Thursday, December 23, 2010

Home again

From the top of Grapevine Hill, we drove to Medford Oregon. There was some fear of bad weather, but really the weather was perfect. We had some heavy rain in LA, but we didn't encounter any snow and I even made it through the entire state of Oregon without any rain. There was a little rain in Washington, but that is to be expected. It wouldn't be home without it.

So we arrived safely. I didn't really keep track, but we went 3000+ miles in 6.5 days of driving. Not a spectacular rate, but with a stop at Grandma's house to play in the pool and the bladders of two kids under 8, I am happy with how quickly we got here. And we are here for Christmas. Two months ago, I would have said with a fair amount of confidence that I would be in Lexington for Christmas, but here I am.

We have the camper all set up in my Sister-in-law's drive way. I feel intrusive. While we are self-contained, we sort of take up the entirety of the driveway. And if we visit, we overtake the entire house. I greatly appreciate their hospitality, but pray that we can maintain some appropriate distance.

Dating and Ballets

Today we drove from Phoenix Arizona to just above Grapevine Hill north of LA. On the drive, I put in some old tapes that brought back memories. It amazed me how vivid the feelings returned. I’m not talking about high school, I’m talking about 4th grade.

In 4th grade, Wendy Page (or was it Wendi Paige?) lip-synced ‘Straight-up’ by Paula Abdul at a talent show. I totally had a crush on Wendy and her performance was spectacular. I can still remember quite vividly how I felt watching the song and all of those feelings come right back when I hear the song. I don’t want to be misunderstood; I haven’t seen Wendy in at least 20 years and if I did see her, I wouldn’t recognize her. But I certainly remember the feeling of being completely infatuated with a girl.

Also at that talent show, Cheryl Weaver asked me to go out with her. I also had a crush on Cheryl (a guy really can’t have too many crushes in 4th grade). Cheryl went to the same bus stop as I did. I would make sure to get to the bus stop as early as possible every day so that I could spend time with Cheryl. I would wait at the bus stop for a long time, eagerly anticipating being able to stand around and talk with Cheryl.

At the 4th grade talent show, Cheryl worked up the courage and asked me to go out with her. Really this made a lot of sense since we both had crushes on each other and had lots of opportunities to hang out together and do whatever dating 4th graders do.

Not only did Cheryl ask me out, she didn’t do it through a friend, she did it in person, face to face. I remember how excited I was at all of the opportunities and the realization of my dreams. And then I said, “no”. Not only did I say no, but I said it in a tone of voice that said, “no way, why in the world would you ask me that?”

A few minutes after I said no, her friends came and asked me, ”So, what did you say?” I told them that I told her no. Then they asked why… I don’t remember what I said. I don’t have any good reason to having said no. On one hand, this is a major regret in my life. My actions contradicted my true feelings. Every time I hear that Paula Abdul song, I feel those feelings of complete infatuation and the feelings of regret and denying my true feelings.

At the same time, I look back at that event and think of how different my life would have been had I started dating in 4th grade. I wonder if I would still have ended up with the wife that I have. In that regard, I am extremely happy that I said no. There is no other woman that I would ever want to be married to. My wife is really the woman of my dreams.

Also, I think of a kite ballet in which I participated. I flew a kite to the music of Paula Abdul. I won. That was a monumental moment in my life. (not really).

So those were my thoughts as I drove through the desert between Phoenix and LA. I had these great plans of how to get through LA. I was going to stop at a rest area or truck stop and sleep for a few hours before heading through LA at about 9pm. Evidently I missed the last rest area. I entered LA at 4pm. I got out the other side of LA at 7pm. I will number that as something that I have now accomplished and never have to do again. I have driven a 15-passenger van pulling a 30-foot trailer through rush hour LA traffic. My life is now full.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Las Cruces to Phoenix. It's getting harder and harder to post stuff because all we do is drive. I don't think. I sit and I listen to music. I entertain kids and I keep the van and trailer between the appropriate lines. Hour after hour, mile after mile. I drive. I hate driving. I hate sitting and doing nothing. I'm ready to be at my destination and get out a bit and leave the van at home.

I can share a little of drama for the trip. Before we left, we had some electrical issues, but I took care of them (after hours and hours of looking around and fixing stuff, I replaced the battery and it worked). On Friday night the battery was charged and it powered the heater all night Friday night. On Saturday we did the same thing, except when we woke up on Sunday morning it was very cold in the camper and none of the lights worked (dead battery).

Automotive problem... I do what I always do, call my dad. He suggested a blown fuse and gave me a few to look at to see if they were blown. I checked and they were all good. He said that he would look further into it. He called back later and gave me a few more to look at (as I think back on it, I think he may have just had me check all the rest). This time I found a blown fuse.

I had found the problem, now all I had to do was find a 40 Amp fuse and replace it. We stopped by the first store we came across and they didn't have anything automotive. I then stopped at the next gas station/convenience store and they did not have any fuses. Finally I stopped by a place that had fuses, a Flying J, but they didn't have any 40 Amp fuses. So I bought a 30 Amp fuse because I figured that it might blow, but it certainly wouldn't do any damage. We drove a bit further that night and when we got to our destination I went back to the camper and the lights worked. Problem solved.

When I woke up Monday morning, the lights didn't work and it was rather cold (although we were far enough south that the low was 48 so we really weren't suffering). I checked the fuse and it had not blown, but I opted to replace it with a 40 Amp fuse anyway.

We had stayed the night in a Wal Mart parking lot (the only thing that Wal Mart is good for) so I checked to see if they had a 40Amp fuse. They did, but it came in a set and was going to cost me $20 and would come with $17 worth of fuses that I didn't need and would probably never use. I decided to keep looking. At 6:50 am I asked a Wal Mart customer where the nearest auto parts store would be. He directed me to turn left and go aways and it would be on my left. I decided it would be a good time to go for a run. After running for about a mile, it looked like I was about to run into the desert. I didn't figure I would find an auto part store in the desert, so I turned around. On the way back I asked more people about where I would find an auto part store.

Finally I found the right guy and he told me where to go. I went and spent $3 for a fuse. The electrical has been working all day. I like to think that the battery is fully charged and that everything is working as it aught to, but really, I've thought that before. Tonight I'm plugged into an electrical socket, so I won't really know. But by the time I get to where it really matters, I will find out whether my electrical is working or not.

Sometimes I like to think that this is preparation for building a house that would easily run off of simple 12 volt electric and run off of solar and wind power. A 12 volt house would lack some very helpful appliances, but I think about that sometimes. I think it would be easier to make a 12 volt system off the grid than making a 110 volt system off the grid.


Today we drove from Dallas to Las Cruces New Mexico. Texas is an enormous state and when you are driving a giant cinderblock into a stiff headwind, you don’t get very good gas mileage.

I have a really bad habit. See, I have always tried to ride my bike most places and while on a bicycle it is easy to make fun of those people in behemoth automobiles that get less than 10 miles per gallon. Now, as I drive across the country getting well less than 10 mpg (the headwind was bad, but with no wind I can get really close to 10) and I will look at the macho guys in the huge pickups that clearly get terrible gas mileage and I will make a comment. It’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. I have ideals that include me not driving, but have been unable to put those ideals into practice. That is something that I would like to do as I start with my new identity.

