Category Archives: Automotive

Fair Joy

I know we talked about joy the other day, but… I want to talk about it again.

At the State Fair yesterday, a woman with two kids sat down next to me on the curb, waiting for the parade to begin.  The son was about 8 or so, the daughter was maybe 3.  She was adorable with bright blonde hair that curled around her face and the back of her neck.  She also had quite a dirty face – a combination of what looked like chocolate and something berry-ish. The berry stain had found a home on the front of her shirt as well.

The most interesting thing about this little girl was the fact that she was completely suffused with joy.  Everything about the parade was fascinating to her.  She couldn’t sit down, swaying and dancing as each band went by.  She ooh’ed and aaah’ed over the stilt walkers, the art cars, the waving princesses and especially the big bovines.  As each attraction reached us, she would turn to her mother, her face alight with pleasure, pointing out this newest discovery.

No matter how you measure it, nobody enjoyed the fair more yesterday than this toddler. 

When was the last time you got dirty (and enjoyed the process)?

Farm Report – Early July

The corn made knee high by the fourth of July.

It’s as high as a small elephant’s eye. There have been a few years the corn was only knee high on the fourth and those were extremely wet years and it was planted very late.

Beans are coming along and looking good. Oats is just starting to turn color. The green is fading and it’s turning yellow as it matures and dries out. Now I worry about storms and high winds knocking it down; we want rain, not storms.

We keep scouting the crops, watching stages of development and looking for diseases or insects. Beans can get aphids that affect yield. But we don’t spray for them unless it hits an ‘economic threshold’; the point where the cost of the damage from the pests would be greater than the cost of the spraying. That’s about 250 aphids / plant. It’s been a few years since I sprayed for aphids, it doesn’t happen very often. 

The corn I like to watch as the brace roots emerge – extra roots that come out to help stabilize it as it gets taller.

I found a few places where corn plants are still emerging after all these weeks. They’re too far behind the rest to amount to much; the ear most likely won’t fully develop or be dry enough by fall, but it’s pretty amazing the seed still grew this long after planting and being in the ground all that time!

We are delighting in the warm summer nights and enjoying the fireflies over the crops. They’re always such a treat to watch. Some of us like the “warm” part better than others of us. Growing Degree Units are up – 355 over normal.

I mentioned the helicopter spraying at the neighbors. I’ve always been fascinated with helicopters, so it was fun to watch that operation. I’ve been in a helicopter a couple times; Many years ago I took a helicopter tour over Gettysburg Battle grounds and just a few years ago a helicopter tour over Charleston SC. That was fun. 

One night, Kelly was taking a walk and she texted me that a hot air balloon was pretty low. We’ve had a few balloons land in our fields, but usually it’s winter and there’s no crops to worry about. It was a very still night and this guy had lost all his wind and was really just hanging there. I drove up and met his chase crew. I told him if he could at least get to the edge of a field and not land in the middle I’d be happy with that. He said he would do his best. And he did. He managed to get to a water way (just a grassy area) to land and the crew dragged him over to the road. Always fun to see them. If they land 3 times on the farm I get a free ride. It hasn’t happened so far. 

Still fixing things, had a flat tire on the lawnmower, which isn’t surprising given the areas I’m mowing. I couldn’t find a hole, so I took the tire apart and couldn’t find anything inside either, so bought a bottle of ‘Slime’ and put that inside and it worked! Plugged up the hole! (‘Slime’ is a green, thick, goop, you squirt inside a tire and it’s supposed to plug up holes and prevent new holes. I’d heard of it before, but never tried it.) I just bought a second bottle. If this works, I might be sold on it!

Working on the grain drill too. It needed some bushings on the arms that support the press wheels and a couple new bearings in the press wheels (they press the seed into the dirt for good ‘seed-to-soil’ contact.) Plus, one of the actual seed cups had been broken since I bought it. Wasn’t really hard to fix, but it was 44 little ¼” bolts and it takes two people. I have a college kid, Khalid, that is helping me with that. Waiting on parts to finish that project.

