Country Living Series

Friday, November 24, 2017

Tankards are available!

Our tankard page is now live! Please click this link to see what stock we have available.

Remember, these tankards are suitable for either hot or cold beverages. They should be hand-washed and never put in the microwave.

A few things need explaining.

First, shipping. The website where the tankards are listed has limited options for shipping. We ship USPS Priority Mail, which costs almost exactly $10 for domestic shipping for one tankard. If any additional tankards are shipping to the same address, we’ll need to add $2 for each additional tankard.

However if tankards are shipped to different addresses, each address will require that $10 base shipping charge. We’ll notify you by email if any additional shipping costs are incurred.

Second, we’re offering a special limited-edition Rural Revolution tankard. This tankard has solid-wood sides (as opposed to multi-wood sides) of alternating maple and walnut. On the face of the tankard is one of my oil lamps and the words Rural Revolution. They’re absolutely beautiful! Don actually talked me into signing the bottoms of the tankards as well (he seems to think that’s a selling point, ha!).

Since these Rural Revolution tankards are made to order, they’ll take a bit longer to ship than any of the ready-made pieces otherwise on display. The run for these Rural Revolution tankards is limited to 99 pieces, and each piece is numbered. (Another glitch on the website is the custom Rural Revolution tankards will move down the page whenever we add any new stock, so be sure to look for them.)

Thank you all for your support!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Gotta love garlic

If there's one thing I love to grow in the garden each year, it's garlic.

Year after year, this beautiful allium produces a dependable crop of huge cloves.

After harvesting, I work in the shade of the barn where I trim off all the stems. I grow a German porcelain-neck garlic. Rather than those annoying cloves that get smaller and smaller toward the center, this kind of garlic has large (and sometimes huge) cloves around a central stiff (or "porcelain") stem. It's got a nice bite to it, just as garlic should.

A friend wanted to grow some of her own, so I passed on several heads for planting.

After pulling garlic, it needs to dry out for a few days. I laid the garlic out on cardboard on some wire shelves we have in the house.

Over time, I peeled the garlic. It's kind of a laborious task, but for some reason I don't mind it. I do a bit at a time and rather enjoy pulling shining creamy-white garlic cloves from the dirty skins.

I kept back 150 of the largest cloves for planting, and on October 29, I went out to plant them in the garlic boat. Mr. Darcy was a huge help.

So huge, in fact, that I had to put him back in the house until I was finished. There's only so much help I can take, doncha know.

I started by scraping back the pine needle mulch, thinking I could plant half the bed at a time.

But since I like to lay the whole bed out before planting, I ended up removing all the mulch for the moment.

Planting takes no time at all. Shove a trowel into the dirt, angle it out to create a space, drop in the clove (root side down), remove the trowel, and it's on to the next clove.

Then I recovered the bed with pine needle mulch, and that's it for garlic in the garden until next summer.

But I still had to preserve the garlic. I usually can my garlic, since we don't have a basement or root cellar for long-term storage of cloves. This year's harvest was kinda light, about 7.5 lbs altogether.

To can it, I start by chopping it up using a food processor.

Then I parboil it by heating water to boiling, turning off the heat, then adding the chopped garlic and letting it sit for about ten minutes.

Then I drain the pot, reserving the cook water.

I fill the jars with the heated, drained chopped garlic, then later top off the jars with garlic-y cook water.

Scalding the Tattler lids.

I ended up with twelve pints. Garlic is low-acid, of course, so I used the pressure canner.

Adjusted for our elevation, I held it at 12 lbs. pressure for 25 minutes.

During the course of canning it, I heard a loud "PANG" from inside the canner. "Lost a jar," I remarked to Don. Sure enough, after things had cooled down and I removed the canner lid, I had a jar which broke out its bottom. I didn't dare keep the garlic from the jar since I didn't want to risk ground glass. Eh, this stuff happens.

And meanwhile I had 11 other jars of beautifully preserved garlic to last us over the next year.

Gotta love garlic. And canning.

Talk about bad timing

Recently the Georgia Dome in Atlanta was undergoing a controlled implosion. It's always fascinating to watch the precision of these controlled demolitions, and incident has been watched many times on many different videos and news reports.

But wait! It seems the Weather Channel had set up for a live shot of the implosion, when it was photobombed by a bus:

Don and I watched this and howled.

Let's put it this way: plenty of people videotaped the Georgia Dome implosion. The bus photo bomb was FAR more memorable, in large part because of the BLEEPS for edited language. I know the Weather Channel guys were disappointed their shoot was interrupted, but a lot more people are watching, laughing, and remembering this over the uninterrupted versions.

So ... cheer up, Weather Channel guys. You were great.

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.