Category Archives: Technology


This week’s Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

The weather warmed up and I got the car washed. For now.

And now It’s snowing and cold again. Oh well. It’s January in Minnesota.

The ducks and chickens did enjoy the melting snow and grass coming out of the snow; they really like having some dirt to scratch in. Everyone was enjoying the sun.

 The chickens don’t like to walk through too much snow. They’ll do a little, especially if they know there’s some dirt beyond it. Except this white chicken.

She doesn’t seem to care about the snow. Kelly calls her “sturdy and hearty”. Yeah, well, she’s something all right. She’s mean too. She will cut you! Reach under her for an egg and she’ll bite and twist and not let go!  

Daughter and I took all three dogs to the vet this week; they all needed shots. And we got ice cream. Also signed papers for the loans for corn and soybean seed. And on the way home, picked up a ton of ‘egg layer’ ration for the chickens. Thank goodness for pallet forks.

We pour a 50 pound bag of egg layer into a container mounted on the wall, then fill the chickens feeders from there. If I leave the bag on the ground, the chickens will peck a hole in it. And I don’t use enough to warrant getting it in bulk.

It makes me think of how much stuff used to come in bags. I’ll be interested in Clyde’s memories of this.

For my dad, I suppose in the 1940’s there wasn’t so much stuff in bags as they used their own corn for seed and there wasn’t commercial fertilizer or feed supplements. In my childhood, we were always going to pick up feed, seed, fertilizer, and supplements. There were always bags of something around.

I remember a truck coming late winter early spring loaded with several tons of fertilizer bags. I was too small to help or maybe in school, but one day the corner of the shed would be filled with bags of corn starter fertilizer. Seems like those were 60 or even 80 lb bags. My dad was strong! I think he worked a lot harder than I do; just the sheer physical labor of everything back then compared to what I do now. When planting time came, he would load those fertilizer bags into the truck and then dump them into the planter every few acres. Those bags were handled 3 times. Now I get it all delivered in bulk truck, put in the wagon, and unloaded via auger. Pretty easy for me.

The milk cows got protein supplements added to their feed. I used to buy that in bags. Fifty pounds each, and I’d get 500 or 1000 lbs. Sometimes 2000 lbs at once; it just depended on the checkbook I think. Eventually I put up a bulk bin and then I could order a ton or two and another truck with an auger would unload it. I still carried bushel baskets of ground corn to the cows, but it was a bulk truck that delivered the corn and unloaded it into the barn. When we picked our own ear corn, we had to grind it before feeding it to the cows. After I went to shelled corn, the co-op would crack it before delivering.  I remember dad having a “hammer mill” to grind up the corn. The mill sat down by the barn and first he’d have to shovel ear corn from the crib into the truck, then shovel the corn in the hammer mill, which pulverized it via swinging metal bars, called hammers, hence “Hammer mill”. (Let’s not forget, he may have had to pick that corn by hand, throw it in a wagon, and shovel it into the crib in the first place! Read more about hammer mills here:

Eventually he bought a ‘Grinder Mixer’, which was a hammer mill and tank on wheels. We took that to the crib, shoveled the corn ONCE into the grinder, added minerals if needed and it all mixed up and it had an auger that we could unload into the barn. I shoveled a lot of ear corn to grind feed. Had to do that every 10 days or so. The mixer held about 5000 lbs.  And you don’t see them too much anymore. Different ways of feeding cattle that are less labor intensive.

My seed still comes in bags, but for the bigger farmers, some of the seed is starting to come in bulk. Soybeans mostly. Sometimes wheat or other small grains depending how they do it.

Before I bought the pallet forks and had this building, When I got chicken feed or milk cow protein, it was put in an old building called the ‘blue building’ because it used to be blue. It was faded and dull white as I remember it. When we picked up the feed from the coop, it was loaded into the truck from their pallets by hand, then unloaded at home, bag by bag into the blue building.  Then I’d haul them to barn as needed, usually 4 or 5 at a time every week. There was a just a lot more daily chores. And it wasn’t “work”, it was just part of the day. I was talking with daughter about that. I never said I was “going to work”, it was just “going outside” and that might mean milking cows, grinding feed, hauling bags, or who knows what.

