Food, Inc.

This will be a brief post seeing as how it’s 2:30 in the morning.

I just finished watching Food, Inc. In my case, ok, it was preaching to the choir…but if you haven’t watched it, take the time to do so. Please. It’s no longer available for free online but you can stream it from Netflix, if you have an account.

There are a handful of things that I’m very, very passionate about; my relationship, my faith, my scooters, wrenching, building, and FOOD. Food, Inc. is at the heart of WHY we’re attempting to get off-grid, why we’re putting in a huge garden with a ridiculous variety of plants, why we’re attempting to cut the ties that bind us to the hamster wheel that is the  American Way in the 21st Century.

If you have any questions feel free to post them up in the comments or email me. WE, you, me, everyone around us, CAN effect change that benefits all of us. And not that blow-hard, ad-agency, uber-spin crapapotamos that politicians fling at us hoping it’ll stick long enough to get them elected.

WE control our lives, our choices, our decisions–there’s a really good saying from the Good Book, “God helps those who help themselves.” I really don’t think it was talking about huge, soul-less, multi-national corporations. And it isn’t talking about who grabs the last piece of cake, either. It was talking about thee and me…

Get yer mind right, kids. I’m thinking we’re in for a long, hard row to hoe.

Iowa Trip ’09

I’m in the middle of working up a new and original post but, in the meantime, since I am jonesin’ for a road trip, I’ll share the ride report from last summer’s quick trip into Iowa. I apologize for much of the in-talk and off-hand language as this was originally posted to (my most frequent on-line haunt). Future travel postings will, I hope, exhibit somewhat better prose.

Ok, finally sorted through the 500 or so shots I took and selected a few to edit and size for teh interwebz!

Lemme start at the beginning. I left out last Wednesday to cruise up to see Stimpy in Cedar Rapids. Most of you know how much I hate freakin’ 4-lane highway, not because I’m chicken, but because I was a truck driver. There isn’t much else in this life as dull, boring, and downright soporific as the big roads. Blech.

So I decided to back road it up to Hannibal and stop in to visit Mr. Twain at the Mark Twain Museum. You know, check out the old boy’s boyhood home and such. Needless to say it was gorgeous most of the way to Hannibal. I zigged and zagged quite a bit as I needed to say hello to Old Man River (the Mississippi for you non-literary types).

If you’ll look carefully at the sky you might detect an ominous warning of what was to come. I knew I was going to run into rain, but from my careful examination of I determined that I’d make it to Hannibal right before the rain hit. What I didn’t factor in was such a scenic little road with a handful of scenic overlooks. Of course I had to stop and snap a few (dozen) shots o’ #5…so this activity cost me very precious minutes. Several miles south of Hannibal proper, the bottom fell out.

The last 8 miles were ridden at 35-40 mph. It was an absolute deluge. I couldn’t see anything, but #5 just kept merrily rolling along as if, in a previous life, he had been a tugboat or some other marine apparatus.

Upon arriving in Hannibal I headed straight for a Laundromat. I was soaked and, stupidly, I’d worn cotton underwear. NOT comfy when soaking wet. Drying out took most of an hour, during which the sunshine poured from behind dark clouds hurrying on eastward. By the time I made it over to the Museum it was once again a spectacular day.

The sculpture was, imo, the best part of the Museum complex. It was really cool, though, to be able to look left from Mr. Twain’s front door and see the River. Pretty compelling stuff for an old bookworm, lemme tell ya.

But onward and northward called and #5 was itching for me let the reins out and let him have his head. The dry-off delay had cost dearly, I wasn’t going to be able to zig and zag back roads up to Cedar Rapids. Nope, I had to get out on the dreaded 4-lane and roll.

So I did.

And I sang, a LOT, in order to stay awake.

About 30 miles south of Cedar Rapids I again ran into rain. Really, really COLD rain. A front was pushing east and dropping temps by 20* degrees. Thank God for heated grips. I kicked those bad boys on and kept on rolling. Once #5 and I finally got through the last bit of downpour we got a present.

