Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Super Blood Moon

As everyone has no doubt heard and saw, we had a Super Blood Moon a few days ago. The moon was at it's closest point to earth, it was a Blue Moon, and there was a lunar eclipse going on all that the same time. I couldn't resist trying to get a few pictures while watching it with my eldest daughter.

I don't take pictures for a living and certainly don't specialize in night time outdoor pictures so my lens was woefully inadequate. I was constantly trying to tweak it to get a sharp focus but never could quite get there. Part of the problem is that after every picture, I had to stop, pull up the picture, zoom in close and then try and remember which way I had very very minutely adjusted the focus ring the prior time. The above three were about as good as I could get without a larger lens with more fine focus abilities.

While adjusting the focus for perhaps the thousandth time, I happened to snap the shutter while a jet was flying by the moon. As a result, you can see the picture below. The two lines were the wing lights and the two different colored dots in the middle were the different colored strobe lights. It turned out pretty neat if you disregard the out of focus Super Blood Moon in the background.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Above is a shot of my side yard on the left haft which was actually originally supposed to be another small lot for a house that never got built. In the center is a steep ditch going down to the ravine at the bottom of our property and on the right is looking into the back yard behind the house. It looks like there are a lot of mature trees in our yard and there are. But most of them have various stages of dead growth in them ranging from 10% to 50% of the tree. There are only two or three trees in all those that look healthy. It is hard to imagine but I've already cut down around 30 trees in the three years we have lived here, all but two of them would have been visible in this picture.

Buying trees from a nursery is an expensive proposition. For the most part, expect to pay $100 - $200 per tree depending on the variety and size, the most expensive ones being five feet tall all the way down to the cheaper ones that stand a few feet tall. We did buy a few fruit trees this way and one spring flowering tree for our front yard a year and a half ago because we wanted a head start on getting a privacy screen of sorts between our house and the road. The trees for the side and back yard however were merely to repopulate the hills with native trees so that when these mature ones are gone, it isn't totally barren.

So I joined the Arbor Day Society which gave me 10 free trees for joining and another free tree after I spent $20 buying four lilac bushes which are the four fenced in plants in the left foreground of the photo. I planted them along the edge of our driveway where it becomes too steep to mow with anything other than a string trimmer with hopes to eventually propagate them down the entire slope. The free tree I got for spending the $20, was a red maple tree and already three feet tall when it arrived so I planted it this spring when I planted the lilac bushes. The remaining 10 free trees were merely sticks so I stuck them in pots of soil on my deck for the time being.

I think the last time I blogged about them, nine of the ten had leafed out and the remaining one after three months hadn't yet. Only laziness prevented me from pulling the twig out of the pot and getting rid of it. However in late summer, much to my surprise I was watering them when I noticed that the remaining tree had sprouted a few leaves at the base of the twig and was still alive. I have kept it watered since and it is showing much desire to remain in the land of the living.

About a week ago after a three inch rain softened up our parched soil and the nights were starting to cool off, I decided it was time to plant those trees in the ground. They are mostly about 12 to 18 inches tall and only have a few leaf couplets on them but I was afraid that leaving them to over winter on the deck would be too hard on the roots. Another option would be to put them into a soil trench, spaced closely and mulch them to protect them over winter but I would still probably have to fence them off from deer and do a lot of digging. In the end, I decided just to plant them even if it means I have to carry buckets of water too them once a week from now until it freezes to make sure they have plenty of moisture.

When I took them out of the pots to plant them, about half of them I could see small roots out around the pot perimeter so they are sending out roots. With soil temperatures still warm for now, I hope they get enough roots situated that combined with the mulch and my carrying water to them by hand will give them a decent chance to survive over winter. If not, I'm out only a dollar and come change (on average) and some sweat equity I put into putting up the fencing to protect them from deer until they get a large enough to fend for themselves. Much easier on my billfold than paying $150 per tree.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Final Skunk Tale

If you would indulge me, one last skunk tale that I'm pretty sure I blogged about long ago on this blog but can't seem to find it. The scene. We were walking with my aunt and her family looking for mushrooms near her home, 40 miles from our house. We had come up as a family even bringing my dog Ted who rode between my brother and I in the back seat of the small hatchback car that would later become my college car and the star of my previous post about a skunk tail.

