Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's Not ALL work around here....

I'm usually pretty verbose in this blog but it's feelin' like a picture kind of day ! Some times in spite of ourselves, we manage to have a lot of fun ! Hope you enjoy.

Me and Lunar Vehicle, Marshall Space Center, Huntsville, Alabama

Here's a first... vaccuming with the new Dyson Animal.

Melissa pretending to be a Newfoundland cod fisherman !

Melissa and I with our friends Erica and Chris at the Jack Daniels Distillery, Lynchburg, TN

Me and Jo

Melissa is an "all weather" kind of girl.

Melissa waiting patiently in the truck with our travelling mascot Louie the turtle on the dashboard in front of her.

Melissa and I on Clingman's Dome, highest point in Tennessee.

Melissa "chainsawing" with her battery operated saw.

I should have left the door closed. Apparantly I was shocked and displeased with the result.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sometimes A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I apologize for the very poor picture quality in the photo below. I was on the tractor at the time, ferrying round bales across the pasture when I noticed that ALL the daffodils were out. Early spring is all about faith, hope and growth and in my world there is no better time of year. I try to notice everything, and I pause to smile a lot.

Although I don't have pictures, while travelling between farms this morning I noticed a huge and sprawling winter jasmine in full bloom as well as the season's first forsythias. Lots of warm and wet in the forecast to bring on the grass, too ! For those who follow me from the north, I'm not trying to rub your nose in least not too much. :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Visit from Old Friends

A good number of you will recognize the folks in this post ! I had an unexpected but very pleasant surprise phone call which led to some visitors earlier this afternoon. My friends Frank and Julia stopped in to visit their daughter Pamela who lives just north of Nashville and they called earlier today to see whether I'd have time to see them today and the answer was, "Of course !" Frank and Julia are old friends who have hosted me many times in their East Central Ontario home. Although Julia might disagree with my assessment some times, in my books Frank is "royalty"; serving as the past President of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association at the same time I was a humble and lowly county member !

At the county level, SCIA's are grass roots, farmer run organizations that do and support important independent field trials, crop variety trials and research related to just about anything to do with managing soils and enhancing crop production. In many cases they offer the ONLY real alternative to company run research trials and they do a lot of stuff that companies have no mandate or desire to do, especially in the area of applied research. SCIA field trials are almost always practical...for this reason alone a lot of ag scientists don't like them very much. SCIA protocols may not always strictly follow the precepts and protocols of the scientific method but SCIA trial results aided me in making positive decisions which helped my bottom line considerably...something that ag scientists who work for companies that want to supply me with things should probably take note of and act on more frequently than they usually do.

Anyway, back to my friends. Frank and Julia "retired" from dairying a few years ago although I think milking cows might take less time and be less stressful than the successful custom farming business they enjoy today combined with heavy involvement in various agricultural and charitable organizations.

It's not every day you see Ontario farm plates in rural Middle Tennessee, but they're actually more common than you might think. When local friends see one of these plates in our community they assume I have friends visiting...NOT always the case as they've found out when they've asked !

Frank, Amelia, Pamela and Julia with Faune smiling in the background

Friday, February 18, 2011

First Daffodils and Spring's Work

I've been fooling with spring's work for a little while but today I started sowing KY 31 in earnest, harrowing it in and incorporating a winter's worth of manure at the same time. It was 72 and very humid today so I was in a hurry to get over the worst of the bare spots ahead of tonight's predicted rain. Dark beat me and I didn't finish but I only have a few hours left and because I always start at the back of the farm and work toward the house, I won't be inclined to put it off. Once the sowing is done I will have about fifty acres of harrowing to complete on this farm and a similar acreage on the new place.

Although we almost certainly are NOT completely done with cold weather yet, we've enjoyed a beautful warm week of weather and we have another one on tap, although it will be more in it's season with highs in the upper 50's and low 60's.

