2.3.2016 The Ammonia Battle

Some horses urinate more than others. That’s just a fact. Two of my boarded horses, Sadie and Cookie, are prolific producers of liquid fertility. It’s not a problem when they are out in the pasture, but all four horses are taken off pasture at night because they are all prone to obesity. I don’t run a show or a lesson barn where horses get worked every day. Horses at Apriori Farm are essentially pasture ornaments I keep to help with pasture management and to generate large piles of poo to feed my compost pile.

Thus with enthusiastic pee-ers in the barn every night, ammonia build-up in the stalls can get pretty horrific at times. Over the last five years, I’ve tried various solutions and had little success. The high levels of ammonia in Sadie’s stall cause respiratory issues for her and for anyone working in that end of the barn. Let me describe my stalls and what I’ve tried.

My barn is a steel Quonset toaster built on native Virginia red clay (top soil removed). Inside the stalls, the floor is 3 inches of rock dust packed on top of the clay. When we first arrived, there were rubber mats in the stalls. We pulled them out, scrubbed them down and put them in the stalls that weren’t being used for horses. At the time, my horses weren’t getting much stall time – instead they went into the round pen. When they did come in the barn, it was on the packed rock dust floor covered with pine shavings. Again not much time in the barn. Not prolific pee-ers. Not much of a problem.

Then Sadie came with her over active bladder. The packed rock dust floor quickly became saturated with urine. The urine wasn’t moving down into the clay below.

I added lime. I added Sweet PDZ. I put the rubber mats back in, continued pine shavings use and sprayed the stalls every day with vinegar. I put in a fan, at first blowing into the stall and then, when that didn’t help much, blowing out of the stall. The fan has help a lot, but still hadn’t solved the problem of urine pooling underneath the mats. There are days when it gets pretty overwhelming and those are the days Sadie lays the guilt trip on me, as she stands there coughing through her breakfast.

So for the last two days I’ve been renovating her stall. First I removed the mats and then I dug a two foot hole in the middle of the stall. I filled the hole with pea gravel, sand and quite a bit of lime. Then I regraded the stall with a fresh layer of rock dust, sloping everything down toward my freshly dug pee pit. Then I line the whole stall with a geotextile product called Stall Saver and put 6 inches of shavings on top of that.

In theory, Sadie will pee, wetting a very small area of bedding, but most of the urine will flow quickly through the Stall Saver and onto the packed rock dust. From there, the urine will travel down the slope into the pit where the ammonia odor can dissipate far below Sadie’s nose.

This was not cheap. The liner was about $250, plus another $60 in sand, pea gravel and stone dust, plus $70 worth of bedding. Now if the Stall Saver works as advertised, I should recover the cost fairly quickly because I won’t be removing nearly as much bedding from her stall every day. Currently we’re very parsimonious with bedding and use about a bag and a half per week per horse – about $10/week. Gonna be over a year before it pays for itself.

Now that it’s done, I’m second guessing myself. I’m thinking I should have removed the existing stone dust and several inches of the native clay. Then I should have layered in more permeable footings, maybe a layer of sand and pea gravel covered with, I don’t know, maybe just dirt.

Other farm doings

Last year, my bees froze to death in January.  I am pleased to report that as of February 1, 2016, both my beehives are still alive.  We had a lovely warmup after the snow storm and the bees were out and about, buzzing me on the porch, demanding hooch.  I ignored them.  Wild bees don’t get hooch and they survive the winter.  I’m determined to get my bees off the welfare roles.

I watched a lot of how to grow thing videos this week as I went through the process of ordering seeds. Consequently, I’ve got some experiments planned and one already underway.

Pre-sprouted carrots – I’ve always had a horrible time getting carrots to sprout. I also lack the patience and time to go back and thin if a miracle occurs and the seeds actually germinate. So a couple of days ago, I put carrots seeds on damp paper towels and kept them in the house at room temperature. They have now sprouted. Tomorrow I will take my new dibble

The fellow from the YouTube video used an old table leg.  Essentially, a dibble is a conical stick used to poke holes in the ground.  They come in various lengths and widths.  This one is sized to make a happy home for parsnips and carrots, though I may use it for leeks as well.

The fellow from the YouTube video used an old table leg. Essentially, a dibble is a conical stick used to poke holes in the ground. They come in various lengths and widths. This one is sized to make a happy home for parsnips and carrots, though I may use it for leeks as well.

(Thank you, Michael and Michael’s lathe.) Punch holes in the soil of an empty bed in the old hoophouse. I’ll fill those holes with compost and a single, sprouted carrot seed. 100% germination. No thinning required.  Precision spacing.  No rocks directly below the seed. No excuses for the carrots to be anything less than perfect. . . Um, yeah. We’ll see how that works.

I got this idea from a fellow in the UK who has a YouTube channel and he does a lot of gardening in pots. There’s something charming and peaceful about his videos, and he can certainly grow leeks! You can find his channel at Home Grown Veg

Incidentally, if you think giant pumpkins are cool, trying doing a web images search for exhibition carrots.

Uchepos – while reading up on some the seed offerings in the catalogs, I stumbled upon a comment about corn that was just lovely and this simple, brief description will have me on a quest come corn season. Read on and I’ll bet you’ll go questing too.

“Uchepos are…what can I say…softer than clouds, sweeter than dreams. They’re summer on a plate. Combined with the picante of the salsa verde and the slightly acid crema, they’re food for the gods.”    quote source

No new recipes this week. The crockpot Balsamic Chicken sounded like a good idea, but it was the most dreadful meal I’ve concocted in a very long time.  One full cup of balsamic vinegar in any recipe is probably a bad idea.

Useful things:

When expecting plowable amounts of snow, it is wise to mark the margins of your driveway. That way you can plow your driveway and not your yard.

When expecting plowable amounts of snow, it is wise to coil garden hoses that you may need somewhere other than the north side of your house.

1.24.2015 Blizzard Back Therapy

Tuesday morning something happened that has not happened in a very long time. My lower back went into a major spasm. When this happens, I walk like an ape, knuckles dragging. There’s a lot of panting and hissing, and I am quite prone to vulgarity. Since this happened before morning chores, and my husband had already left for work and my son was about to leave for school, I was in a pickle. An immediate double dose of ibuprofen and 30 minutes of stretching got me upright enough to get through chores – hauling water to all my animals mostly.

