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My Dowsing Experiment

Renee headshot 

The two wires I held loosely in my hands quivered. As I walked slowly forward, they began to sway back and forth. In a flash they crossed and stayed crossed. I stopped and backed up a few steps. They uncrossed. A few steps forward and again they crossed. A palpable sense of energy was there, but was it?

I had to get to the bottom of it if I could.

Here's how it started: Our new friends Frank and Sharon came over for dinner. It was a lovely night, mild and clear. We had lemonade, grilled rib eye, baked potatoes, and green salad. To finish, we had homemade apple pie that I made from scratch and vanilla ice cream that I didn't. It was one of those wonderful traditional American meals and it was good. After dinner and before the pie, we sat out back under the covered patio and talked. Marty and Frank are horsemen and go nonstop talking about horses and the "good ol' days."  Sharon and I, well, we just like to talk. After a bit, I brought out my cork "magic" trick, which nobody ever understands even when I show them. I admit, it's pretty hard to understand. You have to be good spatially. How did the corks get from in between my thumb and forefingers into my opposite thumb and middle finger? You have to be there to see it.


Then Frank said to Marty, "Do you have some wire?" Marty said yes. We all trooped out to the barn and got a couple lengths of baling wire about 16 inches long each. Frank bent each one into an "L" shape.


Then we went out by the hot walker where Marty had been wondering where to dig to find the waterline that had been lost to history (A hot walker is a contraption that is used to walk horses that have been worked and are sweaty and need to cool down.).


Frank loosely held the two wires in his hands and started to circumnavigate the hot walker. As he approached the section where the spigot was, I'll be darned if those two wires he had in his hand did not slowly start to move and cross! Then he backed away and they uncrossed! I was flabbergasted.

I have never seen anyone dowse first hand. I asked if I could do it. He gave me the wires and I went to a different area in the yard. Nothing happened. Then I went to the front yard where I know there's the septic tank. As I approached the area where I know the tank is, the wires started to move toward each other. When I was right on top of it, they were completely crossed. I backed off, they uncrossed. I went back, they crossed.


Holey moley. Can someone tell me how this works? I would have said hogwash before.

So we decided to do an experiment. This time I would hold the wires same as before, but this time I promised to keep my eyes shut as Marty steered me here and there so I wouldn't know where I was. Here's my report on what happened: Eyes shut, I was steered to the area of the septic tank. Folks, the wires did not cross. So I opened my eyes and backed up a few steps. Then I went back again with my eyes open. This time they crossed. I absolutely did not make the wires move.

So what's the answer, folks? It seems that some subconscious effort is getting the wires to move when the operator wants them to.

Here's my video of our experiment:

I went looking for the history of dowsing. Here is an excerpt from an essay written by Lloyd Youngblood of the American Society of Dowsers: "The ancient art of dowsing has been practiced throughout millennia and although what it was called has changed in different cultures and eras, the techniques have not. In the Atlas Mts. of North Africa, pre-historic paintings have shown what appears to be a painting of a dowser, holding a forked branch in his hand, surrounded by a group of tribesmen. These wall murals were found to be a least 8000 years old."

From E.S. Cumbie's book The Psychometric Pendulum and the Pendulum Board:  "In ancient times, the priesthood felt that the layman did not have the belief, knowledge or training to contact the cosmic mind for enlightenment. So the poor people were forced to rely upon the priests to gain the guidance they sought from a higher source and the priests used dowsing devices to make this contact.”

It still seems to be practiced this way today.

Why is it called dowsing? According to Christopher Bird, author of the book The Divining Hand, no one is certain of the origin of the verb "dowse." It made its first appearance in 1650 in an essay written by the English Philosopher John Locke. In his essay, Locke wrote that by the use of the dowsing rod, one could discover water. Locke appropriated his phrase from the English west country language — where in Cornish "Dewsys" meant “Goddess,” and “Rhod” meant tree branch — from which he coined the phrase "Dowsing Rod (OK, it's a "Goddess Rod")."

So how does dowsing work? Countless theories abound, even today, yet, I am not absolutely certain that any one, or even a combination of such theories, discloses the whole story.

Yes, I agree with Mr. Bird. It's hard to explain but it seems that somehow the holder of the dowsing rods, unbeknownst to them, is influencing the rods on a very, very subtle level. That is what my experiment showed me. What do you think?

The First Day of Spring

Renee headshotHow do you know it's the first day of spring in orchard country?

