Not Winnie

barnI can mark time passage in my childhood by the little material things I accumulated. These little talismans were not important because
of their monetary value but rather because they acknowledged my
increased maturity. They are some of my clearest memories of
childhood.

Winnie the Pooh is the Grand Marshall in my parade of time capsules
posing as childhood trinkets. My sister, Deb, always brought home
Winnie the Pooh albums that included both a record with
voice characters reading the story and a large book so I could follow
along. I still work Winnie the Pooh themed memories into my daily
life, witness how I often call our cat, Magoo, by his
Winnie-influenced nickname- “Goober the Pooh.”

Next up on a list of handheld childhood items would include my first
knife. I believe it was a brown Barlow knife. barlow knifeAt first I had to find uses for
the knife. I knew this was a clear message that I now had the
maturity and responsibilities that accompany a knife owner however I
really wasn’t sure what were these responsibilities. I started by
cutting one twine of the two that held bales together in the stack.
Later when I began to feed hay to the cattle and spread out straw, I
used the knife to cut both twines. I now know what a mature knife user
knows; a knife is typically used to as a screwdriver and a small
pry-bar. Using a knife to cut is a rare and wonderful treat.

I have written about my first watch. Earlier this week, someone
remarked about my super-wide leather band and watch. Lisa gifted me
this watch for my 50th because of my childhood stories of that watch.
My first watch was actually my dad’s old watch that was repaired for
my use. It had a twist-flex watch band and was awesome. The
passage of time has revealed a perspective in which that timepiece
seems like a training-wheels level of watch bands compared to the
massive, leather version which arrived when I was eleven and the more
recent version now on my wrist.

I had many bicycles so there isn’t one special bike. A bicycle back
in the seventies was like receiving the keys to your own cell. I was
no longer limited to the farm and loved the freedom of my bicycle. I
caused some panic in my parents with extended trips but they both
lived pretty long lives so I don’t believe I did much damage. I still
like a good bike ride.

My first gun shot bbs. A lot of people have written about bb guns
so I will stop there. My first real gun was a 30-06, bolt-action
rifle. It kicked so hard that I hated it. I still use a 30-06 today
but normally shoot de-tuned ammo that doesn’t kick so badly. What I
really wanted back then was a Winchester 94, lever-action but dad
said it wasn’t practical for my needs. I still want one.

mercury-montego-1977-3My final trinket of youth wasn’t a trinket and it ended my youth. My
parents paid for half of a car and I paid for the other half. It was
a 1976 Mercury Montego. I really liked that car but once you have
wheels of your own you can go to the drive-in, date and enjoy freedom
to make your own stupid decisions. For these reasons, I don’t believe
I was a kid after I got my car. I don’t know what I was but I sure
wasn’t the same kid who liked Winnie the Pooh, even though I still
did like him.

When I received each of these signposts in my life, I thought it was
a huge event. When I look back, I see how simple and wonderful were
each of these items. I guess the memories wouldn’t exist without the
material item but it is probably the memories that carry the value
more than the knife, watch, bicycle or car. But not Winnie the Pooh,
he’s special. Not Winnie.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections Radio
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Letter to Dave

Letter to Dave

barnDear Dave,

I am again buried under blankets and serving as a cat pillow as a write you my monthly letter. I have directed much of my winter from this perch and continue to rely on the consultation of our on-staff felines as I pursue relaxation. I have always regarded time spent on the couch as time wasted but I have come to call my own personal sloth “active down time.” It is phrase that is contradictory and veiled enough to make watching a movie seem almost productive.
Our nephew, Jamie, suggested a trip out to Carrington to visit you. I love these little daytrips. Although a trip to Carrington lies outside the 23 mile radius within which I typically inhabit, it is so familiar that I enjoy it. Our trips to see you normally involve breakfast and probably some of the best farm-talk in which I have ever participated. Between us three, there is such a variety of topics and perspectives that it warrants an initial breakfast, coffee and then a second breakfast. Anyway, I suspect February will house our trip but no date has yet to be announced.
I have spent a fair amount of time at the gym this year, Dave. I am proficient at keeping a stressful look on my face during the class while continually searching for ways in which to make my work-out easier-ok, that’s not really true. I don’t work-out to change my life; I work-out to maintain the freedom to continue to live my life as I like. So far, it has worked pretty well. I also have met some of the best people during class; people with whom I share refreshingly tepid hotdog water and pre-moistened, anti-microbacterial wipes.

