Monday, March 27, 2023

Gotta admire those beetles

From a biological standpoint, beetles are pretty amazing creatures.

For one thing, there are a kazillion different kinds – at least 400,000 described species, with by some estimates another 3 million waiting to be classified and named.

Beetles are the universal animal. If anything is edible, there's a beetle out there that will eat it ... and a lot of stuff that doesn't seem edible is often eaten by beetles too (strychnine? fiber insulators on telegraph cables?).

They can also fill a remarkably precise niche. A species called Zonocopris gibbicolis feeds only on the droppings of large land snails, hitching a ride inside the shell. Other beetles specialize in eating carpets and furniture.

My favorite quote about beetles is by British journalist A.A. Gill: "Beetles are not aristocratic, vain esoterics, like butterflies and moths, or communists, like ants and bees. They're not filthy, opportunistic carpetbaggers like flies. They are professional, with a skill. There is nowhere that doesn't, sooner or later, call in a beetle to set up shop and get things done."

This is a long-winded introduction to a new kind of beetle we've been seeing everywhere lately. They're about a third of an inch long and have brown and black markings on its back. We never saw these before moving to our new (to us) home, so we figured they were just an example of a new regional species to get used to.

But it turns out there's a bit more to these beetles than meets the eye. You see, they're an invasive species called the elm seed bug. According to this link, "The elm seed bug is a relatively new introduced pest species in the United States that originates from the Mediterranean region of Europe. This pest was first discovered in the United States in Idaho in 2012 but has since been found in several states in the Western U.S., including Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Washington, as well as farther east in Michigan."

Whee! Idaho is at the forefront of an invasive species infestation! 

Rather charmingly, though, there is no effort being made to eradicate this beetle because it's, well, harmless. It doesn't seem to do damage to humans, crops, or native species. It's just ... there, everywhere, going about its business and bothering no one.

About the most authorities are saying about this critter is it's a "nuisance" pest since it often overwinters indoors. And sure enough, we had lots of them indoors over the winter (still do), probably brought in with firewood. But they're harmless. They don't sting, bite, fly, startle, or bother us.

As far as pests go, I'd rather have elm seed bugs than lots of other things I could mention.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Technical help

Dear readers, if anyone is a tech type, I could use some help.

Each week I do a full backup of my computer. This includes a full backup of this blog. On Blogger, the option to back up is found in the "Settings" file.

However for the past couple of months, the blog backup does not complete. It gets about 25 percent finished and then quits. (Sorry for the poor-quality screenshots below.)

The full blog backup should be about 142,000 KB, but as you can see, I can't get beyond 33,755 KB. And yes, it stops at nearly the same point – 33,755 KB – each and every time. (This morning's attempt, for example, stopped at 33,752 KB.)

I've tried backing up dozens of times, and even on different computers, with no luck. I'm sure it's a glitch with Blogger itself, but no amount of internet searching reveals a solution to the issue.

Interestingly, this same thing happened a few years ago. I backed up the blog regularly without a problem, and then one day – boom! – it stopped doing complete backups and did this partial-backup nonsense. A few months later, Blogger (the company) updated its software (which was annoying, because it meant I had to re-learn how to post things), but the one advantage is the backup system worked again.

And now, abruptly, it's back to the same issue. I've searched and searched online for anyone facing a similar issue, and haven't found anything that helps.

Does anyone have any advice for how to overcome this problem so I can complete a backup?

UPDATE: Just to clarify, my computer backup works fine. The thumb drive works fine. But before I do the computer backup, I back up the blog, which is entirely out of my control. I can't exclude any files because Blogger backs everything up in one lump. Nor can I control where Blogger sends the backup file – it always goes to my computer's download file. In short, this is a Blogger issue, and I guess what I was hoping for is someone familiar enough with Blogger to explain why its backup program stalls. I've never had any luck trying to contact Blogger's tech support, since it's too big of a company to pay attention to a small fry like me.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Cluttercore?

I stumbled across an article a few months ago about a concept called "cluttercore." The article was entitled "Cluttercore Is the Trend Many Parents Need Right Now." The subheadline read, "Think you should get rid of all the stuff in your home? The trending aesthetic of cluttercore says parents can celebrate the chaos instead."

