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”?






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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




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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.

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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

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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




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Meditation on a Moldy Bale of Hay

rotten bale of hay

I noticed  some many of the potatoes in the heavy mulch (Ruth Stout method) garden plot were starting to sunburn two weeks ago.

Sunburn= the potato skin turns green because they are too close to the surface.

I’m running low on old hay, so I called my neighbor to see if he had any old moldy, bales lying around he would sell me.

The bales themselves are not worth a whole lot but the time and fuel needed to load and transport them to our place is.  Last time my neighbor brought me a couple of bales, it meant two trips from his farm with his old Farmall and loader.

“How many do you want?” he asked.

“Could I get three of them?”   ;-)

“Sure thing!”

Two hours later he pulled into the yard with a trailer…4 rotten bales!

Felt like Christmas morning.

Enough rotten moldy hay to get me into next Summer.

Now there is something special about this neighbor I need to tell you.

First, he would accept no payment for the hay.

Secondly, he is a busy farmer.  He and his brother farm, hundreds, if not thousands of acres, yet he took the time to squeeze in an act of kindness to a fellow-man.

Thirdly, he is an honest man.  There is not a hint of self-serving, manipulative, ulterior motives in any of his dealings with me.

We have two neighbors who will swing by our place after a heavy snow storm and dig out our driveway with their equipment. He is one of those neighbors.

We may not have any dealings with each other for months on end.  It’s not like we are in a card club together and see each other monthly.

Earlier this Summer, this neighbor was setting up a grain bin.  He called to see if I or any of my crew might be able to help for a day or two.  We were right in the middle of tearing off a house roof and I needed every pair of hands I could muster. We were a couple of weeks behind getting to that job and there was no way I could pull off midstream.  I felt slightly conflicted, because here was a neighbor who has repeatedly stopped what he was doing to bale me out.

I also knew he was not the kind of person to harbor any kind of ill will.  He was also dealing with the rainy weather so he would understand the job pressures I was under.  If I could I would.

He is an instrument of goodness.

He quietly plants seeds of goodwill in my heart.

His random acts of kindness go along ways in helping me keep my heart from growing cold.

I have a confession to make.

As I get older, I feel a tendency to pull into myself.  I  have less and less desire to deal with other people’s stuff.

The scriptures (the Bible) talk about in the last days, most men’s  hearts will grow cold.  That’s what I’m talking about.  A hard heart. A cold heart.  A loveless heart. A selfish heart, only looking out for itself.

Who’d a thunk a rotten moldy 3-year-old bale of  hay could counter that pull towards darkness.

But it does.

And in a  small way, interacting with many of you on this blog  also counters that temptation.
Thank you.


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Saturday Sept 6th 2014

Saturday morning sunrise

This morning.  

The shadows were beautiful this morning. I grabbed the camera and took a few shots before breakfast.

garden shot

Old hay bale a neighbor dropped off last weekend for my heavy mulch garden.

In the foreground is the potato fork.  Twice a week I scrape a little of the mulch back and dig up a few chemical free  potatoes.

In the back ground you can barely see the tarp.  I put the tarp down to smother the grass and get this section prepped for a 2015 no till/ deep mulch garden spot.

Side note, in case you are new to the blog, any time you work up the soil in a garden plot you bring up new weed seeds.  The question is, how do I prepare the soil without creating any more work than I have to and without using chemicals?  (unless you like pulling weeds, which on a small-scale is kind of fulfilling to a point).

The short answer is to lay something down to smother everything then, keep it covered all year round with a blanket of heavy mulch.  Check out the Ruth Stout tab on the side bar  if you want to know more.

rotten bale of hay for mulch

Another shot of the rotten bale of hay and ground covered with tarp.

Super Chief red delicious apples

Super chief Red Delicious apples .

The apple crop is 1/6th of what it was last year.  Combination of weather, and last year’s bumper crop I suspect.  Apple trees that produce too much fruit in a given year, will usually take the following season off.   There is more than one spiritual lesson in that example. ;-)

pumpkin vine

Pumpkin vine

In other news…

Had a friend stop by this week who was feeling overwhelmed by all of the negative disturbing things in the news.  He is the 2nd person who has voiced those sentiments to me in the past week.  I started writing a blog post on that topic, then read the following by another writer….no sense reinventing the wheel.