I also took the bucket off the loader and have it over at my nephew, Matt’s. He’s a welder and got his own shop going as a side business. The loader bottom was bent because I work it too hard. And it’s also 20 years old and it has pushed a lot of trees over. He tried to straighten the bottom, but it couldn’t be repaired so he got a new piece of steel for that and I ordered a new cutting edge from the dealer. Half the price of a new bucket and this will be better than new. [photo]

I bought another funnel at Menards. ¬¬Funnels are a mystery. I have a dozen different funnels and still didn’t have one that will hit the transmission oil filler on the lawnmower. Although this one today might! I even bought a funnel with a right angle on it and that wouldn’t reach either. Some funnels have too big of a funnel end. Some are too long that they’re awkward. Some are too narrow and the thick oil won’t flow through. Some are metal, some are plastic, some are tapered to one side, some are flexible but never the way I need them to be.

It doesn’t seem like it should be this hard, but I guess it is. You think “I’ll just get a funnel for this”, and then it doesn’t work. I got two flexible folding funnel things. Silicone and moldable, made to fit in wherever you can squeeze it. Sometimes that’s the right tool. I tell the kids a lot, “Every new job is an opportunity for a new tool”.

Helicopter ride? Hot air balloon ride? What’s the craziest/most fun thing you’ve ridden in? 

DMV Woes

Photo credit:  Rich Vintage/iStock

My driver’s license expires in three weeks.  I haven’t thought too much about it – I figured I’d do the REAL ID thing at the same time.  I’ve seen all the various documents and I’m well covered.  And even if for some reason I had trouble w/ the REAL ID, I have a valid passport so will still be able to travel, even after the (again) extended deadline.  I had even heard from somewhere that the DMV preferred that you make an appointment to get your license renewed.

So I was a little non-plussed when I went online yesterday to do the “pre-screening” for the REAL ID and make an appointment, only to find that you can’t get an appointment ANYWHERE in the Twin Cities area in the next month.  I would think that if everything were taking 2-3 months, we’d be hearing about it; I’m surely not the only one who didn’t think twice about having to renew so far in advance.

I called the AAA that I normally go to for all DMV things and the guy who answered the phone was very nice and when I told him my license would expire before I could get an appointment, this is what he counseled:

  • Go to the office so that you are there before opening.
  • If you are one of the first 15 people in line, they bring you into the building and you get waited on
  • If you are NOT one of the first 15, they take your phone number and will call you sometime later in the day with an appointment time
  • Apparently you have 15 minutes to get there (I’m hoping I mis-heard this, but probably not)

He then suggested that if you want to be in that golden first 15, you should shoot to arrive by 6:30 a.m. at the latest.  Sigh.

Looks like next week one morning I’ll be sitting in my stadium chair outside the DMV at 6 a.m.  I think the sun will be up by then so I won’t need a flashlight to read.

Any particular bureaucracy getting you down these days?

Late June Farm Report

Last week of June – The crops are looking better. Still need some rain, (all day rain on Saturday only gave us about 1/4 of an inch), so better than nothing, but keep it coming. I say that carefully.

Corn is finally tall enough and filling in enough I can’t see all the bald spots.

Soybeans are looking good and starting to get bushy and fill in.

Oats is all headed out – looks pretty good, looks like there will be a lot of grain out there. Knock on wood.

I changed some field boundaries this spring, so I’ve got one corn field that used to be two separate fields. This particular corn field was corn last year on half of it, and the other half was soybeans last year. (Normally crop rotation: soybeans last year means corn this year. Corn becomes oats, oats becomes soybeans. That helps with weeds, soil pests, and erosion.) But what’s really interesting is the corn on corn looks better and is taller than the corn on soybeans. And the only difference is the corn field was plowed up last fall, and the soybean field wasn’t. Is it soil compaction? Root structure? I will dig some up and investigate the roots. It’s very interesting; I need to ask more questions about why this looks so different.

I dug these up when the corn was about a month old. Notice the seed still down in the roots. And the other seed that just never sprouted. That was our spring. 

Been fixing stuff. Picked up parts. A bunch for the corn planter (new fertilizer disks and bearings) and some belts for the lawn mower, a new mower bearing, and other odds and ends. The lift bracket on the corn planter, the thing that actually raises and lowers the planter, was just wore out.

Replaced the pin and bracket, added some weld to the hole in the cylinder end so it’s more ‘round’ again. Then I ran into something and broke a big chunk out of the lawn mower hood so had to buy a new hood. I told Kelly I could just take the hood off and we could go ‘red-neck’. (And I did for a day while working on other parts) A friend put it best when he said, ‘You go redneck and pretty soon you’re judging yourself’. Yep. Good point. No trip for parts is complete without a stop at DQ.