We have been looking a bit at weather and it has been nearly perfect; Sunny and warm all day today! The only problem is that I’m ready for spring or summer and winter hasn’t even begun yet. I’m also looking toward the next few travel days and I see that California is having loads of rain and there are places with snow that I will have to go through. We’ll have to figure that out.

We decided to take the southern route (the long way) to avoid snow, but it is also going to give us a chance to stop by and visit my mom. If all goes well, we should be there early tomorrow afternoon.

I’ve been very happy with the way the camper has operated. Yesterday we managed to blow a fuse in the van that leads to recharging the battery on the camper. We discovered that this morning when everything in the camper died and it was really cold in the camper. It took the day to figure out what happened and to find a part to fix it. Truck stops are not the best place to go part shopping, they have a very limited supply.

Off to Arizona tomorrow.

Heading West

I haven’t been blogging as much as I had hoped, but I sort of anticipated that because I have been driving… a lot. I’m feeling a lot less ‘sansauto’ than I used to be.

We took off from Lexington Kentucky on Friday afternoon at about 5pm. I’m not completely sure whose idea it was to leave at rush hour on the first day of winter vacation, but we left and the roads were busy. The drive was pretty uneventful and we made it to just outside of Nashville on Friday night. I told myself that I wasn’t going to stop until there was no snow on the side of the road and I didn’t.

The trailer worked great. We were able to sleep in it and there was sufficient battery power to keep the heater on all night. That surprised me a little, but we’ll call it a pleasant surprise.

We woke up early on Saturday morning and started driving. We drove all day. We ate in the trailer and everything worked exceptionally well.

I went to lunch with a good friend before leaving Lexington and as I told him of our adventure, he suggested that I should read some Thoreau. It just so happened that I had Walden as a book on tape (or at least an abbreviated version of it), so I listened to it.

I’m generally not one to argue with prominent authors, but I don’t know that I completely agreed with Thoreau on a few really big points. Of course I love his idea of moving to the woods, building a house with my own hands and living off the land for a couple of years (or forever), but I was still able to find that I have a substantially different view. Thoreau said that he wanted to live on his own to gain a sense of freedom and as part of his pursuit of ‘living simply and sucking the marrow out of live’ (That is paraphrased because I can’t look it up since it was an audio tape).

I’ve read that before and agreed with it. There is some beauty in living alone with your thoughts and having the opportunity to sit and think and contemplate without interruption. It’s great thought, especially if you are alone, but really the marrow of my life is found in others. It is found in my family and in the community that I long for. We live in the most industrialized country where we rely on one another for everything, yet I have met more people than I can count that are lonely and longing for deeper relationships with others.

Moving is an opportunity to start fresh with a new identity. I am going to do better and building deeper relationships with those around me.

On Saturday we drove a long ways until we ended up outside of Dallas Texas. Here are a couple of random observations from the drive.

1) Spencer snores… and if Spencer takes a 4 hour nap it really messes up his sleeping schedule

2) Arkansas has the worst maintained roads I have ever experienced

3) Arkansas has the least creative names for cities that I’ve ever heard. Texarkana was a bit weird, but I get it, it’s on the Texas Arkansas border. But what is up with Arkadelphia?

4) It is going to take a LONG time to cross Texas.

5) WiFi costs money and I’m too cheap to pay it so I have no idea when this will be posted.

We’re having a great time and moving west.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Well, I am going to make the subject of this blog a little different for awhile. We've been going car light for quite some time and have really enjoyed that. Recently we bought a really big van and travel trailer for it to pull. SO I've gone from riding my bike everywhere to embarking on a journey across the country in a vehicle that gets gas mileage that I can count on my hands. I'm just hoping that it will take both hands to count it.

A little over a month ago, it became abundantly clear that we needed to be closer to family. Family is on the other side of the country and that is where we need to be. Timing is always hard, so we decided that we needed to do it soon. We bought the travel trailer in an effort to down-size.

It was an interesting experience. I am always tempted to use words like rewarding, interesting, or fun to describe it, but that neglects to mention that it was difficult. We sold or gave away everything that wouldn't fit into the travel trailer (and it is packed pretty much to live in, not to haul stuff). It was an eye opening experience. We've always tried to live simply. We've walked through the house numerous times looking to get rid of stuff that we didn't need. In the end we were always able to justify a bunch of stuff and we keep getting more. To make it fit into a 30 foot travel trailer meant really prioritizing and finding what is important in life.

We found that creative toys for the kids, games to play as a family and active recreational activities were our priorities. Everything that we kept revolved around those three things. Oh, and we kept kitchen stuff and clothes just because.

I think it is interesting. When I tell people what we're doing, I get a variety of responses. Some people are excited and express that they always wished they had the guts to do what we're doing. I like those people, they make me feel good. Some people think we're nuts and try to convince me to think the same thing. Sometimes I do think that it wasn't the most logical choice, but I personally don't believe that life is about making the choices that lead you safely to death. Life is about making choices that challenge you and allow opportunities to grow and learn about yourself and your fellowman.

I've also noticed that a lot of people think that we're poor. With the current economic conditions and all, they think that we've run out of money so as a last resort, we are selling the house and going to live with family. Yes, we're selling the house and going to live near family, but it's not because we're poor. It's because we want to add richness to our lives. We want to be closer as a nuclear family and we want to be closer to our extended family. I feel that we are in really good shape financially. Currently our only outstanding debt is the mortgage on our house so when the house sells we will be debt free. We also have the savings to pay our mortgage for a year or more while we wait for our house to sell (although we really don't want to use our savings for that purpose). We aren't making this move because we're poor, we're making this move to become rich.

I hope to blog regularly on the trip and I've also thought of writing a book about the experience, but I don't know that I want to put that much work into something I don't think anyone would want to buy.

So today we leave. I'm leaving a place where I've been able to commute almost everywhere by bike and I'm moving into a van pulling a camper. And here I am continuing to blog on 'sansauto' when currently my life is revolving around the auto. In the long run I really hope my car disappears all together.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moby and Midget Moby

So, we sold our van and got a bigger van. It's all part of the environmentalist in me. It may seem backwards (and maybe it is), but the bigger van is going to be the solution to a lot of things for us.

First lets talk about the old van. The old van was a mini-van that got OK gas mileage. We got a great deal on it and it was a great car for us. But when we wanted to go camping or take a hypothetical friend for a ride, we didn't have room. What it really boiled down to was that the mini-van did everything we needed to around town (where we really wanted to be riding a bike), but it wasn't big enough to do the stuff that we really wanted to use a car for, like go on weekend vacations.

So we bought a new van. It's big. We've decided to call it Moby... you know, like the big white whale. It's a 15 passenger (except it's missing a back seat, so it only holds 11) with a V10 that gets terrible gas mileage. We took it camping the first weekend that we had it and it was great. When we got to the camp site, I asked my wife why we hadn't been camping for so long and she said, "because we wouldn't fit in the car". Problem solved.

The new van is fantastic for longer trips, but around town the gas mileage gets even worse. This provides a great disincentive for driving around town. It's just that with four kids, it is hard to find a safe alternative.

