially, the cost to Piedmont/Sardinia was to cede the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice to France while they would absorb conquered territory (ideally all of the Kingdoms of Lombardy and Venetia).  Even as this letter was traveling through the post, negotiations for the Treaty of Turin (signed March 24) were being finalized.  And, to make it official, a plebiscite (or vote) was taken in April that asked the question whether the people wanted Savoy to be part of France.  The results were overwhelmingly in favor of that move - though that story is certainly more complex than that and worthy of more words than I will give here today.

After working to translate the contents of this letter, I can report that there appears to be no reference to these momentous events.  The concern was to share life's lessons - and among them must have been "don't pay any attention to the machinations of the powerful, for they have little to do with you."  That's the only explanation I have for the seeming lack of awareness of the coming change of "management."

Double or nothing

Then, suddenly, I found myself looking at an envelope that I would call a very typical double rate cover for a letter that was internal to the United States in the mid-1860s.  Each rate cost 3 cents and there are two 3-cent stamps here to pay the double weight letter postage. 

This particular letter did not have terribly far to go, starting in Cincinnati and ending in Cleveland.  That illustrates an interesting feature of many mail systems in the 1850s and 1860s, postage costs were calculated by weight unit, but the distance often played no role.  This was a significant change from prior decades, where distance was often a key component for determining cost.

If this person wanted to send a double weight letter from Cincinnati to Florida, or Cincinnati to Texas, the cost would be the same as it was to send it to Cleveland.  But, in the early 1860s, the postage rate to destinations on the other side of the Rocky Mountains cost a whole lot more.

And here is an example to make the point for me.  This letter was mailed from San Francisco in October of 1862 to New Hampshire.  The rate was 10 cents per 1/2 ounce (instead of 3 cents), so a double weight letter would cost 20 cents.  

Sure enough, this letter has two 10-cent stamps paying that postage.  This letter cost more than three times as much to mail as the previous letter, and part of the reason for it is made clear at the bottom left.  The docket there reads "per steamer."  

While there were overland routes to California, these postage rates were established at a time when mail typically went via steamship to Panama, where it would cross the Isthmus and then take another steamship to the opposite coast.  There wasn't much competition to carry the mail, so the price was relatively high.  As a result, the postage costs needed to be higher to cover the expense.

This was already changing in the late 1850s, but it would take a while for postage rates to adjust to the new reality.  In July of 1863, the rate would be 3 cents for any destination in the U.S, including mail between the coasts.

And here is another 1862 letter from San Francisco to the East Coast (Brooklyn).  This time, there is ten cents of postage on the cover, paying the cost to mail a simple letter (no more than 1/2 ounce) to a destination on the other side of the Rockies.  Unfortunately, this envelope and its contents must have weighed a bit too much.  As a result, the number "10" was hand-stamped on the cover and the word "Due" followed. 

In other words, this is another example of a double-weight (or double-rate) cover.  The sender just failed to provide the full postage to pay for it.

One paid marking deserves another

Shown above is a letter mailed from the Netherlands in 1859 to Belgium.  Affixed are postage stamps totaling 20 Dutch cents, which was sufficient to mail this letter.  But, what caught my eye this time was the fact that this envelope has a "P.D." marking (payee a destination) and a "Franco" marking as part of the device that defaced (or canceled) the postage stamps.  

The French, Belgians, Swiss and Italians seemed to prefer a "P.D." marking to alert postal clerks in other countries that they believed the postage to be properly prepaid.  On the other hand, the German States and the Netherlands preferred "Franco."  (franked or, essentially, paid)

I admit that I am not the foremost expert in this area, but usually a "P.D." marking on an item coming into Holland would be sufficient and there wouldn't typically be a need for a "Franco" marking as well.  Similarly, the Belgians seemed as if they were fine accepting a "Franco" marking to indicate prepayment if it were coming from a German or Dutch origin.

So, why both this time around?  I have some thoughts on the matter, but if you have a theory - feel free to share.

