The sweet scent of curing hay is in the air again. I am  filled with a quiet contented gratitude for where we live, the views, the smells, the sounds, the changing of the seasons, even the way many people here still wave or say hi even when they don’t know you.

I love rural eastern Iowa.

Grant Wood was a local boy who made it big as an artist. His claim to fame was American Gothic:

american gothic

He traveled to Europe to train  under the masters, but as he matured  as an artist and in his own personal life, decided the  details of life in eastern Iowa  were his favorite source of inspiration.   He got a teaching gig @ the University of Iowa, started an artist colony 30 minutes from where I live, bla bla bla.

grant wood art colony

Grant Wood art colony around 1932

The high society art snobs on the East coast said his artwork wasn’t “really” art, can’t remember all of the derogatory  things they said, but you get the idea.

Not quite sure what it is in the human heart that loves to judge and critique other people who decide to live differently than whatever is in fashion  and considered “normal.”  That impulse we called “peer pressure” in Junior high  is  definitely is still alive and well in the adult world of men.

I remember the first time or two I was faced with a choice that cut against the grain of conformity.  The first couple of times were the hardest.  Don’t want to bore you with the details, but will mention them in passing..

First time was when I decided to jump the religious fence and marry a girl from a different religious persuasion.  (religion and spiritual stuff as a whole didn’t really mean too much to me anyway at that point) ;-)

Second life choice was when we decided to test the waters of the Home education movement…this was in the early 1990′s.  I was initially opposed, conceded to take a year and look into it, and eventually jumped in with both feet.

So after those two experiences, realizing I had not been struck by lightning, and hadn’t been disowned by the tribe, it became easier and easier to think and make decisions for myself without letting the pressure to conform have the final say in any decision.

Especially religious circles there is a strong pressure to conform, because there is a lot at stake. Because 90% of your close relationships  may be in that group.  So you limp along, miserable, conflicted, It feels like an abscessed tooth, only it’s not a tooth that’s infected, but your brain.  Sometimes the wisest thing to do is, pull the tooth. (leave the safe, comfortable, familiar and start over)

Not sure who reads this stuff, but have a definite sense someone, at some point will be at the cross roads of some major life decisions.  You may be filled with fear, can’t keep going the way you have been, and yet you can’t see around the bend…you just need someone to bounce your thoughts and options off.

Drop me a note and I’ll get back to you via e-mail.

I don’t claim to be an expert.

More like an old trapper that has learned to survive in the wild world of men.

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I need your help with a title for this post.

Something with a little  hook? Thanks in advance.  DM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in country living, enjoying life, faith, home schooling, Iowa, life, personal, random, spirituality, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Life Calling(s)

Spent last night with a close  friend catching up on each others’ lives.

The topic of conversation @ one point had to do with several of her son’s friends with master’s degrees and  Doctorates from places like Duke, Princeton, Notre Dame,  and “well-connected” professors,  published authors and church leaders.

My mind went back to a 2012 family reunion in central Nebraska. During one of the large group gatherings, Uncle Moe and Aunt Jane broke into a spontaneous speech, lauding the number of doctors and lawyers in the ranks that day.  (Whether they’d done it themselves or had married someone who had.)  Right behind me sat Uncle Moe’s eldest.  He’d dropped out of high school, went through rehab, fathered a child so he and his girl friend had recently gotten married.    I’d heard this young man loved his new job he as a plumbers apprentice.   I told my wife after that session, I had conflicting feelings. Sure,  I wanted to celebrate with those young people who had worked so hard, persevered and got their degrees, but @ the same time, something did not quite sit with me.   I thought about that young man behind me, wondering how he felt about what his father had said. Plus, there I was, a self-employed carpenter with “just” ;-) a high school degree. On the scale of success being promoted, I  too didn’t make the cut.

This morning, as I shared some of these thoughts with my wife, over our morning coffee in bed, she said two things.

First, even in Christian circles there are variations of this kind of thinking.  Christians have a tendency to put  pastors, counselors, missionaries, etc. on a level above those who chose to “just stay at home and raise a family.

Secondly she told me about a conversation  she had with a couple she met when we lived in New Jersey.  Husband was disabled, in a wheel chair.  At one point, husband must have asked my wife about her life.  Then he noticed her hands.  A few of her fingernails were bitten off.   She’d always been a little self-conscious of them.

Her hands showed signs of washing dishes and hard work.

“You have beautiful hands!” he said.

She could tell he meant it, and their beauty had nothing to do with fingernail polish.

Those four words still live in her heart 25 years later.