Then we found a bike for sale that will safely haul our 4 kids. We bought one. We call it Midget Moby (or Midge for short). She rides like a dream... except when the kids get coordinated and lean violently from side to side; that makes it hard to steer straight. Except the boys say that Midge needs a bigger engine so it will go faster. We're still working on that. Here's a look at our new bike
Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes
Now I just need to find a plaid hat.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Time Trials

I'm just going to get right to the point. I don't like time trials. I have never liked time trials. The irony is that I often dream of time trials and live my life like a time trials.

Time trials are bike races where you don't get to work with anyone. They send cyclists out one at a time so they can't draft or otherwise see how the others are doing. The only thing that matters in a time trial is the clock and each rider is racing against it.

I have done many time trials in my time as a cyclist. I'm not good at them. I always start with a goal and I generally have a goal that is realistic for me... or so I think. I leave the start line at a pace that will get me to my goal. I feel good about it and I push hard. About the time I am out of view of the start line I start feeling like I'm pushing hard into the wind and my legs start getting heavy. For some reason I think that I'm the only one that feels this way so instead of pushing through it, I slow down. I also tend to think that since I'm away from the start line and the spectators nobody will notice that I've slowed a little.

Pretty soon I convince myself that the headwind is really strong so I slow down a little more figuring that I'll make the time up when the course changes direction and I'll have a massive tailwind. The next thing I know, I'm riding along at a leisurely pace and I realize that I'm not breathing hard. As a physiology major, I know that breathing is how the body gets rid of the acidity of lactic acid. It doesn't take me long to realize that I've slowed down to a pace just slightly slower than a lollygag. At which point I speed up, but I never find a good pace that I can maintain.

My time trials generally tend to turn into interval workouts where the high intensity efforts are reserved (because I think I've found a pace I can sustain) and really slow rest periods (because I've convinced myself of a headwind or hill or being sick or something). I do tend to finish my time trials with gusto. I generally have a pretty good sprint at the end because I haven't expended that much energy on the race. Inevitably, my times are terrible.

I remember the one and only one time trial where I did well. It was 1.5 miles long (I never lost sight of either the start or finish line) and it was uphill (I'm good at hills). Out of the several hundred people that did the race that day, I was in the top 20. This was my kind of race, I hardly consider myself a short distance person, but it was short enough for me to maintain focus and my climbing skills helped a little.

Yesterday when I was out for a ride, I was thinking of racing again (I'm only 2 years away from racing with the masters). As I'm thinking, of course I dream of the glory of winning a bike race. In my thoughts I think of riding away from a group and riding on my own for an extended period of time to victory. What makes me think that I could maintain a strenuous effort when I've never been able to before? What makes me think that I could maintain the training schedule that I've never before been able to maintain?

Sometimes I use the same tactics in life as I do in cycling. I set myself up with a work schedule that I think will get me ahead, but then start seeing that it's not as sustainable as I first thought it was. Then I start making up excuses on why I slowed down as I consider an unknown future where everything will be easier. Sometimes I feel like I'm at a good pace, but most of the time I either feel like I'm at the redline or like I'm lollygagging from project to project. Overall, I don't feel like I'm finishing the race at the pace I am capable of going. I seem to never be satisfied with my performance.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Story of Della

We lost most of our chickens to raccoons several weeks ago. I fortified the coop and the hen house. I am fairly confident now that the raccoons can't get them. So we went and bought some more chickens.

We found this guy on Craig's-list that was selling hens. We set an appointment and drove up to his house one morning. I asked all the right questions. I established that I wanted the chickens, but I didn't want the turkeys. I was assured that I was getting all hens so that I would have more eggs and no crowing. I got a variety of chickens and then the guy offered to show us around his place. He had a variety of chickens. And then he showed us the ducks. My boys were excited about the ducks and I was too. I didn't want to jump into anything so I asked what ducks eat. He said they eat chicken food and don't have any special needs except for more water. He didn't even have a pond for his duck.

So I bought the duck. And my boys named the duck Della. The duck was bigger than the chicks that I bought, so I put it outside with the older chickens.

I put my blood sweat and tears into training that duck. After 3 days it was able to climb the ramp into the hen house all by itself. Also by that time the duck began to think that the chickens were its parents. It followed the chickens everywhere and the chickens pretended to ignore the duck. It was actually quite comical to watch the duck follow the chickens around thinking that it was a chicken.

Then someone asked me why I bought the duck. 'Does it lay eggs?' he asked. I thought for a moment. I didn't know if the duck was a girl. I asked all the right questions about the chickens, but I didn't know about the duck. That's OK though, because ducks don't crow.

I built the duck a very small pond (that it could get in to, but not out of) and it seemed to like it (probably because it couldn't get out). Unfortunately the pond I built did not quench the ducks desire for water. Every night the duck would take the water in the hen house and mix it around with the straw and make one awful mess. When the duck was smaller, it didn't get enough water to really matter, but as the duck got bigger, so did the mess.

Eventually it got to the point where I had to replace the bedding in the hen house every day. Every morning there was a small puddle of mud and chicken poop that I had to clean up. It didn't take long for me to get sick of cleaning the chicken coop. Once every week or two with a bunch of chickens. Daily with a single duck.

I decided I needed to get rid of Della. Although she was a meat duck, I couldn't do that. I thought of taking her back, but the guy we bought the duck from really didn't take great care of his animals and I didn't feel that was right either. Finally I decided to take her to the park. I put Della in a box and me and the boys released Della at the park to play with her duck friends for the rest of her life.

Unfortunately, Dell is a duck that will never fly. She weighs too much and has really small wings. So her only defense from predators is missing. I find it odd that I realize the reality of what I did, but I can find some comfort in riding my bike by the park and seeing white ducks. I will never know what happened to Della, but she will live out her days (or years?) at the park. And I will be able to ride by that park and see white ducks forever. So I guess Della will always be alive.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How do we ruin our children?

A few minutes ago I was sitting on the bed, making sure my 6-month-old didn't crawl off. OK, maybe crawl is the wrong word. He wiggles and squirms and otherwise moves and sort of makes progress in a direction either toward what interests him, or in the exact opposite direction. It's always unfortunate when your gyrations don't lead you toward your goal. Today was a good day, he was progressing toward his goal.

It amazed me how he would wiggle and squirm with all his might until he got closer to his goal. Children have an unrelenting persistence. So, the kid would move closer to the edge of the bed (that was his goal as far as I could tell), and I would pull him back to the middle. Then he would wiggle his way to the edge again. Over and over again, that kid would put his all into moving to the edge of the bed. Over and over again, I would pull him back to the center. Really, it was in his best interest. It's amazing to think of the perseverance that it takes to learn to walk, talk, socialize and otherwise grow up. Think of the set-backs that this kid will experience. Imagine how many times he will fall, fail to communicate, socialize or otherwise live a 'perfect' life.

Yesterday my wife was helping the 4-year-old ride his bike for the first time without training wheels. He crashed. He crashed numerous times. He crashed in the grass. He crashed on concrete. He even crashed into the van once. Each time he shed a few tears and jumped up with a huge grin to do it again. Some day he will ride a bike without training wheels and will go off jumps, dodge obstacles and do other stunts that his father thinks are a bad idea.

