protest, Serious Shit

Gaining Ground, A Book Report

This is a picture that came up when I searched 'dirty old Wells Lamont chore gloves'.

I don’t know why a picture of Mia Farrow comes up when I search ‘dirty old Wells Lamont chore gloves’, but it does.

Winter was  tough on the farm. Most mornings Mom would struggle to rustle us from sleep. It would begin gently enough with a song and a gentle carress. Then it would move to a ‘Let’s go’ shout up the stairs, which would lead to the blanket snatch leaving a spastic boy flopping into the fetal position to escape the cold air.

In the basement we would slip our hands awkwardly into two pairs of old Wells Lamont chore gloves. Zip up a sweater and jacket, pull on a stocking cap and cinch down the hood. Feet – clad in two pairs of heavy socks – were jammed into old rubber boots.

Gripping the doorknob, your hands would slip a bit before it would turn, a crunch of frost in the doorjamb, and with that you  plunged into the cold. And while chores were about the last thing I wanted to do nearly every single day, once outside, it all seemed to melt.

There’s a stillness once it gets in the range of -10˚where sound seems to slow down. The putt-putt of the milk pump as Dad slipped machines onto the cows barely even made it to the house just a 100 feet away.

My mind was flooded with similar memories while reading ‘Gaining Ground’ by Forrest Pritchard, the story of how the author saved his family farm through a combination of persistence and ignorance, optimism and good humor. The story tracks his lurch against the grain to make small, family farming work in a world dominated by industrial-scale ag.

Continue reading

hell, Holy crap, protest, Serious Shit

Can I just get a crappy coffee, please?

It’s been two weeks without coffee. And it’s not been too bad. Then I read this “The 10 Most Annoying Coffee Trends.” So if you skip ahead to #8, you get to the heading of ‘Sky-High Coffee Prices.’

There’s a strange selfish pride in the statement, “Sorry I am not paying more for a cup of coffee than I do for a gallon of gas.” And it usually comes from folks who grew up on Folgers (not that they’re necessarily bad people). Working in coffee and around coffee and drinking coffee, it’s difficult to hear these things and not get annoyed.

There are commodities. Things like wheat, soy beans, corn. Hundreds of acres handled by a single farmer, a hired hand and some farm equipment. And then there’s coffee, right up there among the others with people unwilling to pay more than a few cents per cup, because, well only numbskulls would pay more for coffee than gas! Flour is cheap. Corn is cheaper.

But coffee isn’t like these other things. Continue reading

duh, protest, Serious Shit

Du hast ein Gewehr?!

This picture comes up if you Google search ‘Gun Fun.’ There are other great ones too, but I’ll let you find that on your own.

It carried through to morning breakfast.

“Really, you have guns?” Edgar would say shaking his head.

The incredulous look would reprise during conversational lulls. And given my limited German vocabulary, conversational lulls were regular throughout this visit to a friend’s family farm in rural Germany.

Raversbeuren is eight kilometers up the steep valley of the Mosel River. Ascending through the forest on my bike, I eventually broke through to expansive rolling fields of wheat and hay interspersed with stands of forest. It looked a little bit like the hills just past Dubuque, Iowa, and in the evening light after six hours in the saddle, it felt like home.

I pulled into the farm and was immediately overwhelmed by nostalgia. My friend’s parents reminded me of my own as they griped over the number of broken machines in the barn and the price of milk, and lamented the departure of their children to the city – no one staying to take over the farm.

That night – after going over the basics of who I was, where I was from, how many brothers I have, etc. – we got on the subject of the recent shootings in the US. I relayed the fact that my family owned four guns (three shotguns and a rifle). I tried to properly convey the subtle nuances of people and their relationship with firearms in the US.

But it didn’t really work.

“Wirklich? Vier Gewehre?” Continue reading

cockfights, duh, Holy crap, protest

Dudley writes back

Every Sunday as we trundled out of the long nap commonly known as church, the whole family would eagerly board the Blue Behemoth – our Ford station wagon – and head for Roundy’s grocery where we had our choice of candy (on some Sundays this treat was supplemented by a sweet roll of the Long John variety). When I was younger I tended toward the Skittles (when there was just one variety), Mambo or one of those other chewy, sugar concoctions.

I can’t remember when it happened, but my taste eventually matured I started looking for things with more complexity. And so it happened. Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll came into my life. A combination of sugar and salt, crunch and chew, nougat and nut that kicks the ass of nut roll competitor, Payday (don’t trust the review though, not even close).

This amazing painting by Thomas Ojanpera comes up if you search for ‘Salted Nut Rolls in history’.

According to Pearson’s random, marginally dated website, the salted nut roll “was introduced in 1933 at the height of the depression and soon changed its name to the Choo Choo Bar in an effort to distinguish it from its competitors.” Mysteriously, this amazing name was changed back to the generic Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll to help confused customers find it among a sea of competing salted nut rolls.

I like the idea of a sea of competing salted nut rolls. And salted nut roll barons looking for every single competitive edge, slicing margins, corporate espionage all just to get ahead in the cut throat nut roll world.