Have I mentioned how hard my dad worked? So much has changed, so much has gotten physically easier in farming.

What do you think of milk in bags?

More or less bags in your life these days?

How Many Times are a Charm?

As you all know, I have an ancient house; it is not the easiest to heat.  Ten years ago, when the Airport Commission replaced our upstairs windows, the house became harder to heat evenly7.  The windows are not only great sound abatement but they hold the hot air in really effectively.  This means that during really cold weather, the temperature difference between the downstairs and the upstairs is significant.

On Sunday morning, I lingered upstairs, reading longer than usual and I noticed that it was chillier than usual.  Since it was well below zero outside, I didn’t think too much about it but as I descended the stairs for breakfast, it felt like I was entering a walk-in cooler.  A quick look at the thermostat gave me a little shock… 56 degrees.  We have one of those set-back thermostats and it is set quite cold during the night (since we’re in the warmer upstairs, asleep under covers) but the program has it set to start warming up at 6 a.m.  At this point it was after 8 and it still hadn’t warmed up at all. 

I started to panic – I always feel like I’m on the edge where house maintenance is concerned and I envisioned days of frozen fingers and toes.  Then I remembered that I’d had someone out to do boiler maintenance at the end of the summer – so it didn’t seem likely that it was a boiler fail.  And THEN I remembered that quite a few years back, someone coming out to check the heat had discovered that the batteries in my thermostat had died.  Since I can’t remember any time (in years) that I’ve changed those batteries, I thought I would try that. 

I spent a couple of hours checking and re-checking the temperature and the radiators, studiously NOT turning on the oven or the space heater so I could be sure any rise in temp was due to the boiler alone.  It took about 2 ½ hours to get up to 65, at which point I finally breathed a sigh of relief.  I congratulated myself on figuring out the problem on my own.

Monday morning was a splash of cold water in my face.  When I went downstairs, it was 56 degrees again.  After a few seconds of panic, I realized that it was only 6:15 – there hadn’t been enough time for it to warm up yet.  This didn’t keep me from checking several times over the next hour until I was sure everything was fine.  Phew!

When was the last time you got it right but didn’t trust that you got it right?

At the Master’s Feet

Husband grew up with a father who had virtually no mechanical skills. Husband never could watch anyone fix anything when he was a child, and has a hard time, even now, knowing how make repairs without considerable anxiety and error. His father’s lack of mechanical skill was a trait shared by his father’s older brother, who was an engineer at a nuclear power plant in Chillicothe, OH. He needed help installing a blade in an Atra razor, yet he was in charge of a power plant. I marvel at that still.

I consider myself lucky to have had a dad who loved it when I watched him fix things. He did all his own plumbing, electrical, and automotive work, and I watched him as often as I could, fascinated in how tools worked, how he planned and strategized, and how he problem solved when things didn’t work out as planned.

Our recent adventure in plumbing gave Husband a chance to observe a master at work. Husband spent all day as our plumber’s helper, handing him tools, watching him assemble and solder things, and helping him install pipe. He had a lot of fun and learned a lot. When, the next day, our garbage disposal stopped working, he was calm, tried resetting the breaker in the basement, tried using the tool provided with the disposal to unstick the blades in the case of them being stuck, and then decided that our 15 year old disposal needed to be replaced. I agreed with him, but thought about it a minute, and then searched under the disposal for a button I wasn’t sure was there, found it, pushed it, and heard the disposal whirr back in to business. The reset button had tripped. Husband had the grace to laugh and think kindly of my button pushing skills, as that is what a lot of repair is-randomly pushing buttons to see what will happen, It always seems to work for me.