In my opinion, the Dutch probably figured the "Franco" that was part of the stamp cancellation was sufficient to tell the Belgians this was properly paid.  However, the Belgians might not have seen it (can you see it?).  So, it is possible they re-weighed the letter and did their own calculations, finding it was properly paid.  At that point, they marked the letter with "P.D." so the carrier would know they didn't need to collect any money from the recipient.

The irony, of course, is that the P.D. marking is also a bit weak.  But I think it got the point across.

Isthmian Line

This envelope, mailed in 1936, was sent to a Mr. Lincoln V. Meeker.  The address directs the letter to the ship at Port of Spain, Trinidad.  However, when delivery was attempted, it was found that Mr. Meeker had "left the ship" and apparently no forwarding address was known.  As a result, the letter was returned to Albany, New York.  

The Isthmian Line was a merchant marine line, which means they were not primarily in the business of taking travelers around the world.  That tells me that Mr. Meeker may well have been a crew member or somehow employed on the ship.  Even if he was not, I smell a story here.

SS Steel Navigator from US Navy Memorial site viewed 9/9/23

The easy part is learning about the demise of the SS Steel Navigator.  It was torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean in 1942.  Only 16 of the 52 crew members survived.  The ship was hauling, of all things, sand ballast - a mix of sand and gravel or small stones.  The cargo had shifted in a storm, causing the boat to list and fall behind its convoy.

Maybe I'll find more information regarding Mr. Meeker and his disappearance from the SS Steel Navigator in 1936.  If I do, it might lead to a future Postal History Sunday.


Thank you for joining me today!  Have a fine remainder of your day and an excellent week to come.

Postal History Sunday is published each week at both the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you are interested in prior entries, you can view them, starting with the most recent, at this location.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Good Omen?

The time had come once again.  I had to go and get my insides scanned to look for any hint of the cancer that resulted in the removal of my left kidney two and a half years ago.  

So, I took the drive down to Waterloo and went through the process on Tuesday this past week.  It could be so easy to be grumpy and short because, frankly, this wasn't something I WANTED to do.  In fact, it really is something I would rather not be spending my time on.  Who would?  

But, I always remind myself that the people at the front desk who take my name, confirm my address and take photocopies of my identification, are simply doing the job they have been hired to do.  These people, the nurses, and the technicians see person after person.  Nearly every one of these people they see might rather be somewhere else than dealing with whatever it is that makes it necessary for them to visit this medical facility.

So, I put on my best self, even if I am not feeling it at the moment.  And, typically, the interaction is pleasant - because that is part of the job these people do that must certainly be difficult to fulfill at times.

I had to return on Friday to hear the verdict.  Would there be evidence of cancer or not?  Would there be a short, pleasant conversation and a quick discussion about the next time I would be scanned in the "distant future?"  Or would there be a longer, less pleasant conversation?

My lovely bride took some time off from her teaching to accompany me into the building, and after we sat down, I noticed movement in the entry way.  I pointed it out to Tammy and we both recognized the praying mantis.  After a quick discussion, I went and got the mantis and took him outside, placing him on a tree nearby.

It even let me take a couple of quick photos with the phone.

There are two types of praying mantids (mantids is the plural form of mantis) in Iowa.  Both prefer the southern part of the state.  This would be a Chinese Praying Mantis, which were introduced to the United States in the 1800s.  They are larger than the Carolina Mantis, with a body size that can reach 4+ inches.  

This particular Chinese Praying Mantis was on the upper end of their size range and the legs and wings made it appear even larger.  The legs are serrated and very strong and I was a bit surprised by how it could lift itself up with only 1 leg have clear purchase to start a climb.

Praying mantids are amazing predators, but they are very opportunistic and they do not discriminate.  They're a bit like dragonflies, they'll eat what they can catch.  In fact, a praying mantis youngster may well eat some of its siblings.  They'll eat pest insects and they'll eat beneficial insects.  So, for those who might feel like adding Praying Mantids to their gardens for pest control, they might find the end result is not quite the perfect solution they were hoping for.

