Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Difficult Task?

I was presenting to a group of people at our farm a few years ago when one of the leaders of the group said, "So, I saw that Rob and Tammy were doing this and I thought - Hey!  If they can do it, so can I!"

I winced a little bit, but reminded myself to take it how it was intended.  This individual hadn't started up their own diversified, small-scale farm.  But, they had started gardening and raising some of their own food.  This comment was supposed to be an exhortation to others that they can also take part of raising food to support themselves.

Though I still sometimes feel like this sort of comment is a "Well - LOOK at them.  Shoot, if people like THAT can do it - ANYONE can do it for heaven's sake!"

I do cringe and sometimes take offense when people imply that what a professional does is simple, and therefore not something to be valued or appreciated.  And, before you take this wrong, I want to make it clear that when this happens to us with respect to our farm, it isn't usually someone who is deliberately trying to provoke us.  It usually comes in various forms:

  • What?  You want $X for one of those?  Heck, I could raise those myself for less than that!
  • Would you be willing to sit down and talk to me about raising _______ (fill in the blank)?  We want to stop spending so much on it.
  • So, you only have some poultry and you stopped the CSA... You must appreciate all of the free time you have now.
  • I can't believe you haven't gotten that done yet, we got that done in our garden WEEKS ago!
  • You don't grow that?  Why?  It isn't hard to grow.
  • You ran out?  Why don't you just grow more of that then?

Mr Aubergine Wants a Story

My Dad used to work for a paper company as a salesperson and he was quite good at what he did.  At the time he started this particular job, the sales records were paper-based.  But, as time went on, paper companies wanted to get sales details recorded into their computing systems.

To make what could be a long story less long, there was a significant period of time where sales were recorded on paper first while the salesperson took the order on the phone.  It was then expected that these paper records would be entered in the computer later.  The problem with that is obvious. What happens when a person is so busy making sales that they reach the end of the work day and the paper records have not been entered into the computer?

A short-term solution was, in this case, to offer a little bit of money to a certain salesperson's son (Rob) to come in and enter the backlog of sales.  Hey, I liked numbers, I could work with computers AND I could be taught... or so I like to think.

I remember entering piles of sales sheets.  Completing those that were straightforward and setting aside those I couldn't figure out on my own.  I believe I got through most of the backlog in a few days.

This brought forth an unwarranted and uninformed observation.  If an untrained KID could plow through all of that so quickly, why couldn't the professional salespeople manage such a simple task?

First of all - thank you ever so much for belittling that "kid's" abilities and for making light of an activity.  But, that's not quite the point of this whole post - so lets move on.

What is Difficult?

What makes a paper salesperson a good paper salesperson?  Let's start with detailed knowledge about all available paper products, their qualities and proper uses.  While we're at it, add in appropriate knowledge of each type of printing process and how those processes succeed or fail given certain paper qualities.  And, perhaps you should have a good idea about relative prices of comparable papers and knowledge about the supply chain - what can be available, how much and when?

And you're worried about data entry as a measure of their skills?  Really?

Let's bring it back to farming.

I have to take care of the poultry every day.  Is that difficult?

Well.  I have to make sure they always have water.  Is it hard to give poultry water?  No.  Not really.

I have to make sure they have food every day.  Is it hard to give poultry food?  No.  Not really.

We need to collect eggs every day.  Is it hard to collect eggs?  No.

Wash eggs?  No.  Package eggs? No.  Let the birds out at the beginning of the day? No.  Put them in at night?  Usually no....

My data entry for backlogged sales, while appreciated, was similar to having someone come and help us catch up on egg washing.  It's a confined task that can be learned with a little bit of training and periodic supervision.  If something odd happens, the person doing the washing can always check with one of us.  

In the end, the eggs get washed and it is tempting to wonder - now that isn't so hard, why can't the farmers keep up with that task themselves?  It really is NOT that hard.

But, if a person comes in to wash eggs and only wash eggs, they have the luxury of concentrating on a single task.  They don't have to figure out storage, sales, acquisition of cartons, egg handler's licenses, food safety regulations, liability insurance, marketing, delivery, record-keeping, projections for future production, and disposal of broken eggs.  

The egg washer is not the person who must make adjustments when predators find a way into the flock and they do not have to deal with birds that get out of their pasture and into the tomatoes.  They don't have to make adjustments to the amount of feed when necessary and they aren't the ones doing the chores each day.  

The egg washer is not making decisions about how to manage pasture area or when to move poultry from one location to another.  They do not have deal with frozen water and providing enough light so the birds keep laying in the winter months.  They don't have to procure clean straw for bedding nor do they have to clean it out and then make decisions about composting.

There is a weight of complexity that comes with the picture of the full job.  And suddenly that long list of "simple" tasks... becomes difficult.

And that is why it can be such a relief - and such a boon - when another person who is unencumbered with that complexity can come in and provide support for one particular task.  A task that isn't necessarily all that difficult, but still requires a little skill that can be acquired with a little training and some practice - especially if there aren't a bunch of distractions!

And Then - We Consider Scale

Then, there is the issue of scale and persistence.

A farm that raised laying hens with the goal of producing and selling 6 dozen eggs a day is a completely different scale than a personal flock of six hens.  Certainly, the backyard flock needs food, water, shelter, protection, egg collection and cleaning - just like the laying flock of 100 or 1000.  But, you should never, EVER imply to the farmer who raises 450 hens that you fully understand what they have to do because you have SIX birds.

Similarly, just because I came in to enter sales records for a few days during the summer months, I should not even think about making judgements that I know how "easy" a paper sales job must be.  We must acknowledge the fact that the professional lives that job consistently and persistently.  It's unfair to make a comparison with someone who hops in to do one task to help out for a short while.

