Warnings

We must be warned that coffee's hot,
that smoking hurts the lung.
Knives are sharp and spoons are not,
and sunscreen blocks the sun.

We must not eat the non-food pack,
that freshens packaged foods.
Know calories might make us fat,
and sleep might make us drool.

Labels warn that water's wet,
and bullets might go bang.
Signs to warn of dangers met,
adorn each mundane thing.

We used to use our eyes and think,
to see, assess, then act.
Replaced with warnings bold in ink, 
a talisman of words and fact.

Speculation

If only people understood how un-cool secret stuff really is… Scott Adams came close in this strip:
Dilbert.com

The super secret squirrels convened
Their meeting in the vault
Each day at noon they gathered there
Discussing who knows what

The watchers all looked in from out
As blind and dumb and deaf
As though they had no mouth or ears
To use for baited breath

Whispers swirled from left to right
Then back around again
Tales of conquests in the works
Cabals of greed and sin

Murmurings of secret tech
Sensors, planes, and tools
Laser guns and mind control
Oh man... it sounded cool

While all along the secret squirrels
Sat bored and languid then
And hour by hour discussed at length
The font for slide one-ten

The Parrot

Almost endless years of school
Countless hours of study
Promotions moving ever up
An awful sense of duty

To be the expert and make change
A constant goal since youth
Use of hands and head at once
Connecting truth with truth

Explore and build to meet demand
Reflect on what's been made
More to know you've done it right
Than strictly to get paid

A phantom of some lingering dream
Haunting daily chores
Wants unmet in truthful life
Like salt in open sores

No new ideas are his today
Great works he builds no more
He simply gathers and compiles
Then brings it to the fore

With words they laud and stroke him
Encourage, praise and bless
But in his mind he is a fraud
A parrot or even less

Fog

I’ve always liked writing, but rarely get a chance to write things not formal, technical, or even worse… bureaucratic.  Given my background, you’d think anything artistic would have atrophied years ago, and in truth it probably has.  However, though unqualified and not particularly gifted, every once in a while I get an urge to dust off the non-analytical parts of my self and see just how much of it is left.

In a home filled with artistic, musical, and literary talent, I often end up filling the requirement for an audience.  It’s unlikely anyone would ask me to perform when they have access to Liz, Sydney, and Isaac.  Over the years, I’ve been less and less likely to publicly attempt any form of art.  Even deciding to post this to be visible for the three or so people who might  occasionally read this blog has been an internal struggle.

That said, I had a few hours to myself this morning after taking Sydney to her EARLY morning babysitting job, and didn’t want to go back to bed for fear of waking Liz.  The urge came upon me to write, so I did.

Shiftless anticipation
Stirred by clouded foresight
Knowing that life is a journey 
To struggle, to labor, to fight

How many rounds 'till it's over?
Will I overcome in the end?
Have I strength and the power
For these care burdened hours?
Not to crack, not to buckle nor bend? 

Blind in a void of unknowing
There's something required of me
Yet I can't quite descry it
Or even imply it
Such a hungry desire to see...

So reluctantly I've followed 
Paths thought hidden and crookedly bent 
Longing for places I've already been
Guided by signposts unseen
As I wonder to whom I am sent

Certainly something is building
Each step has a purpose occult
Guided to paths I've not wanted
By a prod, a hard nudge, or a jolt

Weakness calls out now to slumber
Says it always works out in the end
Doubting there's life can I touch
Often too weak to do much
Tapped out, no strength left now to lend

Stop on the way and set down your load
Let some other son pick up the slack
Rest for a season right where you stand
Drop the burdens now placed on your back 

Reality's quick with the answer:
Sleep is the prodigal's child
No gift that you claim
Is for those of your name
It is wrong from your neighbor to hide

In answer I cry out in anquish
Fatigue swelling large in my breast
I have done what I can
When is it enough? 
Must I really go on without rest?

When the strength is all gone
And my will neigh to break
A lantern shows dimly ahead
Another's weak glimmer drives shadows away
Their light extinguishes dread

It winks to me comfort and courage
It tells me that I'm not alone
You're smart and you're strong
And you will carry on
We'll continue together 'till done

So into the darkness one nudge at a time
Groping and feeling my way
Hoping and praying the work that I do
Will brighten another's dark day

Kids fall asleep in the darndest places!

Updated 21 Dec 2014…

This one requires explanation.  Liz found Michael asleep on the piano bench.  He stirred, got up, and announced that he was going to go lay down in his bed.  However, when Liz came back a few minutes later this is what she found:IMG_8254

Apparently he had gone to his bed, pulled a blanket off, and gone back to the piano bench to sleep.  He stayed there for almost an hour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASydney, 2002

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASydney 2002

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2004

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2004

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2004

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2005

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASydney 2005

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2005

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2005 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsaac 2006

IMG_1744Isaac 2006

IMG_6681Michael 2012

DSCF0204Michael 20013

IMG_7227Michael 2013 IMG_7683Michael 2014

IMG_6209Isaac 2012

Enjoy!

Good Ideas

The weekend after Thanksgiving we took the family up to Waco to a harvest festival put on by a group of anababtists who farm using traditional (non-mechanized) methods, teach traditional crafts, and generally do things a bit slower than the general population.  Along with selling their wares, they teach a series of seminars on self sufficiency, skills like blacksmithing and beekeeping, animal husbandry, etc…  It’s interesting and fun to spend a few days wandering, watching, and listening.  This year, Liz came home with a few “good ideas.”  Good ideas generally mean work… lots of it.

We’ve been meaning to put in a garden since we got here, but the holdup has been putting up enough fence to keep critters ranging from chickens to deer and wild pig from eating the fruits of our labor.  In preparation to put in the garden and with her interest to learn new methods for gardening and natural pest control Liz attended a seminar that piqued her interest.  That’s where the work comes in.

