Wednesday, March 14, 2012

New Meat Rabbits

Today I bought two rabbits to raise and breed for meat. One is 3 weeks old and the other is about 4 1/2 weeks old. They are both females, which I know isn't the most biologically dependable formula for breeding, but the reason I bought two females is that if I had a male and a female, I would have had to keep them in separate cages to prevent them from breeding too early. But I didn't want to have just one rabbit because I believe the health and well-being of animals benefit from sociality just as humans do. And while I do plan to kill and eat these rabbits in the future, I also believe quality humane treatment of animals during their lives is the right thing to do not only morally but also to improve the quality of the finished product. So the minimum for me was two rabbits, but I didn't want to have to buy a second cage and equipment. The plan at this point is to let these two does grow, and when breeding age draws closer, I will invest in the cage and a male rabbit. That way I can spread out my initial investment while gaining knowledge and experience in keeping rabbits.

At Tractor Supply today, a couple guys who were in line behind me saw Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits in my cart and asked me, "Are you raising rabbits?" I replied, "Not yet, but I will be soon. I just bought my first two rabbits today." We continued the conversation and one of the guys told me that he and his wife started with two and now have over 30. They were at TSC to buy hardware cloth to use to build pens so they could get them out of the house and into the back yard! I was thinking how glad I was to know that I would have a lot of rabbits to eat soon, but I was also thinking how glad I was that I was starting outside and would never have to deal with a rabbit overpopulation problem in my living room!

Tonight I had a talk with my four-year-old daughter. She and her siblings are all very excited about the new bunnies, which of course they were all smitten by. They are very small, furry, and cute, which is right up Toddler Alley. But I felt it would be better for her in the long run if I got her used to the idea from the start that we are going to kill and eat these rabbits. The look on her face was one of slightly hurt feelings and disappointment, but I assured her it would be a long time in the future and that we would have other rabbits to replace them. It actually went pretty well, I think.

Judging by the pictures and videos we got today, we may have a slightly harder time getting the kids to be okay with me killing rabbits when the time comes. We shall see.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Counting My Blessings (Pt II)

I know I have so much to be grateful for, but I can never forget why I do the things I do or why I need the help I need.

Counting My Blessings

On the automotive front, I've had a great stroke of luck in the last few years. I have had cars falling into my lap from people around me who feel I'm deserving of a break. I also have a friend who is helping me get my Toyota (the one that overheated) repaired. That thing still gets 30 MPG, so if I can keep that one running, it's a great little car to have!

This friend also gave me his 99 Ford Taurus. Then at drill last weekend, my 1SG stood up in front of the unit and passed out forms to use to get a free National Guard license place. What great timing--I got a car and a free license plate in the same week!

I'm so grateful for the help that has come my way these past couple weeks. I know that God is providing for me and my family. When cars break down or the roof leaks, I know I don't need to worry because Heavenly Father knows exactly what I need. Everything is going to be okay. I should just take every challenge in life as an opportunity to learn how good he is and what I can do with his help.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Financial Freedom Warrior

I don't know where it came from, but I have recently decided that I am going to get control of my finances. Scratch that...I know where it came from. I wrote a check that I failed to account for and I ended up having a scary week not knowing if I was going to have gas to get to and from work on Monday and Tuesday. It was then I decided I was not going to begin my thirties still behaving financially as though I were only 17.

The first thing I did was to decide that I was going to get a good grip on my checkbook. Not only that, but I was going to figure out how to keep my checkbook on the computer so it would be readily accessible to both my wife and me. No more losing the checkbook, no more transactions getting lost in the shuffle between who carries it out of the house. Also, if I recorded something incorrectly, when I go to balance my checkbook, I can simply edit the incorrect transaction and it corrects all the math for me! I know this may sound like I've just discovered how to use fire to some people. But this is my story!

So I got my checkbook set up using a simple app for Mac called--what other than--"Checkbook." It's really simple and therefore really great. I started looking for budgeting software next. That proved to be a bit more difficult. There were lots of programs out there. Lots of seemingly great programs that had cool little features and widgets and gadgets and bells and whistles and tassels and fuzzy tails and...well...none of it felt like home to me. My problem with them all was that they all had too much going on. I wanted to enter transactions and see a graph or pie chart and that's it. But they all wanted me to categorize transactions using these uncomfortable categories or--I don't know--just lots of little things about each program that made each whole program just not fit.

