Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Then and now

Early on the morning of August 14, I noticed a new moon just rising in the eastern sky.

Early this morning (August 30), I noticed a nearly full moon just about to set in the western sky.

This full moon – both a "blue moon" and "super moon" – will occur tomorrow (August 31).

What a beautiful satellite our planet has.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Danger lurking around every corner

Toward the back side of our barn, we have a gate.

Once we get livestock, this gate will be used to keep the cows from entering the driveway area; but at the moment, it's always open and we seldom pay attention to it.

This week, I had a project to do at that end of the barn. When I stepped outside, I noticed something interesting about this gate. Let's peer a little more closely at the upper right-hand corner, shall we?

The amount of frantic activity going on with this colony of yellow jackets was amazing. The wasps were clustering so thickly along the bit of nest sticking out of the pipe that they often dropped off and fell to the ground beneath.

Notice how they're building new cells outward from the core of the gate's hollow pipe. I'm working on the assumption it's because the rest of the hollow portions of the gate are already full of wasps. Whee!

I tell ya, danger lurks around every corner around here.

These wasps are doomed. I hate yellow jackets.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Panic-searching off-grid living

In the late 1960s and early 70s – when I was far too young to be aware of societal trends – the hippies went back to the land. I was vaguely aware of the movement, and since my interests (even as a child) have always dovetailed rural, I saw nothing unusual in people wanting to grow their own food and live according to the seasons.

I looked up "Back-to-the-land movement" on Wikipedia and noted some interesting passages:

A back-to-the-land movement is any of various agrarian movements across different historical periods. The common thread is a call for people to take up smallholding and to grow food from the land with an emphasis on a greater degree of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and local community than found in a prevailing industrial or postindustrial way of life. There have been a variety of motives behind such movements, such as social reform, land reform, and civilian war efforts. Groups involved have included political reformers, counterculture hippies, and religious separatists. ... But what made the later phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s especially significant was that the rural-relocation trend was sizable enough that it was identified in the American demographic statistics.

[I]n the decades after World War II, "The world was forced to confront the dark shadow of science and industry... There was a clarion call for a return to a life of human scale." ... Many people were attracted to getting more in touch with the basics just mentioned, but the movement could also have been fueled by the negatives of modern life: rampant consumerism, the failings of government and society, including the Vietnam War, and a perceived general urban deterioration, including a growing public concern about air and water pollution.
Now keep this in mind for a few minutes as I draw your attention to an article I saw this past week: "Americans Panic-Search 'Live Off Grid' As Housing Crisis Worsens And Democrat Cities Implode."

It seems what's old is new again. While we may now remember the back-to-the-land movement of the 60s and 70s with the softening of nostalgia, it was based in the harsh and desperate reality of the time, including war, corruption, environmental concerns, and skyrocketing inflation (something I do remember as a child since it impacted my parents so badly).

"What's piqued our interest," begins the article, "is the sudden panic by some Americans searching 'live off grid' on the internet, hitting the highest level in five years. The driving force behind finding a rural piece of land for dirt cheap, buying or building a tiny home, installing solar panels, and sourcing your own food and water might have to do with the worst inflation storm in a generation while cities implode under the weight of soaring violent crime."

The article cites urban violence, the affordable housing crisis, and the availability of rural internet as some of the fuel behind this latest back-to-the-land movement. Tiny-home kits, solar panels, and RV living are all aspects of the undertaking.

I have no illusions that "panic-searching" for off-grid living options is born of anything less than desperation, much as the last one was.

Where it will lead is anyone's guess......

Friday, August 25, 2023

Quick solution to vexing problem

We have two large piles of sheet metal left behind by our home's previous owners. It's stored under the deck.

Don's been using this sheet metal for making garden beds, but the pile is an inconvenient distance from the barn where he constructs the beds. He's been pulling out a few sheets at a time as needed.

The sheets are 12+ feet long, and the truck bed is six feet long (with the tail gate down), so he can't just pile the sheet metal in the back of the truck without having it come flopping out (with a great deal of noise). He improvised by stacking a few sheets leaning in back, but even this was dicey and he didn't feel comfortable moving more than a few sheets at a time.

