Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Infectious and Contagious Book Review

Lee and I spent yesterday afternoon clearing even more brush out of the same gully. You really don't need any pictures. The more we cleared the more we uncovered, but we got tired and quit "to fight another day" or however the quote goes. I do have a Bartlett's Quotations, but it is in another room...a cold room... so this will have to do. I will post some pictures when we get the whole thing cleared. Just to see what there is. We found a bunch more barrels and some tires and who knows what's under that?

It has been warm and the snow is melting fast which makes the ground muddy and slippery and we all got covered, including RJ. He had to have a half bath. I washed his feet and underneath so that he could come in the house!

I don't usually write book reviews on this blog, but I read such a great book I wanted to write about it. I see a lot of books come across my desk. Frequently one catches my eye and I read the back to see if I should take it home or shelve it. When Rena catches me at it, she says, "You can't read every book that you check in!" And I reply, "Why not?" Running gag.

This one particular book stopped me because of one of the quotes on the back from the reviewer,, "...continues the work that Robert A. Heinlein left undone..." When I was 13 my parents took me and all of the kids still living at home to the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific for my father's sabbatical. We would be gone for a year and had to be able to carry a suitcase and one carry-on. We are a family of readers, so I knew I had to have a few books, along with whatever clothes I would need for A YEAR! The good thing was that it would be warm and bathing suits and shorts and T-shirts would suffice for the most part. (Once we got to Tonga we realized I had to have a skirt for school and a vala for going in to town, but that is a whole different subject.)

The dilemma was, which books do I take? Obviously books are heavier than clothes and I needed to take a toothbrush and other items of personal grooming, so I had to pick and choose wisely. I took four books and carried them the whole year. My favorite was The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein. I read and re-read that book so many times I almost became the book as in Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. (What do you mean you never read that! Well, hurry up and read it and then come back.)

So when referenced Robert Heinlein and I read the review, I knew what they were talking about and had to read Contagious by Scott Sigler. A short few chapters in I realized that this was a sequel to his first book in the series, Infectious. I hate that! I like to get the first one and go all the way through without taking a breath! If I know a book is a sequel I go to and find all the books in order and start at the beginning. It was too late now. The book took off on a tear and never let up. As soon as I go to work the next morning I ordered the first in the series and then I read it out of sequence.

Both Contagious and Infected were good stand alone books, but because I had read them out of order I knew what had happened to the characters later on and this made Infected not as good as Contagious for me. You have to read them in order.

The premise of the two books is that there is an infectious agent that has a cluster in and near Michigan. The people infected have a bite or series of bites that itch outrageously. The bites rapidly become bigger and the bigger they get the more paranoid and delusional the victims become. If graphic violence and gruesome autopsy details turn your stomach then these books are not for you. Even though I have read a lot of books these scenes are very intense and I wanted to put the book down for a bit. But then I couldn't and I had to dive back in. The books are not short, but you can't put them down long enough to catch your breath, so start on a weekend!

The violence escalates to the point that the CDC, Homeland Security, the CIA and even the president are involved. Because they don't know if this is a manufactured agent from terrorists or even something from outer space they strive to keep this contagion secret from the public even though various characters want to scream it out so everyone will go to the hospital as soon as the symptoms occur. But if everyone with an itchy bite or rash goes to the hospital and shot anyone coming close to them with a red spot chaos would reign!

Each book covers only a few days so the pace is fast and furious. They have to figure out what it is, where it is coming from and stop it before the whole area erupts into violence all while keeping the secrecy from the local police and the press. They end up blaming SARS and the flesh eating bacteria to explain the HazMat suits at the crime scenes that they take away from the local officials.

I went on Amazon to see if there was a book number 3 out there. He has a new book, but on a different subject. The end of Contagious left it wide open for another book and I hope Mr. Sigler writes one.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lessons Learned

We started out the day with a reasonable goal. There is an old stove that we found in a gully and we had been putting off getting it out. Then we would go clear under and around the OTHER bridge.