So I got ultra simple. I broke out Numbers and made up my own little spreadsheet. I entered some simple formulas and wrote down twenty or so categories where I spend my money. Now I record each transaction as it happens, and the spreadsheet keeps a running total for me. At the end of the week, I save the spreadsheet as a PDF to keep as historical data and begin a new week. This is the tracking part of the budget.

I have not started the planning part yet. That's my next task. I've made a lot of progress with the low hanging fruit. The hard part is going to be a few months down the road. After I have gotten good at keeping my checkbook balanced, planning a budget, and tracking my spending, I am going to have to work really hard to shave expenses everywhere I can. What's really great is that I have begun exercising impulse control when it comes to eating at work or grabbing a bag of chips or a candy bar off the impulse rack at the store. The hard part here is going to be later on down the road when it comes to making decisions about what in the house needs to be fixed--and how and to what level of quality--and what we can make work the way it is.

But I know I am going to be willing to make sacrifices. Last week, all week I knew I was going to have to get a haircut for drill. I was dreading going to sit and wait at the barber shop, sit in the chair for half an hour, then pay 15 bucks for a haircut that isn't that good! (I MISS MY MILITARY BARBERS!)

So I said !@#$ it all...I'm going to shave my head. So I went on down to Sally Beauty Supply and picked out a reasonably good quality set of hair clippers that came with a close trimmer they called "the peanut". I spent $60 for the set. That will pay for itself in four months. Probably sooner, if you think about gas, waiting time, and the fact that I can cut my hair more frequently if I want to.

Roll With the Punches

I've been having kind of a hard time lately, to be honest. For starters, I had to put down two of my last three chickens a couple weeks ago because they got attacked by the dogs. I thought I had adequately socialized my dogs and my chickens, but apparently I was wrong. The first time I let the chickens free range throughout the entire yard, two chickens came up missing. Days later, my wife found one chicken still alive in the yard as the dogs were attacking her again. She had deep flesh wounds, so I had to put her down.

The next day, I found my rooster walking around in the yard. He didn't look so hot. He didn't try to run too fast as I approached him to see how he was doing. He also had some pretty bad wounds, so I put him down as well.

A few more days later, I found the last chicken--which I thought was dead because I hadn't seen her for days. She was hanging out on the big wood pile in my back yard. I'm guessing she had been there the entire time--almost like a man shipwrecked on a lone island in the ocean. I went to pick her up, but she was moving around very well. She evaded me for three laps around and over the wood pile as I tried to catch her. I could see she had some feathers missing from the back of her neck and head so I knew she had been attacked.

Since she appeared to be in good health, I left the door to the pen open and waited until nightfall to pick her up off her sleeping perch. I examined her--she looked fairly good, all things considered. She had a little wound on the top of her head where the feathers were missing, but by the time I caught up with her, it had scabbed over and was well on its way to healing.

She is sleeping in her pen right now. She's my survivor. My other hen and my rooster were also survivors. These are the last three chickens from the flock of thirteen I acquired in November 2009. The first ten died within the first year. These three had all survived the attacks by dogs, the starvation, (DISCLAIMER FOR PETA ACTIVISTS: The starvation was not my fault. One of my chickens somehow developed one lame leg, so she could not scratch around in the yard. After trying to serve her bagged feed for days, which she rejected, I put her down to prevent her from starving to death.) the freezing weather, and the poor air quality. They probably would have had a much longer life had I not made the stupid move of allowing my dogs and chickens access to the same land.

In other life difficulty news, I just received a letter from an attorney stating that I owed money for a deficiency on a foreclosure that took place three years ago. This was a big, nasty surprise to me because I hadn't heard anything from them for three years. I thought if I was going to owe money to someone I'd at least know about it relatively soon after defaulting. Ya know? I guess maybe they didn't sell it for a long time after taking it back from me. I don't know.

Finally, my car broke down. I should have seen it coming. I did see it coming, really. So I guess I should say I should have prepared for it. I was driving home from Phillip's wedding when it started overheating. I discovered there was a heater core hose that was spraying fluid, so I replaced it.

That didn't solve the problem.

