Tuesday, May 31, 2022

You never know what you'll see

One of the apple trees in the back driveway was in full bloom, with beautiful blossoms thick on the branches.

So one afternoon I took my camera and went out to document its beauty.

A neighbor keeps bees, and I saw some of the ladies busy among the blossoms.

At this stage, apple trees look almost artificial. How can anything natural be so gorgeous?

So while I'm standing under the branches photographing all this beauty...

...a movement caught my eye.

This young man saw me, then turned to walk into the woods...

...stopping to pose once in a while.

Then another youngster showed himself (sorry for the T-posts in the foreground).

Both youngsters had their antlers in velvet, and both had slightly different branching patterns.

I tried to get both gentlemen in the same photo, but this was the best I could do.

I've seen what I assume are the same young bucks together on a number of occasions. I assume they're twin brothers.

I tell ya, around here you never know what you'll see. It pays to keep a camera in one's pocket.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Memorial Day

As I often do on Memorial Day, I like to draw your attention to a set of remarkable photos taken a few years ago by a reader (Katie) and her husband, who were formerly stationed in Germany. Katie learned that Don's uncle, Donald Sowers, who was killed in World War II, was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium. She and her family visited the cemetery and sent these photos. (The entire collection can be seen here. Go look at them. They're remarkable.)

Later, a reader named Kathy left the following moving comment on that blog post I shared:

I searched for 2 years to find my mother's first husband Harold Norris, killed 4/4/44 @ 2:04 PM over Romania. I received a photo of his grave from Belgium and walked over to my mother's home and said, "Mom, where is Harold buried?" She said, "New Jersey". I said, "Mom, sit down, we need to talk."

Her mouth dropped open when she learned that her first husband was buried in Belgium! He has been there for (then) 65 years. All I started with was his purple heart, his name and service number. It has lead me down a path filled with new compassionate friends and a new understanding of the word sacrifice. Harold was an airman, navigator and top turret gunner. His plane the Miasis Dragon was shot down after delivering a fatal blow to an oil refinery in Bucharest Romania. The plane was hit at the waist by a land-to-air missile. The plane nose dipped, the pilot pulled it up, then it went nose-over-tail to the earth in a fireball. 4 crew were "carbonized" and were buried together in one grave by Romanian Monks. Later, in 1949, with dental records my mother provided, the US was able to locate his remains from the others and he was buried for the 9th and final time in Ardennes. The other 3 airmen are still together buried in the US.

One of the beautiful things I noticed was that each man's life is symbolized with a marble cross. They all worked and sacrificed as a group and from above, all of their individual crosses make up a larger cross. This collective larger cross can only be seen by people in airplanes and God. 3/5ths of the graves hold the remains from airmen who lost their lives....it is to those who fly that the larger cross is visible...a beautiful way to honor them.

The other thing I learned in 2010: the people of Belgium, France and other countries meet and honor our heroes. At Ardennes in 2010, there was approximately 100,000 people present, not many were from the USA. It seems that in life, we considered these men to belong to us, but in their death, the European people consider that these men belong to them, whom they thank and honor every year. Most graves have been adopted. Harold's grave was adopted many years ago and now the lady who adopted his grave is teaching her young grand daughter to care for it. She obviously does not want her grand daughter to forget the gratitude she has for the men who lost their lives saving hers.

I wrote to a man who was age 7 when the bombs were falling on to his town. He was scared and saw more than a 7-year-old should see. He remembers the American forces and he remembers liberation. For those who know what happened, who saw the cruelty and oppression, who had no hope, our US Military saved them, their children and their grand children. The maximum gift was given, freedom was restored at a great price, those receiving the gift are grateful....and other airmen and God can see their collective cross, a memorial for their sacrifice, from the air. This has put many things in perspective for me...I hope it will for you too. --Kathy


This is an essay Don wrote many years ago in tribute to his fallen uncle:

Forever Young

I don't know how he died, really. No one does, since everyone who was with him died at more or less the same time.

I'll bet he was afraid. I would have been.

It must have been hell on earth – above earth to be exact. A booming, banging, grinding, shaking, shattering horror. Especially it must have been tough on him, hanging as he was below the belly of a crippled plane, a bubble of glass exposed to the flak and the fire from enemy aircraft. A tasty and too-visible target.