An affirmation of her calling to be “just a mom.”

runaway rabbit 002


On at least five occasions  my wife has been asked if she would take care of an elderly person who just needed a little extra help around the home.  She has also been asked to stay overnight with someone who had just lost their husband.

She has the ability to be present with someone without feeling the need to have something wise to say.

Just the gift of her presence.

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If someone came to you who was wrestling with questions of  life callings/ directions, etc. and asked for you to give it to them straight, what sort of advice would you give them?  Are there specific questions you’d ask them?

Is it possible to have multiple life callings?

Have you found your “nitch” in life?  How did that come about?

Does this stir up any other thoughts in you?  DM

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in christianity, faith, family, Iowa, life, love, personal, relationships, spirituality, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cleaning Up After An F2 Tornado

twister over head

F2 Tornado as it came into town last week.

An F2 tornado hit a friend of mine’s farm a week ago Tuesday.   The tornado sucked  a 40 ft by 64 ft pole shed  completely out of the ground and tossed it into the timber 1000 feet to the north.

It was a mess.

Large chunks of building twisted around trees, crumpled in piles, or partially buried in a steep  ditch.  The debris  is full of protruding spikes and jagged sheet metal.

I told him Sunday I could bring our crew out for a couple of days and help clean up the mess.

We started  this afternoon.

I love wading into situations like this and figuring out how to  get-er-done.

It took about an hour before we found our rhythm.

We created 4 piles:

A burn pile.

A pile of usable lumber.

A stack-able pile of metal.

A scrap pile of metal.

I gave the guys on the crew the heads up last night of what to expect when we got to the site, and it worked.  Everyone had a great attitude.  There was not the hint of a grumble.

When I hire someone, the most important quality I am looking for is attitude. If I am going to spend 8 hours of my day working with you, the last thing I want to be around is a negative energy sucker. Some of our project are challenging enough without having to put up with a whiner.

I’ll wrap this up with a true story from one of my favorite authors,  Robert Fulghum:

 

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In the Summer of 1959.  At the feather River Inn near the town of Blairsden in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California.  A resort environment.  And I, just out of college, have a job that combines the night desk clerk in the lodge and helping out with the horse-wrangling at the stables.  The owner/manager is Italian-Swiss, with European notions about conditions of employment.  HE and I do not get along.  I think he’s a fascist who wants peasant employees who know their place, and he thinks I’m a good example of how democracy can be carried too far.  I’m twenty-two and pretty free with my opinions, and he’s fifty-two and has a few opinions of his own.

One week the employees have been served the same thing for lunch every single day.  Two wieners, a mound of sauerkraut, and stale rolls.  To compound insult with injury, the cost of meals was deducted from our check.  I was outraged.

On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job around 11:00PM and the night auditor had just come on duty.  I went into the kitchen to gt a bite to eat and saw notes to the chef to the effect that wieners and sauerkraut are on the employee menu for two more days.

That tears it.  I quit!  For lack of any better audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman. .  I declare that I have had it up to here;  that I am going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and go and wake up the owner and throw it on him.   I am sick and tired of this crap and insulted and nobody is going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it and wo does he think he is anyhow and how can life be sustained on wieners and sauerkraut and this is un-American and I don’t like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat it one day for crying out loud and the who hotel stinks anyhow and the horses are all nags and the guests are all idiots and I’m packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never ever heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn’t feed that stuff to pigs.  Something like that.  I’m still mad about it.

I raved on in this way for twenty minutes, and needn’t repeat it all here.  You get the drift.  My monologue was delivered at the top of my lungs, punctuated by blows on the front desk with a fly-swatter, the kicking of chairs and much profanity.  A call to arms, freedom, unions, uprisings, and the breaking of chains for the working masses.

As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman, the night auditor, sat quietly on his stool, smoking a cigarette, watching me with sorrowful eyes.  Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman.  He’s got good reason to look sorrowful.  Survivor of Auschwitz.  Three years.  German Jew.  Thin.  Coughed a lot.  He liked being alone at the night job- gave him intellectual space, gave him peace and quiet, and even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted to- all the wieners and sauerkraut he wanted.  To him, a feast.  More than that, there’s nobody around at night to tell him what to do.  In Auschwitz he dreamed of such a time.  The only person he sees at work is me, the nightly disturber of his dream.  our shifts overlap for an hour.  And here I am again.  A one-man war party at full cry.

   “Fulchum, are you finished?”

No.  Why?
       “Lissen, FUlchum, Lissen me, lissen me.  You know what’s wrong with you?  It’s not wieners and kraut and it’s not the boss and it’s not the chef and it’s not this job.”

