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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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

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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.

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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.

Bikes & the Ever Popular Stuff!

IMG_0398Even before I retired I knew I needed to seriously ramp up my level of exercise or I was going to end up looking like a blimp in very short order. At first I was just walking around town twice a day, but that got old pretty fast. So Sunday I went and got myself a bicycle and much to my family’s surprise, I actually enjoy it enormously and I’ve been doing about 10 – 15 miles a day.

We’re fortunate enough to live in a fairly rural area with a lot of paved back roads that have very little traffic. I’ve found it’s a great way to just get out and enjoy nature because some of the roads run through undeveloped land around here. I’m not exactly a power rider because I’m having too much fun stopping and looking at birds, trees, turtles, streams, taking pictures… You get the idea. Great fun

I end up in places like, well, this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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What surprised me most about all of this was the smells. I can smell cedar, spruce, flowers… Along the trail I kept smelling an almost intoxicating floral scent that turned out to be this bush:

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The air was thick with the scent. It was amazing.

But then there’s stuff like this…

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Yes, more rain. We got 2 1/2 inches overnight according to the rain gauge in the backyard, and except for an hour or two this afternoon we’ve been getting light rain most of the day.

There are bright spots, though. Like these guys.

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Another of the lilies is starting to bloom. The color on these guys is spectacular.

 

 

Wet. And Jazz

Wet is what describes the weather here. Wet and cold. We had almost 24 hours of rain IMG_0187IMG_0188and everything is completely saturated around here. The gauge indicated we had about 2 inches. And the temperatures plunged as well. High temp yesterday was around 45 degrees, a good 20 degrees colder than the day before. If anyone thought winter was over, this will disprove that. Up in the Bayfield area they actually had to cancel schools the other day because of ice and snow.

Jazz – Last Sunday I worked for the high school jazz band’s spring concert. The students did a great job but the turnout was disappointing.Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 6.55.47 AM.png I don’t think we had more than 50 – 60 people showed up for it, even though it’s a free concert. Most of the parents showed up, but that was about it. I suppose the scheduling was part of the problem. Because of scheduling conflicts they could only do it at 4 in the afternoon which is a fairly awkward time for a lot of people.

My job at these events is basically to keep things running smoothly and deal with emergencies if they turn up. But they aren’t making it easy. I found out last weekend that they pulled the control computer that operates the HVAC systems at the high school. Now if I have to make changes to the heating/cooling settings, I have to make a 20 minute trip to the downtown building to get on the computer there, then drive back to the high school…

I imagine it saves them money. They probably have to pay a license fee for that software at the high school, plus the cost of the equipment itself, but come on, really? If something goes wrong, I have to drive 20 minutes one way to read the diagnostics, drive 20 minutes back to the HS to fix the hardware problem, then drive 20 minutes back to downtown to check the diagnostics again and reset the systems, then drive 20 minutes back to the high school…

Oh brother… This is not going to work out well for them, I can see that. If we have a HVAC problem at the high school during a special event and I can’t get it fixed quickly because I have to run downtown just to get at the control systems, there are going to be a lot of very angry people at the event. Last year I got a panic phone call on graduation day that the temperature in the gym was 97 degrees and climbing. If I hadn’t had the control computer at the high school itself at the time and would have had to run back and forth between the two buildings just to do diagnostics, I wouldn’t have gotten the problem fixed until after graduation had been over. Hmph….

 

Farm Round Up

Lettuce Shortage

MrsGF works with the state’s various food service operations, including monitoring food purchases, and she tells me that the state’s prime food vendor has put out a warning that it may not be able to fulfill orders for lettuce because of adverse weather in California. Those poor buggers out in California — first a years long drought, then they get so deluged with rain that they can’t get their crops planted on time…  They just can’t seem to get a break. She’s put out warnings to the state’s food service operations that they’re going to need to change menus, switch to different types of greens, etc. until the situation is resolved. Kale and cabbage haven’t been hit quite as hard, but they’re seeing some serious shortages for various types of lettuce. Apparently it’s hitting the consumer market hard as well and prices are going up fast at the retail level. The Chicago Trib had a story about it just the other day here. (warning: may be paywalled) I was just at the local grocery store this morning and noticed iceberg lettuce is now around $2.50 a head, a dollar a head more than what it was what it was a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve put a limit of 2 heads per customer on purchases. Romain lettuce has also shot up in price. Pre-cut salad mixes containing lettuce have also gone up in price.

If you’re really desperate for leafy greens, fresh spinach looks like a bargain, going for about one third of the cost of lettuce at our local store. It also tastes better and is significantly better nutritionally than iceberg lettuce.

Over Supply

The biggest problem with agriculture right now seems to be over supply. There’s just too much corn, soybeans and milk being produced. Here in the US I’ve heard of co-ops, large farmers and grain dealers renting abandoned airport runways to pile up corn because they don’t have anyplace to put the stuff. Corn prices on the futures market are sitting at around 3.63 right now, and haven’t moved more than twenty cents up or down for months. And with the US looking at a seriously huge corn harvest in 2017, barring some kind of disaster, about the only direction that price is going to go is down.

Low soybean prices have made farmers in Brazil hang on to their crop, storing it rather than selling it in the hopes of higher prices. But now the corn harvest is going to start in June, and with the bins full of beans, there’s no place to store the corn. The Ukraine is predicting a huge increase in corn production to further destabilize things.

And as for the milk market, oh brother… The market is so glutted right now, especially in the US, that they don’t know what to do with the stuff. I’ve heard of processors pouring milk down the drain because they can’t deal with all of it.

The ag industry is going to have to get a grip on the problems with over production or the whole system is going to come crashing down around our ears.

Herbicide Resistance On The Rise

Weeds resistant to commonly used herbicides are becoming a massive problem. Glyphosate resistant waterhemp, a type of pigweed, has been spotted in at least 17 counties here in Wisconsin, and its cousin, a resistant Palmer amaranth, has been spotted in the state as well. Pigweed is especially difficult to deal with because it produces massive amounts of seed.

This is just another indication that we really need change the way we deal with weed problems. We can’t just keep trying to come up with ever more toxic chemicals to kill off weeds and GM modified crops. That scheme will always result in weeds eventually developing resistance to the herbicides and the cycle starting all over again.

Climate Change

It’s interesting to note that while we have an administration that continues to deny climate change, everyone else seems to have just accepted it and is trying to deal with it. Even Wal-Mart, which isn’t exactly known as a bastion of liberal policies, is trying to deal with the situation and is putting pressure on its suppliers to do likewise. While the politicians bluster and bluff and bloviate and grasp at straws to try placate whoever writes them the biggest check that week, out in the real world a lot of major companies have realized that if anything positive is going to get done, they’re going to have to do it themselves. Even some of the oil companies have started to admit that something has to be done.

GIPSA Rules Delayed

I don’t blame you in the slightest if you don’t know what the GIPSA rules are. If you raise poultry or pigs for one of the big meat packers, you know all about this and are quite possibly pulling your hair out. But almost no one outside of the business does.

The rules were intended to protect farmers who contract to raise meat animals for a meat packing company from abusive and discriminatory practices. “because the processors own the birds, the feed, and other inputs, they can unfairly disadvantage or preference one grower over another as a way of forcing the growers to do things against their will or shut down dissent.” is how critics put the behavior of the processing companies in one article. The basic idea is that the rules would have given farmers who raise animals on a contract basis some minimal rights without having to jump through a lot of hurdles that are basically impossible to jump. The rules were changed by court interpretations about ten years ago so farmers now have to prove that a company’s actions harmed not just them, but the entire market, before they can try to take any kind of legal action against the processing company. As one representative for farmers put it: “We can’t overstate the level of fear and intimidation felt by poultry growers that contact us or our partner organizations,” says Harvie. “If they choose to speak up, they risk everything—their contract, their land, their homes.” You can read that whole story here.

The administration has delayed the implementation of the rules and right now it looks like they will be eventually be abandoned entirely and the meat packing companies are already celebrating a victory.

Vomitoxin

A nasty name for a nasty mycotoxin. Vomitoxin is nasty stuff and it seems to be getting more common in US corn. It is a toxin caused by mold in corn, and generally hasn’t been much of an issue in the US, but it seems to be getting worse, especially because of wet conditions during last year’s corn harvest. The toxin makes corn unfit for consumption, even as animal feed.