We were done hunting mushrooms and walking back towards the vehicles when my dog came running up towards us foaming at the mouth and sneezing. Instantly from lots of past experience, I knew he had been skunked. Choking in the fumes, we poured some water over my dogs face which helped alleviate the foaming of the mouth and sneezing but didn't alleviate the odor one bit. The second problem which we didn't have an answer for was how to get home 40 miles away with a dog that was freshly skunked.

Have you ever driven 40 miles down the road with your head hanging out the window? My father did that day. My mother had her head out the other window. Unfortunately for my brother and I, the rear windows were just the tilt out variety so we couldn't get our heads out but we had our noses sticking out as far as our foreheads would let us. It was a long drive home. Oh what a sight we must have been to see us coming down the roads with every ones heads and noses out the window with a dog sitting in the middle of the car just as happy as can be.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Skunk Tail

My previous post on a family of skunks reminded me of yet another skunk story. This one took place as I was driving back to the farm from college late one night and about ten miles from home, I nailed a skunk trying to cross the highway. Immediately the smell was overpowering inside my car and I rolled down the windows and made my way home. Even as I parked the car in the driveway leaving the windows down I couldn't help but wonder how long it would take the smell to dissipate. That was Friday evening.

Saturday evening I happened to walk by the car and noticed that the smell was still overwhelming. I didn't think that was right so I got out the power washer and set out to wash the car. I was laying in the gravel trying to wash the underside really well where the skunk had passed through after I hit him when I noticed it. There beside the muffler was a skunk tail hanging down. Not only had I hit the skunk but somehow it had gotten wedged in the space between my muffler and the under body of the car. Since I had driven over a hundred miles before hitting the skunk, the muffler had been red hot and I had literally cooked the skunk the rest of the way home and now it had been mellowing out in the hot fall weather for yet another day. What to do?

The only plan I could come up with was to get into some clothes I considered disposable and as quickly as I could, slid under the car enough to grab that skunk's tail and pull him free of the muffler. As soon as I was clear of the car, I ran with the skunk to a nearby fence and tossed him over as far as I could, gagging and wretching the entire way. I quickly disrobed and sprayed myself down with a garden hose before going inside and finishing the job with hot soapy water. Despite having the smell still etched into my nose hairs, my parents assured me that I didn't smell like skunk.

On the way back to college the next day, the car still smelled like skunk until the muffler eventually got hot enough to burn off what remained of the skunk and by the time I got to college I couldn't smell it inside the car. However, it took a few weeks and a few more washes before I couldn't get a faint whiff of skunk whenever I was near the rear of the car.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Skunk Family

A post on another blog I read about skunks reminded me a situation I had with a family of them years ago. My parents were off on one of their epic bicycle rides across the country and I was at home for the summer planting crops and taking care of them and the livestock. One day I needed a piece of wood for some project and went to an outbuilding we refer to as the lumber yard where we store all our salvaged lumber and various buckets of nails, screws and other building materials. I opened the door and saw a mama skunk and about eight baby skunks looking at me in a surprised fashion. I swear I jumped about ten feet backwards and out of direct line of sight being the door.

How do you relocate a family of skunks? They had to go because I wasn't about to be sprayed every time I needed to get a nail or a board for something. I couldn't think of a good solution so I went back to the house for the 22 rifle and slowly edged my way towards the door to the lumberyard. When I got to where I could see and yet was hopefully out of range of mama skunk, I could see the baby skunks still but mama was no longer around. I walked around the building and found a hole she had been using for an entrance so I fixed that problem first so there wouldn't be any surprises and then pondered awhile about what to do with her offspring.