One of the biggest differences between here and Ontario is the incredible amount of heat it takes to get anything to bloom down here. I thought for sure the daffs would have been out early this week but it was today before I saw any blooms. Of the six years I have watched this patch bloom time is slightly later than average this year. Oh well. Still never fails to put a smile on my face ! Enjoy the photo below and have a great weekend !

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Waltz Me to Heaven Tonight

A little while ago Melissa and I did a series of posts entitled "7 things about me" on our horse blog, I forgot to mention in my post that in addition to being a square dancing fool while I was in college, I also really enjoyed round (ballroom) dancing and after a lot of practice I became good at waltzes, polkas, the foxtrot and (every country boy's favourite) the two step.

I wish I could say that I learned to ballroom dance solely to become a more polished young gentleman, but unfortunately becoming a gentleman had precious little to do with learning to dance. Average looking males in their late teens do a lot of things to differentiate themselves from the crowd in an attempt to attract the right sort of attention from girls, and honestly, most males suck at doing so in ways that produce results. I was (just barely) smart enough to realize this and I found through experience that the sort of girls I wanted to date got pretty starry eyed when I told them I was thinking about learning to ballroom dance. As it turned out they got even more starry eyed (!!) when I actually COULD ballroom dance, so it sure worked out well for me on multiple fronts for a number of years !

I haven't had much practice dancing lately but I think it's time I got back in shape. Among other reasons, it'll be harder for the beauty down the hall to see the laundry on the floor and the junk on the kitchen table when she's all googly eyed over her handsome dancer ! It's been my experience that a little romance makes up for a lot of dirty dishes. And maybe, finally, at this stage of my life, I'm ready to admit that a little gentlemanly behaviour wouldn't be remiss on my part, either !

Monday, February 14, 2011

Out of Touch....

I'm not going to speak for Melissa in this post, but I have to say that I'm feeling decidedly sheepish and more than a little bit out of touch after our Saturday evening outing to Nashville.

I must preface my story by saying that in my case being out of touch has never been difficult to achieve. Melissa reminds me of this each time she gets to tune the radio to her preferred stations when we're travelling in the car. To say I am clueless about modern artists and recent, trendy music doesn't even hint at it really. More often than not, I've never heard of the artist in question and have never heard the song that's playing either. I'm an embarrassment and I'm proud of it. So pull my finger and sue me.

Back to Saturday night. Melissa and I thought it'd be nice to have a night out; not something we do very often, so we planned to use a gift certificate we've been saving to go to The Cheesecake Factory which is at the trendiest mall in the trendiest neighbourhood in Nashville. I'll say right here that in spite of the location, I *LOVE* The Cheesecake Factory. The portion sizes are gargantuan and they have a fourteen page menu with hundreds of items and everything is tasty and is served in such a way that it's rendered as unhealthy as possible. I think the whole concept is absolutely fantastic and I won't have a word said against it ! Obviously, others feel the same way we do because it's always busy. On previous trips we've waited as long as an hour and a half for a table and despite the lateness of the evening, I was prepared to do so again.

So imagine my surprise when we arrived at the mall which hosts the Cheesecake Factory only to find that the entire city of Nashville was trying to park, all at the same time, in the tiny parking lot that surrounds the restaurant and mall. I had an inkling that things might not bode well for us at this point and this was borne out pretty quickly when Melissa returned from the restaurant and informed me that the wait for a table was three hours long and it was 8 pm at that time. Our collective disappointment was huge but waiting wasn't an option. Noon seemed like it had happened half a lifetime ago and I needed to eat sooner than 11 pm.

Enroute to our next restaurant choice, we pondered...well, Melissa pondered and I griped...why it was so incredibly busy in Nashville on this particular Saturday night. Between the two of us all we managed to come up with was that it had snowed a bit earlier in the week and people were exuberant that the weather had improved and needed something to do. I confess I couldn't get past my main thought, which was, "Who on earth makes a habit out of going out to eat after 8 pm on ANY night ?? " (In addition to being an embarrassment, a bad case of old fogey-ism set in some time ago too !)

