Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spring has sprung

We're getting some wonderfully warm weather around here! Last year our final snowfall was on June 12(!!). Not this year. We've been in the high 80's all week and most of us in northern Idaho are gasping from the heat.

Planting season is in full bloom for everyone. Here's a long-distance shot of our neighbors planting their garden. Two families are sharing this garden and this morning, before it got too warm, they pulled everyone together and got the seeds in the ground.

It's windy today. Here's the breeze snapping the clothes on the line. Why anyone uses a dryer in the summertime is beyond me - these were dry in half an hour.

You can see the way the prevailing wind blows by how skewed the branches of this young pear tree are:

I'm on a race against time - planting the garden vs. fencing it. I have to get the garden planted, but Don also needs to build a chicken coop because, frankly, the chicks STINK up the house and they're getting BIGGER. So he's been concentrating on the coop rather than the garden fences.

I'm taking my chances that we'll get the fencing up before the potatoes and corn (which I just finished planting this morning) start to sprout.

Here's Don carrying fence poles:

I've given up hope on my berry patch. When I planted it four years ago, I just chose the wrong spot - it's too weed-infested and I just can't keep the weeds at bay. Nothing is thriving. It's almost embarrassing to show these pics:

So what I'm doing is transplanting everything into the orchard (which will have the high fence around it to keep the deer out). You can't see much, but these are raspberries:

Raspberries are basically weeds and will grow just about anyplace. Blueberries are a bit fussier and I'll have to build blueberry beds before I can transplant them. I don't know if the blueberries will survive being transplanted this time of year, but frankly I don't know if they'll survive another year in that weed-infested berry patch either. We intend to turn the old berry patch into a pigpen next year - with better fencing, of course.

And look at this! I picked up a bunch of old wire closet shelves at the Habitat for Humanity store in Coeur d'Alene for $1 each, and Don installed them in the greenhouse this morning. At last everything is off the floor!

The little joys in life.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stop SPENDING, dammit!

Something's been on my mind lately. It's only half-formulated (which, some may argue, describes my brain in general) but here it is. I dunno, this may eventually segue into a WND column.

For the past sixteen years, ever since we started our home woodcraft business and have been self-employed, we've been forced into frugality. It's become second nature. Our income has been unsteady and unpredictable for many years, and there is no finer way to hone the art of thriftiness than by literally not knowing where your next dime is coming from.

Through it all we've maintained an excellent credit record. We pay our bills - sometimes by scraping at the edge of disaster - but this has allowed us to achieve our dream, which is to live and raise our kids in the country. Our good credit allowed us to get a good mortgage rate when we bought this home six years ago.

Sometimes people look at us and think how lucky we are. They sometimes even think we're well-off financially. (They probably wouldn't think this if they actually came and saw what our house looks like and how we dress.) I've made various and sundry lists over the years illustrating some of the typical things we do to either save money, or not spend it to start with (like this one), and here's yet another partial:

• Housing commensurate with our income. Meaning, our mortgage is low. We bought a fixer-upper on twenty acres six years ago in a place with low property prices (because jobs are so scarce). Even for around here, we got an exceptional deal. This is because it took us three years to find something that matched our needs and our price range. Three years.
• 95% of our household purchases come from thrift stores.
• No meals out. Ever.
• Cooking from scratch. Pre-made meals from the grocery store are out.
• Buying in bulk. I usually get 150 lbs of flour at a time, for example. Beans, rice, etc – all in bulk.
• No new clothes. Ever. Well, with the exception of socks and underwear once a year. (See the recent exception.)
• No entertainment frills. We don’t have cable TV (actually, no TV reception at all), we don’t go to movies (ever), we don’t attend concerts (except my husband and I try to see Riverdance when it comes through Spokane every three or four years), we don’t play golf or go to “fun” centers.
• We don’t buy electronics. Ever. No CD’s, no DVD’s (except when I find one at a thrift store), no iPhones or iPods or whatever the latest whiz-bang stuff is. We didn’t have cell phones until a few months ago when two separate friends upgraded their phones and gave us their older models.
• No new cars. We have an ancient farm truck we seldom take off the property, and one small used car for running around. No car payments, of course.
• We don’t use a dryer because propane is too expensive.
• We heat with wood we cut ourselves because all other heating methods are wildly expensive. Remember that we live in north Idaho, a couple of hours’ drive from the Canadian border, so winters are cold. The average temperature in our house in the winter is about 60 degrees. When one of us gets chilly, we go stand in front of the woodstove for awhile and defrost.
• No new books. This is a tough one because books are, collectively, our weakness (we own over four thousand of them). But we seldom buy them new because, surprise, they're too expensive. Most of our books are from library sales.

Okay, that sort of puts you in a position to understand why we've been able to survive and even thrive on the uncertain income from a home woodcraft business for the past sixteen years.

This thriftiness is serving us very, very well in the new economy. We're already blackbelts in frugality. Some of the unfortunate souls who suddenly find themselves without jobs and with huge bills and a huge mortgage are in a seriously bad position - and not just because they're in debt past their eyeballs and unable to find a job.

They're in a bad position because they don't know how to live cheap. The notion of frugality completely escapes them. They continue to eat out, buy toyz, grab that morning latte, enroll their kids in expensive sports, and have cable TV. Then they bemoan the fact that they're about to lose their home.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not making light of anyone's financial struggles. But I know a couple who are both unemployed and I want to shake them because they just don't get it. There are a couple of local jobs available - modest ones, to be sure, but at least they're jobs - but these people have no interest in applying, even as a stop-gap measure until they find better employment. They eat breakfast out once or twice a week because they don't feel like cooking. They drive all the way into the city to see a movie once a month. They buy name-brand foods at the grocery store. And then they say they're scared about losing their home (which, to their credit, is a very modest one and not some oversized McMansion).

I know another couple with massive medical bills and one very modest income. They often pay their bills by maxing out first one credit card after another. Yet they give each other lavish birthday and holiday gifts - a $100 gift card to Starbucks comes to mind - and the wife will drop $50 on paperback books because she needs to escape from their financial stress. Uh, hellOOOO?

See where I'm going with this? Why can't people who are having financial difficulties just stop spending, dammit? Why do they dig a deep hole and then complain they're in a deep hole?

I realize we've had sixteen years to learn how to be frugal and these people have had none. I know - believe me, I know all too well - what a culture shock it can be to have to adjust one's spending habits from affluence down to poverty. Back in 1993 when we left California, we left behind us joint incomes of $70,000 and went to zero (literally) as we got our home business up and running (it took six months to bring in our first dollar from the business). But the point is, we did it. Sometimes we did it by the skin of our teeth, but we did it. And we did NOT do it by buying books, clothes, electronics, restaurant meals, and movies.

Okay, I'm done. Sorry to rant, just had to get that off my chest.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My kind of couple!

Geez louise, this is how I wanna be when Don and I have been married 62 years. Check this out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What a weird experience...

I did something today I haven't done in literally years: I bought some new clothes.

Yes, really. With the exception of socks and underwear, the last time I purchased new clothing's see...I think three years ago. That's when I bought two tank tops at Walmart. Those tank tops are now in shreds - when I ripped a hole in an indiscreet location two days ago, I knew it was time for a couple of replacements - and I decided to go crazy and buy new ones.

To clarify, this doesn't mean I haven't bought any clothes in years. It means I haven't bought any new clothes. Everything comes from thrift stores, God bless 'em.

So off I went to Walmart. I haven't been there in, well, three years. I bought two six-packs of underwear, four tank tops, and three pairs of shorts. Total cost: $50.22.

New clothes. Not used, new. Wow. What a weird feeling.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fifty years of math (and why we homeschool)

This is one of those internet jokes running around....unfortunately not so funny...

Fifty Years of Math in the U.S. (1959 – 2009)

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled eight cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and three pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this? Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1950s:

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes ? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it's ok. )

6. Teaching Math In 2009

Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100.El costo de la producciones es $80. Cuanto dinero ha hecho?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Busy day

Here's what we did today.

No cougar disturbances during the night. This morning, though, we moved the livestock into a new (small) pasture for a few days. This has the advantage that our bedroom window overlooks it. If there's a commotion during the night, we'll hear it more easily. And at least we'd be running through open field in pitch darkness with the shotgun instead of crashing through forest and tangled underbrush in pitch darkness with the shotgun. Besides it was time to rotate the cows anyway - the other pasture was eaten down.

I also had a day of processing milk. Matilda's up to almost five gallons a day, so I gotta do something with it. This morning I skimmed off all the cream I had in the fridge and warmed it to 80 degrees, then made butter. Here's five pounds of butter half-way through the washing stage.

Then I weighed it out in one-pound increments...

Laid them out on waxed paper...

Then wrapped them in one-pound butter balls. These go in the freezer.

I also made yogurt (this is the incubator). It will be ready by tonight, and I'll chill it overnight.

Here's my stove and counter at one stage. To the left is two gallons of milk in nested pots (for a double boiler) being made into cheddar. The weird striped can with the teddy bear is an el-cheapo tin I picked up at a thrift store. It's full of cheese wax, which is slowly melting so I can wax some cheese. The yellow things behind it are five air-dried batches of cheddar, overdue for waxing. The white jugs are what I use for milk, cleaned and drying.

Here's the cheese, half-waxed...

And fully waxed. I'll date it and let it age for 2 1/2 months.

Meanwhile, I helped Don put the auger on the tractor so he can start constructing a chicken coop.

He drilled two holes.

Matilda doesn't know what to make of this hole in the ground...

or the auger.

He put some pressure-treated 4x4's in concrete and braced them in place. That's all he could do today until the concrete dries.

A chicken coop is imperative because we got thirty chicks yesterday. We butchered our old flock last fall because they had stopped laying, and when we got Matilda we converted the old chicken coop into the milking shed. Now we need another coop.

Here are the chicks.

The yellow ones are Cornish-crosses, which are meat birds. They will gain weight with such awesome speed that they'll be ready to butcher in three months tops. The rest of the birds are for eggs, and they're a mixture of Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, and Aracaunas. We won't get eggs for about six months, though.

That's all. As I said, busy day.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Death in the night

A neighbor's horse was killed last night. Signs point to a cougar. Normally a cougar wouldn't attack a full-grown horse, especially with the spring crop of young calves to choose from, but the evidence on the horse's body and in the area where the horse was found point to a surprise encounter in a gully. The horse panicked and fled into a barbed wire fence and thus set off the cat's hunting instinct. What followed was a battle that left the horse dead and mutilated and partially eaten.

Another neighbor with a trackhoe dug a deep hole and buried the horse. The horse's owners are traumatized, of course, as much by the gruesome way in which the horse died as in the actual loss of the animal.

All children in the neighborhood have been instructed to stay close to home and not go wandering in the woods or even to our pond. I locked Matilda, our Jersey cow, in the milking pen for the night, but unfortunately we don't have a barn big enough for our Dexter cattle to be locked in (it's one thing to tuck themselves into the barn to escape bad weather; it's another thing to lock three adult and two juvenile animals in the barn with no means of escape). We have a loaded shotgun by the door and about six flashlights nearby, as well as both our revolvers. All other livestock owners in our neighborhood are taking similar precautions.

Country living. You take the good with the bad.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The NEW and IMPROVED Ten Commandments!

I saw a link to this list - it looks like a forum on the Sean Hannity show.

The New Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are obsolete. They're just not relevant any more. They're just so ... OLD! After all, this is the 21st century! We've got to keep up with the times! We're already being told to do all of these things. So, to help you remember them so you can obey them, to make sure that everyone fits in, here are your NEW Ten Commandments:

1. Government is almighty. You shall put no other allegiance before government. Your religion, your marriage, your family, your business, your friends and your neighbors - all of your relationships shall be regulated by government.

2. Images are encouraged. You shall worship as many celebrities as you can. (Except any who question any of these Ten Commandments. The celebrityhood of anyone who questions the government is automatically revoked.) Pop culture is what gives meaning to life. Celebrities in all fields shall be worshipped. Celebrities in movies, television, music, sports, fashion, and any other mass media shall be imitated as much as possible. Your clothing, your speech, your behavior, and your thinking shall be patterned after everyone the media tells you is popular.

3. Government is holy. You shall not take the name of government in vain. You shall not criticize the government. Government has perfect wisdom. Government knows what is best for you in every area of life. You shall never do anything of your own initiative. You shall never do anything without first asking for permission from the government. You shall not question the government. Government is holy. Government is to be always obeyed, never criticized.

4. You shall observe the union. Union rules are holy. You shall do no work not allocated to you by the union. You shall perform no task allocated to another person. You shall not work any more than the union rules permit. If you are not in a union, you shall join one immediately.

5. You shall disregard your father and mother. They are OLD! They are obsolete! You shall think and act as you are told to by your government school. You shall not have sympathy for your parents just because they feed and clothe and house you. The food, clothing, and shelter were first allocated to them by government! You shall put government first in all you think and do.

6. You shall kill only infants. They are only a piece of tissue. They cannot think or act or produce. You shall not kill as a punishment for any crime. You shall have mercy on "criminals." They are not guilty. They are only misunderstood. They are only replaying all the injustice that was inflicted on them by the old, unenlightened people of the past.

7. You shall hook up with anyone you feel like. Sexual urges are powerful! Who are you to deny what your flesh demands? It is a cruel sin to expect anyone to resist anything that feels so good! Fear no potential result of hooking up, for the government will provide everything you need - food, health care, child care, or an abortion if you're just not into babies.

8. You shall not steal. Everything belongs to The People. You shall not hold anything back for yourself. You shall not keep for yourself any of the fruit of your labor. It belongs to The People. "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." The government will determine what you need. The government will distribute everything you need. You shall always serve The People! Never yourself!

9. You shall not bear witness. The government will determine what the truth is. The media will tell you what the truth is. You shall not believe anything you see, or experience for yourself. You shall believe what the government and media tell you to. Believe what you are told, not what you see.

10. You shall covet. You shall desire everything everyone else has - their house, their car, their clothes, their comforts. Everyone should have the same! Nobody is entitled to have anything better than anyone else. Except, of course, the government. Government is the ultimate good! People who serve the government deserve to have the best of everything!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Warning: revolting photo (ewww, yuck)

My apologies to the photographer - this is reprinted without was one of those forwarded emails...

Remember when mom said, "Never take candy from strangers?" Well, this is the type she meant.

See what we're missing by raising our children in the boondocks?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Planting potatoes

Warning: more boring farm-related stuff ahead. Feel free to skip.

We planted potatoes today. I'd wanted to plant them several days ago but we needed to borrow a neighbor's disker first. Today my husband borrowed the disker in exchange for plowing and disking the neighbor's garden space. Here he is disking our garden. After this we'll re-install the fences.

The disker isn't much more than a bunch of knives, choppety-chopping the plowed-up big ol' chunks of dirt. Boy oh boy is Don enamored with this thing!

Okay, ready to plant potatoes. I laid out a string just to get my rows straight.

Here are the potatoes, cut-up, air-dried, and ready to plant (eyes-side up!). Fifteen pounds of seed potatoes planted seven 33-foot rows.

We have a whole bunch of old rotten hay, unfortunately a fair distance away from the garden. So Don and I carted wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow over to mulch the planted potatoes.

Still, we only got enough hay to cover half the bed.

Enough. I'm pooped, and I still have to milk the cow.

Speaking of whom, she's revved up even further. This is today's milk output - a bit over four-and-a-half gallons. What in God's name am I going to do with this much milk every single day? This morning I skimmed all the cream from yesterday's milk and poured the rest down the drain. Glug glug glug. Seems criminal. We really must get some pigs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ten Reasons Why I Voted Democrat

Sure wish I knew who wrote this…

1. I voted Democrat because I love the fact that I can now marry whatever I want. I've decided to marry my horse.

2. I voted Democrat because I believe oil companies' profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are obscene but the government taxing the same gallon of gas at 15% isn't.

3. I voted Democrat because I believe the government will do a better job of spending the money I earn than I would.

4. I voted Democrat because freedom of speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

5. I voted Democrat because when we pull out of Iraq, I trust that the bad guys will stop what they're doing because they now think we're good people.

6. I voted Democrat because I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves.

7. I voted Democrat because I believe that people who can't tell us if it will rain on Friday can tell us that the polar ice caps will melt away in ten years if I don't start driving a Prius.

8. I voted Democrat because I'm not concerned about the slaughter of millions of babies so long as we keep all death row inmates alive.

9. I voted Democrat because I believe that businesses should not be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to the government for redistribution as THEY see fit.

10. I voted Democrat because I believe liberal judges need to rewrite the Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.

"A Liberal is a person who will give away everything they don't own."
-- William F. Carling

"The problem with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."
-- Margaret Thatcher

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Couple of snarks...

Ah, snarks. Gotta love 'em.

In response to this weekend's column, I was delighted to hear from Ron, my favorite misogynist. Ron got his undies in a wad a few months ago because I declined his offer to "tutor" me until I complied with his particular worldview, whereupon he pronounced that "women don't belong in the world of ideas." Here's his latest profundity:

"Hey stupid. Nobody used falsely held religion like your George Bush!"

Ah, eloquent as always. Firstly, Ron dear, you should really stop reading my columns, as you'll just give yourself high blood pressure. Secondly...uh, MY George Bush? What gave you the impression I liked Bush? He's a politician. 'Nuff said.

The next snark came from David who first quoted a line from my column: "The 'truth' that religion has no place with anyone who considers himself to be an educated, literate person?" To this David writes, "Wow, you get it. Religion is BS, pure and simple. Thank God more young people are starting to understand this."

Who are you thanking, David? Just asking. Must'a been a typo.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What I did yesterday

I'm never sure if I'm boring everyone by relating the little everyday things we do around here. But what the heck, it's my blog, so you can skip the boring parts.

Being early spring and all, we're accelerating on our seed planting. There's not a whole lot that can get planted outside yet - as I type this it's 6 am and 30 degrees - but we could at least section and dry the potatoes:

With seed potatoes, you cut sections leaving two or three eyes per section, then air-dry them for a few days before planting.

I planted Roma tomatoes yesterday, but because the greenhouse isn't quite finished yet, they go upstairs next to the clothes drying on the racks:

I planted the garlic last fall, of course. Here it is, poking above the straw mulch:

Matilda, as you can see, is thoroughly enjoying the loads of green grass:

As a result I'm getting a full two gallons per milking:

So I'm making a lot of cheese (these are cheddar curds, about two hours away from being pressed):

Because I've been making cheese so much, I'm running low on thermophilic starter culture, so yesterday I made more. First I sterilize some jars, then fill the jars with milk and sterilize it by boiling, then let the milk cool, add the starter, and let it sit out for twenty-four hours to culture:

I'll freeze this in ice cube trays after it's cultured, and then I just take two or three cubes for culturing cheddar.

Oh, and here's some pretty daffodils.

Our dog Gypsy:

Our dog Major:

Typical day on the farm. Except we still don't have our truck running. We think it's just the battery though.