St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June Berries

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Photos from around the farm the third week of June 2017













Sunday, June 18, 2017

Graduation Parties

    Margo and I showed up at our great niece Karra's high school graduation party yesterday.  The only one we went to this year.  Karra has uncertain plans for continuing her education, possibly working a year and then going on to school.  We always try to encourage new high school graduates, that this is just a step in their education, not the end of it. 
  When I taught high school in Goodman, WI, back in the 1970s, I encouraged my students to go on to college or vocational school, telling them "life can be quite enjoyable if you get a good job that you like and pays a decent wage,  but that requires preparing yourself by more education."
   Goodman is a small lumber town on Hwy 8, near the Michigan border.  The town had a large veneer mill and sawmill and originated as a mill town where Mr. Goodman owned everything including the houses, bank, store, etc.  Louisiana Pacific had bought the mill when Goodman died, and decided they didn't really want to own a town, so sold all but the mill, store and bank to the folks living in the houses. 
  The problem I had with the mill was we had opposite views on the future of the Goodman students.  
  I thought they all should continue in school after high school.  The few jobs in town that were not mill jobs, were small service businesses (hardware, gas station, bar/restaurant), the school system and not much more. 
  Mill jobs were low paying, low benefits and not quite enough for a family to live on without a two-income family. 
  The Mill liked to hire kids right out of high school, first a summer job to earn some money for college,  but then a bank loan to buy a car, tying then into monthly payments, gas, insurance etc., taking most of the income.  I had one mill manager tell me straight out -- "we need labor to run the mill, so don't tell everyone to go on to school."  
  The mill needed lots of manual labor with a skill set learned on-the-job.  The highest pay for anyone working there, not in management, was about half of the $12,000/year I made teaching (working 9 months to earn that).  Margo and I and our new baby Scott struggled to live on that income, and it was impossible for the mill hands to live on a single salary income. 
  Many of my students did go on to school. With few opportunities in Goodman, they had to leave to find a job.  
  One student was particularly difficult for me.  She (we will call her Emma -- not her name)  was a very bright student, loved science and math, even to the point where I got a "do it yourself" type electronics course for her to take under my guidance.  When I tried to encourage her to go on to college or technical school, she was interested, but uncertain.   Her father was gone from the scene (not sure why), and her mother was very religious and of a sect that didn't believe in education or being much of the world. 
  At the parent teacher conference, I talked to the mother about her daughter's obvious abilities and interests and desirability of encouraging them in the future, and was completely shut down, with the "I don't believe in that for my children.  Education will turn them away from God and our beliefs. You must quit talking to her about college."  
  I talked to Emma after this, and told her that life is made up of choices we have to make for ourselves, and that while our parents are looking out for what they think are our best interests, in the end we have to make our own way through the world.  I don't know what she chose to do; as we moved away as I made a choice to try a different career than teaching. 
   I don't really believe that God thinks we should remain intentionally ignornant in the world, but I too had that advice from the church I attended. Ignorance and religion too often seem to be partners in turning life into a dream of the hereafter rather than a good life in the herenow.  
  My friend, Beth, who lives in Honduras, tells me that poverty there is not only the result of corrupt government, but of corrupt religion; one that says suffering here is good for you and all that matters is getting into heaven, so put up with all the crap, don't better yourself, just keep focused on the reward after you die.  
  I find this view of religion total nonsense.  Who would want to go to heaven where a ruler who liked seeing us suffer during our lifetime reigned?  Rather we take on our own lives, and with God's help make it a joyful life.  And to get that you get all of the education you can possible cram into your head.
 
