Thursday, June 27, 2019

Early to bed, early to rise...

When I was in high school, I distinctly remember setting my alarm clock for 6 am so I had an hour to read in bed before getting ready for school. During summer vacations, I would often get up around 5 am just ... because.

Interestingly, in the summers when our schedule was flexible, I would often wake up just as my younger brother was going to bed. (To say he's a night owl barely hints at the degree of his nocturnal preference.)

You see, I'm a morning person.

When our girls were babies and toddlers, early mornings were my time. It was the only chance I had to get some writing done, drink a quiet cup of tea, and not have tiny children demanding my attention. When the girls grew out of that stage, my early morning "my time" continued -- a necessary compromise in a household where all work is done at home and everyone is together 24/7. We all need our "alone" time. Since Don is a natural night owl (though not quite as bad as my younger brother), he gets his "alone" time after I go to bed.

Now that our girls are grown and gone, my early bird habits continue. It's not unusual for me to pop out of bed at 4 am or even earlier. Just don't ask me to stay awake beyond 9 pm or I turn into a zombie.

Which is why I found this article so interesting: "Waking up early can make you healthier and wealthier — yet 95 percent of Americans hate mornings."

"A whopping 95 percent of Americans hate mornings, according to a new Ipsos survey commissioned by the Sargento cheese company," starts the article. "And 43 percent of people 'despise' the sound of their alarm clock, while 39 percent identify as 'slow risers' who need to ease into their day."

In a society that requires most people to show up for work at 8 or 9 am (or earlier), the night owls have it tough. On the other hand, I've had jobs where I worked nights, and that's just as tough (if not tougher, I like to think). That's one of the blessings Don and I have cultivated over our married life -- working from home allows us to set our own hours and work when we're freshest and most awake. It's also handy during winter when Don can stoke the woodstove before going to bed and I can stoke it when I get up, so the house stays cozy.

One preference (early bird vs. night owl) is not inherently superior to the other, despite the old proverbs about who gets the worm. As long as the work gets done, who cares when it's accomplished? However the characteristic does appear to be genetic.

Unfortunately for the night owls, most sleep-cycle advice articles tend to focus on how they can reprogram their internal clocks, something early birds are usually spared (no one calls us lazy if we go to bed at 9 pm).

So I guess the bottom line is Vive la différence. I'm glad there are night owls to work graveyard shifts when the early birds are in bed.

Monday, June 24, 2019

What on earth is in my shoe?

I think it's something of a primal fear: inserting one's foot into the dark depths of a shoe, only to feel something that shouldn't be there.

The other morning I came downstairs, yawning, and sat down to put on my shoes and socks.

But when I inserted a foot into one of my battered sneakers, I felt something wet and lumpy and definitely foreign. I yanked out my foot instantly.

Fetching a flashlight, I peered into the shoe and saw:

Okay, 'tis the season to get little frogs in the house. I guess this guy thought he had a nice cozy cave and didn't appreciate a gigantic invader trying to squash him. I put the visitor outside.

I also put on my sandals for the time being. My sneaker had to dry.

What's the weirdest thing you've found in a shoe?

Friday, June 21, 2019

"A job to go to"

In reading the comments from folks in response to the quasi-humorous "Leaving California" meme I recently posted, several people expressed an urgent desire to flee the state toward greener pastures, but are hampered by the need for employment in a future place -- a "job to go to," as one reader put it.

I thought this would be an interesting and helpful topic to open for discussion. How do rural people make a living? How many "go to" a job (i.e. are hired by someone) versus how many create jobs for themselves?

We (the Lewis family) subscribe to what I call the "many irons in the fire" philosophy of earning an income. We make money a variety of different ways -- primarily from our woodcraft business, but also through freelance writing and other assorted odd jobs we've done over the years. Our primary focus is to take whatever work we can do from home.

Why home? Because it allows us to live as far away from urban hubs as we wish, without being tied by an umbilical cord of commuting to cities for employment. We have neighbors who commute, and it's tough.

But working for ourselves also means financial uncertainty (which is why we prefer the spend less vs. earn more financial philosophy), and it also means we do more than one thing to make a living (i.e. irons in the fire). This, too, is common among rural people -- holding down multiple jobs.

I thought this would be a good time to open up for discussion what kinds of employment people can find or create in a rural location, keeping in mind everyone's experiences, education, and skills set are different. One advantage people have today over what we had when we first relocated out of California in 1993 is the internet -- there are many jobs that can be done online.

One universal piece of advice I'll give for those seeking to leave cities: GET OUT OF DEBT GET OUT OF DEBT GET OUT OF DEBT. Your income is likely to drop off a cliff, so don't drag any debt down with you or you may never climb out of the hole.

So let's hear some thoughts from those who successfully moved from urban to rural. How did you manage to make it financially? What advice would you give others who want to move rural?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Leaving California

A reader who lives in California sent this:

As a former Californian, it's easy to remember why we left...

Monday, June 17, 2019

Evangelism for introverts

I have a guest post up on author Davalynn Spencer's blog entitled "Evangelism for introverts."

Hop on over and take a peek, then linger and explore this neat lady's website.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Earning more vs. spending less

I had a conversation with a friend recently, who was inquiring about our upcoming move.

During our discussion, the subject of finances came up, and I mentioned that our financial strategy has been to spend less rather than earn more. I mentioned our average monthly bills (besides the mortgage) come to about $500 (not counting food, hardware store purchases, and other variable expenses). The monthly bills include electricity, telephone, internet, FedEx (for our woodcraft business), home/car insurance, credit card payments (we have certain revolving charges on the credit card, such as the website hosting our ebook sales, etc.), health care premiums. Non-regular expenses include such thing as car registration, propane tank fill-ups, LifeFlight membership, Costco membership renewal, taxes (we pay quarterly), etc.

We're spending a bit more than we normally do as we renovate the house (paint, flooring, etc.), but those are mostly one-off purchases. But in general we continue to tweak and adjust our lifestyle so these costs are either maintained or decreased over time. Just this week, for example, we decided to give up our merchant services account (for accepting credit cards). Since our woodcraft business is now exclusively wholesale and we're no longer doing craft shows, our customers usually pay by check or PayPal rather than credit card. Our merchant services account charges us a base free of $35/month, plus a percentage of whatever charges we run through it. Closing that account means that's another monthly charge, gone.

This "spending less" strategy is fun. We enjoy the challenge of finding ways to reduce our expenses.

Anyway, this strategy seemed doubly smart when I read an article headlined "Celebrity surgeon went 'all in' on $180 million Bel Air mansion; then came the high-end housing glut."

The article begins:
When celebrity plastic surgeon Raj Kanodia started building his 34,000-square-foot mansion to flip for a profit, his real estate friends gave him a warning.

"They said, 'You're way out of your league,'" Kanodia recalled. "They told me, 'You'll run out of money and you'll be forced to sell it to service your debts.'"

Four years and well over $70 million later, Kanodia is feeling the weight of their advice.

The modern glass palace he built in Los Angeles' Bel Air neighborhood has been sitting on the market for more than a year. Rather than rolling in profits, Kanodia is now performing as many plastic surgeries as possible to fund millions of dollars in loans and the high costs of maintaining the empty house and grounds. After failing to find a buyer, he's now offering it for rent at $1.5 million a month and says he would consider offers of more than $120 million — marking a $60 million price cut.

The reason this caught my eye is because Mr. Kanodia is, presumably, older than we are (one website says he has "48 years of experience," so I'm guessing he's in his late 60s). At a time in life when Don and I are interested in downsizing and living on as little as possible, Mr. Kanodia is well and truly stuck with a level of debt unfathomable to us. The line that struck me most powerfully is this one: "Kanodia is now performing as many plastic surgeries as possible to fund millions of dollars in loans and the high costs of maintaining the empty house and grounds."

This is why we're looking forward to purchasing our next home without a mortgage – to be free of as much debt as possible.

Truly the Bible has it right in Proverbs 22:7: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."

At a time of his life when Mr. Kanodia might otherwise look to a comfortable and peaceful retirement, instead he is well and completely enslaved, arguably because of greed (his hope for a huge profit when flipping the house).

I pity him.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Improving the orchard

My apologies for the blog silence over the last week! We've been nutty-busy renovating the house and property for our upcoming move. This process was hampered by a big shipment of tankards we had to finish up. We finally booted the shipment out the door and now we're able to devote our attention back to the house.

At this point our goal is to list the house for sale near the beginning of July. As such we've been frantically tackling projects. One of the overdue projects I wanted to complete was improving the orchard.

We planted our young orchard, as you may recall, in giganto tractor tires three years ago. It was something of an experiment, but I'm pleased to report the trees have done very well.

Last year we didn't have much fruit production by the peaches or plums -- evidently they took the year off -- but this year they're all loaded. Here are baby plums:

Baby apples:

And baby peaches (my all-time, hands-down favorite fruit):

The one drawback to growing trees in tire, I've learned, is weeds like to share the space. Most of the tires I keep fairly weed-free, but this is an example of what happens when I don't keep up (sorry, that's a white pole leaning against the tire I didn't notice until I took the picture):

I wanted to leave the orchard as pretty and weed-free as possible for the new owners, so I decided to line the tires with weed cloth with a layer of bark mulch on top.

First step, get the bark mulch. They give it away for free for a short window of time every week in the nearest town. Free is good.

Next step, cut weed cloth to fit inside the tires:

Some of the trees had little suckers growing, so I trimmed them off before putting down weed cloth.

Next, shovel bark onto the weed cloth.

The result looked absolutely positively splendid. A huge improvement.

The cows were fascinated by the activity and hung around the fence a lot.

Tree by tree, tire by tire, I worked my way through the orchard. Each tree took about half an hour, so to do 14 trees took me a roasting grueling seven hours in the hot sun to complete.

It's a project I should have done long ago so at least we could have benefited from it, but oh well. Whoever buys our homestead will have a lovely and productive orchard.

By the way, some may wonder whether we've found a place we'd like to buy. The answer is no, but to be fair we're not looking very hard. If "the perfect" house came on the market tomorrow, we wouldn't be in a position to buy it until we sell our place, so we figured we'd wait until we're on a surer financial footing before commencing a more serious home search.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Interview with Stacy Lyn Harris

My latest interview for Lehman's is with Stacy Lyn Harris. What a charming, gracious southern lady -- and mother of seven kids, to boot!

If you want to learn how this former-attorney-turned-homeschooling-mom became such a domestic celebrity -- or better, if you want to meet her in person -- hop on over to the Lehman's site and read the interview.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A story of icing

Here's what happened to me yesterday. I didn't take any photos, so just create the pictures in your mind. Feel free to add all the messy kitchen components you can conjure up.

For this Friday's neighborhood potluck, I volunteered to bring dessert. About a month ago, I made one of my standbys, lemon-cream cookies. The recipe can be found here, and for purposes of the potluck I usually quadruple the recipe. I have the quadruple measurements written down so I can make it easily.

But last time I made these cookies, they went so fast that people were complaining they couldn't get seconds, so this week I decided to octuple the recipe, not quadruple it. Besides, we have new neighbors, and I wanted a few extra cookies to give them as a welcome gift.

Because this is a busy week, I made the cookies a couple days ago and put them in a sealed container to keep them fresh. Yesterday I decided to make the lemon cream filling that gets sandwiched between the cookies. But unlike the cookie recipe, I didn't have the quadrupled icing recipe written down, and of course this time I was octupling it. But no biggee, right? Just multiply everything by eight.

Which works great, unless you mistake teaspoons for tablespoons and multiply accordingly.

That's what happened when I was supposed to take four and a half teaspoons of lemon juice and multiply it by eight. Instead, I took four and a half tablespoons and multiplied. Suddenly, to the correct amount of butter and powdered sugar I had creamed together, I added a massive amount of lemon juice (two and a quarter cups).

So I'm standing there, staring blankly at this soupy mess of butter, sugar, and lemon juice, wondering what the heck I did wrong. It took me a few minutes to realize the teaspoon/tablespoon conundrum. Nuts.

I had two choices: I could either chuck the entire mess (wasting all the components), or I could multiply the butter and powdered sugar and add them to the soup. Since I had enough butter and sugar on hand, that's what I did. Now, instead of octupling the icing recipe, I was twenty-four-ing it.

Powdered sugar poofed up and coated everything in the kitchen as I kept transitioning to bigger and bigger bowls. Finally I abandoned bowls altogether and put everything into a three-gallon canning pot. Of course it was also too massive a job for my little hand mixer to tackle, so I grunted my way through mixing by using my biggest wooden spoon.

The result is, literally, gallons of lemon cream filling.

Fortunately it freezes well.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Thirty-second cattle roundup

Our pastures are looking lush and green, thanks to generous May rain.

We've been deliberately keeping the cows on the wooded side of our property to allow the pasture grass to grow abundantly. They also cropped the woods down to lawn proportions. Now it was time for the annual Thirty Second Cattle Roundup.

Opening the necessary gates, we called our universal cattle call (named after the first cow we ever owned): "Bossy bossy bossy bossy BOSSY!!!!"

Well oh my, the ladies knew what that meant! They came galloping up from the woods, through the feedlot...

...and poured out another gate toward the pasture.

Within moments, their heads were buried in the lush grass. Did I say thirty seconds? They might have topped that this year. Twenty seconds, max.

We'll let them fatten up for the next month. All but one of the ladies has a date with the freezer -- three near the beginning of July, the remaining three toward the end of July. (One heifer is sold.) It's far easier to move our household with the animals in packages than on the hoof.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Do you have a root cellar?

Gentle readers, I have a request.

I just turned in an article on root cellars to my editor at Backwoods Home Magazine. However I had to let her know I had no photos available, since we don't have a root cellar. The editor did a search on several stock photography websites and realized most stock photos show the outside, not the inside, of various types of root cellars.

And the interior is what the editor would most like to illustrate.

Therefore, if anyone has a root cellar, would you be interested in taking pictures of the interior for possible use with the article? My editor wanted to make the following things clear:

• There would be no payment for the photos

• The photos may or MAY NOT be used (this is known as "editorial discretion")

Ideally the photos are high resolution and would depict not just the overall interior, but any construction or infrastructure details you think are interesting (such as intake or outflow areas, types of shelving, types of crates or baskets, etc.). I realize this is the time of year most root cellars are likely to be at their emptiest, but that's life.

If you can provide such photos, please send them to, and I'll forward them to the editor.

Thank you!