What master craftspeople would you like to watch? Who pushes your buttons?

Fill `Er Up!

I am living proof that nothing ever goes as easily as it should.

The toilet in my bathroom is ancient.  It’s probably the original toilet from when the bathroom was put in over 100 years ago.  This is a good thing; it has a large tank and this means there are very rarely any issues with it doing its job.  Understanding that this means a bigger water usage, for many years YA and kept a full bottle of water sitting inside the tank to take up space  – this ended when I realized the rust from the bottle’s lid was causing problem.  These days we use other water-saving methods.  You’ll have to use your imagination for this.

In the 30 years that I’ve owned my house, I have been able to fix any toilet issues since most of them have to do with simply replacing parts of the flush assembly.  In fact at any given time I have an extra tank ball in waiting:

But it never fails that any time I mess with the toilet, it takes longer than I think it should. And then there’s the proverbial additional trip to the hardware store.  Before the holidays, the telltale signs that the tank ball was nearing the end of its life began to happen.  As I was considering when I should deal with it, the small metal hook that holds the tank ball to the toilet arm suddenly failed – first time ever.  Since it just straight up broke, I had to purchase a new generic kit and fashion a new hook.  Easy peasy, right?  But the tank kept having trouble filling, so at that point, I replaced the tank ball, which had been sitting on the counter, as I had been intending.  But that didn’t fix it. 

So the Sunday morning after Christmas, I decided to tackle it again.  After watching the various mechanisms through several cycles, I decided that I had fashioned the hook to be too big and it was pulling against the tank ball.  So I made it smaller.  This turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to do.  A bit more internet research uncovered that I should have made it longer, not shorter.  Of course, another trip to the hardware store.  Everything seemed fine for a day or two and then trouble again.  As I was peppering the toilet with salty language, YA poked her head in.  It was then that she mentioned that she had replaced the tank ball the week before.  So when I made my replacement, I had used the older version that she had left on the counter.  Sigh.  It’s been over a week and all seems well.  But I’m still wondering why it’s never as easy as it should be?

Do you have something that needs repeated fixing?

The Water Tower

I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for forty years.  Not that this had made me an expert, but every now and then I feel a little sheepish about what I don’t know.

On Christmas Day YA and I drove to Hudson to have dinner with friends.  These friends just moved to Hudson in June, so this was the first time we would visit them in their new home.  I let YA put the address into my phone’s GPS.  YA has been on a campaign to change my GPS of choice from Google Maps to some other direction-finder.  She is convinced that my difficulties with Google will be solved with this new app (I am constantly confused when Google changes the perspective while I’m driving; oftentimes I think I have more time before a turn and then suddenly Google zooms in and I’m either missing the turn or swerving quickly to make it.)

The fact of using GPS is a little frustrating to me.  As a teenager, driving all over the suburbs of St. Louis, I don’t ever remember getting lost or turned around; I certainly didn’t have a city map that I consulted.  I’ve thought about this a lot over the years as I’m pretty sure my penchant for getting turned around is getting worse as time goes by.   And what I’ve come to is that GPS is what’s making it worse.  Prior to the internet and GPS, if you went to a friend’s new house, you’d call them up and ask for directions.  You’d usually get a mix of “go two miles, then turn left at the Shell station, then go four blocks and turn left on Discovery Street, we’re the fifth house in on the left, white with green trim.”  This seems highly sensible to me.  Now I just turn when I’m told; I’m not keeping track of how many miles or blocks I’m going and not paying attention to what’s on the corner when I’m turning. 

Anyway, the new app that YA likes shows where there are traffic signals along the way.  It also shows some landmarks (although not helpful in terms of where to turn).  As we were driving over the 94 bridge toward St. Paul, I noticed the GPS noting “The Witches Hat Water Tower”.  I looked up and there it was – as clear as day over the trees – and definitely living up to its name.  The water tower, which sits in Prospect Park, was built in 1913, designed by Norwegian-born architect Frederick William Cappelen. 