Yup, that sucker is a double rainbow. Now, some of you may recall from last year, when Julian and I arrived in College Station, we were greeted with a similar spectacle. Makes ya wonder, doesn’t it? Mebbe it’s just the good Lord (or your chosen deity or Mother Nature or what have you) giving ya a wink and a smile and urging you onward. Nice thought any way ya look at it.

Before too long #5 and I arrived at Chad’s (Stimpy433).

The man has a NICE shop, and #5 was grateful to rest his weary variator with some pleasant Japanese company.

George showed up after a bit and we all went out to dinner at the Irish Democrat. We promptly forgot all about taking a funny pic of HT [i]in[/i] a “Democrat” and grubbed down. We headed back to Chadly’s to do what Rucksters do best: drink BEER!

[b]HEY, MYMISTERB[/b]…..

[b]It’s those damned [color=#FF40BF]PINK[/color] Camels![/b]

After a raucous night of imbibing copious amounts of tasty adult beverage, we crashed out about 4 am. Helloooo, Rucksters can party, folks!

You TR peeps have already all been treated to most of the fun we had on Thursday thanks to Chad’s Ninja cell phone, so I won’t bore any of you with that. Fast forward to dinnertime.

Sign about town.

The restaurant, think Hooters with plaid…LOL

Of course places that are all about T&A, well, you don’t really expect much, food wise…but lemme tell ya, the grub at this joint was great! AND they had Shiner Bock on TAP. Ahhhh, heaven!

Chad’s chiliburger.

Nom, nom, nom!

My “Fat Bastard”. Yes, that is EXACTLY what it’s called on the menu.

Nom, nom…..I ate it alllllllllllll…
Chadly doing what he does best…before, during, and after dinner  😆

Cedar Rapids is known as The City of Five Season’s for some strange reason I never quite caught. But the locals prefer to call it The City of Five[i] Smells [/i]because of places like the following.

Quaker Oats on the Cedar River.

Hometown boy.

I had intended to head out on Thursday, but hanging out with Chad was really a lot of fun…but Friday morning rolled around and it was onward and westward for #5 and me. I decided since I was already in Iowa I’d cruise on over to Ames and check out Iowa State. They have a graduate program in my field and I wanted to lay eyes on the town; mebbe get a feel for the campus.

#5 saying bye to his new buddies and hello to a drizzle.

So packed my gear back on #5 and west we went.

Into more rain.

And a driving crosswind that made the 100 mile ride to Ames waaaaay more exciting than it should have been. Especially since about 25 miles of 2 lane was scraped bare and had yet to be repaved. That is NOT a cool feeling.

So Ames has a beautiful campus and a neat shopping area. Yay. Whatever. I needed coffee and WiFi…and I found both at some little Brazilian cafe/bar. They also had food and I realized I was hungry.

Even tastier than it looks, believe me.

So I ate a bauru sandwich while I pored over my trusty Delorme Iowa, and Missouri Gazetteers and Google maps. Hmmm….which way to go? Where do I want to camp? I plotted a general course and picked out 2 different state parks. I’d know whether or not I’d be able to make the second before dark by the time I arrived at the first.

But, as usual, I was distracted by photo ops for #5.

Needless to say I didn’t make the second camping option. It would be dark in a couple of hours and my cell phone was DEAD. With no charger, and none to be found for love or money, I had to opt for plan B. I headed into the nearest town after setting up camp for some beer, ice, milk, and WiFi at McD’s. I updated FB and Skyped the better half to let her know what was up and headed back to my sleeping place for the night.

On the way into town I had noticed a sign that read, “FIREWOOD: $4 bundle or 3 bundles for $10”.  Hmmm…I had noticed that Elk Rock State Park was about the best-mowed SP I’d ever seen. Awww, crap, no deadfall! I needed firewood. It was downright chilly, and would only get colder come sundown; so on my return I pulled in to the little farmhouse. There was a car in the drive, but no lights were on in the house. Hrrrmmm.  I walked up to the enormous oak sheltering generous bundles of firewood and noticed an old metal slot-type mailbox nailed to its trunk. Ahh, wow, Americana at its BEST! I pulled a fiver out of my wallet and slipped it into slot, grabbed a bundle of wood, strapped it to #5’s rear deck and off we went. Kinda nice to see some folks still believe in, and expect, honesty from others.