Apparently, grasshoppers and similar pests don’t fly or jump nearly as far or as often as they crawl.    One suggestion for ways to minimize damage due to bugs was to surround the garden with an eight-foot wide chicken run.  Chickens LOVE bugs, and will scratch and peck their run down to nothing but dirt, leaving a barren wasteland of death for any bugs brave enough to attempt to cross it.  I guess the odds of a bug getting across an eight-foot wide no-man’s-land filled with ravenous predators are pretty bleak.   Sounded great… until I did the math.

Something I learned a while ago is that most of the work putting in fences goes into getting the corner posts and braces in.  For every corner I have to dig three post holes (2 1/2 feet deep into hard clay) and tie in two braces.  Given how hard the clay is once you dig down more than about six inches, it can take up to an hour to dig a single hole, and in the end you end up with a gloppy mess because the only way to get through it is to use a combination of water and a 16lb digging bar to break up the clay before scooping it out with a post-hole digger.  That pile of goopy glue sticks to my shoes, gloves, tools, etc… making everything about 5-10 lbs heavier than it would normally be.  Then you get the pleasure of putting the post in the hole, backfilling the dirt you just took out, and using that 16lb bar to tamp and pack the dirt down by repeatedly pounding the flat end of it against the ground.  Building fencing sucks…  But it’s a great workout for your upper back.

When we put the fence around the 1.2 acre “yard” I ended up with about 30 wood posts including posts and braces for three gates.  The rest were T-posts that are quick, cheap, and easy.  It took me several weekends to get it done.  With that in mind, consider the following:

chicken_yard If you subtract the six posts that are already there from the earlier fencing effort, that still leaves 27 posts if I did the arithmetic correctly.

The holes are done, posts in the ground, and now I get to finish bracing and stringing the fence fabric.  I guess I’d better quit writing about it and get busy doing it.

Building the Back Yard

Every project we’ve done so far in the “yard” has been geared towards something that produces food or is food.  So far projects have included things like the barn, fence, chicken coop, electric to the barn and coop, water to the animals, etc…  The only thing I’ve done to the yard is to cut back the brush and let wild grasses grow in.  Not much of a yard, and not particularly good at keeping the mud down when it rains.

Now that some of the major projects are done, and all the animals have homes and water, I decided to finally break out the big bag of grass seed I bought last year and work on getting at least a small patch of grass for the kids to play on.  The funny thing about the kind of clay we have here is that it’s about like an adobe brick when it’s dry, and about as sticky as rubber cement when it’s wet.  This makes working it and getting it ready for seeding kinda difficult.  To make matters worse, Liz is pretty adamant that I not use weed killer to get rid of the prairie grasses that “filled” the void when I cleared the brush last year.

It isn’t much fun, but a sod-buster on my puny tractor is decent at tearing up grass and the first few inches of dirt.  It turns over the sod, leaving a narrow trench and extremely uneven ground that has to be run over multiple times and directions to get all of it since the wedge is much narrower than the wheelbase.  My back would appreciate suspension, but that’s not a real option on my tractor.  After an hour bouncing and rattling and banging through the hard dirt, the deeply furrowed and rough ground looked worse than when I started.

To try and clean things up some I used a crappy disc plow that came with the tractor to cut the big blocks of clay into smaller blocks.  Along the way, the grasses got torn up for the most part. The problems with this approach are that the ground ends up pretty uneven and is completely covered in golf-ball sized chunks of hard clay, and the grass forms hard root-balls in the clay that won’t die unless you break up the roots and pull the grass out.  I had to come up with something better.

A few weeks prior, I had acquired some scrap expanded metal when I taught a neighbor how to weld together a milking stand.  There were two pieces of it left that would be about the width of the tractor if I welded them together on some kind of frame.  I figured if I dragged the expanded metal grating across the dirt it would help to both smooth out the ground and to break up some of the chunks.  A few minutes with some more scrap from the garage, some random things to weigh the sled down and my excessively cheap Harbor  Freight welder, and I was in business.

It did a decent job of breaking up the chunks, and a great job of pulling the roots and grass out of the clods.  After a few passes (maybe more than a few) the grass was all clumped up in a handful of balls that either blew away in the wind or were easy to pick up by hand.

The best part… I didn’t have to drag it around the yard.  Isaac and Sydney are still under the delusion that driving anything that is powered by an internal combustion engine is fun.  I don’t want them dragging a plow yet, but a fairly light “sled” that just smooths out the dirt seemed about right for them to cut their teeth on.  I even used the kids and sled to pack or cover the seed after broadcasting it.

IMG_8232The only bad part of the whole deal is that the next week it rained several inches overnight while I was out of town on business.  When I called Liz later to say hi, I got an ear-full because the freshly turned and broken-up earth was now an ankle-deep muck pit that sat squarely between the house and the goat-pasture.  Turns out it’s hard to walk through gloppy, sloppy, deep and sticky mud in the rain carrying a bucket of fresh milk without falling down.

It’s been a few weeks and one or two rains, and now I have a bunch of clover (on purpose) and the beginnings of a green lawn behind the house.

Syd’s Recital

Sydney got a new piano teacher recently.  For several years, she’s been tolerating lessons from Liz, but wasn’t making much progress.  About six months ago we decided to try farming her out to an outside teacher to see if taking Mom out of the mix would help.  Two teachers and several months later… boy did it ever!IMG_8245

Syd has found her soul-mate in the music world, and is enjoying learning and playing.  We almost can’t get her to stop practising.  Her teacher is working with her on creative stuff like improvisation and arranging pieces herself, which has really touched off her imagination and interest.  She has progressed so much in the last few months that it’s incredible.  I’m very proud!