His B-24 Liberator was powerful, true. But it was also lightly armored and easily damaged in combat. When damaged, the B-24 often lost the electrical power needed to rotate its gun turrets, and the gunners would have to hand-crank their turrets around, trying to follow the enemy planes.

Too slow. Too slow.

He was probably the youngest man on board. He was certainly the lowest-ranking member of the ten men who made up the crew. That first day of August in 1943, he'd only been in the Army Air Corp for a year and a half. He'd only been overseas for six months. He was 19 years old. He came from a farming family that lived in a very small town in Kansas. He had one sister, two brothers, and two very worried parents.

He was assigned to 98BG, a bomber group stationed out of Benghazi, Libya. His mission that day? In coordination with 178 bombers and 1,700 crew members, the 98BG was to attack and destroy the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. These facilities provided the Third Reich with one-third of its fuel … and the Nazis were very hungry for fuel in the waning days of 1943.

The oil refineries at Ploesti were protected with massive anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of German and Romanian fighter planes. The distance traveled by the Allied bombers meant that no fighter protection could attend them. They were alone.

"Fire over Ploesti" by Roy Grinnell

It was a tremendous undertaking, a gamble of men and machines desperately needed for the war effort. A 2,400 mile, eighteen hour trip there and back again, with only a half-hour of available time over the target.

And in the end, for over 500 airmen and 52 bombers, there was no going home.

They say he's buried at a cemetery near Liege, Belgium. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. The records show that his B-24 was shot down over the refinery, but that it happened before the crew could disgorge the plane's 8000-pound payload of high explosives. And the B-24 Liberator was well known for burning merrily when it crashed.

But his name is on one of the white crosses standing in formation at the lovingly well-tended cemetery.

His parents back in Kansas received the medals that he was awarded posthumously at a ceremony, probably one of many such ceremonies on that same day. The medals were: a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Both his brothers eventually went to war as well. One went as another tail gunner, the other as a pilot. His younger sister stayed home, grieving for the older brother she would never see again on this side.

Eventually she married my father.

The parents, the brothers, and the sister passed away some time ago. There is now no one who can tell me anything more about Donald Phillip Sowers – Sargent, United States Army Air Corp. The uncle I never knew and whose name I share.

Donald Philip Sowers never woke to the face of his bride on the day after his wedding. He never paced the floor late at night singing softly to an infant daughter who just couldn't sleep. He never got to hold his child's hand the last time she needed, or wanted, help to cross a street. He never felt the aches and pains of a long life, well lived. And well loved.

But I will remember him and so will my children. If you've taken the time to read this, tip a glass in his name and remember him. And all the other lost brothers and sisters as well.

Think of the things he missed, for the things you have.

Donald Philip Sowers died fighting the greatest evil of our time – a young man of 19 who will never grow old.

A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Electric canners

A reader had a question as follows: "We have to move out of our house and into an apartment for a few months (sound familiar?) Unfortunately, we'll be in an apartment during the height of canning season. I won't be able to use a regular pressure canner on their glass top stove. I've been looking at electric canners. Do you, or do any of your readers have any experience using an electric canner? I'm curious about your experiences!"

I can offer no advice since I've never even seen an electric canner. So I'm throwing this open to comments. Can anyone offer any personal experience or advice with electric canners? (Remember, this is an electric pressure canner, not a pressure cooker.)

Friday, May 27, 2022

Photos to make you go "Hmmmmm...."

Here are a couple of photos I came across that stopped me in my tracks. The first is a skeleton of a pregnant fruit bat:

In all the years I spent studying biology, I've never seen the skeleton of a pregnant bat.

Equally interesting is this photo from the surface Venus. I've never seen what that hot and mysterious planet looks like from the ground floor:

Just a couple of photos to make you go "Hmmmm......."

Thursday, May 26, 2022

32 years and counting

It's our anniversary!

It just gets better and better, folks.

Love you, honey!