Despite the time (now approaching 9pm), our next restaurant choice offered a shorter but still significant wait. In spite of my ongoing griping and increasing crabbiness at the world in general we chose to wait and we finally left the restaurant sated shortly after ten in the evening.

After I'd calmed down, it finally dawned on me *this morning* that maybe the snow melting didn't have as much as we thought to do with the crowded restaurant venues in Nashville this past Saturday night. Instead, maybe people were celebrating *VALENTINES DAY* a few days early by taking their significant other out for supper. Imagine that !?! Oh well, there's always next year ! :)

Happy Valentines Day to all of you !

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Cusp

In this part of the world, blooming daffodils are the first sure sign that winter is passing and spring is on it's way. In spite of everyting mother nature throws at them, we start looking for blossoms on the first warm day in the middle of February. Today was that day here, and as you can see in the picture below blooming time is very close. We're supposed to be well into the 60's all week, so I expect we'll see a rapid progression once they start.

By early March when they are at their peak, every fencerow, pasture and old homesite is covered in blooming daffodils. No matter where I've lived, the first flowers of spring have never failed to put a smile on my face. Hope they do the same for you, wherever you may be and whatever the season is at your house today.

Monday, February 7, 2011

On Blogging

I had a message from an old friend (and current blog reader) the other night that he was thinking about starting a blog himself and he wondered whether or not he could make it go. My advice was succinct. I told him that all my friends were really, really smart people...had to be if they were be friends with me (!), so of course I thought his blog would fly. :)

It's strange to think it's only been a few years since the concept of belonging to a virtual community would've seemed totally ludicrous. To many people of my mother's generation and to some folks in my own, the idea of interacting with strangers and baring one's soul for the whole world to see and comment on in the form of a blog is completely preposterous....a recipe for disaster. I guess it could be, but I think if one uses some circumspection before hitting the publish button, the chances of disaster striking go down pretty dramatically. At any rate, hiding behind closed doors and living meekly in the kitchen without venturing any opinions has never exactly been my style.

Just as they do in real life, online relationships evolve and change over time. Of the blogs I started following when Melissa and I began blogging a couple of years ago only one or two are still regularly updated. But in their place have come others which I enjoy least as much as I did the first batch.

It's funny how you get to "know" folks online and how the blogging community is similar in many ways to the real community in which I live. I have a handful of blogs that I "visit" nearly every day and another handful that I make purposeful weekly or monthly visits to. While I haven't met any of my blogging buddies IRL yet, I'm sure there are several whom I could get on quite nicely with. Both Melissa and I have made friends with a lot of folks online in various capacities over time. In cases where chance and circumstance have come together to permit a meeting (as has happened several times), we've never yet been disappointed in the outcome.

I'll end this post with a serious answer to my friend's queries about blogging. Having a plan is a great thing. Sticking with the plans you made is even better. But the best things in least in my opinion....tend to come about in spite of plans rather than because of them. When you have an idea that you think is worthwhile, write it down and share it with us ! Or with me (as the case may be). A readership of one is where each and every one of us started. That any of us have more than one reader now is either because six degrees of separation is correct and all our long lost relatives magically found us, or more likely because somebody out there actually likes what we're writing !

Tractor Huntin'

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the search has officially begun for a tractor of suitable horsepower for the new farm. It's been my experience that getting in a hurry seldom pays when shopping for any sort of iron so I expect I will be some while in finding what I want at a price I want to pay.