   

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Midsummer

    Since 2003, the year we visited our cousins in Skee, Sweden, Midsummer day is special.   In Sweden where the Hansson family came from (in the area along the Norway-Sweden boundary about 60 miles south of Oslo), the climate is cooler, damper and milder in the winters, but not terribly different from here in Cushing, WI (maybe more like along the Lake Superior shore).
  However, being much farther north, the winter days are dark most hours, followed by summers that by mid June the days last from 3 am to 11 pm and barely dark in the 11-3 night.  The long days are cumulate in the Midsommar celebration. 
  Cousin Arne believed that he had to have new potatoes from the garden and fresh strawberries for the celebration.  He cheated a little by raising a hill of potatoes in a 5 gallon plastic pail, kept in the barn overnight, and let out during the day at first.  The new potatoes might be small, but were part of the old life when the long winter food supply was, too often, gone by the time the garden began producing, so new potatoes were counted on by mid June. 
  Another tradition was fresh strawberries on Midsummer, festooned on a white layer cake.  
  When we visited over Midsummer, Arne and Lillian had both.  The garden strawberries were still only pink, but southern Sweden had ripe ones and whatever the price, one bought some for the cake.  
  So this year, with the strawberry picking beginning this morning (2 quarts), and the potatoes thriving in the garden, we may have the Swedish dinner too.   
    My Swedish cousins will get together for their family reunion on midsummer day again this year, as they always do, and celebrate. We are invited, but it seems as if our world traveling days are over now.  However, we will remember them with a glass of aquavit this Thursday at 5-7 pm at the Luck Museum where Scandinavian beverages are featured as the new "Skal" exhibit goes up the following week. 
  
  Some photos from the Farm






The Farm gardens, orchard, and berries look prosperous

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Summer

The thermometer in the shade says 89F at noon today, however the strong breeze and dry air make it pleasant to sit on the roofed porch, and sip my iced well water from my $8000, 2015 well. I figure each drink cup of water should be valued at 10 cents until I get my full return from the well. I think that will be about 2050. Maybe I should change it to 20 cents each to half the payoff time.
Scott and I were out early finishing the new metal roof on the garage. We had it almost done, just one half-sheet along the edge and the ridge. Got it all done by 9 am before it got too sunny and hot to be on a roof.
The garage was built in about 1948, and had three layers of asphalt shingles which we roofed over with steel panels. Steel, 3x12 feet panels, go on very fast using a battery drill and screws, are not any more expensive than shingles, last at least twice as long, and although hail will dent them, it will not puncture the roof.
The first garage roof was hit by golf-ball and baseball size hail back in the 1960s, punching large holes in the blue shingles. Insurance helped pay for a new roof then. Another roof lasted nearly 30 years and then Dad hired his grandson to put on a third layer. These turned out to be the Certain-teeded junk ones that in 15 years were already in rough shape. So the steel covers it all.
Next spent an hour mowing the lawn, but the mower seemed to be overheating, so I moved to the garden and hoed for an hour, but the hoe-er was overheating, so thought about taking the garden tiller to the sand garden -- where the watermelons finally have appeared, but I was worried it would overheat too.
Margo is doing a Luck Museum shift today (10-1). She volunteers some Saturdays to keep it open Memorial Day to Labor Day. She never really recovered back to normal from the neck and back surgeries and the cancer treatment. She lost strength, stability, and functionality and so has to choose less strenuous activities that keep her enjoying life.
Last week she had her final cancer followup check. If you make 5 years after diagnosis, it is a milestone that says you are likely going to make another 5 OK. June 2012-Aug 2013 was a hard time that then was followed by two surgeries that stabilized a back and neck worn out from years of being a nursing assistant in the days when heavy lifting was part of the job.
I watered her flowers as the rain that almost came this morning didn't. The forecast is for a cool wet Sunday and then hot wet early week, a good chance to relieve the couple of weeks of dry weather.
When I was a kid, on a dry hot June day, it would have been an almost 100% certainty I would be spending all of a day like today hauling hay bales-- the square bales that you loaded by hand. If not with Dad and my brothers, then for my neighbor Raymond Noyes. It was hot, hard work.
I suppose I shouldn't complain as Dad or Raymond were out there working hard too, and before and after haying had to milk their cows too as well as try to motivate a young man whose mind was elsewhere, often straining my young eyes to see if one of the Gullickson Twins was raking hay in the next field, working on her tan in a bikini. Odd how interesting that was at the time.



