Country Living Series

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Leaving California

A reader who lives in California sent this:

As a former Californian, it's easy to remember why we left...

Monday, June 17, 2019

Evangelism for introverts

I have a guest post up on author Davalynn Spencer's blog entitled "Evangelism for introverts."

Hop on over and take a peek, then linger and explore this neat lady's website.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Earning more vs. spending less

I had a conversation with a friend recently, who was inquiring about our upcoming move.

During our discussion, the subject of finances came up, and I mentioned that our financial strategy has been to spend less rather than earn more. I mentioned our average monthly bills (besides the mortgage) come to about $500 (not counting food, hardware store purchases, and other variable expenses). The monthly bills include electricity, telephone, internet, FedEx (for our woodcraft business), home/car insurance, credit card payments (we have certain revolving charges on the credit card, such as the website hosting our ebook sales, etc.), health care premiums. Non-regular expenses include such thing as car registration, propane tank fill-ups, LifeFlight membership, Costco membership renewal, taxes (we pay quarterly), etc.

We're spending a bit more than we normally do as we renovate the house (paint, flooring, etc.), but those are mostly one-off purchases. But in general we continue to tweak and adjust our lifestyle so these costs are either maintained or decreased over time. Just this week, for example, we decided to give up our merchant services account (for accepting credit cards). Since our woodcraft business is now exclusively wholesale and we're no longer doing craft shows, our customers usually pay by check or PayPal rather than credit card. Our merchant services account charges us a base free of $35/month, plus a percentage of whatever charges we run through it. Closing that account means that's another monthly charge, gone.

This "spending less" strategy is fun. We enjoy the challenge of finding ways to reduce our expenses.

Anyway, this strategy seemed doubly smart when I read an article headlined "Celebrity surgeon went 'all in' on $180 million Bel Air mansion; then came the high-end housing glut."

The article begins:
When celebrity plastic surgeon Raj Kanodia started building his 34,000-square-foot mansion to flip for a profit, his real estate friends gave him a warning.

"They said, 'You're way out of your league,'" Kanodia recalled. "They told me, 'You'll run out of money and you'll be forced to sell it to service your debts.'"

Four years and well over $70 million later, Kanodia is feeling the weight of their advice.

The modern glass palace he built in Los Angeles' Bel Air neighborhood has been sitting on the market for more than a year. Rather than rolling in profits, Kanodia is now performing as many plastic surgeries as possible to fund millions of dollars in loans and the high costs of maintaining the empty house and grounds. After failing to find a buyer, he's now offering it for rent at $1.5 million a month and says he would consider offers of more than $120 million — marking a $60 million price cut.

The reason this caught my eye is because Mr. Kanodia is, presumably, older than we are (one website says he has "48 years of experience," so I'm guessing he's in his late 60s). At a time in life when Don and I are interested in downsizing and living on as little as possible, Mr. Kanodia is well and truly stuck with a level of debt unfathomable to us. The line that struck me most powerfully is this one: "Kanodia is now performing as many plastic surgeries as possible to fund millions of dollars in loans and the high costs of maintaining the empty house and grounds."

This is why we're looking forward to purchasing our next home without a mortgage – to be free of as much debt as possible.

Truly the Bible has it right in Proverbs 22:7: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."

At a time of his life when Mr. Kanodia might otherwise look to a comfortable and peaceful retirement, instead he is well and completely enslaved, arguably because of greed (his hope for a huge profit when flipping the house).

I pity him.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Improving the orchard

My apologies for the blog silence over the last week! We've been nutty-busy renovating the house and property for our upcoming move. This process was hampered by a big shipment of tankards we had to finish up. We finally booted the shipment out the door and now we're able to devote our attention back to the house.

At this point our goal is to list the house for sale near the beginning of July. As such we've been frantically tackling projects. One of the overdue projects I wanted to complete was improving the orchard.

We planted our young orchard, as you may recall, in giganto tractor tires three years ago. It was something of an experiment, but I'm pleased to report the trees have done very well.