What caught my eye, however, was not the headline so much as the photo that accompanied it. Feast your eyes on this:

This, let me point out, is a kitchen – a place of functional food preparation, as well as a place requiring daily cleaning. It's also a place where oil, grease, and regular spills occur. How in tarnation is this kitchen cleaned?

"The design [cluttercore] trend gives a name to a child-like aesthetic most parents already have in their homes," explains the article. "The gorgeous chaos of trinkets, bits, and baubles, like the pages of an I Spy book come to life. Cluttercore is the celebration of things. For parents who battle the explosion of stuff that babies and kids can bring into the house, the design trend is like a dream come true because it means your clutter is trendy now."

For the family profiled in the article, the wife felt a rush of relief when she saw "cluttercore" trending on social media. "I felt both seen and accepted," she says. "I didn't know someone had come up with a name for my way of keeping house."

Later in the article, it says: "Pre-pandemic, home d├ęcor was all about minimalism, with an emphasis on decluttering – and let's be honest, sometimes rage cleaning – to conform to restrictive ideas of what living spaces should look like. For families with children, living in a minimalist house can feel like waging a war with waves of stuff."

I kinda get what these folks are saying. Sometimes it's easier to embrace stuff than fight it. If things are well organized, stuff can bring great joy (such as our collection of books).

Yet images like the photo above and the one below don't fill me with joy. They fill me with...something else.

(Just one word: Dusting.)

Now of course, I realize these photos are at the extreme end of the spectrum. I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, there are worse things than "cluttercore" homes. There's certainly something to be said about family members respecting each other's collections of cherished items.

"Parent culture and retailers often encourage the accumulation of kid stuff, then decluttering gurus and services tell parents they can help them get rid of the stuff," notes the article. "It's a vicious cycle from which cluttercore could offer a way out. 'I do think that it is a positive way to change the narrative around a 'messy home,'' says Dr. Espinoza. 'Cluttercore can relieve families of the pressure to keep an immaculate living space, especially when that expectation is made impossible by small children. By allowing parents to embrace the messiness of their lives, they can spend less time worrying about tidying up and more time living in the moment and connecting with their children and partner.'"

But, I dunno, it also seems like a line is crossed at some point, doesn't it?

I suppose, like hoarding, that line is crossed when the function of a room is impaired. No one can cook in the kitchen pictured above. No one can eat in the dining room pictured above.

However a quick search for the term "cluttercore" on Google Images reveals plenty of perfectly functional, if crowded, rooms.

So, while I'll admit "cluttercore" is not my cup of tea, I'm in no position to criticize. Ahem.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Care and feeding of septic systems

A reader posted the following comment:

"Off topic comment/request: We are moving in 3 weeks to our new-to-us rural house/cabin. Neither my husband nor I have ever before lived in a home with a septic system. I've watched YT videos and read a wide variety of contradictory comments about what to do/not to do. "I would greatly appreciate suggestions from those here with the experience we lack. I've purchased a deodorizing container for toilet wipes (can those things be burned?). I've read not to use anti-bacterial soap. I need some practical, middle-of-the-road advice (not an absolute ecological purist and I'm not planning on making my own laundry detergent right now). "The septic tank was cleaned out just last year (by previous one year owner who purchased it from original builder and 24 year owner) and it's located beneath a small, rock-lined pond (formerly filled with Koi) so we really hope not to need to do this again any time soon. Any reasonable suggestions greatly appreciated."

One reader already chimed in with her two cents' worth:

"At 86, I have owned 4 homes. Three of them on septic. My current home is one of them. "Pro's" for septic are many. No sewer charge and independence from city for service are the greatest. "Cons" are more in the caution area. Remember that everything liquid in your house goes through septic. That includes washer, dish washer, bathroom sinks, disposal, etc. Don't flush Kleenex type products as they tend to float rather than dissolve. No or very little antibacterial products as they will kill your good bacteria. Good bye Clorox. Learn to check for "safe for septic" in the fine print. Depending on the size of your family, cleaning every 3-5 years is the rule. Living alone, I don't think I will ever have to have it pumped out again. Good luck and relax. It's no big deal. - Julia"

C'mon, folks, let's help this reader out. Chime in with your experience and expertise on the care and feeding of septic systems. One ... two ... three ... GO!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Surest sign of spring

Along with the rest of the country, we've been feeling restless and cooped up. Spring is on its way, and at this stage we get a lot of "teaser" weather: beautiful one day, cold and rainy another, usually with bursts of snow for good measure.