Give them 20 years and they will be typical adults. (At least we're hoping for typical in some ways... in other ways we're praying that they will be anything but typical). If they are anything like me they will grow up to have fears and anxiety. Fears of failure and fears of success. Fears to try things because of what others might think. Fears that prevent them from being genuine. I find it interesting that many of my greatest fears are the things that make children progress so quickly. The things that I fear most are the things that I feel that I need to protect my children from.

Maybe instead of protecting, I should follow their lead? ... I'm too afraid to try.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Generally my blog posts come from a fleeting thought. I get a little idea, I sit down and write about it and I hit the post button and hope for the best. Today is a topic more near and dear to my heart. This is a thought I have pondered for years and never had the courage to express. I believe that others may have other views and I quite frankly think they are wrong.

I am going to address the preparation, presentation and consumption of watermelon. First off, I think that this issue is drastically under-discussed. Watermelon is, without exception, the greatest food available to man. When prepared, presented and eaten properly, watermelon is the most divine of foods. If the preparations are undertaken with haste or without thought, watermelon becomes an OK food that is backwards and awkward.

Preparation: To start, watermelon has to be cold. Store the melon in the refrigerator for at least several hours before consuming. Next, the watermelon has to be sliced. There is no alternative. The slices should be anywhere from 1-5 inches thick, depending on how hungry you are. The ends of the watermelon should be discarded, only slices of watermelon with pink on the top and bottom and green all the way around the edges should ever be served. To further cut a watermelon into wedges is the destruction of a perfectly good food. It is the wedge shape that absolutely destroys a watermelon and the delectable goodness that it stands for.

Presentation: The watermelon should be served with the wider side up on a plate that is slightly larger in circumference than the melon slice. Watermelon should always be served with a spoon. A silver spoon is most appropriate, but any metal spoon will produce satisfactory results. A napkin is not required when serving watermelon. If you are really going to enjoy the watermelon, you have to be willing to put up with some spoon spray and mouth drippage.

Consumption: To eat a watermelon you press the spoon into the flesh, turn the spoon 360 degrees and form a perfect watermelonspoon shape. Watermelonspoon is the official name of the shape that is extracted from a slice of watermelon by inserting a spoon and turning it 360 degrees. It is not quite a sphere, but really there is no other name for the shape, therefore I named it myself. Watermelonspoon shapes of watermelon should be taken from the outer pink edges of the watermelon first. You should take the melon from as close to the rind as you can, so as not to waste any of the sweet goodness, but this is the least sweet part of the melon so consume it first before you move onto the center portions. The key to eating watermelon is to eat a ring of watermelon that is just inside the rind, leaving the center (the heart) for the last. If your outer ring is not wide enough, there will be some pink flesh left that either contains seeds, or contains the little pock marks where seeds should be. The seed area is the next area that needs to be eaten.

At this point your plate should be a ring of rind to be discarded and the very center, brightest pink area of the heart left. This is the best part of the watermelon. If you massacre a watermelon and serve it in wedges, the heart -- the very best part of the watermelon-- is the first bite and it just gets worse from there. If you eat a watermelon correctly, you save the heart for the last and you have the opportunity to enjoy the pinnacle of nature's sweetness and savor it in your mouth for the rest of the evening.

While it doesn't really matter how long you take to eat the outer portions of your watermelon, the heart is to be savored. Every bite should be extremely small and consumed slowly in order to maximize the enjoyment of the fruit. When you take that final bite, you are done and should discard the rind. You should NOT, however wipe your face. You should let the ultimate sweetness that dribbled down your chin remain on your face as a reminder of your recent consumption of perfection.

If you have any questions on how to eat a watermelon, please let me know. I am always at your service and would love to demonstrate the proper techniques.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Another garden parable

Unlike my tomatoes, my strawberries had the right goal all along. They were thriving, pushing their greenness toward the sun and sending little balls of sweet red goodness off in every direction.

My strawberries had found their purpose in life. They were living large and accomplishing their dreams.

One morning I came out to find that much of my strawberry patch had been torn up and the strawberry plants were thrown all around and otherwise trampled. Before I blamed the kids, I observed for awhile and found that it wasn't the kids who had done this, it was the chickens.

Most of the dirt in my yard is covered in something that is growing or mulch. The strawberry patch is an exception. The birds found that the strawberry patch was the perfect place for a dirt bath, except the strawberries were in the way. The chickens didn't have anything against the strawberries, but they needed that dirt to bathe. The strawberries depended on the dirt to reach their goals, it was the foundation of everything strawberries were able to become.

The chicken went after the strawberries, not to destroy the strawberries, but to be able to use the dirt for a bath. The strawberries were scratched, pecked and otherwise trampled and pushed out of the way so that the chickens could use the dirt for another purpose.

My thoughts are done. I like the tomato story better. I need to find a conclusion to this one. The lesson could be that some will trample your goals and dreams just to get at something they want, but I don't like that. Surely there is a better lesson here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Last year was the first year I tried growing heirloom tomatoes. I didn't choose the best spot in the yard for them, and I think the squirrels harvested more than we did, but other than that they turned out better than I could have hoped.

The beauty of heirloom varieties is that you can save the seeds and replant them. This goes right along with my beliefs and how I want to do things, so I saved seeds. It's not easy to save tomato seeds. The gelatinous stuff that the seeds are in are an anti-sprouting material. So you have to let the gelatinous stuff rot, but not the seeds and then you can save the seeds for the next year.

I had high aspirations. I saved the seeds and was eager to plant them this spring. Shooting for the stars, I got out my seeds, put them in some compost, watered them and put them under a light in the basement.

Despite my high aspirations, I didn't go about this project quite right. I think that I kept the light too far above the plants. As the tomatoes grew, they grew long and spindly, with little strength. The light was too far away and while the little plants reached for their goal, it was unattainable and unnatural. The plants still grew, and I had hope.

The tomatoes eventually had enough leaves to transplant outdoors. I put more than a dozen plants into the ground, with high hopes of my pathetic looking little plants overcoming their early life hardship and developing into high yield tomato plants.

Our first rainstorm after planting the tomatoes outside pummeled all but three of the little plants. Those three plants have continued to grow, but they are far from thriving. They are still spindly and pale.

While it was admirable that the tomatoes went with all of their might after the first goal that they were exposed to, it wasn't the right goal. The seeds spent all of their energy going after an unnatural and inappropriate goal. They didn't know it was the wrong goal, they only saw it as light and they sought after it like tomatoes are supposed to. After pouring all of their energy into pursuing a goal that did not provide them the sustenance that they needed, I moved them outside into a natural situation where they should be able to strive. They had already spent their energy. They were done. They may still be alive, but they will never be what they could have been. If they produce fruit, they will be small and few, but more likely they will never even produce a seed that I would be able to use to plant next year. All because they pursued the first goal that was placed before them... the wrong goal.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I worry a lot about money. When I consider buying something, cost is almost always a major factor. We 'rent' our movies from the library because it is free. I can't remember the last movie I paid to see in a theater. I rarely pay to eat out. Other than the one work related activity every month, I can count on one hand the number of times I have eaten out in the last year or two.

I'm cheap and I am very deliberate where my money goes. We make a conscious effort to spend less on gas and electricity and we conserve water the best we can. I am cheap and I have been called a raging tree hugger. I am OK with both descriptions. But when the gas gauge in the car approaches 'E', no matter what else is going on, I go drop $40 to fill it with unenvironmentalism. How is it that something that I am against in so many ways have such control over my life?

