Glowing, Golden Morning

IMG_0647Yesterday I was up early, before dawn, and as the sun was coming up I was out on the bike. It was one of those astonishing, breathtaking dawns that make me just stop and look and wonder if somehow I’ve been transported to another world, another realm of existence where everything is bathed in liquid gold, the light filtered and softened by the haze. Everything — everything just glowed.

IMG_0659

It ended up taking me almost twice as long to do a 12 mile ride as it usually does because I kept stopping and just — just looking.

Most of the photos I tried taking didn’t turn out very well because I was using the cell phone and I have no control over shutter speed, aperture, etc. But these two turned out pretty well.

Another thing that irritated me was that about 10 seconds after I took the second photo up there, after I put the phone back in my pocket, an enormous bald eagle came gliding over right through the middle of that scene about 20 feet off the ground, that brilliant white head glowing gold, wings stretched wide, gliding silently. Good lord those birds are huge.

And people wonder why I took up biking and riding around the “boring” countryside…

 

Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMArla boss Peder Tuborgh sees a shake-up, if the rally continues which has, for the first time, made dairy fats more expensive than protein Source: Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

I haven’t been talking much about farming lately because not much has really been going on over the last month or so. But butter — good grief. The butter market has gone goofy.

Wholesale butter prices are flirting with record prices in some markets, even surpassing record levels in some areas. Retail prices have been creeping up. Demand for butter has been just about the only thing that’s been keeping farmgate fluid milk prices at a reasonably decent level over the last few months. Around here prices for generic butter is pushing close to $4/lb. while prices for the “premium” brands is in the $4.50 range, with some of the premium brands pushing $5/lb. retail prices. The exception is KwikTrip, which is selling their house brand for $2.99 in their convenience stores around here.

I’m always fascinated by how the public’s attitude towards butter and dairy fat in general has changed over the last few years. Thanks mostly to the marketing claims made by margarine manufacturers, and with little or no actual scientific studies backing those claims, butter and dairy fat was being blamed for everything from obesity, to heart disease, to stroke, to I don’t know what all else, while margarine was being pushed as a “healthy” alternative, when the opposite was true.

I always hated margarine. I hated it’s texture and flavor, I hated how it melted or didn’t melt, hated how it worked when used in cooking. But then I’m weird that way. I have one of those hypersensitive senses of smell and taste, especially smell. I’ve a bit of a reputation as being a picky eater, but I’m really not. The problem is that I smell and taste things most people seem to be unaware of.

But let’s get back to butter…

The item up there from AgriMoney reminded me of the Great Butter War going on here in Wisconsin right now. The picture of Kerry Gold butter up there isn’t just some random butter image, it’s appropriate because at the moment Kerry Gold is banned from sale in Wisconsin along with a lot of other brands of butter.

Before butter can be sold in the state, it has to be graded on taste, texture and color through some state accepted system, by state accepted inspectors. This means that if a butter maker can’t or won’t spend the time and money to put their product through the state’s inspection system because of cost or whatever reason, it can’t be sold in the state, even though it meets all other accepted federal standards.

Consumers didn’t know about this until one day Kerry Gold butter abruptly vanished from the shelves of the grocery stores here in the state not too long ago. It isn’t that the law was just passed, it’s been on the books since the 1950s. It seems that a lot of grocers just didn’t know about the law until fairly recently.

Wisconsin has a long history of laws about butter. It is still illegal for restaurants to substitute margarine for butter without the customer specifically requesting it. It is illegal to serve margarine in state prisons, schools and hospitals except for health reasons. And until the late 1950s it was illegal to sell margarine in the state that had been dyed yellow. Margarine is actually a rather sickly looking whitish color and is dyed yellow to make it look appealing. Margarine makers used to include a yellow dye packet with the margarine sold in Wisconsin so the consumer could dye it themselves.

I should point out that Wisconsin’s butter grading law has nothing to do with food safety. The grading system the state insists on is made up of largely arbitrary standards for taste, texture, smell and appearance. Kerry Gold and the other butters banned from sale in the state meet all USDA and other federal standards for quality. They just haven’t been subjected to these arbitrary tests.

