Sunday, August 30, 2015

Almost September

So we finally got paid from the farmer.  I tried calling him frequently; usually I was routed to a full mailbox.  Finally I got through to him and he strung us along for a few days.  That culminated last Saturday when he said he would hand us our checks Saturday -later.

Which turned into him not answering his phone and another full mailbox.

The Firebird had reorganized his Saturday evening schedule, so when the farmer didn't answer Sunday morning, I texted my neighbor, who had referred me originally, and was working the farmstand that day.

I told her to tell the farmer that if we didn't receive both overdue checks first thing Monday morning we would be out there picketing, and I would file a complaint with the labor board. (I already had the form)

Shortly afterward, translated into after coffee, I texted her again and told her to forget it and hoped she was well, because I didn't think it was right to involve her, even if she did and does work for the same fellow (who owes her something like 7 weeks pay)

Low and behold she pulled in Sunday evening waving envelopes-she said they were in the time card slot and she took the liberty to bring them to us.

Which was very strange, because a few weeks ago when farmer said he was doing payroll, we went the next morning to check the time card slot, and then called him, and when he finally returned my call he was quite snippy and said he put the paychecks for "people who worked for him" in the slots, but was to hand us our checks we had to go back after dark to pick up the one check several weeks ago.

I am fairly sure the neighbor passed on my first text.  I am terrible at manipulating people because I am too honest.  I wanted my pay and the Firebird his pay.  I gave farmer the benefit of the doubt (that he was too busy to write checks) and tried calling him to remind him.

 I don't think it was lack of money, because I was delivering huge amounts daily and seeing the invoices, plus he had bigger deliveries on his own truck.  Granted, the big supermarket chain might only pay monthly, but farmer never said it was a money shortage.

Farmer did have a reputation as a spoiled bully.  One person expressed the opinion that farmer just didn't want to pay.  So, the phone calling wasn't working.  You can't bully a bully.  Neighbor told me that farmer had lots of notes on board from the labor board, and he told her, "mothers looking for their sons payckecks"

We were not an isolated incident, by any stretch of the imagination.  But Firebird was heading for college and needed that money for books.

How could I bully an egotistical control freak in a non-violent manner?

The light bulb went off...picket the farm stand at the farm.  Farmer's wife has removed herself pretty much from the business, his teen children are little to no help (I was so proud of how hard the Firebird worked)...and farmer obviously did not me hanging around looking for checks if he wanted us to come after dark and see him personally. 

Picketing. Yep, I figured that would do it.  The last thing farmer wanted at the height of farmstand season was having a couple disgruntled employees waving signs around complaining of his not paying help.

My neighbor even commented on the rain we had that day when she gave me the checks-not good picketing weather...

So that ended well...although we still haven't filled out W-4's to account for that "estimated withholding" he tacked on to every check.

My friend is dying.  My friend with the colon cancer.,  They found another tumor near the original site, but it was big (3x7cm) and aggressive.  If you are squeamish you may want to stop reading.

He was five days in the hospital.  The couldn't get all of it, it was very deep.  And he went home with a drain and a vaccuum pump strapped to his stomach.  Which is a very clever idea, isn't it, with cancer?  To forcibly suck the fluids out of the surgical site where they removed the tumor.  But to read about it isn't the same as seeing your friend on a beautiful summer day, walking around his yard in a tshirt and shorts and sandals-with those comfy hospital socks still on his feet, while the machine strapped to him gurgles and farts (his rectum is sewn shut so those noises had to be coming from the drain in the enormous hole the tumor left in his bottom)

To see your friend, who had finally started to look normal again, and work again, be reduced to a cavernous smoky shadow of himself-yes, I can see the color of cancer, it is dusky black, and my friend has it bad.

Chemo again?  He went through 7 rounds of chemo after his first surgery, confident the extra treatment, although they were brutal and left him weak and sick, would be the cure.  And the cancer has returned.  More rounds of chemo-he says, "what choice do I have?" meaning, "should I just give up?"

