Derek Johnson Muses

It is my daily goal to make everyone around me better people, thanks be to God.

Stability of Same

Dividing Line

Dividing Line

I love not changing. I love waking up every day in the same house and the same bed. I drove the same car for eight years, been at the same job for nearly seven. I’ve been at a Husker football game nine years in a row. I’ve lived in the same town for all but the short time I was away at college and when I briefly worked in Lincoln.

Sameness is a comfort. Sure, maybe it makes people a bit too comfortable, but it is a comfort nonetheless. Next year, I will have to make some bigger life changes, changes that are inevitable. I can only hope to find ways to keep my traditions going.

Sadness: A Brief Thought

Happy Circlers

Happy circlers. Yes, I visited a turkey farm recently.

Sadness is a primary emotion of the human condition. It is that distance between you and something that appear, or maybe really will, complete you. Sometimes sadness is a reminder to look for a better way to do something, but sadness indulged in becomes self-pity. Sadness, contemplated over a period of years, can become an excuse for a lack of will or an acceptance of low standards.

Is happiness the true opposite of sadness? In the momentary sense, yes, but simple euphoria that passes quickly is not the true opposite of sadness. Such momentary exuberance is often married to sadness itself, as its coming is often associated with sadness’ arrival and long stay. In some way, completeness is the true opposite of sadness. Being a whole being allows one not to indulge in the throngs of self-pity but reside in the comforts of a true, well-formed self.

End of the Season

It’s that time of year again. The end. The last time I go to certain fields before they are harvested.

Almost in

Almost in

The time our family visits Lake Michigan.

Shoreline

Shoreline

And the time of year my writer’s block gets as bad as it ever does. My focus is divided, and the last thing I want to do is plop down at my computer during the middle of football season and waste my energy on a post that no more than 30 people will read by this Christmas.

But here I am.

I sweated and toiled all summer. I gardened and froze and pickled until the life flowed out of me. I mowed, in essence, three lawns. Now, I’m picking apples from a neighbor’s tree. (If you live near Seward or Lincoln, you’re welcome to have some.) All the while, I’ve kept up an active travel schedule that’s left me feeling like I have nothing left to give. And, with all this running around, I’ve felt that I haven’t needed to share it with anyone. Which has lead me to the question, do I need to consider doing something else with my time, maybe even a major life change? d

In my adult life, my actions indicate that I want my daily routines to change as little as possible. Yes, I run through different causes and jobs, but the basic routine of kitchen work/writing/household choirs, all of that has stayed the same. I try not to cling to things (hey, people tear it up and move all the time), but homeostasis gives me a lot of peace. A lot. Maybe even too much.

One more trip, and I won’t be making the long circle through Iowa and Illinois. Eventually, there won’t be apples to pick, and the garden will be winterized. After that, who know what I’ll do.

Close and Personal

Close and Personal

Road Notes: Off the Grid in Western Kentucky/Tennessee

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Enter Here

Last week I went to Tennessee. I was disappointed when I started passing a bunch of cornfields and the region started to look like Nebraska.

Seriously though it was a great break from my usual criss-crossing through Midwest power lines and family restaurants to go through quaint southern junk yards and vine overgrowth. Okay, seriously, the region of the Missouri bootheel/western Tennessee and Kentucky has a lot of nice homes, logging mills (never seen one of those before) and stretches of road that mostly go straight. And even though they don’t get snow and have six Pentecostal churches per town of 1,500, it feels just as familiar as any other part of the country I go to.

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Get that number

This time, Cairo, Illinois seemed even more rundown than the other two times I’ve been through there. It’s the only town under 5,000 I’ve ever been to that I’ve feared for my safety. My grower told me virtually the entire town is on welfare, words that rang through my head as I drove through town, expecting someone to jump out of an abandoned building with a gun. Of the five people I saw on the street, I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of them used drugs. As many hurting towns as I’ve seen, this is one is as sad as I’ve ever seen.

