Catching Up

Egads, it’s been a while since I did anything here. When things get a bit busy I’m afraid the first thing to suffer is this blog. So let’s take a look at what’s been going on. It’s going to be a mixed bag this time, covering a variety of different topics. Let’s look at some agricultural stuff first.

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Approximately 3.5 million acres of crops were allegedly damaged by dicamba drift

The dicamba saga continues. Monsanto’s lawsuit against the state of Alabama over its very strict regulations concerning the use of dicamba was thrown out of court. Alabama put very stringent restrictions in place on the use of the product after thousands and thousands of acres of crops were damaged by the herbicide drifting.

The case was thrown out on a legal technicality, it seems. Apparently Alabama has a “sovereign immunity” clause in it’s constitution that prevents it from being sued for things like this. So nothing has really been settled.

There are new federal regulations in place now, new training requirements and other things, so I guess we’ll see if those will be sufficient to keep the herbicide under control.

Trade Wars — Of course that’s the big news right at the moment. With NAFTA negotiations already allegedly falling apart and threatening our economic links with Canada and Mexico, the last thing we needed was for the administration to launch a full blown trade war with, well, with just about everyone. So, of course, that’s exactly what the administration has done. The administration claims that the tariffs will have no effect on the NAFTA negotiations, which is a flat out lie. Of course it will. It already is having an effect.

The negotiations were already contentious, adversarial and often completely unrealistic, and both Canada and Mexico have made comments that they were considering pulling out of NAFTA entirely if the tone of the negotiations didn’t change. The threat of tariffs has made the situation even worse. The Canadians have become far more outspoken now, openly talking about “responsive measures”, i.e. political speak for levying such huge tariffs on US made goods that US manufacturers and agribusinesses will be unable to sell products in Canada. Mexico has been a bit less open about it, saying that the country is “considering all of its options”.

If you look past NAFTA and look at what’s happening elsewhere, the response to the administration’s tariff threats has been even more forceful, with some countries threatening reciprocal tariffs that would make US goods unmarketable. And as for China, well, if we lose China as a market, that’s pretty much going to destroy the ag economy, and decimate a lot of other businesses as well.

Weather — The weather here in Wisconsin used to be pretty reliable. We could depend on blistering hot summers and cold, snowy winters that would rival anything seen in the arctic.

Yeah, well, about that whole snow and cold thing… Although we had a period of intense cold over Christmas and New Years, it’s actually been ridiculously warm here. We had a February with temps at or above freezing more often than not, and some days when it was pushing 50 degrees. In February. In Wisconsin??? WTF? Really? After a couple of days of 45+ temps, it cooled down and we got about an inch of snow, not enough to bother shoveling because it almost immediately melted off again, and now, on March 3, we’re looking at temps back up in the high 40s and low 50s again.

I’ve been hearing rumors now that the snowmobile clubs in the area are seriously considering not bothering to lay out trails any more and may even be closing down because we haven’t had any actual snow for years now. The trails never opened this year. If they opened at all last year it was only for a few days and in limited areas.

And while we still complain about the cold (we love complaining up here in Wisconsin, it’s the state hobby, I think), and we do get some intense cold periods, all things considered it hasn’t really been all that cold either. If you look at the ice data that shows how long the lakes here are ice covered, you’ll find that the number of days, on average, that lakes are ice covered has dwindled by several weeks.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 6.33.57 AMAnd if you look at the growing zone map, where I live about 20 miles south of Green Bay, well, we used to be firmly in Zone 4. We’re now in zone 5 and I keep hearing from people that a lot of years now we’re actually pushing zone 6.

Speaking of gardening — MrsGF and I are getting impatient. We’ve already been talking about expanding the garden area on the south side of the house and trying to figure out an easy way to get rid of sod.

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Bag ‘O Seeds

One of the things that’s been pushing us into impatience is that whenever we go down in the basement we walk past the famous “Bag ‘O Seeds” that eldest son gave us for Christmas. It’s hard to tell how many are in there from this photo. That pile of seed packets is about a foot deep. He literally got us one of everything that the retail chain he works for sells in their garden department.

We really need to sit down and do some planning because there is no way that we are going to be able to plant more than a fraction of the different seeds we have.