Every farmer thinks differently about his tractors. Just like some country boys like fancy trucks, some farmers really enjoy fancy tractors, and there's nothing wrong with that so long as the man writing the cheque is comfortable with what he is getting relative to what he is paying. For as much as I joke about fancy tractors, I become eminently practical when it comes time to sign on the dotted line. This is especially true right now because in building out our new place I have a lot more places for money to be spent than I have actual money to spend. When the rubber meets the road, I'm looking for a reliable machine with a front end loader that will give me ten years of relatively trouble free service and can handle 3-400 hours per year of medium duty work at some sort of a reasonable operating cost. Four wheel drive would be nice, but for my applications in this part of the world it's not an absolute necessity. As much as I'd love to have one, I feel the same way about a cab; it's nice, but not absolutely necessary.

To begin to whittle away at my search, I went to see these two machines today. Today was John Deere day, but I'm not stuck on any particular colour, so long as the model in question has a history of reliability.

This is a 2006 JD 6403, rated at 100 engine and 85 pto hp, 1060 hrs. It's for sale just down the road at an asking price of $ 26,000, which would be a little steep except for the low hours. The tractor is basically a new machine.

This one got the blood pumping a bit harder ! This is a 1989 JD 2955; 100 engine and 85 pto hp, 2wd with 1740 hrs and a negotiable asking price of $ 16,800. If it was a 4wd, I'd have written a cheque on the spot !

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Before I start this post, I want to state that neither I nor any member of my family is perfect. We've managed, at times, to screw up badly enough that everyone around us, including ourselves, have been badly hurt when dumb stuff we've done has exploded in our face. In spite of our less than perfect track record, I was taught by example to make every effort to do what is right, and to make amends quickly when what I did turned out to be wrong.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares this mindset. It seems to me that there exists a sub-group of people out there who's sole goal in life is to inflict as much pain and misery as possible on everything and everyone that's unfortunate enough to cross paths with them . And unlike most of us when we screw up, I believe it's their INTENT to wake up in the morning and cause as much harm as possible before they go to bed that night. Some of the sorriest of the sorry SOB's that make up this group probably get their rocks off on it.

Although we've never done so before, Melissa and I were moved and upset enough when we heard it that we posted a story on her blog last night about Miracle, an eight month old TN Walker foal that was ridden, beaten and starved literally until she fell to the ground and couldn't rise. She'd have lay where she fell until she died and no one would have been the wiser, except that the dumb SOB that owned her tried to see if she wouldn't be worth a few bucks before she died so he posted her picture on a listserve forum and tried to sell her to anyone who would take her. Her story is available in lots of places and I'm not going to repeat it, except to say that in the few days since her ad was posted there have been a lot of good folks...including a lot of our clients, friends and blog readers, who've done a lot of good things to help save the horse, Miracle. And maybe, just maybe, that is the real miracle in this story.

In a small way, we've played a role in doing good, and that makes me feel good, but in this case...I'm honestly not sure why, we feel compelled to do more. If she makes it (which is still in some doubt), and if nobody had claimed her before Melissa sent her email to Lori earlier this morning, Miracle will have a place here with us and the customers when she's ready to make the trip, gratis, for as long as she cares to call it home. I can't explain why this decision feels so right except to say that watching Miracle graze with her friends out the window will help re-affirm to me that there are a lot of good folks with kind hearts left in this world. At the end of the day, who really needs a better reason than that ?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Farmer's Hands

When I was a little boy I wanted nothing more in life to grow up and be a farmer just like my granddad. I remember that one of the things I was most in awe of was the immense strength contained in his huge, thick, calloused hands. When he grabbed hold of something with those hands, even in his dotage, whatever he grabbed was caught. When he'd hold me on his lap when I was very small my favourite game was to ask about the history each of the seemingly never ending scars and fissures that began at his wrist and ended right at the tip of his thick fingers.

Grandpa's hands had a complex smell. None of the odors were overpowering and it's hard to describe concisely but it was a combination of human sweat, machine oil, grain dust, hay, livestock and his favourite pipe tobacco. The odor of his hands is so deeply ingrained in my memory that I can recall it without effort though it's been a lot of years since I last smelled it on his person.

