Autumn

Autumn is finally here. With temperatures in the low 80s or even higher and high humidity for large parts of September, we were beginning to wonder what the heck was going on. But we’ve had a couple of hard frosts now and daytime temps are about where they should be for this time of year, around 45 – 50 degrees, and at night down in the mid 30s. It’s something of a relief after the hot, humid summer we had.

And the mosquitoes? OMG — they were horrible this year, especially starting in August and going through September. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Walking through the grass would cause clouds of the little blood suckers to rise up around you. Getting close to any kind of bush would result in an immediate attack by swarms of the things. The bug repellants did no good at all. Deep Woods Off and the others we tried didn’t seem to deter them in the slightest. My wife’s sister and her husband started to wear their bee keeping suits just to go out in their garden to pick berries or tomatoes. Even the hard core environmentalists I know were so fed up they were resorting to chemical warfare and fogging their bushes and yards to try to get any kind of relief.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.24.53 AMAnd while it seems we’re finally getting a dry spell, it was raining almost every day for the first two weeks of October. There is still water standing everywhere. Down by the old stone bridge where the river is usually almost completely dry this time of year the water is 4-6 feet deep and running fast, and it’s well over it’s banks in some places. But at least the farmers have been able to get out and get their soybeans off around here.

We still haven’t gotten all of the gardens cleaned up yet, but there’s no rush on that. We’ll probably get most of that done this weekend unless something comes up or the weather gets nasty.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 6.23.36 AMThe sedum — what amazing plants those are. This time of year the color is absolutely astonishing, running from a brownish red to a deep, rich burgundy. And if you get out right after sunrise in the morning and see the flowers covered with frost crystals, wow, they look absolutely magical.

Speaking of mornings — My body and I have this argument going… I want to sleep until about 6 AM. It wants to get up around 4:30 for some stupid reason. It isn’t a big deal, more annoying than anything else. But, well, why? MrsGF thinks it’s because I spent so many years having to be up around 4:30 or 5 AM to do chores on the farm, but that’s silly. I haven’t actively worked in farming for ages now. In my last job I worked 2nd shift, working until 11 PM and not getting up until about 8 in the morning, and I had absolutely no problem at all with that. I liked it, in fact. But now that I’m retired and could sleep late if I wanted to, my body decides it needs to be up at 4:30 again? Sheesh… My doctor says maybe that’s all I need to sleep. Everyone is different. Not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep. If I’m healthy, which I am (sort of) and I’m not getting tired during the day, and I’m waking up feeling refreshed and comfortable, well, don’t worry about it.

Let’s see, what else — Oh, someone asked me about the new iPhone XS Max and was wondering if it was worth all the hype and what it was like to actually use. After living with this thing for a month or so now, it is a pretty slick piece of equipment.

The camera is quite good. Not up to the standards of a dedicated mid-range or high end camera, but for a phone? Yeah, it’s good. It has a semi-decent real telephoto lens, up to 4X. Color rendition still seems a bit off to me, but that’s a personal opinion.

As a media device it’s excellent. The sound quality out of those tiny little speakers is, frankly, astonishing to me. I have no idea how they get sound like that out of something that tiny. I sprung for the AirPod thingies, Apple’s wireless ear buds. I find those astonishing as well. To me the sound quality is amazing. They were ridiculously easy to set up. Just bring them near the phone and they automatically link up. I didn’t need to do anything. No issues with those as well. But whenever I use ’em I’m always worried one of them will fall out of my ear and I’ll break it or lose it so I’m always nervous when I wear them outside. Are they worth $150? Hell no. The sound quality is good, but not that good. To my ears the sound quality isn’t any better than the $40 wired earbuds I used with my old iPod.

The screen is absolutely fantastic. Crisp, clean, outstanding color rendition, incredibly high resolution. Streaming movies or TV on this thing is a joy. It isn’t as nice as, oh, a 40 inch high-def monitor, but for a device this small it’s wonderful. I find myself reading my Kindle books on it all the time now because I don’t get eye fatigue from trying to read a fuzzy display. And for the first time the auto-brightness functions that are supposed to adjust the brightness of the display to suit viewing conditions actually works on this phone.

So it has a good camera, it’s a fantastic portable media player, how does it work as an actual phone?

Badly. I’m sorry, but as a phone it just isn’t very good. Cell reception is horrible. And I’m not the only one who’s been having this problem. There have been a lot of reports that cellular reception with the XS models is pretty poor. Frankly if the phone didn’t have WiFi calling I probably wouldn’t be able to use it as a phone at all here in the house. But that being said, WiFi calling is amazing. Just flip a switch in the settings and it turns on, and talking to someone on the phone is as clear as if they were in the room with me. But still, it isn’t, well, a cell phone then, is it? It’s using VOIP and damn well should sound that good.

Face ID – everyone knows by now that the new iPhones starting with the 10 series unlock by facial recognition. This seemed to freak some people out for some reason, but I’m not going to go down that road. The question is does it work, and the answer is definitely yes. Even wearing my bike helmet and wrap around sunglasses it recognizes me. Occasionally there will be an issue for some reason, but then it just goes to the standard PIN number unlocking system.

Wireless charging – the model I have, the XS Max, supports wireless charging and charging stations are available for well under $40. The one I have cost all of $24 and seems to work pretty well. Just put it face up on the pad, wiggle it around until you feel the phone buzz, and it starts to charge. The only issue here is that it won’t charge when it’s in a case, and who in their right mind doesn’t put a $1,200 phone in some kind of protective case?

But maybe the whole issue of needing a case is becoming unnecessary. I’ve seen tests where the XS phones have been drop tested and they’re pretty impressive. The ones that I’ve seen show the phone surviving drops of 4 feet or less on a concrete floor with no damage at all. In one test they kept increasing the height of the drop and it wasn’t until they dropped it from over 10 feet that there was any damage at all, which was slight. And the phone wasn’t actually destroyed until they dropped it from 20 feet down a stairwell to a concrete floor.

I’m sure as hell not going to try that, though. Nor am I going to test the water proofing. The XS is supposed to be pretty water resistant, but I’m not about to dunk it in a bucket of water to see if it really is.

The question is, is this thing worth the cost? This is, after all, one hell of an expensive piece of equipment. The model I have goes for around $1,200 retail. The only reason I can afford the thing is because I don’t buy my phones, I lease them and get a new one every 18-24 months under the leasing plan.  So is it worth it? Frankly, no. You can get a phone that does pretty much everything this one does for half the cost or less. It wouldn’t sound as good, wouldn’t have the beautiful display, wouldn’t be as fast, but it would work just fine and do everything you need a phone to do.

But that being said, despite the reception problem, holy cow it’s fun to play with. It’s so fast, the display is so good, the sound quality is so good, that I find myself using it more and more.

Autumn and Garage Sale Find

We’ve finally moved into more typical autumn weather for Wisconsin. The heat and humidity were finally pushed out of the state and we’re going through more typical weather for this time of year. We still haven’t had a frost yet as of Oct. 6, but that will be coming soon. But even fall couldn’t arrive in a typical fashion. After a few days of crisp, cool weather with temps in the low 50s, the heat and humidity pushed back in for a day, with temps up in the mid-eighties with high humidity, triggering more rain and storms which we didn’t need at all. The Manitowoc County fairgrounds got hit by what was either straight line winds in excess of 75 mph or a weak tornado.

IMG_0037It may be October but there are a surprising number of flowering plants still bopping along as if it were still summer. I’m still seeing a huge number of bees, both native bees and honey bees. That’s kind of unusual for this time of year, but as long as the temperatures are still warm enough for them to be active and there are still food sources out there, they’ll be around.

I found this thing sitting in the basement the other day and had no idea where it came from.

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I learned that eldest son found it at a garage sale for $5 one day and picked it up and, of course, it ended up in my basement. Well, I’m claiming this one for my own because I’m fond of old Hallicrafters equipment. I have two restored Hallicrafters short-wave receivers from the 1940s-1950s era and I love the things. This one looks like it’s in good enough shape cosmetically that it might be worth restoring. I haven’t done any research on this model yet, but judging from the way it looks I’d say it’s from the late 50s or early to mid sixties.

Once upon a time you couldn’t give away old tube radios. Thousands upon thousands of them ended up going to the landfill because no one wanted them. Now they’re turning into collectors items. Sort of. Prices on these things are all over the place depending on the brand, model and age.

There are issues with restoring old radios like these. Some of them pretty serious and if you don’t know what you’re doing, they could even be life threatening because of the dangers of electric shock. Depending on the radio and the design, some of these things had potentially lethal voltages floating around inside of them. So if you don’t know much about how these things were made and the potential dangers, don’t go fiddling around inside of them without educating yourself first.

The other issue is you can’t just plug these things in and turn them on if they haven’t been used in a long time. When it comes to these old radios, there is no such thing as “mint” condition except when it comes to the external appearance. You will always need to replace components inside with modern equivalents. Capacitors are the biggest issue with these. Those old caps will fail. There is simply no doubt about it. Usually the first thing you do with one of these is go through it and replace all of the capacitors right off the bat.

Another issue is finding things that can’t be easily replaced with modern equivalents, like vacuum tubes. Under normal operation vacuum tubes are amazingly long lasting. I know guys running old amplifiers, receivers and transmitters that are from the 1940s and 50s and are still running the original tubes. But they do fail sometimes, and finding replacements is a problem because they haven’t been made in decades. If you have an old tube radio, chances are good the tubes will still work unless the radio was abused or had some kind of electrical failure. But if you have a bad one, finding a replacement tube could be a problem.

Anyway, when I get some time I’ll open this one up and see what it looks like inside. It might be a good candidate for restoring.

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.

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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.

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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.

