Category Archives: sustainability

Snow Logging

A few days ago I attended a funeral for a friend’s mother. It seems, in the last year or so, that death has declared open season on Baby Boomers and she was one of the many claimed by 2016.

On leaving the service I walked with an old friend from college days. We talked about our kids and I mentioned that my oldest was taking a gap year in Athens, establishing residency before enrolling in UGA, probably in the fall. I talked about how weird it was moving about that town after an absence of almost 25 years. A few things remained the same, recognizable relics, but much had changed and I had to acknowledge that much time had passed.

Lynda went to Auburn and said she hadn’t been back yet. “I really oughta go,” she said.

“It’ll force you to realize you’re not 25 anymore,” I said.

“But that’s how I feel,” she said. “Don’t you feel like you’re same as when you were in your 20’s?”

“Hell,” I said, “I still feel like I’m nine years old.”

Which leads me to today. Last night we had one of those rare Alabama occurrences, a snow storm. Really more of an icing, but nonetheless white stuff fell from the sky and stuck to the ground. Roads were, by Alabama standards, impassable and wiser folks stayed at home. Which meant I got an equally rare occurrence, a full Saturday at home without having to go in to work at the gym.

Nana found a new recipe for gluten-free biscuits (yes, we are those people) and had a batch coming out of the oven as I stumbled into the kitchen in search of morning coffee. I’m really enjoying the Yeti knockoff thermal mug I got for Christmas and, after a hearty breakfast of biscuits, bacon, and eggs, I set off, mug in hand, to follow Samantha and the girls as we walked the dogs through our new winter wonderland of a neighborhood.

 

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It doesn’t look so bad…

On the way back I suggested that we check out Boo Radley’s house, my pet name for the property adjacent to ours that hasn’t had a tenant in the eight years we’ve lived here, or quite possibly the ten before that. Boo Radley was the creepy guy in an old run down house in To Kill a Mockingbird. The house that sits on this property is falling in on itself. Luckily, the landowner, while she has the property listed for sale, has a woefully inflated sense of the property’s value. Priced out of anybody’s sense of reasonable coupled with an uninhabitable structure insures quiet neighbors and a strong sense of the rural quality of our neighborhood.

At one time this was property was something. An old house, dating back from the thirties when this was a mining community, covered in cedar shake. The house belonged to the company doctor. I’ve been told power lines that served the machine gun nests placed on the hill to keep out unionists originated in that house. You can see the remains of what must have been a beautiful garden, a Japanese style gate graces the driveway, a lap pool fringed in an overgrown bamboo forest sits in the back, only half full due to our recent drought and choked with leaves. I’m convinced there’s a prehistoric turtle that lives at the bottom of that murk.

I often fantasize about this property. It’s five acres running alongside and behind my own. Five additional acres I could use to keep small livestock, more raised garden beds, and a wood lot. Mmmm, wood lot. Here is where we get to the nine year old.

I grew up in a family that originated from the Presbyterians of Scotland. Ever heard of the Protestant Work Ethic? Yeah, we wrote that. As a boy all I ever wanted was to be included with the men as they went out to do chores on my grandfather’s farm. The often necessary exclusion, I would have quickly become bored and in the way, made that prospect even more attractive, to the point, that now as an adult I find ways to make work in my spare time. Nine years old, remember?

I have a fireplace insert in the living room and when the winters get cold enough I use it to help heat at least half of our house. The economics probably don’t play out. I spend much more in my own labor and effort to cut, split, stack, schlep, and burn than I get in gas savings, but I get something else, too. I get enjoyment. The boy inside of me gets to relish in the strength and power of the work and I feel a visceral connection to the men who labored before me. I get to play.

I can only imagine what those men might think of what I do. Life was very different for them. My father and uncle, my grandfathers, my great grandfathers all experienced this kind of work in a very real, this-is-what-we-have-to-do kind of way. Even for a portion of my father’s and uncle’s lives firewood was a necessity. It heated the house and, during my grandfather’s childhoods, it cooked their food. I do it because I think it’s fun.

I wanted to scout out Boo Radley’s place and see what kind of future uses I could put it to. You know, when the landlady suddenly takes an altruistic turn and cedes me the property or there’s a convergence of her suddenly realizing her property’s true value and I finding myself suddenly flush with excess cash. Both quite unlikely, but the idea of having a woodlot I could manage and steward strangely excites me and I wanted to see what could be.

In truth, not much. Like I said, this area was once part of the Overton Mines and in the 30s was almost completely clear cut. After the mine closed it turned over to small residential farms. Older residents have told me they used a path behind my house to get to the river and that there was a small spring up there where they kept minnows and other live bait. At one time the current owner of Boo Radley’s place had horses and that hill was their main pasture.

Now, it’s a lot of scrub and brush, bumble around long enough and you’ll find the old fence posts, the wire fencing long trampled or rusted away.. Privet and wisteria run rampant. Some of the wisteria is as thick as my forearm. The trees on this hill are young, mostly pines with a few hardwoods, saplings mainly, scattered in. There’s a couple of tall pines, wide enough I can’t reach my arms around and an oak that might be 50 years old.

I did find a old red oak down several years lying in the leaves, still solid enough to serve as some well seasoned firewood. Just enough to send the nine year old scheming for a new adventure.