I am excited at the prospect of spring, Dave. The easy winter makes me feel like we’ve gotten away almost scot-free from the pain associated with the fourth season. I know there exists the possibility of cold and snow yet and so I want to escape to April before winter catches us. April is no guarantee of freedom from winter but an April storm is like being bit by a puppy as opposed to January storms which are more like being bit by its mother.

I am still working on the overhead shop door, Dave. This has been a long process made even longer by the fact I had to wire the shed before installing the overhead door opener. The problem is, I hate heights. Also, I do everything by myself which means that I typically use ropes or makeshift 2×4 derricks to hold the dumb end of any project. It takes time to do things right and takes even more time when the laborer (me)is made up mostly of Carhartt outerwear and the desperate fear known only by people who fear heights and ladders. I plan to wire up the controller today, Dave and-barring any slipping or falling to the awaiting concrete below-should be able to put this project to bed.
I had more to say, Dave but a stamp will only carry so much. Tell everyone hello and that I will get that helmet to Ryan next time I leave my protective 46-mile circle.

Your little bro’

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections Radio
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program. Benchwarmer

Benchwarmer

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I have spent winter on the sidelines; no cattle, very little snow and
no shop projects. Excess couch time has allowed me time to think big
thoughts and observe the condition here in northwest Minnesota.

First off, my heart goes out to ice fishermen. I know how passionate
these folks are about fishing and this has not been a year that gave
itself easily to the sport. Warm temperatures have kept the ice thin
which
means the nice icehouses have stayed on shore. These sportsmen have
been able to pull clamshell houses onto the ice, however. As a
young, struggling radio announcer, I stayed in some pretty ugly
apartments.
One of these apartments was even lost to a fire which rendered it
only slightly less inhabitable and only a bit draftier. Anyway, some
of the clamshell fish houses I’ve seen are more comfortable and roomy
than my first apartment so maybe it isn’t such a tragedy to only be
allowed to fish from these portable structures.

Cattle guys have spent the winter in a mixed state. Lower
temperatures mean cattle use less food to keep themselves warm and to
feed their little calves. I touched on frozen twines last week.
Cattle prices have continued a downward movement which has obviously
hurt feed lots as they bought high and wake-up to lower prices most
days. Depending upon how much cow/calf operators paid for their cows
and heifers, these falling prices probably don’t hurt so much. The
cow/calf guy has historically received the short end of the stick so
it is nice to see them make money. I remember getting 80 cents a
pound for feeders so please remember, even as prices fall, you are
making two-fold of what used to make me happy. Feeder operators will
hurt until they’ve sold off the high-priced cattle they purchased in
2015 however they should be able to make up some of the difference on
lower-priced feeders and cheap corn.

I have spent the winter at work or at home. I typically spend a lot
of it out in the shop listening to old rock or old country while I
build something. I have built cattle crossings out in my shed. I
built Lisa’s greenhouse out there too. I restored a few old John
Deere snowmobiles out there and built a cupola for my shop last
winter. It’s funny, but just when I finally get a coffee pot out in
the shop to use, I quit using the shop. It’s just not winter without
a shop project although recent cold temperatures have made a good
effort to remind me that we are now in the fourth season.

And so it is the tipping point of winter. We gain a little sunshine
each day and most Christmas trees are back in their box. I am like
the sixth man on the court and first off the bench. But I haven’t
become part of the game though, at least not yet.

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections Radio

Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Frozen Twine<

Frozen Twines

barnThis has been a warm winter, I am thankful for the fact. This type of weather does energize one negative memory of a winter spent crossing the fence that separates temperatures above freezing and below freezing. The memory is about cutting frozen twine from hay and straw bales.
In the transition from fall to winter, you get some wet snow and enough sunshine to partially melt the snow. In a warm winter such as we are enjoying now, you get the same situation. This combination of wet snow, warm temperatures followed by freezing conditions creates ice. There is no time when I dislike ice more than when I have to cut frozen twines from hay bales.

The real answer to frozen twines is shelter. When I kept cattle through the winter, I eventually built a nice shed to keep the bales free from ice. Prior to the building, I fought the frozen twine war. I employed several weapons in this battle. For light ice, I had a piece of rebar to which a sharp sickle-bar section was welded. I could use the bar to drag the sickle section across the face of the bale which did a nice job of cutting through light ice and twines. Heavier ice demanded old-school, medieval tools such as the double-headed axe and also a junior axe which was easier to use is if I had knelt down to chop the lower twines. Sometimes, I would just use the loader tractor to “skin” the frozen layer of hay, then peel it off and leave it for bedding.

