Wednesday, August 31, 2022

What would you do?

I read a post this morning which I found it both horrifying and heartbreaking. The post went as follows (edited slightly for clarity):

"AITA ("Am I a Total A******) for not helping my parents when they are homeless?

My parents are terrible with money. When I (27-yr-old female) was little, my father gambled away all the savings, about $100,000, in risky penny stocks which got wiped out in 2008, and we were forced to move into a single-bedroom in a house for the three of us.

Then my mom fell for an MLM [multi-level marketing] and you can imagine what happened; they lost the down payment to the house they were saving for. I begged them not to sign up for it, since I saw it was clearly a scam, and showed them evidence that it was, and they just laughed at me and ignored me. They lost about $28,000 from that.

Then recently they fell for a college signup scam and lost $32,000. They weren't signing up for college; they just needed a loan and tried to go through a "private broker" who promised to get them a school loan that they would use on whatever they wanted. I went with them to see the broker and told them it was a scam, and they ignored me.

So basically they were trying to scam the government, and got scammed instead. I actually tried to pry the pen away from my father's hands when I got desperate, as he was writing his bank info and SSN [Social Security number], and he screamed at me that I was embarrassing him, and [signed] anyway.

Again they lost money, and now they are homeless because their credit is cr*p and they can barely afford even cr*ppy apartments. They probably can't get that money back since they have little documentation on the broker and what he promised. Now they live in their car and are begging me for money.

I have about $100,000 saved waiting to buy a house, and they know about it because I stupidly told them I was saving for a house, and now they are calling me and showing up at my apartment asking for money. They also want to move in in the meantime, but my roommate and I agreed visitation from friends or family is [maximum] a week, to prevent resentment; and if my parents move in, they probably will refuse to move out.

They are going to food pantries, and honestly I can't find it in myself to be that sympathetic, since they don't listen to me until they need my money. AITA?"

In a later post, someone asked, "How did you save $100,000 by age 27?", and the young woman replied: "Saving every penny, no eating out, [wearing] clothes from high school, having roommates, no car, only taking public transportation or riding my bike. I'm traumatized from growing up with no money, so I penny-pinch like crazy."

Responses to this post were universally in favor of letting her parents stew in their own juices. Some people strongly suggested she lock down her credit in case her parents take out loans or credit cards in her name (since presumably they know her SSN). Everyone agreed she should not let them move into her apartment.

I read this post out loud to Don, and we discussed the ramifications of such a situation. It's easy to give harsh financial advice, but not so easy when it's dealing with the strong emotional bonds of one's own parents and watching them living on the streets. Clearly the Fifth Commandment tells us to honor our father and mother; but does that include bailing them out of self-made scam-laden mistakes? In short, there is no easy answer to this dilemma.

What would you do?

Monday, August 29, 2022

A clatter of hooves

Early one morning, we heard a clatter of hooves on the gravel road near our house. Mr. Darcy went nuts. I dashed out onto the deck and saw a cow and calf elk. By the time I could grab my camera, they had leaped the fence into a neighbor's property and were near the edge of the woods.

Very quickly they disappeared from sight.

But a day or two later, I noticed this magnificent boy standing at the edge of our woods, eating apples from a tree.

It was dusky, and my camera was having a hard time focusing in the dim light and at such a distance. But wow, was he gorgeous!

After posing majestically for a few minutes...

...he turned and made his way out of sight.

I noticed his antlers were still in velvet, so the rutting season hasn't started yet. But most definitely, the elk are moving down from the high country. Don called it right when he "called fall" a few days ago.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Move over, Snow White

No photos of the actual event, so use your imagination.

I went out to water the strawberries yesterday evening. We have two startup strawberry beds enclosed by horse panels reinforced with deer fencing.

For such start-up plants, they're doing very well and I'm regularly picking fat ripe berries.

A couple evenings ago, I was picking strawberries when I heard a small "thump" right nearby. It was a young magpie who landed on the fence surrounding the berry beds. The cheeky bird was no more than a few feet away from me, making the odd squeaky calls of the juveniles.

"Oh no you don't," I told him. "These are my strawberries."

The magpie was completely unperturbed by my proximity. I continued picking strawberries and got closer and closer to it. It just sat there and squeaked at me. When I was no more than two feet away, I straightened up and we were nearly eye to eye. He continued to just sit there and squeak at me.