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I've been distracted lately. Actually it has been for quite awhile. I'm not talking about a person walking by who attracts my attention or my mild ADD that just doesn't allow me to stay focused for extended periods of time. The main problem is that I don't know what the distraction is.

At work I am excited to be doing a lot of things. I've got projects that will get my work going in the direction that I want it to go, but it's not going. I'm not getting to the projects that I want to be doing.

At home I am excited to do a lot of things, but I'm not getting to them. Or at least I'm not getting to them with the energy that I want to pursue them. I am distract from what I really want to do and what I really want to be.

I've spent a lot of time in academia and have received many grades in my life. I've even given many grades in my life. If I were to grade my life at this point, I would give myself a D+ or C-. With grade inflation of today I would probably end up in the B range, but I've always considered C average and in line with expectations. I am performing below my expectations for myself and I need to step it up a notch if I'm going to judge my life on par with my expectations.

[What I have thus far written, was written yesterday before I ran out of time, and I am continuing now]

I've had some time to reflect on my distraction. In large part, I think I have figured out what it is distracting me and it is 'I'. My focus in life has been too much on me and what I want to do and not enough on others.

In my job I find that I have been thinking too much of what I want to do with my career and the things that I have already done. My thoughts have been about me and my aspirations. My personal aspirations have gotten in the way of the people I want to help and what I can do in the position that I currently hold to best provide for those I wish to serve.

At home I think of the things that I want to accomplish. I focus on my goals as they pertain to my desires. Sure, I spend time with my family and we have fun, but it is after I have finished the things that I need to get done. I focus on what I can do to get my family ahead and I often think too much of the financial concerns that we have and not enough on the time that I have to spend. I've long known that time is far more valuable than money, especially when it comes to dealing with people, but I often dedicate my time at home to accomplishing things (some of those things quite important) rather than time with people (which will always be more important).

If I am going to improve my grade, I need to change the way I study. I need to focus my efforts on others. I am going to go on a fast from 'I'. It has been done before and maybe even right here on this blog, but it needs to be done again. How long can you go without saying, "I"?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Good Use of Money

I just got back from a brief business trip. The trip was great, I am excited about what I learned at the conference and I'm excited to try and apply it, but now I want to write about the highlight of the trip, which didn't take place during the conference.

I was walking down Peachstreet in downtown Atlanta and Andre (he introduced himself) started walking with me and asked for a couple bucks. I said, "no" because I don't like giving money to people. I kept walking and Andre stopped to find someone else to make befriend. I thought about it as I walked away. I had six hours to get to the airport that was 20 minutes away. I decided that the next person who asked for money, I would take to lunch.

I kept walking and quickly realized that I was going to reach the subway before I found another panhandler. I wasn't particularly excited to be 6 hours early for a flight. I turned around to look for Andre. I couldn't find him. Disappointed that I wasn't able to follow through on my idea, but grateful that I wouldn't be spending the money, I turned back toward the subway.

Then our eyes met. It certainly wasn't romantic, but that brief eye contact opened the opportunity for her to ask. She wanted money. I don't like giving people money. I asked if she was hungry and she responded in the affirmative. I asked her if I could take her to lunch, and we took off across the street to what looked like a taco joint. It turned out to be more up-scale, but that was OK. We found a booth and the waitress brought us a menu. She had a Dr. Pepper and a Steak Torta (I don't really know what that is, but that is what it says on my receipt). Including a tip, it came to $15.

The best part, and the reason for the 'date', was the conversation. Her name is Rachael. She was originally from Louisiana, but came to Atlanta with her daughter. Her daughter left 2.5 years ago, taking Rachael's ID and leaving her homeless and without her ID she couldn't get a job. She has gone through some helpful agencies and acquired what she needed to get an ID, but both times it rained and ruined her paperwork. In the past she has been a mechanic and truck driver, but at one point she mentioned that panhandling really paid fairly well. The first time I asked, she said that when she returns to work, she would like to be a mechanic. The second time it came up in the conversation, she said she wanted to be an astronaut.

At one point I asked Rachael if she was happy. While she didn't always seem truthful in her responses (I found a lot of inconsistencies that I questioned), the toothless smile on her face and her excited body language confirmed to me that she was genuinely happy. I asked her why.... What makes her happy? Her response was powerful: Peace. Growing up she was sexually molested by her father, although none of her family believed that he would do that. She was married three times and each of those marriages was at least verbally abusive and it sounded like there were at times physically abusive as well. All of her marriages kept her suppressed. Her family was fairly wealthy and she even tracked some distant relatives to the Governor's office in Louisiana. She valued peace more than she valued wealth - maybe I should call it financial stability. I questioned her authenticity when she said this, but she lived what she said. Was I questioning her really thinking that peace was better than wealth? Or was I questioning abuse? Or was I questioning whether her other options were really options or merely her imagination? I don't like that I questioned her.

I asked her what the most important thing she had learned from being homeless was. Her response was respect. She talked about how she learned that it was inappropriate to interrupt and the importance of listening. I was unable to connect the dots and really understand why this was the most significant thing that she had learned, but I thought it was an interesting comment.

She also asked about my family and situation. I told her about leaving college to take a lower paying job that would better align with what I really wanted from life and would ultimately make me happier. She approved. I told her about my four young boys and she told me that I should take them fishing; it would teach them patience.

She ate half her meal and put the rest in a to-go box. I was grateful that she would also have dinner that night. I paid for the meal (I enjoyed a water while we talked and she ate) and we left. She offered to walk me to the subway, but I declined. She thanked me numerous times and gave me a big hug as we parted ways. I checked to make sure my wallet was still in my pocket and I still feel ashamed that I'm that distrustful.

I made it to the airport with five hours to spare. I got to sit and watch people, thousands of people, with enough money to fly where they wanted to, eat what they wanted to and communicate freely with those close to them. With the abundant wealth in the world, why will the highlight of Rachael's day be going to sleep in the park with a full stomach?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I enjoy watching the squirrels in the back yard chasing each other around, jumping from branch to branch and seeming so comfortable in the trees. It amazes me that they can jump from the outer most branches of one tree to the outer most branches of another tree. It is as if they were designed specifically for playing in trees. They have all the confidence in the world, and I've never seen one fall, although I've often thought they should.

What is my squirrel activity? What do I do so naturally that it comes easy and is almost like play while I'm doing it? What is that activity where I would have no perceivable fear of falling? What challenge can I make look easy while bystanders wonder why I haven't fallen on my face?

Someday I hope to grow up and be a squirrel.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why I hate recycling

I've been called a "raging tree hugger" and I took it as a compliment. I would certainly consider myself an environmentalist and I feel that recycling is one of the greatest disservices to the environmental movement.

I don't want to be misunderstood. I recycle and I think that recycling is important. I also think that recycling is an easy cop-out for over consumption. I hear it all the time, "Print as many copies of that as you want, you can always recycle it", or "I go through 3 or 4 plastic bottles a day, but I make sure to recycle all of them".

People don't seem to understand that the paper or bottles that they use were produced at least hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. It pumps exhaust into the air to get them to the consumer. When you use more of the stuff, even if you recycle it, that means more exhaust being pumped into the atmosphere to transport stuff.