I can tell MrsGF has gotten impatient because yesterday she got some pots and some potting soil and put in some daffodil bulbs and I suspect those will end up in front of some of the windows in the house and she was wondering if it was really still too early to start some seeds for the garden.

Amateur Radio Stuff — I’m still playing with the FT8 mode and I can see how it can be addicting. I know that some people have complained that it isn’t really “communicating”. The typical FT8 exchange consists of call signs, grid square, signal strength report, and then bye-bye. FT8 is pretty much completely useless for exchanging any kind of genuinely useful communications. So what’s the point of it?

A lot of AROs are interested in things like trying to contact 100 different countries or more, contacting every state in the US, or things like that. It’s making the contact that is important to them. Actually talking to someone? Not so much. They’re chasing awards or certificates of accomplishment or competing in contests, or doing it just for the personal satisfaction of having done it. For those people, FT8 is great. I worked something like 27 different countries in just a few hours while I’ve been experimenting with it. I’ve worked countries I never thought I’d ever successfully contact. I worked a station in Japan the other day and yesterday I got the Cayman Islands.

The fun thing about FT8 is that you can do all that stuff with very modest equipment. You don’t need transceivers that cost $10,000 and huge amplifiers and ten acres of antennas. You can do this running less power than it takes to run the average light bulb and little more than a wire hanging in a tree for an antenna.

But it does have “issues”, as they say. One of the biggest problems is that it is being crippled by its own success. It’s become so wildly popular that the small parts of the radio frequency spectrum that are recommended for its use are ridiculously overcrowded.

And it’s about to get much, much worse because the wonderfully skilled and creative programmers who developed the WSJT software most people use for FT8 is bring out a “Dxpedition” version of the software that will permit as many as 500 contacts per hour and will transmit up to five signals at the same time.

Now, the developers have stated that this new system is “suitable for use only by Dxpedition stations and those attempting to work them”, and that it should not be used on the normal FT8 bands. But you can be sure there are going to be people who are going to completely ignore that. If we get a significant number of operators running the Dxpedition version of the software in the normal FT8 bands, well, the situation is going to go from merely ridiculous to utterly insane.

I saw a statistic the other day that claimed that more than half of all contacts being made now are done by FT8, and considering the amount of activity I’m seeing I suspect that’s probably correct. I wonder if this is just a fad though and if in a fairly short time FT8 will end up abandoned by everyone except the DX hunters.

Where Has PSK gone? — One of the side effects of the widespread adoption of FT8 is that it seems to have almost completely killed off the use of the PSK mode. PSK was a fairly popular mode of communication. When I first started using PSK I would find dozens of contacts and conversations going on on the PSK sub-bands. But now? I generally fire up FLDIGI a couple of times a day when I have the time and check the PSK bands and, well, I’m seeing nothing. I mean nothing. I haven’t seen a single PSK signal out there in days now. It’s almost as if every PSK user out there immediately jumped ship for the FT8 mode and hasn’t gone back. That’s a bit disappointing because PSK is a great low power, weak signal mode, and is, or can be, as automated as FT8 is. When using PSK64 and properly set up macros, making a contact can be as quick and easy as with FT8. And the big plus is that PSK can be used to actually communicate with people.

There, I think I’ve bored you long enough for this time…


Strange Weather and Stuff

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 4.48.41 AMThe weather has been a bit odd of late. Over the holiday season and for a few days after, it was bitterly cold, with temperatures down in the -20 range. Then we got a warming trend and it was up to 57 here yesterday. This morning at 4:30 when I got up it was 15 degrees. So yeah, the weather has been strange.

We’ve had wild temperature swings like this before, but it’s pretty rare. It usually doesn’t get that cold, that early in the season. We generally don’t see long stretches of frigid temperatures like that until mid-January, not before Christmas. And we usually don’t see a mid-winter thaw like this until, well, mid-winter.

It will be interesting to see what the rest of the season is like. As of right now the predictions are we’re going back to more typical temperatures in the low teens, with a chance for heavy snow on Monday.

So, why am I up at 4:30 in the morning… Can’t sleep again. It’s more than a little frustrating. I don’t know if it’s age, the medication I’m on or what, but for some time now I’ve been going through bouts of insomnia. I’ll sleep for about four hours, then wake up and can’t get back to sleep again.