So I replaced the thermostat, just for S's and G's. The car kept staying stable for a little while then overheating. The weird thing was that the radiator still had plenty of fluid in it after it was overheating. That's why I thought it could be the thermostat. Anyway, I worked on the car all day. I ran out of time and had to drive to work in this car. It was fine for a while, then overheated, then cooled back down. It did this progressively until it just went up--WAY up--and never came back down. Luckily I made it to work even though I was 30 minutes late.

The only thing to do is keep pushing--count my blessing, pull up the ol' bootstraps, and march on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Compost is Life

There is an old saying, "You can't fit 100 pounds of fertilizer in a 50-pound sack."

No, but you can fit 100 pounds of kitchen scraps in a 50-pound compost sack. If you have ever witnessed the miracle of compost, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you have not, please allow me to expound.

When a person places fresh organic material in direct contact with the earth, the earth begins slowly decomposing the material by mechanical and biological means. The earthworms and grub worms that enter the pile chew, swallow, digest, and excrete the material. The result is what is known as "worm castings" or, in street lingo, worm poop. In addition, microbial organisms also begin to consume and digest the material, but only certain elements of it. The chemical reactions the microbes initiate release heat, which is why you may see steam rising from the pile. Or, if you've ever dumped out your lawn clippings in a pile and come back to work with them several hours later, you'll notice the middle of the pile is very warm. That is because of the composting action of the microbes. All of this happens within the pile probably in a different order than I've described, but I know these processes do occur in the pile because I have pictorial proof.

When organic material is finished breaking down, the result is compost. The result is also a much smaller pile than the one you started with. This is because as the pile breaks down the material compacts very neatly. This phenomenon is very interesting because many times I have gone to add new material to a compost pile and stacked it up to the very top of the bin. Then within a few days, the pile has sunk down to just a few inches higher than it was before I added the new material.

Compost, I have found, is a wonderful analogy for life, both in terms of how we manage our space and how we manage our time. Allow me once again to rehearse.

First, in one of my previous posts I discussed time management as a possible solution to the problem of whether to return to college and still be able to manage my household. Current theory holds that if I take a major portion of one day per week to complete the bulk of my work for the week, I will have more time later in the week to work on home improvement and family time. For this theory to work in practice, I would have to identify and eliminate time wasters and start really packing every minute of my day with a meaningful activity.

The second example I have comes from my experience in rearranging things in my house for my new child. I am most proud of what I have done in my bedroom. Before we had a king sized loft bed, under which we kept our dresser and some shelves for food storage and linens, etc. That took up probably 80% of our floor space, and we couldn't use the rest of the room for anything worthwhile except stuffing a baby crib in the corner by the closet.

We decided to move our son out of the one room in our house that was being used as a kids' room and open up the office to become his bedroom. The first thing we knew had to go from our room was our bed. So we went to Ikea to get some ideas. MAN was I blown away by the ideas they had for utilizing space effectively. We found a futon mattress we both loved, and our original plan was to just place it on the floor at night and lay it against the wall during the day to use the extra floor space. We were amazed to find how comfortable we really were on this mattress, which is between full and queen sizes. When we got married, we got a king bed as soon as we could, thinking it was going to be the most pleasant, most comfortable, etc. Typical American excess. This mattress is probably 60% as big and provides 100% of the same comfort. What's more is that we were able to fit a small desk and bookshelf in our room--a two-piece set we also bought from Ikea.

We bought some cloth-covered fiberboard boxes that were designed to be drawer inserts for another bookshelf and moved all our clothing into these boxes. I built some shelves for the boxes in the closet. We both have four boxes now. These boxes provide way more clothing storage space than our dresser did, even though they take up less space in our bedroom. We put all the clothes from our dresser in the boxes along with some clothing that was previously hung up, and we still have room left over in the boxes. Because our clothing boxes are sitting on the floor in the closet, we hung our shoes on the newly created space on the clothing bar using two five-dollar shoe organizers--also compliments of Ikea.

Finally, I hung some hooks and a single shelf on the wall right inside our bedroom door so that we now have a place to hang up our bags and purses and place our keys out of the way of the children and out of our closet.