Shooting the baby skunks crossed my mind but they are small and 22 bullets would probably go through them and keep going. I didn't want bullet holes in the building and it was full of potential ricochet potentials so I knew that was out. I thought about suiting up in our protective hog choring suits with a welding mask to protect my face but the suit was still made of cloth and likely to not stop a direct blast from a skunk. At what age do skunks spray? I didn't want to guess incorrectly on that answer.

My final solution was to take a 12 feet long of a piece of lumber off to the side where I could grab it away from the skunks. I lashed a plastic toy shovel that kids use at beaches to the end of the piece of lumber and carefully scooped the babies up one at a time. I'm not sure if they were spraying or I was squeezing scent out of them with my less than gentle handling of them but by the time I got them all into a five gallon bucket, the odor was pretty toxic inside the lumberyard. I carried them in the bucket at the end of a 12 feet long piece of lumber as far from the house as I was physically able which was about an eighth mile or so and dumped them in the weeds.

For several days I kept tabs on the lumberyard to see if they ever came back and occasionally I would walk by the spot where I had dumped the skunk children but I never saw any of them again. Not sure what ever became of them but I'm not really sure I care either.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Getting There

Above is a picture I took of this part of the house when we were looking at it for the second time to ponder how much we were going to offer. There was a slight weed problem going on above the retaining wall, some vines growing up the side of the house that had already partially destroyed the siding over there and though it wasn't really a problem, a garage door that we never used. We never used the door partly because the floor there was all heaved and buckled and it was smack dab in the middle of the best area for my assortment of woodworking and house remodeling tools. In fact, for two and a half years, I had a piece of plywood nailed over it on the inside.

Other than removing the door, vines, weeds and then residing the house, we've pretty much left the backside of our house un-landscaped. In fact, other than planting the trees I'm growing in my makeshift tree nursery on the back deck, I really didn't have plans to do anything back there this year. As the saying goes, the best laid plans go to waste. We saw some ultra cheap raspberry plants on sale at the local nursery and snagged up a bunch to plant in this area. It gets a fair amount of sun during the summer but not much at all during the winter. I don't know if they will grow and thrive or not but it was well worth the try.

Unfortunately, I couldn't just plant the raspberries among the weeds that grow back there since there isn't much grass so I had to go get some edging, lots of mulch, landscape cloth and even a load of stone blocks to make it look better. Previous occupants had put up some small landscaping timbers as a barrier to hold back the dirt at the end of the retaining wall which as the saying goes, is like pissing into the wind. Useless in other words. I dug them out and replaced them with stone which should do much better.

Eventually we will plant some more stuff back here to fill it out but I need to find deer resistant stuff because I often see them back here grazing. The worst part about getting this part done is that now we have about a third of the backside of our house landscaped which makes the other two thirds look even worse than it is... and it was pretty bad looking to begin with. But before I do that, I have a pretty big concrete project to correct some water drainage issues which did so some water damage on the old siding we tore off and replaced. I don't think I will get that done until next summer. I really didn't have it in the budget to do it this year and as wet as it was until the last couple weeks, it wouldn't have been the year to tackle it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How I'm Going To Miss Them

Since I still haven't gotten our garden started and by started, I mean protected from the hordes of deer who rove through our backyard looking for anything green to eat, we have made due with a large planter box on our deck since the deer haven't figured out how to go up the flight of stairs to reach it. Due to the size, we mainly planted some salad veggies in the spring and some pepper plants and spices to use during the summer. We planted a whole bunch of tomatoes down on the farm but those died of blight this year so we got less than a half dozen quarts of sauce to get us through the remainder of the year, which was six more than we had last year. Since we were hoping for a lot of sauce tomatoes from the farm, we planted one single cherry tomato plant in our deck planter box. Unlike the other tomatoes, it thrived.

We have had cherry tomatoes now for over two and a half months. We eat them in salads, just snack on them whenever we are out on the deck, made them into tarts that got rave reviews where ever we took them, and many other things. However as fall descends upon us, it was on its last limbs and we wanted more salad veggies so we picked the last of the tomatoes off of it and my wife concocted up the bruschetta you see above. It was a very delicious sendoff to our dear departed cherry tomato plant. It is going to be a long winter without them.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I've Got Gas

Ignore the ugly counter top and backspash for the time being. Eventually I want to update those but for now, the existing ones are priced right.

