Derek Johnson Muses

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

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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Promise

Random Stuff I don’t Understand

Why some guys, if they have a choice between an extra helping of meat or dessert, take the extra meat. Or eat two meat sandwiches in place of one sandwich and sides of potatoes and vegetables. Okay, maybe I get the whole power-protein thing but come on. There are some great foods out there to try, why are you just crushing the roast beast?

All of the various filters that Apple puts in my generic photo editor on my phone. Seriously, the one called Chrome must be to help Google sell stuff. And why isn’t there a plain sepia?

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They call it transfer, but it looks more like half-transfer.

Older adults who keep ambling out to Husker home games year after year. Of course, I will probably be clinging to “silly traditions” at their age too. Still, I don’t know why they’d rather stay home in their easy chairs and get a better view on TV.

How I can sit on the couch next to a mess of paper, unopened mail, and charging cords, and find whatever’s on TV at the time more interesting than cleaning up that mess.

Why I watch TV and play video games for another hour late at night, even when I have to get up and do something the next day.

Why I long to be married and am completely happy being single at the same time.

Why everyone in New York-LA-Chicago-San Francisco looks down on Seward, the state of Nebraska, and the rest of flyover country. Due to e-commerce, the world has leveled off and you can have a successful life anywhere in America. You don’t have to pay the high city rents.

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Why other people make meeting new people look so easy.

Why Almighty God sent His Son to die for me. That quest never ends.

My First Garden at the New Place

People, get ready for me to begin hitting you with morally superiority of doing what’s best for my body and for the earth! I planted a garden this year!

I am being a bit feticious, but I’ve got a lot of stuff in the ground, and to be honest, I’m enjoying getting my hands dirty and wish I had tilled up more ground than I did. I’ve planted cabbage, broccoli, green beans, sunflowers, carrots, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, strawberries, and corn (of course).

Like every time I get up and do something, I’m surprised at how easy it is once I start. Just a rotation of till and plant, and water and weed. I’ll have to freeze some of what I grow, but that’s just another lesson to learn. (Those who live around Seward, feel free to put in a offer on anything you may want.)

 

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The Photo that’s Just So Important

Originally, I had tried to think of something to write about a human flaw, just so I could use the photo below in a post. But I struck out, so here it is. Just the photo.

Hometown Store

Hometown Store

I photographed this store on a road trip I took two years ago. It was trip that I took and told no one about, and even now, the only thing I’ll say about it is that it was to one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country. It was a three-day trip. The first day featured glorious weather. The next two featured bothersome rain.

Tell me, is this picture pretty enough to stand on its merit? Do you need to know the name of the town it is in, that I took it in the afternoon, that it is the only significant town for several miles? Do I have through in long exposition about how I rolled into town looking for a coffee shop but didn’t find one, then continuing to push on towards a state borderline? Does it matter that a whole town full of people spent years of their lives walking by this store, and that part of me feels like I traveled a whole world to find it? It is, after all, just a store, sitting out there on the prairie, with so much in between.

Or is this just another desperate ploy on my part to get attention? Probably, but I hope the other stuff matters too.

Waking Nightscapes and Other Things to Do at 3:00 A.M.

The saga usually starts with having to go to the bathroom, as I roll over crack my eye to register 2:16 A.M. on the alarm clock on my bedside table. I get up and do my business, and return to bed, eager to fall back under the mysterious spell of sleep. Until I start thinking.

This past week, it was unexpected lightning keeping me up. Sometimes, it’s the next day’s big task, or the scary and/or intense movie I watched the previous evening. Sometimes, a sin that is weighing on me. Any way the chaos slices itself, the thoughts sift through my head until I realize that has to be at least twenty or thirty minutes since I first woke.

The sound of trains and traffic rolling outside my window hound me as my head spins. Sometimes, that waking time can be spent prone on the bed, as I mull whatever’s troubling me and pray it out. But once I’ve become conscious of that I have a phone with limitless access within reach that may have updates on its screen.

Oh, the beckoning phone. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary to get up and distract myself, but the burning of brain cells in the darkness to my iPhone can do as much to do as much to make me anxious as it does to burn time, especially when it sends me down the path of old mistakes.

Even as I lie tossing and turning, I long for the bright dreamscapes of my mind’s eye. Sure, there are nights when I have nightmares that drive me to keep my eyes open for fear of a revisit, but on most nights, I relish the bright worlds I go to. And I’m cranky and fail to think straight when I don’t sleep enough.

The choice of whether or not to get up is always an angsty one. Watch some TV or read some article, or walk a bit to get rid of some of the anxiety. No matter how I shape it, if I do get up, I’ll have lost an hours’ sleep, likely more. And it’s burdening.

But sometimes that extra time in thought or prayer is enough to convince to take a new road in life, or to change courses. Usually, the revelations aren’t big, but they are meaningful enough to get me going in the right direction. And most of the time, I’ll block out any incurred sleep deprivation over time.

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