  “So what’s wrong with me?”

    “Fulchum, you think you know everything.  But you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.”

“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire- then you have a problem.  Everything else is inconvenience, Life IS inconvenient.  Life IS lumpy.”

   “Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems .  You will live longer.  And will not annoy people like me so much.   Good night.”

In a gesture combining dismissal and blessing, he waved me off to bed.

Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes with truth so hard.  Years later I heard a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest describe what the moment of enlightenment was like and I knew exactly what he meant.  There in that late-night darkness of the Feather River Inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind.

For thirty years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I’m ready to do something really stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks: “Fulchum.  Problem or inconvenience?”

I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality.  Life is lumpy.  And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump.  One should learn the difference.  Good night, Sig.

Taken liberally   from  Robert Fulghum’s  book ”Uh-Oh”  :-)

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What’s the closest you’ve ever come to a tornado, hurricane or other natural disaster?  I would love to hear your story!  DM

PS, here’s a link: to a chart on Tornado size.

IMG_3381

 Picture of our crew taking a pause during clean up operations.

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Work

In the late 1970′s  I remember stepping into the Standard Parts store  on main street owned by  Gus Norlin and Jim Redding. They had a sign behind the counter that set the tone  the minute you walked into their store :

Poor Planning On Your Part,

Does NOT constitute An Emergency On My Part.

In the back room there was another sign:

Labor Rates:

$8 per hour

$12 per hour if you watch

$20 per hour if you help

I kept thinking about that second sign this past week.

We were installing a  metal roof on a 2 story house.  Homeowner (I’ll call him Harry), is a retired farmer who watched my every move.   I came home mentally and physically exhausted four nights in a row.

We would start each morning tearing off the shingles on a section of roof, cover it with #30 felt, then install the new roof in the afternoon.

I got the lead on this job from a friend.  Jim (my friend)  told me, if  Harry liked my work, he could keep me busy, “although he will probably be on the job most of the day.”

I told Jim, “Harry may think I am on probation, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s the one on probation.” :-)

I still haven’t decided if I can tolerate him. ;-)

I hate strongly detest  grumblers.

Growing up on the farm, dad had us  putting in long physical days doing all sorts of nasty stuff and it shaped my attitudes in ways I didn’t realize at the time. (including not whining about whatever job I was assigned.)

We had a small dairy herd, milked 18 cows before and after school from the age of 12 on.

The summer I turned 14, I got a construction job.  (Dad and my uncle owned a construction business.)  We worked from 7 till 5:30.  The cows still had to be milked before and after work.

I grew up pouring concrete and building steel buildings.

I especially loved Saturday mornings when I could take my time card to Sam Schutz’s office with 50 hours on it and pick up my paycheck.

When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I decided to work for a year and then decide. As the year came to a close, I realized I loved construction, and if I stuck with it, there was lots of opportunities to get ahead.  My grandma (Dad’s mom) was the only person to express her disappointment at my decision.   She was discouraged her eldest grandson  had decided no to go to college.
“But Dougie, you are so smart!”  She said in her thick German accent,  the look  of disappointment in her eyes.

As I sit here tonight, ( mentally recharging my batteries from the week of working with Harry)  I am still thankful.  Thankful I have the freedom to work (or not work) for Harry.

Thankful, my dad instilled in me the value of hard physical labor.

Thankful I am no longer a driven work-a-haulic. ;-)  (I can take a nap with the best of them without a hint of guilt or shame.)

I am thankful I sleep like a baby 95% of the time.  When my head hits the pillow, it is lights out.

touching the ubenshlauger
Showing off, touching my nose with a sledge-hammer.

“If anyone is not willing to work,  you have no obligation to feed him…”

_________________________

Tell me about your job. (If you are still in school, or watch your kids full-time this also means you) ;-) What do you love about your job? What are the hardest things about it?   Describe the perfect work setting for you.

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A Followup note from a Bed and Breakfast Guest

 

Lou Brown contacted me two weeks ago and asked if I would consider building her a harvest table for her new home.   (She lives in England.)  I told her absolutely yes...as long as she lined up the shipping details.  :-)

Our paths first crossed in 2009 when she was on tour.  We were listed on a house concert website as possible hosts, she got in touch, ended up spending a couple of days with us. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.   I’m re-posting a portion of a  follow-up letter she wrote from her time with us. Some of the things she shared are timeless and worth repeating….