Back at camp I got the fire started and then pulled the travel kitchen from #5’s giant, black box and got to work.  Tonight’s menu consisted of Spam Fideo and cold Coors Light!

HiTech sleeping accommodations.

Makeshift beer cooler.

Makeshift camping lantern.

So I tucked #5 into his sleeping bag and got to work on my dinner.

HT’s homage to Master Wan. SPAM!

To keep from burning yourself, these little silicone potholders are the shizznet. Light and packable and clean up well.

Cube the Spam and drop into saucepan to brown.

Get a nice brown on the Spam, just like with sausage.

Set the Spam aside and melt some butter.

Hey! NO SPAM FOR YOU! Dang, granddaddy, go find a bug to eat, man!

Add your 1/2 cup of video (in this case fideo and rice) and stir around ’til it’s golden brown.

To speed things up I like to boil water and add it to the fideo, rather than bring water to a boil in the fideo. So, set the saucepan aside and boil a cup of water.

Once it’s boiling, pour into the saucepan and put the pan back on the heat. You can either put the lid or not, just depends if you think it’s too little or too much water for your fideo. When the fideo is soft, add the Spam and whatever else you think might be tasty. I picked a couple of small tomatoes from our garden the morning I left just for this meal  😉

Ok, is it done yet? I’m hungry.

Awwww yeaaaaahhh!

Dinner eaten, dishes cleaned, and kitchen packed back into its box (think raccoons, folks), it was time to kick back by the fire.

Who’s up for a swig of bourbon and a fine cigar?

I sat up until well after midnight talking to the stars and listening to the trees whisper.

Sleepy time.

HT’s homage to Survivorman  😆

Saturday morning dawned and I perused my maps while eating breakfast. I needed to get in a hurry. No more lallygagging. The Boss was expecting me home, had already been nice enough to tell me to take an extra day, but Monday classes would start and so would begin 3 months of weekends-only togetherness.

Fortunately, when you’re in the middle of the middle, there are not many 4-lane highways. That’s the biggest problem with so many of the old US highways these days. So many of them have been widened into multi-lane roads that you might as well be on the damned interstate.  But here, well, I could hit up a couple of the old US roads and most likely make it back to the HiTech Ranch before the cows came home (twilight, for you city boys and girls) and skip 4-laned misery.

But, to get to the nearest US route, I still had a couple-few miles of county roads to travel. Besides, that’s where the best photo op’s are anyway.  Well, there and where you camp for the night  😉

And with that….I was home.  Back to a world of hot showers, lotsa furry things showin’ me love, and a great big hug and smooch from the boss. And then Sunday night I left for the HiTechRanchAnnex. And so here I am.

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I have rested today. And reacquainted myself with an old friend.

I was able to sit down in a comfortable chair and open a book and read for the simple joy of it for the first time in a long time. Perhaps the book itself has more to do with the feeling of satisfaction the afternoon has given me.

I read The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty. I hadn’t realized until today how utterly disconnected from the South I have become. The described smells and sounds, the cadence of the language. All familiar, all comforting. Camelias in the spring, magnolia blooms in the summer; rich, dark earth freshly plowed and recently rained upon. Climbing ancient vines that embrace equally ancient oaks; vines as thick as my leg where they are rooted to the ground, securely guarded by the knarled roots of the old oak.

It saddens me, though. All I can see when I think of down home now is the crushing swell of people. Houses, sub-divisions, strip malls are everywhere. What was once the middle of nowhere is now the skirtings of urban life.

When I was a child we’d travel to Mississippi to visit my Dad’s family. Aunts and uncles, cousins, first cousins, first cousins once removed, second cousins twice removed. The county is full of relatives. And back then full was somewhat relative. My grandmother would cook Sunday dinner and I can still remember the taste of the creamed corn she’d make. I can feel it and taste it in my mouth, and so when I make mine now it isn’t from a recipe, it’s from this physical memory.