Still, the presence of a larger insect predator is exciting and interesting.  And I certainly would not find their presence on our farm to be a bad thing.

And as far as Friday was concerned, I chose to see this encounter as a good omen.  And it was.  We got the all clear.  Of course, we get to go through it all again next October - our new "distant future."  But, for now, it's all good.

And I got to say hello to a Praying Mantis.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Over-hyped, Over-used, and Over It

If I told you that you did something well, how would you feel?

What if I told you that you had actually done exceptionally well?

Or maybe, what if I said your work just "blew me away!?"  Would you believe me?  Would it make you feel good?  I certainly hope so, because if I have uttered these words and directed them to you, then I certainly believed them and I would hope you do too.

But what happens when we resort to ultimate praise for practically anything?  Do those positive words mean what they think they mean?  Do they have the same impact?

It feels like many people have decided the extremes have become the norm now.  A person does something for the first time ever and people say the results were "just amazing," "couldn't have done any better," or "literally fantastic!"

It doesn't leave much room for anything more does it?  Where's the encouragement for growth and future achievement?  Is it even possible for the person receiving these comments to prepare for the possibility of constructive criticism?  Or will the likelihood that the outsized dreams they have begun to cook up after high praise are going to die on the vine when someone finally gives some honest (and maybe negative) feedback along the way?

This is why I cringe when someone tells me that something I have done is "perfect."  Either I am really, REALLY bad at being me or the perfection I have been striving for my entire life isn't as hard as I think it is to achieve.  

Hey, I know how far away from perfect I am.  And if you're going to praise my effort and have it mean anything, please make it real.

People also have a tendency to give negative criticism far more weight than it deserves.  Our criticisms must always be scathing and relentless.  And, they must make it sound as if this is the FINAL WORD.

"That was the worst such and such I have ever seen."

"This just destroys the position that these other people hold.

etcetera etcetera... blah blah blah.

Our desire to create the ultimate put-down or take-down leaves us, and everyone else, with no opportunities for discussion.  No chance to reach a better understanding.  No real incentive to learn more and improve ourselves.  We're making it clear that there is no redeeming qualities and it's time to move on - and find something or someone we like and agree with so we can be in awe of that "perfection" instead.

Once again, I cringe when this happens.  After all, while I am far from perfect, I have honed a few skills and acquired some knowledge about a number of things.  I believe I have shown some ability to learn and adapt.  I like to think that I have some empathy and a wee bit of integrity too.

But, when you tell me that something I have said, something I have done or something I identify with is abhorrent and no worthwhile creature in the universe possibly believes that or does things that way, I am left either feeling like I must oppose you, or I must cease being who I am.

And I'm not sure either of those options is a good idea.

If you're wondering what I think, you've come to the right place.  After all, it is my blog and I guess it makes sense that there will be a few of my thoughts here.  

I believe that truly heartfelt praise comes with carefully considered words.  Don't just reach onto the shelf and grab the closest superlative.  Give something real.  Give something concrete.  Give something that appreciates effort while also helping the person target an area for future growth and improvement.  Give in a way that doesn't try to make that person into your clone.  Instead, give so what you say and do encourages them to be their best self.

Similarly, honest and beneficial criticism and dissent also come with carefully considered words and actions.  We aren't playing a game to see who gets the most points for cutting remarks, most dramatic actions, or the most empty applause for efforts at stealing the show.

Or are we?

If we are, I am not playing.  Fair warning.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Solo Flight (Float)

Tammy has been dabbling with the idea of kayaking this year.  Some of the motivation for it might be because walking and hiking are less friendly to her than they once were.  Also, being a child of Minnesota, there were many more opportunities to spend time around water that might be idea for floating around in it.  And, it's always good to keep learning new things.

And yes, water is a good place to experience awe and wonder - both of which encourage you to exercise your gratitude muscles.

Tammy has been on a few trips where others hosted/organized the float so she could get a little support.  Last week, we threw the kayak into the back of the truck in the evening and drove up to Fredrika so she could try a solo float.

