Catching Up

IMG_0702The pears have just started to ripen, something we always look forward to. Alas, it hasn’t been a good year for pears. Normally we end up filling five gallon buckets with the things and giving them away to anyone we can talk into taking them, but this year we’re going to be lucky if we get more than a few dozen. The weather this spring when it was putting out flowers was not very good. We were getting cold days, lots of rain, and not a single bee in sight. I think it was the lack of pollinators that caused the drastic cutback in production this year.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. When that tree is in full production we have far, far more pears than we can deal with. We give away all that we can, eat what we can, and, alas, the rest end up as compost.

This particular type of pear doesn’t hold up well for canning or freezing. They are best eaten fresh, just after they turn ripe. And dear lord, they’re good. Sweet as candy, juicy, with a lush, melt in your mouth texture. The ones in the basket are still too green to eat but they’ll start to turn yellow in a few days.

One problem we have is trying to pick them before they fall. Wait a just a bit too long, and they’ll hit the ground and because of the soft texture they turn to mush from the fall. So you have to try to pick them just before they turn.

Now I love peppers, but I prefer the milder ones. Poblano peppers are probably my favorite. Just a touch of warmth to them, with a rich, slightly smokey flavor. I’m fond of jalapeno  peppers as well, but that’s about the upper limit of my tolerance for heat.

IMG_0703So how we ended up with these guys, I have no idea. The little red ones… Dear lord, they’re hot! When they were green they were tolerable and had a fairly good flavor, but now? Just cutting one in half sends out fumes that make the eyes water, and those little yellow ones are almost as bad. MrsGF, it seems, didn’t label the seedlings with great accuracy last spring, if at all, so we had no idea what we were going to get until they started to produce fruit.

The yellow ones are even worse. Just cutting one up makes my eyes start to water and my nose burn. I cut one of the yellows up last night and talked EldestSon and YoungestSon into trying them, after I took a bite myself to prove they weren’t all that bad. Apparently my tolerance for hot peppers has increased over the years because they both thought they were pretty bad. Not to the point where you’d run to the fridge for the milk, but darn close.

Addendum: I just found out that the yellow one is apparently a golden habanero pepper with a heat rating of up to 350,000 scovilles. Wow… Jalapeno is only about 5,000 scovilles. Yeah, that’s a bit hot.

I need to make sure we only put in poblano and sweet bell next year, and maybe one or two jalapeno.

MrsGF pointed out that it seems that the only veggies that grow really, really well here is the stuff we don’t really like, like the super hot peppers, eggplant and the like, while the stuff we do like a lot, gets eaten by bugs or doesn’t grow well. That’s an exaggeration of course, but some years it does seem that way.

IMG_0689We’re very fortunate in that the town has an outstanding composting program that it’s been running for years now. We’re even more luck in that we’re just a couple of blocks away from the compost site. The guys have been busy sifting the newest batch of compost and it’s ready to go. After cleaning out the garden spaces I’ll be making regular runs down here with my little trailer to take advantage of it.

IMG_0686Last weekend I proved to myself that I’m still a 6 year old at heart because seeing this thing in the parking lot at the grocery store made me grin like an idiot. Yes, the Weinermobile. Oscar Meyer has been running these for a lot of years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of them close up.

I should point out I’m not a big fan of Oscar Meyer products. And the free hotdog I snagged reminded me why. A pale pink tube that tasted mainly of salt and artificial smoke flavorings and one of the most unappetizing colors I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.

IMG_0697Then we woke up to the sound of our street being reduced to gravel. Literally. Big road grinder moving slowly back and forth in front of the house grinding the pavement and everything else in it’s path into dust as they prep for repaving a section of the street. Loud? Oh dear… Sounded and felt like a 747 was landing in the backyard. They’ve been prepping for this for weeks now, replacing sections of curb and gutter and driveway aprons.

IMG_0699We’re hoping they get this done soon. Right now the road in front of the house is pretty much nothing but dust. We get a lot of big trucks through here and there is a patina of dust over everything. It’s getting more than a little annoying.