And finally, general update on our personal finances.

January 11th 2014 was a watershed moment in my heart financially.  Yesterday at work we were talking about financial pressures.  Things didn’t change in our situation until I had a firm grasp of how much money we had to work with,  and how much we were actually spending.  Needed to take all the emotion out of the equation and just look at the real  numbers.

I realized we were spending $700 a month more than I was actually making.  Go ahead and roll your eyes if you want ;-) If that wasn’t a shocker I don’t know what was.  (Two years previously, I had made $700 a month more, and had never bothered to recalculate where we were at.  One of the problems for me (and I’ve shared this before) is how wildly our income varied from year to year, as a self employed carpenter.  It wasn’t until I went back and came up with a three year average, rooted in real numbers, and then identified  what our fixed and discretionary expenses were, that things began to change.

On August 7th 2014, we met our 4th  financial goal.  Our credit card balance is now zero and for the first time in my life, I have three months worth of income set aside in an emergency fund.   I no longer feel like I am flying 10 feet off the surface of the ocean in a 747:

IMG_2543 - Copy

We have “lift” and for that  I am thankful.

Well, need to run to town and saw some concrete. DM



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Real Masculinity, According To Me


“The hands of a brick layer, the mind of a scientist,  the heart of a poet.” 

Epitaph of  Saumel J Kirkwood  former Governor of Iowa, and what I’m thinking of carving on my tombstone ;-) DM

kirkwood-hammer certificae

I’m probably going to step on a few toes with this one, but you know what,  I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

I had the  privilege of teaching  8 young men in a construction program 2009-2010.   All the time in the back of my mind I was thinking, teachers have the opportunity to plant seeds in their student’s lives that can last a lifetime.

When I was a young man, there were very few healthy masculine role models as I recall.  The majority of men were either stoic males who suppressed their  emotion, or jocks whose sole purpose in life was to “get some”, great qualities to have in a future husband don’t you think?

I believe a real man can be tough and know how to stand his ground, but who also know how to admit when he’s wrong. (humble)  Real men  are in touch with their feelings, regardless of what anybody else may be telling you.

Since my years in High School,  I’ve been married for 35 years  to the  same woman, (and we still like each other). We’ve raised 4 children now in their mid 20’s to early 30’s, and  have  a healthy  relationship with each of them.

In addition to  teaching, I’m a general contractor.

I am a people person, and have known and worked alongside  dozens of men (and women) in the construction industry with every personality type you could imagine. In all these years, the one I had the most friction with was a  former bible college graduate twerp with a mouth.

I love pouring cement, stick framing a roof, riding motorcycles, writing poetry, baking my grandma’s rye bread from scratch, shooting a semi automatic rifle,  working in our  apple orchard, stacking bales in the haymow, butchering chickens, and bringing my wife coffee in bed.

I love working with the biker/just got out of jail types.

I love to look them in the eye and mess with their minds.

Six years ago, I spent the day with Johnny.  He was helping a friend of mine remodel a building.  Johnny was on work release, muscular, in his mid 30’s.  I came with my sawzall,  chop saw and diamond blade.  My job was to cut a doorway into the side of the masonry building 2 stories in the air.

I looked Johnny in the eye and said,   ‘”I’m afraid of heights.”  (because I am) :-)

He looked @ me and sarcastically said, “Man, what kind of carpenter are you,  afraid of height?”

About 1/3 of the way into the process, there was an accident. Johnny, accidentally stabbed me with my sawzall.

New blade, with pigeon dung on it. Blade slid  into my forearm like a steak knife.   Two hours later, after a trip to the emergency room, we were back.  My forearm, with 7 stitches  was all wrap up.  I couldn’t leave because I had brought  the tools and know how.  I watched Johnny struggle for 5 minutes  with my chop saw. It was driving me nuts.

Finally, I said, “Let me have it.”

I grabbed the saw with both hands and went back to work.  Two hours later, we were done.

Johnny, looked @ me when I finished with the saw  and said, “Man, you are one bad @#s .”

Music to my ears.


I originally wrote this in 2009 on my personal blog.  Got a comment this morning  and decided to repost it on the farm blog.  DM


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