There doesn’t seem to be any kind of relationship between the insomnia and any kind of specific behavior or medication or food or anything like that. And it doesn’t happen every night. But it happens often enough that it is very, very annoying, maybe twice a week. It isn’t like I have to worry about going to a job or driving when I’m tired. Being retired does have it’s advantages. But even so, trying to run on about 4 or 5 hours of sleep is a pain in the neck.

Farm Catch Up: What’s going on in Agriculture.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 6.48.45 AMLet’s catch up with what’s been going on in agriculture.

Let’s lead off with this odd little item. So, here’s the scenario: You’ve just survived a hurricane. Your house has been flooded, your whole neighborhood has been destroyed, you’ve lost everything you own, you’re trying to cleanup and rebuild. You desperately need money, building supplies, cleaning supplies, drywall, lumber, shingles, plywood… So you’re sitting there staring at the ruins of your neighborhood and you think, “Wow, what I really need is a big hunk of cheese…”

That is apparently what some people in Wisconsin thought when they shipped 45,000 pounds of cheese to the hurricane ravaged areas of the country. Yep, they thought, what they need isn’t money or building supplies or cleaning supplies or anything else that might actually be, well, useful. What they need is forty five thousand pounds of cheese

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Little known fact: Cows are one of the few animals that can pick their noses with their tongues.

Dairy/Milk: All things considered, the dairy business wasn’t totally horrible this year. Not great, but not terrible. The average price for Class III milk (the kind that’s used for cheese and butter) for the year was in the $16.10 to $16.20 range for 2017. That’s considerably better than 2016 when the average price was about $1.60 lower. The price seems to have been propped up largely by demand for butter and cheese, which has remained fairly strong through a large part of the year.

But the ever present specter of over production is once more haunting the dairy business. Production in the US was up around 2.5% over the year, and production has been going up in other dairy producing areas of the world as well, and the market is showing signs of strain. Butter prices on the Chicago Mercantile have dropped from 2.65 to around 2.21, butterfat exports have fallen, cheese prices have dropped about 10 cents and cheese in storage has increased almost 6% over last year.

Mexico is one of the biggest purchasers of dairy products from the US, but it is actively seeking other sources of supply because, well, would you be comfortable dealing with a merchant who called you a drug-running murdering rapist? It has cut it’s purchases of nonfat dry milk from the US by around 20%, and is getting it from Canada and the EU.

Throwing a monkey wrench into the works is NAFTA, which the administration is supposedly renegotiating. Does anyone except me remember that the Ag Secretary, Perdue, was proudly claiming that the administration was going to renegotiate NAFTA in just three weeks back in early May? Sigh… I try to keep politics out of this, but it’s hard sometimes.

The end result of all of this is that the future for the dairy industry doesn’t look very good. Between over production, declining demand, declining exports, well, right now it looks like 2018 is going to see milk prices dropping by at least $1/cwt, down to the $15.50 range, and they could even get lower than that.

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This was a pasture before the pigs got into it

Wild Pig Population On The Rise: Wild pigs are a huge problem. It’s estimated that there are 6 to 11 million wild pigs running around out there, and according to the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program they are responsible for up to $1.5 billion in damage every year.

They’re trying to get approval for a poison based on sodium nitrate called “Hoggone” which would apparently be placed out in the field in “a species-specific feeder”.

The problem with that kind of thing is, of course, that other animals other than that target species often consume the poison because these “species-specific feeders” often aren’t all that specific. Then there are problems with poison residue left in the carcass being consumed by predators and scavengers. And if you read the article tagged up there you’ll see that some of the experts don’t think poisoning is going to do all that much to cut down the size of the population.

Can you hunt them? Hell yes. You need to check the regulations in your own area for specifics, but most states strongly encourage hunters to take wild pigs, and have few restrictions and no bag limits, and no restrictions on size, gender, no specific season.

Can you eat ’em? Ah, well… Here’s where I get a bit nervous. A lot of DNRs encourage people to eat them. But that’s because they hope you’ll go out and shoot a lot of the buggers. I know people who wax poetic about the joys of eating wild pig. Me? I wouldn’t touch one. They carry a lot of diseases, many of which are infectious to humans and pretty nasty. A lot of them are infested with parasites… No, I wouldn’t eat one.