A few weeks ago, I had just finished cooking some pancakes for breakfast and was over by the sink rinsing some dishes when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of light and a loud pop. I knew something electrical had happened but wasn't sure what. The GFI outlet in the background has occasionally tripped over the years and I thought perhaps it had given up the ghost but looking around, I noticed that the microwave and ovens didn't have electricity anymore. I went down to our breaker box which is actually divided into two and noticed that our main breaker in one of those boxes had tripped. I figured perhaps we had gotten a huge line surge that had caused it and flipped it back. Everything seemed to be working again so I forgot about it and moved on with life.

Two days later I went to cook something on our electric cooktop and realized that after ten minutes of heating a pan and it was still cold that something was wrong. Back downstairs I reset the breaker for the cooktop only to trip the main breaker again. Oops. Now I knew what had gone wrong. I reset the main, turned the cooktop breaker off and went upstairs to check the situation out. I soon found that I got power up to the cooktop itself and didn't trip the breaker so somewhere in the cooktop, a short had occurred. In other words, it was time for a new cooktop.

I like electric cooktops because they are super easy to keep clean and don't heat up the house much. However, my wife has always wanted a gas cooktop. She always used the argument that it cooks so much "better" without really saying what better means. A previous occupant of the house had a gas cooktop there because there was a gas line already plumbed up in the cabinet below so putting in a gas cooktop wouldn't be a hard or expensive feat to do. But I hate throwing away working appliances and so have resisted her desires for a gas cooktop for the last three years we have lived in this house. Perhaps she finally rebelled to me frugal ways and sabotaged the electric one or her prayers were just conveniently answered. I'm a firm believer in the saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," so we went out shopping for a gas cooktop.

We went to several places and between then they had maybe four gas cooktops to choose from. They simply don't stock anything anymore because appliances manufacturers make them in so many styles and options that dealers can't afford to stock them all so they just don't. You have to order them through their catalog, weight a week or two for delivery and then go pick it up. Or you can just order it via Amazon Prime and have it at your doorstep two days later and $50 cheaper which is the route I took.

It didn't quite fit our countertop opening so I had to fill in the gap but with the grates sticking up, nobody can see the filler unless you stick your head back there to look. When we get our new countertop someday, when my wife intentionally sabotages the one we have, I will get the hole sized properly and then nobody will know. So far, I do like cooking with gas though I don't think it cooks any better than the electric flattop we had previously. Perhaps a bit faster and a bit more even when using larger pans is all that I have noticed. It did come with a large griddle that sits over two of the burners that can be set to adjust together which is really nice at times. The drawbacks are that it takes a lot more effort to clean and it heats up the kitchen more due to the gap between the flame and the pan bottom.

The latter has got me thinking that when my wife sabotages the microwave above the cooktop, that instead of having just an internally vented hood that I need to upgrade to an externally vented hood. That however will be a much larger project since I will have to put a hole in the roof to get everything functioning. I'm hoping I have a while to think about it before my wife decides the old microwave needs to go.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Sleep Laughing

No big surprise to reveal in this post but I have dreams. Also like most people, I don't remember them for the most part. There are rare exceptions to this. Once while taking a drug during an illness as a teenager, one of the side effects was vivid dreaming and man they weren't kidding. The two that I can still remember was riding with my mom on a ferris wheel after she had been mummified and trying to get my younger brother out from a crack in the couch where he was stuck. I know the last one doesn't really make sense but it was absolutely terrifying at the time. After waking up in cold sweats a couple nights in the row, something I have never done before or since, it got to the point where I tried to stay up as long as possible to prevent them from occurring. On the other end of the spectrum, I occasionally have a dream so memorable, that I do remember them long enough to commit them to memory... or this blog. Recently however, I had a completely different kind of dream.

It was probably three or four in the morning and I woke myself up laughing hysterically. I quickly realized what I was doing and stopped but I felt that tickle in my chest one gets when very amused at something. I didn't want to wake up my wife but I knew she would get a kick out of what had caused me to laugh myself awake. I dozed off to sleep again thinking I would tell her in the morning and we could both laugh about my dream.

A few days later, my wife asked me what had been so funny that I had laughed myself awake.  She had heard me after all. Unfortunately, I had forgotten what had been so funny in my dreams but I still couldn't help but getting that tickle in my chest when she mentioned it. Subconsciously my mind must still remember. Although I wouldn't mind having dreams so funny that I laugh myself awake, I'm not sure my wife would like being in the same bed or even same room with someone randomly laughing hysterically in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


My parents are off on a bicycling adventure again and after dropping them off, I had to drive down to the farm to drop off their truck since they plan on riding their bicycles home... eventually. While on our way back home from that, we drove by a nature area that opened up perhaps five years ago that we have never stopped at. Fresh from our hiking expedition with our kids, we decided this was a perfect place to keep them in the mood for hiking.

The seed pod of something. Perhaps someone out there knows of what?

Since the nature center is on an old farm site that has been farmed for well over a hundred and fifty years, I guess I wasn't expecting much but was pleasantly surprised. It was chock full of native prairie grasses and flowers, ponds and hiking paths. We did a short loop hike and I frequently found myself wishing I had brought my camera instead of just my phone which I used for all these pictures. There was beauty everywhere.

Not a very good angle to see the large bug the spider was dining on

Unfortunately it was too late in the day and the kids were a bit grumpy so we couldn't see all there was to see without risking meltdowns. I'm sure parents agree that a nuclear meltdown seems more desirable than a child meltdown in a public venue. For five years we have been driving by this place without stopping. Now that we've stopped, I can't wait to get back there with my "real" camera and do some more hiking.

Prairie flowers everywhere

Monday, September 7, 2015


Despite the best laid plans, sometimes things still happen on the spur of the moment. Case in point are the raspberry plants you see above. I have thought a lot about what to plant on this side of the house in the form of landscaping but since it is on the backside of the house, we weren't in any hurry. We recently found ourselves visiting a store right next to the plant and tree nursery that we frequent and thought, why don't we just stroll over there to see what they have in stock. What we found were a pallet load of raspberry plants that were over 80% off retail.

Now normally that still probably wouldn't have caused me to pause but we were still fairly fresh from our recent vacation on the north shore of Lake Superior where our daughters and perhaps an adult or two, grazed down miles of trails lush with ripening wild raspberries. Suddenly I could see turning our daughters out behind our house for hours of entertainment eating an after school snack. We bought five bushes.

Back home, we were sticking our new prizes into the weed patch we call a lawn on this side of the house when we both realized we made a mistake. We should have bought more, and some mulch too. So back to the store I went for five more plants and fifteen bags of mulch. An hour later the results of our labor are what you see above.

I still need to clean up the mess of  bricks and leftover tile grout and mortar (the white stuff) and finish mulching up to the cement and probably put in some sort of edging to keep everything from sloughing off downhill. Eventually I would like to "mulch" the plants with something less labor intensive like landscaping fabric and rock but until we decide for sure if the plants will thrive in this area due to sun and deer population conditions, I will wait. Until then, we are dreaming of days full of raspberries, a dream we never had until we saw that pallet of them for 80% off.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Long time readers know that since I bought this property three years ago, I've cut down my fair share of trees. In fact, the best count I have is somewhere around 30 trees, all of them with the exception of one were died. There were several factors for this. This property was cleared about ten years ago using a bulldozer which pushed out all the understory trees leaving only the mature trees behind. The weight of the bulldozer and the blade definitely hurt the root structure of the remaining trees. The fact that they left behind only the mature trees was kind of short sighted as mature trees by definition are past their peak years and are closer to death anyway. Combine all this with five very wet years followed by two very dry years and a case of oak wilt disease in the area and it was a recipe for lots of dead trees.