__________________________
Hi, My name is Lou Brown.

“There is something about Doug and Micaela that warms my heart every time I think about them.  Our paths in life crossed when I came over to the mid-west to tour last Easter.  As a songwriter here in the UK I felt like having a mighty adventure and taking my music to an area of The States that not many of us Brits visit that often.  Sure loads of us go to New York for shopping or Florida for the theme parks but Iowa, nope I don’t know anyone else that’s been to Iowa except us.

Lucky me I say, for my few brief weeks I spent in Iowa were the most humbling of my life.  There is something about the mid-west which we just don’t have over here.  Yes we have history a plenty, beautiful palaces and Royal estates, our villages, towns and cities are all firmly established and it only takes a couple of hours of driving to reach France and the rest of Europe.  But Iowa has a sense of community and hospitality which I have never experienced.  I will never forget driving in the thickest fog ever in the middle of the night up a dirt road to Doug and his wife’s B and B in Iowa, the moment Aimee and I opened up the guest room door to find fresh towels, the electric blanket on, and a packet of Butterfingers on the pillow.  I have never ever been so grateful to anyone in my entire life.  I was missing home like crazy, the three of us touring together were starting to get on each others nerves and suddenly we had arrived in paradise.

In a world where the media are ramming fancy new products, brands and technology down our throats, where our young people view their future aspirations on being on Pop Idol or America’s next top model rather than hard graft and apprenticeships, and where the current economic climate brings a fear into every household across the globe that we might not be the ones to survive the recessions.  I remember that moment and Doug and Micaela’s country B and B and hold to it tightly to remember that life is actually about hospitality and opening our doors to others and simply having the time to be interested in someone else.  Those small things in life are priceless and outweigh any amount of money we can be given or fancy clothes we can wear….”

after the storm1

Sunset after the rain earlier this week.

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Tell me about a time you’ve experienced the unexpected kindness of a stranger.   I love details. ;-) DM

 

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Wednesday June 25 2014

I was getting waited on @ the lumberyard counter yesterday afternoon when  someone I didn’t recognize also stepped up to the counter.  The first thing that caught my eye was what looked like a bag of coffee.  Underneath was a note pad and some literature.

Salesman?

I enjoy bantering with random strangers one occasions, and this was one of those times ;-)

“Is that a bag of coffee?”

Yes, how did you know?

I love coffee and that looked like a bag.”

He threw me a little sample bag of Folgers hazelnut decaf with some sales pitch that went in one ear and out the other (decaf is just disguised rat poison in my mind)

“I can sell you a bag of this good stuff right now for $8.99″
I looked at the packaging and knew it wasn’t the right stuff.

“Starbucks/ French Roast/ whole beans.”

Said it just like that ;-)

He smiled and nodded.. I could tell he was starting to connect the dots…

He was dealing with a coffee master.

I had brought a 5 ft section of gutter with me into the lumberyard so I could make sure the new pieces I was buying would fit.

Coffee sales man looked @ the gutter and said he and his wife had once tried to use a section of gutter  in her class room @ school.

” It was in 1995.

The edges were too sharp, they were afraid the kids might get cut on the corners.”

“Ah, I said, don’t worry about it…it will make them tough.”

(I can’t remember what else that came out of my mouth, it was one of those quick, back and forth bantering sessions, with someone you don’t know but can feel the conversational chemistry working with.)

“You need your own TV show! he said to me.

You are funny….and quick.”

Said good-by to him and the rest of the people standing around @ the counter, and headed back to pick up supplies.

Ten minutes before that conversation, I had gotten a phone call from my wife. She was @ the hospital with daughter #2 who had just given birth to a little baby boy the night before.  Wife and I didn’t get home until 2:30 AM.  Daughter had asked if her mom could be in the birthing room with her.

There were complications, both for my daughter and the little boy.  They had to transfer him to the university hospital after we left that night.  I wasn’t completely clear as to what the issues were, but it had something to do with his oxygen level  being low the minute they took the oxygen tent off of him.

“He’s still in the oxygen tent today, seems to be stable…and the Dr’s told Chris they are 99% sure he has Downs Syndrome.

Felt like someone hit me in the forehead with a stun  gun.

So when I walked into the lumberyard office a few minutes later, I was on “auto-pilot”.

12 hours later as I write this, I am still on auto pilot.

Emotionally numb.

Just a couple of weeks ago, (can’t remember where I said this)  I said, “When people comment about a new baby coming, and say, “as long as they are healthy.”  Well, what if they are not “healthy?”  I think that is a dumb thing to say, to anyone.”

So, if our family comes to mind,  feel free to send up a little prayer or well wish. This makes the 2nd  grand child with disabilities our kids are caring for.