Then the electric clutch that starts the mower wore out so replaced that. I’m also trying to get an older mower running again to use for around trees and to mow in the random areas. I’m mowing more area than I used too; behind barns, up in a grove, all in an effort to keep the weeds down.

I mentioned the barn swallows that have two nests by our front door. Here’s the kids’ double nest.

The parents’ condo is on the left side of the door. The kids took flight the day after this was taken.

My chicks are out in the world now. Of the 45 chicks we received on April 14, a few died as chicks and we let 36 out into the open. So far so good out in the world.

I’ve ordered 30 ducklings of mixed breeds. Be here July 27. I really do enjoy having the ducks around, but my goodness are they messy for the first month or so. Water and muck everywhere. I have a bulk bin down by the barn where I store cracked shell corn for the chickens and ducks. I toss some on the ground and I have some in feeders. They prefer it off the ground, I think. Course that also attracts squirrels, rabbits, birds, and, in winter, the deer and turkeys. 

When I was milking cows I had protein supplement stored in this bin. It feeds from an auger into a box inside the feedroom and I fill buckets from that box. It holds maybe a week’s worth of corn in the box. A few weeks ago, when it was so hot, I just got corn from the box and I didn’t run the auger at all. Never really thought about it. And then when I did turn on the auger, no corn came out. Well, sometimes that happens as the bin gets low; cracked corn doesn’t always ‘flow’ very well and sometimes I get a hollow spot. I climb up on top and I have a long stick that I use to knock the corn loose. (I do not get inside).

And what came out was this brown, liquid, sludge! Ewww! I don’t know what that was!! EEEEWWWWW!! It was really gross. There was a fair amount of it, like maybe a couple gallons. Here’s what I think happen: Sometimes when I get corn delivered, the previous load may have had liquid molasses added to the feed. I used to do that when I had calf feed made. And I’m wondering if maybe there was some of that old feed / old molasses down in the bottom, and it go so hot, the molasses all melted and sank to the bottom. Could that be a thing?? Because I’ve never seen it happen before and this stuff didn’t stink like anything rotten… Once that slug was out, it was back to corn and it hasn’t been a problem since. But I run the auger every few days too, now.


Wild black raspberries are out; they’re early this year. But just as yummy especially early morning when they’re still cool.

A former college student has been coming out to help on the farm lately. I enjoy the company and It helps me focus and get some jobs done. He’s also applied for a new job and the hours won’t be compatible to here. Such is life.

Got some big summer plans? Making any progress on them?

You Can’t Go Home Again

I lived in St. Louis for many years, including my formative “learn-to-drive” years.  In high school I drove all over the west and south county burbs.  No GPS, no “directions” printed out from a computer.  And no problems.

But now that I’m back in the city to assist my mother, I am completely lost.  Nothing looks familiar even when I’m absolutely in a place I know I’ve been before.  In the last few days I’ve mastered the way from Nonny’s condo to the grocery store and back but everything else, I’m using my phone to guide me. There just isn’t anything that pings my memory as I’ve driven around doing various errands. As I was driving yesterday to pick up a shower seat from a friend of my mom’s I realized that if my phone went out, I would have NO idea how to get home. I’d have to stop at a gas station and ask!  

Is it just me or can you really not go home again?

The Driveway

Big doings this week at our house.  After 30 years the driveway is getting re-done!  It’s looked awful for years, the cement seams filled with weeds and the asphalt part crumbling but I let it go as long as I possibly could.  But starting last year we’ve had to be way too careful driving up and down because the ruts in the blacktop were deep enough that if you just drove straight up/down, you could scrape the bottom of the car.

It turned out to be a two-day job because I decided to replace the little paving blocks in the back with a real sidewalk as well.  The first day, they demolished the driveway, moved the paving stones and dug a nice trench for the sidewalk.  Then in a very smart move (amazing how they know their own business!!) they covered everything in plastic; it poured buckets overnight.  Watching them take up the soaking wet plastic and get as much of the water into my yard and my neighbor’s yard instead of onto the driveway was almost painful.