If you said, "Look at the calendar and see what's written there," you would, unfortunately, be wrong. You might also say something like, "Well, it's the first day of spring when the bees are buzzing and the trees start to bloom." You'd be pretty close, but no cigar!

Around here, the first day of spring is when your house is dive-bombed by a crop duster.

crop duster 1
Here comes the villain

It is always on Sunday — just when you've decided to sleep in before you finally admit you need to drag yourself out of bed to feed the livestock and then be on time for church. Are you kidding? On this first day of spring, there's absolutely no sleeping in.

Why does it have to be Sunday? Think of all the lovely days of the week that are perfectly suitable for the First Day flyover. There's the wonderful Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. There's even Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. But, NO. It's got to be Sunday for some reason. I can just see the pilot maniacally laughing as he does his low flyover on the way to the almond orchards.

"Ha ha! Just try to sleep in! Ha ha! It's the Red Baron in his biplane and I have the controls!" The house rattles. The horses, sheep, chickens, and ducks scatter! You go out the back door and glare and the pilot just tips his wings in acknowledgement and comes back again in two minutes. I can think of a number of ways to exact revenge — none of them safe. I guess I'd rather be dive-bombed than crashed into. However, a giant slingshot loaded with cow manure comes to mind. Ready! Aim! Fire!

crop duster 4
Take that! You scoundrel!

The true solution for the First Day of Spring is to get out of bed early, ahead of the villain, and head for the local cafe for ham and eggs over-easy with a big cup of joe. See you there!

Funny Name, Great Flavor!

Renee headshotMy mother frequently made a simple macaroni dish during my childhood. She called it "slumgullion," and we kids gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow.

I don't know where my mom got this recipe, and unfortunately she's gone, so I went to the internet and looked to see what I could find about this delectable dish. It turns out that there's a few cultures that have recipe using the name "slumgullion," which, frankly, does not sound very appealing. And, as it also turns out, it was not very appealing long ago because sometimes it was made from fish offal. It was described as “the watery refuse, mixed with blood and oil, which drains from blubber," and that sure ain't appetizing, is it? In the Gold Rush of 1849, slumgullion was the name for the muddy deposits at a mining sluice. And, finally, it came to mean a watery stew.

Back in the day, there was no firm recipe; they just used what they had. Meat was scarce, so sometimes sparrows or pigeons went into the stew. Onions and salt were added, presumably to kill the odor of the not-so-great cooking meat. Vegetables would round it out, and if they had flour, they thickened it. Slumgullion falls into the category of a clean-out-the-refrigerator type of meal. My mom made it this way. How do you make it?

My Mother's Slumgullion

8 servings


• 1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni
• 1 pound lean ground beef
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 teaspoons minced garlic
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes



1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes according to package directions; drain and place in large saucepan.


2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, brown beef over medium heat; just before beef is browned, stir in onion.


3. Add beef mixture to pasta and stir in garlic, salt, pepper and stewed tomatoes. Mix it all up and cook over low heat, 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through. I don't know how, but the stewed tomatoes make a kind of sauce over the whole thing so it's moist and delicious.


Celery, mushrooms, and other meats such as leftover steak and cooked chicken are also good to add if you have them. I like to sprinkle bread crumbs or Parmesan cheese on it.

It's super easy and quite tasty. Anyway, we kids thought it was the best thing since sliced bread!

Easy, Homemade, Fire Starters

Renee headshotMy husband, dear one that he is, comes down most decidedly on the side of practicality in almost every situation. For example, for years he has been using lighter fluid to start our woodstove fires. It's cheap and readily available. In our drafty, old, mobile home when we lived on the ranch, I didn't mind so much when the house reeked of jet fuel in the mornings. It burned away quickly, and then we were about our business. He didn't like using newspaper to get the fire started because, well, first you have to have newspaper and there's no way I'm subscribing just to get stuff to start a fire. Besides, paper tends to make a LOT of ash, and who wants to clean more than you have to? So there. We were subjected to jet fuel in the morning.

Here in our new home, with its brand-new windows and no leaks as far as I can discern, the jet-fuel smell lingers just a tad longer than I care for. So, what to do? I decided I would make my own "fatwood" or fire starters. Looking at the expensive fatwood package in the store, I saw that it is nothing more than resinous wood. To have fatwood, we would have to make a trip up to the mountains. Someday we will. Fire starters are easy to make right now instead. The fire starters are only paraffin and wood particles. Luckily, I have paraffin leftover from candle-making. Paraffin is not exactly cheap, but I won't be using that much. A little goes a long way.

I proceeded full steam ahead.

The next question was what to mix in with the paraffin to make what is essentially a hot candle. I looked around. First, we went to the lumber yard. No luck there. All their sawdust was mixed up; I needed straight wood-saw dust, not sawdust with OSB or treated wood mixed in. Remember, I was trying to be pristine and healthful here and not go back to noxious, poisonous fumes.

When we got home, I remembered that we had cedar shavings for the dog kennel. Voila! Let's try 'er and see what happens. After a little experimentation, I found a recipe that works like a charm.

Homemade Fire Starters

7 finished

For 12 small fire starters, enough for 6 fires, you will need:

• 5 ounces paraffin
• no-stick pot with spouts
• small muffin tin with 12 slots
• foil
• a couple cups of cedar shavings
• double boiler (or 2 pots, one slightly larger than the other so they nest)

1. Take your paraffin and put it in the smaller pot, or in the top of your double boiler. I got my small pot from a secondhand store, and it is dedicated to making candles and cosmetics. The best kind of pot is one that you can pour from either side.

2 melt

2. With water in your large pot or the bottom of your double boiler, put your small pot in the slightly larger pot so that it's resting on the sides just above the water. Bring it to the boil. Boil until all the paraffin is melted. Keep an eye on the paraffin and the water level. Two things: don't let the pot boil dry, and remember that the paraffin is flammable. That's why we use a double boiler rather than direct flame; we don't want it to get too hot and burst into flame!

(Important safety tip: if you ever have a fire like this, do NOT throw water on it. I repeat, DO NOT throw water on it. The way to put it out is to smother it with a pot lid. Throwing water on it will cause an explosion!)

4 line

3. While the paraffin is melting, line your muffin tins with foil. Try to make it so there is no way that the paraffin can leak out. It's not a big disaster if it does, but you will have a much easier time peeling away the foil if the paraffin stays inside of it. A single piece of foil is good. I cut rounds and then carefully lined the muffin trays.

5 stuff

4. Stuff as many cedar shavings into the trays as you can. Push them down. Cram them in.

6 pour

5. When your paraffin is melted, pour a little bit of paraffin in each pile of cedar shavings. Just enough to get the shavings wet. You don't want a big old cake of paraffin; little bit of paraffin goes a long way.

6. Then, just let them set on the counter. If you want to speed things up, put the whole she-bang in the freezer.

8 stove

When you go to use them, just put a little platform made from a couple of sticks of kindling in your hearth or stove. Then, put a couple of the "pucks" on top of the little platform. Pile a few more sticks of kindling on the pucks. Light the puck with a match or lighter wand and pile up more kindling. The kindling will light because the pucks will burn for a while. Long enough to catch the kindling on fire. Then you're on your way!

Happy Yuletide!

Homemade Baked Beans

Renee headshotsunny beach

We went to Santa Maria the other day. It's nice to be able to go to the coast, even when it's not hot. There's something about that great, big, huge ocean that soothes the soul. While we were there, I had to get some poquito beans. Now that we don't live up north next to Anna and Ed, I have no way of getting them except by mail order, which I'm not going to do. It's not that much of an emergency. Anna and Ed used to be our reliable suppliers, and we miss those two dearly.

Being the cheapskate that I am, I have to wait until there's a reason to make the journey and get some poquito beans where we're already going. So when we made plans to go to the area where they grow the beans, and where they got their fame as a side dish to the well-known Santa-Maria-style barbecue, I thought, "Well, let's get some beans while we're there!"

We drove around and then had a nice hike to the beach. On the way back, it was time to hunt up a grocery store that sold the beans. I felt that a local store would be more likely to have them than a big chain store. The first place we went to was the local Spencer's. I went directly to the dried bean section and was immediately disappointed. I'm not accepting this, I said, so found a clerk and asked, "Where are your poquito beans?" Sure enough, they did have them. They were just in the produce section and in bulk. I bought three pounds, and now I'm going to make baked beans.

Poquito beans are so nice because they don't turn to mush. They hold their shape. Below is my personalized recipe. My husband likes canned Campbell's baked beans, so I try to make them taste like that.


Serves 6


• 1 lb. dried poquito beans
• 1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, chopped
• 1/2 large onion, chopped
• 1/4 cup tomato paste or 1/2 cup tomato sauce
• 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
• 1/4 cup molasses
• 1 teaspoon dry mustard
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 2 teaspoon salt
Optional: reserved soaking water with chicken bouillon


1. Cover your beans with cold water and soak them overnight.


2. When you're ready to start, preheat your oven to 250 degrees F.

3. Put a 3-quart or larger, oven-safe pot over medium heat. (I use an enamel-coated iron pot like a Creuset. Mine is a Creuset knock-off that I found at a garage sale. It's a Martha Stewart brand, and it works fine and is a cute red. To make it work in the oven, I removed the original plastic knob and put on a metal knob. I used a drawer pull from the hardware store and fastened it with a locking nut.) A small, iron, Dutch oven would work, too.


4. Add the chopped, uncooked bacon and onion. Cook about 10 minutes, until the onions are nice and soft.


5. Now stir in the tomato, brown sugar, and molasses. Here's a hint: If you coat your measuring cup lightly with oil, the molasses will pour out cleanly, without sticking.

6. Drain the beans and save the liquid. We'll use that in a minute. Now, add the beans to the pot. Then add enough of the saved liquid to cover the beans. I add a teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon chicken bouillon to the liquid for added flavor. Vegetable bouillon would be great, too, and would make it vegan or vegetarian.


7. Increase the heat to high and allow the beans to boil. Now add the mustard, black pepper, and salt. Stir and cover the pot with a lid. Place the whole shebang in the oven and bake until the beans are soft. Check them after an hour passes to see how they're doing, and then on an hourly basis until they are the texture you like. I like them on the crunchy side, but you may like them softer.

This is going to be our dinner tonight with good sourdough bread and a glass of beer. Simple, nourishing, homemade food.

Uncle Carlos' Strange Carrot

From our Family's Album of Gardening Lore:

I found this clipping in my family album and thought it would be fun to share with all the Capper's Readers. I'm sure you all have oddly-shaped vegetable stories, too!

December 23rd, 1976


This strange-looking item was brought into the Time-Republican office by Mrs. Engelbrecht. It weighs three pounds. She stated at the time: "The strange, unusual vegetable is actually numerous vegetables in one. Mr. Seggebruch of Belmont Acres has a beautiful garden each year, and when he showed this strange-looking freak to me, I thought it would be interesting to have a picture of it in the Times. Last year, when he dug the carrots, he picked this one out to put back into the ground in the corner of his garden and see if he could reap some good seed from it. Well, it came up again this spring in a cluster of tops, but no seed. When it was time to dig again, this is what Mr. Seggebruch found. One huge carrot, cracked open in several places, and one can see many little carrots through those 'windows,' twisted and packed inside. A fantastic and unusual sight to behold. I am his sister, and that's the way it is."

What odd looking vegetables have you found in your garden?

A Baby's Bed

Renee-Lucie BenoitMy Aunt J has been cleaning out her attic. I wish I was there to help her. If I was, we'd go through the boxes and eventually discover something she forgot was there. Then we'd tell stories to each other about the thing we found and what it meant to our family. My Aunt J is the last of the children from my Grandma and Grandpa on my mother's side. She's got a treasure trove up there in that attic that she either inherited or was given by many of our relatives. For example, when I found the kraut cutter that had belonged to my great-grandfather that my dad had borrowed to make kraut, it was a momentous occasion. My dad's wife had passed, and we looked around for it in the old ranch house near Laurel, Iowa, and found it in the laundry room in good condition. It sure did evoke memories. When I look at an old piece, I can imagine the person who originally owned it and see them using it. This is our family's history personified in an object.

As for Aunt J, she found a baby crib up there in the attic.

She told me the babies that she knows for sure slept in it: Aunt Audrey, Aunt J herself, me, and her two daughters. That's four generations right there. She thinks some other cousins' kids used it, too, but she's not sure who. She's going to donate it to their local Historical Museum.

There's nostalgia in the flowers that were painted on the frame. They were painted by my mother when I was born.  I think of all the people in our family who are now gone. The baby's bed reminds me of childhood days swinging on the porch in the sultry Illinois afternoons. Picking blackberries in the gigantic patch between my grandmother's house and old Mrs. Roberts and trying not to get poked by the bushes. Having a picnic in the yard at my Aunt Leona's and riding the pony very fast through the corn rows.

 baby bed

I wish the bed was up to the safety standards of today. I would take it for my daughter's kids to sleep in. It's over 80 years old and in really good shape. Things were made better then, heavier, and in those days stuff lasted if you took care of it. Not like the modern plastic. No, it was solid wood, turned on a lathe by hand, painted by hand, made one at a time in the U.S.A.