Trees along the Ohio River

Trees along the Ohio River

It’s been a good year in the fields. Some of my fields have been average, but I haven’t had a field that flopped or massively underachieved. I was overjoyed to be counting the pods on the plants and sending yield estimates to my father. Harvest may still be six weeks away, but the majority of my miles are behind me. Get your 2015 orders in.

Ready!

Ready!

 

Road Notes: Nebraska Hinterlands

The Undefined Country

The Undefined Country

The first bad decision was made the night before. Around 9:20, I was in the kitchen slicing cucumbers to pickle. In the morning, I was supposed to get up and go to take a promo picture with our grower who lives in Page, Nebraska. I looked up at the clock, and feeling energetic, I thought, I can probably can these pickles in half an hour, right? Why wait until Thursday to do it?

Long story short, I fell asleep after midnight and woke up at 5:40, knowing it was going to be a long day, even if it was a trip I’d been looking forward to.

I have a two ideas about where I’d move if I’d ever left Seward. One, hit a large city and assimilate and try everything. The other, head west into the great beyond of western Nebraska, Wyoming, or other somewhere else on the high plains. Last Wednesday, I ventured out into the that Western sky that has been calling my name all summer. My eastward travel this year has made me apathetic toward taking a short trip westward, until a real reason came about.

 

Sign/Times

Sign/Times

I got up and grabbed my energy drink of choice (Starbucks Refresh-it doesn’t dehydrate a person) and pressed west through all the communities whose names I heard growing up on Sports Overtime. York. Stromsburg. Albion. All out on these high plains. Corn and soybean country gradually turning into ranching country, a town of 3,000 being a mid-sized city instead of a small town.

Rural Iowa and rural Nebraska are very different. The further you get away from population centers of over 100,000, the more the area changes. For one, you see a lot more signs for high school teams than anywhere else in the country. At most, these people make to a couple of Husker games a year, if that. The high school team is your major college or NFL team. It’s surprising how many new homes and new medical buildings line the streets of small towns. More money is making its way out of the city.

Celebration

Celebration

You look out over these plains, and there is so much independence. Or at the least, the illusion of independence in the bright summer sun shimmering down on the faded grass. There are no more lands left to pioneer, but these lands are not bad for the occasional adventure.

Catch your eye?

Catch your eye?

 

The Great August

Streets

Streets

Starting this month, August has identified itself to me as my favorite month. This surprised me, because other than college football teams, I don’t have a lot of favorite anythings. I don’t have a favorite food, even though I love to eat. There’s just good and the best flavors ever.

Maybe it’s because it’s the time of year when our production in the field is “out of the woods” so to speak, or it’s the blend of colors in the evening sky. The calm before the storm of football season broods in the air. We see too much gray the rest of the year, and August gives us the best colors of the years. Kids are going back to school, and you reflect on what they’ll become. Who knows. All I know is I like August.

Close Lined

Close Lined

 

 

Vegetables Madness

I have a lot of sauerkraut in my fridge. Two large jars, one small jar, and another small Tupperware. Today, I continued my obsessive-compulsive desire to can, and before I knew it, I had two batches of pickles in jars in the fridge.

I really don’t know what to do with all this vegetables. I can and freeze stuff, and yet I still have tons of stuff to deal with. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fresh veggies, and they’ve been better for me than my usual round of chips-and-stuff, but I keep wondering how I’m going to eat all this stuff. I haven’t even harvested the pumpkins.

It’s weird eating sauerkraut with every meal, but not as weird as it will be when I’m eating sauerkraut and pickles with every meal. I shouldn’t complain because this is what I live for-to eat the same thing over and over again. Now, all I have to worry about is bread and meat, and I’m eating less bread than I have at times.

My sauerkraut literally has no taste. The fermentation takes away the acid that accompanies the fresh cabbage and makes the leaves limp and simple. I plan on using it in the crock pot. Pretty soon, I’ll just start eating sauerkraut for breakfast, since I’m already eating it on my eggs. A bowl of sauerkraut would likely taste no different than a bowl of oatmeal or Cheerios.