We loaded up the Mule with a pair of long handled clippers and a hand saw and went down the hill. Travis had given us a winch for Christmas a few years ago and we thought we could pull it out with that. I started clearing the brush at the top of the gully and Lee climbed down it to see the best way to get it up.

One of the things we discovered when we first started clearing this property is that vines will cover and choke anything in their path. Naturally there were vines aplenty and we had to hack at them to clear our way down the hill. In front of the stove was a good deal of wire. This has also been a problem from the beginning. We have found barbed wire and fence wire every place we intend to clear.

This is something I will never understand. The dumping of wire, cans, bottles and even old appliances on your own property. It's not that expensive to take it to the dump. Or at least put it all in one spot. Not strewn across your land.

Lee hooked the winch wire around some of the fencing and I started the winch. We were able to get some of the barbed wire up, but there was a lot of junk that we couldn't see until we got down in the gully and started clearing brush and vines. The fencing had been down there so long that a quite large tree had grown up through one of the holes. There were two cedar trees on the lip of the gully that were going to interfere, so we went back to the house for reinforcements.

This time we came back with the tractor, wire cutters and a chain saw. We cut down the two trees and could see the mess a lot better. The tractor chains pulled up a lot of downed trees. Some of them had burned areas. I wondered if they had been hit by lightning or if this was a burn pile of some sort. In addition to the stove, there were quite a few empty, rusting barrels. I hope they were put down there empty. How can people not worry about destroying the ground water when we depend upon a well?

When we attached to chain to the stove it came up in pieces. Good thing it wasn't a valuable one we wanted to restore! We keep hoping to find something of value in all these dump piles. Lee especially is hoping for a car or engine! The more barrels we brought up the more we uncovered.

After about 4 hours we quit for the day. We didn't even get to the other bridge! We were both tired and besides, there are a couple of football games Lee wants to catch!I expect Lee will move the trees to our burn pile and make a pile of metal for a dump run when we finish. There are still some loose rolls of rusty barbed wire, fence posts with rusty and mangled fencing and a few more barrels. In order to get to the rest of the junk, we will have to cut more trees.

I used to hate to have to cut a tree down. But the trees on our gullies are so crowded and covered in vines and blackberries and brush, that they are choking. It feels kind of good to free a few trees and imagine them taking a deep breath for the first time.

There are a lot of places we intend to clear. We might even plant some thornless blackberries! It would be a full time job for both of us to get it all done. But with us both working, it will just have to wait. So we do what we can when we can and slowly the Shenandoah Gateway Farm is shaping up! I have this vision of what I want it to be, but I have to have patience. Plus Lee and I are too old to work all day every day! When we first got here we worked so hard every day that we both had tingling and numb arms and hands in the morning.

So here are the lessons learned:

Have patience. It will still be there tomorrow;

Any job you undertake is ALWAYS more complicated and difficult than you had thought, or as Lee frequently says, "Nothing is ever easy."

When dragging a very heavy and long tractor chain with a hook at each end, hold both hooks in your hands. The dragging one will catch and be a big fat pain.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Today was a maintenance day. I have a lovely four day weekend due to Lee/Jackson Day on Friday and Martin Luther King Day on Monday. An interesting mix of Civil War and Civil Rights that you get in the South! So I can do household errands and cleaning and still get to the maintenance issues that have been on my list for so long. And hopefully some lazy, slug time.

We have a very large concrete bridge with large culverts that form the entrance to our driveway. Various storms before Christmas brought quite a bit of debris down the stream that goes under the bridge. (I have heard it called Looney's Creek, which fits in nicely with our place which is frequently a Looney Bin, to quote our New Zealand/Irish friend Lynette.) We have been wanting to clear the debris so that we don't have any bridge wash over issues when the spring rains come, but it has just been too darn cold!

RJ always wants to come on any expedition around the yard. We almost always take him. However he can't be trusted near the road so he was relegated to guarding the truck!