Bringing It Home to Roost

I wrote this whole blog as a gentle reminder to me and to you.

It is always easier to go to someone else's farm and help with a task than it is to do that same task on your own farm.

Why?  Because you are removed and even insulated from the complexities that surround that particular task on that farm.  But, when it is your farm, you are aware of everything... and I mean EVERYTHING else that goes along for the ride with that one task.

Data entry is not just data entry.  Washing eggs is not just washing eggs.

And you don't get to quit for the day after the data is entered or the eggs are washed.

Each task may not be all that difficult.  But the job as a whole is.  So, the next time you are tempted to make light of what someone else has to do - resist that temptation.  Because you probably have no idea what you are talking about.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Rough Weather Week

Well everyone, it has been quite a week for all sorts of reasons.  But, given the fact that Tammy and I have done this farming thing for some time, it should be no surprise that the two of us often feel the effects of weather more acutely than most of the population.  Difficult weather can often play with our emotions and our attitudes and I will admit that neither of us is at our best when weather gives us extremes.

I think this is a photo from Friday evening (about 7pm?) looking to the north from the Genuine Faux Farm.  We were out trying to continue to address problems with the housing and protection of one of our broiler chicken flocks that was rooted in the Tuesday storms.  We were noticing some ominous clouds to our northwest when we got an alert on our phone, encouraging us to look even more carefully.

The severe storm cell that was marching north of us was the same one that had damaged farmsteads near Marble Rock earlier in the evening.  And, as I looked at it, I was taken back to my storm spotter training...realizing this was probably a textbook example of a wall cloud that could produce twisters.

I was happy it was heading straight East and we were not on its menu.  Though I was sorry for those places that WERE in its path.

 Tuesday's storm was a much larger system with a big, impressive wall cloud.  Our estimate for winds at the farm was 75+ mph.  Though, after reviewing some of the damage, there may have been higher gusts.  Our poor weather station doesn't do so good once winds exceed 50 mph and it was stuck at that reading for several minutes in a row.

Many fields of corn in the area looked very much like so many fields did last August when the derecho hit.  In fact, this storm appeared to have some of those qualities.  Significant areas of corn is down and while the soybean fields LOOK fine, it appears that many of the pods were stripped from the plants.

 It was enough to knock the chimney over - close to even with the flat roof on our farm house.  Let's just say that we are glad it didn't go over the edge of the flat roof - because that would have caused a whole LOT more damage than this did.

And then there's the rain.  It's not that we've gotten overwhelming amounts of rain at the farm, though the conditions have been rough on some of our crops (and the farmers) with the high dewpoints and heat indices.  It's the fact that whenever we looked to our North, there were heavy, dark clouds.  

Rain.  Rain.  And more rain.  And it's all coming our way via the streams and rivers.

I grew up with the idea that Spring was the time for floods and Fall was the time for drier weather.  In fact, the averages still bear that out - even if our experience at the farm does NOT follow that pattern.

So, here we are in August and we came JUST that close to setting a record flood level on the Wapsipinicon River near here.

The bridge over the Wapsi on county road C-33 was barely over the water level.

And closed gravel roads have been a common sight in Northeast Iowa over the last couple of days.

Kip Ladage used a drone to record some of the flooding in our area.  The video below starts with Highway 93, which is the road we take to go to Sumner - so we are familiar with the landscape.  This is as bad as we can recall seeing it get.

The second part of the video shows the flooding at Sweetwater Marsh - at the very area Tammy and I have liked to go when we need to sit and see a bit of nature for a while.  After seeing the video and the evidence that the road has been undermined, I will take a wild guess that those trips will be put on hold for a while.

The good news?  The cold front finally came through on Sunday and the humidity level dropped.  Maybe we'll get a day or two of nice weather to work on recovering from this last bit of difficulty.

Here's hoping!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sharing What We Enjoy - Postal History Sunday

Postal History Sunday is celebrating one year of consistent, weekly posts on... you guessed it... a Sunday!  On August 30, 2020, the second issue of PHS was published on the blog (the first and second offerings had a gap of a couple of weeks).  Since then, I have yet to miss a week (this is the 54th PHS).  That's as good a reason to celebrate as anything.

The title of the first PHS post was "Sharing Something You Enjoy," and I wanted to go back to that theme as part of the celebration for one year of posts.

Life has been difficult for all of us during the pandemic and with all of the various world events going on in recent years.  Like many of you, I often find myself feeling worried, frustrated and depressed.  I see people at each others' throats and that upsets me.  My thought is that we need to find a balance between genuine concern for the world around us AND appreciation for the good things that make it worthwhile being concerned in the first place. 

One proposal I can make?  Share your unabashed enthusiasm for something you enjoy with others.  That doesn't mean that you need to find someone who already appreciates what you do.  Just share and show.  Then listen and appreciate when others reciprocate.  Maybe - throughout this process - we'll all learn something new and perhaps we'll gain more appreciation for good things AND each other.


So, this week I am going to do a show and tell of what is currently getting my attention in Postal History.  Many of these things are due to be featured in their own Postal History Sunday, so you can consider some of this a preview.  And, you will see reference links to several prior PHS entries you can explore if you are inclined to do so.

My focus today is simply expressing my enjoyment for each of the things I will show today.

French, but Not French

When your surname is "Faux" (pronounced "Fox" in our case), you typically have a fair amount of explaining to do when you meet new people.  The most common question is whether I know if it means "fake" or "false" (pronounced like "foe").  C'mon!  I've lived with this name my whole life, I suspect I have heard that a time or three.

