Dennis Blowing Snow After Blizzard Nemo

A photograph of Dennis O'Neill clearing his driveway in Holden, Massachusetts after the Blizzard of 2013.
Dennis clearing the driveway after the Blizzard of ’13 (Nemo)

My mother sent me this picture of my father using his snowblower to clear the driveway after the Blizzard of ’13 (I have a hard time calling it “Nemo”) dumped 30-inches of snow overnight.

This is the view burned indelibly into my memory from childhood: watching my father do this very thing from our big bay window, me snug in my footy pajamas while he wrestled outside with the loud, snow-belching machine that threw the snow forever…

HyVee Stops Pitching Pink Slime to Pissed Public

OK, the titular alliteration signifies my jubilance. Hy-Vee just sent me the following email regarding pink slime. Looks like they are not only going to stop trying to convince people that pink slime is wholesome, but they appear to be in the process of removing it from their inventory as well.

Here’s what they wrote:

In response to concerns expressed by our customers, Hy-Vee has decided to discontinue the purchase of ground beef products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. Although this ground beef meets all USDA standards for quality and safety, recent news stories have led to a loss of consumer confidence in the product.

We have notified our suppliers of this decision and are working to switch our product lines as quickly as possible. We want to thank our customers for sharing their feedback on this issue and assure them Hy-Vee will continue to listen and respond to their concerns, just as our company has been doing for more than 80 years.

Ruth Comer

Assistant Vice President, Media Relations

HyVee Considers Pink Slime “Wholesome”, “100% Beef”

I wrote HyVee (original query in comments below), our local grocery store chain to inquire whether or not the ground beef I buy at their meat counter contained “Pink Slime”. The response I got was a shock. Not only do they use it in their ground beef, but HyVee considers Pink Slime to be “wholesome”, “100% Beef that doesn’t require labeling”. Their response is really a tour de force of how professional communicators try to shape perception…

Dear Mr. O’Neill,

Thank you for contacting Hy-Vee via our website to express your concern about the use of Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) in ground beef.

The term “pink slime” is a derogatory and deliberately inflammatory term used by the media and critics of a product that has been safely used in the beef industry for almost 20 years. Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) is 100 percent beef, 95%+ lean, produced by separating lean meat from fat through a process very similar to the one used to separate cream from milk. Like all beef products, it is strictly regulated and produced in USDA-inspected plants. The USDA does not require ground beef blended with LFTB to be labeled because it’s not a separate ingredient – it’s all 100 percent beef.

All LFTB goes through FDA- and USDA-approved treatment processes to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria like E. coli. One such treatment process uses food-grade ammonium hydroxide gas (ammonia mixed with water). Ammonia is a compound consisting of nitrogen and hydrogen, found naturally in the environment and in all plants and animals, including humans. Ammonium hydroxide was declared safe by the FDA for use in food processing in 1974 and is used on a variety of products, including baked goods, puddings, cheeses and chocolates. It was approved for use in beef processing in 2001.

The vast majority of ground beef sold in supermarkets, as well as much of the ground beef sold to schools, hospitals and food service establishments, contains a small amount of LFTB. Use of LFTB reduces food waste and increases the lean content of ground beef. It is a safe, wholesome, 100 percent beef product. If you wish to purchase Hy-Vee ground beef that is not blended with LFTB, we would suggest our 85 Percent Lean Amana Chuck Trim – or you could purchase your choice of beef cuts from our service case and ask our meat specialists to grind it for you. Your Hy-Vee meat specialists will be glad to assist you and answer any questions you have regarding the meat you buy for your family.

Recent reporting on the industry’s use of Lean Finely Textured Beef has been sensational and irresponsible. There are NO health issues associated with use of this product in ground beef. It has been safely and widely used for almost two decades, and the ammonium hydroxide gas treatment process has been safely and widely used for more than a decade. The country’s leading food safety experts agree that the product is not only safe, but beneficial in meeting worldwide demand for quality lean protein.

Thanks for your inquiry. We appreciate you taking the time to write.

Ruth Comer
Assistant Vice President, Media Relations

7-Foot Tall Tomato Plants

Photograph of Rebeka brandishing a water hose in front of a garden with tall tomato plants.
Rebeka guards our tomato plants.

If you can avoid the woman threatening to spray you with water, you’ll see that she’s standing in front of some tall tomato plants. We got them from O’M’s Heirlooms and they really took off! Currently they are every bit of 7-feet high and still growing. Also, producing nice fruit.

The Garden Takes Root

Well, aside from getting sued by our former landlord, we’ve been busy with garden plans this summer. I repeatedly bent the ear of my friend @mdeeter on constructing a raised garden bed to the point where I felt ambitious (not to mention confident) enough to build my own based on some of his recommendations, advice and experience.

For lumber I used three 8′ lengths of 12″ x 2″ Douglas Fir (wanted to go with Cedar, but they had none at our local Lowe’s…and Douglas Fir is supposed to be a bit more rot resistant than Pine). One of the lengths I cut evenly in two…leaving me perfect lengths for a single 8′ x 4′ raised bed. At the corners I used 16″ lengths of cedar 4″x4″ posts. Assembled in the garage, the whole contraption looked like this:

Photo of a rectangular raised bed garden plot assembled out of lumber.
Raised bed assembled out of lumber.

Once assembled, the real work began: installing it and filling it with soil.

So it turns out that you can’t just throw a raised bed out in your yard. No, you have to make sure the sides are 2″ below ground. This meant I had to dig out the four post holes, then rip up straight lines of turf for each side, and level the whole thing. After a while I sacrificed precision on the altar of expediency. Let’s just say that the raised bed is “mostly” 2″ in the ground, depending on where you measure.

Once it’s in the ground, there’s tons more fun to be had! For me, this took the form of a trip to Lowe’s where we picked up 20 bags of top soil (40lb apiece), 4 bags of compost and 4 bags manure. Yeah, we splurged and spent the extra few cents for organic. We also completely bottomed out our XTerra with all that dirt. By my estimate, topsoil is most likely composed of equal parts lead, uranium and tungsten.

It’s kind of strange to think that we live atop some of the most fertile soil on the planet, yet we still feel the need to go to Lowe’s for dirt for our garden. Oh well.

Once we got home, Rebeka came down with an acute case of, “It’s too hard” to provide much help moving the heavy bags from the car to the garden. Fortunately, she was more than capable of providing executive management, direction and ice cold beer that was imbibed in quantities sufficient enough to keep the agonizing ball of fire growing in my lower back at bay for awhile.

Once I managed to get the whole raised bed filled with soil, I left everything alone for a couple days and before throwing in the plants.

Actually, I didn’t quite throw them in… though doing so would have been easier on my back. But, since I drove to Des Moines to pick up my plants, I figured they deserved more than a simple lob into the garden as I walked past.

Yeah, that’s right. Des Moines. I drove 120 miles for tomato plants.

Not just any plants, mind you. These are heirloom tomato plants. Heirloom is a word meaning, “plants that you’ll drive half way across the state for.” Actually, to be fair, the trip was a great excuse to go see my friend Ryan, who started O’M’s Heirlooms.

In addition to the tomatoes, we planted basil, a bunch of varieties of peppers, cucumbers, chives, and some strawberries. You can see how everything came out here:

Photograph of a freshly planted raised bed garden.
First garden planted in the new raised bed.

Yeah, I know everything is packed in rather tightly. I have no idea how it will turn out, but that’s part of the fun of it all.

Stay posted for garden updates throughout the summer…

PS: Here’s the list of tomato varieties we planted. Full descriptions available from O’M’s Hierlooms:

  • Great White
  • Jaune Flamme
  • Goldman’s Italian American
  • Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter
  • African Queen
  • Gold Medal
  • Black Krim

Wow, Sued by Tentinger Properties

Wow, served with papers last night. Looks like I’m getting sued by Tentinger Properties for $1700 a year after moving out of our place on Governor St. in Iowa City. I have to say, I didn’t see that one coming…especially after they took my security deposit and never communicated with me until they decided to serve papers.

What can I say? Life’s full of surprises…and this is why renting sucks.

Update 06/08/2011: Well we had court today. Judge ruled for us. We got an award of $580-ish, but we didn’t get our attorney fees covered. Both parties have 20 days to file an appeal. I guess we wait and see what happens…

Update 06/29/2011: Well, we got a check in our mailbox today for the amount awarded us by the judge. It was not from Tentinger Properties and there was no description in the memo field, but judging by the address and the name of the (new?) business, I think it’s a fair guess as to what it is for. We have to bring it to our lawyer before we can deposit it so that we can make official the satisfaction of the judge’s ruling… Not sure what exactly that is about, but I’m glad I’ll be able to put this whole ugly business behind us.

The Big Iowa Blizzard of Febuary 1

OK, so I’m sure we can debate whether or not the weather event that struck Iowa on 02/01/2011 was an honest to goodness blizzard, I will say that it was the first time I’ve had snow drifts in my garage and snow tornadoes on my stoop.

Pictures Of The cleanup

Snow Tornados

Snowdrifts In The Garage