When I got back to the house, I spent the next several hours crawling and ape walking about, tearing the house apart like some desperate crack addict looking for a fix, only I was in search of the electronic pulse massager. (Bought this past summer to help my husband through a back episode.) I made a huge mess. I didn’t care. I said vile things about my family members who are always rearranging my filing system of stuff. I texted my son. I texted my daughter. Time for the Hail Mary. I texted my husband, who in the 24 years we have been married, has never known where anything was located.  He casually replied, “It’s in a shoe box under my dresser.”IMG_1700

Hallelujah! At last! Sweet relief. Electro shock therapy and a heating pad. This combined with all the water hauling has pulled me out of this episode faster than any other I’ve ever had. But it was shoveling snow that took the final twinges out of my back. And wow, did we get some snow!

It started Friday morning, just after we finished putting the horses out and stocking the main barn with enough hay for a week. The first flakes started falling as we brought hay bales down to the rooster pen to block the wind. At first, we only put bales on the north side, but as the storm progressed, I added bales to the east (because the storm was a noreaster), and then to the western side because when the winds really started howling, they came out of the northwest. The bachelor pad had become the bachelor bunker. The ducks and chickens I never let out of their pens. Chickens wouldn’t have gone out anyway. Ducks would have hunkered down next to the house and gotten buried.

Then every three hours, I went out and swept the off the hoophouses. We were getting roughly an inch of snow per hour. From 9 am to around 6. My husband and I did evening chores together. (I had given my border the evening off.) At that point the wind picked up and the sleet started. I set my alarm for midnight. Got up and checked the hoophouses again, but the wind was howling and keeping them clear.

The sleet had changed back to snow by the time the sun came up on Saturday and that wind was still howling and miserable. My husband helped with the morning chores. Since wagons and wheel barrows won’t go through snow, my hubby warmed up the tractor and we used that to haul hay down to the rooster pen to finalize the touches on the bachelor bunker.

The Rooster Pen - a chicken tractor hemmed in with hay bales on three sides.

The Rooster Pen – a chicken tractor hemmed in with hay bales on three sides.

Then Hubs made several passes around the farm, compacting the snow in our work areas. The tractor finally got a name today.  “Honey Badger,” because the Kubota simply doesn’t care what you ask it to do or in what conditions it must work.  It just does the job.

Blazing trails. Moose the dog just wants chores to be over. "Can we go inside, please! This isn't fun anymore."

Blazing trails. Moose the dog just wants chores to be over. “Can we go inside, please! This isn’t fun anymore.”

Well, sort of.  The wind promptly filled in all the packed tractor tire ruts. There are some pretty horrific drifts out there. The snow on the east side of old hoophouse is hip deep, but most of that is what I swept off the top.

The snow was finally easing off when it came time for Saturday evening chores. As I was filling water jugs, my border came trudging up the driveway and another neighbor arrived by pickup.   Both were going a little stir crazy from sitting through two days of snow doing nothing.  Four people to lead in four horses that were anxious to get out of the weather.

Ever since I started serving hot alfalfa tea, Pony is always the first in line at the gate come dinner time.

Ever since I started serving hot alfalfa tea, Pony is always the first in line at the gate come dinner time.

That worked out well and chores were done in no time. Sometime between 6 and 10 pm, another couple of inches of snow blew up onto the steps. I shoveled it off and took a tape measure out into the yard.

Here’s my best guess. 10 inches of snow yesterday. Followed by an unknown amount of sleet. And then 5 inches of snow today. Definitely not the 18-24” forecasted, but more than enough.

This week was mostly about nursing myself out of that back spasm, storm prep and getting all the animals through said storm. But I have permission from my boys to make this again. Soon.  Lima Bean Stew with Tomatoes and OlivesIMG_1689

And here a few bunny trails I came across this week, thanks to the Alton Browncast #59. Do with them what you will.

  • Aged Eggnog
  • Salt-cured egg yolks
  • Homemade Beer Vinegar

1.20.2016 The Elusive Free Oil Change

My mechanic has this deal. Buy 5 oil changes and get the 6th one free. In the five years he’s been maintaining the Apriori “fleet”, I have never once walked out of there without paying for something. That free oil change is always accompanied by new tires, brake jobs, coolant leaks, something – the price we pay for having old cars is lots of maintenance. So on Tuesday of this week, when my 18 year old minivan informed me it would like it’s engine serviced soon, please, I wasn’t surprised. It was due for one of those “free” oil changes. I made an appointment with my mechanic hoping for something minor and easy on the bank account. $1,000 later, I had my free oil change plus a new tie rod, a new battery, a new catalytic converter and a transmission flush. To ease my pain, Mechanic Doug, pointed out the $1200 a year I spend on keeping the van running isn’t anything close to what I’d be forking out in car payments, higher insurance and oil changes on a new vehicle. “You’ve saved at least $25,000 in the last three years by keeping your van.” Well, that makes me feel so much better.

Other happenings this week:

Really cold weather is coming, so we

  • watered the hoophouses really well and installed row covers for a little bit of extra protection.
  • Covered the fig tree with an entire bale of hay
  • Mucked the chicken coop and duck house to reduce the humidity caused by the poo and hopefully avoid frostbite damage.

We also laid down a lot of hay in the muddy bootsucking bogs that have developed here and there from all the rain.

I finally planted two flats of kale I had started way back in October when I thought I would have a new hoophouse in short order. (Rain and life postponed that until a week ago.)

A bit of stunted curly kale and long neglected leeks.  I do so love the new hoop house.  It feels positively huge inside thanks to the vertical side walls.

A bit of stunted curly kale and long neglected leeks. I do so love the new hoop house. It feels positively huge inside thanks to the vertical side walls.

I also started flats of lettuce and spinach, and as soon as the spinach sprouted, mice snuck under the domes and ate the seedlings. Sticky traps aren’t working, so I moved on to poison traps based on the advice of the ladies at the co-op. Mice have never been this bad before. In the barn. In the coop. In the house. Joining us for dinner. The war is on!

One more chick died during the week, dropping us from 30 to 28. They’re two weeks old now and are growing quickly. The last couple of nights have been in the low teens, and even though the chicks are nestled into the seed room which stays between 40 and 50 degrees on such cold days, I’ve had to lower the heat lamp down a bit to keep them happy. And just to take a little of the cold edge out of my steel barn, I’m putting all four horses in the barn to generate a little extra heat.