Let’s end this with some roadside flowers. Clumps of these have popped up along the backroads around here all over now and they make a brilliant display when you stumble over them.

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Brrr. And Stuff

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 7.29.39 AMWith early morning temperatures hovering in the mid 40s around here, the dawn bike rides have pretty much come to an end for the season. I have to put it off until close to mid day when the temps get up to around 60 or so. This upcoming week is supposed to be warmer, but I have to face the fact that the bike season is going to be over in the very near future and it’s going to be back to walking and jogging to try to get exercise, so I’d better check out the treadmill and make sure it’s in good shape. A lot of streets here in town don’t have sidewalks at all, so if you’re a walker/runner you’re either forced out onto the slush and salt covered streets and risking cracking your head open when you slide on the ice, or you look for indoor alternatives.

IMG_0053Despite the cold mornings, it’s still amazingly beautiful out there. I’m determined to enjoy it while I can because it isn’t going to be long before it looks like this over there on the right.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of those weird people who actually likes winter. But even I have to admit that as I get older my tolerance for cold has diminished.

I keep telling myself every winter that I really need to get outside with the camera because snowscapes and winter scenes can be amazingly beautiful. But then there’s the whole thing with the feet turning into blocks of ice, fingers going numb, the camera’s focus freezing up and all that.

Equifax debacle – By this time you’ll have heard about the Equifax data theft incident where apparently everyone’s SS number, name, address, date of birth and other identifying information was stolen. Basically if you’ve ever had a credit card, applied for a loan, etc., your data was in the system and it got stolen. Mine did, my kids’ data, my wife’s… Pretty much everyone I know who’s checked was hit.

So if you’re wondering if you’re one of us, you almost certainly are. I won’t give you the web address to go to check at Equifax. That info is available all over. Just make sure you go to the right one and not some phishing site. You can be sure that in the coming days the scammers will be trying to take advantage of the situation with phony credit monitoring services and other BS. So be careful out there.

If you’ve been hit, what do you do? Do you sign up for the one year of free monitoring the company is offering? How much good it will do is questionable, but it might give an early alert if something starts to happen. The thing is, the company is only offering you one year of free monitoring, but that data that was stolen is going to be out there forever. Just because it wasn’t used in one year doesn’t mean it won’t be used next year, or the year after.

You should seriously consider freezing your credit entirely. Yes, you can do that. If nothing else, that should prevent scammers from using your identity to open up new lines of credit, take out loans in your name, etc. You have to do it with all three credit bureaus, and there are fees involved. That depends on the state you live in.

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do very often, recommend someplace to go to for advice and information. That’s Clark Howard’s website .  Clark Howard’s website will give you information on what to do, how to monitor your credit for fraud, and how to freeze your credit.

I’ve heard of several incidents where the Equifax site is giving conflicting information about whether or not a person has been hit by this. One person checked on the Equifax site and was told it “appeared” they were not. She checked again a few hours later, and was then told she was. She went through the process again a short time later, and was told again that she wasn’t. In any case, Equifax isn’t giving any firm answer. There are a lot of “might”, “maybe”, “apparently” and other weasel words being used with no actual confirmation.

There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered over this. Like how did this happen? Why wasn’t this data heavily encrypted so even if it was stolen it would be useless? And why did two or more corporate officers sell their stock in the company after the breech was discovered but before the data theft was made public?

I can’t leave you all depressed and worried, so here’s a flower to cheer you up.

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Let’s Talk About Cow Sh#t!

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Manure spreaders only looked this good for about 30 seconds after they were delivered to the farm.

What sparked this piece is that the DNR here in the state is being sued by a couple of different dairy organizations over the new rules it and the state legislature instituted to try to deal with the massive problem of pollution caused by runoff from the manure generated by the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, or mega-farms as they’re generically called).