So I leaned down and picked a past-prime leathery strawberry. Then I reached over and literally put it in the magpie's beak. He very gently took the berry, paused for a moment, then flapped over to the top of the woodpile, where he spent about five minutes chuckling over it and eating it.

Move over, Snow White.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Radical frugality

Every so often I go on a frugality bender in which I become quietly obsessed with spending less money than before. I'm a huge advocate of frugality. It is a powerful fiscal weapon. In fact, arguably it's one of the most powerful weapons in anyone's financial arsenal. Over the decades of self-employment, we were forced into becoming students of thrift, and we've remained so ever since.

Recently I stumbled across an article entitled "Radical Frugality" which outlined a woman's efforts to "live within a limited income as a bulwark against a consumer culture and capitalist agenda." She touches on the desperate situation of the working poor, and the increasing number of people losing homes, jobs, and businesses in the current economy, 

The author writes, "As I like to point out, many people are lucky to be earning $15 an hour, but we are living in a $100-an-hour world. Every time we step out and into the marketplace, we are faced with the costs of goods and services that have outpaced our income."

She doesn't offer much by way of concrete recommendations on how to adopt this radical frugality except, oddly, a suggestion of communal living. (This is, of course, what we're doing with Older Daughter as she takes over the woodcraft business.)

But the concept of radical frugality is a good one, especially in this time of skyrocketing inflation. Increasingly, more people will be forced to become radically frugal whether they like it or not, so I figure it's better to adopt this lifestyle now rather than later.

What I hope is this Novel Frugality can be seen as liberating, not traumatizing. If you're used to an affluent lifestyle, then yeah, it's a difficult adjustment. But living low can be amazingly freeing (no more worrying what the Joneses think!).

However frugality is a learned skill, just like anything else. So I thought I'd open up the comments and get reader input on what you've done to become thriftier. What advice would you give (radical or not) to the newly frugal)?

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Calling fall

Yesterday, Don did something he does every year about this time: He "called" fall.

Yes, in his opinion autumn is arriving. (The photo above is from last year. The trees haven't started turning color yet this year.) This is ironic since it's hotter than blazes here.

Nonetheless, fall is here, and according to Don, it has nothing whatever to do with temperature. He's more attuned to this than I am, but somehow he can sense the feel of the wind, the quality of the sounds, and perhaps at some subconscious level, the smell.

"It's a gut feeling," he explained, "like a corner has been turned. There's a 'feel' of silence in the air, of a pause. The season's growth has ended, and it's like the trees are sighing."

Sounds poetic (one of the many reasons I married the man), but when a thunderstorm came through yesterday evening and dropped the temperature as well as a bit of rain, it was hard to argue. Today was just as hot, but thunderstorms are passing through again this evening.

Yes, a corner is turned. It's becoming fall.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Darcy meets Frumpkin

Ever since Older Daughter moved back in with us – into her own little partitioned "in-law quarters" – she has, of course, kept her cat Frumpkin on her side. There are good reasons for this: Mr. Darcy hates cats, Don is allergic, and we have Younger Daughter's small Quaker parrot Lihn, who is the perfect size for a cat snack.

So far there have been no mishaps or accidental escapes. But at the back of everyone's minds – okay, maybe it's just been at the back of my mind – was the question: What if Darcy and Frumpkin meet? The last thing I wanted was fricasseed cat.

A few days ago, after securing Mr. Darcy in our bedroom behind a closed door, Older Daughter slipped Frumpkin into a harness on a leash and let him explore the forbidden side of the house. He poked his whiskers into every nook and cranny with great interest (although he apparently never noticed the parrot in her elevated cage ... not that we were taking chances).

It should be noted, however, that Darcy has always been very patient with the parrot, who often flies down to the floor nearby where Darcy is laying. He's never pounced or even twitched an ear. Clearly I don't encourage close contact between them (I really don't want to have to explain to Younger Daughter that her parrot met a nasty demise), but it does show a remarkable restraint on the part of Darcy.

So – maybe – we could risk Darcy and Frumpkin meeting.

To be fair, Older Daughter always dismissed my concerns and assured me Darcy would be fine around the cat. And she was right!