My son and the rest of the high school drama club put on their first show of the year. Great performances all around.

My daughter turns 21 in the middle of the coming week, but since she’s all grown up now and living and working 2.5 hours from here, we threw her a birthday party this weekend. In the process, we discovered another great recipe.

Vallarta bean stuffed Raviolis with Sweet Potato Sauce. The Vallarta beans come from Rancho Gordo. (Navy, cranberry, pintos would do nicely too.) I just cooked those in some water with some onion. I then added salt and sage and refrigerated them over night. The next day, I drained them (not well enough) and whizzed them all in the food processor until smooth. Drop into homemade pasta dough and cook like you’d cook any other ravioli. For the sauce, you can find the recipe here. (Vegkitchen.com has got lots of great recipes.) My son and I had a lot of fun making raviolis and other pasta. He’s the pasta chef in the house. This was my first time. I should have started making my own pasta years ago! Who needs Play-Doh when you’ve got pasta dough?

No picture of the final product, but making raviolis with my son, what a fun afternoon!

No picture of the final product, but making raviolis with my son, what a fun afternoon!

1.10.2016 Relocations

Yet another Apriori Farm vehicle was suffering from a severe case of Dangly Bits. For the second week running, I’ve had to replace a muffler. Last week, it was the Frankenhonda that’s not pretty but was nearly free and generally gets from point A to point B with its own funky style. This week, it was the truck and the truck was already loaded with the trappings of my daughter’s life awaiting transport to her new home when I noticed the muffler was no longer properly attached.

My daughter took it to the mechanic for a quick replacement and I tried to prepare the farm for a brief but intense cold spell. All accomplished before noon. Then my daughter and I spent the next 9 and a half hours moving her stuff to Raleigh. It took us 9 hours to run out of conversation. We both had a lot to say. It was a great outing, and I learned many things.

  • My daughter’s generation seems more obsessed with race than mine is.
  • They are generally less prepared to deal with adult life (financial management, changing a tire, cooking, laundry, etc.) Not my daughter, mind you. She can cook, clean, manage her books and knows how to do minor car repair and maintenance.
  • I’m still searching for a restaurant that can serve up a decent chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and green beans. At this point in my quest, I’d be happy to find a restaurant that actually cooks and salts their green beans.
  • Deep fried black-eyed peas, billed as the new pop-corn, just don’t quite live up to expectations.

The next couple of days were really cold and marked the first time this winter I’ve had to haul warm water from the house down to the animals.

The roofers did an outstanding job of removing, repairing, and replacing the roof on the house on Wednesday. They also did an outstanding job of annoying the cat, who couldn’t find a single quiet place to nap for the entire day. He expressed his displeasure and contempt in most in appropriate ways.

The original roof, leaking badly along the ridgeline and around the plumbing vents.

The original roof, leaking badly along the ridge line and around the plumbing vents.

Large team of roofers showed up at 9 am and were done by 5.

Large team of roofers showed up at 9 am and were done by 5.

And there you have it.  A brand new roof.  Not as green as I had wanted, but it comes quite close to approximating the color of the mildew and algae that grown on the north side of the house.  I am happy.

And there you have it. A brand new roof. Not as green as I had wanted, but it comes quite close to approximating the color of the mildew and algae that grown on the north side of the house. I am happy.

On Thursday, it was all about relocating some newly finished compost into a bed in the riding ring, and . . . tilling it in. Don’t like to till, but the riding ring growing disaster of 2015 has sort of driven me to mix in the compost instead of layering due to moisture retention issues. Once mixed in, I finally put down the last of the garlic – the late maturing stuff. Some hardneck and some soft. Lesson learned the hard way: Plant all the hardneck varieties first as many of them don’t last into January. Second lesson learned: get all the garlic planted before Thanksgiving. Third, life being what it is in November, getting all the garlic planted before Thanksgiving is a pipe dream.

On Friday, I was still relocating things. Namely chicks and hay. I used the hay bales that have formed the west wall of the duck house to mulch the newly planted garlic. These bales have been weathering for months and most had already begun to really decompose. It makes decent mulch, and I don’t have to worry about any Round-Up residues. Then I had to put new bales down to make a new west wall for the ducks.

The chicks arrived at the post office first thing in the morning and I had to go fetch them and install them into some sort of housing. They went into my normal brooding tub which I use in emergencies to house small numbers of chicks. The trouble is I ordered 25 chicks and received 30 from Mt. Healthy Hatcheries. The brood tub is only going to be practical for a few days. Chicks grow very quickly. So I bought a second 100 gallon water trough. The chicks, numbering 29 now, got relocated into that this morning. Hopefully, this will contain them until they’re fully feathered. At that point, I plan to cordon off a portion of the new hoop house and winter them in there whilst I build a new mobile coop that doesn’t have delusions of flight.IMG_1657

Aside from the one lost chick, the biggest trouble has been figuring out which heat source keeps them warm enough without cooking them. The weather is very changeable at the moment, quite warm today, but come tomorrow, we’ll have highs in the 30s and 40s for the foreseeable future. The chicks are down in the barn, in the white room. I’ve got the heat mat running on the sand bed and once that sand warms up, that should keep the chill out of the room. A 250 watt heat lamp will do the rest. I hope.  So much more efficient to have a mother hen.

Yesterday, was also our first market of the year in Farmville. With all the relocations of the week, I didn’t have time to pick anything, but I showed up anyway with eggs and pork. Wasn’t a great day in terms of sales, but the reluctance I felt to go disappeared as soon as customers started showing up. I really like these people and I’ve missed them.

Other things happening this week:

Bookkeeping. I hate bookkeeping and I can’t quite seem to close out 2015 and get 2016 started. I’m really not far from finishing off for 2015, and I’ve promised myself to really keep on top of it in 2016. So far, total fail, but there’s not much going into the books this time of year. The next week will be really cold and therefore conducive to indoor pursuits. Yeah. Right.

I checked up on the bees after many months of benign neglect. Both my hives are heavy and the girls were out foraging today, bringing back bright orange and yellow pollen. In January. Thank you, El Nino!

We also got to spend an evening with friends from the old neighborhood. We used to have monthly parties with all the families, playing Bunco and imbibing in good food, drink and friendship. Sometimes we’d dress up in ridiculous costumes and eat strange and unusual things by candlelight and call it Twelfth Night. I love these people. Smart and witty and willing to laugh at themselves.