Well, the whole thing is going through the legal system now, and I suspect that sooner or later the Wisconsin requirements will be overturned. But until then you’ll have to order your Kerry Gold online or hop across the border to Illinois or Minnesota to get your fix.

Catching Up With Stuff

I’ve been procrastinating terribly with a lot of projects around here because, well, because summer! I’m sorry, but when the weather is reasonably nice outside I want to be outside doing stuff; puttering in the garden, biking around the back roads, walking

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.54.10 AM

That’s one of the most perfect flowers I’ve ever seen growing out in my backyard. My wife picked up these seeds for almost nothing on sale, just threw them out into one of the gardens, and this is what we ended up with. Wow. That woman can grow anything.

around town, taking pictures of flowers and plants and trees and birds and… Well you get the idea. So indoor projects and hobbies take a backseat to outdoor stuff this time of year. When the temperature starts dipping below freezing and the snow begins to fly, that’s the time to work on those indoor projects. Maybe.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.24 AMSpeaking of flowers, I really, really wish I’d put in more of these guys. We only have two or three of these and they are absolutely amazing. The brilliant red color, the shape. They just shot up through the white alyssum with that amazing contrasting red. Make note to self to put in more of these next year.

We finally admitted that we planted a lot of stuff way too close together in the vegetable gardens and did some serious weeding out of the pepper plants last weekend. This wasn’t much of a sacrifice because we just pulled out all of the “cherry bomb” hot pepper plants which were just nasty. I suspected they were going to be a bust when I brought one in, cut it in half, and almost immediately my eyes began burning. I like a bit of heat, but these things? I gave one to my neighbor who loves really hot peppers, he took a bite, and about five minutes later put down a half gallon of milk to try to stop the burning.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.55.05 AMSo out they went. And it’s resulted in an almost immediate improvement in the other peppers we had planted in there.

The poblanos and banana peppers began looking much healthier and started to set a lot more fruit as soon as we thinned things out.

I don’t know why we can’t learn this lesson. Every year we end up crowding things too close together in the beds, and at the end of every season we promise ourselves we won’t do it again. But the following spring there we are crowding things in again.

We really like the poblanos (ancho) peppers and the banana peppers. MrsGF and I both think they have far more flavor than the more common sweet bell peppers that are more commonly grown around here. But we did put in a few bell peppers as well and they seem to do be doing pretty good. We were a bit worried about them for a while there. The plants looked good but they were late in putting out blossoms and Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.35 AMsetting fruit, but now they seem to be making up for lost time.

We’d never grown squash here before, and since we love acorn and butternut squash, we put some in just to see what would happen and this is what we ended up with.

That’s only four plants in there, and they’ve taken over that whole garden on the west side of the garage. Loaded with squash now. I don’t know how they grow that fast. The other day I mowed the lawn near there, and the following afternoon there were vines running three feet out onto the grass. How does a plant grow that fast?

Some are just starting to come ripe. We had one of the acorn squash last night. Just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, put some butter and brown sugar in the empty seed cavity and bake until tender. Then just scoop out of the skin and eat.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.53.14 AMThe cucumbers have been disappointing. I’m the only one who eats fresh cucumbers around here, so I only put in two or three plants and that usually gives me enough to satisfy my craving for fresh cukes, plus a few extra to make refrigerator pickles or something. But this year they haven’t been doing all that well. The plants themselves are doing just fine, they’re putting out flowers, but actual cucumbers? Not so much. I think I’ve gotten maybe six cucumbers off three plants so far this year.

