Mark Twain and Me


“…the riverboat pilot is the most unfettered independent human on the earth.”

Mark Twain



We watched Ken Burns  PBS special on Mark Twain this week.  I told my wife of 35 years she reminded me of Livy (Mark Twain’s wife of 34 years.)

Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Clemens) said of her:

She is the best girl, and the sweetest, and gentlest, and the daintiest, and she is the most perfect gem of womankind.”

A few of you have met Mrs DM in person, what do you think? ;-)

Wife proceeded to tell me, I reminded her of Twain… my sometimes biting humor, my independent, non-conformist streak, and my Midwestern farm boy roots.

I was having similar thoughts  myself as we watched the biography but would never have voiced it out loud had she not said it first. ;-)

Twain was many things during his formative years, including doing a  stint as a river boat captain.

I myself have regularly thought  life is like trying to pilot a barge on a big river.  Especially when it comes to looking ahead, trying to anticipate what’s around the next bend.

river boat steam boat

When I heard that statement : “the riverboat pilot is the most unfettered independent human on the earth.”  I instantly connected with it, for  you see,  I feel like I am one of the most unfettered independent human I know, and have felt that way for years.  I think being self employed and making a living with my hands feeds into it.

Here is a snap shot of  my past 24 hours:

Got off work at noon yesterday because we finished installing metal on the cattle shed we were working on and it was too windy to start on the roof.  I love spontaneous time off ;-)

When I got home, I called the Newhall locker that was processing  1/2 of an organic grass-fed beef I’d found on-line compliments of a buy sell or trade page on Facebook.  Just so happened it was ready to be picked up.  Total cost of the meat  averaged out to be $3.09 a pound…that included the steaks, roasts, brisket, hamburger,  butchering, everything…$3.09 a pound!!!

As a reference point, hamburger is currently bringing $4.00 a pound in the local grocery store.

Last night I baked an apple/ wild black raspberry pie with a lattice crust.  The berries grow wild out behind the barn, and the apples..well, you probably know where I got them.  There were some extra berries and apples that wouldn’t fit into the pie shell so I finished them off.

I was up this morning at 2:30 making  sour dough bread.   I took a lot of liberty with the recipe and it turned out to be some of the most interesting, tasty home-made bread I’ve ever had.

This morning I planted 100 onion sets as per something I read recently on Bills’s blog.   Normally, onion sets are planted in the spring, but as Bill mused, garlic bulbs are planted late Fall..wonder what would happen if a person planted onions in the Fall?  I will keep you posted.

So, how about you?  What life metaphor(s) describe how you view the world?

Quick shout out to a few new readers. ;-) While I don’t know who you are, I do get updates from WordPress any time someone subscribes. Would love to hear from any of you, if you feel so inclined.  DM


PS. I am completely out of good coffee again in case you were wondering. ;-) Check out the coffee fund tab @ the top of the page,   if you’re feeling generous.  The stuff I am drinking now is kill’n me.



Posted in enjoying life, faith, Iowa, personal, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments




Monday  morning I stopped @ our local gas station to fill up.  It was in the midst of the morning commute so when I walked in to pay, the  check out lines were 4 deep.  There was that quiet  tension you feel when everyone around you is under pressure to get somewhere.  When it was finally my turn to pay, after  the girl behind the counter cleared  my check she said. “Have a  super- duper, awesome day.”

Six days later her words are still rumbling around in my head ;-)

I have sat down at this computer a dozen times the past week, attempting to write a blog post.  It’s not that I don’t have things to write about.  I try not to post something on this blog unless I just have to get it out.   I decided many moons ago not to put any kind of self-imposed pressure on myself to write.  Currently it feels internally like a bottle of wine under pressure.  There is definitely something  fermenting.  The only problem is 90% of what I’ve written (and not yet posted) has a fair to moderate degree of “snark” attached to it and  speaking only for myself,  there is enough mean spirited-ness in the world.  I could use a little more kindness sprinkled into  my day, so I’d rather not contribute to the former.

