Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Yes, we have a garden!!

Hi Folks!!

We do, in fact, have a working garden!!  As you can see it's a real ugly, unkempt, one (more on that in a bit), but God has blessed our efforts and the harvest is coming in!   

That is one weedy looking garden!!

It has been very hot, very wet, and very humid here in NE Indiana this summer (95F/35C with 90ish %RH) and for the first time in many years, the green beans will likely have a poor showing.  We thought the tomatoes would never start turning red, but they seem to be coming on quickly now and we'll have a good tomato year.  Broccoli did well.  Peppers, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, and egg plant are doing very well.  Beets and sweet potatoes seem to be doing fine.  Cabbage was a total loss as was the brussel sprouts.   Today is the start of canning season for us, so we are "off to the races"!

We have had some hard times this summer, too, in a couple of ways.

On August 5th De's Mom fell in her apartment.  She shattered her shoulder joint, broke her knee cap, some bones in one hand, and maybe her hip.  Her lifelong heavy smoking habit had left her frail, and her kidneys, heart, and lungs could not tolerate the shock of her injuries.  On August 10th, early in the morning, she went to be with Jesus.  De and her other daughter were with her when she died.  Family, Church, and friends all pulled together to get us through this difficult time, and we held her funeral on the 14th.

To complicate matters a bit more, I seem to have developed a new 'thing' over the last few months.  The preliminary diagnosis is lupus, but we may not know for sure until November, which is the earliest available rheumatologist appointment.  I have the usual bone-crushing fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and funky rash across my nose and cheeks that comes and goes, as well as some balance, speech, and cognitive issues. (No stroke - they checked.)   I use a cane pretty much full-time now for balance, when I'm not in the house. (Thus the shoddy looking garden.  Harder to swing my beefy weed whacker when you need to use it to balance some, too.  It can be done, but it's slooowww.)  

Even with all that, we are still blessed.  The outpouring of caring we received when Mom B. passed was amazing.  Everyone has been great in accommodating me and my new limitations - well beyond what they need to.   I'm getting along OK with prayers, rest, and ibuprofen in equal abundance, and I'm praying for a cancellation that allows me to see the rheumatologist soon.  By God's grace I can do most of what I need to do (including the garden) and some of what I want to do.  He provides for what I can't do.  And we have some really good tasting bell peppers and tomatoes!!

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark

Sunday, July 1, 2018

It Ain't Pretty, But....

Hi Folks,

Yeah - I'm still not dead yet, but I'm a pretty lousy blogger!!  It's July and my last post was about winter!  What a looser!

Things here are mostly the same.  My health hasn't gotten better but it's not gotten much worse either, so that counts as a victory.  I'm still able to do almost anything I want, only in limited quantities and slower than I used to.  Still -  it's all pretty good.

We do have a garden this year.  Smaller than most years, but a little bigger than last year.  It sure ain't pretty, but it's growing like crazy.  That is not, of course, do to any ninja gardening skills or deep, dark, family gardening secrets.  It mostly due to the almost tropical weather we've had this spring.  Lots of rain, with local flooding in some areas, and higher than normal temperatures and humidity.  We're toward the end (I hope) of a string of days with 105 degree F heat indexes.  Great for the garden, not so great for gardeners.  Outdoor work gets done early mornings (on days off) and evenings (on day-job work days) and it's indoor work the rest of the time.

So the garden...  Last fall I had just enough energy to get the harvest in, but didn't get the usual post-harvest clean-up done.  That's kicking the can down the road, I know, but sometimes that has to be good enough.  In any case, before I could started on the spring work, I had to do last fall's work first.  The problem was that it was so wet, and for a short time flooded with an inch or so of water, I couldn't get into it when I needed to.  So when I could get to it, I started with this:

Sad, isn't it?  All that quackgrass!
We were able to do two things this year that made the job a lot easier.  First, I was able to buy a Mantis tiller from a friend at the day job.  I can easily lift it into the beds and it is a terror on quackgrass roots.  For guy with limited energy it was truly a God-send.  With the tiller we got the garden, in stages, to:

Ok, it's a start...

Looking a little better now!
Second, and a number of weeks into the process, we broke down a bought a heavy duty gas-powered weed wacker.  We have a battery powered one that is small enough De can use it, but it just wasn't up to the task by far.  I could almost hear the snickering mockery of the weeds as the battery wore down and the weeds grew taller.  With my heavy duty gas powered one, weeds get hacked off at ground level with no debate or discussion.  It's a beautiful thing!  With the new weed wacker, and some of the usual effort required to get a garden in we got to:

Starting to look like a garden!
Yesterday, with the hog-panel cages on everything it looked like:

Still not pretty, but I can live with it!

The lower garden area at work!
So I still need a long term mulch solution between the beds.  You can see the old feed sacks held down by garden staples in some of the pictures.  It works ok, but boy is it ugly and it consumes a lot of garden staples.  Leigh at Five Acres and a Dream had a great post about the mulching problem, and after seeing it all laid out I think I'm going to go with the feed sacks but cover them with wood chip mulch - after it cools down a bit.

Anyways, there it is - The Hoosier County Homestead garden, such as it is.  One other tidbit, mostly for your amusement.  Sumac is a constant battle here at the edges of any wooded area.  It's very invasive and keeping it at bay without a lot of chemicals is a constant battle.  De and I were recently gone for a week of vacation.  When we came back we discovered it had stormed hard enough to push the walls of the hoop house in far enough to dump some stuff that was sitting on sawhorses on one side on the ground and...



...  the sumac was trying to take over!  All this in about two weeks of growth.

All in all things are pretty good and, as usual, I know for certain I am blessed.

Col 1:9-12

Mark

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Relearning Winter

I've never been a big fan of winter.  Not that I hate it and, truth be told, I've missed it when I've lived in places that that didn't have a real, Midwestern, winter.  I just enjoy the other seasons more.

This winter is no exception.  A few weeks ago I was ready to be done with winter.  I don't get a vote, of course, but still I was ready to be done with single digit temperatures, treacherous 40 mile commutes to the day job, clearing vehicles before you can drive them, bundling up to go out and do anything, and wading through snow to do the chores.

Last week we got a bunch of the white stuff early.  I don't always get the tractor out to clear the driveway with new snow since De and I both drive AWD vehicles, but this time there was enough I had to.  My little tractor can only push so much and if we had gotten more I'd have been in trouble.


Then we had a day or two of warmer weather where much, but not all of it, melted.  Then colder weather guaranteeing what was left would stay for the weekend.  This weekend, the kids and grandkids were up for the one year birthday of the youngest one, and the announcement there is another on the way.  With snow on the ground and an open hill in front of the house there was bound to be sledding.  De and I have five or six sleds from when our kids were young we keep for just such an opportunity.   With an inch or so of new snow Saturday night, it was clear there would be more after Church on Sunday.

Saturday was the birthday party, and after the traditional festivities Papa took the four girls, the two grands and the two adopted grands from my last post, out to play in the snow.  Between Saturday and Sunday there was:

A lot of sledding,



Snow angels,

Snow "reindeer",

"Bears" in the snow,
And lots of smiles and laughter.

Through it all, Papa 'relearned' winter.  Where I had seen mostly inconvenience, the grandkids saw a wonderland of imagination, endless possibilities, and pure joy.  For the price a few days of achy joints and sore muscles, I got to share in it all and see winter anew in the laughter of the children I love.  The days where I can do that will someday, perhaps someday soon, come to a close so I'm cherishing the opportunities I have.  It was worth every minute I'll spend with the heating pad, every ibuprofen I'll need in the next day or two to get through the workday, and every bit of muscle cream I'll use before bed.  This day, I am truly blessed!

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark










Sunday, February 4, 2018

What it's all about

Yep.  We got it.  De and I, both.  Not sure who was first, but in the end it didn't matter.  I'm taking about the flu of course, which has been burning through this part of the country.  I don't know specifically which variety because when I called the doc he said, via his nurse, "Don't bother to come in to be tested, it's the flu."  Since I was already on Tamiflu as a preventative (due to my unrepentantly, unabashedly, underperforming immune system) they called in an Rx of the same stuff for De.

It was too late.  By the time De got home from work it was clear she had it, too.  A woman who has essentially become a third daughter picked up De's prescription for her and we both settled in for the siege.   Being on Tamiflu did seem to help because neither of us got seriously ill.  The fact that I didn't get seriously ill, even being on Tamiflu, is a simply a testament to God's grace.  There have been over 136 flu deaths in Indiana so far and many of those are folks who had compromised immune systems.  Like me.  I was expecting real trouble and got no more than healthy people get.  Once again, we are so blessed.

So - Down to the 'What it's all about part'.  We got a few inches of fresh snow last night and after church (which De and I sat out this week) the same adopted daughter who picked De's meds stopped by with her two daughters (Adopted granddaughters!! Woot! Woot!).  They wisely didn't come in, but the three of them brushed the snow off both our vehicles, cleared the snow from our patio, took our trash down to the trash cans, and the girls each made a little snowman to sit on the benches outside the front door.




Their family has been a joy to us for the past few years and even more in the past few months.  We were so honored and humbled by their kindness.  I'm going to be smiling all week, everytime I think about it.  Kindness, community, family, Christianity - Yep!  That IS what it's all about.

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sorry, Girls!!

There were bad vibes, accusations of disloyalty,  a little bit of name calling (Slackers!), and even some occasional talk of summary executions.  But, before you wipe me completely out of your cyberspace, hear me out.

Just before it got cold this winter - I mean the first stretch that was real, single digit and not all of them positive cold - the eggs pretty much dried up and almost the whole flock went into a molt.  The timing was exquisite and couldn't have been worse.  Feathers were everywhere, eggs were nowhere, for more than a month they rarely left the coop and on the coldest days we left it closed up.  It was a pitiful sight to see.

Everyone gets a pass on egg laying during a molt.  They pretty much get a pass when its really cold or miserably hot.  For the molt we stocked up on "Feather Fixer" and let it run its course.  And, as you all knew would come, first there were pin feathers then there were full feathers then there were warmer temps and chickens out happily scratching in the run.   And still no eggs.

That's when it started.  For a week we talked about how we would replace the lot of them.  The following week we got more irked everytime we went to the laying boxes.  We were getting one or two eggs every other day, and were not pleased.  Being chickens and all, they were all pretty much oblivious to our frustration with their shoddy performance, which which did nothing to enhance their position.  They had just about sealed their grizzly (but nonetheless tasty) fate when, on a lark, De checked the little 'nursery' annex we added to the coop.


Oops...  Sorry, girls...  Nevermind all that talk about you getting up close and personal in the crock pot with sweet onions and baby carrots...

For now...

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Fresh Start!

It's cold here in NE Indiana.  Again.  With the exception of one anomalous 50F day last week, we've had single digit positives and negatives or low teens in both directions for several weeks now.  After a while it starts to kind of sink into your bones, which makes those occasional warm days even more of a blessing.  This morning was no exception.  Depending on whose thermometer you were looking at it was somewhere between -4F and 9F at first light.  Brrrrr!

There was one difference between this morning (Sunday - January 14) and the way most of our bone-chilling mornings have been.  The sun was out.  One of the reasons the morning was so cold is that the clouds cleared off during the night and the open sky just sucked what heat there was right out of the air.  (The physics behind that phenomena is really cool - no pun intended - but most folks know that clear skies=cold nights and are justifiably not really interested in the mathy specifics of how God designed it all to work.  Still...)

I suppose it works this way in most places but, here at least, sunny skies after a clear, cold, cold night makes for a simply glorious morning!  We had a light, soft snow whisper in early last evening with no breeze, so when the sun came up every twig in every tree and every standing stalk of roadside grass was painted with a frosty, glowing blaze of sunlight.  It was clear and crisp and wonderfully perfect.  Adding to that, while I was doing the Church Security team thing and watching for other things, I got to watch a dozen or so deer pick their way across an open field between wooded areas near the church building.  Glorious!!

And to make life even better, the garden seed and tree catalogs have started to arrive.  De and I have always enjoyed planning the garden in the months before we can actually work it, and the seed catalogs always provide fuel for that fire.  For us, when the planning begins, it's much like the dawning of a new day like we had today.  It's like a fresh start!  Never mind we couldn't do all we wanted to do last year, or the year before.  Never mind there is still a bit of clean-up to do before we can really get things started in the spring.  Never mind the 'new health realities' mean focusing on less labor intensive methods of doing things.  It's a blank garden canvas that we can paint however we choose.  Once again, simply glorious!!

Speaking of wonderful things, last post I promised a picture of the grand kids, so here it is.  The family did PJ pics for family Christmas this year, and this is ours with the grands.  (The oldest never gives you a natural smile unless you catch her off guard!)  As many of you know, grand kids are such a blessing, and De and I are loving being grandparents.  We don't get to see them nearly often enough, so when we do its always a wonderful (and exhausting!) time.  We are so looking forward to having them come to the homestead in the spring.