The problem with all of this icy hay was that there was terrible waste. Because a bales circumference decreases the closer you get to the center, it also follows that most of the bales’ bulk is contained within the first few outside inches of the roll. There is nothing like seeing green, leafy alfalfa encased in ice with pieces of twine attached to it and lying worthless on the ground.
I always tried to cut out the worst sections of the hay bale and save whatever I hay could be conserved. When you think of the cost to make a hay bale, it is worth taking the time. I would use my loader tractor to lift the bale into the air and then cut and chop frozen junk from the good food underneath. It really doesn’t make sense to leave the frozen part of the bale intact, either. If the cattle have to work to get through the frozen part, they lose valuable eating time. In my experience, it is a battle during the winter to keep weight on cattle and I would rather burn my own calories preparing them a proper meal than to have them waste their own acquired energy preparing their own.

I am writing this flanked by our staff of cats and buried under a blanket. If you are out there working hard for your cattle you have my respect. I know how hard it can be and I hope that if you don’t have a hay shed, you can get one soon because next to frozen cattle waterers, there is nothing worse than cutting, chopping and dicing-frozen twine.

Rural Reflections Radio

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Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, New Year at the Sundance<

New Year at the Sundance

Lisa and I both wanted to bring in the New Year in a special way. We knew we’d spend it together but wanted a unique experience. We both had enjoyed the Sundance Dining room in 2015 and so decided to greet 2016 in the same way. Here’s how it went.
Lisa dressed up like she does and I wore something other than a t-shirt so we were ready for a special time. It was reservation only so I reserved a table for us at 5:30 that evening. If there was one thing I would improve about the Sundance Dining room experience it would be automated reservations or someone to answer the phone on a more regular basis-a small detail. We arrived just a bit early and were shown to a table.

The menu for the evening included hors d’oeuvres, a main course and dessert. Lisa later described the whole meal to her mother and I thought it was descriptive enough that we should use snippets of their conversation to describe the meal. Here’s Lisa; “The appetizer we ordered was crustini bread w/elk tenderloin on it. The appetizer consisted of 5 crustini slices with elk on top, a strip of red bell pepper and a sprig of chive. This was laid out on a narrow plate.” Lisa and I shared the Crustinis and they were awesome. The Elk had such a deep, complex flavor and the contrast of the tender meat with the crusty bread was awesome. Taste is obviously an important element to any food but consistency is also part of the experience. The contrast in consistency makes me really think about what I am eating plus it slows me down enough that I more fully enjoy the taste.

I am going to make a slight breach in etiquette and speak about the dessert prior to the Entrée. It was Crème Brulee. Not too sweet and so perfectly presented in a simple mason jar. I crave simple, well-balanced flavors and the Brulee delivered. Lisa and shared it.
Most meals I eat out of our home are good. However, I rarely think about the meal longer than the time it takes to again become hungry. This was a meal that sustained my mind much longer than the time it sustained my body. The heavy lifting for this sustenance was performed by the entrée. Here again, I will rely on Lisa’s description of the meal to her mother. “The entrée we both ordered was filet mignon w/salmon. It looked like a round pyramid. It began from the bottom with truffle mashed potatoes. Laid across the potatoes were 4 spears of asparagus, on top of that sat the filet mignon w/the bacon wrapped salmon. A blackberry butter sauce was drizzled over the top of the salmon w/2 big blackberries on top.”

Okay, here’s how I eat steak. I place a fork into the steak at angle to the grain and cut along the backside of the fork so I get the most tender bite. I tried this with the filet but kept rotating the filet and made my cuts at unfavorable angles. No matter what I did, it was perfectly tender. The Sundance makes steak perfectly as it is dark on the outside then quickly fades to gray and finally a light pink. The salmon was firm and delicious but what really tied it all together was the maple blackberry butter. I think a great chef must also be a pretty good scientist ad skilled at observation in order to take a flavor from each part of an entrée and then tie those flavors together in a sauce that is friendly to all participants on the plate. It was all so good. Lisa and I were amazed at the size of the blackberries and how these plump pieces of fruit made perfect sense on the plate.

I decided the write a second review of the Sundance the day after our meal. I was still thinking about the food the next day. It is that good. I suspect the cost is a bit more than you might typically pay but while the meal may last no longer than any other, the experience is long-lived and rewarding. I spend most of my life within the same 23 mile radius of space so to have this level of food within that portion of geography is very rewarding. Thank you Robin, Nathan AND STAFF for another great eating experience!

Rural Reflections Radio

Rural Reflections Radio
Here is this week’s Rural Reflections Radio program, Looking Back