MrsGF thinks it’s because we’ve seen so few bees around this summer. I hadn’t noticed it until she mentioned it, but she’s right. Aside from a few bumble bees, I haven’t really seen any. I haven’t seen any honey bees at all. Usually this time of year we have a many different types of bees busily working away at the flowers. I have yet to see a single honey bee here this year. That’s very troubling.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.52.49 AMThen I ran into this yesterday. A single, lone raspberry. We only have a dozen or so raspberry plants tucked away in a corner of the garden behind the garage. I love raspberries but I’m not supposed to eat them because of the seeds. Still, it’s interesting how none of the berries ever seem to make it into the house. They seem to mysteriously vanish before they get in the door. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

The raspberries were done producing fruit long, long ago, so I was surprised to see this lone berry out there when I was puttering in the garden yesterday. I’m surprised the birds didn’t get it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.51.44 AMGetting out of the garden and into the countryside, some people around here are wondering what in the world this stuff is. Fields of this have been popping up around here for the last couple of years now. It sort of looks like badly stunted corn, no more than three or four feet tall. It isn’t corn, though, it’s sorghum, or milo, and it’s being grown for Kaytee, the bird seed company. Their headquarters is in Chilton, about six miles from here. When I was a kid it used to be fairly common. It was grown as cattle feed or to make syrup. Looks like they have a pretty good crop of it this year.

Let’s see — The Old Timers are claiming we’re going to have a really, really nasty winter based on the proverbial “signs”. They’re also claiming winter is going to come early as well.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.52.14 AM

A few maple trees have started to turn color. This is supposed to be a “sign” that we’re going to have a miserable winter. A safe prediction because in Wisconsin we generally always have a miserable winter.

The “signs” — ah, yes, the signs… I’m told the Old Timers can predict the weather based on the signs provided by nature, if only we were smart enough to interpret them. Things like the width of the band on fuzzy caterpillars, how and when birds flock together in the fall, how fat the bears are (well, not that any of them have ever actually seen a bear because they’re sitting down in the restaurant lingering for hours while nursing a cup of coffee while the waitstaff go crazy because they’re taking up a seat that a paying customer could be sitting in), maple trees starting to turn color early, that kind of thing.

Exactly how these mechanisms work is something they never explain, of course. I would be very interested in knowing how a caterpillar knows we’re going to have three weeks of -20 temperatures in January, or the geese know that we’re going to have a blizzard right after Christmas so they’re flocking up in August so — so they can what, exactly? Why would the geese even care? They’re not here when it happens so a blizzard in January isn’t exactly something they care about in the first place.

Of course the Old Timers don’t care about accuracy. By the time winter comes, anything they said will be long forgotten. Unless, of course, they hit a home run and actually manage to predict something, in which case they will remember and make sure you do too. It’s harmless and they get a kick out of it, so I just sit there and nod.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 5.55.31 AMLet’s see, anything else? Oh, almost forgot. I hit 500 miles on the bike last week. When I turned up with a new bicycle on the back of the truck everyone was thinking yeah, right, he’ll ride it once or twice and it’ll end up hanging on the wall gathering dust until he drops dead and then we’ll have to sell the damned thing at the estate sale. If I keep up my current pace and the weather cooperates I should hit 1,000 before winter shuts things down.

And that is about it.

Catching Up: Eclipse clouds, islands and lavender

The eclipse was a bust for us. We were up on Washington Island on Monday and not only was it very cloudy, it didn’t get all that dark, either. MrsGF caught a glimpse of the very end of it but that was it.

IMG_0608

The image is dark because it was eclipsing out when I took it.

We were on the island to visit a lavender farm up there, Fragrant Isle. If you want to know more about them here’s a link to their website. Interesting place and it is indeed, well fragrant.

My experiences with growing lavender myself have been disappointing. I’ve tried a couple of times with poor results. Wrong type of soil here, I’m told. Of course I didn’t try very hard because I don’t really like it all that much. I don’t think it’s a very good looking plant, and to be perfectly honest, I hate the smell of the stuff. But everyone is like “Ooooo – Lavender!!” so I just stand in IMG_0599the background and try not to inhale and let them enjoy themselves.

Anyway, I like Washington Island. I don’t get up there as often as I’d like because it’s about a two and a half hour drive from here, plus a ferry ride, so about the only time I can get up there is if I have at least an entire day and can get on the road by 6 AM, or can spend the night up there. It’s an interesting place. It has a permanent year around population of about 750 people or so, it’s own K-12 school system, own power plant. Once upon a time there was a lot of farming and commercial fishing going on up there and it was a fairly thriving little community, but commercial fishing has fallen off to almost nothing, and except for a few speciality things, farming has dwindled to nothing up there as well. They mostly survive on tourism now. While it hasn’t turned into the tourism insanity that’s struck (and pretty much ruined) Door County, that kind of thing has been sneaking in over the years.

IMG_0609One of my favorite spots up there is this little lake. It’s well off the beaten track, hard to find, and as a result no one goes there and it’s still unspoiled. And quite! It’s astonishingly quiet. Absolutely no noise at all. No cars, no ATVs, no jet skis, and because it’s well off the flight paths, not even any planes overhead. It’s probably one of the last really quiet spots left in the state, where you can sit for an hour and hear nothing except the frogs, crickets and birds.

IMG_0628.jpg

Been playing around with taking panoramic photos once in a while. This is an over view of a marina north of Sturgeon Bay taken from the top of an abandoned quarry across the road.

Anyway, that’s how I spent “Eclipse Day”. No eclipse sighted, but we did have a very pleasant mini vacation.

 

Assembly Passes $3B Foxconn Incentive Package | Wisconsin Public Radio

The Wisconsin Assembly approved a $3 billion tax break bill for Taiwan-based Foxconn to build a new display panel factory in the state. Source: Assembly Passes $3B Foxconn Incentive Package | Wisconsin Public Radio

I almost never talk about politics here and I try to refrain from headlining a post with a referral to a news story, but this whole Foxconn deal has me rather concerned.

While the governor’s office and the state legislature are collectively wetting themselves over this deal, and are flooding the airwaves with self congratulatory images and stories hyping this whole thing, if you start to look into the deal itself, if you really look into the details of the whole thing, it starts to look more than a little concerning. There is so much misinformation and outright lying going on over this deal it’s hard to keep track of what’s a fact, what’s hyperbole, and what’s an outright lie.

The whole 13,000 jobs claim is, at best, a wild exaggeration, accompanied by rarely mentioned and even deliberately hidden disclaimers of “if this” and “if that” and “maybe”. The actual number of jobs Foxconn is going to develop is 3,000. And even that number is in dispute because if you read the fine print there are a lot of “maybes” and “ifs” buried in that as well.

Then the governor’s office is claiming that the plant will add 22,000 or even as many as 35,000 jobs in associated support industries. That is a number that is wildly exaggerated as well. If the company ramps up to the full 13,000 positions that the politicians are claiming, it might, might result in the creation of 15,000 new jobs in businesses that support the facility.

The state claims that all of this will be watched carefully, largely by the Wisconsin Economic Development Council or WEDC, to make sure they adhere to the terms of the deal. Well, that’s part of the problem. The WEDC has a long history of being utterly incompetent and there are charges of it being actually corrupt because of it’s dealings in the past. It has “lost” loans that it had given out, gave loans and tax deals to people under indictment on criminal charges in other states, given deals to individuals and companies that donated heavily to politicians or to their PACs, given deals to companies that moved jobs out of the state… The list goes on and on. And while the administration claims it’s all better now, recent audits of the organization’s operations indicate that no, it isn’t. It still has serious problems and if it were a department in a business out in the real world, most of them would have been fired for incompetence or even brought up on charges.

The data I’ve been seeing about the actual financial arrangements don’t look very encouraging either. Not only is the state giving the company exemptions from specific taxes, other tax breaks, free infrastructure and dozens of other deals, there are actual cash payments to the company in play as well. If I’m reading this right, not only is the company going to pay virtually no taxes at all, the state is actually going to pay them up to $250 million a year, depending on the number of people it employs.

Then there is the fact that a lot of those jobs aren’t going to be going to people from Wisconsin. The facility is being built down near the Illinois border, and they’re estimating that as many as 40% of the jobs are going to be going to people from across the border.

Then there is the company itself. Let’s face it, this is not a good place to work. They had to put safety nets around their factories in China because employees were committing suicide because of the working conditions. It’s CEO publicly called the company employees animals and said he hired zoo keepers to train his managers in how to deal with the rank and file employees.

This whole deal — I hope it works out, but nothing about this smells right.

Frogs! Photos! And Stuff!

DSCF3870.JPG

Wow, do we have frogs around here this year! I suppose it’s due at least partly to the wet summer we’ve had and the neighbor’s pond, but the number of them around and the variety is surprising. I ran into this little guy sitting on one of the pepper plants the other day. I almost missed seeing him entirely and ran into the house and got the camera before he took off. He’s such a tiny little thing, about the size of the nail on my index finger.

DSCF3863.jpg

I was really lucky to get this shot. This guy has been hanging around down at the pond for a while but he’s very shy and he generally takes off before I can get a photo. He sat still long enough for me to snag this photo of him when I had the big camera and telephoto lens along. Amazing bird. And very large too.

DSCF3857.jpg

I love going down to this pond along the bike trail. It’s an incredibly rich environment that supports fish, birds, small mammals, ducks and, believe it or not, a family of otters. Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 6.26.42 AMWhen I first saw the otters down there I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea they lived in this area. I know that picture is horrible, it’s a blow-up of what was a crappy cell phone picture in the first place. Believe it or not that black blob in the center is an otter.

There were four of them. I’m assuming it was a family, two larger individuals and two somewhat smaller, almost full sized ones. I’ve only seen them twice. They’re extremely shy and dive underwater and take off as soon as they hear any activity up on the trail.

DSCF3856.jpg

In the last 20 years these guys have really made a comeback around here. During the summer you’ll see pairs with chicks wandering around the fields. In the late summer and early fall they start to flock up and there will be flocks of 30 – 50 in the fields. They aren’t exactly shy, either, some of them. They think nothing of browsing for food on people’s lawns. Before about, oh, 1990 or so, I’d never even seen one of these in real life. Now there are so many of them they’re almost a nuisance.

Let’s see, what else?

Well, the poor tomatoes are almost done. The only fruit we’re going to get is whatever has already set before the fungus began to get them. Most of the leaves on the lower half of the plants are already gone and it’s slowly but surly making it’s way up the entire plant. Not much we can do about it at this point. Still, we’re getting some tomatoes, so that’s better than nothing. We’re freezing them as they ripen because we aren’t really getting enough at one time to warrant processing them into sauce or soup. We’ll process them once we have enough to justify firing up the canner.

Eclipse fever – everyone seems to have caught it, sigh. It’s getting ridiculous, really. If I hear one more radio station or TV news show going “OMG DON’T LOOK AT THE ECLIPSE OR YOU’LL GO BLIND!!!” I’m going to scream.

The new computer is up and running and working beautifully. It took a while to get the graphics card replaced after the first one was damaged in shipment. And then there was an issue with the BIOS settings but I got that figured out at last. But it’s working now and I’m really pleased with the results. I built it specifically for gaming and it does it very, very well. It certainly isn’t the fastest out there. The 1050 TI card certainly can’t compare to something like the 1080, but it also cost about 5 times less than the 1080 and is more than good enough to give me a darn good frame rate with the graphics options ramped up all the way on the games I use. For a system that came in well under $1,000 it’s excellent. Only thing I regret is that I didn’t opt for a bigger SSD. I might have to do something about that in the fairly near future.

Traffic problems have somewhat curtailed my biking. They have the main highway closed off while they repair the railroad tracks, and almost no one is following the posted detour. Instead they’re out on the backroads where I usually bike. You ever been on a narrow 2 lane (barely 2 lane) country road while lost semis blow past you at 80 mph? It is not fun. The wind blast almost blew me into the next county. So excursions out into the countryside are going to be temporarily on hold until they get the tracks fixed and the highway opened.

Speaking of the eclipse, am I going to watch it? No. Totality is going to be several hundred miles south of here. We’re going to be around 40% or less up here. Besides, the long range forecast for here is rain and thunderstorms anyway. I also don’t really understand what the fuss is about. It’s a mildly interesting phenomena, but eclipses happen all the time, are well documented, and a lot of the hype is being generated just to get you to buy stuff.