It’s Been Too Nice. We’re Getting Paranoid.

IMG_0768It has been suspiciously nice out the last few days. And it’s going to keep being nice. Daytime temps have been up in the high 60s to low 70s, sunny. The weather people are telling us it’s supposed to stay like this. At least for a while. And even get nicer. It could hit the low 80s in some parts of the state over the next few days.

We are suspicious of this. Up here in Wisconsin, Mother Nature has a long track record of lulling us into a false sense of security with ridiculously nice weather right before she dumps about 3 feet of snow on us. We still remember back in the 1980s when she hilariously dropped 11 inches of snow on us on May 10th. So whenever the weather is too good to be true we start getting paranoid up here because Mother Nature has a warped and twisted sense of humor.

{I screwed up. So what else is new, right? I set up a new email address for this blog, and then immediately after doing that wrote down the wrong email address in the blog. Sigh. The email address is actually old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com }

I’ve been taking advantage of the pleasant weather and have been out on the bike. Even when I’m on a route that I’ve been on dozens of times before, I never know what I’m going to find. I discovered these guys sprouting up along the trail I sometimes take.

Mushrooms are, well, they’re just weird, okay? Bizarre shapes and colors. Some are delicious while others will kill you. I suspect they’re a plot by Mother Nature to kill off those of us who survived the May blizzard.

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Not a mushroom.

Then this guy showed up. Funny looking mushroom, isn’t it? Friendliest mushroom I’ve ever seen, really. Never had a mushroom slobber all over my face before and want me to scratch his ears.

The pleasant weather has also meant I’ve been procrastinating terribly about chores I should be doing, like cleaning out the rest of the gardens, tearing down the radio room so I can move the new desk in, and meeting friendly golden retrievers out on the road.

Speaking of biking, why in the world am I sitting around here babbling along like this when I could be out there right now?

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   wis.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com

Oops – it’s old.grouchyfarmer@gmail.com. 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.

 

Garden Clean Up Time

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One of the issues with the iPhone camera is it doesn’t give any kind of sense of perspective. That pile of vines is actually about waist high and the bed behind it is 8 feet deep and 12 feet long.

Although you sure can’t tell it from the weather (70 degrees here at 7AM) it really is autumn and we’ve been working on cleaning up the gardens periodically for a while now. The weather this morning was great, cloudy and kind of drizzly but warm and shirt sleeve comfortable, so by 7:30 I was out working on cleaning up some of the remaining beds, including the squash.

We’d put in acorn and butternut, only about 4 plants, and we were curious to see how it would work because we’d never tried to grow them before. And the location isn’t ideal, either. Tucked away behind the west end of the garage they really only get sun in the afternoon and evening, plus there’s a tree back there that does some shading.

They started out beautifully, turning into big, healthy plants sending vines everywhere and setting a lot of squash. Alas, I think a combination of the shady IMG_0747conditions plus the very damp weather we had this season kept them from producing as well as they could have. We’ve been eating squash from there for a few weeks now. Very nice stuff and very tasty. But the squash themselves were small, and then because of the damp conditions and shaded location they started to get what MrsGF thinks is powdery mildew, which together prevented them from doing as good as they should have.

The vines were almost completely withered so I cleaned everything out this morning and gathered up the remaining squash.

As an experiment I think it went pretty well, all things considered. Yes, there was a mildew problem and probably too much shade in that spot, but we still got some delicious squash out of the deal. They are so good when roasted with some brown sugar and butter.

IMG_0750The peppers — holy cow have they taken off! They struggled all summer long, those poor plants, and that was largely our fault because we crowded them too much. I did some drastic thinning, taking out more than half the plants, and almost immediately the remaining ones responded with ridiculous amounts of fruit.

We plant mostly poblano (which is my personal favorite), sweet banana peppers, and sweet bell, along with the “mystery” peppers, which turned out to be habanero which are so bloody hot no one we know will touch the things.

Interestingly enough, no one will admit they planted habaneros. MrsGF swears she didn’t raise them. I certainly didn’t put them in there. So where did they come from? Crazed hot pepper fiends sneaking around late at night and slipping them into people’s gardens?

The ones I picked this morning will get washed, diced up and frozen for use later. We generally just mix them all together, with the poblanos more intense flavor helping along the more bland sweet bells. The mix is great in fried potatoes, mac and cheese, soups, etc.

MrsGF is off this morning to her sister’s place to get “a lot” of grapes. I’m not sure how many grapes are in “a lot”. Could be anywhere from a few quarts to a 5 gallon bucket full. If there are enough of them, she’s going to make jelly out of them. The vines these come from are probably close to a century old, and they’re still producing like crazy most years.

Yes, I know, grape jelly is dirt cheap in the stores. But comparing Welch’s to the jelly that comes from these grapes is sort of like comparing Busch Light to, oh, New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest. They are both technically beer, but the difference in quality is several orders of magnitude apart.

 

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.

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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…

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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.