Manure disposal is a huge problem here in Wisconsin and in other states where there are any kind of large scale cattle operations. Forty or fifty years ago when farms here in the state were still relatively small, it wasn’t a big deal. But now, when we have farms with 3,000, 5,000 or even more cattle concentrated on a single farm, confined to a small area, it has become problem which is literally toxic. Just one of these farms generates as much sewage as a small city. And dealing with that much manure safely is not easy.

And we’ve learned that the hard way. Private wells all over the state are contaminated by the runoff. Some have been hit hard. Kewaunee County has at least 30% of it’s private wells contaminated. Some estimates I’ve read put that number as high as 45%. Some organizations and schools have been giving out bottled water to local families with contaminated wells. We have massive “dead zones” in the Bay of Green Bay where fish can’t live any more because of problems associated with runoff from farm fields. We have toxic algae blooms in lakes. We have… Well, you get the idea.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 6.43.38 AMOnce upon a time we dealt with cow manure like this. The cows grazed out in the field, they’d drop a pile here and there, and move on and nature dealt with it. Insects laid eggs in it, animals foraging for food scattered it about looking for the insects, rain would gradually wash it away, and over the course of many days the pile would gradually erode away, absorbed into the soil where the nutrients would be taken up by the surrounding plants.

But you can’t graze 5,000 cows. And since a single mega-farm can produce as much Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 6.49.37 AMsewage as a city, disposing of manure becomes a serious problem and you end up with this kind of thing over there on the right; massive manure pumping operations dumping tens of thousands of gallons of liquified manure across fields all over the countryside.

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 6.45.24 AMOr imagine you live in the country and you wake up one morning and find huge tanker trucks full to the brim with reeking sludge, leaking all over the road, parked right across from your house like my friend did a couple of years ago. They woke up that morning to the sound of heavy trucks, went outside, and found this going on right in front of their house.

Each one of those trucks has about 8,000 gallons of manure in them. And they were rolling in like that all day long, dumping the stuff into a portable holding tank set up in the field while massive pumps pushed it down hoses to the tractors in the field that were spraying it. The stink was so bad they and everyone else within a quarter mile had to evacuate their homes.

There are existing rules and laws controlling the disposal of manure, but by and large those are pushed to the limits, exceeded, even blatantly ignored.

I have to admit that the situation has gotten better, at least around here. But that’s because I wasn’t kidding about people having to evacuate their homes during one of these big pumping operations. Threats of lawsuits and warnings from local governments to take action forced the worst of this nonsense to be curtailed, but it still gets pretty bad around here sometimes.

It wasn’t until about 40% of the drinking water wells were contaminated in some parts of the state like Kewaunee County that the DNR was forced to act, and then only after the situation had gotten so bad that communities were starting to give out bottled water. The DNR announced stricter regulations and enforcement, with backing from the state legislature, and it looked like they might be finally getting a handle on this.

But no. Now the lawsuits have started. At least two ag business associations have filed suit against the state claiming the DNR doesn’t have the legal authority authority to make the new rules. And because the state legislature severely curtailed the authority of the agency over the past few years, they are quite possibly right. Without intervention by the state legislature, the DNR probably doesn’t really have the legal authority to put the new regulations in place.

 

Baby Turtles!!!

We got baby turtles!!!

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Found these little guys sunning themselves on the road. Not a good idea. I moved them off the road and I hope they didn’t try to get back or they’d end up splattered.

I was grinning like an idiot. I’d never seen baby turtles in real life before so finding these little guys really made it a special day.

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.

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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…

 

Frogs! Photos! And Stuff!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Along The Roadside

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It was a glorious morning Wednesday when I went out not long after dawn. One of those glorious mornings when the rising sun seemed to be making everything glow.

My attempts at using the panoramic mode of the iPhone7’s camera have never been very good. The mode works, yes, but the results never seem to be that good, to be honest. The image of that meadow up there just doesn’t look that good. So let’s look at these instead: click on one of the images to start the full size slide show.

These, on the other hand, turned out pretty good, I thought. I have to admit that the iPhone 7 camera works pretty well under some conditions.