Country Living Series

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Just another cruddy day....

This time of year, we see a lot of Canada geese (the most common goose around here) flying south. Or north. Or east or west. It doesn't seem like these critters always have the best sense of direction since we see them heading every-which-way, but whatever. They're cool to watch.

We were walking Mr. Darcy on the road near a neighbor's house one afternoon when we heard the telltale honking of distant flying geese, but on an unprecedented scale. Sure enough, within a few minutes enormous quantities of geese flew over -- sadly, far too many to capture in a single camera frame. It was flock after flock after flock.

The noise was so loud the neighbors, whose house we were near, stepped outside to watch as well.

I'd never seen so many geese flying together at one time -- there were definitely hundreds, possibly thousands.

Even more beautiful than the geese are the swans. These are tundra swans, which breed in the nearby lake each March.

We don't see them fly over in the sheer quantities as we do geese, but there's something magical about swans flying overhead. They're easy to distinguish: Geese honk, swans hoot.

A few days ago, early in the morning long before dawn, I stepped out on the porch to get some firewood. Everything was silent, and the sky was clear with stars and a half-moon. Suddenly I froze at a noise: the sound of swans. I stood in the darkness, listening to their calls echoing through the black forest as they flew overhead. Their voices gradually faded as they moved farther away. It was one of those magical moments, a brief glimpse of heaven, to hear swans at night.

As Don likes to say, "Just another cruddy day in Paradise."

Friday, November 17, 2017

We're back in business

A post from Don:

It's been an interesting few months. As some of you are aware, I quite happily gave up Don Lewis Designs, our tankard-making business, after 25 continuous years. Those years saw (and paid for) the birth of our children, the purchase of our home in Idaho, and the building of a lot of infrastructure for our homestead.

But I finally got tired of all the shop time (especially the cold weather in the scantily clad tool shed). Fortunately, Patrice and I developed an online business that actually allowed me to hang up my shop glasses and multi-layered coats. So about eight months ago, I notified all my customers of my business closure and settled down to a working retirement that happily kept me near the woodstove.

However, nothing is forever and our major online employer was forced to downsize us. We saw it coming and managed to squirrel away some money, but certainly not enough to allow me to spend my days fishing on the lake.

So I've been obliged to fire up the table saw again and re-open Don Lewis Designs.

In the next week or so, we'll be placing some new wooden tankards up for sale here on a separate blog page. Clicking one of those pictures will take you to an off-site sales platform where you can use either Paypal or a credit/debit card to buy a wooden cup, should you desire.

I hope you'll find something you like. I'll be adding more cups (and other things) as I get spun back up. I'd like to say "Buy a cup, it's for the children" – except my two kids have cleverly jumped ship prior to the course change. A smart move on their part, sure ... but I still have access to their local bank accounts.

So instead:

Thanks all,

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What's it like to be a million dollars in debt?

I just watched a horrifying video about a couple who are a million dollars in debt.

This video was posted in March 2017. They were very blasé about their financial obligations, fully confessing where it all came from. It roughly breaks down as follows (I think I have all the number right):

  • Debt #1: $542,000 mortgage (they wanted to live in a neighborhood with good schools since one of their children is in public school; the other is still a baby)
  • Debts #2, 3: Student loans: $418,000 (Hers, $220,000; His, $198,000) (they’re both attorneys)
  • Debt #4: Car loan $14,000 (they wanted a safe car with advanced features)
  • Debt #5: 401(k) loan: $13,000
  • Debt #6: HVAC loan: $9,000 (home improvement)
  • Debt #7: New windows: $12,000 (home improvement)

If the numbers are right, that puts them $1,008,000 in debt.

This couple does a good job (in their eyes) of justifying their spending, and I congratulate them for getting serious about paying it down; but I can’t help but wonder why they saw fit to incur it to begin with. Sure, they’re high earners; but they’re clearly big spenders as well. Is it worthwhile to use your entire adult productive years fixing mistakes you made before you’re 30? That’s insane.

They put out a follow-up video this month discussing the progress they’ve made in paying down their obligations: So far this year they have paid down $31,050 in non-mortgage debt. If you include their mortgage payments, they’ve paid down closer to $47,000, and they hope to hit $50,000 by the end of the year.

They seem like a nice young couple, clearly intelligent and well-spoken, both highly educated; so I find it disturbing they can discuss the crushing burden they bear with such composure and shrug-your-shoulders calmness. I wonder what lessons they’re teaching their children about money management?

However it takes a lot of courage to publicly admit this kind of debt load and a willingness to tackle it legally and ethically, so I'll give them credit for that. Another point in their favor is they have an impressive amount of money in their retirement account. Prudent saving is clearly important to them. I just wonder how much more they could put in their savings account if they weren’t spending all their discretionary income paying down their debt burdens?

And you know what seems like the height of irony? This couple also does videos on frugality and minimalism. I think I’m going to have to explore their YouTube channel a bit more closely. I don’t know anything about them except for these two debt videos, so maybe I’m judging them unfairly; but yowza, I can’t fathom being in their position and being so calm about it. How much different would their lives be if they had a lower mortgage, a cheaper car, and trade school degrees? (Just sayin’…)

Don and I have been in debt. (Still are, if you count our modest mortgage.) We hated every minute of it and do not – ever – want to be in that position again. We hope we’ve passed that on to our girls, who both look like they’ll be savers, not spenders.

I guess this is just a glimpse into how the other half lives. Me, I’m glad we live in this half.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wanna be a writer?

If anyone is interested, there's a writing opportunity open with the Back to Basics Bundle I participate in each year.

If you have knowledge about preparedness, rural living, homesteading, gardening, animal husbandry, food preservation, or anything else which would be compatible with the Back to Basics theme, then the folks who pull it together want to hear from you. Click on this link and fill in the application (tell them I referred you) and see if you can become a participant.

Don't wait, though, since the B2B folks are busy trying to assemble new material and content for their next bundle. If you've ever wanted to see your writing in print -- or if you're an experienced blogger or writer -- then they want to hear from you. Go pitch your ideas and see what happens. It's a nice team of people and you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A new home for Brit

We've had Brit, our horse, for the past twelve years.

She's a purebred Appaloosa and was born on our neighbor's farm. At the time this neighbor had a lot of babies born and owed us a favor, so he gave us Brit for free. ("Brit" is Celtic for "spotted.") Our daughters were 9 and 11 when we got her, and we thought for sure they'd want to ride a horse. Every tween and teen girl is interested in horses, right?

Wrong. The girls just never developed an interest, and Don and I have no experience in training horses, so for over a decade Brit has been a herd-guardian and something of a pet, but nothing more.

But a horse needs a purpose in life, so we've been actively looking for a new home for her with someone who is horse-savvy and perhaps has a tween or teen girl who wants to ride.

Unexpectedly last week, we found such a family. A gentleman named Jason called about our cows, and when he came over (with his 10-year-old daughter) to look over our Dexters, I happened to mention Brit was free to a good home. Next thing we knew, Brit had a good home.

Coincidentally, a couple months ago, we had a horse expert come over and put Brit through her paces to determine how much training she would need before she would become a good riding animal. Sarah L. was truly an expert horsewoman, and it was awe-inspiring to watch her at work.

Among many things she did, Sarah put ropes around Brit's legs and pulled them up to see how she would react. (As it turns out, quite calmly.)

Sarah concluded Brit would need about three months' of training. Armed with this information, we set out spreading the word Brit was available. When Jason expressed an interest in Brit, we were able to tell him what Sarah had said.

When Jason came to pick her up, Brit acted skittish and wouldn't let him put a halter on her.

But shucky-darn, the 10-year-old daughter just happened to have a bucket of oats with her which proved irresistible.

With some patient coaxing and firm handling, Jason soon had a halter and lead rope on Brit. Then came the next challenge: loading her into the horse trailer, a gizmo she had never seen (from the inside) and didn't like.

She took a bit of persuasion to go in, but the rope trick worked like a charm and she loaded without a problem.

So now Brit is gone, living with a horse-loving family who will be able to train her as a horse should be trained, complete with a darling little tween girl to lavish her with affection.

We don't miss Brit, exactly, except for certain odd moments here and there. For example, every morning when I stepped outside to do farm chores, Brit would inevitably spot me and whinny. For years I've played a little game with her. I would step outside and say, "Frau Blücher!" If Brit whinnied before I said that, she won. If she whinnied after I said that, I won.

(For those who are wondering about this, it's a scene from the hilarious Mel Brooks movie "Young Frankenstein" with the indomitable Marty Feldman.)

So I can no longer play my little "Frau Blücher" game, but it's a small price to pay for giving Brit a useful, purposeful life.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thank a veteran today

Today is Veteran's Day. Please remember to thank a vet for your freedom.

We can't forget the brave men and women who have served our country.

Nor will we forget the ones who won't be coming back.

Thank you to our veterans.

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

For an amazing photo tour of Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium, where Don's uncle is buried, see this post.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Are we fastidious yet?

Anyone who works with social media is familiar with spam posts. I get lots and lots of them here on the blog, and for some reason the most frequent adjective I see is “fastidious.”

As any native speaker of English knows, fastidious has a fairly precise meaning. The dictionary defines it as “excessively particular, critical or demanding; hard to please” (as in a fastidious eater), or something requiring excessive or painstaking care or delicacy.

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All these comments makes me wonder: In teaching English out there to the wider world, who decided “fastidious” was such a useful word?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Small Farm Nation

Over the years I’ve often mentioned a fellow named Tim Young at Self-Sufficient Life. Tim has always been an inspiration to me. A bit over ten years ago, he left a high-powered, high-stress corporate job and bought a ragged run-down 60-acre parcel of land in Georgia. In a staggeringly short amount of time (through a combination of business savvy and sheer hard work), he became an expert in numerous enviable enterprises, including humanely-raised meat, raw milk products, cheesemaking, etc.

Having dabbled in small-scale farming on and off for 20 years, I can attest to the remarkable and varied skills he’s picked up much quicker than we ever did. He’s also a brilliant writer, marketer, teacher, and mentor.

One of Tim’s passions is helping people start their own home-based business, whether it's directly related to farming (raising meat, eggs, vegetables, etc.) or farm-related enterprises such as soapmaking, the fiber arts, landscaping, or permaculture. He is also knowledgeable about numerous food-related businesses such as artisan bakeries, wineries/breweries, dairy and raw milk operations, agritourism, restaurants/catering, etc.

Recently Tim has put together a mentoring course called Small Farm Nation Academy which guides people through what it takes to start a successful (as opposed to unsuccessful) business. The nice thing about his workshops and coursework is they don't just apply to farming-related enterprises. Speaking from the perspective of our long-term (and successful) craft business, his principles apply equally well to anything home-based since they focus a great deal on marketing. He mentors people along their journey and steers them away from making common mistakes that can doom them from the start.

This is the kind of stuff I wish Don and I had known from the beginning, much of which we had to acquire the hard way (y'know, via the School of Hard Knocks). Tim teaches about branding, website development, social media marketing, PR and media coverage, marketing strategies, etc. Resources include reading material, podcasts, videos, and community involvement through forums with other entrepreneurs.

I've always maintained the key to successfully living in the country is having a home-based business. Whether it's farming, crafting, writing, or any other innovation, a home business means you can live farther from the city (with cheaper property prices) and spend more time together as a family rather than being separated all day at distant ends of a commute.

If any of this sounds interesting, I urge you to visit Tim's academy website and see what he offers.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Don't bother preparing for the zombie apocalypse

A couple weeks ago, I did a long-overdue cleanup of our washroom, which tends to become a catch-all for a variety of stuff. It's not a large room, and some of the crowded floor space is taken up by two very important things: 50-gallon barrels of water.

We've kept these barrels in the washroom ever since the November 2015 windstorm devastated our region. We've dipped into those barrels more than once, notably last June when our well pump died and we had no water for a couple of days.

But it's important to freshen stored water once in a while, so I emptied the barrels (the water was crystal clear), rinsed them, then refilled. To each barrel I added five teaspoons of fresh bleach before tightening the lids. The combination of darkness and bleach keeps the water fresh and pure.

I told Don afterward that having those barrels filled with fresh water gives me a nice fuzzy comfortable feeling.

I have a cyber-friend in Maine who just experienced something similar to our 2015 windstorm. Thankfully this friend is a prepper.

She wrote: "We had most of the state without power for about a week. The windstorm last Monday caused quite a mess. It's amazing how unprepared my coworkers were for this. The power died last Monday morning and the general thoughts were, 'It's in the 60s so no problem with no electric heat.' No one thought about what was going to happen when it dropped into the 30s that night. We have a generator, which I am grateful for. It wasn’t cool enough to throw the freezer and fridge stuff outside during the day as it was in the 40s and 50s. No one appears to have learned their lessons either. You can't fix stupid."

My friend added these staggering words: "I can't believe how some folks really have their heads in the sand. Our generator cost a lot but it's worth every penny. I have a coworker who said she would rather buy new clothes, furniture, etc. than a generator because a storm like that is likely not to happen for another 100 years!"

You can't fix stupid, indeed.

The lesson to be learned here is this: Don't bother preparing for a zombie apocalypse. That's science fiction, folks. It's best to prepare for what you're most likely to face, including natural disasters specific to your region.

I'm glad my cyber-friend is a prepper.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Horror in Texas

My prayers go out to the victims of the horrific church massacre yesterday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

WHUMP. Winter's here

Suddenly -- WHUMP -- we're in winter. Big time.

We had a light snowfall in mid-October that lasted just a couple hours, but it snowed lightly yesterday and then all last night.

Mr. Darcy's first impression of snow yesterday was -- ahem -- favorable.

The chickens always look at snow with bemusement.

Then this morning we woke up to a snowy wonderland. Just like that -- WHUMP -- winter is here.

Older Daughter, who is now approaching her third year as a nanny in New Jersey (surrounded by deciduous trees), has come to the conclusion that only coniferous trees do justice to snow.

Right now it is just gloriously beautiful outside.

The larches (the yellowish trees in this photo) were caught with their needles on. Larches turn yellow and shed their needs each fall -- it's just about the only autumn color we get around here -- but the snow caught them early.

The willows in the backyard were caught still dressed in their fall finery as well.

Every object bore its load...

...including the hoses we had drained, coiled, tied, and stacked on the wheelbarrow to store in the barn.

When I slid open the back barn door, you could see how much snow had fallen.

Mr. Darcy, of course, thought all this was largess bestowed by heaven for his own personal amusement.

I took a ruler out and stuck it in the snow on the backyard dog house.

Verdict: Almost six inches as of 8 am this morning.

It's supposed to snow all day today, so we'll see how much deeper it gets.