Our kids are mostly grown now and making their way with confidence in the wider world. We don’t drink so much anymore nor do we eat as much. And last night, we didn’t play Bunco or perform silly plays. We chatted, snacked and watched the football game and it was a perfect evening except for thugs engaging in thuggery that passes for football these days.

Our favorite new recipe of the week was Black-Eyed Pea Sweet Potato Cornbread Pot Pie.

The filling.

The filling.

The finished recipe all dished up and wonderful!

The finished recipe all dished up and wonderful!

This is from a wonderful blog I discovered this week called Vanilla and Bean. Traci  from Whidbey, Washington, has put together some seriously good vegetarian recipes and taken the most lovely photographs of them.  If you want to learn how to eat more beans, whole grains and leafy greens, Traci has some awesome ideas and she writes out her instructions very well.

1.3.2016 Birthing a Baby

Back in October, I made a rather rash decision. I needed more indoor grow space to overwinter things like kale and spinach, and maybe provide room to get an early start on carrots. So I purchased the parts I needed from Lar-Lyn Farms, good people in Buckingham county who have been mentors and cheerleaders.

As soon as it was delivered though, I knew I had planned to put it in the wrong place. In my north/south kitchen garden, siting the hoophouse on the east side would put the rest of the garden into morning shade. The same type of morning shade that caused so much trouble in the 2014 growing season when I had eight foot pole beans shading all the squash.

You see, I do learn from my mistakes. Sort of. We built the new hoophouse in the garden expansion in the former riding ring. Everything I tried to grow in the riding ring in 2015, failed. The manure I used wasn’t properly composted and was too hot and the high level of pine shavings in it made the soil dry out very quickly. For the 2015 grow season, I put down heavy cardboard, spread the bad manure on top and planted directly into that, relying on soil life to do the job of tilling. Weeds grew great in this mix, garden plants, beans and tomatoes mostly didn’t care for the site at all.

But the remaining pile of bad manure has had a whole year to age and decompose, and hopefully that improved it. I spread that on the new hoophouse site and reluctantly tilled it in, with an actual tiller. Then it started raining. Around Thanksgiving, we started actual construction, pounding in ground posts, affixing arches, hanging purlins. Then Thanksgiving, Christmas parades, college graduation, band concerts, holiday get togethers, and market days happened. And rain. So much rain. I didn’t keep good records, but I suspect we got nearly 10 inches for the month and rarely saw the sun. On Christmas Eve, we got 3 inches and had a fair-sized creek running through the normally dry bottoms. Hard to use power tools outside in such conditions.

Yesterday, my husband and I put in a full day, mostly fitting plastic on the end walls and making doors and windows. I checked the weather frequently, looking for some slack in the wind forecast. It’s nearly impossible to manage a 24’x50’ piece of plastic in any sort of wind. No calm days in the forecast. Bitter cold due by Monday evening. I decided to risk it yesterday, with an intermittent 4-7 mph, but when we opened the box of greenhouse film, it was the wrong material. So we finished doors instead while we waited on Lar-Lynn Farms to bring us the correct covering.

It was nearly dark, by the time Larry and Lynn drove up with the replacement. The wind was finally dead calm and my husband and I were just too tired to keep working. And hungry. In our eagerness to have it done, we rolled right out of bed and went to work. No stopping for breakfast or lunch. After we finally ate dinner, (thank goodness for left overs) I still had to make a trip to town for a third pack of furring strips.

Same story, different day. This morning we finished up the transom windows, and were about to prep the roll bars but couldn’t figure out how to work the hand crank that came with the kit. 48 feet of 12 gauge steel is heavy. Too heavy for me. So we altered our plans for the roll bars and that required another trip to town for electrical conduit. Finally, around 2:00, we were ready to put the film on. My husband, daughter, son and I got it done, despite the slight breeze. We got so lucky. As I write this, the wind has come around from the southwest to the north and is holding steady at 5, with 15 mph gusts. We could never have covered the hoophouse with that sort of breeze. But it’s done now. Just a few holes to plug around the doors.IMG_1643 IMG_1644

All during the construction, when things didn’t quite line up like they ought to, I kept telling my husband we weren’t building a pyramid that had to come together in a perfect point. We have one door and one window opening that are strong with the Dr. Seuss side of the force and are more trapezoid than rectangle. One side of the hoophouse is 48 feet 2” long and the other side is 48 feet 8”. Can’t explain that. We measured very carefully. However, hoophouses are very forgiving and little oddities like that are easy to compensate for. It’s going to get a lot harder to do that once we start construction on the packing shed/carport/emergency animal shelter/windbreak for the new hoop house. Who knew rectangles were so hard.

I am so sore in the quads from all the squatting involved in hoophouse construction. My husband says our Quonset steel barn has birthed yet another baby. Um, no. He and I birthed this baby and this one hurt more than all other babies combined. Age will do that to you.

Tomorrow, I am moving my daughter to Raleigh and somewhere in the day, I have to find time to seal up my other hoophouse and add low tunnels inside it to protect the lettuce, chard and beets. Plus I’ve got cabbage, kohlrabi and kale growing outside without protection. Don’t think that’ll survive the teens. All that will need to be either heavily mulched or picked. Going to be a very long day.

The Christmas break was wonderfully refreshing, but it sure feels good to be back at work. And, three days into the year, I can cross one major project off the list. Oh, happy day!

Other Farm Happenings this week:

  • The horses passed their semi-annual inspection
  • One of my laying hens just up and died, for unknown reasons
  • Ordered a new batch of chicks in hopes they’ll be laying before the rest of my existing flock disappears
  • We got an estimate and lined up a contractor to put a new roof on the house
  • I purchased 16 new Italian Stone Pines to replace some of the dead trees that didn’t make it in our windbreaks.  Italian Stone Pines really like life on Apriori Farm.  White pines, Concolor Fir, Serbian Spruce and Scotch pine, not so much.
  • We spent New Year’s Eve with very good friends and ended up doing a lot of 1980’s reminiscing due to the big hair sported by many of the entertainers in Times Square. Is big hair back?  I didn’t get the memo.
  • And finally, we managed to get our Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day in this super yummy recipe (Just left out all that cilantro stuff and substituted about a tablespoon of dried parsley.  Perfect!):  Black Eyed Pea Cakes with Chipotle Mayonnaise

12.29.2015 Bonus Time

A couple of days ago, my dog, Moose, developed a sudden obsession with the vacuum cleaner. The spare vac, the one upstairs that has no home, so it just sits out in the loft, forlornly waiting for someone to remember how effective it is at removing dust bunnies. It doesn’t much action these days. But on this particular day, Moose took to nosing it around the loft and rearranging the furniture. Finally, annoyed with ruckus she was raising, my husband got up to see what she was up to.