But the spring birds are returning, and I'm documenting them as I see or hear them.

On March 4, I heard the first robin.

On March 6, it was the first killdeer.

On March 13,  the first evening grosbeaks descended en masse on the feeder.

But the surest sign of spring? I hung some laundry outside to dry.

Yes, really. It was a minor thrill to hang the flannel sheets outside rather than draping them over the indoor clothes racks and waiting a day or two for them to dry.

At 58F, it took them all day. But still, it's a promise of things to come.

Yep, spring is on its way.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Pretty twinkling lights

The outside lighting on our new (to us) home is, well, sub-par, especially on the back porch. For whatever reason, whoever built the porch installed this massive oversized lamp in the rafters wired to an inside switch.

I mean, look at this monster! Not only did it take forever to turn on (it needed a "warm up" period of about one minute), but whenever we flipped it on, Don's computer screen would suddenly go black.

We speculate this lamp was bought (cough) on sale or given free. Why else install such a monstrosity?

One of the projects Don wanted to accomplish was to get rid of the durn thing. But rather than replace it with a conventional porch light, he decided to install white Christmas-style lights.

He ordered some lights and used wire holder-clamps to screw them to the rafters.

He also installed a toggle so we could alternate between one string of lights (for a very dim ambiance) and three strings (for when a brighter light is needed). The strings of lights are wired to the inside switch.

The results are so pretty! Here's one string of lights illuminated.

And here are all three.

It's so much softer and less harsh than that nasty old monster light.

The other night, Don had a late meeting. What a pleasure it was to flip on the switch and make it easy for him to see his way from the dark driveway to the lit-up porch.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Itsy bitsy spider

I was doing dishes the other day when I noticed a black spot on our white kitchen cabinets. Closer inspection showed it to be a jumping spider.

I scooped it up with a cup and put it outside, but then had the notion to try out my camera's macro-zoom feature. Here are the results.

This little gal was fearless, watching me with her bright eyes. Notice the blue-green chelicera and yellow-orange pedipalps. Who knew these things were so colorful?

As she walked across the surface of the table, she left a line of silk behind her, secured at intervals.

Altogether cute in an ugly spider sort of way. I'm glad she was only half an inch across.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Bank failure

I've been following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank with great concern. Not because we have any money in that bank, but because it may trigger a cascade of other bank failures.

Do any of you have an account with SVB? If so, let us know what's going on!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Financial strategies

This morning I read a finance piece entitled "A Nation's Heavily Indebted Consumers Face a Painful Margin Call." The article focused on the Canadian economy, and opened with the following paragraph:

"At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with his job as a delivery driver bringing plenty of overtime and the cost to borrow at record lows, James Kebe went on a spending spree. He leased a boat and an all-terrain vehicle, and when his bank offered him a bigger line of credit, he maxed it out.Then interest rates started rising at their fastest pace in generations. And because Kebe’s line of credit had a floating rate, his monthly payments soared, too. The cost of his debt has now outpaced his take-home pay by C$900 (U.S. $660) a month, leaving him with little choice but to enter a form of creditor protection that will see his toys repossessed and keep him on a tight budget for the foreseeable future. 'I've always been able to squeak by until now,' he said by phone from his home in West Kelowna, in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Now when he's at the store, Kebe says his new mantra is: 'Do I need this? No I don’t.'"

I confess I blanched with horror when I read about this man's actions. The phrase "spending spree" tends to do that to me. Why? Because we've been in debt and hated it.

During our child-raising productive years, Don and I were desperately trying to keep the woodcraft business afloat while raising and homeschooling the kids. Money was always tight, and our income was wildly unpredictable. The result? Our savings were practically nil, and we got in over our heads with credit card debt (purchasing necessities, not luxuries). It took us years to climb out of the financial hole we'd dug and start putting money away for our older years.

As a result of our earlier experiences – even now, so many years later – I have a near-pathological fear of owing money. We refuse to ever take on more debt: no auto loans, no credit card debt, nothing. It's cash all the way, baby.

Then a few days ago, I read an article by Daisy Luther (The Organic Prepper) on the subject of FDIC bail-ins.

The article was fine, but as always it was the comments which followed that were even more interesting as everyone chimed in about his or her financial preparedness efforts.