Cranberry Glut: We are growing way, way too many cranberries. We have so many cranberries already in storage that even if we’d lost the entire 2017 crop, we still would have had a surplus.

The Cranberry Marketing Committee is trying to get USDA to issue a marketing order that would require cranberry growers to produce 25% less cranberries than market demand.

The problem with cranberries is that except for the holiday season, there is really little demand for them. Despite efforts by marketing companies to boost demand, consumption of cranberries in any form has been shrinking. Cranberries, at least by themselves, just don’t taste very good. They are so sour and so bitter on their own that they are virtually inedible unless you add a huge amount of sugar to them, or use them only in very small quantities as a flavoring agent.

What The Heck Is Actually In That Stuff?  You might like to think that manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in a product on the label, but there are all kinds of loopholes in labeling regulations that let them refuse to tell us what exactly is in the products we use. But California has passed new legislation that will lift the veil from at least one category of products, cleaning chemicals. When you see that term listed, it means that chemicals have been added to make the product smell nice. But what exactly is “fragrance”, or the ever popular “cleaning agents” that are listed on the labels? Turns out “fragrance” can contain one or more of thousands of different chemicals, some of which, it seems, are highly toxic, and even are known to be carcinogens. Some labels don’t tell you anything at all. This will will help a bit, but the law doesn’t really go far enough. It only covers cleaning products, for one thing.

Note: The article at Mother Jones that I’ve linked to here seems to be focused on fragrance for some reason, while the bill itself (yes, I’ve read the thing) does not seem to be restricted to chemicals added for fragrance alone. Fragrance is specifically mentioned in the bill, yes, but the bill seems to cover all chemicals in a product not just those used as fragrances.


Last Harvest


Well, this is it, the last harvest of the season. Huge basket full of bell and poblano peppers. They were predicting frost for last night, and I decided to just pick all of the peppers that were remaining in the gardens and not try to keep the plants going any longer.

Ironically, the pepper plants are doing better now than they were during the height of the growing season. They really seem to like cool, fall weather. The dopey things are still blossoming out there.

The peppers are easy to deal with. Just wash them, cut off the stems, take out the seed pods, then dice them up, stick them in containers and freeze them. No blanching or anything else is necessary.

I don’t know if it actually froze last night. It’s still dark as the inside of a cow out there even at 6:30 AM. (Why in the world do I get up this early, anyway???)  The remote thermometer says the low last night was 37, but it’s in a sheltered location near the house and out in the yard it’s often colder.

It’s really time to start prepping for winter. I need to rearrange the stuff in the garage, get the motorcycle put away so I can get the snowblower out. This semi-annual game of shuffle board is a pain in the neck, but that’s what happens when you have more stuff than storage space.

I’ve been hearing the “S” word popping up in the weather forecasts. Yes, snow. The chance of us getting any are close to zero. It looks like it’s going to be mostly in the far north of the state, but you never know.


GF Procrastinates Again But For Good Reasons

IMG_0779I was supposed to be tearing down all my radio equipment so I can move the new desk into the office. I should wash the car and get that ready for long term storage. I should get the snowblower out and check that over and… Well, hell, look at that photo up there. If your Saturday looked like that, would you hang around the house and do chores inside on what is probably going to be the last nice day of the year? So a lot of the chores got pushed aside to take advantage of the amazing weather because according to the predictions for this coming week, the weather is supposed to be pretty much bleh.

It was absurdly nice, temps in the mid to high 70s, gentle breezes, warm, golden sunshine. It was absolutely glorious out.

Well, to be fair we did get a lot of work done. MrsGF and I were up shortly after dawn working on the flower beds, digging out the annuals that are long past their prime, taking down the decaying sunflowers, raking leaves. We completely filled the box of our elderly full sized Dodge truck and hauled it down to the compost site. And the trees aren’t even bare yet. The pear and maple trees haven’t even started to shed, so we’ll probably end up doing that at least twice more. I even got up on the roof and cleaned out the rain gutters full of leaves.