Hiding inside the vacuum, on the beater bar, was a mouse. So we took the vacuum outside, poked and prodded a bit, and finally my husband pulled the mouse out by his tail and it fell into the waiting jaws of The Moose. She promptly removed the squeaker in said mouse. She was very proud of herself.

Yesterday, my daughter was tidying up her stuff and found another mouse in the upstairs bedroom (not far from the home of the forlorn vacuum.) She and her cat, Venus, caught that little mouse several times. I think Karina did the catching as she was trying to teach her cat to hunt, but her cat is young and once captured, she goes straight into her victory dance instead of removing the squeaker. After three hours, my daughter called into the shock troops. Moose desqueaked it in under 15 minutes.

Today, while my husband and I were standing at the kitchen counter fixing dinner, another mouse dashed across the counter and behind the fridge. I shrieked in surprise. So did my husband, but no one could hear him because apparently, my shriek was really loud. For the next half hour we tore the kitchen apart looking for that darn thing. Venus the cat and Moose the dog were both waiting excitedly for us to flush out a squeaker. But alas, this one got away.

For now.

My daughter, went under the house looking for the point of entry. Moose was guarding her flank. From her perch on the porch. In short order, Moose started up another ruckus, this time using her big girl voice. My daughter, her scouting expedition complete, discovered that Moose had discovered another squeaker. A possum this time. Big one. Under the porch. Very close to where the ducks slept last night.

Moose does love possums. So much more fun than tiny little mouses. Bigger squeakers. It didn’t take her long to desqueak that possum and my daughter ended the suffering with the varmint gun. First time she’s fired it. Moose and the daughter are very proud of themselves.

Apriori 3 – Rodents 1

The hunt will continue.

Sure seems like the staff is padding their achievements ahead of year-end bonus time. Pig ears for the dog and pie for the rest of us.

12.30.2015 Update

Last week, I cleaned out the cabinet with the pots and pans because my little visitors had been leaving me presents I neither need nor appreciate. Feeling rather compelled to return the favor, I left them a present – a plastic tray filled with industrial snot, otherwise known as a sticky trap. Today, a little squeaker got a personal lesson in molecular adhesion.

Apriori 4 – Rodents 1

11.5.2015 Patience, Snake Oil and Fools

In the “Gotta Have It Now” world we live in, farming is certainly a round peg that refuses to be shoved into a square hole. When you’re a farmer, the closest thing you get to “having it now” is the daily egg collection or the daily milking. If you’re into sprouts in a big way, you can harvest in only a few days. Radishes take a little more than a month from seed to finish, but most crops take several months and when you move into livestock, the timetable keeps pushing outward.

Farming really schools you in the art of patience.

But there are times when the economics of farming compel the farmer to nudge things a bit. It may be putting chickens under lights to spur winter egg production. It may be artificially inseminating cows to get improvements in the herd and the cows calving on spring grass and not in winter snow. It may be adding a mineral or fertilizer to help that critical cash crop get to maturity.

Since I am still new to farming (only five years into this adventure) and I am fortunate enough to have a husband with a good day job that pays the mortgage, I have been content to let nature teach me at her own pace. When in doubt about a course of action, I generally leave things to nature. If a planting succeeds, then I’ve gotten lucky. If it fails, I want to know why. Failure can be an effective teacher, if you’ve got a sense of humor.

So a couple of weeks ago I attended a three day seminar at Simple Soil Solutions in Gladstone, Virginia. The seminar was devoted to the concept of the Soil Food Web and how to nudge your land into pest and disease free production with compost teas and extracts. Sounds a lot like snake oil, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s how it’s supposed to work. Depending on what you’re trying to grow, you want your soils to have more or less fungal or bacterial activity. The fungi and bacteria feed specific kinds of microbes and other tiny creatures which in turn provide plants with exactly what they need when they need it.  You manage the bacteria and fungi levels with various compost teas and extracts. If you can get your plants into the correct matrix they won’t suffer from disease or pests.  No pesticides, fungicides, herbicides needed.  No crop rotation.  No lime.  No fertilizer (other than compost and compost teas.)   It sounds so simple.  It is what nature does, just quicker.  BUT all the yummy things we like to eat have different soil and microbe preferences.  And that’s where this idea gets more complicated.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard or read about this method. More like the fifth. It’s a beautifully simple theory that mimics the way nature builds soil and feeds plants. It’s also a beautifully simple theory that operates in the totally chaotic system that is nature. In other words, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It requires a little bit of equipment, time and expertise to analyze soil and compost samples and the good sense to really look at plants and soil up close and try to figure out what they are telling you.

I’ve finally collected the equipment I need – a compost tea brewer, assorted sprayers, and a good microscope. I make decent compost too. But interpreting plant and soil speak – well, that’s the tough part. Heck, I’m still learning to identify the plants in my pastures and the weeds in my garden.

During the seminar, I started making a lot of connections between what I was seeing and what was likely going on in my soil.

  • Perennial shrubs are starting to invade my pastures in spots. In the permaculture world this is called succession – the gradual and natural way grasslands become forest. Those shrubs are telling me the pasture is getting a little too fungal. (Virginia really does want to be a forest and forests are very fungal.) This has occurred naturally over the last five years as I’ve been pretty casual about pasture management. I try to keep my grass tall and the horses moving around to keep them from eating the grass down to bare soil. What’s really cool is the soils in the pastures have loosened up considerably, meaning they are much less compacted than they were when we bought the farm in 2010. Five years ago, heavy rains resulted in a lot of surface water moving down off the front field over the driveway and flooding the front yard until it could find its way down to the dry creek bed and off to my neighbor’s pond. Now, heavy rains penetrate deeply and the only water on the driveway during a heavy rain is from the driveway itself. That’s awesome. One of the big things I’ve gotten right.
  • In the garden, where there were so many failures this year, I had one curious success: The Hail Mary Corn -planted after the spring brassicas had been eaten to oblivion by cabbage worms and harlequin bugs. The corn grew quickly and was mostly untouched by corn worms (had a big problem with those last year). Each plant gave me two large ears and two medium sized ears and a fifth ear that never quite developed. Happy corn! The corn’s success also explains the demise of the brassicas. Too much fungal activity; not enough bacteria working in the soil. This also explains the poor results with my squash, cucumbers and garlic.
  • The fungus that destroyed the first crop of plums – well, I’m still thinking about that one. Fruit trees need a fungal dominated soil, but clearly I have the wrong sort of fungus there. I suspect it has something to do with the duck bedding I dump around the fruit trees. It’s mostly spent hay, with a few spots of concentrated duck poo. Probably ought to compost that part. The good news is I made friends with VDOT’s roadside trimmers last week. I handed out a lot of business cards with “woodchips welcome” written on them. They’ve already delivered a load and promised many more. That will help all the trees, but I will still have to do some compost tea applications to get good fungi growing on those trees before the nasty fungi have a chance to take over. Hoping I can pull that off in the spring.
  • Artichokes, asparagus and comfrey are very happy in the orchards. I’m not sure what that indicates other than maybe I ought to take up artichoke and asparagus farming. My husband’s family had an artichoke farm in California that got confiscated during WWII (they were Italian Americans). So maybe karma is trying to fix the wrong the government committed upon his family 70 years ago. Or maybe artichokes grow happily here because I’ve unintentionally created a happy place for artichokes. The ones I have are perennial here with no winter protection, but I grew them from seed and they just aren’t fit for eating.  I’m trying some new varieties from seed.  Cuttings are hard to come by on the east coast.

I would dearly love a couple of weeks to just sit and ruminate on the seminar, reread Teaming with Microbes and the Holistic Orchard, spend some time with the microscope. Maybe then I could bring all the pieces together in the right order and next year might really be amazing. I just don’t have a couple of weeks. My farmer’s market goes year round, so I’m still planting and picking every week. We are also in the process of putting up a second hoop house (Got the side walls, baseboards in today. The 3 purlins are loosely attached and just need proper alignment and tightening. Maybe next weekend we can get to the end walls and the plastic. There’s a lot of drilling holes through steel involved in this build and that’s really slowed us down.) There’s still tons of garlic to plant, blackberries to cull and garden beds to put under cover for the winter. One person just can’t do it all.

But I’m going to try, and while I’m at it, I expect I’ll be dreaming about the magic snake oil that makes all the bugs go away and gets me that fifth ear of corn . . . Farmers – the most patient and optimistic people you’ll ever meet. Or maybe we’re just fools.

9.27.2015 Minestrone, Plain and Simple

The word “minestrone” comes from the Italian “minestrare” which means “to serve”. People have been making versions of this soup for thousands of years. In its soul, Minestrone is poor people putting whatever was available into a pot with some herbs. Back in pre-Roman times, Minestrone was spelt cooked in salt water with vegetables. When the Romans adopted the habit of bread baking from the Greeks, the people of the Italian peninsula took the spelt out of their soup and started baking bread with the spelt – bread for sopping up soup broth. (One way or another, bread and soup belong together.) Even as they assimilated new foods (including a lot of meat) from the far flung reaches of their empire, the Romans recognized the benefits of a “frugal diet,” meaning one with limited meat.

Frugal.

That word too has its roots in Italy. It’s Latin – Frux. Fruges is the nominative plural form. It means fruits of the earth – grains, vegetables, legumes. In Roman times that meant broad beans, cabbage, lentils, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, and spelt. In post Columbian times, potatoes and tomatoes became happy additions to this frugal dish for frugal Italian people. Still later, in the late 1800’s, the Italians took an obscure cucurbita pepo plant from the Americas and bred it into the zucchini, a plant that could make a poor man a lot less poor, if the poor man has a lot of neighbors who don’t garden. To all this, simply add water and a little pasta. It’s so simple. So rewarding. So delicious.

 

For me, Minestrone isn’t a frugal thing. It’s a celebration of a long season of toiling in the garden simmered in a single pot and served with crusty bread. Minestrone comes at a time when the summer vegetables are still around, but the beans and herbs, garlic and onions have been gathered in, dried and stored away. Most importantly, the fall crops start showing up too. A young cabbage and a fresh carrot come out of the ground as night time temperatures drop and the house is cool. The body, used to toiling in the summer sun, now struggles to adapt to the slight chill in the air. A bowl of steaming Minestrone on an early fall evening is a gardener’s reward for months of work and a heating pad all in one.

The simplicity of Minestrone is also why I quit ordering it in restaurants. If you glance through Minestrone recipes of the best known chefs of today, almost all of them include some sort of meat or meat broth. When I want vegetable beef, I’ll order vegetable beef. If I want chicken and vegetables, I’ll order it that way. When I order Minestrone, I expect vegetables and pasta. Not vegetables and pasta in a beef broth. Even adding a vegetable broth in lieu of water is heresy in my book. A great Minestrone starts with the pot liquor produced by the beans. You get the right beans, you don’t need to bolster flavor with meat.

Having said that, there is no standard recipe for Minestrone. The version below comes from “The McDougall Program” circa 1990 and it is the standard by which I judge all minestrone. I’ve made a few changes over the years, mostly because I need salt and the older I get, the more I appreciate the zing of black pepper. Since discovering the wondrous collection of beans at RanchoGordo.com, I’ve been experimenting with alternatives to red kidney beans, but kidney beans are everywhere, do the job just fine, and in keeping with the soul of Minestrone, they are frugal.

minestrone

It freezes well, so go ahead and make a lot more than you can eat in one sitting.

Recipe serves 6.

20 minutes of chopping and measuring,

2.5-3.5 hours cooking time, plus overnight soak if using dry beans.

1 cup dry beans of your choice, soaked overnight*

red kidney beans are traditional, but use what you like: baby limas, cranberry, chickpeas, October Beans (aka horticultural beans) or any bean that makes a rich pot liquor

*If you’ve forgotten to soak your dry beans, see 1a and 1 b below. You can use canned beans.

Garlic, chopped or pressed. Use however much you like. We like a lot.