One man wrote: "Our fin [financial] advisor was against us taking $ out of our 401k and paying off our property. We did it anyway. Our peace of mind is off the charts right now."

However a critic replied as follows: "No one thinks they will get 'old' and retirement seems an eternity before it happens, then suddenly it does, some are glad. Then what will your income be? SS [Social Security] can’t meet all expenses. U.S. T-bills now can be bought below par, then 6 months or a year later mature, then take the interest, get more bonds bought at less than value reinvest. They are paying 5% now. Only ones living on SS retirement only are in subsidized housing. Muni bonds are tax free."

Later she added: "Most retirees I know have CD’s in a local bank or credit union they need money to live off interest, also in gov. bonds, muni’s. Nothing else can give an income. If everything goes digital, gold and other metals can only be bought and sold among other collectors. Stores will only take digital like debit cards. 401k’s best be in US treasuries 100%. cashing a 401k will be a big tax hit."

Hmm. Is this woman a spokesperson for government bonds and other traditional investment strategies?

These comments sparked a lively discussion between Don and me because it touches on our own financial reality. Because of the financial uncertainty we experienced in our younger years, we never put money in "traditional" investments. Instead, we've done our best to squirrel away as large a cushion as we could manage on a tight budget. However we did learn the art of frugality to the nth degree. Coupled with our long-term goal to reduce our expenses to the point where we could live on very little, we're far more comfortable than we've ever been.

This touches on one aspect of financial management few people ever discuss (or adopt): The radical concept of drastically lowering one's regular or monthly expenses as a preparedness strategy.

When we had the opportunity to purchase our new (to us) home when we downsized a couple years ago, we leaped at the chance to pay cash and have no mortgage. While it would have been nice to find a place with more acreage, we deliberately limited ourselves to properties we could purchase outright for cash. Now, having lived without a mortgage for two years, I fully understand the "off-the-charts peace of mind" mentioned by the man mentioned above. It's true.

But just because we don't have a mortgage doesn't mean we've eliminated frugality. Yes, we've spent the last two years spending money buying things to turn this property into a homestead – lumber and other construction materials, fencing, and of course our plumbing woes last fall – but that's spending, not monthly expenses. We've continued whittling down our monthly expenses with a "how low can you go" attitude. If the financial bleep hits the fan for us, we can exist on as little as $800/month. If we were completely strapped for cash, we could drop that to about $500/month, possibly less.

Right now Don is receiving a very modest amount of Social Security. I won't be eligible for Social Security for another couple of years. However you can bet we'll keep our living expenses within the range of our anticipated income from these sources.

What did the critic above write? "Social Security can’t meet all expenses. ... Only ones living on SS retirement only are in subsidized housing." Excuse me, but that's baloney. One of the reasons we've whittled down our expenses (including having no mortgage) is to be able to live comfortably on Social Security, or far less if need be.

So what about the strategies mentioned by the critic above? Should we invest in T-bills and other financial opportunities? In our book, no. We don't trust the government not to mismanage itself into insolvency. The repercussions of a government-orchestrated financial collapse are vast and far-reaching, and it means the death of not just Social Security, but all the fancy T-bills and other financial vehicles this woman touts. What will she do once she can't withdraw income from her investments?

In the event of a financial collapse, everyone will be in the same boat regarding economic hardship, and traditional investment strategies may no longer apply. When and if this happens, everyone will have to cope as best they can. But those who are used to living low on the hog at least won't be faced with owing money on things they can no longer afford, or feel deprived when they can't go on a "spending spree."

In other words, considering our past, I feel we're in about as solid a financial position as we can manage, despite our lack of "traditional" investments. (You might say we "invested" in frugality.)

Perhaps a question to ask is this: Are your finances in line with a preparedness lifestyle? Is your lifestyle and spending habits in line with preparedness? Are you financially prepared to lose your job or weather an economic downturn?

The whole idea of financial preparedness is being able to handle, to the best of one's ability, economic blows ranging from the personal (job loss) to the international (a worldwide economic collapse). While we can't make much of a difference on the international platform, there's a lot we can do on a personal level to prepare.