We also don't seem to realize that plastic and paper don't exactly grow on trees. Well, the paper sort of does grow on trees, but that is beside the point. The processing to produce paper and plastic produces a lot of pollution. When we recycle the paper or plastic it may save us from having to produce more from scratch, but it still requires polluting remanufacturing and processing. It's not like they rinse out the old water bottles and refill them. They melt the plastic (burn lots of fuel and pump lots of exhaust into the atmosphere) and reform the bottles.

Of course I recognize that recycling is better than contributing to landfills. The problem that I have is that recycling makes people feel like they are environmental. It makes people feel like they are doing the right thing, when in reality they are hardly going through the movements.

Do you know the little triangle recycling symbol? Did you know that each arrow that is a corner of the triangle represents something? Did you know that the meaning comes in order of importance? So here it is: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Unfortunately we seem to follow the environmental slogan of "massively over consume and then recycle to help yourself feel better about yourself."

It makes me wonder what it will take to wean people from the disposable water bottle. What if someone were to create a device where water would be delivered to your lips, free of charge at the touch of a button? I would guess that people would use them to spit in.

Sorry about my rant. I seem to have some pent up opinion that needed to be shared. I'm going to go watch "Food, Inc." now. You'll never be able to guess what my next rant will be about.

Monday, March 29, 2010

regurgitated thoughts

I don't seem to have any thoughts of my own today, so I'm going to share some interesting things I've read recently.

I'm currently reading an older book by Micheal Pollan. Right now I'm reading about weeds. Did you know that most of the weeds that we battle with in our gardens were actually imported with early settlers from Europe? That is right, everything from the dandelion to the tumbleweed has European roots and would not be here had we not brought it with us.

Another interesting note that Pollan made was that weeds don't grow unless we mess with the soil and try to grow something besides what is already there. Forest is forest and never seems to be in danger of being over taken by any once species. But take out the forest and plant a lawn and you will spend the rest of your life battling to keep dandelions and winter creeper from taking over every inch of land that you own.

Another story... this one I found a lot of humor in, and it's a story we all know. It's the story of Johnny apple-seed. As the story goes, Johnny Apple-seed traveled around the US, planting seeds to grow apple trees and every time you find a random apple tree you can thank Johnny for planting it a long time ago so that you can enjoy that apple.

Here's the problem: Apple trees grown from seeds don't produce good apples. If you have an apple tree that produces apples that you like and you want another tree, you have to graft the branches and 'make' another tree. If you take the seeds from the good apple and plant it, the chromosomes have mixed and the fruit from that seed will almost always be bad tasting and drastically inferior to the previous apple.

So our hero, Johnny, moved around the country planting apple seeds that would produce bad tasting apples. A bad tasting apple isn't as bad as no apple at all, so I suppose Johnny was doing good by planting the seeds. Actually, many people took good advantage of those apples. While the apples weren't especially good for eating, you can use the apples to make into alcoholic beverages. So Johnny's apples were put to especially good use during times of prohibition. I recently heard that story and it completely changed the way I looked at Johnny Apple-seed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

swimming lessons

After my kids' swimming lessons today I got to go swimming with my boys. The four year old liked throwing a little floating toy into the pool and then chasing it (he's getting better at swimming, but he was still supported by a noodle). I learned a lot watching him chase the floating toy.

So my son would stand on the edge of the pool with his noodle. He would throw the floating toy into the pool and jump in after it. He would then swim toward the floating toy with his flailing sort of stroke. He never actually caught the floating toy without my help.

He would be leaning on the noodle, paddling as hard as he could with his arms and kicking as hard as he could with his legs (neither of which have become the most efficient stroke yet) and he was able to move very slowly around the pool while expending tons of calories.

The reason he never caught the floating toy was not because he was unable to move in the water, but because every stroke he made with his arms made a wave that pushed the toy away from him. He would get very close, but the paddling that he was using to propel himself made the toy float away from him. The faster he paddled and the harder he tried, the faster the toy would float away.

I sometimes feel the same way in my pursuit of goals. I'm trying hard, I'm doing what I know how to do, but somehow in my technique of doing things I'm continually pushing my goals out of reach. I need to learn efficiency. I need a new technique. Try as I will, I will never reach my goals if my approach and effort push my goals away from me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't sacrifice what you want most for what you want at the moment

That was the main topic at church today. I enjoyed it. I know the 'right' answer. I want eternal life 'most' and I need to follow the commandments and believe now in order to be able to get what I really want. I'm fine with what they wanted me to learn.

I learned a lot more. I applied this more to my secular life. What am I doing with my life now? That question is easy to answer, I do that every day... What do I want most? What is it that I am working toward? What are my ultimate goals in life? Where do I want to be in 20 years?

I have some vague ideas of what I want most. Family comes to mind first. I envision a time where I can spend a lot of time with my boys working along side them, helping them learn and grow. -That won't pay the bills. I think of helping people be healthy. -I'm glad that comes to mind since I spent a lot of time in college studying that. I think of working outside and coming home sore every night. -I like that. I think of sustainable living and living off the land and within the means that the land can provide. -I love nature and how it all works together, I want to be able to better understand, apply and teach the connections of life.

Sometimes I joke that I want to be an organic farmer. While there is some truth in that desire, I don't know nearly enough about farming to make a living of it. I also don't especially like the prospect of having to find a market for my goods to sell them. I just like playing in the dirt.

I think the place that I would most like to be is on an organic farm, but not for food production. I would want a farm for people to visit. I would like to make money showing people and families how to live off the land. I'm not thinking of trying to convert people to Mennonite type society, but I'm thinking of demonstrating to people that the land offers health. Working in the yard can provide exercise, eating what your land produces can provide health and there is an intellectual, and almost meditative aspect to working and understanding the land that is an important part of health. My farm could be a weight loss clinic, a summer camp and a roadside stand. I want to model and teach a lifestyle that is sustainable and health promoting, and that offers pieces that anyone could apply.

So those are my dreams, the real question that I took from the Sunday School lesson was "is what you are doing now preventing you from getting to where you want to go?" I'm blessed to work for an organization that is focused on making holistic health accessible to all. In part my current situation is a great preparation for where I want to be. I'm learning about people and helping them. I'm gaining skills that I need to develop. On the other hand, I spend most of my time in a weight room. I'm helping people, but I fear that the vast minority of people truly enjoy going to the gym to exercise and will therefore be unable to stick with a workout routine. I think people need to be accomplishing something as they 'work-out'. People need to find hobbies that make them work (and I'm referring to physically challenging work here) to achieve a goal that they are excited to reach.

I'm in a position where I certainly haven't sacrificed what what I want most, but at a certain point in time I may miss the opportunity to pursue what I want most and I will end up settling for less than my dreams. On the other hand, if I leave my current situation before I have enough experience, I will again miss my dreams being unprepared to get where I want to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The garden

Today I made the major preparations for my garden. I spent the week building raised beds. Today I put covered the bottom of the raised beds with newspapers and then leaves that I've been saving since last fall. Then I filled the boxes with topsoil so that we can plant something soon.