He was to see his doctor the next day-I was thinking, has it spread??? I walked around like a zombie for three days.  I drank and smoked like a fiend.  My friend is dying. 

I finally looked up colon cancer online.  65% -five year survival rate.

  My friend said something about getting a pool next summer, when a visitor that stopped in, kept saying he had to get back to his pool ...R said, "I'm getting a pool next summer" but he looked at me and trailed off the end of the sentence.

My friend is dying.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Estoy bien

I haven't been blogging because what a story I have!

How to make it blog worthy, or should it become a chapter in a book?

We quit the farmer.  Adios Amigos. :(

Apparently the farmer has financial issues, or is too busy to do payroll. After waiting three weeks for one day of pay (my first week) we expected to receive paychecks on a regular basis.  HAHA

I made it quite clear, leaving notes..."Paychecks?"

Over the phone, "If we can't get paid in a timely fashion, this might not work out and we can seek employment elsewhere."

and finally, "give me a call when paychecks are ready, I am going to another job in the meantime."

This ultimatium was greeted with the guys circling me and trying to convey in my borken spanish and their broken english the fact that they had been MONTHS without pay, and asking me about "Estimated withholding" of 20% on their checks...I felt like Hugo Chavez.

Many hot hours picking tons of squash and cucumbers and the sweet corn...60 ears to a bag is pretty heavy and one day I had to deliver 47 bags of corn...

Three full weeks of back pay and no paychecks in sight, I quit.  Two weeks ago, and have received one paycheck on the three owed.

And the guys are still owed tons of back pay, and continue to work 14 hour days, although there was some attempt at a strike last Monday, which produced the one paycheck.

Most likely they are here illegally, and one of them has a two year old daughter born here.  They are the hardest workers I have ever seen.  Can you see three guys picking 15 five gallon buckets of green beans in two hours?  I am a pretty good picker and it takes me nearly an hour to pick one bucket.

We had one white teen boy last three hours in the squash field. He went home for lunch and never came back.

I imagine the senior picking beans since he could crawl.

"It's easy, see, see?" (Or maybe "Si, Si" ) he said to me as he brushesd the leaves away coming up with double handfuls of beans each swipe.

I feel bad sticking them with all that work.

But indentured servitude went out of fashion a long time ago. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Como estas?

Me, I have been busy.  Well, I am usually up to one thing or another, but the Firebird kept on that he needed a job, and my neighbor came by awhile ago and asked if I would be willing to help out at a farm?

Sure I said, the Firebird and I had been puttering about at the goat farm, he stacking the upcoming winter supply of firewood and me taking down 7 strands of electric fence which I installed a number of years ago to  contain long gone cashmere bucks.

My neighbor told me she worked 8-2 doing greenhouse work, and said that I could work as much as I wanted, so figured 3-4 days a week would be a good filler with the goat farm.

Bait and switch comes to mind.  I went in , learned the watering routine for the greenhouse, was instructed in the mass planting of cabbage seed.  The following Monday the Firebird and I were handed an EZ seeder and the brief instructions that accompanied it, and the tidbit that none of them had been able to make use of it.

Relegated to the packing room, we read the directions, scabbed a table together, and proceeded to seed 800, 98 cell flats.. (nearly 80,000 seeds). 

The official too late to seed cabbage day came this week, and we moved on to separate chores.  The backbone of the crew are three Mexican immigrant workers we call "the guys".  The guys have aided the owner in a huge major agricultrual production.  Hay, Oats, corn (field and sweet due any day) zuccini, broccoli, cauliflower, greenhouse tomatoes the size pumpkins, cukes and of course cabbage.  The five of us spent an afternoon planting over 9000 cabbage seedlings (only 100,000 to go, because our 80K are still in the greenhouse and there is at least that many on benches awaiting transplanting)