Some of you might be wondering why I am not also kayaking at the same time.  I'll answer by simply saying I am not as fond of being in or on water as many people.  I like being near water, that's fine.  So, I meandered around the park area and then found a nice place to sit while she paddled.

Like most rivers in Iowa right now, the Wapsipinicon is pretty low.  There is still enough depth for a kayak.  But, then again, kayaks don't need much water to clear the bottom.  In some ways, it was perfect for someone who is still getting used to the kayak to learn the craft.  The current is easy and the snags and sandbars are quite visible.

The drought conditions have also resulted in fewer mosquitos and other biting insects that can turn a calm evening into a slap fest.  That meant I was able to do things like sit and watch the light work its way into a position where it would reflect off the water.  Or I could watch some birds in a nearby tree.

Or find myself bemused by a leaf floating on the water until rushed down the damn to the pools below.

As the sun started to sink to the horizon, I noticed how some of the trees and bushes around me became silhouettes.  This is where I once again extol the virtues of digital cameras.  They encourage me to just try different things and see what I get.

This time, I focused on the corpse of a tree that looks like it lost some larger branches at one point in time and then added some new growth, but sideways.  Eventually, the tree had no more energy to send out new shoots and we are left with the skeleton of a riverside sentinel.

Soon after considering this tree, I noticed Tammy heading back down the river to the boat ramp.  It was time to assist with reloading the kayak into the truck and head home to do the chores.  It was also time to celebrate a successful solo float.

Well done, my friend!

Tuesday, September 5, 2023


The Blue Moon loomed over the horizon as I was completing the evening chores last week and I thought to myself how sad it was that I didn't have the camera with me.  I noticed that Tammy was trying to take pictures or video with her phone and guessed I could either do the same or take the time to get things from her phone to my computer.

Then I came to a realization that I did not have to stay inside once the chores were done.  And, for that matter, I could finish some of the chores by moonlight.  So I trotted inside and grabbed the camera.

This has nothing to do with my prowess (or lack thereof) when it comes to night photography.  Those skills don't actually exist for me because I have only recently found the settings on the camera to allow me to even try.  

Sure, there was some "beginner's luck" when I first received the camera with a couple of photos.  Otherwise, I don't often think about the camera in the early morning or late evening unless there is a sunrise or sunset that really grabs my attention - and I know how to take those shots so there isn't much thought beyond trying to frame the picture.  

Hey, if you farm - even if it is on a smaller scale than it used to be - the beginning and end of the day is often full up.  My mind is often on the completion of tasks and plans for other tasks for later in the day or to do the following day.  And, my brain is often less than ready to try to figure out some setting or function on a camera.

I was captivated most by the juxtaposition of sunflowers in the moonlight.  The first photo you see at the top was taken outside by the sunflowers.  You can see moonlight shining through, and off of, the sunflowers themselves.  A more skilled photographer with a better camera might have come up with something captivating with this set up.  I merely got enough to remind me of how magical that moment was when I recognized this was a moment when the moon and the sun(flowers) met for a brief time.

The last photo was taken from inside of Valhalla, one of our high tunnels.  The plastic distorted the moonlight but was strong enough to show the shadows of a couple of sunflowers as well.  This picture is different, but I like the feel of it.  I don't care if it is sharp because it was the texture and the light vs dark I wanted to capture.

So, while other folks have shared nice, crisp photos of the moon, I offer up some impressionistic versions.  I like both, of course.  Maybe with some work, I can accomplish both.  But for now, I kind of like how these turned out.

Still, the real triumph for me is that I reminded myself to take time for moments of gratitude, awe and wonder.  The changing of the day is frequently one of the best times to experience these things because there are so many dramatic moments.  Sunlight dancing on the clouds.  Mist rising over the fields.  Lightning in the distance.

But maybe this is a good time simply because it IS a time when I am outside EVERY DAY.  Even if the purpose is to do farm chores that I just want done, it is important that I also give myself permission to see, hear and feel the world around me.

Have a good remainder of your day.  And don't forget to give yourself an opportunity today to experience gratitude, awe and wonder.