Our homestead is for sale!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Soon. Very soon

Yesterday I went into the garden -- literally for the first time this year. The snow is nearly all gone and the gates are finally freed up. It was nice to walk around and dream of green.


The grapevines sure don't look like much at this stage, do they?


Despite (or maybe because of) being buried under two feet of snow for weeks on end, it almost looks like the rosemary made it through the winter. Usually it dies.


It's time to trim out the raspberry canes.


We're seeing these guys everywhere. Their hibernation is over.



Nothing stirring yet in the garlic boat, but then again it just emerged from the snow blanket.


But I pulled back a corner of the hay mulch and saw this, so it's just a matter of time.


In the orchard, the trees are budding. This is a plum.


The young hazelnut trees have catkins. We haven't gotten any nuts yet, but maybe this year?


The corn tires need cleaning up after last year's harvest.


Nothing in the strawberry beds yet, but as mentioned, they just got free of their snow blanket a few days ago.


The pond is absolutely brim-ful.


There's a still a bit of snow clinging to the north-facing slope by the water.


I scared up a red-winged blackbird from the cattails, where it nests every year.


It's always nice to hear the frogs -- a definite sign of spring.



Soon, very soon, I can get the garden planted and it will stir to life once again. Ah, spring!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Prayer request

I've known about this since it happened, but we were asked to keep things quiet until things stabilized. Now that it's been made public, I can make a prayer request.

As you know, I write for WND. I've written for them for 11 years so far. The staff at WND is among the best I've ever met, led by the authority and direction of founder/CEO Joseph Farah.

Joseph suffered a serious stroke recently, and we've all been frantically praying for his recovery. I ask you to add your prayers as well.

This is the announcement made yesterday by vice-president and managing editor David Kupelian:

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WND Founder, CEO Joseph Farah Suffers Serious Stroke
Nation's first online news organization pulling together in leader's absence


Dear WND readers, friends and allies,

Since WND is a Christian organization, when adversity strikes we strive to remember that God is firmly in charge.

Recently, adversity hit hard when our company's founder and CEO, Joseph Farah, suffered a serious stroke. After spending several days in the hospital undergoing extensive testing and evaluation, he is now home, resting comfortably and recovering.

Although no one can say with certainty how long he will be away from WND, what I can say with certainty is that Joseph and his family are extremely appreciative of your prayers, as are all of us at WND.

Joseph's medical crisis, in addition to being a difficult trial for the Farah family, is likewise tough for those of us staffing the news organization he founded and has led for 22 years. I've known Joseph Farah for three decades, and for 20 years have worked closely with this pioneering journalist as a colleague, good friend and fellow Christian. I know him as a man of enormous talents, integrity and genuine faith.

Many may be wondering: What does all this mean for WND? With God's help we are not going anywhere except forward. Our editorial team is the best, and most of us have, like me, labored side by side with Joseph for the better part of two decades. Everyone in our editorial department is stepping up to fill Joseph's shoes as much as possible while he takes whatever time he needs to recover. So, beyond the absence of Joseph's daily "Between the Lines" column, I don't believe you'll see any change nor notice any holes in our news and commentary presentation.

We're all living through a period of unprecedented turmoil, wherein one political party has somehow become totally disconnected from reality – promoting insane, catastrophic "solutions" to nonexistent crises while denying obviously real crises and slandering or censoring all who disagree with them. I can honestly say, having personally spent more than 35 years in the news media, I've never seen a greater need than right now for genuinely truth-oriented, pro-Constitution, pro-Judeo-Christian journalism. That's the niche WND has striven mightily to fill since its founding back in 1997 as America's first online news organization. And with the Good Lord's help, that vital work will continue.

Meanwhile, we appreciate your loyalty, readership, prayers and support. As you know, we are under attack in a war on independent news waged by the lords of the Internet who have decided to silence voices like ours. If you're able to support us, either directly at WND, or through the newly formed nonprofit WND News Center, that blesses us greatly.

Most importantly right now, I ask that you please pray for Joseph's recovery, for his wife (and WND co-founder) Elizabeth, and their wonderful family during this difficult time.

Thank you so much.

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Please join me in praying for Joseph's recovery. He's a great man and has done a tremendous amount for conservative journalism.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Living paycheck to paycheck on half a million bucks per year

If I could hazard a guess, I would say most people live paycheck to paycheck. Things are pricey and it's often tough to make ends meet. Apparently this affliction also extends to the upper classes.

Consider an article a friend sent on the budget breakdown of a couple who earns half a million dollars a year and still lives paycheck to paycheck (hint: we're supposed to feel sorry for them).

"Sam Dogen of 'Financial Samurai' breaks down the budget of two New York City-based spouses, each of whom makes $250,000 a year as a lawyer," starts the article. "They're 35 years old and they have two young children. 'This one couple shared their story and I decided to anonymously highlight their reported expenses,' Dogen tells CNBC Make It, with a focus on why they end up feeling 'average' even though they’re such high earners."

We are then invited to peer into the expense report of this family, which breaks down as follows (the numbers are a little small, sorry):


Having lived with extreme frugality for the last 25+ years, is it heartless of me to feel very little pity for this family?

Let's go over their numbers. New York City is clearly an expensive place to live, so it's a good thing they have salaries commensurate with their living expenses. Still, you can't tell me there aren't places they can economize. I will work on the assumption they're not interested in having a stay-at-home parent or moving to a less expensive area.

I won't mention taxes and insurance costs. Those are beyond this family's ability to control. They also contribute solidly toward their 401(k) accounts, so good for them. But here are some of their other expenses:

Childcare for two children: $42,000. Presumably they have a nanny. Our daughter is a nanny. This isn't an outrageous cost for NYC.

Food for four: $23,000. This is nearly $2000/month! What do they buy for $500/week? Learn to cook. Oh wait, maybe they don't have time.

Mortgage: $60,000. That's $5,000/month. Yowza, must be a nice home. Still, this is NYC, so I guess that's not outrageous.

Home maintenance: $5,000. No argument, this is probably reasonable for where they are.

Three vacations a year: $18,000. Again, yowza. But from what our daughter reports as a nanny, this isn't an uncommon expense.

Car payments: $9,600. This is $800/month. I guess if you like nice cars, this isn't unreasonable, though I've always heard driving in NYC is redundant thanks to their public transit system.

Clothes for four people: $9,600. This is $800/month. I'm certainly glad Don and I don't have appearances to keep up, because even when there were four of us at home, we probably spent $200/year (not per month, per year) on clothes. Now, without growing children and with just the two of us, it's more like $50/year.

Children's lessons: $12,000. That's $1,000/month. I sincerely hope the kids are talented in their music and sports choices, because that's a lot of money.

Charity: $18,000. That's a generous amount. Good for them.

Student loan debt: $32,000. That's over $2600/month, which staggers me and is a superb example of why I recommend avoiding student loan debt like the plague.

Miscellaneous expenses: $10,000. This is a bit over $830/month, probably not unreasonable for NYC.

"After taxes, fixed costs, childcare and discretionary expenses," notes the article, "there's only $7,300 left each year to go towards other savings goals, investment accounts or retirement funds. ... Ultimately, a hefty paycheck doesn’t always guarantee wealth or financial peace of mind. By contrast, budgeting and living beneath your means, no matter your income level, can help you out tremendously in the long run."

Like all budgets, this family has both fixed expenses (childcare, mortgage, car payment, utilities, etc.) and floating expenses (food, entertainment, clothing).

But another factor these people should consider in their budget is their ego. How much money do they spend trying to impress others? This is another difference between NYC and other less-crowded places: impressions matter. That's why they spend so much on housing, vehicles, clothes, and lessons for their kids.


Now I realize I can't redesign everyone's lives according to my personal convictions, but let's take this family and do just that.

Let's take them out of NYC and put them in, I dunno, Omaha or Great Falls or Spokane. Wham, their housing costs and and taxes are probably cut in half. So, presumably, are their salaries (bringing them in the range of $250,000/year).

Now let's keep one of the parents at home to raise their kids. Sure, that halves their salary again (to a presumed $125,000/year), but it also eliminates childcare expenses as well as some of the discretionary spending such as food and clothes. Quit with the fancy vacations already (try camping). Pay off your cars and buy used next time. There's nothing that can be done about student loan debt, sorry.


So can the average family live comfortably on this mythical $125,000/year? Let us hope so. Considering what we earned during our parenting years, raising two wonderful and well-balanced children and living a perfectly comfortable lifestyle, I sincerely hope so.

Monday, March 25, 2019

A new chapter

Over the years, I've sometimes put up blog posts documenting my progress with NaNoWriMo. This is an annual event, National Novel Writing Month, in which crazy people the world over engage in furiously pounding out a 50,000 word novel in one month.


I've participated in this endeavor more than half a dozen times, but surprisingly the one question no one has ever asked me is this: "What are you writing?"

Today, I've decided to 'fess up: I've been writing romance novels.

Yes really. Not the dirty nasty bodice-rippers, of course, but sweet romances, and sometimes inspirational (Christian) ones too.

This was something of a hobby all these years, but one I kept distinctly under wraps. That's because too often romances are lumped into one ginormous and sleazy group characterized by the afore-mentioned bodice rippers, which amount to little more than soft porn. Thankfully there's a much cleaner side to this industry, due to the demands of women who like a good love story but without the unsavory parts.

Writing romance takes a bit more skill than many people realize or appreciate. NaNoWriMo and other writing endeavors allowed me to hone my fiction-writing skills, but I've never done much beyond that.

But then before Christmas, a series of events took place that unwittingly involves all of you, my dear readers. How, you may ask?

To answer this question, I invite you to view my new writing website, Writing by Patrice Lewis, and take a look at the blog link. I explain the story there.


This is where I need to make one thing clear, and that's how much all of you – the readers of this blog – mean to me. The comments you've made, the support you've offered, the criticism when I need it … it's like one big honkin' family that gets dragged along for the ride.

I hope you don't mind if I drag you along on this new venture as well. This is a new chapter, in a very literal sense.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Those "squirrel" moments

Don is notoriously absent-minded. He's been that way as long as I've known him. Throughout our married life, his most frequent question is "Where's my...?" and on a good day I can supply the answer.

Today he came into the house and started rummaging in a particular basket for some thin drill bits he needed. "I know it's in here," he muttered. "Aha! Success!" He held up a small plastic bag.

He went on to explain, "I can never find this particular-size drill bit when I need it, so a few months ago I bought about a zillion of them and kept them in this bag in this basket. This is one of the few things I know exactly where it is, so DON'T MOVE IT."

I promised.

"I've also figured out why I'm absent-minded," he added. "It's because I always have 'squirrel' moments."

He's referring to the dog character from the movie "Up" in which the talking dog is distracted by the sight of a squirrel and will interrupt whatever he's saying to focus on the rodent, as in this film clip:



"What I'll do," Don explained, "is go into the shop, find my bag of drill bits, but before I can put one to use, I spot something shiny like a piece of metal and think to myself, 'If I just bend that metal in a certain way, I can make a small nuclear reactor.'"

So, eager to test his theory, he puts the bag of spare drill bits aside on a random spot of shelf and focuses on the shiny piece of metal. Then he gets to work using the drill bit, and the bag of spare bits remains on the random spot of shelf. Two weeks later when he needs the drill bit again, he can't find either the one he used or his bag of spares.

So there you go. It's not "senior moments" since he's done this long before we were married; it's just a "squirrel" moment.

At least, that's his story and he's sticking to it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Never stop jiving

This took place in Germany. You will smile through the whole thing:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

First day of spring

Well here it is, the first day of spring.


The fields are drying out, the trees are budding, and everywhere we go we see green, green, green.


Okay, sarcasm aside, I guess I can't complain. This little tree was literally buried a couple weeks ago, with only the very tip-top visible over the snow.


In some south-facing slopes, there's even bare ground, such as this swale holding a seasonal pond.


This is an ant mound. It's about two feet high.


I zoomed the camera in, wondering if any ants were moving about, but the answer seems to be no. It's not like they can range out looking for food yet anyway.


The low spot on the road to our place is flooded. A neighbor did his best to break the sides open and release the meltwater, but it's still too deep to walk through without boots. Better than it was, though -- yesterday this pond was twice as big.


So the season is unquestionably quickening. Temps are warm (mid-50s!) and sunny. Everyone is smiling. And water is flowing...


...even if most of the way it has to flow underneath the snow.


So while it may not look it, spring is definitely here.


Woot!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

'Please don't hang up'

The phone rang yesterday.

"Hello. Please don't hang up," said a robotic voice. "We need to verify your business account on Google..."

**CLICK**


Ring ring ring.

"Hello. Please don't hang up. We are your local Google specialist. We need to verify your business account on Google. We have tried to reach you a number of times..."

**CLICK**

Ring ring ring.

"Hello. Please don't hang up. How dare you hang up on us? We are Google. We own you..."

**CLICK**

Ring ring ring.

"Hello. Please don't hang up. We have tried to verify your Google business account numerous times. What do you mean, you don't have a Google business account? What are you, baby boomers? Don’t you understand, we now own you? Bwahahaha. Are your lights flickering? Oh wait, is that your other line ringing? What, they canceled your car insurance? NOW do you want to give us the information we want to know?"

And so on and so forth.


Yeah, I know these are spam calls. But couldn’t you see the above sequence actually taking place?

Monday, March 18, 2019

It must be spring

It must be spring. We had our first yearling get out.

This is Peggy, who is Pixie's daughter (and my beloved Polly's granddaughter). I went out to do barn chores a couple of mornings ago, and she was calming grazing in the barn, snacking on hay.


The question is, how did she escape? The snow is still a foot deep in most places, and much higher in mounds where it slid off roofs or where we had to pile it out of the driveway. Besides -- as should be obvious -- walking through snow leaves footprints (or hoof prints, in this case) -- and none were visible anywhere. How did she escape?

This is our corral. You can see my footpath to the watertank, and the snow dump off the shop roof -- but no hoofprints. How did she escape?


So we shooed her back into the feed lot through a small postern gate. A couple hours later, she was out again. How???

The answer revealed itself as we scoured around the barn. We have a small bull pen annex to the barn with two pens, each with its own feed box. Since we don't have a bull at the moment, we seldom go into this annex, though the animals hang around the pens.

When Don built these feed boxes, he made large hatches so we could climb into the pen as needed. One of the hatches had come unlatched, and Peggy had figured out how to climb through. Mystery solved.

(Hatch open)


(Hatch closed)


Last week, we had one last feeble gasp of winter and got about four inches of snow.



But since then, the sun has been shining and the temperatures are rising into the 40s. Lovely!

Sometimes we'll get morning fog, always pretty.



Despite the widespread snow still covering the landscape, the season is unquestionably quickening. Yesterday while Don and I worked on tankards at the kitchen table, we were startled by a burst of liquid song on the front porch: a winter wren, whose tiny size disguises a huge and beautiful voice.

And later that afternoon, as I was taking Darcy for his afternoon walk, I saw my first robin!


On the way home from the walk, flocks of swans flew over, heading to the lake and their breeding grounds.




The "snow cave" curling off the roof of the chicken coop...


...finally collapsed.


Yep, it must be spring.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What it means to be Irish

Reader Ken sent this:


Happy St. Patrick's Day to all you shamrock-lovers out there!

Friday, March 15, 2019

In praise of introverts

Let's talk introverts. It's estimated that one-quarter to one-third of the population is afflicted with this crippling condition, so it's worth a blog post.

What is an introvert? It's defined as "a personality trait characterized by a focus on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. … People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation," according to this link.


The interesting thing is how many people (notably, extroverts) think introverts need "fixing." Somehow it's looked upon as a flaw that must be corrected so these poor pathetic souls can function in today's high-octane world.

But as a confirmed introvert, I beg to differ. Since my earliest days, I've liked solitude. In fact I spent a significant portion of my young childhood wanting to be a hermit.

I have a distinct memory of when I was five or six years old and I wanted to run away from home. Not because I had family troubles (on the contrary, I grew up with a warm and loving family, and we seldom had arguments or conflicts) but because I wanted to live in a little house all by myself somewhere in the woods. When my mother stopped me from leaving to fulfill this dream, I remember crying piteously while she held me in her arms, because I still wanted to run away.


Then, and later, I spent a lot of time designing tiny and solitary living spaces out in the woods somewhere. With books. Lots of books.


Yes, books. The best thing in the world for a kid like me was books. "My Side of the Mountain" was my favorite, and for years I wanted to emulate the boy Sam's adventures as he lived off the land in the Catskill Mountains – by himself.

It's no accident I became a field biologist before and after marriage, working in remote areas such as the White Mountains of California, the high Sierras, the deep southwest Oregon woods, and other out-of-the-way places. I relished this work until having babies made it impractical.

Neither is it an accident that we live on a farm in a fairly remote corner of Idaho. As introverts, we thrive on solitude and the company of each other. We can easily go days without leaving home or socializing with anyone other than our neighbors.


Since we chose to homeschool our kids and added the double insult of homeschooling them on a farm, we were constantly on the receiving end of Standard Homeschooling Criticism No. 1: "But what about socialization?" The inference, either implied or stated, was we were doing our girls a disservice to raise them under conditions that could lead them towards becoming (gasp) introverts. The widespread societal criticism of "What about socialization?" for homeschooled children claims that without the constant presence of hundreds or thousands of other students, children grow up psychologically twisted, malformed, and with the social skills of woodlice.

But what if they merely became...introverts?


Most extroverts don't understand introverts. After all, humans are sociable creatures and deliberately seek out interaction with others. But not everyone wants constant socialization. The Charles Ingallses of the world sought to live in distant woods or lonely prairies because they longed for solitude and independence, not constant people and unstoppable conversations.


But the world revolves around extroverts. "For decades, personality psychologists have noticed a striking, consistent pattern: extroverts are happier more of the time than introverts," notes this article. "For anyone interested in promoting well-being, this has raised the question of whether it might be beneficial to encourage people to act more extroverted. Evidence to date has suggested it might."

Bull-tucky.

The article says "people tend to report feeling happier and more authentic whenever they are behaving more like an extrovert (that is, more sociable, active and assertive)." But here's the thing: introverts can be sociable, active, and assertive too – and then they need to go away and recharge their batteries before they can play-act those traits again when called upon to do so.

Once again, "research" like this illustrates the compulsion to "fix" introverts because they're somehow flawed. Extroverts assume introverts are unhappy in their solitude and just need to get out more.

(As a side note, a few years ago I came across an interesting article called "Time alone? Many would rather hurt themselves." The gist of the article is most people "would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think." Now tell me again – who needs fixing?)

It's true that introverts rarely become powerful leaders. That's not their style, and they rarely crave power. But never underestimate their strength. It's just not brash, hey-everyone-look-at-me kind of strength.

Even phones are viewed with some irritation. As early as age 14, I viewed talking on the phone, even to dear friends, as a waste of time. (I've amended that now since so many friends and family are widespread and seldom seen.) But to me, phones are primarily instruments to convey minimal information. Once that information is conveyed, the conversation can be over. Maybe that's why I don't care for cell phones except as necessary objects for conveying important information as briefly and concisely as possible, i.e. roadside emergencies.

As it turns out, introversion may be biological – embedded in our DNA: "Introverts have a lot of the chemical that makes them feel stimulated; extroverts don't have so much. This is why introverts tend to avoid crowded places or deadlines – things that are likely to put extra pressure on them – because they already have pressure within themselves."

"As an introvert, you are more energized by spending time on your own, or in very small intimate groups of people you trust," states this article. "So when you are out in a social environment that is very highly stimulating, what happens is that while the extrovert gets more and more incandescent and magnetic, the introvert starts shrinking and shrinking away."

Yep. Been there done that.


In short, extroverts think introverts are wrong and must be changed. Many extroverts think introvert tendencies can be overcome if the introverts in question are exposed to enough socializing opportunities, whether it's nightclubs or parties or merely get-togethers or even frequent phone calls.


But socialization for introverts is like eating hot chili peppers: a little goes a long way. Too much spice – too much socializing – mentally exhausts (rather than exhilarates) introverts, and they need a period of recovery before the next social occasion. That's the way introverts work. We need a lot of alone time to recharge our batteries.

Extroverts get their batteries charged by social interaction, so the more social time they get, the happier and more energized they are. They thrive on social situations. It feeds their souls and energizes them. Solitude is boring, depressing, and something to avoid.

Bottom line, it's not that introverts don't like people or fun events; it's just that we can't handle too many or too much.

But give us stacks of books, a quiet room or porch or meadow, a bunch of poufy clouds to contemplate, a country road to walk on, a corner of a coffee shop, an empty park, an intimate gathering of friends, a library or bookstore on a rainy day...and we're happy as clams.


I should make it clear introversion and extroversion fall along a spectrum. While there are extremes at both ends, most people fall somewhere on the continuum. Many introverts are terrified of public speaking, for example, and I'm not. Nor does introverted necessarily mean shy (I'm not in the least bit shy). It's all a continuum.

If there's one thing to remember about introverts, it's this: they're not broken. They don't need fixing. They are still perfectly capable of functioning in society, performing their jobs, making friends, having happy marriage, etc. They just do it a little differently.

So don't try to fix them.