So this morning when I again, for the umpteenth time attempted to  get my tangled thoughts down on the screen,  I saw a picture flash on our screen saver :

offer hope

Those words center left jumped out at me: “Embrace Kindness”, which then got me to thinking about that cashier I encountered last Monday, which then got me to thinking about some other  big and small acts of kindness that came my way recently, including the following:

Co-worker John who brought us donuts at work, twice last week.

My friend Jim who brought me home a large bag of fresh coffee beans on a recent trip he took.

Wife left behind  a loving note (and a bag of M and M’s)  when she took off on her trip this past Monday.

Mom gave me my grandpa and Grandma’s antique game last time I stopped by the house for coffee.

Got a long e-mail and follow-up text from a good friend who was checking on us..she was concerned because she’d not heard from us for longer than normal.

Daughter Kathy and husband recently came over with a chicken dinner for us…just because.

Neighbor asked  if I would put some cherry boards in my kiln next time I fired it up, then gave us 5 pounds of hamburger as a thank you.

Old high school class mate I see once every few years, offered to help me install our new furnace…just because he likes learning new things.

Young man I bought the furnace from, changed his mind and helped me install our new furnace recently, for 1/2 of what he could have charged, when I offered him an additional $500, he refused.

Those all took place within the past three weeks.

I told my wife this morning that acts of kindness are so quiet, they can be here and gone before I know it.  They are like the morning and evening shadows that I have learned to pay attention to.   They  (the shadows) only last for a few minutes, and if I am not tuned it, next thing I know, it’s dark.



Morning shadows

evening light

Evening Shadows


Tell me about a recent act of kindness someone did for you.

I want details. ;-) DM


Posted in enjoying life, faith, life, personal, relationships, spirituality, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Better is….

“Better is a handful with quietness than both hands full with painful effort, a vain striving after the wind and a feeding  on it.”  Solomon


I came across that proverb two weeks ago.   It continues to resonate and give me a warm, “I am on the right track feeling,” with our most recent decision to downsize and take another look at our finances.   I am  enjoying a season of “quietness” on multiple fronts of my life, in spite being  in the middle of the Fall rush at work.

Is “a handful with quietness” worth pursuing or have you bought into “two hands full with painful toil”   road map for your life?

That is a watershed question, each of us gets to answer ;-)

If you are a dad with a wife and  children in tow, then before you answer all by your lonesome, include the family in that decision.

I do know what it feels like to have the wolf is at the door.

It is not a fun place to be.

Back when I was in my late 20’s, under tremendous self-imposed stress I came across the following ditty:

You are a fool if your goal is to make it to the top of the company ladder but end up loosing your family in the process.


Like someone took a 2 by 4 and smacked me across the nose.

I wasn’t trying to climb a corporate ladder.  I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, putting in long days at work, etc.  It wasn’t until my wife was almost at her breaking point, that I finally stopped long enough to see what the heck I was doing to everyone.

(It may not be making it to the top of the company ladder, but making payments on  stuff.  Stuff  that rusts, breaks fall apart, including a fancy house.)

In talking with another young dad recently about his financial pressures, I was dumbfounded at how much money they were spending on “needs” like Internet/cable, school activities,  that were costing $100’s of dollars a month.

I just listened as he rationalized all of their well-meaning decisions.

I never quite know if I’m dealing with a fool or a wise man so I tend to keep my thoughts to myself.

I don’t need the grief.

But since this is my blog, and you are free to leave, I will tell you what I think. ;-)

When we had kids in the home, part of what it looked like to make ends meet included starting a family cleaning business. We cleaned the offices,  a bank, and a house.   The kids got in on cleaning  toilets, scrubbing floors and experiencing the joy of getting a pay check for a job well done.   We bid the bigger jobs, so rather than working by the hour, it was a set price.   Each of us had our specific jobs and were usually done in an hour .  The money they made went to help buy their clothes.

We rented instead of owning, the first 12 years of our marriage.  At that time, coming up with a 10% down payment on a house was impossible on my income.  I remember coming to the painful realization we would probably never own a home. That was so counter cultural, and painful to my ego , but I had a higher calling, I wanted to have some energy left at the end of the day to be present with my wife and children.

* By the grace of God we were eventually able to own a home.  It can be done.