I used to work in St. Paul so I used to drive over the 94 bridge 10 times a week, not to mention all the other times I’ve driven that direction over the decades.  I have not once noticed that there is a water tower that looks like a witch’s hat.  Not once.   I’m thinking that maybe I should keep using the app that YA prefers – who knows what else I’ll find!

Once you’ve driven someplace, do you remember how to get there the next time?


I have a dear friend whose husband is dealing with a serious, life-shortening illness.  She’s been away from her home for over a month now while he’s been at Mayo and they are looking down the barrel of a long series of treatments.  I visited her on Sunday and she told me that she had woken up the day before with a better attitude.  Apparently another friend of hers had just been to a funeral for an infant who had died of SIDs.  The realization that there were other tragic things going and if others are getting through their horrible stuff, she could too.   It’s not an easy thing to do – try to find some balance in the face of trauma and grief.  And the last two years have certainly given us plenty of that.  a

It seems pathetic to suggest that pandemic has brought us anything good, but as I was thinking about all this, I placed an order at Target for pick-up.  You select your items on the app, pay for it online, tell the app when you’re leaving for Target and when you get there.  Then you sit in your car and they bring it out to you.  Easy peasy.  You can wear your sweatpants, you can have spilled your lunch on your shirt, you don’t have to comb your hair and better yet, you don’t have to search for a parking spot and you don’t have to go in the store!  There is yet one more advantage – no impulse shopping; if all you need is grenadine and diet pop, that’s all you get.  No cookies or chips off an endcap!

While I cannot wait for us to be able to say we’re looking at pandemic in the rear-view mirror, I am hoping that the drive-up option remains.  I am so addicted already.

Any other silver linings you can think of these days?


The big news around here is all the airline disruption the last couple of weeks.  As if there aren’t enough problems with travel right now, getting stuck for hours (or days!) when you’re just trying to get home to your own bed is no fun at all.  One of my co-workers was on the way home and got stuck in Dallas.  And because so many other folks were likewise waylaid, he couldn’t find a hotel near the airport; getting too far from the airport wasn’t a good idea, as flights and flight times were changing minute by minute.  Two nights sleeping in DFW.  He wasn’t the only one, judging by the news.

I’ve had my fair share.  On my trip to Kenya, the flight from Minneapolis to New York was late; I ran and made the flight to Nairobi, but my bag didn’t.  It didn’t catch up with me until four days later so I was washing clothes out in the sink every night.  I slept in Chicago’s O’Hare once – similar to my co-worker, too far to get to an available hotel and then get back.  Once a flight I was on out of Madrid turned back because the door of the landing gear wouldn’t shut.  (Apparently the drag caused by that open door would have meant we didn’t have enough fuel to get to the U.S.)  The airline eventually put us up in a hotel near the airport.  It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever been in – not much bigger than a shoebox.  I also got stuck overnight in Costa Rica when a flight cancelled.  That one was actually fun as I was traveling with my client, her husband and the account exec on the program.  We got hotel rooms, ordered pizza, watched some football; the only downside was the horrendous lines at the airport in the morning because the computer system didn’t want to have two flights with the same number on one day. 

Whenever I have issues traveling I think back to Hawaii by James Michener.  He describes in quite a bit of detail the ship that they sailed from Massachusetts, down around South America and on to Hawaii.  If I’m ever tempted to complain, I just compare what I’m going through to spending 2 months onboard a rolling ship with personal space smaller than that small hotel room in Madrid! 

What’s the worst place you’ve ever been stuck in?

Where No Ketchup Has Gone Before

“First came the billionaires, then the movie stars — now ketchup is making its mark on the space race.”  (CNN November 8, 2021)

At first glance, this seemed like a silly story – Heinz had made “Marz Edition” of their ketchup using tomatoes that were produced in a controlled environment similar to what plants could expect if they were growing up on the Red Planet.