Everyday brings something new to learn to this experienced gardener...running irrigation tape (although my time at the beekeepers gave me knowledge in big tanks and hoses)  sitting on the back of a planter dropping those precious cabbage seedlings one at a time after yanking them out of the cells by the handfuls by their hair...and failing to keep up, and having my co-worker Pablo tossing plants from his racks into my spots as I frantically try and dump the empty tray, or cherolla, and grab the next one...(think Lucy trying to keep up in the chocolate factory)

And discovering that you can take 3 years of Spanish in Middle school (technically 2 years of Portugeuse and one year of Spanish according to my mortified 9th grade Spanish teacher) and still not be able to follow a conversation by your co-workers....

I can read the notes the owner leaves for them in Spanish, and the youngest, who speaks nearly zero English and I have managed to communicate even though I cannot remember proper grammar I have a pretty extensive vocab that keeps creeping in, and I am great at hand gestures although sometimes I think we have a huge communications gap, mostly due to my horrible pronunciation.

Sometimes I ask teen Pablo, "como se dice....?" and he replies in something that I cannot possibly form my mouth around, and I just say the English word...and hope he is learning English better than I am his dialect and we both laugh.

The other two have a bit more English, so I typically address them in English- occasionally tossing in a Spanish verb or noun or saying. Buenos Dias, Hasta Luego, Hasta manana, Salud, lots of SI, SI...

 I go home at night and call the dog perro, and the cat gato, and the occasional "bueno" or mierda slip out... but I have a long way to go.

Today I had a cell phone call from the mejor, who has the most English.

"We need more broccoli!"

"Broccoli?"  I replied, confused, knowing they were picking squash in a field a half hour away, while I was behind transplanting broccolis and cauliflower.

"NO, Broccoli!!" he replied


Silence on both ends.  Then he called across his field to the Firebird, "come tell your mother what we need~"

(waiting, waiting, waiting)

"Hi Mom, we need buckets, (and hear S in the background, and those green things) and those green things"

I couldn't find extra "green things" or totes, and took them five buckets.  I had to pick  Pablo up from the squash field a couple times this week and the yield was 20 yellow squash and 40 zuccini. Today I got sidetracked waiting for a co worker to wash out the truck to take, and then had to show her how to water the 100K plus cabbage awating transplanting...and showed up with  5, 5 gallon buckets to find the three guys and Firebird had picked 8 totes full of zucc and summer squash and cukes weighing over 80 pounds a tote, and they set them in the truck bed under the cap leaving me to figure out how to get the tailgate shut and unload them back at the shop .....

Then running to the shop to give a coworker a lift back from the garage...the company fleet each have their own issues.  Speedometer permanently stuck at 40, no brakes, bad tie rods, check engine lights, airbag lights, my favorite was the day I had to drive 30 miles back to the shop to pick up more seedlings in this giant box truck...never driven something so large in my life...just, "hey, you go back and get more cabbage...NOW"

and I jump in and take off, never adjusting the side mirrors, andfind myself taking the wrong turn right into a rotary in the state capital.

I would have turned around but I didn't think I could back it up or even take a tight turn.

Let me tell you, you think your life is getting stale, have someone throw you into something that you never considered doing while they have complete confidence or indifference in your ability or lack thereof, and then succeed...

well, that's seasonal agriculture for you.

*wanders off humming 100thousand cabbages to plant, 100thousand cabbages..."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Never speak in absolutes

My last post I mentioned how the grey squirrel poplulation seemed a shadow of it's former self.

Today, first thing this morning, there was a squirrel scene out back.  Squirrels running and jumping and chrring and crying.  My heart was pounding, it sounded like a hurt baby grey and I was not sure if the reds had attacked a nest, or what was happening?

The crying sound was coming from the treetops, so I retreated indoors.  Everytime I stepped out today, wah, wah, wah.

