The Five Shirt Day

My Work Shirt

An overlooked challenge of the pandemic is that it has been very hard on clothing, specifically shirts. I have never been easy on clothing. I have a long history of getting dirty.  When we lived on the farm, my wife, Glenda, was known to sometimes hose me down and make me take my dirty clothes off in the woodshed before I could come into the house. Back in my lawn mowing days on the North Carolina coast, not only did I come in encrusted in dirt from a yard that was more dust than grass at times but I also ended up fishing, walking on the beach, gardening and working at my desk. It all required a lot of different clothes, but I am not sure that I ever had a five shirt day.

The pandemic has made it more challenging to do almost everything except work from home. The statement that clothes make the man or woman has changed to shirts make the man or woman.  With Zoom and Team conference calls, how you look on video is what matters these days and our video cameras only show us from us from the face down to our desks.  So we pay attention to the shirts that we wear.

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The Shade Trees Are Still There, We Aren’t

Shade Tree, Mount Airy, NC

I remember well the Sunday afternoons under the shade trees enjoying watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. As children, we played like there was no tomorrow.  It was a simpler time when people could actually talk politics without getting angry.  There was nothing like an old fashioned chicken stew to bring families together in North Carolina’s rolling hills. 

There were no chicken stews that I got to attend during my college years. Those were the especially turbulent late sixties and early seventies and I was far away from North Carolina in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As I finished my degree in the summer of 1971, I needed to get away from those strange-hued city-night skies where it was impossible to see the stars.

Just as people used to gather under shade trees in North Carolina, friends used to just drop by on Sunday afternoons at our farm for visit. It was a great excuse to stop working and spend some time catching up on the neighborhood news. It was the way people built relationships, established trust and found common ground.  I cannot ever remember discussing politics.

Beyond the impromptu visits, there were community picnics, shared meals, church services (even burials) and work done for the good of the community. All these things made for richer shared lives. When we were on the farm, I never doubted that the community and friends helped us be successful. The support of their communities was essential to success of farming when we had our farm.

That was back in the seventies. The fifty years since then have not been kind to under the shade tree gatherings or any of the other ways that we connected and established relationships.

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The Ghost I Knew

The Pine Street House

You cannot have a ghost story without a spooky, somewhat mysterious house and where I grew up in rural Forsyth County was nothing like that but things change.

A little mystery also helps with ghosts and there was plenty of mystery in my life in the fifties. The house also had a lot of history, some of it gruesome which is certainly helpfully when looking for ghosts. Many of stories that the house’s four walls could tell never got fully explained to me before everyone who could explain died. Some the questions that I wanted answered never got addressed because no one wanted to talk about them.

Upstairs above the floor with the bedrooms was a full stick-framed attic complete with walnut banisters. If ever there was an area that could house ghosts along with mysterious steamer trunks, this attic was it

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Partners in Cooking and Life

A Loaf of My Sourdough Bread

When I was chasing cows around our farm in Canada, I would have laughed if someone told me that I would replace my wife as the bread baker. I still remember the days that she would bake four or five loaves of oatmeal bread and the kitchen smelled heavenly every time I entered during the day.

I know that cooking together with my wife has become a great joy. We have found a few regional recipes to carry with us as we have wandered from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Virginia, the North Carolina coast and back to the rolling hills of the Piedmont.

The meals that we have cooked are almost always based on simple ingredients. We are blessed to have grown up in families that were close to the land. Fresh vegetables and food direct from the farm or sea often have delighted us and made our meals special.

We were blessed to have grown much of our own food for over a decade. We have never lost those skills or the appreciation of truly fresh food grown in soil that has had enriched with compost that we have made.

For much of our life, we were too busy to do much more than get food on table. That has changed. (Read More)

Empowering Technology

Asus Chromebook

Technology that empowers you is more than just the technology.  To be really successful technolog has to be packaged in an affordable way and be easy to use to accomplish tasks that are important.

I was working for Apple Canada and living in Halifax, Nova Scotia in January 1985 when Apple introduced the LaserWriter, the first laser printer to be widely used. Ignoring the first home computers, this was also the first time I was involved with the rollout of technology that had the power to fundamentally change the way we did things.

The list price was $6,995 and more important to those of us lugging it around for demonstrations, it weighed 77 pounds.

I was happy that my previous career was running a cattle farm where I spent much of the winter hauling around 100 lb+ bags of feed.

It is a measure of how technology change accelerates that the third week in December 2011, just about twenty-six years later, I bought a Brother HL-2270DW laser printer for $99.98.  It only weighed 15.4 pounds.