UPDATE: Whoa. A friend alerted me that our anniversary made the front of SurvivalBlog!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Canning chicken

A reader posted a comment as follows: "Sure hate to be off topic but I need some help from you ladies that pressure can. Have stored large amount chicken breast in freezer. The potential of electric power curtailment is worrying me so would like to pressure-can some of the chicken. All I can find on Google is dealing with instant pot thawing and cooking. Would one of you experienced ladies advise me how to pressure can in this situation. Am experienced canning raw chicken. Thank you for your advice. – City Dude"

City Dude, canning chicken breasts is easy. I have an older blog post that covers the steps (see here), so hopefully that will move you in the right direction. You're correct in that chicken breasts must be pressure-canned. In that long-ago blog post, I put the pressure at about 13 pounds for our elevation; more recent guidelines suggest 15 lbs. of pressure is a good universal recommendation. If you use pint jars, can for 75 minutes; for quart jars, 90 minutes.

For the chicken breasts in your freezer, pull them out to defrost, then boil them, cut them into chunks, and stuff them in a jar. Top with scalding water, add a bit of salt (if desired), and pressure-can.

Happy canning!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Rhapsody in Blue like you've never heard it before

If you like George Gershwin music, Don came across this link in which the conductor Leonard Slatkin is conducting the French Orchestre National de Lyon in "Rhapsody in Blue." A pianist by the name of Khatia Buniatishvili absolutely nails this famously difficult piece of music. It's jaw-droppingly good.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Advice for a financial crisis

There has been a lot of chatter in the news lately about an impending financial crisis. Predictions for this economic downturn run the gamut from "mild" to "catastrophic." In response, I've seen a few articles on how best to weather such a crisis. Most of these advice pieces are "meh" (along the lines of "stop drinking so many lattés"-style of guidance). Others are downright insulting (such as this condescending piece of work on how to handle inflation if you make less than $300,000/year – which, by the way, is approximately 96% of Americans).

But once in a while I come across an article that has some meat to it, such as this one: 10 Things Not To Do When The Next Great Depression Strikes.

This piece focuses on Big Things. This list includes:

• Don't panic

• Don't quit your job

• Don't take your job for granted

• Don't buy anything on credit

• Don't become a cosigner on a loan

• Don't switch to an adjustable-rate mortgage

• Don't make investments that aren't secure

• Don't upgrade your lifestyle

• Don't keep your wealth in cash

• Don't defraud your creditors

(You can go to the article to read details for each of these bullet points.)

But even this advice, as meaty as it is, doesn't universally apply. Much of the advice assumes an upper middle-class lifestyle at best. Not everyone can afford a mortgage, adjustable rate or not. Not everyone has surplus money for "investments." Not everyone has "wealth," whether it's in cash or anything else.

So to this advice, I would add more. Consider:

• Diversify your income stream.

• Reduce your expenses.

• Try an all-cash lifestyle (where possible) to keep track of spending (some people prefer the "envelope" system whatever works)

• Reduce debt; or at the very least, try not to incur more.

• Cultivate (or pick up) side gigs; who knows these might develop into a decent income stream.

• Go frugal frugal frugal. Shop in thrift stores, buy in bulk, cook from scratch, etc. You know the routine.

Since the economy is on most peoples' minds these days, I thought it might be useful to solicit everyone's advice and experience. What advice would you give to weather a financial crisis, either personal or national?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The green of our valley

Our spring has been very wet, and the little valley we live in is very green.

Interesting, a dominant grass right now is timothy, an excellent livestock feed. And boy howdy, is it full of pollen at the moment!

Here, Mr. Darcy is walking through the grass (the orange blur). Poof! Can you see the cloud of pollen?

Clearly this isn't good for anyone's allergies, but it's great for livestock potential. It's nice to see untended pastures full of decent grasses rather than noxious weeds such as hawk weed or star thistle.

Surprisingly few neighbors around here have livestock. A few horses, a couple of cows, and that's about it.

It's nice to know that when the time come to get our own livestock, they'll have decent forage.

Allergies notwithstanding.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Here's our strategy

A few weeks ago, a reader posed a legitimate question: "You seem to be taking quite a while to put in gardens, get the animals, etc. What is your strategy here?"