Thanks for stopping by.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this one.  DM

Here are some recent pictures taken by a photography club  when they visited our home:



libby 2014

Libby the Great

doug in the orchard 2014

Interacting with photography club


Heirloom variety of apples

honey crisp

Honey Crisp ready to be picked

litter carrier

Litter carrier in the barn

sun crisp

Sun-crisp variety of apples

And finally, if you are still reading along and have a minute,  here is a link to one of my favorite songs on Youtube currently :


Posted in christianity, faith, family, life, personal, relationships, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Step Away

I love history.

Not history  served up in High School, but family history, local history, history not re-written and filtered through politically correct nonsense.

Last night I was in the mood to learn more about The Prohibition.  We’d watched Ken Burn’s  three part series on it recently, then heard an  author talk about the Prohibition in Iowa.

Settled on The Crash of 1929, compliments of Amazon Prime.

I had to pause the show at one point and write this down:
“There was nothing unique about this. (financial collapse) It happens every 20 to 30 years. That is about the time of people’s financial memory, until a new set of people capable of wonderful self-delusion comes along…


If you’ve been reading this blog the past year, you know we have had our share of financial stress.

In my case, it wasn’t credit card debt, rather a naivety about money management in general.

Currently, while many of us are experiencing financial stress, on a purely creature comfort level, we have not experienced as a nation the suffering after the stock market crash of 1929.

Could it happen again?


I need to put this out there, there is so much hype out there on a coming economic collapse.

I’m currently in my mid 50’s. Three of my grandparents lived into their late 90’s.  The odds are within the next 40 years something  profound is going to break/ pop/ shift in our economy.

I refuse to get caught up in any of that “Wonderful self delusion.”

If you were standing 5 feet away from a 1000 ft deep sink hole, and you felt a little fear in the pit of your stomach, that would not be a sign of weakness…I would suggest listening to that little voice inside your head  telling you to “step away” and put some distance between you and that hole.

Side note;  In 2008 we had $3000 in an on-line Vanguard account.   Then came the stock market jitters of 2008.

Vanguard put a freeze on all of our money for 30 days.  They did this to calm the market, so as to prevent a good old fashion run on the banks, or in this case, run on an investment company, where people panic, pull their money out, and the whole house of cards collapses.

As a student of history, don’t think that didn’t set off a few alarm bells….

The difference today and 1929 is, the whole banking, investment and financial institutions in general, are interwoven with our federal government.  ie.  The government of the United States has in effect said they will prop up banks that in the past would have failed.

Now that does not  give me warm fuzzies, and here’s why.  Our own government is living on borrowed  money. Trillions of dollars worth.  So who is going to bail the Government out when it goes belly up? The last few years, “the experts” decided to print billions of dollars of funny money to prop up the stock market,  prettied it up with the title “quantitative  easing.”

Just make up a fancy name and some people will trust you know what you are doing.

(Not me)

Here are some links to the history of financial upheaval in America:

Here is a great website that unpacks past financial panics, depressions and economic turn-down without a lot of hype.

If you want to read more:

Huffington Post article

Wikipedia article


Marie Otten (grandma Monk)

Family picture of my grandma coming to America on a boat to escape the economic collapse of Germany in about 1928. (She’s second from the right)

Practical thoughts, comments, questions on how to “step away”?






Posted in faith, History, Iowa, money management, personal, random, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

To build and maintain a small tidy house in the country

I hate clutter.

At the moment I am surrounded by it.

In just the room I am sitting in there are eight boxes of books, magazines, a pile of rugs,  a partially disassembled play pen, stack(s) of baskets,  multiple piles of  construction tools.  The kitchen is not much better, nor the office.

We are moving.

I was up yesterday morning at 4:30, making a list of goals for the day.  I didn’t stop last night until after 7, until I had the high speed Internet cable and phone line moved.

In case you are new here, or out of the loop, last January we realized we could no longer afford to keep doing things the way we had been.  Won’t go into all of that again.  You can read about it here, here, here and here.

So we are downsizing from an 1800 sq foot 2 story farm-house to living on just the first floor = 900 sq ft.