The original Apple LaserWriter printed eight pages per minute of 300 DPI text and graphics using a 12 Mhz Motorola 68000 chip.

The Brother printer that I bought in 2011 printed at 27 pages per minute at up to 2400 X 600 DPI.  It had a 200 Mhz processor.  The Brother printer comes with Ethernet and wireless connectivity.  The Apple LaserWriter only had LocalTalk, a very slow but revolutionary network for 1985.

The original LaserWriter were heavy and expensive. Few of them made it into home offices in the early days. The most recent Brother Laser that I purchased was only $85. (Read More)

A Cathedral of Leaves

Trees at Rich Park in Mocksville, North Carolina

Apparently none of the storybook scary tales of danger in the forest ever stuck with me.  In rural North Carolina in the fifties, no one worried about evil happening in the forests that surrounded us. We did not understand it at the time, but the cathedral of leaves where we played immensely enriched our lives. As a fifties explorer of the local woods, I could not make the connection because I had yet to experience any of the great cathedrals of the world.  Now it seems pretty obvious.

In the summertime, we got up in the morning and headed to the coolness of the deep woods. The towering trees and the brooks that ran through them were our playgrounds. We built dams, seined for minnows, made forts, and played elaborate games in the woods. Sometimes we hardly bothered to leave the woods for meals. We barely escaped the trees as dark descended on the forest.

(Read more) This is post number nine in a series of twenty-two designed to get my blog to 1700 posts before Thanksgiving 2021.

We Were Barn Builders Once

The first barn we built on our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick, Canada

While I had learned a lot about working with my hands since I graduated from college, building a barn was not one of those skills. Living on a farm teaches you quickly do what needs to be done even if means learning how to do something new. I ordered all the materials that we needed from Ontario. They were shipped by rail to New Brunswick and then delivered by truck to our farm. The trusses for the barns were 36 ft. long and the others for the other barn were 36 ft. Even getting those trusses unloaded was not easy but it is amazing what you can do with a couple of farm tractors with front-end loaders. (Read more)

Turkey Tussles

Our perfect 2012 Turkey

The first turkey that I remember being prepared in our house was cooked after we moved to the Mount Airy house with my dad. The first Thanksgiving at college, I did not come home but I got invited out by a college friend, Jack. We had a wonderful dinner and I got my one and only opportunity so far to sample stuffing with oysters.

The next memorable Thanksgiving happened after college. I had purchased an old farmhouse with a barn and 140 acres on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Four of us had spent months remodeling the two-hundred year old house with hand-hewed beams. College friends came up to celebrate that first Thanksgiving on our own in the fall of 1971. We bought the biggest turkey we could find and the ladies in the group figured out how to cook it.

Little did I know I was already on the slippery slope to a smaller turkey and eventually just a turkey breast. I never take exception with the cook but I sure do miss those whole turkeys. (Read more)

Dirt On My Hands

Our first off-the-farm garden in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Spring 1986

I farmed for over ten years, but I did not grow up on a farm. I graduated from college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as those of us who went to Harvard in sixties and seventies are fond of saying. The closest I got to farming there was my focus on colonial American History. My family did have a rich history of being close to the land and my grandfather was a miller and then a dairy farmer. I never knew him.

I grew up with a mother who spent most of her free time digging in the dirt. She loved flowers and they responded to her love. Roses grew for her in places no one else could get them to grow. Tomatoes were the only vegetable that we had room for at my childhood home, but they did incredibly well.

Growing up, the only digging in the dirt that I did was to get worms so I could go fishing. I was completely uninterested in growing anything. That certainly continued through my college years. The change and how it came about are something of a mystery even to me. When it happened is easier. The change happened sometime between August 1971 and January 1972 when I started ordering seeds from a catalog. (Read More)

The Mill Pond

Mill Stone from Walter Styers Grist Mill

My mother spent her childhood up to her teenage years on a mill pond. In my mind’s eye I can see the mill pond, the mill and the house. I have certainly heard enough stories.  My mother grew up there.  As a very young child she got lost in the woods one night. She had tagged a long with her older brothers to play at the other end of the pond.  Like older brothers will do, they got frustrated with their sister hanging around and told her to go home.  She got lost on the way back. She was found by a black man who helped at the mill. She was found only after spending a long cold night in the woods with only one of the family’s dogs as company. Walter Styers, her father, was getting ready to drain the pond and start looking for her body just before she was found. (Read more)