Here on the farm, we have 4 gardens this year. The fruit garden-- strawberries, raspberries, grapes, and blueberries with a row of tomatoes too. The vegetable garden--potatoes, peas, radishes, and lettuce. The sand garden with watermelons and muskmelons along the Riverroad. And the pumpkin/squash garden to sell at the River Road Ramble. All but the squash/pumpkin garden are doing well. We had to replant that one.
The apples set quite well in the orchard, and so the spraying regime of every 2 weeks begins now.
The lawn has finally slowed down with the dry weather and we made it through the flush without going out and buying a new lawn mower. Sharpening the blades regularly helps old mowers make another season.
The events of spring and summer are coming rapidly. Memorial Day we put together a booklet on all of the 13 WWI soldiers buried in Wolf Creek Cemetery trying to do a little research on each. The Rock club has it's big rock show in Frederic next weekend. Then comes the Sterling Picnic. July is Lucky Days and the Fair, and then August, Cushing Fun Days and finally the Ramble in September. Margo and I volunteer to do various jobs at each and so it becomes quite busy for the summer. Sometimes it is hard to enjoy the events when you feel responsible for helping make them a success.
I had my visit to the doctor for the year and other than being a more substantial person than she would like, I am in fair to good condition (always with the qualifier -- for my age.).



For a few recent videos from the Farm, check out my youtube channel.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Epson WF 7620 Banner Print

This is purely an educational post that explains how to take advantage of an Epson WF 7620 printer to make a banner as big as 13x47.24 inches (the limit of the printer). 
  I have one of these printers and the Luck museum has one.  We bought them because they have an 11x17 scan/copy area and can print on up to 13x18 size paper (all measurements are inches).  
  The printer is reasonably decent output, but as the clerk at Best Buy told me, "if you don't print regularly with Epson printers, the heads clog up."  She was right!!!
  However, I have found that I can unclog the heads by following the DIY information found on the internet that includes soaking the heads over a wet paper towel and if needed, gently syringing distilled water through them.  Something one shouldn't have to do!
  Anyway, the printer specifications claim to print banners up to 47.24 inches long. (that comes from the metric 120 cm long and 33 cm wide maximums which may be some metric standard? ).
  I bought a roll of cheap paper at Walmart in the art supplies area.  It is like typing paper only on a roll and 12 inches by 100 feet.  I cut off 48 inches of it and tried to feed it into the single sheet feeder, but it was too floppy.  So I taped the leading edge to a sheet of heavier 12x18 paper and that would let the printer grab the paper and feed it through OK.  Once it gets started through, it goes the rest of the way fine. 
  Next I tried to find a program that will let me do a page layout of 12x47.24.   Word will do 12x22 -- and no longer.  Printshop 13x18 and nothing longer.  However, Open Office (the free word processor) lets me define any size. Wonder why the other programs don't? 
   I went to the printer setup on my computer and defined a "Banner" paper type of 12x47.24.  Then I designed a poster and printed it to the Epson selecting the rear feed, the new Banner paper size and pushed the print button.  It worked!!! 
  Of course, since the paper was not glossy, the quality was not wonderful, and the Epson was not printing through all of the nozzles as usual, so a little streaky until I told it to print slow and high quality.  And I have to cut the tape holding the back stiffener paper off.  
       Imagine this 47.24 inches long and 12 inches tall.  Now I think I will see if I can find 13 inch rolls of glossy ink paper.  
     I tried to find out how to do this on the internet, but nothing for the Epson WF 7620.  Some printers have a roll feed paper and cutter built in, but not mine.  However it is pretty handy to have a 4 foot poster.
  What is my rating for the printer?  It does pretty good with the scanner top feed.  I can scan double sided and up to about 25 pages at a time without much trouble jamming unless it is very thin paper or badly wrinkled.  The scan quality can be set to be plenty high for the museum.  I can scan to a flash drive, SD card, my computer or the cloud.  
   I have it networked at home and that works fine. At the museum the networking would sometimes drop out, so I just hooked it directly to the computer.   
  The ink is very expensive and it does use a lot.  At home I refill my own cartridges with pigment ink and at the museum we buy them.  Their first printer clogged so bad, I took it back after a year (we had a 3 -year extended Best Buy warranty--and they gave us a new one).  That one also had some error messages indicating stuck paper or something.  I have had my own for nearly 3 years now and other than the clogging nuisance, it works pretty good.  I don't print a lot and that is my problem too.  The heads are expensive, but replaceable -- but cost nearly as much as the printer ($200 for the printer, $120 for the heads).  They have "micro fine" holes that are almost impossible to keep functioning without a daily print with each color and black. 
   Every inkjet printer I ever had clogged, so I expect that.  The old HP's were easiest -- their print head was right in the cartridge and every time you bought a new cartridge you got to start over new.  My Kodak was terrible, and all of my Epson's spent about as much time having the heads being soaked as they did printing even with Epson ink cartridges. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017 Wolf Creek, WI