The second most common question is whether I have French heritage.  I suppose that is possible, but the family only traces heritage back to central Ireland.  Still, it was enough for me to decide to select French as my language requirement in high school and college (no, they did not offer Irish Gaelic).  In any event, these are just a couple of the reasons why I have found myself attracted to French postal history in the 1850s to 1870s.

That's enough to start to explain why this 1861 letter from St Etienne in France to Roulers in Belgium might attract my attention.

But, there is more to it than that.  I find that postal history builds and branches from the places you have been before in the hobby.  I can actually show you some of those branches with this single item.

In July, I shared a letter that traveled from Belgium TO St Etienne in France.  The simple connection to a community for which I had done a little research was enough to give me a head start on this one.  And, I have done a fair bit of study pertaining to mail between Belgium and France.  So, I was able to determine that this letter was a triple weight letter, requiring (of course) three times the base rate of postage (120 centimes or 1 franc & 20 centimes).

Even better, I had recently written about "Sneaky Clues" in late July.  Sometimes there are unobtrusive scrawls on covers that tell us something about the piece of mail in question.  There is just such a scrawl on this cover that confirms for us that this letter weighed enough to require a triple rate. The rate was 40 centimes per 10 grams.  

Can you find the "scrawl" I am referring to?

While I am not yet certain this first item will merit its own PHS entry one day, I can tell you that the next one will.

The folded letter above was mailed from Paris, France in 1871 to Brighton, England.  The postage applied to the item paid the 30 centimes rate and, sure enough, there is the "P.D." which stands for "payée à destiné" (paid to destination).

At the time this letter was mailed in Paris, the city was surrounded by German armies and no one could leave the city - unless they flew OVER those who were laying siege.  One of the most celebrated and studied stories in postal history has to be the use of manned balloons to carry mail out of the city and (hopefully) past the occupying forces.

This is one such letter.  If you look at top left, you will see the words "par Ballon Monte" that provide us with the first clue that this might be one of the letters that left Paris via one of these flights.

I've even got a personal connection to this one.  The name of the balloon was the "Newton."  Now, ask me the name of the town I grew up in.  

Paris?!?  What?  No.  

Speaking of Germany

The postal history of Germany during the 1850s through 1870s can be very complex.  During this period of time, the diverse German states began to merge and unify (some more willing than others).  As this process progressed, the postal services saw significant changes.  Any time that happens, there will be postal historians that try to make sense of it all - myself included.

Shown above is an 1861 letter from Mainz to Holland.  

At the time this letter was sent, Mainz was in Hessian territory (Hesse was one of the German states).  Unlike many of the other German states, the Hessian government did not provide a postal service.  Instead, they relied on the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis for their mails.  

Thurn and Taxis has a long and distinguished history for carrying mail starting in Italy around the year 1300.  An item such as this one provides a window into the last years of what was once the dominant mail courier in much of Europe.  That actually provides me with a bit of difficulty, because I may have a hard time boiling it down to a blog-sized piece.

Regardless, the story here is much too good for me to pass up having a Postal History Sunday that provides more focus in the next week or two.

Last week's PHS theme was a series of stamps that I admired when I was a very young collector.  It should be no surprise to anyone that postal history and philately will have their popular sub-topics that often catch the imaginations of those who are beginners in the hobby.  Sometimes, those beginners are hooked for life.  It's not hard to explain.  

Think of it this way - the New York Yankees often attract new baseball fans because they are often placed front and center in the most accessible media.  Nearly everyone has heard of Beethoven and Mozart and that's probably where someone might start with classical music.  Even if they move on to Berlioz as a favored composer, there is often still a soft spot for the music by the composer that introduced you to the genre.

That explains the item shown above.  The German "Kaiser Yacht" series of stamps that were used in the German colonies in the early 1900s were the "storied" series of stamps that introduced me to German philately.  While I may never study the postal history featuring these stamps seriously, I can still appreciate an item or two simply because I have a personal history of learning that traversed through this sort of thing.

The envelope shown above was mailed from the then German colony of Kamerun to Geneve Switzerland.  The international letter rate (set by the Universal Postal Union) was 20 pfennig, which is overpaid here by 1 pfennig - there are seven copies of the 3 pfennig stamp issued for Kamerun.

Lions, Tigers and... Other Stuff

I have mentioned the Tuscan Lion before and I do have a few items that feature that particular design.  That would be part of the reason why I enjoy the old letter shown above.  But, this one has so many other things that get my attention.

It travels from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to London, England at a time just prior to the war that would lead Tuscany to join other Italian states as the Kingdom of Italy (1859/60).  It properly pays a known postal rate.  The markings are readable.  The address panel is readable.  It even has a marking that reads "Dopo la Partenza" - essentially a "Too Late" marking that indicates the letter arrived at the departure post office after the mail coach had left with the day's mails.

Perhaps the addressee will bring even more to the story this postal artifact carries with it?  Who knows what else I will find?  That's part of what makes this so much fun for me.

And I've always appreciated the Malaysian "Tiger Issues" because.. well... they have tigers on them.  What other reason do you need?

Really.  If a person likes tigers and that's what it takes to make them happy - an image of a tiger on a stamp that's on an old letter - then who are we to sneer at such a thing?  

In my case, the familiarity with the stamp design gives me an opening to learn something about a geographical region I would otherwise have very little connection to.  By taking a step from away from a familiar place, I open myself up to new things, new thoughts and different ideas - both within and outside of the postal history hobby.

And we should never forget the social history that comes along for the ride when we look at postal history.  C.F. Adae served as the consulate in Cincinnati, Ohio for several German states during the late 1850s and through much of the 1860s.  

