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Mystery Peas

Finished planting the garden late last week, just before two days of heavy rain.  I’ve put carrots, wax beans, indian corn, beets, field and mini pumpkins, head lettuce, basil, sunflowers, zinnias, bachelor buttons and tomatoes in the ground.  Also, an interesting experiment I’m calling mystery peas.  These are some of a five pound bag of organic whole green peas I bought last winter for sprouting.  Actually, I just soak the peas to rehydrate and eat them raw on salads.  I love the taste of raw peas and in the winter it’s hard to find them.  Soaked dried peas taste almost the same as fresh ones.

On a whim, in the middle of May I grabbed a couple handfuls and with the help of my 5-yr-old granddaughter Lia, planted the peas in a row.  I have no idea what variety they are.  Could be something that isn’t even designed for our short northern growing season.  We will find out.  They are all sprouted and starting to grow.  Usually it is good to plant peas in late April to early May since they like cooler weather, but mid-May is good enough, especially in Maine.  Two nights ago the temps got down to 40.  Brr.  The last few days have been cool, cloudy and damp.

Whole dried peas are usually made into soup, pease porridge or mushy peas, or sprouted.  I tried sprouting peas during the winter.  Pea spouts are great on salad and sandwiches.  They are expensive to buy, so I thought I’d do my own.

I learned that for me, sprouting peas is not worth the effort.  The seeds are sprouted either without soil, which involves keeping them damp in a plastic container and shaking them twice a day, or they are placed in soil and allowed to grow until a good cutting height is reached.  I tried the no soil method.  I ended up with spouts that tasted like roots since they all still had roots.  Pea roots have an earthy flavor, even if they’ve never touched soil.  Not the taste for me.  I’m using up the rest of the 5 pound bag by soaking them overnight in the fridge and eating raw.  Maybe I’ll make some mushy peas, those are good.

While I was checking the progress of the peas, I also discovered the lettuce has just sprouted.  Tiny baby leaves are popping out all over!  And I spotted a couple volunteer cucurbits, no idea what they are.  The sprouts are in the area where field pumpkins grew last year, so I’m hoping that’s what they are.  If the volunteers are some sort of gourd, they could ruin the pumpkins by cross-breeding.  Since I’m adventurous, I’ll leave those sprouts to see how they develop.

There are also volunteer sunflowers where sunflowers grew last year.  With great care, I rototilled around them this spring and now have three well-started plants.  Their parents were yellow-flowered so I imagine they will be as well.

This year I planted six Early Girl tomatoes.  Before long they will grow into a tomato jungle and take over their area of the garden.  They will need to share some room with the mini-pumpkins and the lettuce in the lower corner.  I grew corn in this area the last couple years.  It’s time to move the corn to a new spot to prevent smut from developing.  Smut is a fungus that infects corn, turning the ears into corn-shaped mushrooms.  The best way to avoid smut is to rotate the crop to fresh ground each year.  I also discovered that planting beets where they will be shaded from the hot afternoon sun by the corn greatly improves the quality of the beets.  The leaves stay tender longer for use as beet greens and the beets don’t become woody.

Now all we need is ample rain and some warm, sunny days.  I know that’s asking for a lot.  Hope springs eternal in the gardener’s heart.

Hiking to the Bowl at Acadia National Park

The Bowl from the top of Enoch Mountain

Spring is right around the corner, (and through 2 feet of snow here in Maine) bringing with it dreams of hiking the many beautiful trails of Acadia.  A special little gem well worth the walk is The Bowl, a small pond near The Beehive on the east side of the Park.  The Beehive is a round, rocky little mountain that can be viewed to the north from Sand Beach.

Memorizing the trail to The Bowl (it’s a straight line)

The trailhead for The Beehive and The Bowl starts almost across the road from the entrance to Sand Beach.  On any hot day, one lane of the one-way road will be choked with overflow parking for the beach.  On a quiet day, you can park in the beach lot and walk up to the trailhead.  The entire hike is about one-and-a-half miles, maybe two.  Unfortunately, at the beginning it is rather rough and steep going.  The woods is filled with piles of granite boulders that tumbled off The Beehive.  The trail leads over and through the boulder field.  After a way the trek becomes less challenging, more like a quiet walk in the woods.  It is all uphill, but not at too difficult an incline.

Rough beginning to the Beehive/Bowl trail

A few hundred feet along the path, there is an intersection, take the left trail to The Bowl.  The thick woods filled with shadows, quiet rustling in the undergrowth, birdsong and the whispering of leaves in the sea breeze is a welcome cool spot on a summer day.  Just about the time you wonder how long a half-mile can be, you come out at the prettiest little pond.  On the northeast it is steeply flanked by the low Enoch Mountain.

Enoch Mountain seen across The Bowl

The water is pure, cool, clean and transparent.  The bottom of the pond is lined with sand, large rocks and some mucky mud.  Little fish dart in the shallows.  Out in the center, rippling rings spread from spots where larger fish have broken the surface to nab a fly for lunch.  The trail passes along the southern and eastern side of the pond then up Enoch Mountain.  From the top, the view is spectacular.  What else could it be at Acadia?

After returning to the pond, it is all right to slip off your shoes and dip your hot feet in the water.  The Bowl is not a public water supply protected from contact with humans.  The adventurous hiker might prefer to swing back from The Bowl along the Beehive trail, across the back ridge of the mountain, then down the steep face to return to the trailhead.  I prefer retracing the path I followed in.  It’s all downhill to the road.  My knees are not as fond of mountains as they were in their youth.

Neanderthal Among Us

I’m a little bit Neanderthal

For Christmas my brother gave me a genetic test kit.  You send in a sample to a company and they determine your genetic heritage and health profile.  I carefully followed the directions and dutifully filled the sample tube with saliva.  It took me nearly five minutes to produce enough spit.  That was the most disagreeable part of the test.

Several weeks later the results were posted to my personal site online.  Most of the information was similar to my brother’s and, of course, 50% similar to my mother’s, both family members having completed earlier tests.

There were a couple surprises.  One is that there is no Native American DNA showing up on my father’s side.  The family lore holds that my dad was 1/64th Abanaki.  No such relationship was evident.  On the contrary, the only possible Native American blood came from my mother’s side, and it was merely a trace.  Most likely this DNA came into the family while my mother’s ancestors lived in the Ukraine during the middle of the 1800s.  Someone might have mated with a Russian of Siberian heritage.  My mother’s family is almost exclusively of German ancestry that moved to the Ukraine at the invitation of Catherine the Great, then onto the plains of America at the turn of the last century.  They were all farmers.

The most surprising revelation to me was the relatively high level of Neanderthal variation in my DNA.  The Neanderthals are often called a species of human that came out of Africa, moved into Europe and went extinct with the advance of modern humans.  Turns out that picture is not as clear as once supposed.  Neanderthal DNA seems to be turning up regularly in individuals of European descent.  My own DNA has 299 variants, greater than 81% of people who have been tested by this company.

Neanderthals can not have been a separate species from human or they would not have been able to interbreed and produce viable offspring.  Neanderthals were actual humans.  Research into their caves and burial sites is showing that these people were not the brutish, stupid cavemen once imagined.  They had sophisticated societies with weaponry and knowledge of animals and plants including medicinal plants.  They cared for their old and infirm.  When an individual died, the others provided a decent burial.  There is also evidence of cannibalism, so I guess not everyone was treated the same.  Perhaps they ate their enemies or their particularly venerated elders?

So DNA testing has shown that Neanderthals did not go extinct, they became us.  Many of us would not exist without their genes.  Somewhere in the dark and misty past, Neanderthals combined with what is considered modern humans to produce us; ultra-modern humans, I suppose.  Or perhaps we are merely glorified cavemen coping in the modern world we have constructed?

Brrr…Blizzard

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Up until now we’ve been lucky here in central Maine to have avoided excessive snowfalls this winter.  Several large storms have hit us, but the precipitation turned to pouring rain.  The nor’easter that started smacking us last night is all snow, pouring snow.  We have blizzard conditions with heavy snow and wind reducing visibility sometimes to only a few feet.

The storm, named Winter Storm Orson by some person at the Weather Channel, started yesterday afternoon and has so far dumped about 18″ of light, fluffy white stuff on us.  Since the system seems stalled in the Gulf of Maine, it continues to coat us at a rate of several inches per hour.  I spent an hour-and-a-half this morning out in the teeth of the storm moving snow out of the driveway with the farm tractor.  Not a fun time.  It’s easier when the tractor can be faced out of the wind, at least.  Otherwise so much snow hits the face that it is blinding and hard to breathe.  I managed to clear a passage through the depths so we can get out in an emergency.

a2Clearing the vehicles will take a few minutes.  They are rapidly disappearing.  Our Subaru Impreza is barely visible in the drifts.  The back door to the house was buried about half-way up and could not be opened.  Luckily we could get the front door open to get around back and shovel.  The snow is above knee-level on me.  I have to wade to get around.

We know for sure this is a big storm because the Post Office and UPS have suspended operations for the day in this area.  If the mail can’t get through, no one can make it.  The road is deserted.  I’m happy people are using their heads and staying home.  The snow piles are so deep on the sides of the road that our mailbox has disappeared.  We are expecting another five solid hours of heavy snow.  Guess I’ll be on the tractor in the driveway again before the day is through.

Lyme Disease

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I think the dogs are saying thanks for the thick, soft new bed, Mom!  It keeps us warm on chilly nights.  Holly, on the left, and Otto will enjoy this old comforter to death.  I’m hoping it will last a month before it is tattered and stained.  They are large, active dogs.  Holly is seven and Otto is five.  These farm dogs range all over our acres, peacefully co-existing with chickens, rabbits and horses, swimming in our small river and following me when I go horseback riding.

Somewhere along, Holly picked up a tick that transmitted Lyme disease to her.  Even though we use Frontline every month to kill ticks and give the Lyme vaccination annually, she still got the illness.  That’s because Frontline takes several days to kill ticks once they get on a dog.  During that time, a nymph tick can transmit the Lyme bacteria into the dog’s blood.  Because there are several types of Lyme and the vaccine does not protect for all of them, it is likely Holly contracted a version that the vaccine couldn’t touch.

She started to go downhill very slowly.  Her appetite was not so great.  She left food where she once gulped it down.  At first we thought it was good because she was over-weight and we were trying to get her to lose weight.  But we should have realized her lack of appetite was a problem.  She kept losing weight until one day I noticed that the bones on the top of her skull were protruding.  She also was weak in the hind end and occasionally brought food up.  The symptoms were intermittent.  Sometimes she ate and acted normally.  I suspected the medication she takes to combat her leaking bladder was causing her to be anorexic.  It can have that effect on a small percentage of dogs.

In August we took her to the vet and discussed what could be wrong.  She had normal vital signs.  We talked about various diseases like myasthenia gravis, to which we had lost one German Shepherd in the past, and other wasting illnesses.  We went home with some pain medication and a different drug for the leaky bladder.  The doctor wanted to see if her lameness in the hind end would improve and perhaps her appetite.

By early October it was apparent that she was just getting worse and worse.  Her food often came back up, undigested.  I finally figured out that she was not swallowing it.  This can be a symptom of myasthenia gravis.  The dog will develop megaesophagus due to muscle weakness and inability to swallow.  The food sits in the esophagus which gets large, loose and flabby.  The dog will cough food back up.  We also noticed that Holly no longer held her head up, she walked around with her head hanging.  Her tail no longer had the characteristic curl at the tip.  She dragged her tail along the floor.  Frequently she would stumble on her left front foot.  Her voice had also changed to a high-pitched yip instead of the deep Shepherd bark.  It seemed she had muscle paralysis.

Back we went to the vet.  We told him all the new symptoms. This time when he checked her vital signs, she had a fever elevated about two degrees.  So he tested her for Lyme disease and she came back positive.  He did a barium x-ray and diagnosed megaesophagus.  You could see the food just sitting in her throat instead of going into her stomach.  Thus started a month-long dosing of antibiotics.  I designed a stand for Holly to place her front feet on when she ate so her front end could be elevated at 45 degrees.  This would help the food go down her throat.  Her food was soaked in water and we added canned dog food as well.  Everything had to be mashed to make it slide down easier.

The first few days were hard going.  Getting food and medicine down her throat was difficult, but I kept at it.  Finally she began to swallow again.  Over time she learned to get up on her stool by herself when it was mealtime.  Less and less food came back up.  By the end of the month of antibiotics, Holly had energy again.  The spark had returned to her eyes.  She carried her head normally and her tail got the curl back.

We went to the vet for a recheck and were surprised to learn she had actually lost weight.  The vet suggested feeding puppy food since it has higher protein.  I had been giving her an egg a day and that was upped to two.  After a week or so we noticed that the area at the top of her skull seemed to be filling back in.  She started looking less gaunt.  Holly was able to eat her soaked dog food whole instead of having it mashed.  I began adding in dry food so she could do some chewing to help develop the atrophied muscles of her jaw.  She seemed on the road to recovery.

Then she started regurgitating again.  At first we hoped it was a fluke, but no.  After a couple more episodes, we opted to put Holly back on another month of antibiotics.  Sometimes it takes more than one course of medication to eliminate the disease.  Lyme bacteria live in the spaces between the cells of the body.  It is harder for the immune system to attack and remove them.  Antibiotics also do not permeate so well outside the cells.  Holly has been on the second course of medication for about a week.  Her food mostly stays down.  She has energy and appears to be gaining weight.  We have high hopes that Lyme disease is her only problem and there is no underlying issue.  We will know at the end of this bottle of antibiotics if she truly is improving.