One hundred seventy five folks braved the cool shower threatening weather to attend Memorial Day at the Wolf Creek Cemetery.  
Photos: 

118 Veterans on the board

The children helped with the program, leading the pledge of allegiance and patriotic readings 


The speaker was a lay minister from Cushing

Patriotic Reading

Steve W lays the wreath in front of WW I veteran, Ralph Doolittle


118 names read this year including my cousin Carlos Bergeron, newest veteran in the cemetery. 

The local history society booklet with information
on the 13 WW1 veterans in the cemetery, 100 years after the US entered WW1 (April 1917)

The umbrellas came out, but really weren't needed

Lining up for lunch at the Methodist Church

The serving line


The Methodist Church women who are serving lunch in the former Wolf Creek School -- now the Wolf Creek Methodist Church.  I think it became the church in 1957, and if so, that means the 60th year of lunch in this building!  I went to school there until it closed in 1957, and always brag that we left the school in such wonderful shape that it was obvious to make it into a church.  Other's have said that the students there were such heathens, that it needed a church to compensate. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Polk County Fair Granstand vs Grassy Knoll

I have been in a quest to try to save the 1909 Polk County Fair Granstand in St Croix Falls.  Part of the effort is letters to the editor.  Here is the one for this week. 

Grassy Knoll or Grandstand?

    Thursday, May 4th, the Polk County board subcommittee to deal with the county fairgrounds historic 1909 grandstand met to consider the future of the oldest wooden grandstand in the Midwest.  The grand old building’s future is very uncertain, not because of its structural defects (which are unknown), but because of the dreams of competing interests. 
    Four visions of the future were presented during public comments and in the board member discussion.  They are listed in order of speakers.
    1.  Russ Hanson, local historian, pressed for evaluation of what he said his research has found to be the oldest grandstand in the Midwest.  He said we must find the cost of repair before making any decisions on its future.  He urged repair if  possible,  as it is truly an historic building, one of a kind.   “The historic fairgrounds are a gem in our county.  The 1909 grandstand, the 1917 H barn, the 1928 calf barn and dormitory are just a few of the truly historic buildings on the 1885 fairgrounds that make it special and an attraction to tourists and local folks who remember their own childhood in each building.  Destruction of these buildings would be short sighted and a terrible removal of our heritage without first determining the feasibility and cost to repair them.”
    2.  Dale Wood and Tim Wilson from the Polk County Fair Society Board stated they were in favor of getting rid of the grandstand, as it is “too old” to spend money on repairs or even an evaluation.  They are eager for a brand new shiny, steel, aluminum and plastic grandstand replacement at about $600,000.  They see the choice as an old building they are tired of bothering with versus a brand new one that would be maintenance free.  (Actually, there would be a costly yearly contract for inspection and maintenance indefinitely to keep it usable and  insurable.)
    3.  Two visions were presented by County Board Member Chris Nelson of Balsam Lake.  First is destruction of the 1909 building with two options:  decide on an immediate teardown without salvage, or a “humane teardown” with some salvage.   Then, stating his opposition to either repair or replacement, and in general to any grandstand at all financed by county funds, gave two options he would support.  A grassy knoll built on the spot where folks could bring chairs and blankets to watch the activities or the yearly rental of bleachers, and if pressed, the county might help buy some permanent bleachers.  He stated that “others” on the board were also opposed spending any money on any grandstand old or new.  The only important input into this kind of decision is saving taxpayer money.  
    4.  Another board member, when asked of his vision of what a fair grandstand is gave a description exactly like the existing grandstand, a place of comfort, shelter, shade, out of sun, rain, wind and a place to comfortably watch events in all weather.  He expressed no favor for old or new, but thought a grandstand was an important part of  the fair.
    My own view is that the Fair Society is na├»ve in thinking a new grandstand is a certainty without having first assured there is a two-thirds majority of the county board willing to pay for it.  We, the residents and taxpayers of Polk County actually own the fairgrounds and buildings.  The Fair Society and County Board are our voted on representatives to manage them for us.
   I believe those who oppose determining the cost and feasibility of repair are motivated primarily by their dreams of shiny newness or cheap grassy knolls.  It is quite possible the repair cost will be much less than the replacement option, but we won’t know if the first step is destruction and then seeing if there is support for a new one.      
   Will we come to the 2018 fair and see a pile of dirt with an historic marker “Grandstand 1909-1917, destroyed by the Polk County Fair Society and the Polk County Board”?
   Five generations of Polk Countians and tourists have enjoyed watching shows from the oldest grandstand in the Midwest, and another 5 generations could do so if you express your support for evaluation and if reasonable, repair of the grand old structure.    Remember these buildings belong to us, not the County board nor the Fair Society. 

