Archive for September, 2017

When we moved the chickens to the back of the property a couple of years ago, we kept the old chicken yard in the front pasture. I had visions of maybe putting a goat out there someday. A nice little barn, a barnyard with a secure fence, netting overhead … what’s not to like?

What’s not to like is that this part of Tennessee is apparently ideal for growing jungles. When I had time, I kept the jungle at bay. Heck, I even tilled the ground inside that chicken yard last year (picture below) and planted some tiger nuts, which have the reputation of being so prolific, they take over an area.

The area was indeed taken over, but not by tiger nuts. The chicken yard became home to a huge variety of tough plants, along with bees, wasps, and countless other insects.  Any time I got near the yard, I heard a cacophony of chirping, buzzing, trilling and rattling. We had such a complicated ecosystem thriving in there, I’m surprised the EPA didn’t stop by to tell me I could never touch it.

Since I didn’t relish the idea of having to periodically get in there under the nets and whack down the jungle, I decided it was time for a long conversation with Chareva to discuss the future of the chicken yard. The conversation went like this:

“Are we ever going to use that front chicken yard for anything again?”

“No.”

“So can we just get rid of it?”

“Sure.”

Just get rid of it sounds easy. Of course, there was rather a lot of work involved.

First, I had to remove the fencing. I snipped away the aluminum ties that clipped the fencing to the t-posts, then yanked and yanked to no avail. The weeds had become intertwined with the fence all along the base, and it was like trying to pull up a tree.

After reciting some ancient curses known only to farmers, I had an inspiration. I looped a chain through the fence and attached the other end to the back of my car. Then I drove sloooowly away from the chicken yard. Sure enough, that ripped the fencing out of the ground.  It also left behind some impressive furrows.

The universe seems to have certain rules about which kinds of people are attracted to each other. A night person will usually marry a day person, for example. That’s the case in our marriage. Someone who wants to throw away  everything not being used will marry someone who wants to save everything. That’s also the case in our marriage.

I would have chucked the fencing since much of it had gotten torn, but Chareva spotted long sections that were intact. We had a long conversation to determine the future of the fencing. The conversation went like this:

“That’s good, strong fencing. We can’t just throw it all away. That would be a waste.”

“Okay, Honey.”

So we unrolled it all in the pasture and removed the weeds, then she cut away long sections to save. Then we rolled those up again and stored them in the barn.

With the fencing out of the way, I was able to remove the t-posts. I like cranking away on the t-post remover because it’s good exercise. There’s also very little chance I’ll whack myself in the head with a heavy chunk of steel.

I don’t mean to sound like an advertisement for the Swisher Predator (a.k.a. The Beast), but man, that thing was a real find. The picture below should give you an idea of how thick and tall the jungle was in front of the barn.

Here’s the same area after I pushed The Beast through there. It just kept chewing up the jungle and spitting it out.

That’s The Beast in the foreground below. The jungle is officially whacked, and the chicken yard is gone. I’ll till the ground one more time, then we’ll toss some grass seeds in there.

I sent the picture above to Jimmy Moore to make his day. During our disc-golf tournaments, he’s had quite a few shots drift into the nets that covered the chicken yard. Now all he has to worry about is hitting the barn — which he assures me he’ll do.

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You may have heard that 60 is the new 40. I’ve generally interpreted that as Unlike previous generations, we didn’t save enough for retirement and now we have to work until we die.

Okay, that may be overstating it. I know the idea is that today’s 60-year-olds want to live and feel more like 40-year-olds. Trouble is, plenty of recent studies suggest that the baby-boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age, largely because of the rise in type 2 diabetes and other features of metabolic syndrome.

I’ll turn 60 in just under 14 months. I don’t know what 60 is supposed to feel like, but I know I feel better at 58 than I did at 38. I’ve also had more than a few people express surprise when they learn my age and tell me they had me pegged at 40-something.

Well, heck, it turns out my DNA thinks it’s only 39. That’s some wildly optimistic DNA … or perhaps I’ve got a Jack Benny thing going on, turning 39 yet again.

Anyway, those are the results of my TeloYears test. If they’re legit, then I guess 60 will be the new 40 for me. Chareva will turn 45 in a few weeks, so now I feel like I’m hanging around with a hot older chick … although as she reminded me, we don’t know her TeloYears age.  My daughter Alana also wondered if there’s a separate test for my maturity level.