We let Darcy out of the bedroom and he instantly zoomed in on Frumpkin, but in a very respectful and curious manner.

Older Daughter has let Frumpkin out several times now, and Darcy has always behaved himself with propriety. Where the neighborhood cats are concerned, he's still a terror (or would be, if we let him). But here on his home turf, he's quite the gentleman. What a relief.

However there's still the question of Lihn, Younger Daughter's Quaker parrot. During his few excursions around the house, Frumpkin apparently never noticed there was a bird in the vicinity. This cat is a Mighty Hunter (more on that in a bit).

Then one day ... he noticed.

Oh yes, he noticed.

For her part, Lihn was just as curious about Frumpkin – but this was a face-to-face meeting we were not permitting.

Older Daughter lifted up Frumpkin so the two species could see each other more clearly.

And that's as far as that got, for obvious reasons.

Now regarding Frumpkin as the Mighty Hunter, here's a funny story.

Early one morning when it was still dark, Older Daughter got out of bed to use the bathroom. But she stepped in something wet and squishy, not a pleasant experience in the dark. Her first thought was, "Oh great. Frumpkin upchucked."

She turned on the light and found the cat had indeed upchucked. But to her distress, the vomit was full of blood. Instantly she was flooded with worry and concern about having a sick cat.

But a closer examination of the pile revealed not just blood, but a little mousy tail and a few feet as well.

Evidently Frumpkin had caught and eaten a mouse, then threw it up. But throwing it up didn't matter to Frumpkin. Older Daughter reported that he was one satisfied cat – purring, proud of himself, utterly pleased to the point of showing off the vomit pile. "See?? See!! Look what I did!"

At least we won't have to worry about a mouse infestation as long as we have the Mighty Hunter in the house.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

My new book cover

The Harlequin team is moving ahead with my next inspirational romance release. My original working title was "The Runaway." They renamed it "The Mysterious Amish Nanny." Eh, the title is okay, but whatever.

But where they outdid themselves is the cover art.

Here's the front and back cover:

I don't know what it is about this cover, but I just love it. I asked my editor to pass on my compliments to the Art Department.

This new book won't be officially released until January, though I believe it will be available in mid-December.

Meanwhile, the book after this (which has a May 2023 release date) has been given an official title: "The Quilter's Scandalous Past." My original working title was "The Forgiveness Quilt." Once again I'm not crazy about the title, but I understand (a) they're trying to add a bit of intrigue, and (b) they have literally thousands of other titles in print and have to find something unique. That's why I'm not fussed about whatever title they chose. I'm working on the assumption Harlequin knows what it's doing.

I'm at a funny juncture at the moment, with multiple books literally in the pipeline. One book is getting ready to be released ("The Mysterious Amish Nanny"); another is at the stage where artwork, title, and copy edits are in the works ("The Quilter's Scandalous Past"); I just turned in the full manuscript for a third (working title, "The Thomas Redemption"), and the proposal for a fourth is due in a month (working title, "Miriam's Story"). After that, I have three more books in my contract. Busy busy!

I tell ya, I'm having the time of my life with these romances. It is such a privilege to write for the Love Inspired line. The editors, copy editors, interns, and other personnel I've dealt with so far have been incredible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Novice canner question

Recently a reader posted a comment as follows: "Novice canner question for you, Patrice! I just bought (and want to use) a Presto pressure canner. Do I need to have the gauge checked at my local Extension Office before the first use, or just after each season's canning session? Thanks for the help!!"

Okay, the "official" answer is this: Of course you should get the gauge checked at your local Extension Office. You should get the gauge checked on every day that ends with "y" and every month that has 30 or more days in it. The world will implode if you don't get that gauge checked now.

Unofficial answer: Unless you have reason to suspect your gauge is off, new canners are extremely unlikely to have problems. If you have any doubts, then by all means get the gauge checked (it takes literally two minutes, if that). But for a new-out-of-the-box canner, I think you'll be fine.

My gauge went off this past winter (confirmed by our local Extension Service), so we ordered a replacement. We had the replacement gauge tested before installing it on my pressure canner, and it was fine.

In short, as a novice canner, if you have any doubts about your gauge's accuracy, don't hesitate to get it tested. However the odds of a new canner having a faulty gauge are, thankfully low.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

On this date in history

I just saw an article that on this date in history, Elvis Presley died.