This person is correct. We're taking longer than we anticipated to get our new homestead up and running. What few people knew, dear readers, is Don has been having behind-the-scenes health issues.

Nine years ago, an unknown condition caused him to suffer acute kidney failure and he was hospitalized for three days. The issue, we learned, was an enlarged prostate that was literally choking off the urethra. Sorry to get graphic here, but such is life.

He had laser surgery which corrected the issue, for the time being. The urologist warned him the treatment would only be good for up to ten years. So here we are, nine years later, dealing with much the same thing.

For the last year, he's been having persistent blood in his urine, always a worrying sign. Sometimes it was due to a urinary tract infection, in which case he would take some antibiotics, drink loads of water, and not do anything for a while. Other times we knew it was prostate issues, that – again – lots of water and taking it easy would temporarily work.

This enforced "taking it easy" was intensely frustrating to him because there were so many projects he wanted to tackle! Garden, chicken coop, fencing, cattle infrastructure ... the list is endless, but he was forced to "take it easy."

Coupled with the crippling summer of heat last year, a lot less got done on the homestead than we wanted. It was shaping up to be a similarly slow year of projects until finally he was referred to a new urologist. (Unfortunately the urologist is several hours' drive away. Such is the reality of remote rural life when we need a medical specialist.)

Anyway, bottom line, Don underwent more surgery a couple weeks ago. The urologist used a new technique to address the overgrown prostate issue (the urological equivalent of a hot butter knife, or something like that), and took off a good-sized chunk of that troublesome organ, which was then sent in for biopsy. Don has been slowly recuperating from the procedure, dealing with more frustrating but enforced "taking it easy."

Today, just a few minutes ago, he had a follow-up tele-conference with the urologist who affirmed – praise God! – there is absolutely no indications of any cancer whatsoever. The biopsied tissue came back negative.

Now that Don has gotten a clean bill of health, he can ease out of the "taking it easy" routine and start tackling some of the projects he's been itching to get to. He still has to go slow, but "taking it easy" can be put aside.

And this, dear readers, is a long-winded answer to the "strategy" question posted above. Our strategy was to restore Don to good health. In that regard, our prayers have been answered.

Some civic duties

A couple weeks ago, Don and I volunteered to do some cleanup on a nearby rural stretch of road.

The road cleanup was actually supposed to happen the Saturday before, but got rained out. Don and I volunteered to do our stretch the following Monday. We armed ourselves with trash bags and a couple of those extended-arm grabber thingies, and took off.

Don had actually worked this same stretch the year before (as part of the civic organization he's part of), and he said it was much cleaner this year than it had been the year before.

Believe it or not, it was my first road clean-up, and I enjoyed it. There was something immensely satisfying in tidying up the landscape. Maybe it tapped into my Inner Housewife or something.

Naturally we saw a few interesting things. Several sets of bones (this one from a fawn):

Lots of feathered pieces from turkeys getting hit by cars.

Going along the road at walking speed certainly allowed us to see things we may not have otherwise noticed, such as this cow on a nearby hillside:

Or this goat who, as we watched, slipped through his fence and stood glaring at us.

Or these nattily attired Great Blue Heron statues by someone's driveway.

Every creek was full.

A couple of cars slowed down and thanked us as they drove by, which I thought was nice.

Don took one side of the road, and I took the other.

We more or less stayed even with each other until I came to a scene of a fender bender, with lots of debris to clean up. That took a while.

But Don won the contest for "Most Interesting Finds." First exhibit, a bleached-out Monopoly money bill:

Second exhibit, a syringe.

Fortunately it looked like an agricultural (livestock) syringe. Also fortunately, it had a cap, so it wouldn't poke out of the garbage bag.

After a bit, we hit the one-mile marker, which was the end of our route.

We hiked back to the vehicle and brought the trash bags to the nearest dumpster. On the way we passed these elk, casually hanging around someone's pasture.

On the dirt road to and from the cleanup stretch, we also passed this boulder that had become dislodged from the steep hillside.

Interestingly, Don had passed on this road two days before and it was clear, so the rockfall had just happened in the last 48 hours.

We'll participate in future road cleanups, but pushing boulders like this are a bit beyond the abilities of our extended-arm grabber thingies.