The envelope shown above was one of multiple designs used by Adae for his mail.  My interest in this particular item stems, once again, from prior experience.  I was first introduced to this personality and the preprinted envelopes by this item from Cincinnati to Wurrtemberg:

Oh look!  There's that fancy 24 cent stamp the United States issued in 1861!  I really like that design!

I wonder if it is possible that the farmer will write a Postal History Sunday that shows items sent by C.F. Adae?  Odds are pretty good that it will happen some day.  Especially now that you all see he has not just one, but TWO items he could share in such a post.

You Just Had to Mention Those 24 centers...

Now you're really going to get him started.  And you wanted to quit reading and go about your normal Sunday business...  

Actually, I can tell about when many people's eyes are ready to glaze over from postal history overload and we've gotten there. So, we'll close with one more preview for a future Postal History Sunday.

The envelope shown above was mailed from Williams Creek in British Columbia during the gold rush in that region.  The letter includes postage stamps from British Columbia to pay for the internal postage and a 24 cent 1861 US stamp to pay the postage from the United States to Liverpool in England.  

Western gold rushes always ushered in rapid changes for those regions where a strike occurred and that's part of what makes this particular postal item so enjoyable.  We can explore the reasons for two different postal systems' stamps on one letter.  We can look at the route and conditions of the roads from Williams Creek to settlements on the Pacific Ocean.  

I can focus just on the rates and the routes, or I can explore the ways this letter might have traveled from here to there.  If I want, I can dig into the Cariboo Gold Rush and learn about some of the personalities that loomed large at the time this letter was sent.  I cven learn more about the geological formations that provided prospectors with the opportunity to make a find.

That's what I enjoy - and I hope you appreciated at least of some of today's sharing.

Have a great remainder of the day and I will see you next week for Postal History Sunday.

I wonder which topic I'll choose next week?  Perhaps you should give me some feedback if something in particular interests you?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Captain Obvious

If you have ever farmed, you can appreciate the fact that exclamations are going to come out of your mouth in response to what is going on in the moment.  This is especially true if you are frustrated by whatever is happening.  I am not one to drop "swear words" very often, but every once in a while the words that are uttered make you stop and consider the situation for a second or two before moving on.

You... You... TURKEY!

Growing up, I learned that you could call inanimate objects, animals and sometimes your siblings a 'turkey' if they got on your nerves.  It's a fairly safe thing to say and few people will be overly offended by it if it is overheard.  

Drop a wrench for the second or third time and watch while it bounces into a place that's hard to reach that third time?  Well, call it a turkey. You get to express displeasure in a way that is 'family-friendly' that way!

But what happens when the thing that is getting on your nerves is...

Yes, I was trying to finish loading the truck to get to a CSA distribution.  Yes, I was on time, but I didn't have much EXTRA time.  Yes, I heard interesting chirping noises coming from the area of the turkey pasture.  And, what did I find?  Most of the flock had managed a break-out through the fence.

I hustled out to try to get the birds back into their pasture and most of them complied with minimal fuss.  Except for one bird that wanted to make life more interesting.  After the third time that it managed to go in entirely the WRONG direction I found myself forcefully saying,


I stopped moving.  The turkey stopped moving.  We looked at each other.  I could swear I could see it thinking, "Yes.  That's me.  What do you want?"

Not All Birds are Turkeys

I'll admit that this was not the first time that I've called a turkey a "turkey" with the intent of expressing displeasure and finding that the turkeys are pretty much immune to that particular insult.  But, normally, I find myself being much more judicious with my exclamations after this sort of thing happens.  The conversation goes something like this:

Analytical Me: "Ok, you just called a turkey a turkey.  Good for you.  If you are really getting so upset as to believe it will do any good to do that, you should back off a second and figure out a better way to do what you are trying to do."

Not So Analytical Me: "Stupid bird!  Of course it has to be a turkey so my yelling turkey at it doesn't make a difference!  Grrrrrr!  I need to go drop a wrench or something!"

I finally got the last turkey in and got the CSA distribution done.  The next day, I was feeding and watering the broiler chickens.  Usually, I don't let the birds out of their building before I give them their food and water.  When I do let them out too soon, they are underfoot and they make the task just that much harder.  So, of course, on this day, I let them out FIRST.  Ooops.

Now I had to watch every step I took and had to push birds out of the way so I could set the food bucket down.  As I did so, one bird acted like it wanted to take me on.  

Chickens have a hard time with perspective.  You LOOK smaller when you are further away, so they figure they might be able to beat you in a fight.  But, as you approach, you keep getting bigger, which results in their decision to high-tail it away from you.  

As I looked down at this particular bird and it looked up at me, I saw the tiny hamster-wheel in its head spinning.  The conclusion it made was to turn around and run away from me.  It was a good choice, but before I knew it, I was yelling, "CHICKEN!!!!"

Yes, yes they are.

Unlike the turkey, they didn't stop what they were doing and they really didn't pay much attention to me.  They were more interested in the food and water.  I was disappointed because I thought I was being inadvertently clever.  Yes, that's correct, I wasn't trying to be funny.  I wasn't even thinking about it, it just came out.  Once again, the target audience found my commentary to be accurate while failing to inspire or dissuade them in any way.

Analytical Me: "You need to stop letting the weather and the farm getting under your skin so much.  One of these times, you're going to let something slip that will have actual consequences."

Not So Analytical Me: "Yelling 'chicken' at a wrench doesn't make sense."

These Things Come in Threes

The third time, of course, was the charm.  This time, it was a (largely) inanimate object that incurred my wrath.  You see, the hen room needed to be scooped out.  The process pretty much consists of using a pitchfork and a shovel to take loads out to the bucket of the tractor.  Once the tractor bucket is full, you take it to the compost pile.