While we have a fenced yard that keeps the chickens in, I had to put up an additional fence within the yard to keep the chickens out of the garden. While putting the fence up, I watched one of the chickens fly over the fence, into the garden to be with the other chickens. I am hoping that now that I have them all outside of the fence, they will be content there and not fly over into the garden. Seriously, that was the highest and farthest I've seen my chickens fly (4 feet high for about 10 feet).

We planted bulbs and some flower seeds in the front and have big plans for our giant garden area.

This is the first time I have purchased topsoil for a garden. I am having good feelings about that. I think it will help me prevent weeds and I know there are not nearly as many rocks in the soils as normal. I am, however, concerned that the soil didn't seem alive. I have noticed that good soil as little critters in it and I think that is a good thing. The soil that I bought is dead. I hope to reincarnate it, but we'll see.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where are we going?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” –Confucius

I only wonder if Confucius knew where we were going. I've been thinking a lot about distance. Not necessarily a distance measured in kilometers (or miles for the less smug among us), but rather distance in a generic form. While I have dozens of examples of this and really wish I could start writing more about them, I am going to talk about trees.

I think that electronics, especially video games, have distanced us from reality. Children don't understand what death is. Granted, it's a complex thought that takes time to really understand, but I don't think that our media intake is helping anything. The last time I played video games I was playing Super Mario Brothers. While I was never good at the game and I knew very little about it. This much I did know, I had three chances to get past world 1-1 or my game would be over. So I had the opportunity to die three times before my humiliating destruction was complete. While I assume that video games have changed since I played, I still think that you get more than one life.

If you watch the news in the evenings there is a lot of information on violence and war. While we hear the term 'death' frequently in the news, we never really see the consequences of it. The general public doesn't get that pain associated with losing a loved one or the pain associated with death. We only get statistics and if we watch again tomorrow we'll get more statistics.

The media we expose our children to is distancing them from reality. They are consuming more and more of non-reality and it is replacing reality in their lives. They are becoming distanced from consequences.

Don't worry, I have the solution. I think that kids should be allowed to play in trees. Kids need to fall out of trees to know about real consequences. Can kids get hurt, yes. Could it even kill them, yes. I don't take that lightly, but is a life without climbing trees a life worth living? We want to protect our children, but our we protecting them to the point where they don't really get to experience childhood or life?

Real life experiences and experiencing real pain is going to lessen our distance from reality. Each step that we take in life is leading us toward a destination. Do we want that destination to be reality or a place that media wants us to think of as reality? Not only do you need to take steps in life, but they have to lead where you want to go.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I need to preface this by saying that I am terrible at chess. I know the basic rules, but I have very little strategy. My boys have started playing chess (and therefore so have I), so I have had the opportunity recently to test some different strategies.

Had you challenged me to a game of chess a couple of weeks ago, after trying to get out of the game, I would have reverted to my only strategy. I would have moved the pieces around my king as little as possible in hopes of protecting him. In reality my only real goal with that strategy is to postpone my defeat (humiliation) as long as possible.

In playing more frequently in the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that it can be helpful to get your pieces spread out so they have the chance to move the ways they were designed to move. Playing defensively and simply trying to protect your king is a weak strategy compared to an aggressive strategy where you get the pieces in positions where you can use their mobility as an advantage.

Thus it is with life. If you spend all of your time and energy protecting what you have, all you are doing is postponing the time when you will recognize that you never gave yourself a chance to truly succeed. Situating yourself where you can use your skills, on the other hand, will allow you to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Whether you find yourself successful or not in the end, you can know that you situated yourself to use your skills and took advantage of opportunities life dealt you. In the end, that may be the definition of a 'successful life'.

The game of chess is growing on me. I'm not especially good at it, but I am learning to play to win rather than trying to postpone humiliation. It turns out that losing isn't the worst thing that could happen. It's a fun game. And at this point I win fairly regularly since I only ever play a 4 and 6 year old.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Two income economy

I went for a bike ride with a friend today and in the course of conversation, he mentioned that it was getting harder to support a family on a single income. More and more the economy is becoming a two income economy.

I don't know for sure what that means. I suppose it means that it takes two incomes to support a family these days. But does it? Is the economy so tight that it requires two jobs to survive or is it that our culture entices us to buy so much stuff that we need two incomes to afford it?

On a certain level I find it hard to believe that we need to have two incomes so survive. What do people do that requires that much money? I make ~$30,000/year and my wife doesn't work outside of the home. While we aren't putting as much in savings as I would like, we have enough to support our family of 6.

On a similar note, we have someone at work who is coming in to do financial management seminars for interested individuals. I find it interesting that we find people who make tons of money (I'm talking about you Suze) to tell us how to set a budget. People who make six figure incomes generally have a different understanding of budgeting than those who have to decide between fresh vegetables and putting gas in the car.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with making money or even making a lot of money, I think that we can all work to better understand the true needs in life versus the wants.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I'm coming out of the closet, I'm a hypocrite and it needs to change.

We sold our TV about 7 years ago, not long after my oldest son was born. It was an easy decision as I noticed that my time with my son was being pulled toward the TV. It was an easy choice, so the TV went. We haven't had one since.

In the last couple of years I have started watching occasional shows on Hulu or other such websites. An occasional show isn't the end of the world and I sometimes enjoy watching a movie there with my wife. Recently, I have been watching too much and it has to stop. I love the idea of being a person without a TV, but at this point I'm an impostor and a hypocrite. So the shows have to go. Frankly, there are times when I wish the computer would go all together, but there are a lot of good things that I do on my home computer. Blogging, for example I consider a valuable use of my time because it gives me the opportunity to express my ideas and write.

My problem is that when I'm at the computer working on something of value, I often like to try and 'multi-task'. What that really means is that I pull something worthwhile up on the screen along side a video or show and make it look like I'm doing two things at the same time, but in reality only one thing is ever accomplished.

There, I've announced it to the world (or the 2 people who know that I've started blogging again). The video websites are out, I'm not watching them anymore.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


One of my new hobbies is making soap. I like the mad scientist feel of stirring my boiling cauldron and then having to let it sit for a long time before I can test it. Some day I will have enough confidence in my soap to let people try it or maybe even sell it to unsuspecting victims. For now I will just mass product soap and store it until we use it all.

I've made a variety of soaps. The first was a basic lard and lye soap which was OK. Then I made a mint soap that was a little better, but still didn't turn out exactly how it was supposed to. The third soap I made was green apple scented. I liked that one, it works great on my hair, but I really liked the idea of not using scents.

The last soap I made was my first vegetarian soap and I made it with oatmeal and honey. I really liked the way it turned out. I made it with oils that would make it good on the hair, but the little chunks of oatmeal stick in your hair which is less than desirable. The honey makes it rough so it's a good exfoliate. This was a pretty good soap, but while it keeps my hands moist, it makes my face all oily and I don't like that. I do like using the oatmeal and honey soap on my hands and the green apple soap for my body, face and hair.

OK, I really like making the soap, but I'm really bad at judging them.

My ultimate success in soap making is with the shape. In my 32 years of life, I have noticed that bar soap is the wrong shape. It fits nicely into your hand when you first open the package, but then within a short time it's long and thin so that it breaks and just doesn't work out right. When I made the oatmeal honey soap, I cut it into almost a cube shape. When you first start using the soap, it's a little awkward, but it fits nicely in the hand in no time at all. And it keeps a nice shape until it is almost gone. Right now a normal bar of soap would be so thin that it would break, but with my not-yet-patented soap shape, it is still usable and convenient.