It is painful.

I love books.  My wife loves books.

Our neighbor built us four oak book cases several years ago to house a portion of our book collection.  We only have room for two.

We chose to shut down the B and B.

I will miss the energy that came with  meeting and hosting people from all walks of life. (not to mention the $) ;-)

It is painful because of the mess associated with remodeling, but since this isn’t my first rodeo, I know this is only temporary.

I will say this, one of the exciting developments  has been acquiring an additional 6 foot of base cabinet space in the kitchen.  The original heating system was hot water  radiator heat.  Believe it or not, there was a 6 foot 4oo pound radiator under the sink.  It took up most of the west wall.   That has now been removed and I am in the process of building shelves that we can actually use.

Instead of cabinet doors, we are going to start out with some kind of curtain made out of burlap sacks.  I’ll post a picture of the finished product when it’s done.

This is my first experience installing a forced air furnace, and I will have to say I am enjoying the process.  Learned how to install a take off on the main trunk and finished up 5 heat runs on Tuesday.  Tonight we are supposed to work on the piping for the power vent and cold air returns.

Today I’m hoping to move the rest of the furniture off the 2nd floor  and into storage, then installing a layer of R38 insulation on the floor.

A friend  who was helping  install the  furnace on Saturday suggested  to not insulate  the 2nd floor. He guessed that it would “probably” only amount to an additional $100 a year in heat costs.  I contended, heat rises, the furnace we installed ( a Goodman 70,000 BTU 95% efficient LP furnace)  was sized for 900 sq feet/ not 1800 sq ft. and unless I installed the additional insulation, the heat would radiate through the ceiling, and the furnace would never stop running on a cold day.

My goal is to live in a small tidy house  surrounded by an orchard,   gardens, squirrels, wood-chucks, deer, coyote, wild turkey, a badger, and a host of small birds too numerous to list.

. There is an impulse I  periodically have to fight to drag stuff home.  That is probably the most painful part of downsizing.  It forces me to part with some of my many bobbles.

migrating geeseFall Migration

eagle taking off

Eagle taking off in our wind break

Ruth Stout garden plot

One of the gardens set amidst the apple orchard

money can't buy you happiness but it can by you a homestead




Posted in christianity, country living, enjoying life, gardening, life, life in the country, money management, orchard, personal, self sufficient, spirituality, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Thoughts on the Fall, Vegetables and the brevity of life.

Took  these pictures yesterday on our way home from a wedding reception:


soybean and foxtail

Soybeans almost ready to harvest.

IMG_3813 - Copy

Evening shadows East of Blairstown. Harvest is just around the corner.

IMG_3820 - Copy

Red barn

fall colors

Fall Colors


Yesterday we attended a memorial service and a wedding reception.  As I was driving to the  second event, I thought, “Boy, today is right out of Ecclesiastes:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;…”

I barely knew the woman who passed.   My wife wanted to go to support our son and daughter-in-law.  I tagged along and worked really hard at having a good attitude. Wife thanked me afterwards for being so patient.

My wife lost both of her parents while they were  in their early 60’s.  She is more tuned into  people’s grief that I.

My parents are still  very much alive and in the land of the living,  Both in their early 80’s.   Heck, dad still farms 220 acres.

Loosing someone to death is such a personal and varied experience.

At the risk of your thinking I’m just a little off kilter, two of the keenest losses I’ve felt so far  in my life have been  my dog Oscar:

Oscar our beagle


and a fellow blogger from Minnesota.  Her name was Joy.  While we’d  never met in person, she and I were the same age, and had interacted on a pretty deep level the few years I knew her.  That tells me something about the depth of relationships that some of us experience as we blog and interact.  It was a shocker when I got the word she’d died last Fall from lung cancer.

Even though I know better, I think on some subconscious level, I think I amgoing to live for ever, here in the flesh.  I’m not talking about after this husk of a body wears out and I step into eternity.  I’m talking about the here and now, and all that goes with it.

How about you, have you gotten to the point in your life where you are really, really aware of the brevity of your life or are you like me still  living in with a dash of denial to your own  mortality?