1 large onion, chopped

8 cups water

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped (or substitute a small sweet potato)

1 white potato, scrubbed and chopped

1 cup fresh or frozen green beans, in bite sized pieces

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce (I don’t like fresh tomatoes in this soup. Not enough concentrated tomato flavor.)

2 Tablespoons parsley flakes or ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ teaspoon celery seed

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

1 ½ teaspoons dried basil or 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano or 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

½-1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons salt, (I use Maldon Salt flakes. Use less if you use finely ground salt)

1 zucchini, chopped

1 cup cabbage, chopped

½ cup dried pasta of choice

 

  1. Drain soaked beans. Add garlic, onion and water in a large stock pot. Cook for one hour to make a rich stock.

1a. For dry beans not pre-soaked. Bring beans and water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and let sit for one hour. After one hour, cook over medium heat with onion and garlic for an additional hour. The beans should have softened up considerably by this point. If they are still hard, either cook them for another hour before proceeding or drop them in a pressure cooker for a few minutes.

1b. If using canned beans, just pour them into your pot, add water, garlic and onion. Go directly to step 2. (You can rinse your canned beans if you want to. I don’t. I want as much bean goodness as I can get.)

 

  1. Add celery, carrot, potato and green beans, plus tomato sauce and all the seasonings. Cook for 30 minutes.
  2. Add zucchini. Cook another 30 minutes.
  3. Add cabbage and pasta. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.

 

9.23.2015 Channeling the inner Percheron

Before we moved to the farm, I read a lot of books about farming. In one, there was a story about a fella who kept Percherons. I use the term “kept” loosely. Percherons are big horses. Draft horses. American Percherons stand about 6 feet tall at the withers and weigh about a ton. Originally bred for battle, these sturdily built horses served by the thousands in World War I. Their strength, calm temperament and ability to quick trot for long periods made them ideal for moving troops, artillery, supplies and munitions to and from the front. If you’ve read your history, you know mud was an everyday horror in World War I, and the Percheron’s lack of feathering on the feet made them more dependable than Clydesdales or Belgians in the muck.

But back to that fella who “kept” Percherons. It seems the fence to contain a Percheron hasn’t been invented yet. Woven wire, barbed wire, high-tension steel cable, high-powered electric. When his Percherons decided to leave a pasture, they would just back up to the fence du jour and sit on it. 2000 pounds of horse hiney will pull down anything.

My magnificent gray mare, Ophelia.  Great horse out on the trails, but ask her to go faster than a walk and centuries of war horse breeding explode out of her.

My magnificent gray mare, Ophelia. Great horse out on the trails, but ask her to go faster than a walk and centuries of war horse breeding explode out of her.

Now, I have a half Percheron/half thoroughbred. Her name is Opehlia and she is a curious mix of flighty thoroughbred and sensible, strong Percheron. She’s in fighting trim at the moment and clocks in around 1100 pounds. To keep her from getting fat, I keep her stalled at night so she’s spent a lot of time in the barn over the last five years. She gets itchy and her butt needs scratching. The oak boards that form the walls offer her only relief. It’s taken five years, but she’s “sat” and rubbed on the walls enough, that I had it on my List – shore up the stall walls and remove all the nails she’s exposed. She’s leaned on the door enough that getting it open and closed has become quite the challenge. Fixing that was on my List too, as was leveling the floor and resetting the rubber mats that are currently taking a beating from all her pacing.

The List. The List is long, and other than wound care (there’s been a lot of that lately) and fixing dangerous behavior issues, horse needs always get bumped in favor of garden necessities. The garden makes most of the money on this farm. Horses are here to mow the grass and make poo. The plan today was to offload 2 yards of mushroom compost into the garden, till it in, and plant three flats of veg. A full day’s work. Or more. Had to be done today. Rain is coming this weekend (finally, or so say the weather geeks) and I spend all day Thursday and Friday prepping for market on Saturday. Today was my only chance to get this done.

Board holding the latch is broken in several places and the door is wide open.  No pictures of the villain in flagrante destructo.  Before I even thought about taking pictures, I go her secured and out of the barn before she got hurt.

Board holding the latch is broken in several places and the door is wide open. No pictures of the villain in flagrante destructo. Before I even thought about taking pictures, I go her secured and out of the barn before she got hurt.  Notice all those nasty nails?

So it should come as no surprise that when I opened the barn this morning I found Ophelia wandering about in the aisle. She had leaned on the door once too often, broken the wooden strip that holds the latch, opened her stall and promptly gone on walkabout. She had pulled an entire bale of hay into the aisle, upturned the trash can and opened up two grain bins. Ordinarily, if you give a horse access to a grain bin, they’ll eat themselves to death. But Miss Lardy Butt Smarty Pants was having too much fun exploring. Oh, dear Lord! My barn really isn’t horse safe unless horses are in their stalls. The barn is where we keep extra furniture, holiday decorations, tools, all my garden equipment, lawn mowers, fuel, electrical cords everywhere. Really a scary, cluttered place. It’s the GaBarn (Garage/Barn) and it looks it.

About the only nice thing I can say about Ophelia at the moment is at least she didn’t sit her fat Percheron butt on my brand new freezer.

Feed bins inspected and rearranged.  Boy did I get lucky!

Feed bins inspected and rearranged. Boy did I get lucky!

I should have stuck to my plan and let Ophelia spend the next couple of nights out on pasture. But I had just finished a week of “creative night time pasturing” due to a sudden and unexpected feud between Cookie and Pony (Cookie took a couple of chunks out of her Pony last week, hence the wound care.) Two horses in the round pen (when they’re on speaking terms) and two horses in stalls at night works. Other options cause trouble. So I decided to fix the stall.

By noon, I had two walls down and had come up with a plan to shore up the abused walls. The back sides of those oak boards were covered in years of dust and cobwebs, screws broke and nail heads popped off. All in all, I was pretty proud of myself. I was heading to the house for lunch when my foot found a nail sticking through one of the boards I’d taken down. It was a nail with no purpose, covered in dust bunnies. And it was now in my left foot. (My right foot is still recovering from when Cookie stepped on it three weeks ago.)

Here is the stall with two walls as far down as I could take them.  time to secure the steel channels with with some wicked long screws.

Here is the stall with two walls as far down as I could take them. time to secure the steel channels with with some wicked long screws.