Portable Poo Producers

Unfortunately for us, we don't have an opening immediately next to the room to throw the 'used' bedding and poo into the bucket of the tractor.  Instead, we have to walk each 'load' on the pitchfork (or shovel) through a door and then an opening before we can toss it into the bucket.

I had a nice big load on the fork and I made it successfully through the door of the hen room.  I only had a few more steps to go and the load slipped off the fork and onto the floor.

The intelligent words that escaped my mouth at that moment?  "Oh, shit!"

Yes, yes it was. 


Today's Throwback post comes from October of 2018.   I still find myself calling turkeys "Turkey" and I still try to insult a chicken by telling it that it is "Chicken!"  And yes, I do still have to scoop out the hen room once in a while.  

Take that to the obvious conclusion.  Have a nice day everyone!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021


Apparently, this is what I get for writing and sharing a blog about how I pay attention to the weather (which I shared just yesterday) - even when I am in the middle of a meeting for my PAN job.  I get another "opportunity" to show my ability to be weather-aware.

Thanks.  I think?

The day started early, with Tammy needing to head in to Waverly early.  Today was a "bird moving" day and I (Rob) had a long list of chores to get through.  That didn't really bother me because I knew it was coming.  In fact, I am just glad I have recovered and I CAN do all of the chores without any help.

As we approached mid-morning, it was apparent this was going to be a warm day.  And, like most really humid August days, this was the one where we were going to load in some straw bales that we had purchased.  Happily, this year wasn't going to be just me doing all of the loading.  Matthew and Elijah delivered the bales and helped unload and stack - and I am grateful for the help.

Of course, we did this during the warmest portion of the day.  At that point in time, the dewpoint reached 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the temperature hit its 91 degree high.  

Still, that was nothing a couple of cold mugs of iced tea and a change of clothing couldn't remedy.

But, as I went inside seeking those comforts, I took a look around.  There was some energy in the air and I wanted to check it out.  So, I looked at various weather sites and found no real change in the forecast.  Slight risk of severe weather (of which we were barely on the edge for the zone with the risk) and a 20% chance of precip.  

Ok....  Well, my weather sense told me that wasn't right.  But, whatever.  I needed to do some work for PAN.  I had an early lunch and set myself up to do work.

After a while, I felt more uneasy.  So, I took some looks outside.  That made me wonder a bit more about things.  So, I checked weather sites again AND the radar.  The weather sites still said little about storms, but the radar confirmed that I had better consider my plans more carefully.

To make a long story less long.  I was able to go out, close things up as the cloud cover rolled in.  Then, I even had a couple of minutes to grab a few photos of the wall cloud that was approaching the farm (all shown above).

I know I did NOT park that trailer there.

I went inside and prepared to watch the storm roll in.  Things went as they usually do for this sort of storm at first.  And then... once the wall cloud had passed... the real storm hit.

Let's just say I backed away from the window fairly quickly.  Then I took one more look to see if a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued (it hadn't).

And about that time, amidst the thunder, heavy wind and sideways rain I heard a sound like a pile of bricks falling onto the roof.

Hmmm.  I was sure there was a chimney on that roof a few hours ago.

Just a note to all of the non-farmers out there.  When THIS farmer hears that sound, he finds himself going to the basement....  Perhaps even before the last brick had settled.

At this point I couldn't see out of ANY of the windows.  It was as if the rain was being driven into all sides of the house at once.  I had a moment where I felt pretty bad for Inspector and Soup.  I had noticed that they were smartly sheltering on the leeward side of the garage near their food.  But, now there was no leeward side!

For those who might worry.  Both of our farm supervisors are fine.  They just got VERY WET (and were not pleased about it).  They did get sympathy from the farmer later.

I guess we'll get half of the cherries next year?

The winds lasted far longer than most windstorms we experience here, lasting for somewhere just over ten minutes.  There was significant lightning and a fair amount of rain to go with it.  I was starting to get a bit more appreciation for those who were in the path of last year's derecho.

I even texted Tammy.

That says enough right there because those who know me know that I don't text much at all.  

The text read "Nasty storm."  and I followed that with "...really nasty."

Our neighbor (about 1/2 mile away), Eric, called me because he heard something about a storm coming and he was away from his farm.  I know he was hoping to ask me to go close up his high tunnels.  But, when he called I was already in the basement and I wasn't leaving it at that point.  

Poor Eric.  He knows I don't just run to the basement for a little squall.  So now he had visions of his high tunnel floating 500 feet in the air to the next county.  (Spoiler alert, Eric's high tunnel was fine - thank goodness.  I really felt bad about not being able to help, but the timing didn't allow for it.)

It took awhile before I could go out and do much because the lightning stuck around!  I don't know about you, but I'm not going to survive a storm just to get hit by a bolt of lightning at the tail end of it.  

Once I did get out, I had to pull some large branches off the road so traffic could pass.  And I did a cursory check of the farm.

Then I tried to get to Eric's to check his place out (the road was blocked by some sizable limbs).  After a check in by phone with Eric (where I did little to make him less worried - sorry again Eric!), I went back to do what I could around the farm.

Now I KNOW that's not where I left that building either!

The poultry rode out the storm largely unscathed with only one broiler chicken sporting an injury after one of the buildings moved itself into the bushline.  Although, with the winds we got it is possible a couple of birds are in the next county and we'll never know it.

Otherwise, damage was mostly to things that were already in some disrepair, like the walkway building that ran between the Poultry Pavilion and the Harvestore silo. 

Unfortunately, our sunflower season came to an abrupt halt.  At least we planted them earlier this year so we got to enjoy them for quite a while.  

Sadly, they are now going to make harvest of our winter squash and pumpkins a bit of an adventure this year.