  Early photo of the oldest grandstand in all of the Midwest courtesy of  Polk County Again and the Polk County Historical Society. 


April 2017 Photo of the Polk County Fair Grandstand.  Will there be only a grassy knoll there in 2018?             Photo by  Russ Hanson

Russell B Hanson, Cushing, WI


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Gardening Starts

With the abnormally warm spring we pulled up the maple syrup taps this week, cleaned the equipment and just have the bottling left.   We had an average season-- 1 quart of syrup made per tap, so we can't complain.  We only made 20 gallons--one of those years where we were too laid back to put out all of the buckets


 It has been dry this spring too--not much snow to melt and that happened in February.  Hardly any rain so far here on the farm either.  Farmers have started working the fields already.
  I am trying to catch up on cleaning the area behind the barn that last summer we removed the old machinery.  Hundreds of rocks and still more metal in the ground, and lots of tree tops, brush and so on.  Right now, before the grass and weeds get deep, if I can get it so the mower will go over it, then it won't get away from me. 

  Several nights of burning brush and grass, with more to go.  The barnyard was last used for cows in about 1985, and box elders, brush and weeds took it over.  I hope to open it all and turn it into an extension of the orchard -- planting semi-dwarf apples and fencing it all in from the deer.  Lots of work, but I feel pretty good this year, and have the tractors to help out, and Scott sometimes too. 
  My one outside effort this spring has been to campaign for saving the 1909 Polk County Fair Grandstand in St Croix Falls.  The insurance folks say it must be shored up before they will cover it, and the first reaction of both the county board and fair board was to tear it down and use bleachers or maybe a new metal grandstand.  This one is certainly fixable, and is by far the oldest one in the whole midwest (of the smaller wooden type -- 1500 seats).  The folks are at least considering that now. 
   

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Maple Season 2017

We seem to be near the end of the 2017 maple syrup season.  This is about 3 weeks ahead of normal.   The lakes here have been open a week already (the same ones that normally open mid April), and in general, February and March are running far above normal in temperatures. 
We have made about 1 quart of syrup per tap, an average season, although it seems like the sap only ran a few times in the 4 weeks we have had the taps out.  No real big runs this season, just a gallon or so in the pail every few days with many too warm or too cold gaps.  
We probably will leave the taps out for another week or two even though the forecast is for temperatures too warm for sap to run.  
 We didn't put out all of the taps this year.  Another year that I'm showing my age and ambition!  
  Spring has been dryer than normal.  The snow melt was back in February, and not much at that -- not much snow and very little rain, and those barely making a puddle in the yard. 
  Margo and I managed our Jan-Feb 4-week camper trip south fine, and so will probably try it again next year -- maybe all of January and half of February.  Nice to be where it is pleasant during the winter. 
  The first bluebird showed up yesterday at the cabin.  I think that is early too.  Right now we are at the place we normally would a month later.  The past 10 years have been trending warmer and shorter winters with what was abnormal not so long ago, normal now  (the maple season moved 2 weeks earlier; lakes open etc.).    
   