To be honest, I paid no attention to telomeres until someone at TeloYears got in touch to ask if I’d like to try the test. It’s a simple matter of filling out a form and sending in a blood sample, so I said sure, why not? But I still didn’t read up on exactly what telomeres are.

Here are some quotes from the literature they sent along with my results:

TeloYears is a simple genetic test that reveals the cellular age encoded in your DNA, allowing you to assess how well you are aging at the cellular level.

The TeloYears test measures one thing: the length of your telomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of your DNA that tend to shorten with age. To calculate your age in TeloYears, we use proprietary scientific methods to measure your telomere length, and statistical methods to determine your age in TeloYears, based on the average length of other people of the same age and gender.

Hmmm … my concern was that this might be like those online IQ tests that declare everyone a genius. So I did some poking around online and found an interview with the woman who won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of and research into telomeres. Here are some quotes:

If you think of your chromosomes – which carry your genetic material – as shoelaces, telomeres are the little protective tips at the end. They are made of repeating short sequences of DNA sheathed in special proteins.

During our lives they tend to wear down and when telomeres can’t protect chromosomes properly, cells can’t replenish and they malfunction. This sets up physiological changes in the body which increase risks of the major conditions and diseases of ageing: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, a weakened immune system and more. But the process is somewhat malleable. It is happening in all of us at some rate, but the rate can change. An enzyme called telomerase can add DNA to the ends of chromosomes to slow, prevent and partially reverse the shortening.

We all have health spans – the number of years we remain healthy, active and disease-free – and the shortening of our telomeres contributes to ageing and our entry from health span into disease span. But we can [do things that] affect our telomerase and telomeres, that can [delay] entry from health span to disease span. So we are talking more about keeping people healthier for longer and staving off some diseases of ageing. This is not about extreme life span extension – though of course staying healthier longer does have a reflection in mortality rates.

Yeah, okay. So according to my results, I have the telomere length of the average 39-year-old male, and that means I’m aging slowly – assuming the science is all legit.

If it is, I’m going to be honest and blame a big part of my results on lucky genes, much as I’d like to credit my diet and lifestyle. A lot of people in my family lived to a ripe old age – in fact, other than the ones who shortened their lifespans with smoking and/or heavy drinking, they all seemed to live to a ripe old age.

My great-grandfather, to name one shining example, lived to age 101 and was mentally sharp until the last couple of years. Chareva and I got to know his daughter (my great-aunt) when we lived in Los Angeles.  She was 96 and still sharp as a tack when we first met her.  I remember her complaining that people in her family live too long; all her friends in Los Angeles had passed away years earlier.

Apparently, some wing of my dad’s side of the family took the normal 80-year aging program and stretched it out to 100 years. From what I’ve read online, most guys reach their full adult height by 17 or 18. I was only 5’8” when I was 17. I didn’t stop getting taller until age 23, when I finally hit exactly 6’0”. (I’ve since shrunk to 5’11” despite having DNA that thinks it’s only 39.)

Of course, I believe diet also plays a part. Although I didn’t start seriously cutting back on carbs until my 40s, I’d pretty much given up sugary sodas, candies, pies, cookies, cakes, donuts, etc. by the time I was 20. Sugary stuff just didn’t appeal to me anymore, and given that I tended to feel like crap when I did indulge, I was convinced it couldn’t be good for me.

The TeloYears literature lists dietary tips for slowing the aging process, and avoiding sugar is one of them. Unfortunately, other tips appear to be straight from the USDA/American Heart Association playbook. Here are some examples:

  • Eat five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit most days of the week. (I don’t.)
  • Don’t eat processed meats (salami, sausage, bacon, ham) more than twice per week. (I do.)
  • Follow a mostly plant-based diet that’s low in fat. (Not a chance in hell.)
  • Replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil. (I’m fine with olive oil, but not as a replacement for butter.)

The literature mentions several studies in which plant-based and Mediterranean diets were correlated with longer telomere length. I don’t doubt that, but these were observational studies, and what we’re actually seeing (once again) is the “healthy person” effect: those diets attract people who care about their health, and are thus different in many, many ways.

I also care about my health, so I avoid what I consider the Big Three of disease-inducing foodstuffs: sugar, refined grains, and industrial seed oils.  I also eat mostly whole foods.  If the TeloYears test is accurate and my DNA really does think it’s only 39 years old, then some portion of that happy result is because of factors I inherited, and the rest is because of what I eat and what I do.