So, because we have a project we want to do right under the deck, he wanted to get the piles of sheet metal moved sooner rather than later. To this end, he improvised a "suspension bridge" support for the truck that would allow him to move bulk amounts of sheet metal.

The rope wraps around the roof rack.

...and is knotted and/or tied through some holes in the 2x4 base.

With the "suspension bridge" in place, he parked near the base of the deck and started loading sheet metal.

He had one of the two piles loaded within minutes, and easily transported it to its new location.

Just a small example of the kinds of clever solutions my clever husband dreams up when faced with a vexing problem.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The blackberries are peaking

We have lots of wild blackberry bushes in our region.

And right now, the berries are peaking.

We had a bit of rain in the last couple of days, the farthest remnant of Hurricane Hilary (and by the way, my parents are fine; the storm missed them entirely). The rain washed everything clean and plumped up the berries.

Needless to say, this fruit is an absolute bonanza for the wildlife. Last year I heard a commotion and looked out to see a bunch of pheasants in a bush, gobbling berries as fast as they could.

We snack on these fruits every time we take Darcy walking (he's also learned to pluck berries himself, though undoubtedly it's a thorny ordeal), and lately they've been so tasty that I decided to get a bowlful.

It took some care to navigate among the thorns...

...which snagged both clothing and skin.

But it took no time at all to fill a bowl.

It was mostly bug-free.

None of us really care for jam so I won't use the wild blackberries for that purpose. We'll simply enjoy them as the wonderful summer fruit that they are.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The future of cities

A few years ago, we received in the mail a Christmas catalog from the luxury retailer Gump's.

Don and I got a great deal of amusement from this catalog, largely centered around the question of "Why?" As in, "Why was it sent to us, people who have no money or interest in luxury goods?" We had never received the catalog before and never have since.

At any rate, we had ourselves a good chuckle over the unaffordable trinkets in the catalog, and then forgot about it.

But now Gump's is in the news, and not for a good reason. It seems the iconic store, which has been a San Francisco staple for 165 years, may be leaving its current location. The reason? The city has become "unlivable."

John Chachas, the owner, says: "It's a sad state of affairs. I spoke to a customer today who's come to us for 50 consecutive Christmases and who won't come back because the city is in a difficult and awfully dirty condition. Our business is a business that people love and people want to come in to San Francisco, want to come visit a store, but if you can't get around and when you're trying to walk the streets you step over needles and human waste and often bodies on the streets, it makes it an unworkable business environment."

This is tragic on so many levels because it's indicative of what's happening to large cities in general and San Francisco in particular.

I have – or had – a great deal of fondness for San Francisco. I grew up in the North Bay Area where a trip to SF was a fun excursion. My college roommate grew up in SF and we sometimes spent a weekend with her parents, and she would show me some of the sights of the city not normally seen by tourists. The memories I have of this city are overwhelmingly positive. Now you couldn't pay me to visit it.

I remember some afternoons spent in an enormous jaw-dropping fabric store off Union Square called Britex Fabrics, where I purchased some fabrics and trim we used in our wedding. The city's zoo and the museums are first-class. I even attended (as part of a school trip when I was 13 years old) the exhibition of the treasures of Tutankhamun when it came through in either late 1976 or early 1977.

San Francisco was always funky and fun. Now it's violent and lawless. It pains me to see a beautiful city degenerate to such a degree that a luxury retailer that has been around for 165 years is now fleeing for greener pastures.

Certainly we'll never purchase anything from Gump's – their products are far outside both our finances and our interest – but their departure is yet another indicator that San Francisco appears to be on an unchangeable "doom loop" trajectory. Where its future lies is anyone's guess.

Of course, Portland (another city I'm fond of), Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, and numerous other cities are facing similar issues. Where the futures for any of these cities lies is anyone's guess.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

On the issue of "worry"

This morning on my Pandora station, the solo "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's opera "Gianni Schicchi" played. I'm not an opera fan, but this is a beautiful solo, and the incomparable violinist Joshua Bell played it.