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All those nutrients packed in tight…

One thing I learned the hard way was how much work it was to make squash seed edible for consumption. When I went to freeze some squash, I thought to myself how disappointing it was that I wouldn’t  be able to use the seeds. So, I decided to roast them in the oven. The end product was fine, but it took hours to ply all of the seeds away from the innards of eight or ten squash. All that for a small Tupperware of seeds.

 

 

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French Toast for the Lone Man

As a single person, I was frustrated when I awoke last Sunday morning with a hankering for French toast. As I turned over in my first waking moments, I felt that desire rumble inside me, but I couldn’t bear the scorn of going out into the world, sit at a table by myself, and finding someplace to indulge my cravings all by myself.

It’s the dilemma of single life: do I have the willingness to go someplace alone, and feel the heat of all the people around me, or should I just buy the mediocre product that I can buy through the drive through, go to the park, and hide from the rest of the world?

Since I went to church on Saturday night, I decided, hey, wouldn’t it be fun to go get French toast in Lincoln and then go to church at Redeemer? I set out down the highway, but three miles out of town, I realized I was so tired, there was no way I was going to enjoy going out for French toast. I remember Wal-Mart had French bread on sale for $1. I could make my own French toast at home, where I had eggs I needed to use.

I got the bread, went home, and cracked the eggs and whipped in the milk. In a way, I had to cook this French toast for myself, to prove that I cared for my own needs. Whatever. At least I got to use that cinnamon I love.

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Breakfast

 

The First Cuttings

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Ready

You’re supposed to cut cabbage low to the ground. For me, it was just easier to pull the entire plant up and cut of the root before I brought it into the house. Pulling back all the bug-bitten leaves, I exposed the firm head that had been waiting for me all these weeks, and I set about preparing it.

When I arrived back from my last trip, my garden was overflowing. I harvested multiple gallon tupperwares of beans, three broccoli plants, and the cabbage. I had to learn to make sauerkraut, or eat coleslaw for the next two months. Although the coleslaw is pretty great.

Making sauerkraut sounded risky, with leaving the cabbage out of the refrigerator, but it just takes cabbage and sea salt. I got to mixing the stuff with my hands, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait for it to be read to eat.

Fermenting Cabbage.

Fermenting Cabbage.

The harvesting as lead to more work than I expected. Back when I planted, I was scooping up cheap seed and dumping it in the ground, no questions asked. Now, the picking, the watering, the blanching and freezing has become my day job on days when I allow it to happen. But I love it, so next year I’ll probably dump twice as many seeds into the ground and be just as crazy when it all comes up. For those of you who live around Seward, I’m selling some stuff or trading for other produce. Corn is shedding and should be read shortly.

 

 

 

 

World Cup of Tea

I just say this to all my tweeps out there: I’m glad you’re going crazy over World Cup soccer even though I’m not. Listen, I went all-in on college basketball this past winter, and, in the middle of football season, I’ll be all in when basketball comes back in November because Nebraska will be good. But I’m too drained to follow soccer, even though it’s the best soccer there is.
I got into the World Cup when it was played in the US 20 years ago, and it was a lot of fun then. Since then, I’ve grown up and had to ditch a few passions. I don’t follow the NBA that closely, so I don’t see why I’d follow the World Cup. I watch greatest game reruns on BTN all the time, and can only be a degenerate for so many things.
But you go crazy.

I Force It

I’ll admit it-there are a lot of times I sit down at this computer and post something simply for the sake of posting something, or for the sake of sharing a photograph. I wish I had done something earlier in the week worth sharing like cleaning off my coach or purchasing new furniture. Actually, I did just get new furniture.

