Friday, December 31, 2010

Pretty sunset

Goofy dogs

Lydia loves the snow.

Even Major, who is getting up there in years, has been enjoying a few nice romps before coming in to wrap himself around the woodstove.

(Those are Lydia's jowls you see, flapping in the breeze.)

Even back in the house, Lydia was in play mode.

Walking in a winter wonderland

We had a blizzard here on Wednesday. It left us with about a foot of snow (and some drifts) and it's absolutely breathtakingly beautiful outside. Yesterday I walked to the end of our dirt road - 1 1/2 miles away - and back again. Come see the sights with me.

I'm always amazed at how snow turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.

This little tree is only about five feet high. The snow turned it into a veritable Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Snow-covered sentinels, marching along the edge of the field. Click this one to enlarge - it's pretty neat.

Every single branch had its ornament of snow.

Fence corners were half-buried.

From far, far across the canyon, I spotted a herd of deer. I put the camera on maximum zoom and got this:

Here's the herd, cropped:

Back home, some Christmas lights on snow.

This morning dawned crystal-clear and very, very cold (about 2F). But the sun rising through the trees was incomparable.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Strange request

Here's an odd request. I'm trying to find the contact email for two blogs, and for the life of me I can't seem to locate anything. I'm hoping someone might be able to provide assistance.

The first blog is Ladies Against Feminism.

The second blog is The Deliberate Agrarian.

If anyone knows how to get hold of these folks, would you be so kind as to send me their contact info at - ?


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ten Steps toward Christian Simplicity

Since I was in high school, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of simplicity. Sometimes this is called “voluntary” (as opposed to “involuntary”) simplicity. Either way you cut it, the idea is to not complicate your life with too much stuff.

But “stuff” can be interpreted in many different ways. Most people think “stuff” means physical possessions, and the more hard-core simplifiers believe all you have to do is jettison 75% of your things and you'll have a simpler life. While most of us could unquestionably toss a lot of stuff, to me simplicity goes much deeper.

Christians often shy against the term “simplicity” because of its New Age associations. When they hear the term, folks immediately think of a cabin in the woods, tie-died clothing, Birkenstock sandals, hairy armpits, and dreadlocks. Most Christians don’t want to go vegen, eat tofu, read auras, wear hemp clothing, bow to their “inner universe” (whatever that is), anticipate the harmonic convergence, or raise their consciousness on a daily basis with sitars playing in the background.

So what's left? Here are ten steps to simplify your life.

1. Make Good Choices
The essence of simple living can be summed up in these three words: make good choices. Think of it as having Jesus peeking over your shoulder, approving or disapproving of what you do. Remember, you reap what you sow; and if you sow bad choices, your life will not be simple.

For example, I know a family who lives far, far beyond their means. They are in debt past their eyeballs. Everything – including their clothing and furniture – has a lien on it. Yet they act as if nothing is wrong. They continue to spend and spend and spend (on credit, of course). When I mention that perhaps they should scale back, they shrug and say they’ll be okay.

They won’t be okay. They are very close to losing their home. And – here’s the thing – they will be totally shocked when it happens. They will think it unfair.

This is not a tragedy. Their financial situation was not caused by medical hardships or job loss or something similarly out of their control. No, it was caused by their poor choices. They will shortly reap what they sow.

Simplicity is understanding that we are all a product of our choices.

2. Don’t Have Kids
…until you’re married, that is.

This should go without saying, but it’s worth reviewing the facts and figures.

According to Blake Bailey of the National Center for Policy Analysis, about thirty-one million Americans live in households below the poverty level. He says, “Poverty is more than a lack of income. It is also the consequence of specific behaviors and decisions. The 2001 Census data clearly show that dropping out of high school, staying single, having children without a spouse, working only part time or not working at all substantially increase the chances of long-term poverty. Certain behaviors are a recipe for success. Among those who finish high school, get married, have children only within a marriage and go to work, the odds of long-term poverty are virtually nil.”

Get the gist here? These are all choices. These are things that are (mostly) within our control.

Don’t have children until you’ve finished (at least) high school and gotten married, in that order.

3. Choose Wisely, Treat Kindly
There are few things that will simplify your life more than a solid relationship with your spouse. A strong marriage will uplift you through all of the stresses, misfortunes, difficulties, and bad luck that life throws your way. It has the added advantage of improving attitude and behavior, another key factor in simplifying one’s life.

Those of us with happy marriages did not win the lottery. We didn’t just randomly pick someone, get married, and by jingo our spouse happened to turn out terrific. No, we chose well. Then we worked hard to keep our spouse happy.

Read those last lines again: we chose well. We worked hard to keep our spouse happy.

Once you choose a good spouse and then work hard to keep that spouse happy, it is staggering how much simpler your life can become.

4. Live Within Your Means
There’s a lot involved in these four simple words. Living within your means brings tremendous peace of mind from debt, from fighting over money, and from stress from being over-extended financially.

It also implies obedience of the Tenth Commandment. When we don’t covet (a bigger house, a nicer wardrobe, a fancier car, etc.), then we can learn to be satisfied with what we have, however modest.

This doesn’t mean we can’t strive for better things. It means that we acquire those better things only when we can afford them without going into debt or depriving our family of necessities.

5. Cut the Clutter
Look around your home. What do you see? Craft supplies, magazines, knickknacks, statuary, gewgaws, framed photos by the dozen (or hundreds), duplicates, collections of tools or bowling trophies or stuffed animals…

Our homes are often filled with things at too high a cost, both physical and emotional. We stuff our houses with more and more items, thinking they will bring joy. The result, of course, is a living space that squeezes the “living” right out of it.

Dump the clutter. Simplify your housework. Reduce your possessions to only the useful or the beautiful. Make your home lovely, peaceful, open, and welcoming. Because, after all, that’s the whole purpose…isn’t it?

6. You Aren’t What You Own, Do, or Wear
How much of what complicates our lives ultimately derives from our efforts to impress others? This ego-driven desire to display can push us into careers that may not satisfy, homes that may be too big, cars that may be too expensive, and possessions that may be unneeded.

As Christians, we need to put our treasure elsewhere besides our homes, careers, and wardrobes. We need to acquire the confidence that allows us to march to the beat of our own drum, one that allows us to be pleased with a smaller house, used vehicle, and modest job. Our Christian confidence should allows us to not be affected by any snobbish barbs that come our way from those who feel that what we do, own, or wear signifies our importance.

7. Stop It!
I once caught a Bob Newhart comedic skit in which he played his usual role as a psychologist. A woman came to him with a myriad of problems because she’d heard he could cure her in five minutes. She poured out one dilemma after another and then asked for his advice.

His reply? The sum total of his advice for all her problems? “STOP IT!!!!”

The skit was hilariously funny simply because it was Bob Newhart, but underneath the humor there was some merit to his advice. Sometimes we just need to… stop it.

Stop living beyond your means. Stop overeating. Stop nagging. Stop driving too fast. Stop drinking so much. Stop smoking. Stop gossiping. You get the idea.

If we could just magically “stop it,” life would be simpler. Now our job is to make those “stops” come true. This isn’t rocket science. If you’re doing something that makes your life too complex…STOP IT!!

8. Discipline Your Children
The concept of discipline for children has become watered down in recent decades. As a result, many children run amuck, wreaking havoc in parents’ lives.

The fact of the matter is that children need strict, loving, consistent discipline. They need to learn the parameters of acceptable behavior in our society.

The Bible (particularly Proverbs) is full of sensible advice on disciplining kids. The problem of unruly children clearly dates back thousands of years. Remember: you reap what you sow. If you sow leniency with your kids, you will reap brats.

Discipline your children so that they can be a source of pride, not embarrassment. Believe me, your life will be simpler.

9. Stay Healthy
The entire health industry that attempts to keep us healthy can largely be reduced to four major things:
• Don’t smoke
• Keep to a healthy weight
• Eat five to six portions of fruits and vegetables daily
• Exercise regularly

That’s it. Very simple. Doing these four magical things will reduce or solve the health problems of 90% of us. Studies have shown that people who do all these things live an average of fourteen years longer than people who adopt none of these behaviors. Yet surveys have shown that only 3% of us do all four.

The nice thing is that all four of these things are within our control. Obviously not all health issues can be solved by adopting these four things. But it certainly can’t hurt.

10. Count Your Blessings (and Give Thanks)
If we counted our blessings as often as we counted our problems, we would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Sometimes it takes a simple readjustment in our way of thinking before we recognize the incredible blessings we have in our lives.

Our pastor once said in a sermon, “If you lost everything you have right now, and then suddenly had it all restored, you would be one grateful person.”

This is so true. Suppose (like Job) we lost our health – our home – our way of life – our neighbors – our job – our voice – our children – our spouse – our food – our water…

…And then had it suddenly restored again…?

Would we ever grumble again? All our petty annoyances are so petty in light of what it would be like to lose everything.

Gratitude is an important part of simplifying. Cultivate it now – before you lose anything more.

Christmas carols for the disturbed

A reader sent these.
Warning: VERY politically incorrect.

Christmas Carols for the Disturbed

1. Schizophrenia
--- Do You Hear What I Hear?

2. Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Kings Disoriented Are

3. Dementia --- I Think I'll be Home for Christmas

4. Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

5. Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and.....

6. Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me

7. Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

8. Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why

9. Attention Deficit Disorder --- Silent night, Holy - oooh look at the kitty - can I have a chocolate - why is France so far away?

10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder --- Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle,Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells...


A neighbor boy cracked his head day before yesterday and split open his scalp.  Alarmed, his mother called and asked if we would look at it to see if it was severe enough to require stitches.  Although it bled a lot as scalp wounds do, it was not deep or gaping, and the boy was current on his tetanus shots.  His parents made sure the wound was very clean, and we don't anticipate any further problems.

But the incident reminded Don that he's been meaning to order Steri-Strip skin closures to add to our medical kit.  He got online and ordered them at once.

But then he noticed something interesting., as you know, always provides additional suggestions for anything you purchase from their website.  "Customers who bought this item also bought..." -- and they give additional items to consider.

He found it interesting that customers who bought Steri-Strips had also bought "Patriots" and "How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It," by Jim Rawles of; as well as "One Second After" by William Forstchen.  All of these are superb additions to everyone's Preparedness library.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Random pix

I took these shots the morning of Dec 22.

Full moon setting:

Rising sun on the hay...

...and on Brit.

Grumpy Gimli gets up to face the day.

Lydia gets spoiled. (Again.)

Sadly we lost our half-grown rooster Crackle. We found him drowned in the cows' water trough. How (and why) he got in there is unknown. I don't think it was because he was thirsty since of course the chickens have fresh water in their coop. Maybe a cow startled him and he fluttered into the tank and couldn't get out. We've never lost a chicken to drowning before so this was just weird.

Why we use a chicken coop

Just before Christmas, here's what I found in our barn:

A nice fresh (and I mean fresh!) pile of COYOTE POOP.  Smack in the middle of the barn.  This is why we button up the chickens at night!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Can you dig it?

Remember the 70's? When people think of bizarre fashions, they tend to think of the 60's, but the stuff that came out of the hippie decade morphed into weird stuff that people actually took seriously. It was perfectly acceptable to wear this junk to even the office or church. Gack. Glad I was a kid during this time and blissfully unaware of adult fashion trends.

For a trip (and fall) down memory lane, check out this link.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Have you always lived on a farm?"

A reader named Pete just posted a comment on my Christmas post as follows: "Have you always lived on the farm? If you didn't, what caused you to move to the country?"

I thought this was worth a separate blog post rather than burying my answer in the comments section. Thanks for asking, Pete.

No, we have not always lived on a farm. Neither of us. We both grew up semi-rural in different parts of our lives, but that's about the extent of it. Neither of us grew up with livestock or gardens or anything else farm-related.

I suppose our farm quest could date back to the first year after we got married. We were renting a house in a suburb of Sacramento, California. Our early marriage was a mishmash of commuting, traffic, noisy neighbors, helicopters whomp-whomping overhead, the whole typical urban nine yards. Slowly it dawned us on that we didn't want it.  There must be more to life than this. We knew we wanted children; and we also knew we didn't want to raise those children in the city.

But how to escape the city? Ahh, that was the question.

One of the things we were sure of, is we didn't want to be one of those couples who, upon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, would look back and say, "If only." If only we had moved to the country. If only we had raised some animals. If only if only if only... In other words, we didn't want to be full of regret for what we might have done, but just never got around to.

From these thoughts was born the desire to get out of the city. I was interested in graduate school about this time, and we researched out a program for Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. I applied and was accepted. Now, where to live?

I remember clearly how we found our house. This was in the days before the internet. It was Good Friday before Easter in 1992 (we were married in May of 1990). Don had to work that day but I had the day off.  Our work places were only about two miles away from each other, so we commuted in together. On that day, I decided to go into the office to use the computer (we had no computer at home, of course). I had several real estate brochures for the Ashland area and spent some time pouring over the listings.

And I found a house! I blinked in surprise at the description - a small fixer-upper on acreage for a price we could afford. Excited, I called Don and told him about it.

"Call the realtor," he said. "Let's get more information on it."

I immediately called the realtor and asked about the house. "I'm sorry, but that sold," he told me. I made noises of disappointment. "But what kind of house are you looking for?" he continued.

I explained: cheap, fixer-upper, on acreage, something newlyweds could afford...

"Wellll," he hesitated. "Another place just came on the market. It hasn't even been listed yet. It's an old house, probably only worthy to be torn down, but it's cheap and on four acres. Are you interested?'

Not only were we interested, but we dropped everything and drove up that night. While Don stayed at work, I drove home, loaded up the dogs and a suitcase, drove back to pick up Don from his office, and we headed north.

What the realtor showed us was a shack - there is no other charitable way to put it - on four acres. The inside still had every hideous interior decorating mistake from the last five decades. But sure enough it was cheap, and we made an offer within half an hour of laying eyes on it. There were renters living there at the time, and it was another seven months before we could tie up our loose ends in Sacramento and turn our faces north. We moved in just after Christmas 1993.

Our Oregon house from the front

First view of the house from behind.  Don is taking notes.

So that's how we made our initial move to the country. Of course we also plunged ourselves into instant poverty. Don couldn't find a job and I was in grad school full time. We scraped by while we got our woodcraft business up and running. Our "charming" fixer-upper leaked like a sieve, had no insulation, and no heat source except an ancient woodstove we had no idea how to use. We bought a cheap pellet stove and braced ourselves to wait out the winter.

It took us four years to save enough money to re-roof. It took us even longer to insulate the underside of the floor. And longer still to fence, build a small barn, and get our first cow/calf pair and some chickens. Both our girls were born during these lean times (no health insurance, of course - cha-ching!). I had finished grad school by this point (student loans - cha-ching!) and was working evenings and nights as a field biologist (surveying owls, for anyone who wonders what a field biologist does at night) while Don stayed home with the girls. He had an accident on the bandsaw and cut part of his left thumb off (cha-ching!) when our oldest was nine months of age. These were years of great financial difficulty as well as sleep deprivation (I am NOT a night person) for us. But our girls were paramount and we refused to put them in daycare.

Ever so slowly our business improved enough that I could quit my job and work at home with Don. It was such a joy not to have to leave my babies every day! We lived as utterly frugal as we possibly could: cloth diapers, breastfeeding (no formula), thrift-store clothing for everyone, cooking from scratch. Meanwhile we improved the garden until we were getting some nice results, and I learned how to milk a cow and make dairy products.

Things slowly improved for us financially. We paid off the hospital and student loans. We made some improvements around the place - painting, remodeling the bathroom (Don did the work himself), putting a foundation under the house (this old house was built literally on bare ground in 1874), etc. And gradually we realized we wanted more land to expand our homesteading efforts.

In 2003, ten years after moving to Oregon, we moved to our twenty-acre farm in Idaho.

And that's how we ended up here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas with the Lewis family

Here's how we spent our Christmas.

Dec. 23:
Since moving to Idaho, we started this weird tradition of having a junk food feast for three days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day).  Don't ask, long story, but we let the kids indulge in all the forbidden stuff we never buy otherwise.  Mostly this gets interpreted as a variety of different chips.  There is utterly no restrictions.  Potato chips for breakfast?  Go for it!  (For the record, by evening of the third day they're begging for broccoli and no one wants to look a Dorito in the face for another year.)

For Enola Gay's youngest two kids (who adore fishing in my purse for a TicTac whenever I visit), I got them each a couple containers of TicTacs of their own.

We were serenaded by a cheerful group of carolers.

In the evening Don and I wrapped presents.  We always use brown paper bags for wrapping paper with recycled bows and ribbons we keep from year to year.  (We're cheap.  Or green.  Not sure which.)

The presents are never from us.  No, they're from the livestock or pets.  Matilda.  Gimli.  Major.  Lydia.  This year the girls even got gifts from the mosquitoes, the house mice, and the resident spiders.  What lucky kids.

Pretty tableau with the unlit Advent wreath and an oil lamp.

Thursday was busy with baking as well as making three pizzas.  We have neighbors who join us every Christmas Eve.  The husband can't eat dairy, and so his wife never gets pizza with cheese.  Every year I make her three pizzas so she can get her "cheese fix."  I put a box under the tree for her to unwrap letting her know the pizzas are in the freezer.

In the evening we had yet another round of carolers, belting out songs with enthusiasm in the frosty air.

Dec. 24:
Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day is our big day of celebration.  It dawned cloudy but pretty...

...with a couple of ghostly deer passing through.

I folded all the laundry before dawn because I knew the kitchen table would be entirely occupied for the next three days.

The girls couldn't wait to spread out the feast.  Chips, nuts, leftover birthday cake (frozen up to this point), shortbread, salami, pepperoni, etc.

Here's what the tree looked like.  Gifts for the girls, gifts from the girls, gifts for the neighbors.  It's amazing how presents can multiply with effortless ease.  But it's pretty, don't you think?

We follow the traditions of Don's family and open our gifts on Christmas Eve.  (Presents from "Santa" are opened Christmas morning.)  Our neighbors join us every year.  Dallas's kids are grown and live all the way across the country, and Susie never had children, so they enjoy watching the kids open their presents.  They've joined us every Christmas Eve since we moved to Idaho, and it just wouldn't be the same without them.

Here Don is reading Luke 2 before handing out presents one by one.  He reads from the same Bible his father used to read from when Don was a boy.

The aftermath.

A couple hours after we finished opening gifts, we drove into town to attend our church's candlelight service.

This shot is dark, but of course I didn't want to disturb people by using a flash.

Dec 25:

Another pretty dawn.

We always feed the animals extra on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because legend has it livestock are granted the gift of speech on Christmas Night, and if you mistreat your animals they'll spread the word.  Can't have the beasties tattling on us to the neighbors!

Back in the house before the kids woke up.  Christmas morning is reserved for a present from (cough) "Santa," as well as stockings.

Stockings have candies, nuts, and fruits.

I made these stockings the first year Don and I were married - red velvet outside, lined with red satin and trimmed with white rabbit fur. Good thing we only ended up having two kids because I never got around to making more than two stockings!

Older Daughter's special present was a basket of perfumes.  She says perfume is the only "girly" thing she likes, so with the kind assistance of the wonderful folks who brought us Lydia (who have a business selling bath salts, essential oils, etc.) we got a dozen bottles of various floral, fruit, and herbal scents.  She loved it!

Younger Daughter's special present was a precision wood-carving kit.  Lately she's been carving fanciful and gnarled faces out of wood, using the poor carving abilities of a pocket knife.  Now she has superior tools to use for her artwork.

As I said, Christmas Eve is our big day of celebration, so Christmas Day was quiet, almost boring.  No arguments from me!  It was calm and peaceful.

Thank you, all my wonderful readers, for your kind wishes during this holy season.  I hope your Christmas was as happy as ours.