The cement business seems like periods of very hard physical labor punctuated with standing around.  Waiting for the next phase of the job begins or waiting for some piece of the job that someone else has to do gets done.  Just as well – if they worked that hard for 7 hours straight, no one could last in the job!

The cement truck couldn’t get all the way up the driveway so they filled an intermediate container on wheels – looked like a big bug.  Then from the bug to the wheelbarrows, then the hard work of spreading it and shaping it.

All this excitement was hard on the dog and the cat.  Of course, with all the work in the backyard, Guinevere had to do all her business at the end of a leash and overnight she had to be “escorted” into the yard to make sure she stayed off the plastic.  The noise made her a bit anxious but keeping her upstairs helped a bit.  Nimue also disliked the noise and disruption; I’m never quite sure how much she picks up from the anxious dog and how much is her own crabbiness at having her routines varied.  Not that her routine actually varied that much.

There were a lot of logistics for us as well.  First there’s the car issue.  You’re not supposed to drive on the new cement for 7 days.  And after spending the last year reading about people breaking into cars or stealing catalytic converters, we were both a little hesitant to park on the street overnight.  We decided to be a one-car family for a week; hers stayed in the garage and I parked on the street during the day and then in my neighbor’s driveway at night.  Second issue was the dog – she spent three days on “house arrest” – only getting out when she was supervised or on a leash.  Third issue was actually the biggest… this was SO distracting.  YA and I both were fascinated and I think we would have easily just sat and watching the proceedings for the entire 2 days. 

It looks fabulous now and I can’t wait until the first time I can drive up it and not worry about getting all the way to the right or left to keep from scrapping!

What’s a project that you put off too long (currently or in the past)?

Infernal combustion

Husband has always considered it his job to mow the lawn. Most of the yard is flower beds, vegetable gardens, and strawberry and raspberry patches. There isn’t much to mow.

I usually mowed the lawn when I lived with my parents after about Grade 6. It was easy. The lawnmower was always well maintained by my father, who loved tinkering and was very mechanically minded. I, too, am very mechanically minded and love to tinker, but while he taught me basic car maintenance, like how to change the oil on my car, Dad never taught me the finer points of small engine maintenance.

My husband is a very scholarly fellow who can write and reason with the best of them, but who was never taught how to fix things. His father was very unhandy. So was his uncle, who somehow was an engineer in a nuclear power plant in Ohio. (He had trouble replacing blades in his own razor.)

We have not had good luck with our mowers. I imagine sitting in the garage all winter without any preparation or winterizing, and then being expected to burst into action in the spring with just a little oil added isn’t the best way to deal with these engines. Last weekend, Husband tried to mow, but the thick smoke pouring from the mower was so noxious for us and the neighbors that he stopped in disgust. We had even had it looked at last fall by a small engine repair guy, but it was not helpful.

We made a trip to Menards and Husband bought an old fashion reel mower, what I would call a push mower. Today he assembled it all by himself while I was at work, and mowed our lawn. No more smoke. No more anxiety every spring if the lawnmower will work. We just have to figure out how to sharpen the blades.

How are you at fixing things? How do you maintain your lawnmower? What are your experiences with reel mowers?

I Can’t Remember What I’ve Forgotten

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been donating blood for many, many years. And for many of those years, I did not know what type blood I had coursing through my body. I asked a couple of times and then promptly forgot it. When I decided that I just wanted to have it in my brain when I needed it, I figured I’d better come up with a good mnemonic.
It turned out to be pretty easy. I have type “O”, which is the most common. (It’s also the only blood type that doesn’t have an antigen, which means I can donate to any other blood type.) So I thought, “O = Ordinary”. I’ve never forgotten since then.

I use mnemonics quite a bit but I’m having trouble finding a good one for my new car license plate. Not that you need to know your license plate all that often, but every now and then it comes in handy. My last license plate was pretty easy. It was RDJ 430 and I used “Return to Darling Jenai at 4:30”. 4:30 is quitting time at my company.

But the state in all its wisdom decided in January that I had to have a new license plate. I’m not sure why they do this; it’s not like they wear out. Anyway, my new license is MZZ 798 and for the life of me, I can’t of anything good to help me remember it. I suppose I could just write it down someplace and not try to come up with a good memory jog, but knowing myself, I’ll forget where I wrote it down!

Any thoughts to help me remember?