I admit that everything starts to look drab and dreary and brown this time of year, but even those browns are beautiful in their own way. The dark branches of the denuded trees make amazing patterns against the sky and landscape, and with the foliage starting to die back and the leaves drop, you begin to see things that you didn’t notice before, hidden behind the lush summer growth.

IMG_0772And there is still even a bit of color left out there if you go hunting for it. If you watch carefully there are still some plants that haven’t realized that it’s the end of the growing season and you’ll see a spark of yellow or purple or red peeking out through the grasses that are slowly starting to dry and turn brown.

I don’t understand people who think the fall is a dull, drab season. Yes, the egrets and herons are gone, as are a lot of the song birds. The spectacular flowers of summer have faded, dried up and disappeared. But they’ve been replaced by a new world with it’s own little secrets, it’s own hidden treasures. All you have to do is look.

Of course I admit it would be a lot more pleasant if I didn’t have allergies. The mold index is sky high right now according to the morning news. But I knew that already, a fact demonstrated by my watering eyes, stuffed up head and other irritating symptoms. I sound like I have a perpetual cold this time of year.


IMG_0780Let’s see, what else? Not much, really. MrsGF thought I might hit 1,000 miles before the end of the biking season, but I’m going to be short of that. With the weather getting colder getting out on the bike is more irritating than enjoyable. I did hit 752 miles yesterday, and I’ll probably get over 800 yet this season before the weather shuts me down. But I doubt if I’ll get much more than that. That’s fine. I had no specific goals in mind.

Time to wrap this up.

I Like Autumn But…

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.03.55 AMI really do like autumn, but even I have to admit it gets a bit dull around this time of year, visually speaking. The rich greens, the brilliant flowers, the bright sun of summer is rapidly fading into the dull browns and dreary cloudy skies of fall.

It’s been very cloudy and rainy here of late, which hasn’t helped much. That means I can’t get out on the bike as much as I’d like. Biking in temperatures in the high 40s and icy cold rain isn’t exactly my idea of fun, you see. I suppose it’s time to dust off the treadmill and start pounding out miles while binge watching Netflix or Amazon. It’s exercise, yes, but it’s not really the same as biking through the countryside.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.01.00 AMI am fortunately not one of those people who suffers from Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) but I know quite a few who are, and it’s easy to tell who they are this time of year. They tend to start to get grumpier and more irritable as the days become shorter. But even so I still find myself digging through my photos and lingering on things like bright, sunny scenes and and brilliantly colored flowers. Especially on days like today when it’s 7:30 AM and it looks like it’s going to be another one of those dull, cloudy days with rain. Ick…

We’re currently ramping up to the annual insanity that is Halloween around here. I have nothing against the holiday. I rather enjoy it. But it does seem to have gotten totally out of hand. Mrs. GF and I are convinced that they’ve started bussing kids in from the entire midwest and releasing them on our little town every Halloween, because we know there aren’t that many kids in town. Heck, the entire school district doesn’t have that many kids as we get running up to our door.

Anyway, I was at the local Walmart to get a prescription filled and while I was waiting I thought I’d see if they had some deals on Halloween decorations. It’s a little over two weeks away and I figured they’d be running closeouts on the stuff.

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Let’s stick another flower in. No real reason why. Just feel like putting a flower here.

I was wrong. The entire Halloween decoration section was gone. It was replaced with Christmas decorations. The only Halloween stuff they had left were those massive bags of cheap, crappy candy that is apparently made out of flavored chalk.

Christmas decorations? Really? It’s October 15, for heaven’s sake!

I really should have expected that, though. Retailers don’t live in the same universe you and I live in. In their world time is a strange and mysterious thing that has no basis in reality. A couple of years ago I needed to get a winter coat. It was January, it was -20 degrees out, and I’d just ripped my heavy winter coat by snagging it on something. So it’s January. In Wisconsin. It’s -20 out. You’d think that here in Wisconsin you could buy a winter coat, right? Good luck. Swimwear? Yes. Shorts? Yes. Sandals? Yes. Winter clothes? No. I finally made the 25 mile drive to the “local” Fleet Farm and got one there. Sheesh…

I suppose I should wrap this up and go do something. We’re still in the process of cleaning up the gardens. The non-producing peppers got yanked yesterday, I need to take down the old sunflowers outside the kitchen window. The birds have pretty much gotten all of the seeds out of them and they’re looking pretty bad. It’s raining right now but maybe the weather will cooperate later.