Tonight I'm going to try and make a citrus soap.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wrestle time

One of my favorite things to do with the boys is to wrestle. Sometimes I will let them pin me down and tell them to keep me pinned down and then I will try to get all of them pinned at the same time (which takes a little doing since there are three of them and they are all quite squirmy. Other times I will throw them around one at a time and let them enjoy the ride.

I really enjoy wrestle time and the Mugwump has expressed on numerous occasions that is one of his favorite things. The problem is that when my back is a little sore or I'm tired, it's hard to muster the motivation to roll around and wrestle with kids who have no respect for a sore back.

The other day I was flinging Jaguar (two year old) around and then the Mugwump (6 year old) wanted me to do the same thing to him. I realized that he was too big. When did he get too big for me to fling him around? I noticed missed opportunities in the past. Today the Mugwump set a 'family goal' to have wrestle time every night. I'm not sure that my back will handle that, but we'll try. And who let's the kids decide the family goals?

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I found a new use for my chickens today. I got some big translucent plastic barrels from work that I'm going to use to plant things earlier in the season. Since we have new garden ideas for this year (under the oak tree didn't work well for us last year), we need to clear some grass away.

I hate clearing grass away. That means that I have to spend time with my pick-ax tearing up the lawn. It's good exercise and all, but it never works out right. The soil is always clumpy and the grass generally grows back in my garden which I then have to weed out grass that I put there myself. It never works out how I want it to.

Today I found the spot where I wanted to start the first little piece of my garden, so I sprinkled some chicken feed in that area. The chickens have been eating and scratching at that spot for the last 20 minutes. The grass isn't gone yet, but I have high hopes. Who needs oxen or a tractor to pull big devices through the soil. I'm going to use my chickens. ... I have yet to see if it actually works.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The living of dreams

I am a big proponent of living your dreams. I think that pursuing dreams should be more important than making money... although not having enough money to feed your family certainly wouldn't be considered a dream. Drifting aimlessly at pursuits that at one point seem like a dream is also not what I have in mind when I think of living my dreams.

My dreams seem to involve an organic farm and sustainable living. There are a lot of smaller components that are involved in my dream, but being able to work alongside my family and make a living while sustaining and helping better the land is my dream.

Just one problem. I don't know how to farm. I've had some mediocre gardens and I've raised almost enough eggs to support my family's egg habit, but really I don't have the knowledge that I need to pursue my dreams. That's OK, I can learn.

Here is the thing that really annoys me. When I look at people who say they are living their dreams it always seems to be prefaced with quitting a high paying job, or finally coming upon the money to get things started. There are seldom stories of the guy making $30k a year who is suddenly able to pursue his dreams.

What if part of my dream is to show that it doesn't take lots of money to pursue dreams? What if I want to do this without making lots of money? What if it's more about the path than the outcome?

"Don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." (someone said it and I don't know who.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Maiden voyage

When I was 13 I saved up my money and I bought my first real bike. Maybe I should rewind a little. The day before and the day of my 13th birthday I road my first Seattle to Portland bike ride. it was 200 miles and it took 2 LONG days. My first year I rode a Huffy 10-speed. We called it the 'pipe bike' because it weighed in at no less than 50 pounds (that may be an exaggeration, but it weighed ALOT).

With that first big bike ride I proved to my parents that maybe I would stick with cycling. I dreamed of saving up for a Trek 1420. A top notch road bike with a triple chainring on the front. As a 14 year old, more gears was better. I eventually settled for a Trek 1100 which wasn't quite as nice as the 1420, but it still had way more gears than I would ever need. I rode that bike for years.

Last week I bought a 1992 Trek 1400 on Ebay. It is essentially the same as a 1420, except with 14 gears instead of 21. Today I took my dream bike on it's first ride. Actually, it has probably been on lots of rides, but it was the first that she did with me.

I have named the bike 'my therapist' because that is what it is.

The plan for the day was to carry enough food and water to spend about 2 hours lost. I succeeded. I headed for horse country and started my morning watching a horse rolling around in the snow. I wished I had a camera; I would have called the picture, "snow angels".

I went over Zion's Hill which, from my understanding, was one of the first settlements of free blacks in the area.

I found a mill next to a river. It appeared to me as if the river was the original source of power for the mill and I wonder if it still is (I doubt it, but how cool would that be?). By the mill was a stone fence built with old mill stones. It was a beautiful place.

There was a place where I briefly found a busy road that I didn't want to spend a lot of time on. That was the only part of the ride that was even remotely bad.

As I returned toward the city I saw a woodpecker with a bright red head and thought of the old "Woody-Woodpecker" cartoons. I'm sure that Woody was taken from this type of woodpecker. I also saw a small group of cardinals, all bright red against the snow covered backdrop.

The thing I liked the most about my ride was the opportunity to dream. I thought of a short film I watched last night about a couple ladies in Portland that became 'backyard farmers'. instead of starting a CSA, which requires a bunch of land and water rights, etc. They started a business farming in other peoples' yards. So if you want fresh produce, you call these ladies to make your backyard produce food. They come weekly and weed and leave anything they picked next to your door. I think it's a great idea. I dream of doing something like that.

I got home, changed clothes and was instantly slapped with reality. My taxes are almost finished and I should be able to file them next week.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What's new

I haven't posted in a long time. Every time I think of posting, I feel that I don't have anything to say. I would really like to post more and i would really like to keep up on my writing because I have some ideas for things I would like to publish.

So here is what is new at the Sans House. Actually, I am sans auto; I do have a house. Actually, I drove my wife's car to work three times this week due to needing to be places across town in time frames that made the bicycle unreasonable.

First an update on the chickens. After the problems with wildlife, we have 7 chickens left and they have started laying. Tuesday we got 8 eggs (I think that was from a couple of days). Wednesday we got 2. Thursday 6, and today we got 5. I couldn't be more pleased with the amount of eggs we are getting from the chickens. The chickens range most of the day and they have actually turned out to be a little smarter than I initially anticipated. On cold, snowy days with high winds I will open the door to their henhouse and they will stick their heads out, but then turn right around and stay warm. Not as dumb as they initially seem.

My compost pile is coming right along and feel really good about the progress of the garden... at least in thought. We have big plans for the garden, but with several inches of snow still on the ground, we haven't progressed much.

The next step is bees. I have recently found that I enjoy making soap. I also like eating sweet things. It seems logical then, that I should start a bee hive in my back yard. I will have fresh honey and bees wax for making soap and like products.

When I started looking into building a beehive, they said that it would cost at least $300 to get started, and really it would take more than that. I almost gave up there, but I figured I could save a bunch of money by making my own hive container. I then found that you can capture a swarm rather than buying the bees. I also discovered that I really had no desire to 'capture' a swarm, but have found some information on attracting a swarm. So I'm going to give it a shot. I will be building a hive in the next few weeks that I estimate will cost about $5 in supplies and a bunch of scraps that I have collected from various sources. I'll post pictures and stuff once I make more progress. I'm really excited to have bees.

I have things to post about, but it seems that I never do. I will change that and soon I will be posting several times a week.