After the winter we had , if I am home, I am most likely outside.  damn the tics (I have had 6 bites already) damn the mosquitoes (I don't know how many I have smashed or how much alien blood I have unknowingly injected after smashing a mosquito biting me)

Not today, I could not handle the commotion.  I raised an Eastern grey squirrel from an orphan when I was in about 6th grade.  My mom found two on our front walk in metropolitan suburbia.  One of them had a compound fracture of the leg, so my mother took it to the vet.  The vet, a portly man who incessantly jingled his pockets full of change, thought there was no way to prevent gangrene, so that baby squirrel was euthanized.  The other one, uninjured, we were instructed to feed with...if I recall correctly...squeetened condensed milk warmed and thinned and poured in a saucer on a piece of bread...I think we may have bottle fed prior to the saucer.

Well, it was the funniest thing to see this baby grey with all four feet in the saucer sucking up that milk sopped bread!  Then we would have to clean him up with a warm damp cloth or he would dry all sticky and hard from the milk.

It took him awhile to get a nice bushy tail.  We built him a big cage out of chicken wire, a cylinder about 5 feet high and several feet in diameter that we kept on our porch.

The fall he was about a year and a half old, he bit my sister up pretty good.   She was trying to put him back in the cage after playing with him.

Well, that was that, my mother and I took him to some nearby woods and he climbed to the top of a tree and that was the last I ever saw of "squirrel."

Needless to say, I have been fond of grey squirrels for a long time.  When I moved to Maine I was surprised that I could not speak the Maine grey dialect.  They definitely have an accent!  The same with blue jays.  I have a brain cramp about the northern dialect and when I talk to them I use my mid atlantic version, and I don't think they get that.

Because when the grey squirrel commotion moved to the sunflower feeder and beech trees in the back yard today, I finally had enough!  I had been envisioning bottle rockets earlier in the day (which, even though you can buy huge fireworks now here in Maine, you can't get M80's or bottle rockets ) but I stepped out on the deck and gave those grey squirrels a down home cussing out...tsrrr, tsrrr, chstrrrr!

Two big ones closer to the feeder peered at me and each other.  The smaller one in the treetops hushed for a second.

 The best guess I could make was that parents were trying to teach their young how to protect themselves and find food, and sitting in the treetops crying was a great way to get eaten by a redtailed hawk, and dammit, you're a squirrel, learn to fall to the next branch and peel a stinking sunflower seed!!!!!

PS Once again I am mistaken.  I stepped outside just now and saw 7 large grey squirrels surrounding the sunflower feeder.  Bad weather coming???  Unusual animal behavior makes me wonder-another bad winter? 

Where have these squirrels been for the last several months? DO squirrels just move in roaming bands like a group of Tom turkeys?  Is is a set of parents and juveniles, and they are making the rounds showing the different places to feed?  Did one of my faithful readers drop a basket of squirrels on my head because I was complaining I hadn't seen any? 

Or maybe the wildlife rehab place-in the past I have seen young animals that don't really seem to know what they are doing and no parent in evidence.  Then when I caught the game warden releasing the mink a couple months ago I did feel rather exonerated because I KNOW animals get dumped here. 

I have taken in several cats and even a hen and rooster.  I know folks that went out one morning and found a mean white turkey in their animal pen.

It's the "That looks like a good place" mentality.  I have to admit, one year when I had four roosters and no one would answer my ad for free roosters, I would drive by a place with some pretty hens scratching in the front yard and think, "that looks like a good place...." but it was just a fantasy.

Unlike that game warden and the mink..."That looks like a good place!"

I should have told him during my tirade that when I was trying to trap "my" mink (which I didn't admit to doing) I fantasized that if I caught it I could release it by (where the game warden caught his), and then I thought that would not be nice to those people, and tried to think of a very remote place to release a mink...


I did get very close to a small group of cedar waxings working the ditch when I walked down to check the mailbox this afternoon.  I have seen them before, working the alders in the swamp, and they are quite fearless with their dark eye bands, perching and calling- mere feet from eye level.