My $0.02.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Bwahaha – sure, Jeff

Spam emails can be so funny! Consider one I got this morning from "Jeff White," formatted exactly as received:

DEAREST ONEAm MR. White  of the Claims Department with a bank here in London, United Kingdom. I wish to notify you that you are clear toclaim the total sum of Twenty Five Million Five Hundred thousand British pounds in the codicil and last testament of a deceasedcustomer (Name now withheld for security reasons). Kindly Contact me for more details on E-mail: [redacted]@citromail.hu

I look forward to your response, treat as most confidentialsincerely

>>Mr. White

Bwahahaha. I'm certain every banker in the U.K. addresses random strangers as "Dearest one."

Sure, Jeff. I believe every word. (/sarc/)

UPDATE: Reader Rozy Lass sent this video. I laughed so hard I cried.

 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Podcast with Mother Earth News

For years, I worked with a wonderful editor for such magazines as Backyard Beekeeping and Goat Journal. Then last year there was something of a shakeup at Ogden Publications (the umbrella organization), and this particular editor also took on the responsibilities of editing Mother Earth News.

Mother Earth News! I've wanted to write for that magazine since forever. I gave the editor a few months to settle into her new role, then sent an article on spec. She accepted it, but warned me that due to a backlog of articles (apparently everyone wants to write for Mother Earth News) it might not see print for a year or more.

That was fine, and next thing I know the editor had several assignments for me – not for the print version of the magazine (at least not yet), but for the website. These articles may take a while to show up (again, there's a backlog), but I'm honored to play a small part of this venerable publication.

Then about a month ago I got an email asking if I'd be interested in participating in a podcast. You bet! The interview (on the subject of hatching mixed birds) took place two weeks ago. It went live a couple days ago. Feel free to click on the link and listen.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Trimming trees

We have a gnarled overgrown grove of black hawthorn on our property, right next to the road.

It's the only grove of trees in this field and (in theory) will offer a superb patch of shade when we get livestock. However it was so heavy with dead and low-hanging branches as to be almost unusable.

Black hawthorn is well named; they have vicious one-inch thorns, something you really don't want slapping you in the face.

It was clear someone before us had made some attempt to thin this grove and bring it under control, but for whatever reason they stopped only a fraction of the way through. As a result, we had downed branches on the ground as well as endless deadwood in the trees themselves. Coupled with the rockiness of the ground, it was a formidable mess.

We have a county program coming in sometime during March to thin some underbrush (for fire-control purposes), and the county representative who walked through the property with us said if we wanted to trim the hawthorn grove and pile the branches to one side, the county workers would chip the pile. That was all the motivation I needed to arm myself with a variety of saws and nippers. Time to get cutting!

I don't know what spirit of optimism made me think I could get the whole thing done in a couple of days, but let me tell you, it didn't work that way. Each gnarled tree was such a tangle of living and dead wood that I had to carefully excise what needed to be trimmed and what didn't.

But hawthorn wood is gorgeous. Look at those colors! (Don ended up taking chunks of some of the larger branches back to the shop to play with later on.)

A few of the dead branches I removed were so heavy that the best way to pull them out of the grove (without stumbling over the rocks or getting slapped in the face with other branches) was to drag them out with a rope.

I tried to keep the twistiness of the trees intact while trimming away deadwood. The more I worked in this grove, the more charmed I was by its organic qualities.

I debated taking this branch off at all, despite the fact that the dead portion was dragging the ground. I mean, it has such character, doesn't it? Besides, it had a living branch growing upright which I didn't want to get rid of.

I ended up cutting the dead portion off while leaving the live portion intact. It hangs low, but not slap-in-the-face low; and it preserves the character, I think.

Some of the dead or broken branches were way too high for me to reach. I finally got a stepstool and a long-handled arborists saw (which we bought at a yard sale) which helped a lot – and was also much safer. I didn't want any thorn-filled branches falling on top my head.

It took me about two weeks of hard labor (working when weather permitted) to get everything done, but the results were splendid. When spring comes and the leaves fill out, it should be a lovely spot.

Here's the view from the road. Looks like nothing, doesn't it? Certainly it doesn't look like it should have taken me two weeks to complete. (That's an old magpie nest in the branches.)

The pile of deadwood destined for chipping is certainly formidable.

There are still a lot of branches on the ground in the grove, but I plan to conscript both Don and Older Daughter in helping drag them to the slash pile.

Meanwhile it was time to yank thorns out of the bottoms of my shoes...

...and clean up all the flesh wounds.

Another project, done.