I really hit that candy bar around the time of high school. The way the salt just so slightly overpowered the sugar was key. Beyond that, Pearson’s had enlisted the help one of the finest mascots the world has seen, Dudley P. Nut. My sense of irony had become more keen by the time I reached high school and I found in Mr. P. Nut a perfect foil for my sweet tooth. Continue reading

duh, Germany, protest

Cheerios… plain

This image is from a blog post titled "Why Communists Hate Cheerios," which is true. They also hate babies. And love.

I love Cheerios. Yes, I know. They are very plain. They are neither sweet nor salty. But it is true.

Now we will do some math. Figuring that I ate a box a week when I lived in the United States, subtract two years for when I lived in Guatemala, subtract – well let’s be generous – about nine years for when I was small. Now you have about 22 years. Multiply that by 52 weeks, which is 1,144-18oz boxes or roughly 1,287 pounds of Cheerios that I have run through my system. Then multiply that by about the $2.73 I roughly estimate for average box cost and I (or my parents) have spent over $3,123.12 shoving all of those wholesome ‘o’s down my throat.

For as long as I can remember, Cheerios have formed a grand part of my diet, akin to Koreans and kim-chi*.

Until now .

Sometimes you just assume that you can get everything you want wherever you go. Life is a fairy tale and we skip along blissfully ignorant.

Continue reading


Observations of Sarah Palin/My Mom

So last night Bree and I watched some of Charlie Gibson’s interview with Sarah Palin (The woman is a nightmare. Is it really true that the Republicans could find no other qualified woman in their ranks? Elizabeth Dole, somebody, please!??!).

The most startling revelation was her pitiful knowledge of foreign affairs and her lack of anything relevant to add to the conversation. I realized that my very own mother has more experience in foreign affairs than this vice presidential candidate.

Back when my parents and brother Tyler visited me in Guatemala, we were standing in line to board an airplane to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Suddenly, I looked behind us and saw Alvaro Colom in line. Colom was a candidate for president in Guatemala in 2003 and while he lost that election, he was recently elected president in 2007.

So I introduced him to my parents and had my picture taken with him. I was blown away that he was in line behind us. But that’s beside the point. With that simple encounter, my mother accrued the political capital and experience necessary to be vice president.

Sarah Palin? Hasn’t met a single head of state and has only visited Canada, Mexico and Kuwait. She counts being able to see Russia from her state as some sort of qualification. I think my mom gets extra points for actually meeting a foreign head of state. Plus my mom went on a cruise once, so that counts for something as well.

So I say this, friends, call in now, tell McCain you want Mary Ann Freund for Veep! She has the experience and the knowledge to lead in these trying times! Hell, she raised six boys, managed to help keep our family farm afloat for 21 years and could be the finest diplomat I know.

McCain/Freund, ’08!*

*Although I’d probably still vote for Obama. Sorry, Mom.

beefjerky, New Mexico, protest, SantaFe

Protesting… You Know, a Bunch of Stuff


I was on my way to Museum Hill, a grouping of three museums about a 15- minute bike ride from my house and just out of the reach of downtown Santa Fe. I was hoping to make my way through two of them if not all three, but I was off to a slovenly start after dragging myself out of bed late; and then I needed to make a large breakfast since that is what one generally should do on a nice Saturday morning, and so it was almost 1 p.m. before I pushed my bike out the door.

As I passed the capitol building (Nothing, absolutely nothing when compared to the majesty of Wisconsin’s Capitol Building. Be proud ‘Sconnie, be proud!), I saw a group of people rallying. Always up for a good rally, I decided to check it out.

It seemed to be a generally-focused, peace rally of sorts. The kind where everyone is protesting everything and fighting for something and you agree with most everything everyone says, but you wonder where it all comes together.

One speaker would get up and talk about getting out of Iraq right now; another would go on a diatribe about proposed weapons program stuff in New Mexico; the next person would talk about illegal immigration and how Colorado is forcing prisoners to do the work illegals would do to try and save money so we could compete with China; and then someone would talk about everyone just getting along and then, hell yeah, can I get an Amen?

There were a number of signs and placards milling about, but my favorites had to include the person dressed as Darth Vader on roller blades weaving in and out of people with a sign that said, ‘Sleep’ on one side and ‘Obey’ on the other; and the lesbian couple with the sign: ‘Queer farmers for peace.’ I also enjoyed the placard that said: ‘Cheney/Satan, ’08.’

Overall, it was a pretty festive atmosphere and then I saw the jerky man. He was an older man with weathered skin, salt-n-pepper hair and a bolo tie (official state tie of New Mexico) with a crisp navy blue shirt. He was pulling one of those little steel frames on wheels with a plastic box filled with beef jerky. He politely stopped and asked if I’d like to purchase some beef jerky, two for $5 on the little bags, or $10 for the big’uns.

“How’re sales?” I inquired, hoping to get some kind of peace rally insight from the jerky man.

He glanced back at the stage and looked around a bit, and then said: “Well, I thought I’d come down to the rally and sell some jerky, but, you know, most of the folks that come to these things are vegetarians, you know. And those that aren’t don’t have no money,” he explained.

“But we make this jerky right here and a lot of people really like it,” he continued with the sale.

Later that day after successfully viewing the wonderful collection at the Museum of International Folk Art, I sat on a bench on Museum Hill overlooking the wide open desert scrubland and chomped my way through a styro-foamy bag of jerky while enjoying a fine sunny afternoon.

Peace out folks!