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Maple Season 2017 Starts

With the forecast definitely in maple sap running weather, our test tap running some, we began tapping and putting out buckets yesterday with more out today.  The sap ran some from yesterday afternoon and overnight so although we didn't collect our first time, we will do it tomorrow morning. 
   I don't think our Hanson family has ever tapped maples in February in the 145 years since Great Grandpa learned how to do it from his wife's family.  
We have mostly tapped from March 15  to the end of March with most of our production during April.  So this is at least 2 weeks ahead of normal. 
   Scott is doing more of the work nowadays as I seem to get bogged down in other activities. That is good, as I am 70 years old, in good health, but won't be able to run this forever.   Dad began to have difficulties as he got older and parkinsons disease robbed him of his strength, although I think he still helped out until he was 84 or so, and then kept me company in the sap shed, visiting the last time on his birthday turning 89 on April 18th, 2005.  He passed away that fall. The last time, I had to help him from the car and he used a walker to make it to the chair in the warm shed.   Once seated near the boiler, he relaxed, and talked about some of the maple sap making of his youth. 

  Dad's story as I remember it: 
   When we were kids (he had 5 brothers and 2 sisters), we lived in Maple Grove Township, Barron County WI.   We had maple trees in the cow pasture we tapped.  I remember one year my older brother Maurice was staying in the woods cooking the syrup and lost it all. 

   In those days, we followed the pattern our dad and his brothers had done in their early days.  We found a cradle knoll in the woods to use as the fire box.  A cradle knoll is a place where a tree blew over leaving a hole where the roots came out and a mound of dirt where the tree rotted away.  We used the pit for our fire, and then piled some rocks or dirt on the side opposite the pile of dirt.  Then we put our flat cooking pan over the pit with one end on each mound.  

   Our pan was the same kind we used for making concrete, for pig troughs and other water pans.  We took two boards, basswood if we had them, and rounded the ends like sled runners, and nailed a sheet of 2 foot wide tin between them.  The ends came up with the wood curve and using closely spaced shingle nails, it was water tight. You remember the first pan I made back in the 50s?   It was like that only about 3 foot long. 

  Well, we didn't do batches of syrup, we just kept adding sap and boiling it until the pan was full of syrup.  It was pretty dark, but tasted fine.  

  Maurice was all by himself in the woods, cooking when he realized it was done, and ready to boil over the pan.  It was in the middle of the night.   So he tried to slide it carefully off the fire and off the mounds so he could dip out the syrup.  

   It turned over dumping just about all the syrup on the ground, probably 10 gallons or more -- everything we had gathered so far that season.  He was as upset as the pan, and after that we kept two of us in the woods at night. 

   It was fun staying out in the woods.  We were in school, and probably came in smelling like we were well smoked.  Maple syrup time was fun for kids!

   Your Grandpa (Pearl) made syrup to sell when he was younger.  He had the farm he bought on Quarter Mile creek, 90 acres with 4 acres open and the rest huge white pine stumps and maple trees when he bought it about 1902.  He had to clear it all and turn it into fields.  When he sold 1941, there were only 4 acres not in fields or open pasture. 

   Dad was a very active person.  He was almost never at rest, always doing something new or different along with being a full time farmer.  From cutting logs, running a sawmil, working as a carpenter, mason, canning factory field hand, town board, church board, school board, and much more while still farming full time.  He took after his father who was just as restless and busy.  I managed to change things to be much more moderate!
   Probably have enough sap to begin cooking later this week.  The first batch of maple syrup is usually very mild flavored and light colored and although it used to be the highest rated class of syrup, I prefer a later season darker more robust flavor. 
   We didn't spend much effort selling syrup last year and we did have a good yield, so this year I think we will buy a nice metal sign to hang at the end of the driveway and be a little more organized to sell the syrup.  We do it as a small business.  Syrup in glass bottles done correctly will stay good for years.

  I brought up some 1994 jars from the basement of the old farm house -- that Mom had stored away.  It tasted OK, but was one of those batches that was not wonderful flavor--likely the last batch of the season when syrup can become bitter.   
   
