Country Living Series

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Best science fair project ever

How many of you remember the dreaded 8th-grade science fair project?

Mine came in 1976. I knew in advance it was coming thanks to having an older brother who already went through it, so I actually embarked on it a year ahead of time. Being a budding biologist, my project was called "A Year's Cycle of a Stream."

Yes, the photo above is the notebook I assembled to illustrate my findings. (I still have it! -- though it's missing a few letters.) It was a hefty notebook, too, full of write-ups on the flora, fauna, and entire ecology of a particular pool found in this stream.

I got an "A" and a blue ribbon, and the opportunity to display my work at the regional science fair.

But most science fair projects strike terror into the hearts of students, and I don't think I've ever seen a more clever illustration of this than what was featured on the SunnySkyz website, done by a student named Susan M.:

Okay, clearly this was assembled at the last minute. But what it lacks in research and hard work, it more than makes up in creativity and the guffaw factor.

Kudos to Susan M., whoever she is. I hope she got an "A."

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A hundred years ago today

A hundred years ago today, World War I ended.

This, of course, is the origin of Veteran's Day, originally called Armistice Day.

I remember reading about how the horrors of World War I were eclipsed by the horrors of World War II, and the sacrifices and suffering of the men who fought in the first great war were forgotten because of how much sacrifice and suffering came out of the second great war.

This may be true. Every war has its share of sacrifices and suffering. War is a horrible, horrible thing. It's only because of the bravery of those willing to fight and push back against evil that the world has not been overcome.

Since today is Veteran's Day, please remember to thank a vet for your freedom.

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

Don't forget the ones who won't be coming back.

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.

Thank you to our veterans.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The 9-to-5 grind vs. a freelance lifestyle

Yesterday Don and I experienced an "ordinary" day.

We worked on a couple of tankard orders, I had some writing commitments, we had some farm chores. Our activities toggled among these tasks.

In the early morning (I get up well before dawn), I did computer work: some writing, emails, that kind of thing. When Don got up, I made his coffee and he read the news as he drank it. We took Mr. Darcy out for his morning Frisbee-throw. Then we got to work on tankards, which took us through most of the daylight hours.

We took Mr. Darcy for his late-afternoon walk much later than normal (we're still getting used to the blasted time change) so it was almost dark when we got back, which necessitated feeding the cows and chickens by flashlight. A neighbor stopped by to deposit some meat temporarily in our freezer (their unit was broken and their new unit wasn't expected for a couple of days). In the evening we had dinner, tidied up, then relaxed into our books.

Today's tasks won't vary much. We're expecting some sub-freezing temperatures tomorrow, so today (while Don works in the shop) I will gather up hoses, drain them, and coil them in the barn for the winter. I'll put the stock tank heater in the cows' water tank to keep the water from freezing. I'll do laundry, which is piling up. I have two articles due by Friday, so I'll work on those. I'll continue doing the footwork for another article due next Friday.

This is typical for our days. Sometimes we work in the shop. Sometimes we work in the house. Sometimes we work in the garden, or the barn, or the chicken coop, or in the woods. Some of these tasks are money-earning, some aren't. But all our done at our own pace and our own schedule.

We've done this for so many years – going on 26 now – that we've almost forgotten what it's like to work according to someone else's schedule.

When people fantasize about leaving behind the 9-to-5 grind, they often have visions of tropical beaches dancing in their heads: lounging in a hammock on sparkling sands before blue waters. There's certainly nothing wrong with a vacation; but lounging on that beach isn't a lifestyle, it's a break.

A freelance work-at-home lifestyle still means work. You can't shuck off commitments in favor of lounging on that mythical beach.

But you can work at your own pace. As most people know, I'm a morning person. If there's writing to get done (it's 5:27 a.m. as I write this particular sentence), then I'd better do it before the sun comes up because my brain is kinda useless after the sun goes down. (Last night I had some unfinished writing I reeeealllly tried to get buttoned up before bedtime, and just couldn't do it. I saved it until this morning.)

Don is the opposite – he's a night owl – and he's alert and productive after I go to bed. He doesn't have as many writing commitments as I do, but when he does write, he doesn't dare do it in the morning – his mind is simply not wired for it. But set him before a keyboard after 9 p.m. and yowza, watch out.

A few things work in our favor when it comes to this freelance lifestyle. One, we work. We don't lounge on beaches, mythical or otherwise, unless we're on vacation (whatever that is). But we work at our own pace and our own schedule. Two, we live cheaply. Expenses are discussed and budgeted in advance, and recreational shopping is virtually zero. Except for our mortgage (and it's low), we have no debt. Therefore our freelance income is able to support our freelance lifestyle.

But there's no question a freelance lifestyle means your income is never, ever dependable. You don't know from one month to the next how much you'll earn. For some people, this acts as an incentive to replace it with full-time work; others simply adapt and adjust their lifestyle (and spending) accordingly.

This kind of lifestyle allows us an amazing amount of freedom. If we have no particular deadlines – no tankard orders are due, no magazine articles are in the works – then we're free to lounge on that metaphysical beach. We took a day-long jaunt last Thursday just because … we could. There was nothing holding us back, no bosses telling us we couldn't take off on company time. Some people adopt a completely mobile lifestyle under these conditions, but we're tied to the farm and that's fine with us.

Some people don't like the uncertainty, either of schedule or of finances, associated with a freelance lifestyle. That's perfectly understandable, especially if you have inescapable financial commitments (mortgage, debt, etc.) that require a steady and predictable income. Under these situations, there's nothing wrong with working a standard 40-hour week.

But it's not for us, not any more. Been there done that, for many years.

One of the biggest advantages of this kind of freelance lifestyle is the lack of stress. I have a particular writing assignment I'm working on at the moment, and I don't particularly want to do it. So I intersperse working on it with other tasks – laundry or tankards or cleaning the chicken coop. Then I come back and do a little more, then stop and do something else. Rinse and repeat.

However, lest you think we spend our days dibbling and dabbling (okay, maybe we do), don't forget the times we are under deadline. Years ago when the girls were younger and took up more of our time, we would often pull all-nighters to get work done: Don would work until 2 a.m. while I snatched a few hours' sleep, then I'd get up and take over while he snatched some sleep. Rinse and repeat. That's the reality of working at home: you can never escape the office when there's work to be done. Or as one person put it, "When you're self-employed, every day is Wednesday." We work through weekends. We work through holidays. When we need to, we work very very long hours. We do whatever we have to do to get a job done.

But when it's done, it's done. And then our "office" becomes our home again, an escape from work.

One difficulty some people have when transitioning to a freelance lifestyle is acquiring the motivation to get a job done. After all, nearly everything in our society trains us to need bosses. We're trained to need structure. There really isn't anything wrong with this – unless everything in your being revolts against structure and bosses. In this case, a freelance lifestyle is a better fit.

They say if you want to achieve a goal, you must begin with the end in mind. When we first left the city back in 1993, we had two major goals: To work from home, and to build a homestead. This was the "end in mind" concept we knew we wanted. We could achieve these goals in one of two ways: We could either earn more or we could spend less. We opted for the latter. So far so good.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Case of the Disappearing Chickens

Yesterday was a wildly busy day.

In addition to normal tasks around the homestead, I had my WND column due as well as some other writing deadlines. Plus we were expecting 30+ people for the neighborhood potluck, so we had to clean the house and grounds, and prepare dinner.

In the midst of this, Mr. Darcy disappeared. He had been in the yard, and the first hint he wasn't where he was supposed to be was when I stepped outside for a moment and heard him barking from a strange direction.

Because we had a howling wind (making acoustics tricky), it was hard to determine where the barks were originating. Don and I walked up and down the driveway, trying to find our missing dog -- and finally turned around to see him in the woods, on the other side of this gate.

Huh? How on earth did he get there? He was without his collar and seemed wildly relieved when Don opened the gate and let him out. He came into the house and collapsed into a nap.

Okay, next question, how did he get out of the yard? Further investigation revealed the tie on a back gate had come undone. Don re-fastened the gate and made it secure.

Our next concern was the chickens. Darcy, given his druthers, would happily chase down and kill every chicken he could, so we braced ourselves to find a slaughter. We have about 27 birds at the moment, and after Darcy's little excursion, we would not have been surprised to find that number greatly diminished.

How did he get into the woods in the first place? There are gates and fences everywhere. The most likely answer is the gate into the feedlot, designed to keep cows in but not (necessarily) dogs out. The chickens often hang around the feedlot, so Darcy probably went chasing after them and slid under the gate.

Grimly we went about searching the usual chicken haunts, such as the compost pile where a dozen or more birds are normally found.

But the compost pile was deserted.

We checked the coop. There were a few birds in there, but they were unruffled and unharmed.

We walked all around the barn, feed lot, corral, and the gate where we found Darcy -- and saw no chicken carcasses or injured birds. No piles of feathers. No chickens at all, in fact. And -- this is critical -- Mr. Darcy didn't have the least drop of blood on him. So maybe he didn't kill any chickens after all...?

Since we had so much to do, we continued with our tasks for the day, but something kept nagging at me. No chickens. None. Not on the compost pile, not in the barn, not in the feedlot. Something was wrong.

Finally I put on my mud boots and walked down into the woods, looking a bit further afield in case we missed a scene of carnage somewhere.

I found Darcy's collar, wedged among the pile of logs we're gradually cutting up for firewood.

I searched carefully around the woodpile but didn't see any chickens, living or dead, wedged in among the debris. And so we had a mystery on our hands: The Case of the Disappearing Chickens. Where could they be?

Evening came and none of the missing birds appeared. We fed the cows and remaining chickens as usual. The house was cleaned and ready for guests. Dinner was prepared. But the coop remained sparse -- only 13 of the 27 birds showed up for bed.

Whatever happened to the remaining 14 birds was anyone's guess. But one thing was certain: If they were down in the woods during the night, they were highly likely to be picked off by owls and coyotes.

Don was more optimistic. "They're probably just hiding," he assured me. "They'll be back." I wasn't so sure.

People started arriving for the potluck -- more and more and more (our potlucks are growing). Over the chatter and happy conversation, I mentioned our Great Chicken Mystery, and everyone offered sympathy. There isn't one chicken owner who hasn't experienced a catastrophic loss of their flock through one means or another.

Late in the potluck, Don stepped outside for a few minutes. Then he came back in and made a general announcement: "The kids are home!" Everyone cheered.

He was right. After all the guests left, I took a flashlight and did a headcount: 27 birds, just as there should be.

So while we're grateful to have our flock restored, I'm still baffled where those missing 14 birds could have been hiding for so many hours. Nonetheless, it's comforting to know that even when he was unrestrained and free to kill all the chickens he could, Mr. Darcy didn't kill a single one.

Not that we're willing to take a chance on that. He stays on a leash while in the driveway.