I have learned that the dogs of neighbors on both sides of us also had Lyme disease.  Our woods are full of deer and fields are home to deer mice.  Both these species act as hosts for the deer tick that carries Lyme disease.  My husband and I pull ticks off ourselves, especially in the spring.  This horrible disease is all around us.  We take the precautions available, but sadly there is no 100% method to avoid tick exposure (besides staying in the house!)  We live on a farm and love to walk in the fields, orchards and woods.  We also have to work in those places to keep the farm running.  We can’t hide in the house.

Recently there seems to be increased interest and awareness in the medical community about Lyme disease.  I have personally witnessed the ravages of this illness in people who went undiagnosed for too long.  The bacteria were able to set up deep in the body and wreak havoc.  The experience with Holly has taught me to take any change in health very seriously.  Even if the symptoms are not typical signs of Lyme disease, the infection should be a first consideration as a culprit so treatment can begin as soon as possible.

We have our fingers crossed for Holly.  She is still a fairly young dog and should be able to enjoy several more happy years, if we can just beat this awful disease.

Time to Abolish the Electoral College

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A nice, calming photo to help me reach tranquility.

The 2016 Presidential election results are nearly counted and the outcome appears to be that Clinton won the popular vote, yet Trump is President thanks to the Electoral College process.  While I was not enthralled by either candidate, I did decide to vote for the first female president and what I believed to be the sane candidate.  No matter which way the vote went, it feels intrinsically wrong that the winner of a simple majority of the popular vote does not become the chief executive.

If the final tally of this election holds Clinton as the winner of the popular vote, she will be the fifth person in our history to enjoy a majority of the voters’ approval yet not gain the highest elected office in the land.  The last time this occurred was in 2000 when Gore fell to Bush.  It was not right then and it is still not right today.

In a democracy, for better or for worse, the majority is supposed to rule.  To see the people’s chosen candidate thrown down inspires voter apathy, not to mention disgust.  The new President enters office with the knowledge he or she does not enjoy the support of a majority of the voters in the country.  I find it hard to consider such an official to be a legitimate representative of my country.  It is time for the Electoral College in the United States to go the way of other out-dated concepts removed by constitutional amendments.

Amending the Constitution is no small matter.  The process requires an act of Congress, no less, or two-thirds of the states may call for a convention to propose an amendment.  The amendment passes when the legislatures of three-fourths of the states in the nation vote to approve.  Such a task seems insurmountable, yet it has been accomplished numerous times.  The Congress actually proposed an amendment to do away with the Electoral College in 1969.  The proposal passed the House, but not the Senate.  It would have allowed direct election of the President and Vice-President with a run-off vote if no candidate received more than 40% of the vote.

The State of Maine, where I live, just approved on Nov. 8, citizen initiative legislation that creates a ranked voting system.  Because our last few gubernatorial elections have been split by three candidates, the resulting governor did not receive a simple majority approval.  Maine wants her top elected official, and federal congressional members, to derive authority via the support of a majority of her voters.  Each voter selects a first, second, third, etc, choice.  If there is no majority winner, the candidate who receives the least votes is eliminated and those votes go to the second choice on each voter’s ballot. The rounds of voting continue until a majority winner emerges.  In this manner, voters need attend only one election to select a clear winner in a close three-way race.

Ranked voting would also work for the Presidential race where there are three or more strong candidates.  This method is easier to understand and fairer than the rules and outcomes of the Electoral College.

Guess it’s time for me to start agitating my Congresspeople for an amendment.  If millions around the country did the same thing, we could have direct election of our President and Vice President.  Perhaps we would even feel our vote meant something since the person we elected would get to take office.

Little Bunnies First Day Out

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We’ve had some gorgeous, warm, sunny days lately and now that the little angora rabbits are a month old, a few days ago it was time for them to get to know the great outdoors.  The fawns and their mother came out to the large outside rabbit run.  The area is approximately 8 ft by 16 ft, plenty of space for little bunnies to race around.a4

The babies kicked up their heels, tasted fresh grass, clover, dandelion and plantain from the lawn and stretched out in the shade to enjoy the balmy air and gentle breeze.  Mama rabbit is very happy for the break from close quarters with her infants.  There are three fawns:  two female albinos and one male color point.  The color point can be told by the smudge of brown on his nose.  As he grows, his ears, feet and maybe even tail will turn a soft brown shade.  His coat will be cream and his eyes are blue.a3
He is an adorable baby and I plan to keep him. To enlarge my herd I also will keep one of his little sisters. My rabbit population dropped to just two before these were born. Rabbits do not live terribly long, seven years on average. I had several about the same age who passed away this last winter and spring. Now, thanks to rabbits doing what they do best, I have new members of the rabbitry to produce fiber.a5

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After a good romp and feed, mom and babies settle down to doze away the warm afternoon.a6