There's an interesting story about Joshua Bell. As part of a 2007 social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities, Bell donned a baseball cap and jeans and played incognito in a New York City subway station as a busker. According to Wikipedia, "The experiment was videotaped on hidden camera; of the 1,097 people who passed by, seven stopped to listen to him, and one recognized him. For his nearly 45-minute performance, Bell collected $32.17 from 27 passersby (excluding $20 from the one who recognized him)."

This is the soloist, you understand, who commands sell-out performances. Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston with seats averaging $100. As a busker, he played six famous (and famously difficult) violin solos, yet very few people stopped to appreciate the beauty of his music because they were so focused on the cares and worries of the world.

I know someone who is worrying himself into an early grave. He has an incredible number of blessings in his life – a lovely wife, great kids, a beautiful home, good health, modest financial success – and yet he is so caught up in how bad things are getting (both nationally and internationally) that his worries are starting to damage his health.

Like the commuters in the subway station, this friend can't always lift his head to appreciate the beauty around him or the blessings of his life. Instead, his eyes are focused on the news as he obsesses over the state of the world.

And to an extent, he's right. There's a lot of worrying stuff in the world. And I mean seriously worrying. But here's the thing: We cannot add a single hour to our life by focusing on the bad (to paraphrase Matthew 6:27).

One of the possible conclusions from the experiment with Joshua Bell could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

There comes a point where we have to give matters over to God and not obsess over things we can do nothing about. It's one thing to be ready for the unexpected; it's another to literally worry yourself to death over the unknown or the future.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Some people are innately more inclined toward worry and anxiety.

Nonetheless there's a reason the issue of worry is addressed over and over and over again in the Bible. It's an age-old problem ... and it has an age-old solution.

Just some thoughts on a Sunday morning as I worry about my parents who might be impacted by the aftermath of Hurricane Hilary.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Calling fall

Every year at about this time, Don plays a game when he tries to "call fall." Autumn doesn't spontaneously pop into existence on the fall equinox, of course. Signs appear far in advance.

So he's been sniffing the air, watching the wildlife, observing the vegetation, monitoring the weather ... but didn't "call fall" until yesterday evening.

We've been going through a nasty heat wave, with temps up to 107F. The weather breaks below triple digits today, and we'll be dropping into the 80s by Sunday. We may even get some much-needed rain.

But yesterday evening, the temp was still 103F and the wind was blowing (a dangerous combination, I might add).

Yet despite the conditions, Don leaned over the balcony rail, sniffed the air, and called fall.

He hasn't been wrong yet. Fall is on the way.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The last yard sale we'll ever have

For the past few weeks, Don and I have been consumed with preparing and implementing a massive yard sale.

This sale was, literally, years in the planning. Since we downsized from a 3600 sq. ft. home to a 1400 space (further reduced to 1000 sq ft after Older Daughter took over her suite) – and additionally downsized from a 20-acre homestead to eight acres – the result was a lot of stuff we no longer need or want.

This meant it got stored in the barn. The barn was in horrible shape, disorganized and stuffed with items we had earmarked for a yard sale.

Yet the yard sale kept getting postponed as more important projects took precedence.

But we needed to get the barn cleaned out for a variety of reasons, not least of which we want to build the necessary infrastructure for cows (feed boxes, calf pens, milking stall, etc.), as well as have space for hay storage.

Over the last year, we've gradually created order out of chaos. Don built his "man cave," which is not just a dedicated space to store his tools, but has the added advantage of having a sturdy loft over the top where we can store items we seldom need but don't want to get rid of (such as Christmas decorations).

We also moved a bunch of firewood left behind by the previous owners, and which had dominated one corner of the barn. Moving this wood freed up enough space to use as a landing area for consolidating potential yard sale items. As you can imagine, this space got packed with stuff, and over another year's time, it got even more packed as we gradually sorted items.