   We save this syrup to cooking.  One research paper I read found that to remove this late season "buddy" flavor, one had to raise the temperature of the syrup far above the normal 217F we bottle it at, to something like 350, and then add water back if you were trying to make good tasting syrup.  Cooking does the same thing, and having a few jars of cooking syrup is nice to let us explore some recipes without worrying about failure.  
   I found you can use maple syrup in place of sugar in most recipies, but you have to add something to take up the extra moisture (or not add wet things).  Most people would think it wasteful to use expensive maple syrup in place of sugar or corn syrup, but having all the maple syrup we want, it seems fine.  The added maple flavor is very subtle. 
   
   I think I first remember Dad trying maple syrup in the mid 1950s.  The first year he borrowed Grandpa's big black hog scalding cast iron kettle from Uncle Maurice who had borrowed it to use to feed corn to the pigs or maybe the cows. 
  It was filthy, and so Dad cleaned it thoroughly and boiled some water in it to kill the pig aroma. However, although we thought the syrup was fine, he couldn't pour some on a pancake without remembering the pig crud and it ruined his meals. 

Next year he made his own wooden sided pan with two cherry boards (we sawed our own lumber), and the nailed on metal bottom.  That year he thought all his syrup had a bitter cherry taste.  Next year he tried basswood sides, and that was definitely better, but he had to be careful with wooden sided pans to keep the fire away. 
  Finally he had Mr Clayton, of Clayton's hardware in St Croix Falls (this was Ben I think, father of John), a metalsmith, fold a sheet of metal into a pan, riveting the corners and soldering or maybe welding the corner seams.  That would have been in the late 1950s.  
   Scott and I use that same pan each year now.  We wonder if this year will be the one that it springs a leak, but at 58 years old, it still seems sound. 

   Later this week we will probably finish our first 2017 maple syrup.  We claim that gggggg grandpa Beebe who hung out in New London CT in the 1650s, likely made the first syrup. We know that he moved to Western NY in the maple region and have 4th cousins out there who have been syruping since about 1800.  GG grandpa Beebe moved to Wisconsin in 1864 where tradition is that he made syrup from maples in the Chippewa River Valley in Dunn County.  Young immigrant, Charles Hanson married his daughter Anna Maria in 1872 and learned to make syrup from her family.  
 Since then, every spring we head to the woods and reap the sweet rewards. '



   
   