One of our apple trees is down, as is our lone apricot.  (yes, we know one apricot will not result in fruit.  Talk to the other apricot that died a year or so ago.)  Gretel, our Austrian pine, is leaning at a 45 degree angle and Crazy Maurice is looking disheveled. 

Oh.  And the barn looks different too.

We had this tiny, little part of ourselves that thought we might rehab and try to use some of this portion of the barn at some point in the next couple of years.  

Good thing it was only a tiny, little part.

Corn and soybean fields in our area did not fare particularly well with this wind, reminding us of some of the damage we saw in last year's derecho to the south of our area.  We'll see if some of it stands back up, but I am not optimistic on that front.  The town of Tripoli was hit pretty hard with lots of tree damage.  In fact, there were a couple of semi-trailers tipped over just south of town and storage bin was dismantled an placed in the middle of a soybean field too.

So.  I am glad I can recognize weather patterns and it is good that I still have this farmer sense when the weather is about to turn.

But, it really wasn't necessary that we had to exercise it quite that much, was it?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Two Worlds

A common question that has been posed to Farmer Rob over the past year and a half is something along the lines of "How are things going with the balance between your PAN job and the farm?"  It's a pretty good question and it is probably worth figuring out a better answer than, "well, you know... it can be pretty difficult sometimes, but I'm doing okay."

Hours in the Day

Apparently it is true what they say about the hours in a day.  There are never enough for you to get everything done ESPECIALLY if you are trying to make a small, diversified farm work.  

So, what happens when another job enters the picture and demands thirty plus hours each week from you?  

Well, you just don't get it all done.  The weeds get out of hand and special projects don't get started.  A broken tool cripples you more than it should.  And, you start getting this odd feeling....

The one where you ask yourself, "I thought I said I was done working for the day.  So, why am I out here working so hard right now?"  Lately, the result has been to just take some of the lumps we will take with things not getting done at the farm.  Yeah, I suppose I could go back to working the super long hours to try to keep up.  I've done it before and I could do it again.  

But, the farm is one of those things that will take the hours in the day... every one of them.... if you let it.  Farm work is never done because there is always more to do.

Once a Farmer...

The other oddity I've been dealing with is that I am programmed to respond to certain things as a farmer - even if I am not in a "farmer setting."  Case in point, a recent batch of severe weather that popped up this month.

I often have meetings through the middle of the day for my PAN job.  These meetings are online, of course, so I am usually inside the house for them.  But, I still find myself taking looks out the window so I can check the conditions.  It's a lot harder than it is when I am outside, but I do still have some responsibilities that require my attention if the weather should turn.  One of the most pressing of these is to close the high tunnels if it looks like strong winds are possible.

I glanced outside at the beginning of one meeting (about 1:10 PM) and felt like I might need to be paying some attention.  Just for the sake of getting more information, I checked the radar and I saw the image above. 

There wasn't anything too scary in the radar image.  But, I've seen skies like that before and I was pretty sure we were going to get something.  So, what followed was a meeting where Farmer Rob was straddling his two worlds as best he could.  One eye on the meeting so he could be a positive participant and the other looking out the window.

Apparently, I still have a decent weather sense.  I found myself excusing myself from the meeting a bit prior to the scheduled end and dashed outside to close up high tunnels and grab some things that would have become all too willing to be projectiles if there were strong enough winds.

The good news is that Tammy was actually at home this time as well, so we were able to get everything dealt with AND get inside before the storm hit.  The radar from 2:25PM is shown above.  The white dot in the red area is approximately the location of our farm.

Hey!  You Still Haven't Answered the Question!

That's true.  I haven't.  And maybe that's because I am still trying to figure out the answer for myself.

Most of the fields look pretty bad right now because we just haven't been able to keep going after the weeds.  But, despite that we've been able to get over 175 pounds of broccoli to the food bank.  Our tomatoes are producing well.  We've had our own sweet corn for the first time since ... since who knows when?  The early potato crop has been fantastic. 

And, of course, we keep the poultry fed, watered and we deal with all of the other things we have to do to keep them healthy and happy.

You see, it's all of those hours we're missing. Both ours that are now taken by other things and the hours we used to get from people who would work on our farm with us.  I don't know what made me think we could figure out all of the critical adjustments we would need to make to still farm AND do it in a fraction of the available labor hours.

And yet, our own freezer has the best diversity of veggies stored up for the Winter than we've had for a decade because we made that a priority after we actually RAN OUT of our own veggies this past Winter.  Let's just say we both found that to be a bit offensive (something that had NOT happened since even before we started the farm).

Then again, our farm buildings are more disorganized than they ever have been and the areas around our buildings have not been cleaned up.  Simply put, there is a host of farm maintenance and upkeep items that are falling by the wayside.  And while that happens, we still walk by giant sunflowers as they smile down at us.  Some snapdragons nod as we walk by and the celosia are bigger than they have a right to be.  Marigolds peak out from underneath broccoli leaves and there are some butternut squash that just might be seven or eight pounds in weight.

If you've been following us and our adventures as we travel through life on the Genuine Faux Farm you might be tempted to say, "Huh.  So, it sounds like this is just like every other year since you got there.  There are some good things and some bad things.  There are things you are getting done and things you aren't.  It's just that some of things that are getting done are different and some of the things that aren't are different."

Yes.  I think you're right.  

So I must be doing fine and always hope to do better.  Thanks for asking.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Second Childhood - Postal History Sunday

Here we are, at the seventh day of the week (or the first depending on when you start your week), which means it is time for Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!

It is our tradition - as part of the opening to a PHS post - that we find a creative way to push our troubles and our worries aside for at least a little while so we can all enjoy something postal history related that I share here.  The idea is that if we do that, we might all learn something new and perhaps find a positive to balance out the weight those troubles and worries add to our lives.

Today's plan?  Put those troubles onto that key ring that most people have.  You know the one!  The key ring where you put the keys you will rarely, if ever, use.  IF you can find that key ring again, when you do, you will probably forget exactly what those worries were for - just like the keys that are sitting there with them!


Like many philatelists or postal historians, I started in the hobby when I was quite young.  I can still recall clearly my perceptions of the hobby, including the feeling that much of the things that I knew existed would always be unattainable.  Always a dream, never a reality.

This is not exactly a new topic for Postal History Sunday as I explored that a bit with the Independent Mail blog back in January of this year.  The difference between that situation and this situation is that I probably figured I would never acquire an example of that Hale and Company letter, even as an adult.  The things I will be sharing today DID become attainable over time and it was just a matter of deciding to pursue it.

Shown above is a letter mailed from Detroit, Michigan to Riga Latvia in September of 1935.  This was sent as a registered letter via surface mail to a foreign country and two 10-cent stamps were used to pay for the postage and the registered mail fee.  

What is surface mail?  Its counterpart would be air mail, which was beginning to get a foothold in the 1930s.  Surface mail was less expensive and could use various modes of transportation via ground and water to get to where it was going.

In the case of the letter above, it likely took a train to a port city, such as New York or Boston, and boarded a ship to Europe.  By the time we get to 1935 there were many options for mail to be carried over the Atlantic and the lack of markings do nothing to help us figure out the route this might have taken.

In 1934, a series of ten stamps were issued to honor the National Parks of the United States.  Each of the ten stamps had a different denomination, from 1 cent (Yosemite) to 10 cents (Great Smokey Mountains).  The stamps on this cover were the denomination that was issued last (put on sale October 8, 1934).  If you have interest in reading more about the background of these stamps, there is an article with large pictures of each denomination offered by the White House Historical Association.

This series of stamps was one that caught my attention early in my collecting endeavors.  As a kid, with a kid's budget, I was pretty much able to acquire things with minimum value, often given to me by relatives.  The National Parks issue of 1934 had a few values that fell under that category, but the 10 cent Great Smokey Mountains stamp was not one of those.  If I recall correctly, it had a catalog value in the neighborhood of  $1.70, which was a relative fortune.  In fact, a nice copy of this stamp was probably my first targeted purchase for my collection.

I think we all have things that trigger early memories and many of us are fortunate to have pleasant memories we don't mind recalling.  This stamp issue does that for me.  And, the ten-cent value has a personal significance.  So, when I came across this particular item from Detroit to Riga at the Great American Stamp Show last weekend, I did not have to think too hard about adding it to my personal collection.

Foreign Letter Mail

Many of the envelopes and mail pieces that feature 1934 National Parks issue stamps are what I would identify as souvenir items or philatelic covers.  In other words, they were placed on a cover to commemorate a particular event (many to commemorate National Parks events - of course) or to feature the first day of issue for the stamp (First Day Covers or FDCs).  The focus of the cover was to create a keepsake rather than to carry something through the mails to someone else. 

I prefer items that had the postage paid by these stamps with the purpose to carry the contents in the mail.  In addition to my desire to find examples of regular letter mail using these stamps, I prefer items that went to another country other than the United States, such as the item shown above that was sent to Winterthur, Switzerland from Jackson, Michigan.

The United States was among those countries that joined the General Postal Union at its inception.  The letter rate for surface mail to other participating nations was set at 5 cents per 15 grams on July 1, 1875.  The General Postal Union became the Universal Postal Union, and the UPU continued to refine the postal agreement, resulting in some changes in those rates.  As of October 1, 1907, the cost was now 5 cents for a letter weighing no more than 20 grams.  

An item that qualifies for the first weight level for a postal rate is often referred to as a "simple letter."  The rate for a simple letter would not change again until November 1, 1953.

The letter shown above was postmarked in 1935, so it must have qualified as a simple letter.

You might notice that the postage stamp, featuring Old Faithful at Yellowstone, includes a bit of the selvage (the border around a sheet of stamps) and the printing plate number.  This tells me that it is likely that either the sender or the recipient (or both) were interested in or had some knowledge of philately (stamp collecting).  There are collectors who collect items that include the selvage with a plate number intact

That, in and of itself, does not make this a philatelic cover because it does properly pay the rate and there are no further markings that attempt to turn the cover into a souvenir item.  But, it is fairly safe to say that most uses of this series were probably the result of a person being aware of someone who collected stamps.

The general public would be more likely to use postage stamps that might look more like this one.

The National Parks issue is typically classified as commemorative stamps.  Their counterpart would be definitives, just like the 5 cent Washington stamp shown above.  Definitive stamps were often issued as a series with multiple denominations and a single design was typically maintained for many years.  Commemoratives, on the other hand were printed over a much shorter period of time and, frankly, were intended to attract stamp collectors - especially those who wanted to keep copies of each design without using them on mail. 

How Heavier Letters Were Handled

The other interesting feature about the new surface mail postage rates to foreign countries in 1907 was that the amount for each additional unit of weight after the first was actually LESS than the first unit of weight.  Prior to this point, the cost was 5 cents for every 20 grams in weight.

As of the 1907 rate change, an item weighing no more than 20 grams (a simple letter) would still cost five cents.  But, each additional 20 grams of weight only added 3 more cents to the postage.

This piece of letter mail sent from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Yonne, France must have weighed more than 20 grams, but no more than 40 grams.  The cost?  Five cents for the first 20 grams and three more cents for the next 20 grams for eight cents in total.  This postage was paid by four of the 2 cent stamps from the National Parks issue.