Thanks for reading along. DM

IMG_9268

Picture of our kids from John’s wedding last Summer

PS. grandson’s name is Kasen Joseph

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Update 6/29/14

Talked to our daughter today.  Kasen is still in the University hospital but continues to  gain strength and stability.  He definitely has Downs Syndrome, and only time will tell to what degree.  Thank you all for your kind words, thoughts and prayers.   Here is a photo of him at the University Hospital.10514687_10152227617721365_5023202369519378697_n

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Our 2015 self sufficient food goals

apple wood for sale

The sweet smell of apple wood is in the air as I type. The scent is on my hands, and on my blue jeans.

I just finished cutting up almost 200 pounds of  apple wood that is destined for a restaurant.  Two weeks ago,  I was approached and asked if I would be interested in selling some of our apple wood to them for their smoker.  They are currently paying $3.00 a pound, getting it from a local shop that caters to people who grill.

” You bet! I said,  “and I will sell it to you for $2.50 a pound.” ;-)

I tried to sell the apple wood earlier this Spring on Craigslist per someone’s suggestion but didn’t get any nibbles.  The exciting thing about this opportunity is I did not go looking for it, it came looking for me.

Last weekend the restaurant tried their first batch of DM’s apple wood. I got a message on Monday, they would take all I have.  Apparently, my wood has a higher moisture content, lasted longer and produced a better quality smoke.  The kitchen manager could not say enough good about the quality of the wood.

If you’re a regular reader, you know we were experiencing some serious financial pressure back in February.

I wrote 4 blog posts on that situation:

#1

#2

#3

#4

Mary Hunt’s book Debt Proof Living was a life line, and continues to inform both our short-term choices and long-term goals.  I want to eventually give every one of our kids a copy, but that will have to wait, ;-) because it is not in the budget….

One of the very first things I had to do was figure out exactly how much income per year we really have to work with.  Being self employed, my income has fluctuated by thousands of dollars annually.   I went back over the past 3 years and came up with a 3 year average.

That was a shocker.

Turns out, we had been spending more than I was making for at least the past two years.  Not having a budget grounded in real numbers is not walking by faith, it is foolish.

So once I had the  average income, we then created  our current 2014 budget.

There is just two of us to feed.

We ended up settling on $175 per month as our food budget for 2014.

$175 per month!!! 

Now that is not a lot of money, probably 1/2 of what we had been spending. (And even when we were spending $350 to $400 a month,   it didn’t seem like we were buying a bunch of expensive items…

Three and 1/2 months into our year of frugality I am exited to report we have been able to stay on track at the grocery store.

We have run out of a few staples by the end of each month, which is not all bad.  Makes me appreciate things like butter even more when it’s back on the menu.  ;-)

We started shopping at an Amish general store about 15 minutes from us that sells discounted and out of date items.  Just because something is past its due date does not necessarily make it unsafe.  There is an excellent on-line website that will help you determine the real safe shelf life of 100′s of food items… here’s a link:  www.stilltasty.com    

Wife has been coming home with boxes and bags full of goodies, for a fraction (1/5th?) what the same things would cost at our local grocery store.

We have also started eating more simply.   There is a reason a good portion of the world’s population eats a lot of rice and beans. ;-)

We continue to move in the direction of either growing, bartering, or generating enough income from this property to feed ourselves.  I would like to bump our grocery allowance for 2015 back to $300 a month.  That translates into $3600 annually.

Again, not a lot of money.

I knew a young man when we lived in New Jersey that spent $6.00 a day on expensive roast beef from a local deli to pack in his lunch bucket.  ($6.00 X 5 days  = $30 a week.  $30 a week  X 52 week a year =$1560 annually.  Divide $1560 by 12 = $130 a month just for his roast beast fetish.  That is 75% of our total food budget for the month, for 2 of us.

It really is all about choices.

In  2015, I also want to raise 100% of the potatoes we will use in a year.   (If they were good enough for my  great grandparents from Ireland, then they will be good enough for me).  ;-) The balance of grocery $ from  apple sales, pumpkin sales, and now apple wood for smoking.

Mom's grandparents

Picture of my great great grandparents well fed on potatoes,  from Ireland

Give it to me straight, would love to entertain your questions and comments. DM

PS. The most popular post on this blog is titled “The Real Deal on being self sufficient on a one acre homestead” from July of 2011.  There has been a lot of awesome practical comments from other people on the topic of self sufficiency on a small acreage.  If that is a topic of interest, I would encourage you to check out that original post as well. DM

 

 

Posted in enjoying life, faith, farming, gardening, Iowa, life, life in the country, personal, random, spirituality, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments