Saturday, May 31, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day Two)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Today is our only planned "down day" on the trip.  We are just marking time in the Kansas City area so that I can see Cher and Cyndi Lauper in concert tonight.

Tim took Boone and I to lunch at the original Minsky's near Westport today.  Minsky's is a popular pizza chain in and around Kansas City, and their pizza is delicious!  On the way there we passed the Intercontinental Hotel where Tim said that Cher and her road crew were undoubtedly staying - and sure enough, I could see three tour buses in the underground parking garage.

The team of oxen have eaten more than their share of fine Kansas prairie grass, the supplies are packed tightly into the wagon, and we are ready to roll on toward South Dakota early in the morning.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Westward Ho! (Day One)

by Pa Rock
Wagon Master

Boone and I left West Plains a little before 10:00 a.m. this morning and embarked on our road trip westward.  Although we are not intentionally following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, or along the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail, we are destined to pass numerous historical markers for both along the way as we slowly make our way toward the Pacific Northwest.

Day One brought us in a northwesterly direction for nearly three hundred miles.  We parked our wagon in the street in front ofTim and Erin's house and released the oxen to roam the neighborhood and feast on Erin's beautiful outdoor plants.  Roeland Park, Kansas, has all of the necessary amenities to meet our needs, and we will remain here until Sunday morning.

Boone and I have both made the West Plains to Kansas City trek before, so we did not encounter much new or surprising today.  We did see an older Amish couple riding in their horse-drawn buckboard along the highway near Diggins, Missouri.  There are some beautiful Amish farms in the area between Diggins, Seymour, and Marshfield, Missouri.

Lunch was a disaster.   The place where we stopped, right at noon, was packed with a long waiting line and no available seating - and the men's bathroom resembled a water park that had just been trashed by a gang of hallucinating Hell's Angels.   I should name the fast food joint, but won't.  However, if the Missouri Health Department ever goes on tour, they might want to schedule an extra couple of hours for Bolivar.

But things got better.

Late this afternoon Tim took us to a place in Kansas City called "Culver's" (a local chain) where I enjoyed a truly delicious "butter burger."  It was much, much better than the overly-hyped "In 'n Out" burgers that are so popular in the southwest.

Tonight we will be going to Westport in Kansas City to stroll and shop.  That should be fun!

Hate Group Freaks Out Over Postage Stamp

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The American Family Association, an organization officially recognized as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, made news yesterday when it issued instructions to its members regarding a new stamp from the United States Postal Service.  The stamp honors murdered San Francisco City Supervisor - and gay activist - Harvey Milk.

The AFA told its members to refuse the Harvey Milk stamps if the post office tries to palm any off on them, and to demand instead stamps bearing the American flag.  The knucklehead organization further recommended that members refuse mail that comes with the Milk stamp, and to mark letters "return to sender."

Hope the damn gummint doesn't get tricky and send their welfare checks out with the Harvey Milk stamps!  What would a gun-toting, beer-swilling patriot do in a case like that?

Oh, my!  I was so amused by this homophobic nonsense that I stopped by my local post office this morning and bought three sheets of the offending postage - and I may buy more before they sell out!

I'm reminded of a story that the postmaster at Noel, Missouri, told me years ago.  He said that when the red ribbon AIDS postage stamp came out, it was not well received by the local public.  Some feared they would catch AIDS by licking the stamps.  Maybe communicating by letter is too traumatic for some people - and they should just stick to texting.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cover Girls

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

The postman brought the latest issue of Backyard Poultry yesterday, and on the cover were two gorgeous, copper-toned, plump-in-all-the-right-places, Rhode Island Red hens!  The voluptuous feathered vixen were staring at each other in an almost mirror image, calmly and peacefully, totally at ease with the knowledge that life will never demand more of them than scratching for bugs and laying the occasional egg.

My own brown beauties turned five-weeks-old this past Tuesday.  All of the literature that I have read indicates that most will be laying an egg a day, with the occasional day off for good behavior, by the time they are twenty or twenty-five-weeks-old.   The fat brown hens will lay fat brown eggs - and double-yolkers are not uncommon while the birds are just beginning to lay.

The nesting boxes have all been cleaned and filled with fresh wood shavings.  As egg time draws near, I will place some of those plastic Easter eggs in the boxes just to make sure the girls understand where to drop theirs.

I am currently reading Take to the Hills by Marguerite Lyon.   It is the autobiographical account of a couple from Chicago, Mrs. Lyon and her husband, "the Jedge," who come to the Ozarks and begin farming at the height of the Great Depression - as a retirement plan.   Interestingly, their place, Sunrise Mountain Farm, was located in northern Howell County, Missouri, the same county where I also happen to reside, and years ago I even knew one of the characters whom she highlights in her book.

Mrs. Lyon's reflections of her and the Jedge's life on the farm is rife with similarities to the life I am currently living, so much so that I find it hard to read for laughing!   She said this about their experience with chickens:

"We had heard that chickens in the Ozarks will forage for their own food the year round.  Perhaps some do.  But ours have a way of gathering expectantly around the feed room door, come sunup, and who could deny them those few scoopfuls of grain.  Not softies like us, that's certain!  If we get an idea that our eggs are costing us too much, we gloat over the tremendous satisfaction of having all the fresh eggs we want, even for such extravagances as angel cake."

My girls like to run and play in the tall weeds of their pen, and perhaps they forage - a little.  But when Pa Rock brings in the grain, all beaks are pointed toward him.   Fighting over the odd bug is great sport and a lot of fun, but when it comes to filling their gullets, nothing hits the spot like finely ground chick-starter feed.

The busty babes on the cover of Backyard Poultry also appear to be grain fed.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to retire to the kitchen and figure out how to bake an angel cake!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Preparing to Hit the Oregon Trail

by Pa Rock
Traveling Fool

I have finally begun making a few preparations for the road trip to Oregon that Boone (my grandson) and I will embark on Friday sometime before noon.   I have packed snacks (and a few clothes), organized my meds and gotten all of the necessary refills, and cleaned the car inside and out.  Everything that my chicken-sitters and plant-watchers need is in place.

I also have my clothes selected for the Cher concert this Saturday night in Kansas City.  This will probably be the only chance that she ever gets to see me, so I want to be looking my best!  (Eighth row, Cher.  Red t-shirt with white lettering that says "Kansas City Power and Light District."  Let me know if you need a ride back to the coast.)

The collection of trinkets, doodads, and gee-haws for my other four grandchildren, all of whom we will see on this trip, is quickly getting organized.  Olive, Sebastian, Judah, and Willow - Pa Rock and Boone are on the way - almost!

I bought a road atlas this morning - a steal at just ten dollars!  (Yes, Sheldon, that is sarcasm!)  I buy an atlas every time I take a major trip because I can never find my other atlases.  Someday there will be a special table just for atlases at my estate sale!

I'm not dreading the drive - what could possibly happen on the Oregon Trail?   In fact, I like to be out on the road.  I would have probably made an adequate over-the-road trucker - and I definitely know the value of eating at busy truck stops.  There's a reason they are busy!  If Boone wants to go someplace next summer, he will be sixteen and able to help with the driving.  That is something to look forward to!

But for this year, we're Oregon bound.  And as they say in St. Joe, "Westward ho!"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

And You're a Dumbass!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Every state in the nation now has a law permitting people to carry concealed weapons - including states like Missouri where the people voted against that "right," and the legislature had to go in and "correct" the decision of the people.  But the firebrands at the National Rifle Association who work for America's gun manufacturers never rest on their laurels.  There are always more barriers to be shot torn down, more work to be done.

Now nearly half of the states have gone well beyond the concept of "concealed carry" and passed laws allowing for the "open carry" of firearms in many public locations.  But again, those ultra-patriotic, three-toothed wonders at the National Rifle Association want more.  It's not enough that people have the "right" to carry their guns in public, now they must do so in organized demonstrations and rub the public's face in it.

What's the point in being armed if you can't bully and intimidate people?

The restaurant chain, Chipolte, initially allowed open carry guns in its restaurants in states where it is legal, but last week a group of armed customers, organized under the cover of "Open Carry Texas" showed up at a Chipolte in Dallas and made the regular customers very uncomfortable.  The yahoos weren't armed with pretty little pearl-handled pistols, but were instead toting big guns - and some had assault rifles strapped across their backs.

A group of local citizens and members of "Moms Demand Action" (an anti-gun group with the financial backing of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) started a petition asking that Chipolte review its policy on allowing armed customers in its restaurants.   It quickly had over ten thousand signatures.  Chipolte blinked and issued a polite letter asking that gun owners leave their weapons at home when they had the urge to eat a burrito at Chipolte.

Now there have been two more incidents, also in Texas.  One pack of armed customers descended on a Sonic Drive-In in San Antonio, and the other disrupted service at a Chili's in the same city.   Both restaurants declined to serve the "Open Carry" demonstrators.  One young woman using her cell phone for a camera walked up to the some of the armed patrons at Chili's where one of the guys with a gun tried to give her a flier.

"Um, actually" she responded.  "There's children here . . . and you're a dumbass."

Have the dumbass overlords, the National Rifle Association, finally over-extended themselves?  Sadly, it's doubtful.  If Newtown didn't wake America up, armed gangs at the local Dari-Queen probably won't either.  But these people will keep pushing the limits, and some day they will go too far.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "Decoration Day"

by Pa Rock

This is Memorial Day, a holiday founded in 1868 by the head of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Veterans from the Civil War.  The holiday was originally known as "Decoration Day" and its purpose was to honor the war dead by decorating their graves with flowers.   It was observed each year on May 30th, a date on which flowers would be blooming in most places across the country.

Fifty years later, at the close of World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to include the graves of the dead from all wars.  In 1971 the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day, and it has become the day on which many families visit and decorate the graves of their dead, whether they happen to have died in a war or not.  It is now celebrated on the last Monday in May to insure that most of us have a three-day weekend to relax and be with our families - and take the time to decorate a few graves.

My father and mother always took pride in visiting the cemeteries where their relatives were buried and decorating graves the last Monday in May.  I never heard either of them ever refer to the holiday as anything other than "Decoration Day."

The following poem, "Decoration Day," was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America's premier poets, and first published in The Atlantic in June of 1882 - just a few short weeks after the death of Longfellow.

Decoration Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry's shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
Or the drum's redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pope Francis Warns of the Destruction of Creation

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Pope Francis, who is currently on a brief pilgrimage to the Middle East (Jordan and Israel), stirred things up again  last week before leaving Rome.  The Pontiff made one of his infamous outrageous remarks, the kind he routinely employs in his quest to show Catholics (and everyone else for that matter) just what it means to be a true and courageous disciple of Christ.

Pope Francis talked climate change - a topic so controversial that the United States House of Representatives last week passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill forbidding the Pentagon from assessing for climate change as a component of our nation's defenses.  

Like the Pentagon, the Popes have traditionally had to answer to an assemblage of self-serving, comfortable elitists.  But now Francis has stood up and spoken out.

Pope Francis, who is outspoken in his belief that climate change is occurring and that it is happening as a result of actions by man, spoke last week of the need for safeguarding creation because "if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us!"  His remarks seemed to be a message for the one-percent and focused on instances of wealthy minorities exploiting the planet at the expense of the poor.

The destruction of the planet is, according to the Pope, a "sinful act" which he compared to self-idolatry.

This Pope, the freshest breeze to blow through the Vatican in the past two thousand years, continues to give a lot of "good" Christians heartburn.  For that alone, we should sing his praises!

Keep telling it like it is, Your Holiness!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Costco Treats Employees Like Human Beings

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

According to the firm Glassdoor which compiles information on employee job satisfaction, the average pay for a cashier at Costco is $15.20 an hour, while the average pay for a cashier at Walmart's Sam's Club is $9.37 an hour.  That same position at Target pays an average of $8.18 an hour.  Recent sales have been strong at Costco, while at Sam's Club - not so much.  According to Bloomberg Businessweek, about 88 percent of Costco employees even have company-sponsored health insurance.

Costco CEO and President Craig Jelinek is on record with his support for a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour,  and he said that his company pays a starting wage of $11.50 in all states where they do business.  While some CEO's strive to keep employee benefits and pay at the absolute minimum, Jelinek takes the opposite approach.  He recently elaborated on his style of sharing the wealth with employees:

"I think people need to make a living wage with health benefits.  It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country.  It's really that simple."

Yes, it is.   While one company may put out food donation boxes so their employees can have Christmas dinner, Jelinek's people have the ability to meet their own basic needs.  While other companies may encourage their employees to apply for food and income assistance from the government,  Costco employees are taking care of themselves, strengthening the economy through their purchases, and paying taxes.

Glassdoor  compiled a list of the twenty-five best companies for compensation and benefits.  Their rankings also factored in the results of an employee job satisfaction survey.  The companies were, in order from first to twenty-fifth:

Google, Costco, Facebook, Adobe, Epic, Intuit, USAA, Chevron, Salesforce, Monsanto, Genentech, Kaiser Permanente, Qualcomm, Riverbed, Verizon, VM Ware, T Mobile, Microsoft, Amgen, Pfizer, Edison, Orbitz, P&G, Union Pacific, and Ebay.

America should not be about making billionaires - it should be about treating each other with decency and respect, and ensuring that everyone gets at least a bite out of the pie.    Treating people like human beings is a sound business model, one that makes the economy stronger and gives people the ability to take care of themselves.  It is smart, it is just, and it is moral.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Google Trends by State

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Yesterday I came across a most interesting article on the website of London newspaper, UK Daily Mail Online.  It was a synopsis of research done by a property firm called Estately.   The company had studied results from Google Trends on a state-by-state basis and used that information to compose a United States map showing what things interest people in each state.  The map might be helpful in nudging potential home buyers either toward or away from particular states.

There was no information in the article indicating the time period covered by this research.  The results range from hysterical to downright scary.  For instance, the top three Google searches in Georgia were for Athlete's Foot, Butt Implants, and Cooking Crack - in that order.  A similar trend regarding Crack  was noted in Mississippi (Making Crack), Montana (Meth), Texas (How to cook meth? and Meth Recipes), and Wyoming (Crank).  America's next generation of great chefs are out there surfing the Internet and collecting recipes!  But the cooking wasn't all about meth.   The top trend in Vermont was for a "Kale Recipe."  Also, in Hawaii they were seeking recipes for cooking Spam.

One of the things that Californians want to know is "What does Siri look like?"  One of the trending topics in Utah was the question, "What is the Internet?"

A couple of states were concerned with how to roll a joint, and Rhode Island wanted to know about "Beer Pong."  (There's probably a class on it at Brown University.)

The top six queries for Texas were, in order:  "Are dinosaurs real?",  "Are zombies real?", "The Bill of Rights," "Boogers," "Calf Implants," and "Can dogs talk?"    A bit further down on the Texas list were "Do I have herpes?",  "Government Mind Control," and "How to Sell Your Soul to the Devil."

In addition to the aforementioned "Crank," Wyoming is obsessed with "Ann Coulter," "the Constitution," "Rush Limbaugh," "Sheep," and "Socialism."   Make what you will of that, and pray for the sheep!  Oklahoma, another state of great intellectual heft, wanted to know about "Atheism," "Benghazi," "Miley Cyrus," "Noodling," "Obama Muslim," "Pat Robertson," and "PT Cruiser."

And Arizona, a perennial favorite state of mine, most queried "Conjugal Visits" (Prisons are a major industry in Arizona and their lobbyists have a death grip on the state legislature.),  "Hippies," "Scorpion Sting," and "How are babies made?"  (It's an exceedingly elderly population, so perhaps they have forgotten!)  I once googled "Scorpion Sting" while living in Arizona.  It was the middle of the night, and I was curious as to whether I was about to die - or not.

Those are just a few samplers from this rich list of concerns by state.  For the complete article which covers all fifty states, please see:

I have printed it off and will take the list along as my grandson and I begin our road trip to Oregon next week.  It may explain some things along the way!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

More Poop from the Coop

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

It was one month ago today that I brought my fuzzy little chicks home from the feed store in a box that could not have held more than two pairs of shoes.   Today I moved those lovelies, each now feathered and about the size of a city pigeon, to their adult coop and pen.   And they are having quite the time of it – out walking through the tall grass and weeds while scratching for bugs and worms. 

It was not an easy chore, moving the easily panicked fowl from the baby pen to the one for big birds, even though the enclosures are located next to one another.   I managed to catch most by hand, one at a time, for the short transport, but the final three were way too quick for this old chicken-catcher.  I released the fastest birds into the yard and was then able to herd two into the new pen.  But the final girl would just not cooperate.  She managed to get into the open garage and hide behind things.  Finally, after several angry threats that all involved stew pots, she calmly walked out and made her way to the new quarters.

My initial order was for twenty-seven baby chicks and four turkeys.  When I brought them home I counted twenty-nine chicks and the four turkeys.  Today I kept a careful count as I carried them to their new home – one at a time.  The total is thirty chicks and four turkeys.  Not only were their no casualties during the poultry’s first month at the farm, they appear to have shown an increase of one. 

The turkeys are beginning to look as though they may be three toms and one hen.  I was actually hoping for at least a couple of hens because I hear turkey eggs are delicious.   My oldest son provided me with a bit of hill wisdom the other day.  He said that male turkeys always poop in the shape of a “J.”   I thought that fact smelled a bit like turkey poop, but today as I was emptying the little pen, I found several droppings in the form of perfect “J’s.”  Live and learn.

The old pen is about five by ten feet.  The new one is nearer to twenty by fifty feet.  It includes an adult maple tree at one end and a covered area at the other – along with a coop for sleeping and egg-laying.    The feeders and waterers have all been cleaned and moved, fresh straw is down in the coop and across a couple of bare areas, and the nest boxes are full of clean wood shavings. 

By the time the eggs start arriving, I’ll be too tired to eat!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Avalanche of Dominoes

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The dominoes of marriage equality are falling state by state - and they are falling fast.    This week federal judges threw out gay marriage bans in two states, Oregon and Pennsylvania, bringing the total of court wins to an astonishing fourteen in the last six months - with no losses!

The writing, it would seem, is on the wall - in bright, bold lettering so enormous that even Justices Scalia and Thomas should not be able to ignore it.  Recent polls show over seventy-percent of Americans in the 19-29 age range favor the right of gay couples to marry.   And it's not just the young people.  Those same surveys show that over forty percent of people sixty-five and older also favor gay marriage.  That, folks, is the future - writ large!

The judges who have made those decisions, staunch defenders of the Constitution one and all, come from across the political spectrum.  The were appointed by Obama, both Bushes, Clinton, and even Reagan.

And politicians are also feeling the winds of change.  Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, a Republican in a tough re-election campaign, has announced that he will not appeal the decision in his state.  Gay marriage is going to stay on the books in Pennsylvania.

As of yesterday there are nineteen states in which gay couples are being married, and a few more where the right has been upheld in court but has been stayed pending appeal.

Dylan said it best:  "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."   That wind is blowing hard, and it's knocking down dominoes faster than anyone could have imagined just a couple of years ago.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Tale of Dogs

by Pa Rock
Gentleman Farmer

Junior, my part-time dog, ain’t no lightweight.  Although I have never seen him fight, his size and demeanor indicate that he could hold his own against all of the men, most of the canines, and a few of the women who inhabit this neighborhood.  That’s why I was so surprised when he came barreling across the front porch earlier this afternoon in an obvious state of panic.

I was sitting on the porch reading – and recuperating from an ill-advised spurt of pulling weeds – when I heard a dog howl.  I paid the noise no mind until, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black-and-white flash leap onto the porch and head right at me.  I barely had time to figure out that it was Junior when he crashed into my leg and then did a one-eighty and lunged back off of the porch.    There he nervously parked himself on the lawn and began staring off toward the back acreage.

Then I heard the dog howl again.  It wasn’t Junior.

Damn, I thought, that’s one mighty big dog!  Junior thought so too, because he again jumped up onto the porch and ran for me.  Then, after touching base, he turned and dived back onto the lawn – once more peering off into the distance.

Hoyle’s Official Rules of Retirement warns against reacting too suddenly to any situation, but, considering that I am responsible for the lives and well-being of thirty-some fat chicks who also reside behind the house, I ambled on over by Junior to take a look. 

And there they were!  Dogs!  Big dogs!  Big white dogs!  Three Great Pyrenees the size of Shetland ponies were lounging in the grass under one of the maple trees.    Those invaders who had struck terror into Junior’s heart sent a rush of pleasure through mine.  Junior saw monster dogs, while I was lost in memories of Paladin and Paloma – and Millie’s Shiva.

I tried to get in closer and make friends, but Junior, standing squarely behind me, was barking threats and orders to leave.  Soon the gentle behemoths had had enough of his racket, and they trotted off into the tree line in search of quieter adventures.

Junior followed me back onto the porch where he was literally shaking.  Sit, I told him – and he did.  Lay down, I ordered – and he did that also – while pressing his back up firmly against my foot.   If his human moved, Junior wanted to know about it!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Daffodil Poem"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Local schools let out for the summer this past Friday, and that has set me to thinking about how much I loved summer vacations - particularly during the years that I was a teacher!

I searched for a poem that would convey the exhilarating spirit of school being out for the summer, but all I came up with was Alice Cooper's School's Out - not an overly inspiring piece, and certainly not representative of the feeling that I was seeking to convey.

I wanted something more traditional, a poem that might harken back to those fanciful school days of old - the schools of when I was a boy, or, better yet, when my father was a boy.   My first stop was a collection of America's homespun poet, James Whitcomb Riley, but surprisingly I could find nothing of his that rang my recess bell.  Then, through some weird twist of fate, or blip on the Internet, I ended up with The Little Rascals and one of America's most beloved teachers, Miss Crabtree.

The Daffodil Poem does not address the subject of summer vacation, but it does convey the feeling that I was after.  In the short film of 1932 entitled Readin' and Writin', the kids are welcoming a new teacher.  Their beloved Miss McGillicuddy has left, and her replacement, Miss Crabtree, has taken over the classroom.  One of the students, Sherwood (Sherwood Bailey) (sometimes known as "Spud") arrives at school with a welcoming poem for the new teacher which his mother has written.  The kids laugh at him, but he reads it anyway - much to the delight of Miss Crabtree.

Another student, Breezy Brisbane, (Kendall McComas), doesn't want to be in school.  His life goal is not to grow up to be the President, but rather to get expelled so that he can pursue his true desire to become a streetcar conductor.  "Boy, do they get the nickels!"  Breezy can't get Miss Crabtree to expel him until he throws a spit wad and hits Sherwood.  After that, she sends him home and tells him that he cannot return until he memorizes Sherwood's poem.

Here is what Breezy had to learn and recite - which he eventually did.

The Daffodil Poem
by Sherwood's Mother

High up grew a daffodil,
I couldn't hardly reach her
Said I to me I think I will
get it for my teacher
I clumb to get the daffodil
out on a limb so thin
I tumbled down like Jack and Jill
and skinned my little shin
And here's the pretty daffodil
I brought to my new teacher
I love her dear and I always will:
I'm awful glad to meetcha!

Happy summer vacation!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Happiness Is a Warm Hen House

by Pa Rock
Chicken Rancher

I am having a lot of fun raising my little chickens and turkeys.    They are still less than a month old and making noticeable changes almost daily.  Over the past few weeks they have put on feathers, size and weight, and started developing personalities. 

Little chicks know some things instinctively – as do all babies.  They can walk as soon as they peck their way out of the eggs and dry off a little, and they automatically peck and scratch for food and sip water.  Unlike the robin that recently hatched out a nest of young near the chicken coop, mama hens don’t deliver worms and bugs and drop them in the waiting mouths of their young.

Baby chicks also have some built-in fears.   Loud noises set them to scurrying, and they run for safety whenever the shadow of a bird floats across the floor of their pen.

Three of the little chickens are roosters, and though there is nothing in their appearance yet to differentiate them from the little hens, as they scratch around the pen looking for food and playing keep-away, the little males soon reveal themselves with their propensity to square-off at each other and fight.

Four of the fowl are turkeys.    They are grey and white, where all of the other chicks (except one) are brown.  The turkeys are the most inquisitive of the lot, staying out in the pen and exploring even when inclement weather drives the little chickens into the coop.  Over the past couple days the little turkeys have just started trying to develop their gobbles – really funny!

When the weather began warming, I quit using the heat lamp in the coop at nights, letting the chicks acclimate.  But last week when the cold rains set in, I turned it back on for a couple of nights.  The first evening I did that, the little birds were in the pen all snuggled together trying to stay warm.  When the light went on in the coop, they all rushed over and then began jumping up and into the opening of the coop – two-by-two!

The chicken pen, attached to the coop, is completely enclosed with chicken wire and covered with a tin roof to keep out predators.  The floor is dirt and covered with wood chips, giving the chicks plenty to scratch around in, but with limited hope for finding bugs or worms for snacks.  So they are getting plump eating mostly chick-starter finely ground grain.  I started experimenting by throwing handfuls of various types of yard greenery into the pen.  They will play with anything, but really love to eat clover.  When I throw clumps of clover into the pen, pandemonium ensues!

Next week I will be moving the fat little birds over to an adjoining coop and pen where they will have a large area of grass and weeds to scratch around in.  The larger pen is protected on the sides, but the top is open – giving predators access to the young fowl.  There is also a secure hen house for their evening rest.  The chicks are quick and smart, and they have developed some flying skills.  Hopefully the chickens and turkeys will thrive in their new environment.  Like the baby robins who have recently jumped from their nest and into adulthood, the chicks have to make the leap sometime.

My babies are growing up!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Anticipating Jersey Boys

by Pa Rock
Chronic Critic

I have seen two astoundingly good productions of the hit musical, Jersey Boys - once on Broadway and another time in Vegas.  It is the story of the Four Seasons, one of the most popular singing groups of the 1960's.    It is, in many ways, a soundtrack of the sixties, and those of us of a certain age know practically every word of every song, and the urge to sing along is almost unbearable.

(I was in in the audience at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas back in the early 1990's when the Four Seasons opened a comeback tour.  Everybody was singing along, and at one point Frankie Valli, the lead singer, held his microphone toward the audience and said, "Go ahead.  You all know the words."  And we did!)

Jersey Boys is a great theatrical property, both in story and score, and I had such high hopes for the movie.   Now, just weeks before the release of the film, my enthusiasm has been curbed.

Oddly, Clint Eastwood, was chosen to direct the movie.  Clint, who has directed almost forty films,  has had a few critical successes.  I personally liked Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby.  But he has also fallen short on projects that could have easily been better.  His most recent directorial credit prior to Jersey Boys was J. Edgar - a weak and disappointing take on the life of a character who terrorized certain segments of America throughout most of the twentieth century, all the while trying to keep his personal demons well to the back of his bedroom closet. It could have been so much better - the material was deep, rich, and practically endless - but Clint chose to drive with the brakes on.

The cast of Jersey Boys, which is lengthy, appears to consist almost entirely of relative unknowns.  That could be a good thing - not having any stars to detract from the story.  But when the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) listed them by their rating on the "star meter," Christopher Walken was first, followed by Francesca Eastwood, you-know-who's daughter.  (Clint has a bit of a history in employing his off-spring.)

Then there is the question of Clint himself.  The well-seasoned actor and director will be eighty-four on the last day of this month.  Being a senior citizen myself (though nearly two decades younger than Clint), I like seeing the talents of the elderly being tapped - because we all have valuable things to offer.  But in the end, Clint is still Clint, and he will cast his shadow across the film.  I can't help wondering how a young and fairly unknown director would have approached this material - a film that could make a career.

Will Clint still be driving with the brakes on?

I am also concerned that the character of actor Joe Pesci does not appear in this movie.  Pesci, who did much to organize the Four Seasons as a singing group in real life, was also a major backer of the stage musical.   Did Pesci demand too much money for the use of his name in the film?  Did he want a part for himself?   Did he want some control over the project?  If Joe Pesci has been omitted, what other changes have been made?

Will any of the characters be talking to empty chairs?

Hopefully, I am being overly pessimistic.  I will be in the audience when Jersey Boys opens at one of my local theaters - sitting somewhere toward the back of the auditorium and singing along!

Come on Clint, make my day!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Galloway Creek Nature Park

by Pa Rock
Nature Lover

This afternoon I decided that it was high time I got out and started exploring my hood.  Several weeks ago I had driven to a small, unnamed cemetery just up the road and wandered among the stones to see what I could learn about the history of my neighborhood.  The earliest marker was for a lady who had been born in the 1830's and died just after 1900.  The latest stone was just barely into the present century.   The cemetery had been freshly mowed, but it still had the feel of being basically abandoned.

Today's outing was on foot - because I really need the exercise.  I walked up my lane to the Galloway Creek Nature Park, circumnavigated the park via its nature trail, and then hiked home.   Although I don't know how far the park is from my house, nor the length of the nature trail, the entire nonstop effort took a total of forty-nine minutes.  It was an invigorating experience.

Here are a couple of things I learned on the walkabout.  First, the park was constructed by the West Plains Rotary in 2005 to honor the community's centennial.  Galloway Creek, is not dried up, although I had heard rumors to the contrary.  True, it's been raining lately, but the parts of the little creek, as seen from the three picturesque bridges that cross it at various points along the footpath,  appear to be deep enough to be in existence year-round.

Sections of the park are identified as "tall grass prairie," though some of those had been recently mowed.   There are some beautiful trees along the trail, including a bunch of young sycamores - enough to keep the little park well shaded until the next centennial.   There were also notices of the park being a wildlife refuge, and although I didn't encounter any wildlife, I suspect that it abounds along the creek, especially very early and very late in the day.

In addition to the three bridges, there is also a nice covered pavilion with picnic tables, other picnic tables in one grove of large trees, and numerous benches for sitting and contemplating nature along the trail.

There always seems to be a group or two using the open pavilion, and one day as I was driving by I even noticed a wedding taking place there.

I think I have acquired a good neighbor in the Galloway Creek Nature Park.  My intention is to visit frequently.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moving Forward

by Pa Rock

As a licensed social worker who did a moderate amount of mental health counseling over the years, I often dealt with people whose primary issues were things like boredom, listlessness, or just an inability to take control of their lives and get things done.  I also worked with enough individuals who were recently retired to know that those issues can be especially pervasive within that group.

Yesterday was an especially hard day here on the farm.  I spent much of the day sitting inside thanks to a slow and annoying cold rain.  I tried to write, but it was one of those days when the words were eluding me.   I even curled up on the couch and took a nap.  I ended the day with a visit to one of my doctors - a visit where he was forty minutes late and I hadn't had the foresight to at least bring along one of the current books that I am reading.

It just felt like the whole day was a waste.

Today began with a bit of sunshine, enough to get me back into a forward mode of thinking.  One of the things that I thought about was what strategies would I offer to a client whose attitude and complaints mirrored my feelings from yesterday.  After rummaging through my old bag of mental health tricks, I extracted my favorite:  setting goals and priorities.

It is easy to get to feeling blasé about everything when you have no set demands - or a schedule - in life.  I know that I have to devote some attention to the chickens once or twice a day, but beyond that I seemed to just be drifting from one domestic distraction to another - doing a load of laundry, pulling a few weeds, sweeping the porches, buying a few groceries, reading a chapter in a book - rinse, wash, and repeat.

So today I set about implementing the advice that I would have given to a client suffering a similar malady.   I surveyed the farm, tablet in hand, making a list of everything that needs to be done within the next year.  Next I prioritized those chores and set up a rough set of deadlines for achieving them.

That little bit of planning didn't take much effort, but it did serve to give me some direction and make me feel a bit better about addressing those things that need my attention - from building fences, to painting a couple of buildings, to cleaning out the rain gutters.

It would seem that I have a post-retirement job to do.  Now that I have figured out what it entails, I just need to roll up my sleeves and get busy.

And the rain is starting - again.  Cue the indoor list!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

More Hillary Conspiracies

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I noted in this space a few days back that the Republican misinformation machine is already cranking out rumors and conspiracy theories regarding the next nemesis on their horizon:  Hillary Clinton.  The Benghazi theatre that the House of Representatives is orchestrating solely to embarrass the former Secretary of State and First Lady - and to suck money from their base - is just one example.  I also mentioned that some are questioning the timing of Chelsea's pregnancy and suggesting the former First Child managed to get herself pregnant for the sole purpose of making her mother into a more appealing presidential candidate.

I highlighted Monica Lewinsky's recent reemergence from the shadows of time, and suggested that she won't be the last ghost of Bill Clinton's presidency to put in an appearance.  There seems to be a strong desire in conservative quarters to mortally wound Hillary Clinton's political aspirations - and to get it done quickly.

All of those shots, including the Benghazi circus, are mere gnats on the corpse of true democracy compared to the most recent bomb lobbed by the reigning master of sleaze, Karl Rove.   In recent remarks at a conference Rove suggested, or at least strongly implied, that Mrs. Clinton might be suffering from brain damage.  Rove was talking about the fall the former Hillary suffered in 2012 due to dehydration, a fall that resulted in a blood clot in her brain and a delay in her testimony at that year's House Committee Benghazi hearing due to a brief hospitalization.

Rove supposedly noted that Hillary had spent thirty days in the hospital after the fall (it was actually three days), and that she left the hospital wearing a special type of sunglasses used by stroke victims.  The Daily Kos today published photos of Hillary wearing those same glasses - at several different times and locations - all prior to her accident.

Now, of course, once the thought is planted in the press and in the American consciousness, Rove is busy denying that he said what he said.  Again those words, "Hillary" and "brain damage," get to play out in the press by virtue of Rove's denial of having said them.

And some Republican politicians, like John McCain, have stepped forward to criticize Rove's assertion, stressing that "Hillary" obviously doe not have "brain damage" - again those words - again in the press.  Bill Clinton, himself a very cagey politician, was cornered by journalist Gwen Ifill and had to issue a denial to what was initially a very crafty lie.  Bill's denial became another news story using this same words.

Karl Rove, the man who set up the robocalls in South Carolina in 2008 which suggested John McCain had a black love child, has pulled a master stroke with this brain damage story.    It appears to be one of those proverbial gifts that just keep on giving.

And if Hillary steps forward denies the story - well, that's one more day the press and the public and link the words "Hillary" and "brain damage."

Karl, you've definitely won the past few news cycles.  But take care, pal - you're swimming with sharks!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gentlemen In Hades: The Story of a Damned Debutante

by Pa Rock

I don't go to flea markets very often anymore because they remind me too much of home.  But back in the day I've traipsed through many of the dank and dusty repositories of other people's junk.   One of my primary interests in those rats' nests of refuse and rubbish was always the shelves of old books.  I have one bookcase in my home today that is filled with these fragile, and often moldy, treasures.

Now that I have retired, a condition that suggests a bit of free time - though that is rarely the case, I have begun pulling some of those old books from the shelves and enjoying bits of the popular literature of bygone times - stuff that never quite made the leap from popular to classic.

Over the past few days I have worked by way through a fictional guide to the underworld.  Gentlemen in Hades:  A Story of a Damned Debutante was undoubtedly somewhat of a "hot" novel when it was written by Frederic Arnold Kummer back in 1930.  The book, a follow-up to an earlier Kummer novel entitled Ladies in Hades, tells the story of a young, gold-digging debutante from New York City, Lavinia McGann, who is trying to ensnare a rich boyfriend.  Unfortunately, the young man wrecks his car one night while they are out partying, an accident which leaves him with a broken arm and her quite dead with a broken neck.  She wakes up in Hell - not just in Hell, but in one of the poorest sections of Hell.

Lavinia doesn't relish the idea of living among the riffraff, so she sets out on a plan to establish herself among the high society, a group calling itself Hell's Four Hundred.  Her journey to the top of the infernal social order involves convincing Satan to give her money for a new wardrobe, securing a job with Benjamin Franklin, and sleeping her way to the top.   After a brief dalliance with Franklin, she hooks up with a bootlegger by the name of Cain, the Cain, because Hell "is as hot as Washington, D.C. in the summer, only dryer," and then has quick affairs with Noah (a drunkard who now runs the ferry service across the River Styx), Hercules, Don Juan, Casanova, Louis the 14th (who runs an antique shop in Hell along with Louis the 15th and 16th), Richard the Lionhearted (who has been sentenced by Satan to stay trapped inside of his suit of armor), Henry VIII (whose six wives are also in Hell, making his afterlife particularly agonizing), Nero, Adam (Cain's daddy), and finally Satan himself.

Although it is obvious from the author's clever dialogue and double entendres (a la Mae West) that Lavinia is bed-hopping her way to the top, there is no overt sex described in the pages of this book.  The author does paint a fascinating picture of Hell, a place with cars, cigarettes, bootleg gin, and some very interesting characters.  This Hell, in fact, seems to draw in all of the "best" people.

Gentlemen in Hades entertains as it gives a tour of one man's idea of the underworld.  I suspect it is a book that Mark Twain would have enjoyed - and I'm surprised he wasn't in it!  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday's Poetry: Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Tu Fu, also known as Du Fu, was an 8th century Chinese poet who practiced his craft during the Tang Dynasty.  Tu Fu, along with Li Bai, who also wrote poetry in the 8th century, are considered to be two of China's most renown poets.

I like the imagery put forth in today's poem.  It is literally awash in wine and blossoms as it chronicles the fears of an old man. a weary soul taking pleasure in the beauty of nature as he prepares to leave his final springtime behind.

We often picture spring as being the first of the seasons.  Here it appears as the last.

Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River
by Tu Fu

The sorrow of riverside blossoms inexplicable,
And nowhere to complain -- I've gone half crazy.
I look up our southern neighbor. But my friend in wine
Gone ten days drinking. I find only an empty bed.

A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.
Poems, wine -- even this profusely driven, I endure.
Arrangements for this old, white-haired man can wait.

A deep river, two or three houses in bamboo quiet,
And such goings on: red blossoms glaring with white!
Among spring's vociferous glories, I too have my place:
With a lovely wine, bidding life's affairs bon voyage.

Looking east to Shao, its smoke filled with blossoms,
I admire that stately Po-hua wineshop even more.
To empty golden wine cups, calling such beautiful
Dancing girls to embroidered mats -- who could bear it?

East of the river, before Abbot Huang's grave,
Spring is a frail splendor among gentle breezes.
In this crush of peach blossoms opening ownerless,
Shall I treasure light reds, or treasure them dark?

At Madame Huang's house, blossoms fill the paths:
Thousands, tens of thousands haul the branches down.
And butterflies linger playfully -- an unbroken
Dance floating to songs orioles sing at their ease.

I don't so love blossoms I want to die. I'm afraid,
Once they are gone, of old age still more impetuous.
And they scatter gladly, by the branchful. Let's talk

Things over, little buds ---open delicately, sparingly.