The two-cent National Parks issue features the Grand Canyon.  Once again, I would not be surprised if the sender or receiver was a stamp collector.  There is selvage at the bottom of the stamps that was not removed.  And, the choice of a block of four 2-cent stamps to a person that is likely related to you implies (at least to me) that the individual was hopeful the envelope would come back to them at some point in the future after it had done its job carrying a letter overseas.  Or perhaps, the selection of stamps was because the recipient was known to collect.  Either way, the letter carried mail properly and the envelope does not carry additional adornments, so it interests me as a postal artifact.

Please note, I am not denigrating anyone who enjoys collecting philatelically inspired postal items such as FDCs or event covers.  There is plenty in that area to explore and enjoy.  The difference is merely that they don't interest me as much as the items in this post do.  We all have to set our boundaries and priorities.  In fact, you will find that I even make exceptions for this self-imposed guideline as can be seen in the PHS post titled Visiting the Arctic Circle and this one titled Personal Connections!

For me, a good story or a personal connection can change my mind about a particular item quickly enough.

Registered Mail

Persons who wanted to send items of value in letter mail had the option of using Registered Mail to pay for additional tracking by postal agencies as the item traveled through the various mail services.  The first such rate established by the Universal Postal Union was 10 cents on April 1, 1879.  This was increased to 15 cents on December 1, 1925, which is where it stayed until 1945 (it then increased to 20 cents).

The letter shown above was mailed in 1936 from New York City to Whitstable, England.  Five copies of the four-cent stamp were used to pay a total of 20 cents in postage (just like the first cover I shared in this post).  These stamps paid five cents for the price of a simple letter using surface mail because the letter weighed no more than 20 grams.  Fifteen cents were charged for the Registered Mail services.

As a side note, the registration fee did not change based on the weight of the item, even while the letter weight did.  So, if the previous letter had been registered, it would have required 8 cents for letter mail postage and 15 cents for registration (23 cents total).

If you look at the center left of the cover shown above, there is a purple handstamp that says "REGISTERED" and a registry number is placed just below that marking (226057).  In addition to those markings, a blue cross was placed on the front to give mail handlers another visual clue that this item was to be given registered mail services.  This cross is prevalent in mail that was carried at some point by the British mails, but it not necessarily seen on US mail items - so we can conclude it was likely added by a clerk in the British mail system.

The same can be said for the blue marking on the back of the cover shown below.  Yes, that is also supposed to be a "cross," but I think the clerk had more than one of these to process and wasn't feeling particularly interested in precision at that moment.

Since registered mail often carried items of value, registry markings were often placed over the area where the flap adheres to the rest of the envelope.  The idea was that if someone tried to open the envelope one would notice disturbance in the markings.  This is akin to the old wax seals that were applied in earlier mail.  Of course, this letter was not opened by tearing open the flap.  Instead, an end of the envelope was slit with a knife or letter opener - so this security feature was a bit of a moot point in that regard.

The four-cent stamp features Mesa Verde in Colorado.  

This cover adds a level of interest with the docket that reads "via S/S Lafayette" at the lower left side of the envelope.  The Lafayette was the first diesel powered ship in the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique's (CGT) fleet.  It was placed into service in 1929 or 1930, The Great Ocean Liner site reads unclear as to which year that would be and I did not feel compelled to dig further at the current time.  If someone else feels that they want to know more and they figure it out, feel free to share with me and I can add it in.

images taken from the Great Ocean Liner site linked in the paragraph above on 8/18/21

The typical sailing routes for CGT were to leave New York, stop in Plymouth or Southampton in the UK and then terminate the sailing at Le Havre in France.  So, it makes sense that mail destined for the British mails would offload at either Plymouth or Southampton rather than continuing on to France.  Unlike mail in the 1860s, there are no exchange markings for the arrival of the mail, so we would have to find evidence in the newspapers for the arrival of the Lafayette in either Plymouth or Southampton to figure out how this letter got to the United Kingdom.

All four of the envelopes shown today were acquired just last weekend, so my motivation for sharing them now is fairly high.  Perhaps I will follow this post up at some time in the future and show other National Parks issue items that have come my way over the years.  It is not a very big collection, but it is one that makes me feel like a kid again.  That, in itself, is enough reason to justify the time spent on them.


Thank you again for joining me for this week's Postal History Sunday.  I suspect I will find myself back in the 1860s (or something around that time) in next week's blog, but I can certainly be convinced to take things in other directions. Feel free to contact me in comments or via email if you have thoughts, suggestions and, as always, corrections.

Additional Resources

The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum created a series of media items under the title Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks.  These media items highlight things shown in their 2016 exhibit on this topic.

The National Postal Museum also provides large photos and decent descriptions of postage stamps issued by the United States.  This link will take you to the National Parks issue descriptions and photos.

This article by Paul Lee for the Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library in 2015 gives an overview of what a person could look for if they wanted to collect stamps and postal history based on a National Park theme.

This thread on the Stamp Community discussion board features one collector's focus on stamp essays and First Day Covers.  There isn't much on postal history there, but it is still a fine example of how collectors often share their knowledge with other collectors.

Addendum - the Demise of the Lafayette

The Great Ocean Liner site referenced above gives a more complete story of this diesel-powered ship.  However, it was pointed out to me that the Lafayette met its demise on May 4 of 1938 while it was receiving repairs in drydock at Le Havre, France.  The site includes the picture above of the ship while it was aflame.  Since I often include details like this in my posts, I agree that I should have included it here!

Have a great remainder of the day and an excellent week to come.

And here's to forgetting where you put that key chain!