Last year we didn't have much fruit production by the peaches or plums -- evidently they took the year off -- but this year they're all loaded. Here are baby plums:

Baby apples:

And baby peaches (my all-time, hands-down favorite fruit):

The one drawback to growing trees in tire, I've learned, is weeds like to share the space. Most of the tires I keep fairly weed-free, but this is an example of what happens when I don't keep up (sorry, that's a white pole leaning against the tire I didn't notice until I took the picture):

I wanted to leave the orchard as pretty and weed-free as possible for the new owners, so I decided to line the tires with weed cloth with a layer of bark mulch on top.

First step, get the bark mulch. They give it away for free for a short window of time every week in the nearest town. Free is good.

Next step, cut weed cloth to fit inside the tires:

Some of the trees had little suckers growing, so I trimmed them off before putting down weed cloth.

Next, shovel bark onto the weed cloth.

The result looked absolutely positively splendid. A huge improvement.

The cows were fascinated by the activity and hung around the fence a lot.

Tree by tree, tire by tire, I worked my way through the orchard. Each tree took about half an hour, so to do 14 trees took me a roasting grueling seven hours in the hot sun to complete.

It's a project I should have done long ago so at least we could have benefited from it, but oh well. Whoever buys our homestead will have a lovely and productive orchard.

By the way, some may wonder whether we've found a place we'd like to buy. The answer is no, but to be fair we're not looking very hard. If "the perfect" house came on the market tomorrow, we wouldn't be in a position to buy it until we sell our place, so we figured we'd wait until we're on a surer financial footing before commencing a more serious home search.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Interview with Stacy Lyn Harris

My latest interview for Lehman's is with Stacy Lyn Harris. What a charming, gracious southern lady -- and mother of seven kids, to boot!

If you want to learn how this former-attorney-turned-homeschooling-mom became such a domestic celebrity -- or better, if you want to meet her in person -- hop on over to the Lehman's site and read the interview.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A story of icing

Here's what happened to me yesterday. I didn't take any photos, so just create the pictures in your mind. Feel free to add all the messy kitchen components you can conjure up.

For this Friday's neighborhood potluck, I volunteered to bring dessert. About a month ago, I made one of my standbys, lemon-cream cookies. The recipe can be found here, and for purposes of the potluck I usually quadruple the recipe. I have the quadruple measurements written down so I can make it easily.

But last time I made these cookies, they went so fast that people were complaining they couldn't get seconds, so this week I decided to octuple the recipe, not quadruple it. Besides, we have new neighbors, and I wanted a few extra cookies to give them as a welcome gift.

Because this is a busy week, I made the cookies a couple days ago and put them in a sealed container to keep them fresh. Yesterday I decided to make the lemon cream filling that gets sandwiched between the cookies. But unlike the cookie recipe, I didn't have the quadrupled icing recipe written down, and of course this time I was octupling it. But no biggee, right? Just multiply everything by eight.

Which works great, unless you mistake teaspoons for tablespoons and multiply accordingly.

That's what happened when I was supposed to take four and a half teaspoons of lemon juice and multiply it by eight. Instead, I took four and a half tablespoons and multiplied. Suddenly, to the correct amount of butter and powdered sugar I had creamed together, I added a massive amount of lemon juice (two and a quarter cups).

So I'm standing there, staring blankly at this soupy mess of butter, sugar, and lemon juice, wondering what the heck I did wrong. It took me a few minutes to realize the teaspoon/tablespoon conundrum. Nuts.

I had two choices: I could either chuck the entire mess (wasting all the components), or I could multiply the butter and powdered sugar and add them to the soup. Since I had enough butter and sugar on hand, that's what I did. Now, instead of octupling the icing recipe, I was twenty-fourth-ing it.

Powdered sugar poofed up and coated everything in the kitchen as I kept transitioning to bigger and bigger bowls. Finally I abandoned bowls altogether and put everything into a three-gallon canning pot. Of course it was also too massive a job for my little hand mixer to tackle, so I grunted my way through mixing by using my biggest wooden spoon.

The result is, literally, gallons of lemon cream filling.

Fortunately it freezes well.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Thirty-second cattle roundup

Our pastures are looking lush and green, thanks to generous May rain.

We've been deliberately keeping the cows on the wooded side of our property to allow the pasture grass to grow abundantly. They also cropped the woods down to lawn proportions. Now it was time for the annual Thirty Second Cattle Roundup.

Opening the necessary gates, we called our universal cattle call (named after the first cow we ever owned): "Bossy bossy bossy bossy BOSSY!!!!"

Well oh my, the ladies knew what that meant! They came galloping up from the woods, through the feedlot...

...and poured out another gate toward the pasture.

Within moments, their heads were buried in the lush grass. Did I say thirty seconds? They might have topped that this year. Twenty seconds, max.

We'll let them fatten up for the next month. All but one of the ladies has a date with the freezer -- three near the beginning of July, the remaining three toward the end of July. (One heifer is sold.) It's far easier to move our household with the animals in packages than on the hoof.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Do you have a root cellar?

Gentle readers, I have a request.

I just turned in an article on root cellars to my editor at Backwoods Home Magazine. However I had to let her know I had no photos available, since we don't have a root cellar. The editor did a search on several stock photography websites and realized most stock photos show the outside, not the inside, of various types of root cellars.

And the interior is what the editor would most like to illustrate.

Therefore, if anyone has a root cellar, would you be interested in taking pictures of the interior for possible use with the article? My editor wanted to make the following things clear:

• There would be no payment for the photos

• The photos may or MAY NOT be used (this is known as "editorial discretion")

Ideally the photos are high resolution and would depict not just the overall interior, but any construction or infrastructure details you think are interesting (such as intake or outflow areas, types of shelving, types of crates or baskets, etc.). I realize this is the time of year most root cellars are likely to be at their emptiest, but that's life.

If you can provide such photos, please send them to, and I'll forward them to the editor.

Thank you!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bird woes

It's tough being a bird.

Here's a batch of robins, nesting in the rafters of our barn awning. Notice all the beaks of the hungry babies pointing upward.

Between meals, the babies lounged in their home.

After stuffing a beak with some insect delicacy...

...the mama often fluffed herself up and sat over the babies to keep them warm in the cool morning temperatures.

A couple days after taking these photos, a mob of magpies descended and raided the nest. It's now deserted. Nuts.

Meanwhile in the garden, I knew I had killdeer nesting somewhere. I've watched the adults court and mate, but couldn't find their nest. I always like knowing where it is so I don't accidentally step on it.

A few days ago, I finally found it while weeding the corn beds. A female hung around nearby...

...and finally settled down on her nest.

After I finished weeding, I walked over to see the nest. Hmmm. Just one egg. Killdeer usually hatch four. I looked forward to watching as the female laid the remainder of her clutch.

But the next day, the single egg was still there ... and the mother was gone. I think what I saw was the tail-end of her nest being raided by some predator. So -- no baby killdeer in the garden this year.

Sigh. Yes, it's tough being a bird sometimes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Collij ejukation

This photo comes courtesy of Daily Time Waster. The caption: "Her parents must be so proud."

It also helps explain a little about my current hostility to a collig ejukation.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A brush with history

Older Daughter called yesterday (Monday). As you might recall, she works as a nanny in New Jersey, and frequently on weekends will travel down to Virginia to visit her friend GG. She was on her way back from that visit when she called to chat. I put her on speaker phone so Don could hear the conversation as well.

During our phone call, she related an interesting anecdote. On Sunday morning, she and GG were going to go do something after church, so they drove in separately from GG's parents, with the idea everyone would meet up at church. During the drive, Older Daughter noticed a LOT of police officers around; and whenever they drove under an overpass, they noticed crowds of people on the bridges, with flags and banners. What was going on?

But they didn't think much about it. They got to church and reserved some seats for GG's parents -- who never showed up, even though they only left the house five minutes after Older Daughter and GG. Where could they be?

Eventually, halfway through church, GG got a text from her parents saying the highway -- the same four-lane highway Older Daughter had just driven five minutes ahead -- was now CLOSED for some huge event that would shortly take place. All within that five-minute time gap. What event would close a four-lane highway?

"Rolling Thunder," Don called from the other room.

Rolling Thunder, it seems, is a massive -- as in, hundreds of thousands of participants -- motorcycle rally consisting of veterans and veteran supporters which descends on Washington D.C. every Memorial Day weekend. I'd never really paid attention to it before because I'm not into motorcycles, but it's been going on for years and years and years. According to their website, "All [participants] are united in the cause to bring full accountability for the Prisoners Of War-Missing In Action (POW/MIA) of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: 'We Will Not Forget.'"

Wow. Just wow.

This would explain the extra law enforcement presence Older Daughter and GG saw, as well as the crowds of people lining the overpasses.

Now for an interesting "rest of the story." Apparently this was anticipated to be Rolling Thunder's final ride into Washington D.C., citing expenses and harassment. According to the New York Post, reasons to discontinue the rally included "the Pentagon Security Police/Washington Police officials continued lack of cooperation, increased harassment to our supporters and sponsors. ... Rolling Thunder is poised to keep losing money on the rally due to demands from the Pentagon for extra security, among other issues."

But President Trump threw in his support, and now it looks like the rally will continue. "Good for Trump," said Younger Daughter, when Don relayed that information.

I told Older Daughter she just had a faint brush with history.

Roll on, Rolling Thunder. What an awesome spectacle.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, I'd like to draw your attention to a set of remarkable photos taken a few years ago by a reader (Katie) and her husband, who were formerly stationed in Germany. Katie learned that Don's uncle, Donald Sowers, who was killed in World War II, was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium. She and her family visited the cemetery and sent these photos.

Just recently a reader named Kathy left the following moving comment on that blog post which I wanted to share:

I searched for 2 years to find my mother's first husband Harold Norris, killed 4/4/44 @ 2:04 PM over Romania. I received a photo of his grave from Belgium and walked over to my mother's home and said, "Mom where is Harold buried?" She said, "New Jersey". I said, "Mom, sit down, we need to talk."

Her mouth dropped open when she learned that her first husband was buried in Belgium! He has been there for (then) 65 years. All I started with was his purple heart, his name and service number. It has lead me down a path filled with new compassionate friends and a new understanding of the word sacrifice. Harold was an airman, navigator and top turret gunner. His plane the Miasis Dragon was shot down after delivering a fatal blow to an oil refinery in Bucharest Romania. The plane was hit at the waist by a land-to-air missile. The plane nose dipped, the pilot pulled it up, then it went nose-over-tail to the earth in a fireball. 4 crew were "carbonized" and were buried together in one grave by Romanian Monks. Later, in 1949, with dental records my mother provided, the US was able to locate his remains from the others and he was buried for the 9th and final time in Ardennes. The other 3 airmen are still together buried in the US.

One of the beautiful things I noticed was that each man's life is symbolized with a marble cross. They all worked and sacrificed as a group and from above, all of their individual crosses make up a larger cross. This collective larger cross can only be seen by people in airplanes and God. 3/5ths of the graves hold the remains from airmen who lost their is to those who fly that the larger cross is visible...a beautiful way to honor them.

The other thing I learned in 2010: the people of Belgium, France and other countries meet and honor our heroes. At Ardennes in 2010, there was approximately 100,000 people present, not many were from the USA. It seems that in life, we considered these men to belong to us, but in their death, the European people consider that these men belong to them, whom they thank and honor every year. Most graves have been adopted. Harold's grave was adopted many years ago and now the lady who adopted his grave is teaching her young grand daughter to care for it. She obviously does not want her grand daughter to forget the gratitude she has for the men who lost their lives saving hers.

I wrote to a man who was age 7 when the bombs were falling on to his town. He was scared and saw more than a 7 year old should see. He remembers the American forces and he remembers liberation. For those who know what happened, who saw the cruelty and oppression, who had no hope, our US Military saved them, their children and their grand children. The maximum gift was given, freedom was restored at a great price, those receiving the gift are grateful....and other airmen and God can see their collective cross, a memorial for their sacrifice, from the air. This has put many things in perspective for me...I hope it will for you too. --Kathy


A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.