I was 14 years old on that date in 1977, and I remember it well – not because I was an Elvis Presley fan (my obsession was with John Denver), but because of a diary entry I made on that date.

Like many teenage girls, I kept a diary at the time. When I heard the solemn news that The King had "died of an erratic heart disease," I duly recorded in my diary that Presley had "died of an erotic heart disease."

When I found that diary years later, I burst out laughing. Eratic. Erotic. Fourteen-year-old me didn't know the difference.

Just your chuckle du jour.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Time flies

Older Daughter just observed how all the stores are already being stocked with Halloween items. That's why this meme made me laugh.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Some things are NOT worth saving

Last post, I described some things that are worth saving. In this post, I'll describe something that's not.

You might remember a post I put up last September titled "A tree in a million." I described a rare and magnificent American elm towering over an old farmhouse not far away.

For the longest time, I wanted to gather seeds from this magnificent tree, but the property was unoccupied (pending a sale) and I'm not the type to trespass, so I never got any seeds.

Well, the sale of the property went through, and the new owners (who hail from south of Portland) began moving their possessions to the property. Like us, they were moving a small farm as well as a construction business, so there was a lot of trekking back and forth throughout the summer. We met them in passing once or twice and they seemed like delightful folks, but that was about it.

I knew the century-old farmhouse over which the elm tree towered was uninhabitable and needed to be torn down (the new owners were temporarily living in a nearby town). But how uninhabitable was the house, really? I'd heard rumors, but that was it. From one spot on our property, we have an elevated view, and I could see the roof was trashed. This certainly didn't bode well for the inside.

In one of our passing stop-and-chat moments with the wife, I gave her our phone number and asked to see the interior of the house before they tore it down.

Meanwhile, these new owners (and remember, the husband's business is construction) started moving in and stacking up the components necessary to build a "pole barn"-style home. Their plan was to construct the new home on the footprint of the old.

On Saturday, the wife called and invited us over to see the place before they began tearing it down. It was also a pleasant opportunity to get better acquainted with these new neighbors (who are about our age and very nice folks).

Well, the interior of the house was every bit as uninhabitable as the rumors had indicated. There were many places the floor was not safe to walk on. There are two front entrances to the house, and this was the interior view from one of them. The "pit" visible in the center-left is a huge wood cookstove that has crashed through the floorboards below, which had become rotten from the leaking roof above.

I have no idea if the stove itself is salvageable.

Since the kitchen floor was so unsafe, we didn't dare venture into the back rooms behind the stove. I don't know if the new owners had even ventured into them.

Everywhere, the ceiling was in imminent danger of coming down.

We exited the first door and went into the second entryway, with a view of the living room next to the kitchen.

The inside of the home was surprisingly spacious. A hallway led to several back bedrooms. But I'm sure you're seeing the obvious.

Yes, black mold. Chest-high thick black mold throughout the entire bedroom and hallway area. Ewww.

Most of the black mold was lower, but in a few places it was creeping down from the top of the room.

The back rooms were in bad shape too, with chunks of the ceiling coming down and the floors rotting.

A hall closet had been fitted out as a pantry, with some jars of home-canned food still on the shelves. One was dated to the year 2000; a couple others I picked up had no dates.

The new owners had laid some boards across the threshold between the hallway and living room so as not to fall through the floorboards.

This is the back of the house. From this viewpoint, it doesn't look too bad, right? Nothing a little coat of paint couldn't handle.

But the inside of the house tells a far more tragic tale. The new owners have no idea how or why this venerable farmhouse was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair, but there you go.

At the very least, the new owners got fourteen beautiful acres and a few smaller outbuildings for far less cost than if the house has been habitable. However they have a huge number of complicated tasks ahead of them: knocking down the house, installing a new septic system (the current one is trashed too, apparently), drilling a well (the house ran for a hundred years from a spring), and of course building a home.

As for that American elm tree? Now that I had a chance to see it up close, I was in awe. The truck is at least two feet in diameter and it's absolutely, positively one of the most majestic trees I've ever seen.

Fortunately the new owners agree, and intend to care-take the tree during the development of the property.

So there you go. Sadly, some things are not worth saving. This old farmhouse is one of them.