Seems early for them, too.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Welcome to mosquitoville

June is moving right along!  Usually by this time of year, I can't imagine everything blanketed in white.  But the memory of ten feet of snow and below zero temps is still burned in my mind.  I can't believe things can survive those kinds of conditions!

The grey squirrel population took a big hit this winter.  Usually we have 8 or ten running around, but this spring we have one that slips in to the feeder at dawn and dusk.  Was it the cold and snow- or hungry raptors that annihilated the population?

Usually we have 4 or more nesting pairs of robins.  I can hear one singing through the open window as I type, but when I mowed the "meadow" the other day, not one came to hunt on the newly mowed lawn.

We don't have a lawn mower, so I borrow one from a friend.  You would not believe this old push mower.  The spark plug falls out.  The brake line is broken. The blades are dull from mowing rocks and stumps.  There are large floaties in the gas tank.  AND he runs it on chainsaw (mixed oil and gas) gas!!!

Prime it about 20 times, pull it twice, and it goes like hell.

So I just mowed for the first time this year.  I love "integrated" lawns.  Except for broad leaf plaintain...grrr. I also love perfect lawns like the game field at the Firebird's high school.  My lawn works for me, because if I don't mow it for a month or so I have a beautiful wildflower meadow.  :)

The dandelions had gone by, but the fescue had started to go to seed.  I wanted to wait until after the fescue set seed, so I could plant free grass seed when I mowed, but I just could not wait any longer.

I noticed a few black eyed susans (one of my favorite wildflowers) were gettting ready to bloom in the lawn, so I dug them up.  I pulled the evening primrose because the mowed stalks hurt to step on with barefeet.

I left the Queen Anne's lace, the yarrow, the red clover (the bumblebees were pissed as that was starting to bloom) the white clover, the gill goes over the ground, the violets, the hawkweed, the daisies.

The dog roses and blackberries trying to widen the perennial border got mowed.  They hurt to step on barefooted, but they hurt to pull up barehanded so it's a toss up. Besides, soccer balls and basketballs aren't supposed to go near the perennial border and a little negative reinforcement of stepping on a mowed over rose or blackberry sounds like Karma to this overprotective gardener.

Because I had let the lawn go to meadow, I set the old mower on the highest setting.  I am not sure why I did that, because the two times I mowed last year (the second time I mowed all the leaves as well....) I had it on the middle height setting.

I think I was afraid I might burn the lawn because it had been hot and sunny and dry, and our lawn has turned to crisp in the past.

 Peko thought it was the perfect height.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Really I think it counts as 668.

After a brutal winter, May flew by, all the flowers hurrying along, racing each other to see who gets flowered first.

The dandelions are now just white ping pong balls of seedheads.  The honeysuckle bush, so overladen with blooms a few days ago, now fading.  Lilacs have peaked.   Bleeding Heart gone by.  Columbine and german Iris in full bloom.  Rocket just starting to open.  Poppies and Siberian Iris on deck.  Ajuga in full bloom.  Basswood blooming, Oak trees have dropped their tassles.

A few days of almost 90's and now frost warnings.

Congrats to the Firebird, graduated from high school with honors and accolades, heading off to college in a few  weeks.

Happy June.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Happy May

Yay our snow is gone and the maple trees are blooming.  A very few special forsythias and daffodial clumps are in bloom where we headed inland today.

The mink story had an interesting twist.  It took me about two months to mink proof my chicken coop.  I had to tear out built in rabbit hutches to get to the windows that were stuck in rough openings and needed to be framed out.  One day I cried the whole project was so depressing and overwhelming in the beginning.

In the meantime, I had two hens and a guinea cock in separate cages IN MY HOUSE, and at night brought the two ganders in and put them in a big pet crate loaded with shavings and hay and changed every other was a living nightmare of extra work, but it was nice to know when the hen laid an egg and pick up a nice warm egg and give her a bit of soft bread as a reward=I have never seen two hens lay at such a steady rate- with that sort of positive reinforcement, no wonder!