I’m guessing here, but until I lose someone up close and personal, it will all continue to be just theory, death that is. And even after we lose someone close to us, I think the human heart has a tendency to grow a callous over the pain.

Or maybe we just tuck that whole experience on some mental shelf in some spare room, and not go there any more than we have to.

Not trying to be dark and morbid on you, it’s just how my mind works.   I see such a parallel between the literal seasons of the calendar year and my life.

I’m in the late Summer/ early Fall of my life and I love it!

Fall is my favorite season and always has been.

The robust colors.

The  harvest.

The cool night, great sleeping weather.

Speaking of cool nights.

We still don’t have the furnace up and running (yet) but I’m hoping to have it going by the end of the week.  We tore out our 25-year-old boiler and are in the middle of replacing  it with an energy-efficient forced air furnace.  We have decided to shut off the 2nd floor, and downsize to 1000 sq. feet of living space. Should cut our heating by by 2/3’s. (that is $2000 a year in today’s money.)

I would  love to interact with some of you on the whole topic of grief and grieving, although I know it may be too hard or personal of subject for you.  I get that.  Grief can be messy.  You miss someone, yet @ the same time, you may also be dealing with some unresolved anger, that kind of thing.  Tell me about your loss….or if that is too heavy of a conversation,  what are 3 of your favorite vegetables and how do you like to prepare them?   Later- DM

Posted in christianity, enjoying life, faith, Iowa, life, personal, photography, relationships, spirituality, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

In the name of love


I came home Tuesday night physically and mentally exhausted.

Came home Wednesday night physically  and mentally exhausted.

We are re-roofing a 160 ft long cattle shed and as I mentioned to Tim  Monday morning when he came in 20 minutes late, he did not realize all of the job pressures that I was under….

Concerns about the wind ripping off the #30 felt before we got it covered.  If that happened,I would have to absorb the cost of material and labor to redo it.

Safety concerns.

Dealing with  mud and not being able to get equipment in to where it needs to be.

Time pressures.

Employee’s coming in late or not at all.

Cash flow pressures.

Communication and expectation issues with the customer,  bla bla bla…

Some day he might understand, and when that day came, I wanted him to give me a call. ;-)

I am living my life for the long haul, and yes, while this current project sucks a lot out of me, I am doing OK.

I have learned to pay attention to my inner world and pace myself.

I am so thankful my wife recognizes my need to transition when I get home and gives me space.

I  know three men, all married to women who regularly put major expectations on their husband’s time outside of their job.  None of these men are what I would call  couch potatoes.  I was catching up with two of them recently and both  casually mentioned some of the tasks their wives had saddled them with in addition to their own personal responsibilities.

I kept quiet, but inside I was thinking, you have got to be kidding me. (I’m not talking about fixing a leak in the sink, but hours and hours of busy work.)

Years ago, Mrs DM used to take care of an elderly lady I’ll call Ann.  Ann’s husband  (Carl) was still very much alive.  Wife’s job was mostly to do a little laundry, pick up around the house, that sort of thing.  Ann was pushing mid 90’s at this point.  One morning while wife was sitting in the chair talking with Ann,  Carl starts grilling Ann about the 2nd cookie he suspects she has eaten that morning…..

A second cookie!!!

Now I get it.  She didn’t have an active life style and cookies = empty calories =weight gain.  The other side of the equation was Ann was still 100% still in her right mind, she didn’t have long to live, and cookies were one of the few pleasures she could enjoy.

To this day, that exchange comes up in our home.  If either one of feels the other is over stepping their bounds with the other, we will bring up Carl and micro-managing the cookie count.

This same issue could just as easily surface between a parent and their older child, or a child and their aging parent.

Boundaries,  and imposing my will on the will of someone else who is of sound mind and body, “in the name of love.

If you are reading this and happen to fall into the camp of being a controller.  I have two words for you…

Stop it!



PS.  If you are on the receiving end of a controlling personality,  and need to talk, feel free to leave  a comment and or question.  I have a great readership base here,  with lots of insight.  DM




Posted in enjoying life, family, life, love, perseverance, personal, relationships, Uncategorized, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments