Country Living Series

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

As I often do on Memorial Day, I like to draw your attention to a set of remarkable photos taken a few years ago by a reader (Katie) and her husband, who were formerly stationed in Germany. Katie learned that Don's uncle, Donald Sowers, who was killed in World War II, was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium. She and her family visited the cemetery and sent these photos.

Last year, a reader named Kathy left the following moving comment on that blog post I shared:

I searched for 2 years to find my mother's first husband Harold Norris, killed 4/4/44 @ 2:04 PM over Romania. I received a photo of his grave from Belgium and walked over to my mother's home and said, "Mom where is Harold buried?" She said, "New Jersey". I said, "Mom, sit down, we need to talk."

Her mouth dropped open when she learned that her first husband was buried in Belgium! He has been there for (then) 65 years. All I started with was his purple heart, his name and service number. It has lead me down a path filled with new compassionate friends and a new understanding of the word sacrifice. Harold was an airman, navigator and top turret gunner. His plane the Miasis Dragon was shot down after delivering a fatal blow to an oil refinery in Bucharest Romania. The plane was hit at the waist by a land-to-air missile. The plane nose dipped, the pilot pulled it up, then it went nose-over-tail to the earth in a fireball. 4 crew were "carbonized" and were buried together in one grave by Romanian Monks. Later, in 1949, with dental records my mother provided, the US was able to locate his remains from the others and he was buried for the 9th and final time in Ardennes. The other 3 airmen are still together buried in the US.

One of the beautiful things I noticed was that each man's life is symbolized with a marble cross. They all worked and sacrificed as a group and from above, all of their individual crosses make up a larger cross. This collective larger cross can only be seen by people in airplanes and God. 3/5ths of the graves hold the remains from airmen who lost their is to those who fly that the larger cross is visible...a beautiful way to honor them.

The other thing I learned in 2010: the people of Belgium, France and other countries meet and honor our heroes. At Ardennes in 2010, there was approximately 100,000 people present, not many were from the USA. It seems that in life, we considered these men to belong to us, but in their death, the European people consider that these men belong to them, whom they thank and honor every year. Most graves have been adopted. Harold's grave was adopted many years ago and now the lady who adopted his grave is teaching her young grand daughter to care for it. She obviously does not want her grand daughter to forget the gratitude she has for the men who lost their lives saving hers.

I wrote to a man who was age 7 when the bombs were falling on to his town. He was scared and saw more than a 7 year old should see. He remembers the American forces and he remembers liberation. For those who know what happened, who saw the cruelty and oppression, who had no hope, our US Military saved them, their children and their grand children. The maximum gift was given, freedom was restored at a great price, those receiving the gift are grateful....and other airmen and God can see their collective cross, a memorial for their sacrifice, from the air. This has put many things in perspective for me...I hope it will for you too. --Kathy


This is an essay Don wrote many years ago in tribute to his fallen uncle:

Forever Young

I don't know how he died, really. No one does, since everyone who was with him died at more or less the same time.

I'll bet he was afraid. I would have been.

It must have been hell on earth – above earth to be exact. A booming, banging, grinding, shaking, shattering horror. Especially it must have been tough on him, hanging as he was below the belly of a crippled plane, a bubble of glass exposed to the flak and the fire from enemy aircraft. A tasty and too-visible target.

His B-24 Liberator was powerful, true. But it was also lightly armored and easily damaged in combat. When damaged, the B-24 often lost the electrical power needed to rotate its gun turrets, and the gunners would have to hand-crank their turrets around, trying to follow the enemy planes.

Too slow. Too slow.

He was probably the youngest man on board. He was certainly the lowest-ranking member of the ten men who made up the crew. That first day of August in 1943, he'd only been in the Army Air Corp for a year and a half. He'd only been overseas for six months. He was 19 years old. He came from a farming family that lived in a very small town in Kansas. He had one sister, two brothers, and two very worried parents.

He was assigned to 98BG, a bomber group stationed out of Benghazi, Libya. His mission that day? In coordination with 178 bombers and 1,700 crew members, the 98BG was to attack and destroy the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. These facilities provided the Third Reich with one-third of its fuel … and the Nazis were very hungry for fuel in the waning days of 1943.

The oil refineries at Ploesti were protected with massive anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of German and Romanian fighter planes. The distance traveled by the Allied bombers meant that no fighter protection could attend them. They were alone.

"Fire over Ploesti" by Roy Grinnell

It was a tremendous undertaking, a gamble of men and machines desperately needed for the war effort. A 2,400 mile, eighteen hour trip there and back again, with only a half-hour of available time over the target.

And in the end, for over 500 airmen and 52 bombers, there was no going home.

They say he's buried at a cemetery near Liege, Belgium. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. The records show that his B-24 was shot down over the refinery, but that it happened before the crew could disgorge the plane's 8000-pound payload of high explosives. And the B-24 Liberator was well known for burning merrily when it crashed.

But his name is on one of the white crosses standing in formation at the lovingly well-tended cemetery.

His parents back in Kansas received the medals that he was awarded posthumously at a ceremony, probably one of many such ceremonies on that same day. The medals were: a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Both his brothers eventually went to war as well. One went as another tail gunner, the other as a pilot. His younger sister stayed home, grieving for the older brother she would never see again on this side.

Eventually she married my father.

The parents, the brothers, and the sister passed away some time ago. There is now no one who can tell me anything more about Donald Phillip Sowers – Sargent, United States Army Air Corp. The uncle I never knew and whose name I share.

Donald Philip Sowers never woke to the face of his bride on the day after his wedding. He never paced the floor late at night singing softly to an infant daughter who just couldn't sleep. He never got to hold his child's hand the last time she needed, or wanted, help to cross a street. He never felt the aches and pains of a long life, well lived. And well loved.

But I will remember him and so will my children. If you've taken the time to read this, tip a glass in his name and remember him. And all the other lost brothers and sisters as well.

Think of the things he missed, for the things you have.

Donald Philip Sowers died fighting the greatest evil of our time – a young man of 19 who will never grow old.

A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Trade school commencement speech

Well, here's something pretty cool.

Mike Rowe, the blue-collar advocate from the television shows "Dirty Jobs" and "Somebody's Gotta Do It" just posted his version of a commencement speech ... for trade school graduates.

He opens with the stellar words "Thanks for resisting the temptation to borrow vast sums of money" -- and it just gets better.

Well worth watching.

Thursday, May 21, 2020


If I've been quiet on the blog lately, it's because we very very busy with projects around the homestead. And that, in turn, is because we have prospective viewers coming out our ears.

Our homestead is for sale, as everyone knows. We took it off the market over the winter and re-listed it just as the coronavirus shutdowns started happening, which meant we had no one viewing the property for the longest time. We weren't worried, since we're not in a hurry to sell; and used the pause to continue making improvements and tackling outdoor projects as weather permitted. But we did notice our Zillow listing was beginning to get a large number of views, and especially a large number of saves.

Now suddenly, after weeks and months quiet, the phone is ringing off the hook. We've had two home showings so far, and potentially three more for this upcoming weekend. Yowza.

So – in addition to writing deadlines and a tankard production run we're finishing up – we've been working on the house and property.

In some regards, this delay has been beneficial for us. Rural properties are suddenly hot as people realize city living has its drawbacks. (Apparently a Silicon Valley venture capitalist named Balaji Srinivasan summed it up in a pithy tweet: "Sell city, buy country.") News articles confirm this (here, here, here, and here).

We're situated in a fortunate position, on the edge of the wild but within commuting distance of two metro areas. Our Zillow listing keeps getting more and more "saves" every day.

The weather has been too cool and wet to plant anything in the garden yet (except peas and potatoes), but I've been prepping beds and trimming raspberry canes. My tomato and pepper seedlings are ready to be hardened off and planted as soon as the weather permits.

Don's been doing a lot of weed-whacking, though the rain has prevented mowing and the lawn is shooting up.

I've been gathering up tangled fencing to bring to the metal recyclers.

Don's been doing last-minute inside improvements, both big (kitchen cabinet frames and doors)...

...and small (trim work).

And of course, we're trying to keep the house clean – floors vacuumed and mopped, laundry caught up, dishes washed. You know how it goes when you're trying to sell.

The nice thing is we're still not in a hurry. We haven't found another place to buy – we're not even looking yet – so we're not stressed by trying to support two mortgages at the same time. If we don't sell this year, no biggee – we'll try again next year. (It's astounding how this bit of information shuts down realtors who try to persuade us to abandon our For Sale By Owner listing and list with them instead.)

We're confident that as more and more states open up, we're going to see a lot more people ready to get out of dodge, especially because so many people are interested in becoming more self-reliant and aware of the fact that working from home is possible.

So anyway, I apologize for not posting more frequently. Busy busy busy!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The road less traveled

Here's a piece I wrote for the Lehman's blog entitle "The Road Less Traveled."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Making money from home

Want to earn money from home? Below are a few suggestions (some of which are based on reader responses to an earlier post):

• Telecommute. This is obviously the easiest solution. The recent coronavirus lockdowns has demonstrate that a surprising number of jobs can be done remotely. Yay for the internet! Even if your employer insists you return back to the office after the lockdowns, it’s worth negotiating to work at home at least part-time.

• Consider seasonal work such as spring cleaning, house or pet sitting, fall garden clean-up, etc. Post flyers around the neighborhood offering your services.

• If you’re good with young children, consider childcare in your home. Many working mothers desperately need loving, reliable care for their children.

• If you’re a fast and accurate typist, consider transcription work which can include general, legal, and medical. These types of jobs can pay by the page, by the word, by the hour of tape, or other factors, and most are done by independent freelancers contracted by larger companies (such as Rev, Scribie, Aberdeen, Dailytranscription, Transcribeme, or GMRTranscription). If you are fluent in a foreign language and can translate, your earnings can skyrocket.

• If your writing and editing skills are superior, you can do everything from freelance magazine writing to editing and proofreading to tech writing. Some have even started independent e-publishing services.

• If you’re a tech person, build websites for businesses or freelancers.

• For creative and crafty people, open an online store through Etsy or some other e-commerce platform. It can take time to build a business, but established crafters can do very well.

• Also for crafters, sell your items wholesale or consignment to brick-and-mortar businesses. You can also sell at farmer’s markets and/or craft shows.

• Do consulting work. If you possess specialized knowledge, offering your assistance on a freelance basis can bring in extra income.

• If you have a green thumb, consider local food production providing produce to local restaurants, groceries, or farmer’s markets. If your home has adequate traffic, you can also set up a produce stand at the end of your driveway (check with local authorities for any restrictions). Produce farming can be a heavy workload, but a benefit for those who are passionate about eating locally.

• Sell seedlings and cuttings. We know a local woman who makes at least $10,000 each spring by selling thousands of vegetable starts from a stand in her front yard. She uses open-pollinated seeds and can maintain her seed stock indefinitely.

• Learn how to film and edit your own YouTube videos. Some people use these videos as stand-alone income (through monetization), others use them to supplement a separate business.

• If you’re skilled in sewing, do alterations or custom work. Some seamstresses draft their own patterns in various sizes and offers custom tailoring in local stores. For those who specialize in the needle arts (knitting, crocheting, embroidery, etc.), some people sell original patterns as well as finished items on Etsy or other online e-commerce platform.

• Offer online courses. Whether your talent is sign language, cheesemaking, or woodcrafting, someone else wants to learn from you. If you have a background in education, you can teach online through Connections Academy, K12, or Edmentum. You can also tutor online through Cambly or Chegg Tutors. Many opportunities exist to teach English, such as EF (Education First), Golden Voice English, and VIPKid.

• If you have a pleasant phone voice and a quiet room, consider call-center jobs. Many companies both large and small need someone to answer phones. Look online for companies that contract out such work such as FlexJobs or Indeed. If you want customer service work, try Working Solutions, Vicky Virtual, or ModSquad.

• Teach a foreign language. For several years, our homeschooled daughter took conversational French lessons from a woman who taught both children and adults out of her home. If you’re fluent in another language, teach what you know.

• Rent a room. Visiting professors, traveling nurses, students, business people – if they’re passing through, they need a place to stay. You can offer space formally through an organization such as AirBnB, or simply through word of mouth.

• If you have a working homestead, consider hosting workshops with overnight stays for those interested in learning rural skills.

• Cut and sell firewood. This can be an extremely lucrative side gig in rural areas where woodstoves are common.

Pitch in with some more ideas! Let's hear 'em.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Green living

It's 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. It's pouring rain, absolutely pouring buckets. This is the view from the back window.

Everything is green green green. As we like to say, this time of year it's like living in Ireland.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Stalked by coyotes

A few days ago, Older Daughter took Mr. Darcy on a hike in a nearby park. We've both been on this trail many times, and frequently we'll see deer or moose. If Mr. Darcy sees wildlife -- being the Mighty Hunter -- he lunges on the leash. In fact, Darcy's behavior is often the first indicator something is out there.

On this occasion, Mr. Darcy started lunging, so Older Daughter pulled him close and scanned the area. She saw a pair of ears sticking up from behind a log. A coyote.

She kept hiking and kept Darcy close at her side. The coyote got bolder.

In fact, it started following her.

Soon it was joined by a second coyote.

As she later told me the story, and since I knew coyotes wouldn't hurt her, I asked, "What did you do? Did you say 'Scat'?"

"Well, not exactly," she admitted. "Specifically I yelled, 'You come over here and I'm gonna whoop your a**.'"

Whatever. It worked. No more coyotes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

To all mothers

This cracked me up.

By Glenda Lehman Ervin,
Daughter of founder Jay Lehman and VP of Marketing

Blessed are the poor in allowance
For this will teach them the value of savings.

Blessed are those who mourn
For I have a Winnie the Pooh band-aid for every boo-boo.

Blessed are the meek
For they always share their toys.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
For I have cookies and milk.

Blessed are the merciful
For they will stop picking on their little sister.

Blessed are the pure in heart
For they will not lie when I ask if they brushed their teeth.

Blessed are the peacemakers
For I have a headache.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of the name I gave them
For they will appreciate it when they grow up.

Blessed are my children
When other children make fun of the way I dressed you . . .
You are persecuted because I insist we pack your lunch . . .
Others ridicule you because “all the other kids are doing it” and I won’t let you . . .

Rejoice and be glad that you …
have to take a nap
be in bed by 9 pm
have a curfew on school nights
must finish the food on your plate…

Blessed are my children
I do these things because I love you.


Also, be sure to read my WND column entitled "What My Mother Did for Me."

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A trip to the city

On Thursday, I did something I haven't done for weeks: I went into the city. I haven't been to Coeur d'Alene for quite a long time, but there were some things I wanted to pick up. Besides, I was curious about what I might see.

My first stop was Costco, where I haven't been since mid-March. People were lined up, a respectful six feet apart from each other. I wore a mask, as required for entry into the store.

A sign posted outside (right next to a Costco employee with a box of complimentary face masks for customers who didn't have their own) listed what was, and wasn't, available.

At the meat department, these signs were posted everywhere.

One thing I didn't think to check were meat prices. I hear they've gone up, but since we seldom buy meat, I forgot to check.

In the freezer section, similar restrictions were posted -- along with prices. Holy cow.

But I did find both tuna and dog food, which were my main reasons for going into Costco.

While paying, I asked the checker when they expected toilet paper back in stock. We have enough for a few more weeks, but I'm on the lookout.

The checker gestured toward the front of the merchandise section. "That whole area was filled with toilet paper last weekend," she told me. "It didn't last long."

Everyone in Costco, customers and employees alike, were polite and cheerful.

Next stop, Cash'n'Carry (now called SmartFoodservice), a wholesale grocery supply store and one of my favorite places to shop. I checked the paper goods aisle. It had major holes, but -- yes! -- it had toilet paper.

With limits, of course.

I picked up two packages of industrial-size TP. Note, these packages cost $11.49 each (you can see the price card two photo above), a bargain considering how much TP is on each roll. Keep this price in mind for a moment.

I noticed gaps on several shelves, such as cleaning supplies...



...and meats.

I passed someone's cart, loaded up with bulk staples.

As with Costco, everyone was polite and cheerful.

By the time I got out of Cash'n'Carry, it was lunch time. Every restaurant I passed had their dining areas closed, but their drive-throughs open. I passed a Wendy's which had a line so long at the drive-through that it actually extended onto the street. I was driving so I couldn't take a picture, but when I stopped at a nearby stoplight, I photographed it in the mirror (which is why the lettering is all backward).

I was very pleased to see the restaurants as busy as they were, even though I'm certain business is still desperately down.

Last stop, Winco, which has the best bulk section in town. I passed some industrial-sized shelves with bulk foods for sale. Evidently there was enough demand for large quantities of staples that Winco was offering the big bags in one convenient spot.

The biggest surprise -- I don't know why it surprised me, but it did -- was in the bulk section. I wanted to pick up some spiral pasta, but to my surprise, every single lidded bulk bin no longer had loose items available for customers to bag up. Instead, they offered pre-bagged portions. Literally the only thing in the spiral pasta bin was a ginormous 25-pound bag of spiral pasta. I shrugged and bought it. Pasta doesn't go bad, and I like spiral pasta for macaroni and cheese. (This photo shows a different pasta bin, not the spiral pasta.)

As with everywhere else, some shelves were conspicuously understocked, such as flour, though there was plenty to be had.

Soup was popular.

And the canning jar section had been raided.

Cleaning supplies were also picked over.

Then, curious, I peeked into the toilet paper aisle. They had some, but clearly it was a popular place.

It also had the obligatory sign.

Then I noticed the prices. Holy cow. Contrary to the "24" on the package, each pack contained six rolls. Six. (Apparently these are "mega rolls" equivalent to 24 smaller rolls or something.)

Now compare this to what I paid at Cash'n'Carry for industrial-sized rolls. Definitely the better bargain at Cash'n'Carry.

As I checked out and bagged my purchases, I fell into conversation with the checker since there were no other customers behind me. In fact, the store was by no means crowded. The checker said things had been crazy-insane through March and April, but had slowed down quite a bit in May. I don't know if this is good or bad.

I photographed the line of checkout lanes on the way out, each one of which was now kitted out with plexiglass barriers for the safety of the cashiers.

So that was my excursion going into town. What are you folks experiencing?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Happy birthday, Younger Daughter

Younger Daughter turns 22 years old today!

Sadly she's far, far away right now at her overseas Navy duty station, so we had to content ourselves with sending instant messages with birthday wishes. Such is life in the military, I guess.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Buried under demand

I've been following the situation at Lehman's since the economy took a nosedive.

Lehman's, as you know, sells an enormous variety of merchandise geared at simplicity and self-sufficiency. Originally it began as a source of non-electric goods for Amish customers, but it's blossomed over the years as many other people discovered non-electric goods do indeed make life simpler. Their philosophy is "Prepared, not scared."

With the advent of the coronavirus, it seems a lot of customers are in the latter category and attempting to move into the former. This can be nothing but good news, but it also means places like Lehman's are overwhelmed from people desperate to obtain products like canning supplies, emergency foods, non-electric lighting options, and other tools of self-sufficiency. It seems every time I log onto the website, the banner message at top hints the business is getting busier, not slower. Shipping times are taking longer, and many items are out of stock.

Curious, I emailed the vice-president of marketing, Glenda Lehman Ervin, and inquired: "I thought things would have slowed down by now, but I guess I'm wrong. How are you on getting new inventory in? Are your sources down?"

Glenda replied: "We have not seen any slowing down of demand. The warehouse is about a week behind (we normally ship within 24 hours) and our vendors are having trouble keeping up. We have lots out of stock. We are also getting some major media coverage like the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal. Our hope is this movement has a long tail and people realize how important self-sufficiency is; not operating out of fear but our of a desire to live a simple, more fulfilling life. As a marketer, it feels good to be promoting the same message we have been for years and not taking advantage of people who are scared."

She makes an excellent point. Homesteaders and preppers were once considered "fringe," but they have emerged to be the rock stars of self-sufficiency.

Glenda also would like to pass on the following statement from Lehman's:

"We apologize for any delays in our response and appreciate your patience during the time of this pandemic. While we are still open, we have limited staffing and have an emphasis on receiving essential inventory and processing orders. Our normal order turn-around time is 24 hours, but our warehouse staffing capacity is limited by social distancing rules and orders are running higher than normal, so orders are currently taking up to two weeks to fill. Our vendors are also having trouble producing merchandise, so our out-of-stock situation is much higher than normal. Thank you for your patience as we work very hard to catch up!"

If you plan to order anything from Lehman's you won't be disappointed with the quality of their goods; but this is also a plea for understanding from a business that's doing its very best to keep up with demand.

Monday, May 4, 2020

May the Fourth be with you

Coming as I do from a family of geeks, I'm always amused by geeky celebrations. Today is International Star Wars Day because -- are you ready? -- it's May 4th. As in, "May the fourth be with you."

So Happy Star Wars Day! May the Fourth be with you!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Never believe the weather predictions

So yesterday (Saturday), ominous weather predictions started surfacing for our region:
Saturday has the potential to be an active thunderstorm day. Isolated strong to severe storms will be possible after 1PM. Some of these storms could produce large hail and strong wind gusts. A second line of strong thunderstorms will be possible between 5PM and 9 PM. Wind gusts between 40 and 60 mph, brief downpours, and small hail will be possible with this second line of storms. Areas of blowing dust will be possible near recently worked fields which could reduce visibility in some areas.
We decided it would be prudent to spend the day battening down hatches. We picked up tools left lying around, secured loose objects, and even parked the car and log splitter under the livestock awning (in case of heavy hail).

The day started out sunny and warm, with the daffodils in full bloom.

Our young orchard trees are just starting to bloom, too, and I was hoping the weather wouldn't be so severe as to strip the blossoms, which would mean less fruit.

Once the battening down was done, I took advantage of the balmy conditions to get a lot of work done in the garden, prepping the beds for planting. I kept an eye on the sky, which gradually grew more ominous.

We had a little bit of rain and a little bit of wind -- enough to kick up dust on the road and drive me in from the garden -- and that was it.

The sky cleared and the sun came out. Then the cycle started again, with ominous clouds gathering.

A little bit of wind, a little bit of rain...

...but the majority of the cell skirted to the east of us. Here the evening sun shines on trees with a dark thunderstorm as a backdrop.

As it turned out, the majority of the weather moved through during the night, though we never got any hail, thunder, or lightning. But it rained enough to leave puddles.

While we're joking we should never believe the weather predictions, of course the one time we didn't heed the warnings would be the one time all chaos would break loose, right?. So -- we'll keep listening to the weather predictors and acting accordingly.

It must be spring.