The weather report called for temperatures in the 40s this morning. A lovely warm day. Lee and I went down to the bridge with the Mule, the truck and a rake. We soon discovered we had a way more tangled mess than we could handle alone. The large branches,smaller branches, leaves and trash had formed a amazing macrame that became like the game of Pick-Up Sticks. Everything you grabbed was woven in among other things and glued together with composting leaves that had dried to some kind of plaster. You either had a grip on something so heavy and convoluted that you couldn't move it, or one small stick came out. Very discouraging.

We kept at it until we had a large pile and then filled the truck. Lee thought we could go faster if he got the tractor and used the front loader to hang over the bridge. Then we could load the bucket and dump it directly into the truck for the second load. So that's what we did. When it dries out we will burn it.

A lot of rocks had been pushed into a pile in front of the culverts so we moved some of those to the side. This freed up the flow under the bridge. When I bent over and peered into the culverts I could see that rocks had been rolled into them by the force of the water. We left them there in the hope that the next big storm will wash them on through to the other side.

My father had a fascination with rocks. Whenever we were in the car on some trip or other, my dad would spy a particularly wonderful specimen at the side of the road. He would stop the car and make some of us kids get out and put the rock in the trunk. These rocks ended up lining our driveway and every path in our very large yard. Many, many rocks. I believe there was and is a law about taking rocks from public land. I assume there is a statute of limitations. I hope so at any rate.

So, while Lee and I were moving these rocks you will understand that I examined them and noticed the particularly interesting ones. Ones I thought Dad would have liked and thought about what he would have done with them. We have a driveway that is 1/3 of a mile long. I am glad Lee doesn't have Dad's penchant for lining walks and driveways. We have a lot of rocks, but that is a very long driveway.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It is cold. Very cold. It was 17 last night but with the windchill I think it was around 100 below. Or something like that.

At any rate it is MUCH warmer this morning. 32 degrees. When we lived in California 32 degrees would have meant breaking out the ski clothes and driving the kids to school. WAYYY too cold to wait for the bus! Now I consider it a nice and mostly warm day! Perspective.

Looking outside it is sort of grayish. The sun is out and the sky is blue, but the trees are naked and even the evergreens look sort of gray. The fields are mostly beige and the snow is all gone. At least when the snow first falls it is bright and covers up all the gray. There are spots of snow in parking lots where the sheer volume prevents it from melting. It is not pretty, though, just gray and dirty.

Well, now I am depressing ME! So I went outside to do at least one thing on my list. I had a problem with peach leaf curl last year on one of our trees. It infected the whole tree and all the leaves fell off. I am afraid it died, although I have never had it effect a tree to that degree. So, I had to get out and spray.

I should have sprayed around Thanksgiving. The way an arborist explained it, was to spray at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine's Day. That was an easy to remember way to know the time of the year. Unfortunately I didn't do it then. I did it today and I'll try to do it in February and we'll see how it goes. The tree that had the horrible case of "curl" looks like a goner, though. I learned not to count out trees, so I will wait until spring before I give up on it. We also had a tree that the wind snapped off the top, an apricot tree. I will also wait until spring to see if that one can recover. It was staked, but it still snapped off. At any rate they got a dose, too.

I think some of our trees are big enough to have a crop large enough to actually have some decent fruit. If so, this will be the first year. I may have to replant the two that look like they won't make it, but I am excited about making jam with fruit that doesn't bite you when picking. I loved the blackberry jam, but it was a pain, and I mean that literally, to pick. A gentleman from the Botetourt Farmers came in to the library last week and told me I needed to fertilize the blackberries to increase the yield and the size of the berries. I really should, but that may have to wait until I am home full time again.

I would like to plant some cultivated berries to eliminate the thorns. That would be another thing that may have to wait. Lee got his automobile lift this week and when he gets it installed, I may not be able to count on him for much farm work. He may get armpit deep in a car and not some up for air until summer!