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Home Again

January 22, Margo and I left Wisconsin for points south.  Today, Feb 22, we returned to Wisconsin.  The trip ended up with about 3000 miles driven, about $2000 per week spent. Although Margo would have been happy to spend another couple of weeks south, I didn't think we could afford any more time.
   The cost wasn't really all just for the trip, as we did end up spending about $6500 for a different car ($5800 plus tax plus licensing and a few extras), I got a $387 traffic fine (for speeding 52 in a 45 plus having an improper automobile license -- the drive out of Arkansas license was not acceptable to the tiny town of Pine Prairie Louisiana where the city budget is funded primarily from traffic fines--and the internet advertises it as a severe speed trap).  
  Anyway, the 2011 Impala that replaced the 1991 Olds is probably worth the cost as it is a completely rust free car.  It was previously owned as part of a fleet of cars from the local US prison, sold at just over 100,000 miles.  
  As a prison car, the backseat is vinyl and the lock knobs removed for transporting prisoners and likely a special edition for the government.  We drove a total of about 3000 miles of which 2300 were on the new car.  Averaged about 23 mpg pulling a camper, and about 28 on its own.  We put 300,000 on one of my Oldsmobiles (the 1988 one) with the same engine, so this one may give me ;another 200,000 miles or probably 15 more years.  I think my heart is rated for about 12 more years, so if I am lucky, this car will "do me out."   
    The deep south was a little too warm, some 80s and in Louisiana, where the parks are bayous, mosquitoes bothered a little in the evening. We stayed in Arkansas and Mississippi (Natchez, and Lake Village) where it was more comfortable in the 60s to low 70s.   The folks there were all saying that this had been an abnormally warm winter in the south, and that many of the flowers we saw were ahead of schedule. 
  We left northern Arkansas (about 100 miles below the border) and headed north to camp in northern Missouri two nights ago.  However, as we neared northern MO on highway 65, we saw a sign that said "Des Moines --170 miles."  
   "Gee Margo, that is only about 3 hours ahead, and from Des Moines to our place in Pine Island, MN is only another 3 hours.  It's 5 pm now, so we would be home before midnight.  Supposed to rain tonight and be thick fog in the morning.  Shall we go for it?"
   Now we always do this -- once we smell Iowa's farmland, we know we are just a few hours from our own bed, and usually we drive an old car that has made the trip many times and knows the way home on its own, so we always go for it.  
  An sure enough, just before midnight, we pulled into the yard, unpacked the necessaries and slept in our own bed.  Then a day of unpacking cleaning the branches from the yard, and washing clothes and this morning headed out for Wisconsin. 
   This vacation was a test of sorts.  Margo, after a year of cancer treatment and two back surgeries is hard press to walk very far, depends on pain pills to function and so we were not sure how well she would handle camping in our "roughing it mode."  
   She did fine!  Riding in the car was OK.  The camper bed with a couple of extra layers of padding let her sleep normally.  And we always managed to get a campsite near the bathrooms -- usually a handicapped one which let her use her walker or cane and no uneven ground to walk on.  
    Something we didn't realize, but appreciated was that in Mississippi and Arkansas there was a discount for handicapped campers (half price) in state parks.  The campsites are off season right now and so were already discounted.  In Mississippi it cost us $90 for a full week of full hookup camping.  The handicapped sites are paved and have paved paths to the bathrooms.  
    The state parks mostly empty except on weekends, so quiet, calm, and no lines in bathrooms.  Most of the winter campers used huge motorhomes or units that are completely self-contained.   Louisiana was the worst for state park maintenance, having had 8 years of a Bobby Jindal budget cutting regime that essentially cut money to anything other than tax cuts for the rich folks and businesses. Seven state parks had been scheduled to close in Jindal's last year due to his budget priorities, but with the election of a Democrat, Edwards, things were looking up again. 
  So what impressed me on this trip?
  -- the rust-free undercarriage of old used cars.  Having inspected many while trying to find a replacement car, even 20 year old ones looked nice, clean, and showed paint underneath
  -- the spring flowers.  They were ahead of schedule, but the yellow twining vines of the carolina jasmine; the beautiful and bountiful shades of the azaleas-- stupendous; the friendly folks who were easy to strike up a conversation, interesting to talk to, and very very helpful to strangers -- and that included Cajuns, white folks, rednecks, black folks, and even some illegal immigrants from Mexico.  The shop where I bought my car was owned by a black man with his wife as the office manager, some black, white, Mexican and other mechanics.  
  Jon, an illegal probaby 23 years old:  "I was born in Mexico, but when I was 3 years old, my parents came to the US.  They are still here and have worked the whole time. I went through the schools here and work here at the garage.  But I am illegal even though I have been here almost 20 years. I wish I could be a citizen, and I feel like an American, but I never qualified for any path to citizenship.  I don't speak Spanish, don't know anybody in Mexico, and think I have earned a chance to be a legal American."   He and I changed the battery from my old car (a good battery) to my new car with an old battery, and he took me around looking for a car to buy at the lot. 
  Getting back to what impressed me
   -- that we can get in a car, drive 16 hours and transition from winter to summer weather.  I told Margo I think we should sell our MN home and buy a winter one in southern Arkansas.  Why Arkansas?  Mississippi and Louisiana are warmer, but they are really backward states; dirt poor, run by Republicans who are racing to make their states the worst places for workers and the best places for businesses and rich folks.  Rotten to the core in public education, health systems, and anything that is helpful to anyone other than the rich--and as a result, crappy places to live. 
   Arkansas had a stretch of the Clintons and the idea of public education, health, parks etc., got ingrained in the folks enough so  although the Republicans took it over again, it is really a notch or two above the neighboring states to the south.  You get used to appreciating good services and it perpetuates-- at least it seems to. 
  Mississippi public radio "Think radio" was a shining beacon in the wasteland of country western, redneck (Limbaugh type) and religious programming that pervades the south.  Local programming, culture, arts, and the music of the region made MPB (Mississippi Public Brodcasting) something quite wonderful. They have a music stream and the talk streams -- and do stream online.  Think Radio