As the months went by, those stacks of unsold items became increasingly irksome. We needed the barn space. We had plans for that barn space. In short, it was time to get rid of all those unneeded things.

But – as many of you doubtless know – executing a yard sale is not easy, especially in a rural area. In addition to signage and advertising, we needed to make sure the weather was good, everything was displayed property, and everything was labeled and priced. Groan, what a task.

So we finally picked a weekend and started getting ready. We transported items out of the barn and began piling them in the side yard of the house. This was a slow process and took perhaps two weeks, working between other tasks and projects.

The piles got bigger and bigger as we brought more items out. However we didn't want to start putting things in the driveway (where the sale was being held) until (a) we were certain the weather would cooperate; and (b) we didn't want to attract too much attention in advance of the opening of the sale.

And then the weather changed. Whereas before it had been dry, suddenly we had rain expected. And not just any rain; potentially we had as much as two inches coming in one day!

We were fortunate that the items were all in the side yard. We clustered everything more tightly together and covered them with large tarps.

As it turns out, the weather entirely passed us by. We didn't get a single drop of rain. "I don't think I've ever seen a worse foul-up of a weather prediction than this one," Don remarked.

This weather uncertainty postponed the yard sale for a few more days. Last week, we made a frantic last-gasp effort and got everything out in the driveway. It took days to move, arrange, label, and price everything.

Oh, and clean everything. After two years of sitting in the barn, lots of things were dusty and dirty.

We moved heavy items, such as a number of woodstoves, with the tractor.

We had a corner for free stuff...

...including a box of magazines.

I even had a selection of canning jars I was willing to part with.

We consolidated furniture-related items into one area for a "homey" look.

We had books, records, tapes, CDs, and office supplies in the shadiest corner.

Random items were grouped in various other places.

On Thursday night, as the sun went down, Don and I finally finished pricing everything. We were exhausted. As is typical whenever we did a craft show (we've done dozens), we fretted and anticipated the worst. What if no one showed up? We had contingency plans just in case.

The last thing we did, of course, was put up signage. We made sure it was bright in color, easy to read, and backed with plywood to keep its shape.

But of course, just because we were holding a yard sale didn't mean our other obligations stopped. For example, I work an online job Thursday through Saturday. So on Friday, while I was both minding the yard sale and working, I set up my computer under the woodpile awning, which became my home away from home for two days.

Interestingly, this lady landed on my computer speaker (since I was playing my usual Baroque selection) and just grooved for perhaps an hour or so. No doubt she felt the vibrations of the music. Who knew wasps were classical music fans?

More predictably, I watched a number of spiders living in the wood, catching meals.

Friday morning dawned, and we held our breath. Would anyone show up? Was the signage effective?

We shouldn't have worried. Friday was steady and productive, with customers arriving at an easy pace and eager to see what we had available.

Throughout the day, of course, we became a captive audience for those who felt compelled to share the story of their Great Aunt Martha's gall bladder operation.

And yet for every anecdote about gall bladders, we had the chance to meet lots of local people who were fascinating and pleasant, and came away with a stack of connections for everything from a possible Jersey heifer for sale to a shared interest in Renaissance Faires. We were also gratified to hear several compliments about our signage.

As was expected, sales were less brisk on Saturday and Sunday, but still nothing to sneeze at.

So here it is, Monday morning. The yard sale – at last! – is finally over. Don now has the time to concentrate on other projects. My task this week will be to divide the remaining unsold items into several piles: Things we will sell separately through the local Facebook Marketplace; items to donate to a local charity thrift store; pieces we'll give to friends and neighbors; and stuff we'll just throw away. A very few items we'll keep, in the spirit of "If it sells, great; if it doesn't sell, we'll use it for such-and-such."

At any rate, a large section of the barn is now cleaned out. That was the whole purpose.

This will be the last yard sale we'll ever have. In fact, a neighbor asked if she could purchase our signage for when she holds a yard sale of her own. Purchase the signage? Heck no! Just take it. It's yours. We'll never need it again.