We’d clamber into the back of my Uncle’s old, battered GMC pick-up truck and head to the store. The treat in this wasn’t just the hot smell of old oil spilt onto the wooden bed, no, we’d always get a Coke or a Barq’s at the store. When I was very, very little we’d go to a small country store owned by another Uncle. I remember giant wheels of cheese sealed with red wax. The cheese was sold by the pound in triangular chunks. Sometimes we’d be given a piece still in the wax. There was a such a thrill in peeling off the bright red wax backed in gauzy cheesecloth and eating the sharp, tangy cheese.

My roommate has arrived home and turned on the TV and broken my reverie. The canned sounds coming through the wall have reminded me of my earlier irritation. Our apartment is right on a fairly busy road and not 50′ from the railroad tracks. All day I’ve heard nothing but the sounds of passing cars and the thunderous pounding of passing trains. And today I’m in dire need of tranquility. The passing cars, the whirring of their tires on the pavement–it’s been like sandpaper across raw nerves, an iron shaft piercing my temples.

We haven’t gotten the thunderous downpours that were predicted for today, perhaps I’ll roll the scooter out and seek solace in the countryside before dark. The wind across my helmet can be a soothing hush, settling my thoughts and blocking out my vexation.

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We’ve started. Yup, moving things. Saturday was a fairly productive day as we were finally able to move the massive fibreglass tanks over to the Farm. Yes, the very same tanks that we purchased last September and that have been sitting on my trailer ever since.

Allow me a brief moment to explain this by quoting my Facebook page:


So the better half is into all sorts of interesting things as regards trying to grow food on top of the gravel knob we call home. A few months ago she found this:

After some research and a few trips around the countryside to locate the necessary components, she had the system up and running. And, of course, we went fishing and brought home some pan-fish to grow bigger!

Essentially the system works thusly:

The fish eat and pooh and fertilize the plants. The plants and gravel beds filter the water and clean it for the fishes. The plants get big and we eat them; the fish get bigger and we eat them. Basically it’s a giant nomz machine 😀

The barrel-ponics system in all it’s hippie-fied glory.
The overflow tank fills the soda bottle which lowers and opens the overflow valve to water the gravel beds.
Gravity is your friend, although the water is recirculated into the top tank via an electric pump.
Beans and green onions grow like weeds in this system!
Clean, filtered water pours into the fish tank.
Happy fishes!  Awaiting their doom…a very, very tasty doom I might add.
Well, since she’s so pleased with how well the system works, she’d been thinking about building a larger system. But, it’s EXPENSIVE. Last weekend, however, we stopped off at a junk store and espied a pile of fibreglass tanks. Turns out they comprised a lobster tank set-up. Why on earth there’d be a lobster tank in the middle of MO, we’ve no idea. But they wanted $350 for the whole shebang; which includes a pool pump (as in an in-ground pool pump and filter system) and, much to our pleasant surprise, a HUGE heater for the system. SCORE!

It’ll be a while before the new system is setup, plumbed, and running. We’ll have to devise a serious rack to hold all of the tanks since the contraption relies upon gravity. But check out the sheer size of these tanks! It was quite a challenge to get it all loaded on my trusty 5×10 lowboy.

Wanna know how to keep people from tailgating you on the highway? LOL
Yeah, 5 tanks on a little 5×10 tilt-bed lowboy…yes, I am that good.
Scale, anyone? These things are HUGE.

I’ve tarped over the tank that may hold water (bottom front) until we decide the best place to store everything for the winter. This’ll give us time to get measurements and begin to devise a frame. What can I say, she’s always figuring out ways to keep me busy. 😆

Sorry about the latter group of images being so grainy. The better half used her new point and shoot; setting it down to 5mp makes for some poor pics. The first set of images was taken with the same camera set to 10mp….incredible difference! Oh, and did I mention the cam is waterproof? Hehehheeee! Stay tuned for more underwater images in the future!