It isn’t even suitable for use for ethanol, because the ethanol makers depend on dried distillers grain (DDG) to make a profit. DDG is what’s left over after the ethanol making process. It’s a fairly high protein cattle feed. The ethanol making process concentrates the mycotoxin, making the resulting DDG even more toxic than the corn originally was.

 

It’s been a weird fall here in Wisconsin

This fall has been ridiculously warm. You’d think we’d like this unusually warm fall up here in the land of blizzards, frozen cars, burst water pipes and children frozen to flag poles. But we don’t. Not really. We’re not used to this.

img_0828It’s October 23, and I’m still harvesting eggplant and peppers, for heaven’s sake. I mean look at that box full I picked this morning over there on the left. And there seems to be no end in sight. The eggplant and assorted pepper plants are in full bloom, loaded with baby fruit. I’m harvesting dill for the second time this year. I have a second crop of spring onions about ready to eat. I planted those at the end of September. I have chives coming out my ears. I’d be drying those but we already have far, far more chives than we know what to do with. The greek oregano is going crazy. It’s over a foot tall and in full bloom, for the second time this year. Same with the sage. Some of my hostas have put out flower stalks for the second time this season. I was looking back in the tomato bed that I cleaned out at the end of September and found a dozen or more volunteer tomato plants newly sprouted, some six inches tall already. I’m tempted to pot some of them and see if they’ll grow indoors.

According to the recording thermometer the coldest night we’ve had has been about 41. Daytime temperatures have generally been up in the high 60s to low 70s. The only way we know it’s fall is that the days are much shorter and the trees are losing their leaves.

This isn’t a horrible thing, this extended warm streak. It certainly is keeping the heating costs down. But it’s, well, odd. It doesn’t feel right. And you can tell it’s bothering people. They seem nervous, edgy, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We all have this feeling of mild dread.

I don’t know if it’s our upbringing, or some kind of inherent human trait, but we all seem to share it. We all get this feeling that something is too good. Some malicious deity or force of nature or something is deliberately lulling us into a false sense of security, and then wham, drops ten feet of snow on us, or plunges the temperature down to -30, or — or something is going to happen.

The thing is, we like winter up here. We like the snow. We like the bone chilling cold. It’s part of our heritage. It’s part of our nature.

We complain about the cold, the winter, true. But if you listen to those complaints, you begin to realize that we also take a perverse pride in it as well, pride in our ability to deal with it. And an enormous amount of delight in laughing at the people down south when an inch of snow shuts down the entire metro Atlanta area.

Our complaints about the cold and snow are part of the fun, the bragging about how cold it was, the complaints about shoveling six feet of snow off the porch before we could even get outside to get to the outhouse.

Well, okay, the outhouse thing is a bit outdated. We’ve had real indoor plumbing here in Wisconsin for, oh, two or three years now. But you know what I mean.

What’s the point in living in Wisconsin if we can’t brag about the bad weather any more? Is it really worth putting up with living here if we can’t laugh at the people in Illinois because they don’t know how to drive in the snow any more?

 

An Odd Autumn

It’s been a rather odd autumn here in north eastern Wisconsin. Usually this time of year it’s starting to get chilly, even downright cold. It hasn’t, though. Daytime temperatures have been in the low to mid seventies, at night it has only rarely fallen below 57 – 65 degrees. And it’s also been unusually wet. They’re claiming this has been the fourth wettest season on record.

It’s had an interesting effect on the plants around here. Our roses are in full blossom once again. We have new dill plants sprouting up all over the place. It looks more like May or early June than October.

Our eggplant has gotten its second wind, so to speak, and is loaded with blossoms and new fruit. Same with our poblano and jalapeno pepper plants. We have new green onions sprouting. The oregano I cut back has regrown. Some of our hostas are blooming for the second time this season. The morning glory seed we planted back in May that never sprouted sprang up out of nowhere two or three weeks ago and is now in full flower. The roses are a riot of color, with blossoms coming so heavy the branches can hardly support them.

Rain has been our constant companion for weeks and weeks now. If you don’t live in Wisconsin you may not have heard about the flooding we’ve had; two people killed, houses washed away, roads closed, something like $20 million in damages so far. Farmers should be getting ready to start harvesting corn, should be harvesting soybeans. They can’t get into the fields without the combines sinking into the ground up to the axles, and there seems to be no end in sight.

I’m sure most of us don’t mind the warm fall, but the rain…