And given the fact that we offically had 10 or more feet snow this winter, it might be easier to understand how difficult it was to do any sort of outside work when you have 8 foot snowbanks everywhere you turn. And lucky to have a day above freezing,  Then when it is above freezing you are tramping in 6 inches of snow and mud.

I just roughly estimated in my head that the FIrebird and I must have moved 30,000 cubic feet of snow this winter with snow scoops- that's a lot of scooping.

I digress.  I FINALLY got the chicken house to my point of approval.  I put the chickens and guinea in around midday and worried the guinea might be aggressive towards the hens.  Then the hens got into a full blown cock fight.

I had to break them up THREE times.  Finally I picked up one of the pet carriers that I used to put them in to clean their cages and took it in the coop and shook it at them and said, "Would you rather go back in here or live in this chicken palace?!"

And I didn't hear another peep out of the two hens.

The guinea seems to believe the hens magicicked this awesome place.  He has always had the crap end of housing, and this freshly rebuilt house with three windows and strategically placed perches and shelves....He is funny.  We started calling him Fred (flintstone)

Then that night I put the geese in and jumped at every little peep wondering if they would survive the night out there...and if the mink was still around?

The next morning I was relieved to find them alive.  I headed out with the Willow who needed her 3 foot tall paper mache redwood tree delivered to school.  I pulled out of the driveway and noticed a truck parked over the culvert, and a guy walking to it from our side of the stream. 

I pulled over and asked, "what's up?"

and realized he was wearing a game warden uniform.

"I was just releasing a mink."

I kid you not-he actually did

Well, I lost my cookies.  I went up that guy and down the other, and he kept saying, "sorry" while we watched the little mink scamper up the bank directly towards my chicken coop 200 feet away, and my neighbor/'s coop 200 feet in the other direction...

He did deny releasing any mink there previously...yea right ugh was I mad!!!

I took his number threatening to call him.  That night I was feeling bad about yelling at him.  The next afternoon I watched the mink run along the edge of the lawn behind the coop, about 40 feet away.

The Willow and I found sign along the stream and it appeared the mink had hung around with tracks and dens in the snow, but still the poultry was ok.

I had to resurrect the outdoor pen for the geese during the day, with electric all around.

I fixed my whole goat pasture electricline and we had a blow that night and the next day I had a big windfall on the back line with a birch and a white pine across the whole fence...

I am in the middle of taking down goat fence I put up years ago for someone else who is cutting back.


The last time I saw my mechanic, he told me he was awaiting test results  and had a catheter in.

I had the blazer in there this past week, and asked how he was faring, and he said, "I'm alive."

I didn't want to ask him about the test.  My last words to him had been, "I hope you have good news about your test."

So he stops everything, as usual, and gets me in and gets his guy to start on the blazer, and this other guy comes in and wants to talk to R,. so they go in the office and I can overhear the conversation, and the guy is talking about getting the deed straight, and I wondered if R was selling, and then the guy started talking about estate type of stuff like who gets the truck, and I decided it was time to go out the back door far from earshot of that conversation and have a smoke.

So I know the answer to my question without asking it.


About a month ago I ran into an old friend of mine.  The last time I saw him was over a year ago, and he looked like shit.  He was all happy about quitting drinking and told me the whole deal, about he got pretty bad and his wife finally gave him an ultimatum and he quit.  Well I was pretty impressed , but he still looked like shit.

We fell out of contact for a bit, and about 6 months ago or more I actually searched his name because I wondered if he had died,.

I finally chased him down,   and he looked much better.  He was on chemo round 10 of twelve for colon cancer.  He had a large enough section of colon removed that he will now wear a "shit bag" (his words) the rest of his life.  And he pats it on his stomach for emphasis, permeating the room with the odor of really bad diarreha.

The smell clings to me long after I make my goodbyes.