But turns out this was a serious experiment by 14 astrobiologists as part of long-term food harvesting  strategy for NASA.  I guess astronauts and Mars pioneers need a little more than freeze-dried ice cream (which is awful, by the way) to get by.

The ketchup will not be available to the public but there will be a big taste test tomorrow – if you are Twittered or Instagramed, you can watch it at 10 a.m. ET.  For the rest of us, we’ll just have to dream.

If you have a couple of Martian acres, what would you want to grow (and would you want to garden in person or from a distance)? 

The Mighty Wurlitzer

Every now and then I am surprised by the new and different things I stumble upon.  I’ve lived in the Twin Cities since 1980 and while I would never presume to know all there is to know about Minneapolis/St. Paul, I like to think I’m in the know on a lot of what is here.

In August a friend/neighbor asked me to teach him how to make pesto.  Kind of a tempest in a teapot – a quick internet search will show you dozens of recipes and “how to” videos – but it wasn’t an imposition, so I went up and showed him how.  As a thank you he asked if I had ever been to the Heights Theatre and when I said “no”, he insisted that we go to one of their special shows.  Apparently every month they do a screening of a vintage movie on their big screen which is preceded by the playing of their “Mighty Wurlitzer”. 

The vintage movie on Monday night was Singin’ in the Rain.  My friend has been to the theatre many times, so bowing to his experience we sat in the front row, just off to the right.  It turns out that this is the best vantage point to watch the Wurlitzer player (and not a bad seat for the movie itself).  In addition, my friend knows everyone who works there, so I got a great tutorial about the organ from one of the engineers, including all kinds of photos of the pipes and instruments behind the scenes.  Suffice it to say I had no clue about how extensive a set-up a big Wurlitzer has.

I’ve never seen Singin in the Rain on the big screen and it was amazing. It made me a little sad to think about how thoroughly our society has taken to the small screen – phones, tv, ipads, laptops.  Even most movie theatres have cut down screen size to make room for more.  Made me think back to when I saw Star Trek: Wrath of Khan on the massive screen at the now-defunct Cooper.  The opening shot of stars and space took my breath away.  Even without the Wurlitzer experience, I may have to keep going to the Heights to enjoy films on a really big screen!

What’s the last thing you saw on a big screen?


I love Halloween.  Admittedly I love lots of holidays and special occasions.  (I sent cards to a few people on National Eat a Peach Day this year.) 

We used to decorate a lot more but the current terrorist tabby and devil dog make indoor décor a little difficult.  For many years YA and had ghosts playing ring-a-round the rosy out front and some years we’ve had spider webs adorning the front evergreen.  I always do a cornstalk and usually a few days before Halloween, I get pumpkins (if I get them sooner, the squirrels just eat them). 

Then on the night of Halloween I put out my luminaries.  I made these when YA was little (and I couldn’t afford to buy décor).  Mandarin orange tin cans painted orange and then stamped with pumpkins and black cats and eerie clouds – then I punched holes in them with a hammer and nail.  (I filled them with water and frozen them first – made it much easier to punch the holes.)

I love seeing trick-or-treaters and when YA was little, we used to have quite a number.  As the years went by, it’s gotten less and less.  From what I’ve read, this is common everywhere, not just my street.  Of course, pandemic threw a monkey wrench into trick-or-treating.  Last year I put candies into little bags with orange ribbon 3 weeks before Halloween, wore a mask and held the bowl out as far as I could.  I only have to do this three times; only four trick-or-treaters last year.  It was very sad.

When I saw the “Candy Map” app on a Nextdoor thread, I asked YA about it.  You put your address in indicating you’ll be open for business on Halloween night so all the little zombies and princesses can find you.  I don’t know if it will bring more costumes to the door but we decided to give it a try.  I went ahead and filled little bags again this year – I did twelve.  I’d love it if I have to quickly fill more bags but even if I give out twelve, it will be three times more than last year.

Do you pass out treats on Halloween?  What kind?