How convenient. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow to deal with a sinus infection that is just getting nastier by the day.  Guess I’ll be getting a tetanus shot as well.

After lunch, I put the whole thing back together, with screws, not nails. (I understand the use of nails in construction when all you have is nails, forged one at a time, on an anvil, by the town smith over a coal fire. But now that we have screws, I see no point in nails, unless you’re using them as emergency cotter pins.) The steel channels that hold the oak 2×6’s in place were bent and no amount of hammering was going to fix that. I added several 2×4’s to firm up the walls and reinstalled the latch. All set for the next five years of Percheron abuse.

I finished at five and by then my foot was throbbing. Leveling the floor and resetting the mats will have to wait for another day, along with the mushroom compost and the seed flats. It’s been a rough month with horses.

8.30.2015 A Tale of Two Feeties

I haven’t taken a day off in over three weeks. My body is tired. Deeply tired. My mind never stops, but in the past couple of days my thinking has gotten . . . fuzzy. Difficult to keep a train of thought going. Forgetting things. Feeling a little overwhelmed. I’m behind on everything. The fall planting. Setting new paddocks. Haven’t visited the bees in over a month. Maybe two. Something is stalking the chickens. And for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to buy two bushels of Concord grapes to put up for juice. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s the spider bite I got while weeding the garden. Lots of different sorts of spiders in the garden. Black widows among them. Maybe the venom is going to my brain. Or maybe I should sleep more.

Check! This morning I overslept. By the time I stumbled down to the barn, the horses were about two hours past breakfast. The first thing I saw was this:

Cookies swollen back left foot

The foot on the right in this picture is swollen above the hoof, especially on the inside.

One of my boarding horses, Cookie, was standing in the round pen where she spends the night (not eating) with her left hind all swollen up. There was some heat in the swollen area. I couldn’t find the liniment and my fuzzy brain didn’t think about hosing her leg down with cool water until a friend suggested it later.  Cookie was walking normally though so I wasn’t too worried. We think Cookie probably landed on it badly doing the horse fly dance. Horse flies have been bad for the last two weeks and the local horseflies prefer Cookie nearly to the exclusion of all others.

Out in the pasture, she’ll do all kinds of bucking and kicking and horse yoga stretching to get rid of those hated horseflies. One day, I watched her go over to each of her pasture mates in turn asking for help. Ophelia, my gray mare and the one in charge said, “Your horsefly. Your problem.” Cookie’s mini-me, Lady O, aka Pony, said, “Sorry. Can’t reach it.” And Sadie, simply turned away muttering, “I’m pond scum, remember?” Cookie looked disgusted by the lack of empathy and had herself a roll.

When Cookie first came to the farm back in May, her owner warned me about horseflies. She said something like, “If you see Cookie come thundering across the pasture at top speed looking like she’s going to run you down, she’s not and she won’t. She’s just learned that humans are really good at getting horseflies off. She’s looking for help.”

Cookie doesn’t come charging across the pasture. Too many electric fences between me and her during the day. But in the evenings, when we bring her in, the horseflies come with her and so does Cookie’s horsefly dance. This consists of her bouncing her butt in your face until you take the point and remove the horsefly that is tormenting her.

Cookie is nearly 6 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs over 1300 pounds. The horsefly dance is scary and dangerous. I’ve been trying all week to redirect the Horsefly Dance. “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.” More on that later.

But as I said, today I was fuzzy. I ran the tape around her. No weight loss this week. And this would be why. Two week’s worth of wear on a brand new muzzle.

That funky hole in the center was completely round less than two weeks ago.  12 days, and Cookie's worn enough of it away that she's getting more grass than she needs.  I have quite a collection of muzzle similarly destroyed by Ophelia.  Quite by accident, we've discovered a muzzle that velcros onto a halter that takes much longer to wear out.

That funky hole in the center was completely round less than two weeks ago. 12 days, and Cookie’s worn enough of it away that she’s getting more grass than she needs. I have quite a collection of muzzle similarly destroyed by Ophelia. Quite by accident, we’ve discovered a muzzle that velcros onto a halter that takes much longer to wear out.

I groomed and measured the other three horses and put them all out for the day. Then I drove into town looking for muzzles, liniment, fence clips so I can run more electricity in the field and 1/2 gallon mason jars to can those grapes.  And maybe a fly sheet for Cookie.

During the drive in, I was feeling REALLY off so I took some DayQuil to get me through the day. Didn’t help at all.   In fact, it made me even fuzzier. I couldn’t find half of what I was looking for and after three stores, I ran out of energy to look further. I came home and went straight to sleep. Sorry Cookie. Your cold water soak and liniment rub will have to wait.

I woke up just in time to help Aleta bring the horses in for the night. (Aleta is Sadie’s owner and she comes over every day for the evening feed.) My body was moving. Not my brain. I knocked over a flat of cabbage in the barn and generally made a mess of things and was no help at all while Aleta prepped the stalls for Ophelia and Sadie.

As we were walking out to collect the horses, Aleta and I talked about how dangerous Cookie’s horsefly dance is and how we can get her to change her behavior. For the last couple of days I’ve had some success with a loud roar of disapproval and some shoving. I only get rid of her fly if she’s not in my space and she has her face towards me. Not her butt. I thought I was making progress.

Not so much. As I was clipping on her lead line, Cookie had a fit of “get it off me!” She stepped on my foot with her left front and then kept rolling her weight down on me. I yelled and pushed. Aleta yelled and pushed. And finally Miss Lardy Butt got the message.

When Cookie was standing calmly out of my space I got the fly. Then I hobbled up to the round pen, leading those two silly paints. Cookie’s left hind wasn’t as swollen or as hot as it was this morning. I put some liniment on her foot, and then took the liniment back to the house with me.

I can feel and wiggle all my toes.  But oy!  It'll be days before I can get that into a muck boot.

I can feel and wiggle all my toes. But oy! It’ll be days before I can get that into a muck boot.

My husband and Aleta finished the nightly chores and my foot had a long soak in Epsom salts. Don’t think anything is broken, but the swelling is pretty bad and the pain now is from the skin stretching over the bruise. The veterinary liniment helped a lot. Good thing I got the big bottle.

Moral of this story:  don’t work around large animals when your brain is in a fog.

As my Dad is fond of saying, “in twenty years you’ll never know the difference.”

As I’m fond of saying:  Some days the dragon wins.