So here we are, a scant seven months later, at long last able to unburden my trusty lil low-boy. We re-strapped the monstrosities, hooked up to the truck and headed over to the farm early Saturday afternoon.

I imagine we were quite a sight, even by Missouri standards. Especially considering the pair of aged heifers mugging and giggling in the cab of the truck as we merrily toodled along at 50 mph. But fun makes for time quickly passed and, before we knew it, we had arrived at the tanks’ new home.

En route to the Farm. The tanks, while appearing to be rather precarious, were firmly strapped down.

Just being silly. You can do that when you're driving 15 mph down a gravel road.

The fibreglass tanks snugly tucked away at their new location.

Unfortunately my lil trailer was not meant to be unburdened for long. We’re hoping to move our ramshackle RV out the Farm next weekend, but before that can happen there was some cleaning in order.

Cleaning up metal scrap, that is. C and V (yes, that is a mullet, we forgive her for it due to the awesome color) pitched in and once more my lil trailer was groaning under the weight of yet another burden.


In a rare moment of genius, I decided that the half-dozen rotting cattle panels amongst all the scrap could be put to good use one last time. We folded them over and used them to secure the load, preventing any loose or light bits from blowing off in transit.

A trailer full of scrap. A not so uncommon sight in the Missouri boonies.

Our site, all cleaned up and, hopefully, scrapless.

In the midst of site prep there are other ongoing projects being attended to. The better half has been working up a 60′ x 20′ garden. If you’ve ever tried busting sod that really doesn’t want to be busted, you know her pain. The tiller at the Farm simply isn’t up to the task and I’m left attempting to borrow a bigger, badder, tougher, and heavier tiller from a friend for next weekend. We’ve 13 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes that are just about ready to go in the ground, as well as corn, carrots, onions, and tobacco. Yup…tobacco! The plant tales will have to wait for another post for the time being, though.

Before we knew it Saturday evening was upon us. It was time to head down to the river, light the grill, and stretch our stiff backs and crack our aged knees.

The better half heading for the shed. The only way to get down to the garden area is on the tractor. There are a few spots that are still too sloggy to get even one of the 4x4's through.

This is fast becoming the only way to end a day of hard work. We can't wait for the water temp to come up a few degrees, then we'll be in the river this time of day instead of just admiring it from afar.

Someone else thinks the riverside is a swell place to watch the sunset. This little guy is positively tiny. He'd fit onto a dime and have to stretch out to touch the edges.

Bo and Zeus, a couple of the other current residents of the Farm. Bo says, "Whoa, mang, I was just playin', brah!"

Sunday afternoon rolled around and found us back at work. We wanted to get some more tilling done, but that wasn’t meant to happen. Instead we hiked around the large pasture encompassing the orchard and the garden. At the moment we have no water source, aside from rain, for the garden. The better half and I are convinced we can divert water from either the stream bordering the south side of the pasture or the wet-weather creek along the west side. Some mighty potent visualization techniques and some tricky uses of physics are in order any way we slice it. We want to be able to move water without the aid of electricity and, in this hilly environment, let’s just say it’s a bit challenging.

Anyone who knows me knows I bleed Kubota orange. But hey, you use what's available to you. It's not like I can't fix it if it breaks. And yes, that is my aged mini-dachsie riding shot-gun. Mia was so relaxed you'd have thought she rolls around like this all the time.

See what I mean? Her rear end is on the armrest and I've got a firm hold of her chest. She set paws to steering wheel and just enjoyed the scenery.

Another miniscule friend we met this weekend. This little guy, well, it was windy and I was having a really difficult time keeping him in focus. His abdomen was an incredible shade of green but I couldn't get a clear shot of it. Hopefully I'll see him again when it isn't kite weather.

After much tromping about, avoiding all the bright green poison ivy that’s sprung to life in the past week, it was time to call it a day. We gnoshed on ‘sghettis with C and V and headed back to the Ranch, our thoughts and conversation full of plans for next weekend. Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, and I’ll be building a deck by the end of the month.

‘Til next time, kids.