Oh, almost forgot. We have email now! If the nice Mr. Google cooperates and everything is working, you can reach us at

Oops – it’s Sheesh, can’t remember my own email address. Sigh.

If I remember to ever actually check the account. If it actually works because I haven’t actually tested it yet.

Yes, you really need to put the “wis.” part in there.


Streets, Autumn, Photos and Barns Abandoned

They finally finished paving the street in front of the house the other day! We were very glad of that. The dust from the trucks rolling past over the unpaved sections was getting onto everything. We couldn’t open the windows on that side of the house. For a few days I couldn’t even get the Corvette out of the driveway because after they did the final grading there was a 5 inch drop at the end of the driveway that would have ripped the front splitter off the nose of the car.

We have an open front porch tucked into the side of the house which is a great place to sit and have a coffee and read on warm days, which is now covered in a thick layer of dust. I’m going to have to get out there with the car wash brush, a big bucket of soapy water and the hose and give it a good scrubbing. There’s so much dust you leave footprints when walking across the decking, the window sills are thick with the stuff, and even the poor plants out there should get hosed down.

IMG_0744Colder weather and rain have slowed things down as far as biking is concerned. I manage to get out most days still, but I know the time is coming when the bike is going to have to hang up in the garage and it’ll be back to the treadmill (ick). Still, when the weather does cooperate, it is absolutely beautiful out there in the countryside.

These crisp, cool autumn mornings are amazing. Now that it’s cooler there is less moisture and haze in the air, making everything seem more crisp and clear and brighter. There’s something about the quality of the light as well that changes because the sun is at a lower angle in the sky. The result is that on some mornings everything just seems to glow with this lush, rich, golden light that seems almost impossible to capture with the camera.


There is something magical, mystical about being out in the woods on mornings like this, at least for me. The sounds, the smells, the crystal clear air. Everything seems more — more alive, more vibrant. With the brilliant greens now fading into browns and reds and dull orange, the woods begins to transform itself in that endless cycle of life, dormancy, rebirth…


It becomes a place of wonder and takes on an almost spiritual quality. It makes you wish you were a poet because only a poet could adequately express what you are seeing in mere words.

But then time presses, and you have to leave and you know, hope, you will be back soon to feel that breathtaking beauty, the astonishing complexity of nature, that golden light…

IMG_0746Gads, after writing all that guff switching to this is going to be a jolt. Going from the beauty of nature to, well, to this… Yet another abandoned, collapsed barn. This one is just outside of town and it caved in about a month ago, and I decided to take a picture of it when I was out on the bike the other day.

It hurts when I see this happening, but it is happening more and more often. The whole countryside around here is dotted with abandoned barns in various states of collapse. I keep thinking of the pride, the hope, the joy the original farmers who put it up had as they watched the timber frame going up, the roof being put on, the side boards being nailed into place. A new home for their cattle, storage for the feed. The barn was the center of the farm, it’s heart.

But I know why it happens, why they are abandoned. Farming has changed drastically in the last few decades and these old barns are completely useless for modern farming. They’re the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong, well, wrong everything when it comes to modern farming.

And they are incredibly expensive to try to maintain as well, and even more ridiculously expensive if you want to restore one. The wood they are made of was once so abundant it wasn’t worth much. Even if you could find a 10X10 oak beam these days, you couldn’t afford it. And the long, wide, solid wood boards the siding is made from? You can’t afford those, either. So they don’t get repaired because of the huge cost, and there’s no incentive to repair them in the first place because they aren’t useful any more. So they sit, empty, the roofs leaking, timbers rotting, boards falling off, until, at last, this happens.

The big, red barns that dominated the countryside around here are, within another few decades, going to mostly be gone except for the few that are being maintained by people who can afford to do it.

It’s sad, but at the same time it is, I suppose, natural evolution at work. I still wince and shake my head when I see it happening, but I know why it is happening. So there is a feeling of deep nostalgia, but understanding and acceptance as well. Life moves on.