So I’ll ignore the advice to switch to a plant-based, low-fat diet and keep doing what I’ve been doing.  And of course, I expect to enjoy my sixtieth-new-fortieth birthday next year.

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Back in December, I mentioned that our local Kroger started carrying chips like these:

We’re seeing the wisdom of crowds at work. The U.S. government, the American Heart Association and other (ahem) “experts” still insist that coconut oil will kill us because of the saturated fat, and yet grocery stores are responding to demand from consumers who know better.

As more evidence that crowd wisdom is winning, I offer this picture:

There are only three ingredients in these chips: sweet potatoes, coconut oil and sea salt.

So what? It’s just another bag of chips cooked in coconut oil, right? True, but I found these at …wait for it … a gas-station mini-mart, right there by the checkout. That means someone who buys snacks for the mini-mart chain has realized there’s a demand for products like this.  I remember driving from California to Tennessee in 2009 and not being able to find any gas-station snacks that weren’t vaguely horrifying.

Just for kicks, I also took a picture of the ingredients list for a bag of Lay’s cheddar-flavored baked chips:

Look at those yummy ingredients.  But they’re baked! Lower in fat, ya see, so they must be good for you. Heh-heh-heh …

I’ll try not to strain my arm while patting myself on the back, but I’ve been predicting this trend for years. After Fat Head was released, I heard from plenty of food zealots who told me I’m an idiot, a shill for McDonald’s, etc., etc., for refusing to blame the evil corporations for making us all fat and sick by selling us bad foods.

I replied (over and over and over) that manufacturers only produce what people will buy, period. When more and more consumers demand grass-fed beef, or less-processed foods, or whatever, that’s what manufacturers will produce.

Here’s another example. I mentioned awhile back that I like a soup called True Primal. The latest incarnation is even better. It’s now made with all grass-fed beef, and the peas are gone. I’m sure that’s based on consumer feedback.

One pouch of the soup provides 24 grams of protein and just 11 net carbs.  All the vegetables are organic.  My daughters like the flavor, which makes it an easy lunch for them.

The demand for grain-free and gluten-free products is continuing to change what’s available in stores as well. Our local Kroger now carries several types of wheat-free pastas. Sure, they had gluten-free pastas before, but most were made from rice. My glucose meter tells me that anything with rice as a primary ingredient will send my blood sugar into the stratosphere. But now we’re finding pastas made from lentils, peas, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.

Here’s the complicated ingredient list for the lentil pasta:

If you’re on a strict ketogenic diet or a paleo purist, pasta made from lentils probably won’t appeal to you. I’m not a paleo purist (I think lentils are a fine food) and my daily carb intake is in the 75-100 gram range, so I’m happy to have the option of a pasta meal now and then. Unlike wheat pasta, which seems to just make me hungrier until I stuff myself, these pastas are quite satisfying.

The lentil pasta has 24 net carbs for two ounces. I use three ounces when I make a dinner-sized meal, so it’s 36 net carbs. I’ve checked my glucose an hour after eating and have yet to peak above 125 mg/dl. I’m fine with that.

I usually add four ounces of chicken breast to boost the protein, although the lentil pasta itself has a decent amount of protein at 20 grams per three ounces. For sauce, I make a quick-and-easy alfredo. Here are the ingredients for one serving – multiply as necessary.

3 tablespoons grass-fed butter
2 tablespoons Parmesan
2 tablespoons full-fat sour cream
Garlic and salt to taste
Warm the ingredients and whip with a fork.

Sometimes I also add a quarter-cup of marinara sauce made with no added sugars. According to my calculations, the meal comes out to:

900 calories
58 grams of protein
40 net carbs
11 grams of fiber

Nice to see more foods like these becoming available in grocery stores. Definitely a sign that things are changing for the better.

On the other hand, there’s this:

Weight Watchers is still trying but failing to get it right. Yes, they’ve caught on that people want real ingredients you can pronounce, but they substituted bean puree for cream as a “smart swap.” I don’t have anything against bean puree, but it’s just not necessary to ditch the cream. And of course, they kept the wheat pasta. Wrong swap, folks.

Just to confirm that we have a ways to go despite all the positive changes, the checkout guy at Kroger furrowed his brow when he scanned a bag of the Boulder chips and said, “Coconut oil? Isn’t that bad for you?”

“What makes you say that?”

“I think I read it has too much of the bad kind of cholesterol or something like that.”

Ah, well. We’re getting there, but it will take time.

 

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I have to admit, I’ll kind of miss The Guy From CSPI. It’s rare that someone pretending to promote science is such a goofball that he becomes a parody of himself. Life will be a little less entertaining without him declaring that fettucine alfredo is a Heart Attack on Plate! and a Hardee’s Thickburger is a Heart Attack on a Bun! (I’ve eaten both without so much as a chest pain afterwards.)

But alas, he’s apparently strapping on his Birkenstocks, putting a carrot in his mouth, and walking off into the sunset, according to a fawning NPR article online. Let’s take a look.

If you are the kind of person who picks up a box of food in the store and studies the label to see how much sugar or salt is in it, you can thank a man named Michael Jacobson.

Those labels with nutritional facts are a part of Jacobson’s legacy, one of his many victories in a four-decade-long battle against “junk food.” He has also had a hand in halting the marketing of many sugar-filled foods to children, reducing salt levels in packaged foods, and banning transfats. Next week, he’s stepping down, after 46 years, as president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.

Hmmm, perhaps the reporter should do a little research before crediting The Guy From CSPI with banning trans fats. Dr. Mary Enig was warning about trans fats back when CSPI was actively promoting them as a safe alternative to “dangerous” animal fats. For her efforts, CSPI attempted to trash her reputation. In fact, it’s largely because of The Guy From CSPI that trans fats become so ubiquitous in the food supply.

And it wasn’t just fried foods that became laden with trans fats thanks to The Guy From CSPI. If you’re my age or older, you may remember the big scare over tropical oils – coconut oil being one of them. Here’s how that played out.

As for salt … ugh. Take a look at the CSPI-provided picture that accompanies the article:

Yup, The Guy From CSPI thinks the physiological need for salt is just 200 mg. per day, so he spent decades trying to harass food companies into selling low-salt foods.

Trouble is, a ton of research has demonstrated that 1) restricting salt doesn’t prevent high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, and 2) going too low on salt might actually be dangerous for many people. So once again, The Guy From CSPI is kind of like a well-meaning but incompetent paramedic who rushes in to save people, but believes poking holes in their hearts is a good idea.

Anyway, back to the fawning article:

Jacobson is a paradoxical character. When he’s quoted in a news story, he typically sounds ferocious.… He is a food activist who doesn’t really love food.

And I think that has rather a lot to do with it. If you don’t like food, it probably seems like no big deal to remove all the flavor – the fats, the salt, etc. And hey, if it’s no big deal for you, then it shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone.  So why not leverage the coercive power of government to try to make people eat (ahem) “better” … for their own good, of course. Why not take the pleasure of ordering a restaurant meal by forcing people to look at calorie-counts on menus, whether they want to see them or not?

Of course, that didn’t work out so well. Exactly as I predicted at the time, forcing customers to be confronted with calorie counts didn’t prompt them to eat less in restaurants – because when people buy a double-whopper-whatever and big order of fries, they already know it’s a high-calorie meal.

The Guy From CSPI eventually had to admit that people’s eating habits aren’t going to change because of government-mandated finger-wagging, as the article notes:

After 40 years of trying to change America’s food habits, Jacobson has come to terms with the fact that those habits change very slowly, if at all. Nutrition labels, for instance, “haven’t generated as much change as we hoped.”

That’s because people have this crazy habit of eating foods they like.

“One of the saddest things is fruits and vegetables. Despite all the free publicity that fruits and vegetables get, requirements in school food programs, farmers markets everywhere, fruit and vegetable consumption has not increased in 20 years.”

That’s because people have this crazy habit of eating foods they like.

Despite all that, he’s optimistic. “When I think back to supermarkets when I got into the food biz in the early 1970s, you couldn’t find whole wheat bread, you couldn’t find brown rice, you couldn’t find yogurt,” he says. “There have been such huge changes! I think our culture clearly is moving in a much healthier direction. And industry will follow. Industry is following.”

Yes, industry is responding to consumer demand for healthier foods. Our local grocery store is stocking more full-fat dairy products and now sells potato chips cooked in coconut oil – which of course would give The Guy From CSPI fits.

That’s the lesson he never learned: we don’t eat foods he thinks are bad because the evil corporations produce them. Corporations produce those foods because we buy them. It’s consumers who control the market, not the manufacturers.

Yup, I’ll kind of miss seeing The Guy From CSPI flail around and attack food companies and fail to grasp basic economics … along with several principles of basic science.

See you, CSPI Guy.

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I decided to post this here instead of in the Fat Head group on Facebook. The subject of the post is in response to conversations in the group, but I think it’s relevant to the blog as well.

One of the many doctors whose lectures I’ve enjoyed (it may have been Dr. Eric Westman) told a story about his first day in medical school: a professor told the students, “Over the next twenty years or so, we’ll learn that half of what we’re teaching you today is wrong. Trouble is, we don’t know which half.”

Yup. Twenty years ago, I still thought saturated fats clog our arteries and Grape-Nuts with skim milk was a healthy breakfast. Heck, back in the 1980s, I was writing for a small magazine and telling people to avoid saturated fats and eat their grains.  Bad advice straight from the USDA, repeated under my byline.  Shudder.

I know better now because people disputed what I thought I knew. They asked questions. They posed challenges. They provided evidence that what I believed was wrong. Thank goodness I didn’t just close my ears and cling to my beliefs. If I’d insisted on maintaining my beliefs because changing them would remove me from my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be as healthy or happy today.

I’m pointing that out because of two equal-but-opposite forces that seem to pop up regularly in the Facebook group — and probably pop up in all kinds of online discussion venues:

1. Trolls who deserve to be banned.
2. A tendency by some to label anyone who debates a point as a troll who deserves to be banned.

I’ve said it in comments on the blog, I’ve said it in the Facebook group, and I’ll say it again now: debate and discussion are good.  Disagreements and challenges and counter-challenges aren’t always pretty, but they enable the Wisdom of Crowds effect to work its magic.

We’ve had a few people in the group announce that they’re leaving because they don’t like seeing comments or links to articles that dispute the benefits of low-carb or ketogenic diets. They want a supportive atmosphere, dangit, not never-ending debates.

Well, sorry. I’m not a fan of the “safe space” mentality. That’s the kind of nonsense that’s ruining American universities – our supposed centers of learning. The teachers and administrators who create “safe spaces” for students are doing them a huge disservice. They’re discouraging critical thinking. They’re encouraging group-think.

That doesn’t prepare students for the real world. In the real world, people are going to disagree with you. They’re going to challenge you. If you’re convinced your beliefs are legitimate, you’d best be prepared to defend them … and a namby-pamby “supportive” environment doesn’t prepare you for anything except being an intellectual lightweight.

Facebook groups and blogs aren’t universities, but if you visit them because you want to learn, then you’ll be doing yourself a favor by adopting the attitude that should exist in universities – i.e., the attitude expressed by that medical-school professor: much of what you think you know today will turn out to be wrong. If it’s wrong, you’re better off finding out that it’s wrong – and the sooner, the better. People who pose challenges to your beliefs are doing you a favor, because they might just lead you to discover something you believe is wrong.

But what about when people challenge our beliefs and we’re not wrong? Well, in that case, there are two likely outcomes, and they’re both good: 1) you develop a strong argument to support your belief, and 2) that strong argument supporting your belief is convincing to someone who wasn’t previously convinced.

Someone expressed concern about a hypothetical newbie who isn’t well informed and might be swayed by an article warning about the dangers of eating meat. Surely we must act to protect that newbie by banning such articles from the group.

Uh, no. As I replied to that comment, would you rather the newbie be exposed to a “meat kills!” article in the Fat Head group, or by receiving it in an email from a well-meaning relative or co-worker? I’d rather the newbie see it in the Fat Head group … because we have hundreds of intelligent, well-informed members who can (and will) explain why the article is nonsense – complete with links to evidence that it’s nonsense.

So as I wrote in the group, let’s avoid the temptation to simply dismiss or (worse) heap scorn on anyone who asks challenging questions or dares to debate a point. If you’re sure they’re wrong, explain why they’re wrong. Prove them wrong. We’re not going to ban people for engaging in debates. As one member aptly put it, this isn’t about defending the tribe.

Now … having said all that, I don’t have any problem with banning genuine trolls, so let me define genuine troll. A genuine troll is someone who obviously joined the group (or who shows up in comments here) for the sole purpose of trashing low-carb diets. Often they post and post and post and post and post, apparently believing whoever argues the most automatically wins.

I don’t feel any obligation to indulge or tolerate those people, because frankly, they’re just jackasses who can’t stand it when other people don’t agree with their beliefs. They remind me of two quotes from Eric Hoffer’s terrific book The True Believer:

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than a deep conviction.  The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.

If you’re happy with yourself and confident in your own beliefs, you don’t feel driven to go find everyone who doesn’t agree with you and convert or belittle them.

I’m a fallen-away Catholic, but I would never join a Catholic discussion group for the sole purpose of trashing the church. I think many vegans have kooky beliefs about meat, but I would never join a vegan discussion group for the sole purpose of trashing vegans. I’m a libertarian, but I would never join a Democrats For A Bigger And More Activist Government discussion group for the sole purpose of trashing Democrats.

Why not? Because that’s jackass behavior. People who engage in that kind of nonsense aren’t interested in an actual discussion, because they don’t believe they have anything to learn from the group’s members … but by gosh, they believe they have plenty to teach the group’s members. So they feel compelled to join groups where the inferior or misguided minds have gathered and try to enlighten them – for their own good, of course.

As I mentioned in a post on Facebook, I don’t have time to read most of what’s posted in the group.  I could spend entire days just trying to catch up.  So I’m not always aware of when a genuine troll is polluting the group.

I do remember one, however.  In response to charges that he was trolling, the guy replied something like, Gosh no, I’m just curious and here to learn!  I ask all these challenging questions and post all these articles about the dangers of low-carb diets so people can tell me why those articles are wrong.  It’s all part of my learning process.

So I went searching for him online.  Turned out he runs some group promoting a low-fat diet, and he makes plenty of comments in that group about how low-carb diets will kill you and low-carb dieters are crazy.  Okay, now that’s a genuine troll.  I banned him.

(Next two paragraphs added Tuesday based on comments and emails from readers.)  Unfortunately, some people who don’t fit my definition of genuine troll also need to be given the boot because they’re incapable of engaging in debates and discussions without hurling insults and perhaps even threats.  It’s not about creating a “safe space” where ideas aren’t challenged; it’s about maintaining a tone that invites participation.  If I visited, say, a Facebook group on raising chickens out of curiosity, and the first thing I saw was members hurling insults and threats and four-letter words at each other, I’d leave.

I’ve only banned a few people personally, but one of them got the boot because when Chareva asked him politely to stop calling people c%@ts  and f#$@tards in our group, he came back at her with a nasty and aggressive reply.  (He likes to tell people he was banned for arguing in favor of eating potatoes, because that story makes him the Free-Thinkin’ Hero instead of the jackass who insisted on maintaining his “right” to yell F@#$TARDS! at other people in a group he doesn’t own.)

If you’re aware of genuine trolls in the Facebook group, let us know. If you’re aware of people who can’t discuss or debate an issue without engaging in personal attacks, let us know.  We’ll deal with them. But let’s not label anyone who expresses a doubt or a disagreement as a troll. We don’t learn with our eyes, ears, or minds closed. And we all still have plenty to learn.

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To our American readers, Happy Labor Day.

We’ve had several happy laboring days on the Fat Head farm lately, mostly because daytime temperatures have dropped from the 90s to the 70s. It’s one of the many reasons I look forward to this time of year. Football season kicks in, the days are cooler, and a string of holidays and special occasions are around the corner, starting with Chareva’s birthday in October.

Not that the weather has been all pleasant. We were pounded with heavy rains shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. No real damage to speak of, but another widow-maker branch fell near the creek.  It will be added to the firewood collection after I cut it up it with a chainsaw.

The creek, which is normally not impressive, rose and flowed with enough force to dump a gazillion extra rocks along the banks. The end result is that the creek is narrower in some spots.

My bridge also tried to float away. I learned my lesson after the one and only time it did float away, so now it’s tethered to a big tree with a heavy chain. I don’t mind having to move it 10 or 15 feet as long as I don’t have to go find it downstream somewhere.

One of the annoying features of jungles is that after you cut them down, the derned things grow back. I use The Beast to keep them at bay, but The Beast was out of commission for most of the summer. That’s because last fall, something jammed in the recoil starter. When I pulled on the cord, it came out and stayed out.

As you may recall if you’re a long-time reader, I only recently became a Born-Again Tool Guy. The Older Brother has been tinkering with engines and such since he was a teenager, but for most of my adult life, my toolbox was virtually identical to my dad’s … that is, it consisted of a hammer, a wrench, a flathead screwdriver and a Phillips screwdriver stuffed into a drawer.

When we started doing weekend farm work, I decided I needed to drop the limiting belief that I don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no tools. I am capable of learning new skills, after all. So now I own an impressive collection of tools and have managed to do some good work with them.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to remove the top of The Beast’s engine to get to that pesky recoil starter. I unscrewed every bolt that looked like it had anything to do with keeping the engine covered. Thumbing through a book on small-engine repairs didn’t help, because the pictures and instructions were for common lawn mowers.

So some weeks back, I rolled The Beast up a ramp and into the back of the van to take it to a repair shop. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous while driving to the place. I imagined an embarrassing scenario:

“Help you, sir?”

“Uh, yeah, I’ve got a Swisher Predator brush-cutting mower, and the starting cord came out and stayed out. Can you take a look at that?”

“Certainly. Can I have a credit-card for the deposit?”

“Sure. Here you go.”

“And can I see your Man Card?”

“Uh, let’s see … here it is. Hey, what are you doing?! I just got that thing!”

“Sorry, Buddy. We have rules here in the South. If you can’t fix your own engines, we have to cut up your Man Card.”

But when I pulled up to the repair shop, I saw plenty of mowers, chainsaws, weed wackers and other man-stuff in various states of repair. I also saw customers driving banged-up pickup trucks, wearing baseball caps, and otherwise demonstrating that their Man Cards were intact.

Anyway, with The Beast repaired, I spent part of last weekend taking down my least-favorite jungle. It’s my least-favorite because it runs parallel to one of my disc-golf holes. If I sling a driver too hard and it drifts right, it can end up in the stuff you see below, which is full of nasty thorns and varies between knee-high and chest-high. Even if I find the disc, I’m usually bleeding from somewhere afterwards … and if I didn’t remember to spray my clothes, I’m also going to be scratching at chigger bites later in the day.

The Beast just chews up that jungle and spits it out. But perhaps to reassure me I can keep my Man Card, The Beast ran over a sharp stone I didn’t see in time, and the belt that turns the blades snapped. That gave me the opportunity to break out the tools and replace the belt. After beating my chest and chanting a bit, I finished taking down the jungle.

Chareva and I mostly finished constructing the new chicken yard a few weeks ago. But we still had to tie down the nets and figure out how to keep raccoons from digging their way in. She also decided it was time to combine flocks. We built the new coop for the nine chickens who survived Rocky Raccoon VI. Meanwhile, we had another flock coming along as part of a 4-H project. Alana selected five from that flock to auction off at the county fair, but we’re keeping the rest.

Up until this weekend, they were living in another coop. Chareva opened the chicken moat so they could wander near the other flock. Apparently chickens need time to get used to each other before sharing a coop and a yard.

While the chickens were getting acquainted, we expanded the new coop to accommodate the combined flock without overcrowding. After all, we don’t want them accusing us of being chicken slum-lords.

To keep raccoons from digging under fences in the past, we put chicken wire along the ground on the outside of the fence. But in the spirit of reduce, re-use, recycle, it occurred to me that we had another option.

The previous owner tried to extend the driveway with paving bricks. That might have seemed like a good idea, but she let pretty much everything on the property go, and poison ivy grew up among the bricks. It was such a nuisance, we eventually pulled up all the pavers, and I used the tiller to root out the poison ivy. The pavers have been sitting there ever since, waiting to be useful again.

I told Chareva that while raccoons are nimble and clever, I don’t see them lifting paving bricks, which are quite heavy. Why not just surround the new fences with a double-layer of paving bricks? Unlike the chicken wire, I won’t fail to spot the bricks and accidentally run over them with a mower.

She liked the idea. So we spent a good chunk of yesterday piling pavers into the back of the van, driving them up to the chicken yard, and surrounding the fences.

The chickens, meanwhile, decided it’s okay to share the new chicken yard, perhaps because the big ol’ rooster in the younger flock finally led the way in and the hens followed.

The pavers are in place and the nets are tied down. I’m not saying a raccoon couldn’t possibly find a way in, but he’d have to be quite determined.

The older chicken yards are of course empty now, thanks to the raccoons. Without chickens pecking at the ground, they’re already turning back into jungles. Looks like we’ll have plenty of happy laboring days ahead of us.

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