Goodbye, Big REd

My most delightful coworker told me a very funny story the other day about the demise of her beloved red Honda van. It must date from 2000 or so, and has a gazillion miles on it. She has kept it going far longer than the mechanics or her husband thinks she should have. For a while , she could only get it into gear by sticking a screwdriver in the top of the steering wheel. She just had new tires on it and planned to keep driving it, when she started to have trouble with the horn.

My friend told me that she was on her way to a home visit for a client when she parked in front of the house, turned off the engine, and opened the door. The horn started honking and wouldn’t stop. She phoned her husband in a panic. He told her to drive the car a couple of blocks and see what would happen, She did, and the honking stopped until she again turned off the engine and opened the door. She tried starting, driving, parking, and stopping four more times. By the final attempt the honking wouldn’t stop at all, and she drove across town with her horn honking until she got home and her husband disconnected some cable. She said she was so embarrassed driving like that, as other drivers were pulling over and letting her pass as she drove by. Many waved at her in recognition, and others started following her to see where the big emergency was. She said “I always wanted people in town to know who I am, but this wasn’t quite what I meant!”

I commented that this was the end of Big Red, her pet name for the vehicle. She still thought she could get it fixed, but her husband put his foot down and said it was the end for the van. Now she is stuck driving the brand new Honda van they bought this winter that she didn’t like very much because of all the fancy gadgets on it.

What is the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in public?  What has been your favorite vehicle?

Farm Update!

Today’s post comes to us from Ben.

It’s the first part of May when this posts and I’ve got some corn planted and we had some rain finally. But in farming blogs, we are still back in early April and I’ve got one field of oats to plant yet.

I worked at the college, had some meetings and changed three house lights in the theater. Went out about 7 o’clock at night to work up the last field to be oats. The new LED headlights on the tractor are fantastic. Such a white color and so bright, they are awesome. Only problem is, it is so dry, there is so much dust behind me I can barely see. No breeze, so it all just hung with me.

The new LED interior light is really nice too. A nice orange to light up the controls, it’s very bright and really nice.

Rain predicted for the last two days has not amounted to anything. Sprinkles last night, about noon today it rained enough to make the cement wet. Still talking rain overnight and scattered showers the next two days. We did get .4”.

The day after the rain I did plant part of the last field of oats. Well, I started and tried. We’ve gotten just enough rain the dirt is a little bit sticky. Dirt sticks to the press wheels of the drill and builds up. (There are blades which cut a track the seed drops into, and then the ‘press wheels’ cover it up.) It’s a problem when dirt builds up on them, because that affects the depth of the seed. I planted ¾ of the field before I ran out of seed, but I really shouldn’t have been planting in these conditions anyway. But they’re talking more rain so I’m trying to rush and that is rarely helpful. I swapped a press wheel that seems to be dragging. Left the crescent wrench lay on the drill and lost it in the field somewhere. Dang. It should be easy to find; it’s shiny and silver laying in black dirt. And it should have fallen off the back so not run over or anything, it should just be laying right there. I walked the field, I drove the field with the gator, and the 4 wheeler. Multiple times. I cannot find it.

Three weeks later I found a crescent wrench in the bottom of the tool box. Hmmm… was that wrench always down there? Did I somehow put the wrench from the drill down there? Or is this a different wrench? It’s a mystery, but since I still haven’t found one in the field, maybe…? 

Most every farmer carries some tool with him. As I grew up, the multi tools, like Leatherman or Gerber, weren’t popular, or maybe not even invented yet so Dad and I carried pliers. Dad wore the pants with a plier pocket built in. I didn’t like that; I wore a belt with a pouch for the pliers and a pouch for a swiss army knife. The pliers are on my left side, knife on my rear right, cell phone clipped to my right pocket. At the college, if I’m wearing my tool belt, all the tools, including the pliers, are on my right. I have to move the phone to my left pocket and my hammer hangs on my left side too. I’ve tried wearing the hammer at my back like the professional carpenters do… still working on that; it’s not natural yet.

It takes a day or two at each place to remember where my pliers are. I’ve tried swapping the pliers at home, but they’re heavy and they pull the belt out of the loops when undone and then the pliers fall out. So that doesn’t work.

Dad wore his belt buckle off to the side, like after the first belt loop. I never understood that. He just said it’s how he learned. Maybe because he was lefthanded.

How ambidextrous are you? What do you always carry?