Just before Christmas I acquired a ten foot choker cable with two solid metal rings one on each end. Given the ice and snow I thought conditions would be just right to section the trunk into logs I could drag back to the truck. First I’d have a cut a trail, but how much fun would that be? (No, really. That’s not sarcasm.) The afternoon temperature hung in the low 20s and the ice crunched noisily underfoot. When would I get another chance like this?

20170108_114849I loaded my tools into the truck and backed down Boo Radley’s overgrown driveway, past the Japanese gate and as far back as I could go. Which was actually not very far. My 1976 Chevy stepside, while certainly the coolest truck on the block, is not much of a four wheeler and I quickly lost traction. I shut the engine off and said a silent prayer asking that the weight of the wood I hoped to collect would be sufficient enough to aid in getting me back out again.

I picked up my ax and belted on my hatchet and trudged my way through the snow and ice frosted bamboo. About a 150 yards from the truck lay my quarry. I had to walk past the collapsing garage, corrugated sheets of tin perched atop a structure of tar coated 4x4s. Back in the summer my friend and mentor Chip Conrad and I used this spot to shoot a promo video for Adex leverage clubs. The suburban decay we joked about had accelerated a good bit since then. There’s hardly enough left to stand under let alone use as a set. It’s just a pile of scrap metal and trash wood bits, remnants of someone else’s life now moved on.

Beyond the garage lay a scattered assortment of junk, an old metal work table, something I would have grabbed a long time ago if two of its metal legs hadn’t already rusted halfway away, a folding chair, a motor with a giant gear on it whose original purpose I can’t begin to fathom, hundreds of plastic pots, the kind landscapers use. Past this graveyard of useless items, the ground begins to slope upward. There’s a break for the powerline and then the woods begin again.

I found my way to my tree and began clearing the wisteria and privet that had grown up around it. My studies of ax mechanics and lore had certainly paid off. The edge on my hatchet was keen and I quickly cut through the scrub brush and vines. I still think the handle is a little too thick, my hands burn with fatigue after a dozen or so swings.

The hatchet is a Snow and Nealy that Samantha bought me for Christmas a few years back. I’ve come to realize it’s a really nice tool, despite my gripes about it’s handle. I used it to clear the small stuff and make room for the axe to clear the larger privet trunks.

I’ve been restoring a few different axes in the garage, even toying with carving my own handles. I have a single bit that belonged to my father, and a couple double bits that I’ve picked up over the years. None of these are ready for the woods. The first double bit, the first handle I carved myself, is actually going under a refurbish. I carved the handle from a hickory branch (later learning that’s not the preferred method, although I’ve also read contrarian views on this, so I guess it’s still open to debate.) but carved it way too thick. I thought a beefy guy needed a beefy handle and I kinda got lazy after having removed so much of the original wood already. This’ll work, right?

I’m now going back, under the tutelage of Dudley Cook’s The Ax Book: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter, and shaving it down to a more reasonable size.

The axe I do have that’s suitable for the woods is a hand forged German model I picked up from some catalog. At first I thought it was a dud, but after learning that most axes straight from the factory need their cheeks thinned (the area just behind the cutting edge on either side of the blade) to cut well. After a little time with a bastard file (and the belt sander, I really gotta work on this patience thing) I’ve got a really nice axe. It cut deep with each swing and I made short work out of clearing my trail.

A short hike back to the truck to gas and oil up my chainsaw and I was ready to start working on the log. I almost hated to crank up the chainsaw. Until now my work had been quiet and peaceful with nothing more to break the silence than the bite of my blade, the crunch of my boots, or the labor of my breathing. At one point a Carolina Wren, winter fat and puffed up against the cold, hopped in front of me, unperturbed by the swing of my ax or the shudder of the sapling sized privet I was cutting.

As nice as the relative silence was this log was close to sixteen inches in diameter and more than I wanted to tackle with a bow saw. I relish a good crosscut saw, but until I can get one, I’ll settle for my Stihl. I cut the log into sections, roughly eight feet long, and slipped the choker cable under the first log and the smaller ring through the larger. As I walked away from the log the cable cinched down and grabbed hold. It slid fairly easily across the ground.

Walking backwards and rowing the cable toward my chest I made my way down to the powerline, across the small drainage ditch, past the suburban decay, through the bamboo forest and to the truck. One down, three to go.

img_20170111_172052The second log was heavier. Of course it was. I was getting closer to the base. This log was wider and more of it solid wood than punky rot. This was a little rougher going until I figured out that if I faced forward and threw the cable over my shoulder I could make better progress. Holding the ring by itself was a bit of a problem, but I stopped again at suburban decay and rooting through the debris found a 1×2 I could fashion into a crude handle. That lasted about 20 yards before I snagged on some of the bamboo and snapped the handle trying to pull free. From there I just used my hatchet handle (and found myself suddenly grateful for the extra thickness), careful to keep the leather sheath on and the blade pointed away from me.

It was about 4:30 when I got the choker cable around the final log and I began summoning the strength to get this one moving. Only not so much. This was the butt end of the tree and not at all unheavy. At it’s current length it was not going to budge and my light was fading fast.

I could cut the log again, shorten it to, say, four feet and attempt to pull that out, but I knew if I did I would only get one log to the truck before it became too dark to work. Ice and snow in Alabama does not last long. If that melted before I retrieved the remainder of my log I could just hang it up. It would be too muddy or, even once dry, I’d lose the benefit of dragging over ice and snow.

 

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Hey Dave, I can see your house from here!

It was about that time I looked up and realized the fence to my lot was less than 15 yards away. I could just cut the log to stove length, toss the pieces over the fence and retrieve them tomorrow. Hell, from there I could just roll them down the hill. With a little luck I might even roll them into my splitting area, or at least close.

 

And for the first time all afternoon the adult me looked at the Nine Year Old me and said, “Really? We just spent four hours doing an hour and a half’s worth of work?”

 

img_20170111_171853And the Nine Year Old said, “Yeah, wasn’t it awesome!”

 

So I wrapped up. I quickly cut the log into 18 inch sections, tossed the remainder of my tree over the fence and hiked my gear back to the truck. I still had those other eight foot sections to get into the bed along with various other sizeable pieces I had found along the way.

I returned home feeling accomplished. The cold was never uncomfortable, just invigorating and somehow made the whole experience more fun. I went in, kissed my girls, and sat down to a well deserved supper. As I began to warm in front of the fire it all hit me and I found myself moving with the speed and grace of an 80 year old man.

Samantha and the girls laughed at me as I hobbled from the supper table to the big green chair in front of the fire. Halfway through our movie I had to move to another chair as that one was too soft and my stiffening muscles began to complain. There’s a reason Papa Bear favored the harder chair.

But even the stiffness couldn’t dampen my mood. As a gym owner I have seen, and even promoted myself, all manner of play based workouts. There’s a serious effort to get people moving and trying to get past the discomfort of exercise, the dreaded chore of the workout, seems to be the marketing ploy of the decade. Only work, hard work, physical work can be amazingly fun.

My dad hated the work he had to do for my grandfather. He became a computer programmer precisely so he could sit all day and not have to work hard. I’ve spoken to others with similar backgrounds who talk about how much they hated the labor that was thrust upon them.

I know I live in a bizarre and blessed time. A time when I can actively seek out the labor my ancestors worked tirelessly to ensure I didn’t have to do – and turn it into a game.

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Of Plans and Purpose

The A-Team

I love it when a plan comes together.

That’s the catch phrase of one of my childhood heroes, John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team. Actually, my real hero was Mr. T., who played heavy muscle and mechanical genius B. A. Barracus of the aforementioned team, but “I pity the fool” doesn’t really play into today’s blog post.

And truth be told I’m stretching Hannibal’s catch phrase because in all honesty I’m not much of a planner. I just sort of head off on a particular path and then revel afterwards about how everything seems to fall into place of it’s own accord.

And so today’s theme is really more of a “I love it when everything just seems to fall into place.” For you dedicated fans of the A-Team I apologize. I’ve bastardized a prize catch phrase and possibly pulled you unnecessarily out of cyber space and into this rambling post which really has very little to do with the A-Team after all.

As an aside, for those of you who like myself hold fond childhood memories of this popular 80’s action drama, just keep it that way. Don’t go back. I know it’s tempting with Netflix and the ease of watching your old favorites again, but don’t. It’s not worth it and there’s no point in destroying a fond memory with harsh reality. It just wasn’t that good of a show.

Okay, now back to my point. I have what is considered a wide variety of interest in this world of health and fitness and somehow manage to encapsulate camps that are often seen as quite disparate. I didn’t intentionally plan it this way (remember, I don’t plan) it just sort of happened as I followed my interests and let them bloom into passions.

This weekend, however, I got to see how they all just might fit together.

Aside from my wife and daughters, I have two main passions in life and depending on where you’re reading this you’re aware of one but maybe not the other. Those passions are fitness — real fitness as in “to be fit for,” as in “to be capable of,” not this spandexy, “it’s better to look good than to feel good” monstrosity the Fitness Industrial Complex has unleashed upon us to feed upon our insecurities and drive us to spend money on much that is counterproductive to our over all health and wellness — and homesteading.

Homesteading, or my own attempts at a suburban version of it, is an exercise in the Emersonian ideal of self reliance. It also gives me opportunity to explore the older values of craftsmanship and ingenuity that seem more and more on the wane in this fast paced consumer culture of ours. As I began my journey into these ideas I began the blog Emerson’s Acre.

Because fitness is my business, I’ve devoted much more of my time to blogging about my gym and the things I find wrong with our industry on my website Agogefit.com. Well, that and homesteading is really hard. In fact my first two years have resulted in various failures that have caused me to casually walk away like a cat that just fell out of the window, “So what? I meant to do that” or in my case “I’ve just got more important things to take care of right now.”

If you follow me over at Agogefit.com then you may have read that earlier this summer I hired Eric Hulse to help me deal with a few creeping health issues. After running a few tests he concluded that I was having stress issues that were creating hormone imbalances and we started an elimination style diet to see how that would affect my concerns. As I adjusted to a life of no grains, sugar, dairy, alcohol or eggs, things began to improve but there was still more to be done.

A few weeks a go I submitted a test aimed specifically at assessing gut function. I was a tad bummed to discover that I have what’s affectionately termed as “leaky gut syndrome.” What this basically means is that the fauna and flora of my intestinal tract are in such a state of imbalance that the lining of my innermost innards has become somewhat permeable, to the extent that partially undigested proteins and other food particles are passing into my blood stream and thereby raising a general alert and provoking a pathogenic response.

What that really means is another $200 or so in supplements and at least another sixty days on the diet, which I must say I have become comfortable with even if I did have to give up a nice whiskey every once in a while. Just so you know I got a wonderful little whiskey glass for Father’s Day this year that still remains in it’s box on top of the refrigerator awaiting some future emancipation.

My wife, Samantha, an early childhood educator, is aware of the theoretical link between leaky gut and autism and, while we don’t think I have autism, became very interested in my new supplement protocol. One night last week we sat down and reviewed my prescriptions and explored the contents of the capsules I’ll be taking for the next sixty days. Those contents are all vegetable and herbal in origin. Things like oregano, parsley and garlic figured prominently in the ingredients. It was then that I began to see the connection that thus far alluded me.

There was a time when kitchen herbs were a staple in my diet. We lived in an older part of town with rich fertile soil and I kept a small garden of cooking herbs that I pulled from daily. Garlic went into almost everything I made. But then we moved. Our new house is just as old as the old one but the land is different. The new house is part of an old mining district and the land was once clear cut and scraped down to the clay. The soil just plain sucks and thus gardening has been more difficult.

That and I got lazy with my cooking.

So this weekend I made efforts that I hope will reverberate into the long term. Wait, is that what planning is?

I put my gym time to work. I got a real sense of why the pulling muscles trump the pushing ones and a practical lesson in the futility of over training those muscles you see in the mirror. Work comes from the back. Remember that. Pulling weeds, chopping with a hoe, shoveling and spreading mulch, and toting with a wheelbarrow all involve the back.

As bizarre as it sounds, for me, work is play. I find the same level of losing myself in my tasks that most of us find in intense play and my work is no longer labor. Well it is, but not in the bad way.

So all weekend I worked with a mind toward correcting past mistakes of omission and bringing back elements I had lost. I got to see how that silly obsession of mine with the wood burning stove and keeping firewood played to gardening, as the wood chips and bark left over from the wood splitting made a rich mulch that earthworms just love, and how the gardening played directly to my nutrition which played to my general health and my abilities in the gym which plays to my ability to earn a living and to my ability to work on the homestead which is the woodpile and the garden and Ohmagerd that’s a cycle and how perfect is that!

I pity the fool who can’t see that.

To our perfect imperfection,

Dave

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Jack and Kathryn

When Samantha and I were young, young in love, younger in body, we moved to Athens, Georgia.  This was in 1994.  I was a senior in college with no sense of direction or purpose.  The only thing in my life that I was certain of at that point was Samantha.

One afternoon Samantha, myself, our good friend, Jeff, and my friend and roommate, Jason, were sitting in our living room.  Jason was planning on moving to Athens to pursue photography at UGA.

“You guys wanna come with me?”

With less than a minute’s deliberation Jeff said, “Okay” and Samantha followed with, “Sure.”

For me, what followed was ninety seconds of pure panic.  I was two quarters away from graduation, pursuing a path I did not love, but doing what I was “supposed to do.”  My brain roiled over my choices.  I could stick with my safe path, stay in Birmingham and finish school, that would mean saying goodbye to Samantha, possibly for just six or eight months–possibly forever.  That was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.  And so, for what may have been the first time in my life, I made a choice that reflected what I wanted to do, rather than what I was expected to do.

I still had to finish the quarter I was in, but over the next few weeks Jason and I closed out our lease on the apartment, we rented a large moving truck and in one weekend moved two apartments and Jeff, who was living at home at the time, to Athens.

Athens, Georgia is a college town.  As such, real estate there is at quite a premium.  It was not easy to find a place where all four of us could live together in town, but by expanding our search we found a place in Crawford, fifteen miles out of Athens.  Crawford is a small rural town nestled in Oglethorpe County, one of the most rural counties in all of Georgia.

It had one stoplight and downtown Crawford consisted of three blocks–a car dealership, City Hall, a bank and the post office.  We rented a large house for a very cheap sum from Clyde and George Maxwell, an elderly couple who lived next door.  I know these names imply a gay couple, however Clyde is the first–and only–woman, I’ve ever met to bear that name.

Crawford in the 90’s was an extremely old and conservative place.  The cemetery behind our house bore stones that dated back to the 1890’s with the names of families still in Crawford.

Besides the Maxwells, we never met these people.  Samantha and I lived in this house for almost a year–the fifteen mile commute quickly proved too long for Jeff and Jason–and besides Clyde and George there was only one other couple we ever exchanged words with, Jack and Kathryn Doubrley.

Like ourselves, Jack and Kathryn clearly stood out in Crawford.  And as mutual anomalies we were quickly drawn to each other.  They lived at the top of our street in a two story, Victorian mansion.  They were my first introduction into the Emersonian ideal of self reliance and two of the coolest people we had ever met.

Jack was every bit the self made man.  He worked nearby as a diesel mechanic and every working aspect of his house bore his unique stamp–electricity was provided by solar panels he installed on the roof, heat from the wood stoves he had restored or installed–including the wood fired cook stove in their kitchen and the one that heated water for their shower.  Both Kathryn’s greenhouse and his shop were of his construction, often made from salvaged materials.  He brought a whole new understanding to what “off the grid” really means, water was the only resource he couldn’t provide himself and he grudgingly paid the city to provide.

In my mind’s eye he’s a giant pirate of a man, though in reality he stands several inches shorter than me–red hair pulled back in a man’s ponytail and a big bushy beard that spills onto his ample chest.  With his red hair and his aptitude for all things mechanical he was the epitome of the Roman god Vulcan, made whole.  It was Jack who first introduced me to working out, his upstairs gym filled one of the house’s spacious bedrooms–graciously donning a leopard printed Speedo instead of maintaining his usual habit of training nude.

Kathryn is every bit the yin to Jack’s yang.  A master gardener, her stamp on their estate was purely organic.  A modern day Demeter, she flowered her land with herbs and ornamentals.  Her greenhouse boasted a substantial tea tree and a fruit bearing avocado she had nurtured from seed.  Kathryn was a seamstress and a weaver and contributed to their household by making clothes for them both and costumes for a local theatre group.

Her greatest gift was in the garden.  Her knowledge and skill in all aspects of plant lore earned her the moniker of The Answer Lady and made her the go-to resource for many a gardener throughout Northeast Georgia.  Early on she introduced us to a salve made from comfrey, olive oil and beeswax.  This recipe Samantha has perpetuated over the years and introduced to the Alabama Waldorf School, where it is known and loved amongst the nursery School and beyond as Samantha’s “Magic Cream.”

We only stayed in Athens for two years.  By the end of that period Samantha was pregnant with Madeline and it seemed more prudent to move back to Birmingham.  Here we could be closer to our families and I could finish college.  Again back on the path of what we should do rather than what we wanted.  Understandable, of course–we were so young and scared, risk and chance were to be avoided at all costs.

We kept in touch with Jack and Kathryn for a few years after we left, once going to spend a weekend with them and once having them come and visit us, but years and distance divided us.  Jack eventually took a job running the maintenance department at the University and we became engrossed in our growing family and all the lessons and challenges to found there.

Even though we haven’t seen each other or spoken in years, Jack and Kathryn stay with us.  Emerson’s Acre would not exist without their influence and scores of school children have had their boo-boos healed with the help of Kathryn’s comfrey salve.

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Always Listen to Your Granny

I have taken Granny’s advice.  In the evening, when I get home, after I’ve kissed Samantha and the girls, I take a few minutes and spend them out back with Honey and Harriet.

In this case Granny is not my grandmother.  She’s the pen (er, keyboard?)behind All Seasons Homestead Helpers and one of my first supporters.  Granny has encouraged me through many a dry spell and prompted me to keep writing even why I didn’t think I had anything to write.

In an earlier post about the goats and the ridiculous games they put me through with necessary tasks like changing the batteries on their collars or trimming their hooves.  She gave me this advice,

Surprise them. Show up with treats (and no other agenda) and make 5 minutes of “quality time” (as you put it) every day for a while and see what happens. Not that I know anything about goats, but I think I grasp a bit about “connecting” with critters. I can see you next time you have a beer after work, just standing with the goats while they nibble on the carrots you just brought, telling them about your day in a friendly voice. They’ll say, “Bhaaaa, now you’re talking!” :-)

Clearly, she’s a wise woman.  So I take with me a cup of dry corn and a cup of sweet feed in an old coffee can.  I walk over to one of the stumps I left and sit down.  There I shake the coffee can, one of two my uncle sent with me from the farm.

“You know you’ll need these.  You can’t have goats without a coffee can,”  he joked.

My grandfather comes from that school of older gentlemen who buys his coffee pre-ground in number 10 sized cans.  They populate the entire farm and there’s usually one in arms reach no matter where you are on the farm.  I’ve seen them used to collect eggs, distribute feed, hold nails, tools and just about anything else that might fit in them.

So here I sit, shaking my can, calling to the girls.

The first day, they ignored me for a good fifteen minutes.  Finally, Honey the three legged alpha, could stand it no more and came up to see what I was carrying on about.  Harriet would have nothing to do with me.  Once Honey realized I had food she warily ate from my hand.  Any shift of my foot or move to scratch a mosquito bite had her scampering out of reach.

Really, what did I do to deserve this treatment?

On the second day.  Harriet still had zero interest in Dave.  She could see Honey getting the “good stuff” but wasn’t about to be lulled into any sense of security.  Honey, however, munched contentedly out of my hand, becoming more bold with each bite.  At one point she tried to thrust her head into the can having decided that my manual distribution was much too slow.

Yesterday, Harriet gave in.  She could stand no more to watch Honey take full advantage of yet another day of afternoon treats.  She came up, within my reach and nibbled corn and sweet feed out of my hand.  Honey became down right comfortable.  She and Harriet would both eat from my hand at the same time, but Honey would position herself for premium access even to the point of invading my personal space.

I still don’t know what this says of their intelligence.  I expect Granny would want me to be kind, to see their greater natures and to realize they’ve been playing me all along.  My own ego just might point out that they’re just mobile stomachs with advanced pain and discomfort detectors.  I suspect Granny is more right.

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Dave’s Guide to the Superior Shave

I really did miss shaving.

I know I just lost most of you right there. Given the popularity of the neo-70s hipster beards, shaving, amongst men, is on the wane. But this past week as I played Wooly Willy with my face and began carving away six weeks of follicle growth, I was reunited with my manly ritual and reminded just how satisfying a good shave can be.

It is my opinion that the reason most men don’t like to shave is that they don’t know how to do it right. To this end I humbly offer, Dave’s Guide to the Superior Shave.

With a little effort in your Google search engine you can find many a good guide to shaving. I’m certainly not the first nor the last to weigh in on this noble subject, but I have two cents to share on shaving and it’s here I’d like to share them.

First of all, I’d like to remind you that shaving is as old as civilization itself. Romans shaved their faces. The Chinese shaved their foreheads. The artful removing of facial hair is indicative of a man capable of self examination. Shaving, done right, takes a little time and at its best requires a mirror, setting the ideal opportunity for self study and, pardon the pun, reflection.

The grooming industry for the modern male has made shaving quite ridiculous and unnecessarily expensive. The shaving aisle at your local drugstore is crammed with razors made with space age technology and cans of foams and gels and goos touting all manner of competing superiority.

Shaving should be simple, a mirror, a razor, warm water, and soap. A towel is nice and for the occasional rushed shave I have found an alum block to be handy. A good aftershave can also be helpful, especially if you use your lady’s favorite scent.

I am by no means a Luddite, but I am a bit anachronistic and often find older technologies to be superior to the modern. Modern technologies are most often driven by convenience, while those of earlier days were based more on effectiveness. Many times these two values do not quite meet. The most convenient method is rarely the most effective and the most effective invariably requires a bit of effort. So it is with shaving.

To be precise, what most men do with their faces in the morning is referred to as a wet shave. A very important distinction, especially when considering the alternative irritation of a dry shave. The key component of this then is water and it’s effective delivery. I prefer to shave in the bathroom. The convenience of water, a mirror and a basin all in one place makes it almost a foregone conclusion. I fill the basin with warm, almost hot clean water and then splash said water, liberally over my face. If I have been slack in my shaving habits and allowed for the development of a few days growth, I soak a wash cloth in the water and hold that on my beard for a few minutes. The hot water serves to soften the bristles of your beard and makes for a much more comfortable shave. In terms of shaving creams, convenience has really let the modern man down. Nothing can compare to a well made shaving soap applied with a badger bristle brush.

Why specifically badger? God and nature have seen fit to make the badger’s hair especially water absorbent. This makes for an excellent shaving brush as it creates another opportunity to deliver warm moisture to your beard keeping it soft.

The initial cost of a good shaving kit, soap, brush and razor, may seem off putting at first. But these are mere initial costs and you will find that the maintenance of these items much cheaper than the repeated purchase of their disposable counterparts. A good bar of shaving soap may put you back twelve or fifteen dollars, but I can attest the last bar I purchased was well over eighteen months ago and is only half way gone.

Dip the end of your badger brush into the warm water and then shake off the excess water. The key to developing a rich lather with your shaving soap is to not get the brush too wet. This is why we took the extra steps of moistening the face beforehand, too much water on the brush makes for a very sloppy lather. Rub the brush in circles over the surface of your shaving soap until a thick lather is formed. Then take the brush to your beard and apply the lather in a circular motion as well. The goal is to lift and suspend your whiskers in the lather. The razor can do it’s job more effectively if the hairs are perpendicular to the surface of your face.

Now that you have lathered your beard it’s time to approach your razor. As you might guess I am not a fan of the modern multi-bladed razors that populate the market. My beard is thick and the multiple blades just clog up and render the razor useless. In fact for the gym and travel purposes I keep single bladed disposables on hand and find them far cheaper and superior to the Mach whatevers.

My razor of choice is my father’s safety razor from the sixties. As a child, playing at shaving at his side on a Saturday or Sunday morning, this was the razor he’d give me. Fully made of metal, there’s a ferrule on the bottom of the handle that you unscrew which opens the top of the razor and allows for double edged blade to be dropped into place, due to this function these razors are sometimes called “drop blade razors.” When I was little he’d give me this razor, sans a blade, and I’d use it to remove Barbasol foam and imaginary whiskers from my face. Today, I use that very same razor. Replacement blades are still available. I buy my blades online either through Amazon or other specialty shops. Currently I’m enjoying a Japanese blade called Feather. Samantha usually buys me a few packs of blades for Christmas and that’s more than enough to get me through the year.

With your beard fully lathered it’s now time to begin shaving. The great thing about my safety razor is that it’s relatively heavy. I don’t apply any pressure and just allow the heft of the razor to do it’s job. Start by shaving with the grain of your beard. Also shave the softer areas first and allow the lather and moisture to further soften the more coarse hairs of the chin and sideburns. My shave usually follows this order of operations; cheeks, the down growth under my jawline, then the up growth of my throat. I return to my sideburns and finish with my chin. Currently, I’m rocking a most impressive moustache and so there’s nothing to be done to the upper lip other than marvel at the one of the joys of being a man. Before I became aware of just how great a moustache could be (thanks, Dad) I would finish the shave with my upper lip.

It is at this point that convenience and effectiveness sharply diverge. If this is a week day and I’m preparing for work this is a sufficient shave. However, if it’s the weekend, date night or the Monday after a few days growth, there’s more to be done. With my beard, one pass is a decent shave, but if I’m really looking to impress, nothing beats the three pass shave. By taking the time, to rinse, lather and shave three times, each time changing the direction of the razor’s pass; with, across and then against the grain. I achieve the perfect shave. My cheeks are as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom and Samantha can’t help but coo and fuss over how great my face feels, which is worth every second of additional groom time.

After I’ve finished with the razor I rinse with cool water, to re-tighten the pores, and apply a light splash of Bay Rum aftershave. Your scent is, of course, subject to your own personal tastes, but if you have a lady, stick with what she likes. Once it’s applied you won’t be able to smell it any more anyway.

A note on nicks and cuts, all veterans of shaving understand that these do occasionally happen. I find the alum block to be the best way to stop the flow of blood. Tissue paper looks stupid. Styptic pens hurt like the dickens, but the alum block stops the bleeding with a minimum of discomfort.

So there you have it, the superior shave. A ritual of manhood that when properly done helps raise our higher natures, brings our more civilized natures to the forefront, and hopefully just might help ignite your woman’s wilder nature. Couldn’t hurt, right?

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One Step Closer

Friday evening Rob came over.  We had made plans previously to fix the collar issues I was having with the goats.

It all came down to this.  They weren’t working.

When we first fitted Honey and Harriet with their collars we had to make modifications.  Goat necks are not the same as dog necks.  Dogs have relatively round necks while a goat’s is much more oval in shape.  This meant that a) the collars were too big and had to be twisted on themselves to take up the slack and b) the electrodes did not make sufficient contact to administer the appropriate “correction.”

With the huglekultur beds finished and spring rapidly on the wane we are ready to plant.  Our only hold up being the necessity of keeping hungry goats at bay.

Rob showed up around six and we promptly commenced the manly ritual of a pre-getting-down-to-business beer.  Once properly fortified with a Guinness (for strength) we gathered our tools and set to work.

The tools in this instance being new collars, fresh batteries for the collars, hoof trimming shears and my newly acquired shepherd’s crook.  I bought the crook from Tractor Supply Company a few weeks ago thinking it would be handy in wrangling the goats.  In truth I did snag Harriet at one point but she quickly twisted free.  For the most part the crook was a hindrance.  A long cane with a hook on one end is not the ideal tool to be carrying through thickets.  It tends to slow you up.

I should remind you that the goats are not overly fond of me.  My windows of opportunity are far too short to set aside any quality time with the goats and so my time with them is largely practical.  I’m the big hairy ape that chases them into corners, grabs them by the horns and subjects them to such horrors as hoof trimming and battery replacement on their collars.

Everyone else who goes into the back either leaves them alone or just brings treats.  I’m such a bastard.

Were it not for Rob I’d probably still be chasing them.

Using sweet feed for bait we first nabbed Honey (she’s the easy catch only having three legs.)  I trimmed her hooves while Robe re-outfitted her with a new collar.  This new design has the electrodes spaced wider so that they make better contact and will administer the “correction” in such a manner the she will actually notice it.  It’s also smaller, so it’s a better fit and has a vinyl outer covering, co it will last longer.

We then spent close to an hour chasing Harriet all around the Back Forty.  Through brush and bramble, from one near nab to the next, this wily ruminant made fools of us.  All the while I could hear Grandpa laughing, “Get that goat, boy!”

I have this ongoing debate with myself over just how smart goats in general, and these two goats in particular, really are.  Having lived with and around animals all my life I have no doubt to their own brand of intelligence.  I have seen pigeons, either smart enough or too lazy to fly a block, drop down from the 22nd Street viaduct and ride the train down to 21st street and then fly up into the rafters.  I’ve seen my cats willingly and purposefully taunt my dog.

But these goats, they’re something else.  Once caught they bleat and cry and wail, but stick their food bowl in front of them and all seems forgotten.  They’ll run through the brush knowing I’m slowed in my ability to follow only to circle back around to the feed bowl where they’re more likely to be caught.  Intelligent or not, Harriet made fools of Rob and I for almost an hour.

Finally, Rob caught her and we were able to change out her collar and trim her hooves.  To hear her carry on you’d think we were trying to eat her on the spot.  Again once we set the food bowl in front of her nose, she shut up and started eating again.

I’m not totally in love with the hoof trimming shears I bought.  They were one of two styles TSC offered and appeared to be the sturdier of the two.  They do the job but they’re not as sharp as I’d like and require a good bit of hand strength.  The first time I trimmed their hooves I used a pair of Chinese kitchen shears.  They’re easy to sharpen and performed beautifully.  They’re cheap enough at the Asian market that I might just buy a pair and dedicate them to this use.

After our labors Rob and I celebrated with another well earned beer.  Samantha was about to grill burgers and the weekend was about to commence.  A good time was had by all, even the goats now that we were done abusing them, and we’re one step closer to planting.

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Stick to the Plan: Part II

On Saturday I had planned a full court press.

Now that I had the tools in place, once I finished my morning at the gym (the 8 am boot camp, my Tai Chi class and a 10:30 massage client) I was going to go home and tackle the yard.

Bronwyn comes in with Samantha every Saturday morning. Samantha attends my boot camp for her third workout of the week and Bronwyn cleans the gym. I’ve mentioned before her obsession with horses and this job is part of her efforts to raise money for that future steed.

After our gym work, the Beebs (as we like to call her), and I stopped at Hamburger Heaven for our lunch. A burger sans the bun and an order of onion rings for each of us. Despite my best efforts I could not convince her that the staff of Hamburger heaven had given her too many onion rings. Hmpf.

Once home I changed and set to work. First the riding mower to cover the front and those areas of the back not too steep to be gotten. Then the new push mower, adequate for the job but in possession of far too much plastic for my tastes. I had to make three passes in three height settings to get an area that had not been mowed in over three weeks. Once the mowing was finished it was weedeater time and I trimmed all the fence edges and the drainage ditch.

Grandpa always made it clear that it was a man’s responsibility to keep his ditches clean. To rely on the city or county was to invite problems, mainly in water flow, that would affect you or your neighbors. I’ve always looked on this as a discipline in responsibility and have done my best to live up to my grandfather’s example.

Once I finished our yard I loaded up the tractor, the push mower and my weedeater in the truck. The ramps performed their function admirably and I was able to drive the tractor into the bed of the truck with relative ease. (Backing out, however, requires more solid nerves and a great deal of faith.)

Samantha, Bronwyn and I headed to the girl’s school and under the cover of Saturday afternoon set about mowing the grounds. Samantha teaches at and my youngest two daughters, Bronwyn and Thalia, attend the Alabama Waldorf School. My oldest daughter, Madeline, is a graduate and now attends Shades Valley IB (and yes, that is a note of pride you hear.)

Alabama Waldorf School rents space from the Community School which is a part of Birmingham Public Schools which actually rents from another private school, Altamont. The Community School, through the City, provides building custodial services which apparently do not extend to maintenance of the grounds.

These needs are usually met through parent volunteers on regularly scheduled “Playground Work Days.” These are held on Saturdays throughout the school year and since I work at the gym those days can’t make it.

There had been some discussion (of which I was not a part) about providing my riding mower for the next Playground Work Day. It’s at this point that we get to discuss how Dave is maybe not as altruistic as he at first seems.

See, the grass desperately needed cutting. Ours is a small school with a small budget and unkempt grounds reflect poorly on first impressions. Remember what I’ve said before about borrowing tools? How the first rule of borrowing is not to break? I wasn’t willing to risk it. It’s just to awkward.

“Um, Dave, your mower stopped working.”

“What do you mean? It was fine when it left the house.”

“I dunno, I was just using it and it, well, stopped.”

See? Now there’s bad feeling. I’m out a major tool that somebody needs to replace and usually that somebody ends up being me. I mean who wants to buy somebody else a $2,000 tractor?

It’s just easier if I do it myself. I had intended to remain anonymous on this point. Again it just seems easier to blame it on the Easter Bunny, but I got outed, so there you have it. Yes, I did it and I’m not the least bit sorry about it either.

What I am sorry about is Sunday.

Remember the title? Stick to the plan?

Well here was the plan: Work like hell on Saturday and take Sunday off.

Samantha was concerned about how to get the girls outside on Sunday and for us to enjoy a day together without TV or computer screens.

With all the suave assurance of Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver, I suggested that perhaps Samantha and I just spend the day barbecuing and basking in the warmth and glow of our newly shorn front lawn. The girls would naturally gravitate toward us. All would be happy and we’d avoid any wailing or gnashing of teeth. That was the plan.

I did not, however, stick to it.

Sunday morning I woke and began thinking of my upcoming trip to St. Petersburg in May. The one I had promised to front an airline ticket to a business partner for. The one I had promised to take Samantha along with me. The one for which I hadn’t bought tickets, secured a car or gotten a room. So, Sunday morning before, during and after breakfast I was securing travel plans and making reservations.

Without even realizing it I had slipped into full on work mode.

Next my thoughts turned to the ten sugar snap pea starts that my friend, Mwenja, had left me. They needed to go into the ground. And peas can’t go into the ground without some sort of trellis.

Now, I’m really working.

I’m cutting bamboo from the absentee neighbor’s lot. I’m re-teaching myself how to tie a clove hitch. I’m figuring out how to weave a halfway decent trellis net.

I’m trying to cajole Bronwyn, my best helper, into assisting, her hand skills are amazing for a twelve year old, but she senses without even knowing full well the plan, that I have abandoned it and she’s having none of it.

I’m frustrated, growling like a bear, and grousing that no one appreciates how much work I do or seems willing to even try to match my effort. In short, I am being an asshole.

The kids do end up spending the better part of day outside of their own free will and I do get some help from Bronwyn, but my mood is not where it should be. Somewhere I know I’ve abandoned the plan and I’m not happy with myself, but Ego is in full control and we are accomplishing things!

Once the trellis was complete and Samantha and I picked it up, one of the bamboo poles broke in the middle. I was NOT about to start all over. Bamboo is hollow. I whittled a stick of poplar to fit inside the broken section and then split another bamboo section to use the halves as splints. I put the whole thing together and bound it with electrical tape. It’s not exactly pretty but it does the job and right now that’s okay.

By dinner I realized that I was wiped. I showered after and managed a few hands of “Who Knew?” with Samantha and the kids. Later, in bed, I turned to Samantha and realized that I had just wasted an entire day.

Was it all really necessary? How was the day I had better than the day I planned? Why hadn’t I stuck to the plan? Do I really need to do everything, right now?

The day itself was not a total waste, not if I take these questions to heart, make sure I learn their lessons, share those lessons and maybe try to repeat it too often.

I hope you had a happy Easter.

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Filed under organic gardening, organic produce, self reliance, sustainability, urban farming, urban gardening