The trees I cut down were all in what I call the lawn proper. About an acre and a half of our land is lawn. The remaining half acres is a ditch at the bottom of the hill full of trees and understory that provided a natural screen from the road that runs down the valley. There are many many more dead trees down in there but as long as they don't fall on the lawn, I let nature take its course. Of the 30 dead trees I cut down, about 24 of them were in the lawn proper and the other six were along the edge but not in the area we mow.

All this is a preface to an unexpected knock on the door a recent Saturday evening. When I answered the door it turned out to be an older gentleman who said that he had just done some stump grinding for the university on the opposite hill and before he took his equipment back home, he was driving the area to see if anyone else needed to get their stumps ground. We obviously looked like we might be good customers. I told him I would consider it if the price was right and with that, he walked through the lawn and counted out the 24 stumps to be removed. He quoted me $450. That sounded cheap to me and so I took him up on the deal.

He showed up mid week with his stump grinder, a large contraption pulled behind his truck and set to work. It took them about six hours to grind all those stumps down to six inches below the soil line and when he was done, my lawn looked like it had been invaded by a giant mole. There were piles of sawdust and dirt next to holes everywhere. It took me three evenings of shoveling and raking to fill in all the holes and haul the excess materials off to the ditch where I dumped it in a couple piles in case I need some fill in the future. It certainly looks a lot different now. My only complaint about this is that I still have another half dozen trees that are in various stages of dying and I expect I'll have more stumps by this time a couple years from now. Everyone will expect me to get rid of those stumps too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Validation of a Life Lived

Earlier this year, I attended a family reunion mostly composed of descendants from my 2nd great grandfather and his two wives. Because my grandmother was getting a new shoulder at the time, I alone was the representative of my 2nd great grandfather's first wife while the other 60+ people there were descendants of his second wife. This was my second time to attend this family reunion, the last being four or five years ago.

Part of the reason I wanted to attend this particular reunion is because I was finally able to find the smoking gun that conclusively linked this family to the Chickens.  The family surname was Chicken until my 3rd great grandfather for reasons unknown decided to change the surname to Baker. During his time, some fought the change and kept the Chicken surname which lives on to this day, but other branches, mine included, adopted more generic surnames.

By request, I brought along my research and spent much of the reunion talking about how we were all Chickens. It was so well received, that it inspired me to write down all this information in a story format which I have since completed and sent out to those I have email addresses for. It was a lot of work but made easier by many of the stories already written in the archives of this blog. It was very satisfying to have people read it and comment on how much it meant to them to have all of it written down.

It got me to thinking. Is there any better validation of your life than to have your name written down somewhere in a book for someone else in the future to find. I suppose that is why genealogists like myself, spend hours tramping through graveyards to find that tombstone with the family name on it to validate that yes our ancestor lived and here they now lie a mere six feet away. However with a history book, it means something more. It meant that they meant enough to someone else that they were mentioned in a book. These thoughts weighed on my mind for awhile until they forced me to go down to the library in our basement and retrieve a book.

The book is The History of Buffalo County 1885-1985, Gann Valley, South Dakota. I bought it several years back when I was doing research on my 4th great grandfather Joseph Chicken who moved out there to prove up on some land later in life. In fact, it was after his son's death, my third great grandfather and the one who changed the family surname to Baker, that he moved out there and eventually owned 320 acres of land before his death. When I first got the book, I checked the index of family names and to my disappointment, his name was not listed. I flipped through it looking at pictures and such but never same a records of him in it. It had eventually found its way to my shelf and has been there ever since, until recently.

The first part of the book is full of first hand written accounts of life back in the late 1800's during the time Joseph Chicken lived out there. I started reading these accounts to get a sense of the life Joseph led and quickly realized that these stories were full of surnames not mentioned in the index. Last night as I read through one of these stories, I finally found the name Joseph Chicken mentioned as being a respected old settler in the county. Though I have been to his grave and seen his name chiseled in stone, I felt a sense of validation that he existed and was known. Known well enough that his name is forever printed on the pages of a book for all those such as myself to discover well after he was gone.