The truth is, I don’t tell everything on this blog. There are things I want to say, but I don’t feel like it’s for the best. Okay, sometimes my courage is wanting, but otherwise there are plenty of things that will stay inside me own word processor. I am sorting through major decisions about my future. When the time is right, I’ll share them.

So, why do I keep throwing up posts without a second thought? Maybe because it takes so much energy to keep what needs to stay private private. Or because I just don’t know how else to express myself. Or more likely, because I’m an attention hog.

Right now today, I have a story inside me. I feel today that I will write it, but it will take a lot of struggle until it sees the light of day. Until then, here’s another calming photo to tide you over.

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Aforementioned Picture

 

 

Road Notes: Far From Home

Oh, those early mornings

Oh, those 6 A.M starts. In a filter no less.

Even on familiar roads, I set a personal record, hitting over 15 fields in five days. There were plenty of Subway sandwiches, coffees, lunches in the truck, and desperate map checks in between. Praise the Lord for my iPhone’s map app. The longer I check fields, the more my time on the road becomes simple directions rather than complex thinking. Gives me time to reflect on things.

The highlights:

Southeast Iowa has a bunch of towns (Pella, Burlington, Ottumwa, Oskaloosa, Washington and Fairfield) that I can’t tell apart. I spent 15 minutes driving around Fairfield looking for a Subway that was really in Oskaloosa. I think.

Fairfield, Iowa. Passed this very same light in September of 2009.

Fairfield, Iowa. Passed this very same light in September of 2009, and photographed the diamond store on the corner.

In an odd juxtaposition, Shelton Fireworks has locations off I-29 at the Iowa-Missouri border, and off Highway 27 in the eastern part of the state.

St. Louis seems to have a need to keep all of its office buildings close to the interstate. You rarely even see shopping centers there or even just houses, just miles of glass windows. It’s as if St. Louis has to keep reminding itself that it’s a major city for influence, even though it’s fallen down a few rungs over the past 100 years or so.

I have no hope of finding a better place to eat lunch or dinner than Subway or Culver’s. It’s always Subway and Culver’s. I know everything on their menus. At least Culver’s has variety; my final meal at Subway I searched for a special I hadn’t tried before.

My grower in southeast Missouri is suffering from what he calls the worst rainfall he’s ever had in his life (he has grown daughters, by the way.) The beans are up, but they have a ways to go. Tuesday afternoon, it rained on me for three hours, and one crossing of the Mississippi River.

Tear Drops

Tear Drops

Cairo, Illinois is a dead city. Everyone there has to have moved to either Kentucky or Missouri to get away from paying high taxes for the pensions of lazy government workers.

I’ve had two bad experiences with Wal-Mart oil changes, one in Dubuque where I was rejected and another in Kingdom City, Missouri which took forever when I was in a rush. One guy named Dean at the Wal-Mart in Mount Vernon, Illinois salvaged their reputation.

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Empty Street in Cairo, Illinois

The Wisconsin-Illinois border should be shaded in gray between the small towns on either side of it. The land and farmhouses between the two states are indistinguishable. But the run-down houses of Dakota, Illinois are nothing compared to the brightly-slanted houses just across the border in Brodhead, Wisconsin. The difference in pride is so obvious.

I found a favorite new restaurant just north of Madison called The Pine Cone, a bakery/dinner. I had all the signs: a menu I couldn’t put down, employees who helped each other and were always communicating, and shelves full of beautiful pastries, all of which I wanted to try. I’ll be going back.

Wisconsin Woods

Wisconsin Woods

Tomah, Wisconsin needs a coffee shop. Like, four years ago.

The biggest challenge I have in making these trips is discernment. When do I need to stop for the day? When can I keep going? There was one night when I stopped sooner than I would have liked, but I got my oil changed, rested, read, and started out that morning at six A.M.

Every night but the one I mentioned above, I worked until 9. One night I got an early motel room and took a leisurely dinner, but I still went to my field that night. Thought I would have time to get a Huskermax post up sometime that week, and that pipe dream went out the window.

I missed my garden.

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