While we were down at their place a few weeks ago the oldest one, as kids often do, was asking her dad for something that was not going to be in the family spend plan.  Dad was telling her if she wanted something like that she would need to get a job and, since she did not have a job, that item was not going to be forthcoming.  Her reply just made my heart sing.  "Yes I do!! Helping Papa in the garden!!"  Papa resisted the urge to whip out his wallet and buy whatever it was she wanted, but it sure made my day!   It assured Grammy De and I that we are making an impact and a difference in the life of those children!  And that is truly glorious.

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark




Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ummmm... I'm not dead yet!

Hi Folks,

I've actually got a t-shirt that says that. "I'm not dead yet!"   Daughter #1 got it for me several years ago when she was studying in England where she saw "Spamalot" live, but that's another story.  I wear it when I'm in the hospital because the nurses get a kick out of it. The fact that I know that, I suppose, needs to be part of this one.

So first things things first, I am still alive and more or less OK.   That being said, it's been a year of changes.  Where do I start?

First the good stuff.  We have a grandson!  Born February first, he's an amazing gift from God for both this parents and us.  His name is Maverick.  He lives, with his sisters and parents of course, about 2 1/2 hours away - which is pretty hard on Grammy De.  Pics to come.

The homestead is pretty much the same.  We sent about 10 chickens to freezer camp and bought a few more.  We have seven now, and just as it turned cold they started a molt.  We'll be glad to get everyone past that.  We'll grow up a few more in the spring.

The garden actually shrunk this year, but it was still respectable.  We had high hopes, but energy was an issue.  There were still 130+ pints of green beans, only 30+ of tomato products.  There were cabbages, beats, sweet potatoes, egg plant, onions, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, a couple different kinds of peppers.  Not a bad year, and we have high hopes for next year.

And the nitty gritty:  It's called CVID - Common Variable Immunodeficiency.  You've almost certainly never hear of it: Statistically there should be only about 6200 of us in the whole USA.  That means about 132 in the whole state of Indiana and 3 in the rural 4-county NE corner where I live.  I don't know the real numbers.  I've never personally met another CVID patient, but know of several from blogs and other web pages.  Google it if you're interested but the short story is that I don't manufacture certain classes of antibodies, and have a pretty constant string of small infections interspersed with the occasional major one.  There is a a short list of weird stuff that comes along for the ride.  I was diagnosed in 2012, but this year it 'bit' harder than most.  Fatigue is the real problem, which is why, sometimes, things just don't get done.

There were a few little health things going on that become bigger things when you throw CVID in the mix.  I had two surgeries this year: One planned - an inguinal hernia fix, and one unplanned - a 7mm kidney stone they had to go fetch ten days after the hernia surgery.  And a prostate cancer scare (I'm clear for now - recheck in a couple of months.)  And a 17mm spleenic aneurysm that seems to be stable for now.  And acute bronchitis - again.  (I'm mostly past that for now.)  And I've stopped manufacturing sufficient vitamin D (that's a CVID related thing) which is part of the whole fatigue thing.  You get the picture.

So with all that, things have slowed down across the board.  At home, pretty much everything takes longer to do and some things just don't get done.  At the day job, I've had to step out of what was a central role in major programs, into more of a support role.  Having to do that stung a little bit, but the folks at work were and are great about it, and it's for the best.  God only knows for certain, but the slower pace is likely a permanent thing.

I think I promised, a year ago, to spill the beans on the day job.  I'm a physicist (BS only, not PhD) at a mid-sized defense company and I am, or was anyway, the chief system test engineer for many of the USA's weather satellite primary sensors (think: "camera", but about the size of a mid-sized garden tractor.)  You likely have not heard of my company and, as much as I like it, I'm not going to name it.  If you've seen weather satellite pictures (think hurricanes this year) on TV or the internet, you've seen a bit of my handiwork.  Ok, promise kept - 'nuf about that.

Just so no one is tempted to think otherwise - I am STILL blessed.  Wildly.  Immensely.  God is still in control.  I have a wonderfully supportive family.  I can still hold a job, and work for a company that is willing to let me.  I can do almost anything I want on the homestead, just not as much of it.  I have a team of about 6 really good doctors that keep me going.  Life on the Hoosier Country Homestead is still really, really good.

I will try and post a more frequently.  And I will get back to reading your blogs.  I seem to be on the upswing, and have collected a handful of post-worthy stories about the homestead, family, and life with CVID.

Do take care all and, as always, Col. 1:9-12.

Mark