Grandpa had a slight build and he thought his big, muscular hands looked out of place on his frame. As a consequence, consciously or not, he hid them when the camera came out. The best photo we have of Grandpa's hands is also, in my opinion, the best photo of Grandpa. He'd probably spent the morning in the hay fields but he'd got cleaned up early and had put on a suit for the occasion at hand. His hair is military short and he's standing, deeply tanned and more than slightly uncomfortable, with one huge hand on my mother's shoulder, ready to give her away to the brash looking young feller who would become my father a few years later.

Fast forward to today.

I tried to take a picture of an object I was holding earlier today but somehow I managed to catch more of my hand than the object I was holding. When I first looked at the picture what caught my eye wasn't the intended object I was holding. Just for a minute, what I saw staring back at me in the photo was an approximation of my grandad's hands, thick and calloused with work and smelling always slightly of livestock and machine oil. It was a deja vu moment that hit me like a punch in the stomach; hard enough that I had to sit down.

I thought to myself as I sat in my chair that some day, if I am blessed that way and am exceptionally lucky, maybe many years from now my own girl or boy will look back on their childhood and remember sitting with big, scarred farmer's hands wrapped securely around them.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Paying the Bills

I think the universe decided that today was the day we were going to pay for our exponentially lovely weather of late. Not only is it windy and sluicing rain with a cold front waiting in the wings, but we also went to the accountant's office this morning to find out that the tax man is coming and apparantly he'll be carrying a scythe and riding a black horse.

Apocolyptic signs aside, I'm really not happy about this year's huge tax bill. The biggest problem is that we're getting heavily penalized for paying for all our capital improvements in cash. Amortization rates vary on capital improvements, but typically they amortize and/or depreciate over 10 or 15 years. In layman's terms what this means is that for every $100,000 in cash flow we spend on capital improvements, we're only allowed to write off $ 7500 to $ 10,000 and we're stuck paying income tax on the balance despite the fact we've already spent the money on legitimate business expenses. It's a good problem to have, but it is, nevertheless, a real problem. As Dave Ramsey so aptly says, our system is not set up to reward financial prudence and conservatism.

I really don't mind paying income tax, so long as what I think I'm paying is reasonably fair, but thanks to the aforementioned scenario the amount of money we've had to cough up the past two years has been ridiculous. As much as I don't want to do so, I've begun looking at the cost of borrowing money to finance at least some of our capital improvement projects so that I can more closely match our cash outlay with our depreciation/amortization schedule and make some moves to reduce our tax bill at the same time.

This last part is going to be a bit of a vent, I'm afraid.

When politicians stand up in front of groups of people and say that we need to tax the wealthy harder, lots of folks jump up and cheer. After all, taxes are nothing more than a redistribution of wealth (to the state, and through them, back to us), and wealthy people have lots more money than the rest of us to redistribute, right ? Besides, spending someone else's we didn't actually work kind of fun. And of course we aren't wealthy and nobody we know is wealthy so nobody in our world gets hurt out of this, right ? Besides, those wealthy folks probably inherited their money and spend their days eating bonbons while driving to the bank in their Mercedes to count their money.

Well folks, hang on to your hats. According to our government's tax system, Melissa and I fall into the category of "wealthy". Please be jealous of us. And please send us some bonbons and a Mercedes, because I'll be damned if I can find the money to fund them. We work seven days a week, upwards of 12 hours every day in every kind of weather and when we come in the house we are filthy dirty and dog tired. Our last day off was May 27th, 2010. That's not figurative. That's literal. We live in a tiny apartment over my in-laws workshop and our personal vehicle is 11 years old with 200,000 miles on the odometer. This year, we'll pay considerably more money in taxes than we took away from our business to live on. While taxes are necessary and I don't mind paying them, I grudge every single mis-spent and mis-appropriated tax dollar our government spends. I can't help but believe that the mis-spent dollars would be a whole lot better spent if they were back in the pockets of the people they came from in the first place.

End of rant ! That wasn't so bad, was it ?