So...we axed the dresser and the loft bed. All our clothing is now efficiently stored in our closet, AND we added a desk and a bookshelf. The result is that our room feels so much more open and roomy. We are even able to leave the mattress lying on the floor all the time without feeling crowded. It is a combination office and bedroom, and it's only a 14'x10' room!

When I saw what I was able to do with a 140 sq ft bedroom simply by not desiring excessive stuff and making use of all available space, I was shocked! I immediately began to think of the compost pile and how, despite the fact that I keep adding buckets and buckets of material to it, it never seems to fill up the bin after it's all done decomposing. I think of my house now like a compost pile. It may seem full now, but when I get done dejunking and compacting my stuff, I will find a lot more room opened up.

I've been really transferring this thinking to every room in the house. Our bathtub is a huge waste of space. Luckily it's broken, so I removed it today, and sometime in the future I am going to build a standup shower only and use the remaining space to store linens. The bathtub in the hall will one day become two shower stalls, and the four-foot wide sink countertop will become two sinks. Our kitchen is hardly big enough for us to walk around in with the dining table in it--that is with all the chairs we have surrounding it. If I build benches for all four sides of the 4'x3' table, we could fit ten people at that table, and it wouldn't be so hard to walk from the counter to the fridge to prepare dinner.

With the way all this is going, I really believe I could raise up to eight kids in this house before we really had to move. This is a 900 sq ft house, mind you. It's a 70'x14' mobile home. Now, I'm not saying I'm going to force fit all those people here if it really doesn't work...but that's just IT! I think it really CAN! I mean, just a couple weeks ago I really believed there wasn't any more room in my house for one more child. Now I'm thinking of doubling the usable facilities in my bathroom. We found a cot mattress at Ikea that would sleep an adult comfortably even though it is smaller than a twin mattress. Hey--it's no different than asking two adults to sleep in a queen bed--do the math! So we could build bed frames for these mattresses, and our kids could sleep on these beds into their maturity. If we put six bunks in one room and three in the other, we could even fit NINE kids in here!

Now I know it all sounds crazy. Emily and I do want a big family. We want to have ten kids. We talk about that number regularly. We may even have more. Or we may have less, depending on what God has in store for us. What I'm getting really excited about is that there seem to be limitless possibilities for me here in this house. I was really worried about having to add on rooms or move sometime in the near future, and in a few years when we're financially able, we will probably do just that. But for now, it is so exciting and reassuring to know that we can invest in some minimal furniture and alterations and still be able to live comfortably here. Our philosophy is that the kitchen and the living room are where families spend their time at home. The bedrooms are for sleeping and dressing, and that's it. Later when our kids will need a place to study or just have a quiet place, we may build a small office in the back yard. But again--all this is exciting because I know I have a lot of time left before I have to do something major. And, I must admit, meeting the challenge of figuring this out and making it work is a lot of fun.

I Love My Work

Years ago when I was at my best friend Jesse's house, I was thinking about how his father seemed to be a machine. He worked in construction and remodeling his entire life, and after he divorced Jesse's mother, he was a single dad. During the days he went to work hauling lumber, framing walls, and installing roofing. Then at night he was making dinner, cleaning house, helping Jesse with his homework, and teaching Jesse martial arts or watching a movie. I was at their house every day after school, on weekends, and sometimes before school in the mornings when Bill would feed my brother Skyler and me his patented two-pan, baked omelette layer cake-a-majigger.

One day when I was helping set the table before dinner at Jesse's house, I asked Bill how he did it. I said, "Bill, how can you work all day and then come home and do nothing but work here in the house?" His answer went straight over my head, but finally, at the age of 30, I have come to know exactly what he was talking about.

He said, "When I come home, this is when I get to spend time with Jesse. I love being at home, so it's not work to me."

I thought he was crazy.

Yesterday I was remodeling my closet when I got to thinking how much work I've done on this house in the last couple months. I have been thrilled as each project has come to completion and my house is just a little safer, a little more comfy, a little roomier. It helps that I like to work with my hands, too. But my kids are here. My wife is here. My dogs are here. The neighbor comes over to talk to me. Emily brings me drinks and sandwiches when she can tell my sheep-dog nature has taken over and I'm going to work myself to death.

I love teaching my children how to take care of their house. They love to take turns vacuuming the living room and helping with dishes. I love watching them and hearing them play in the yard, imagining they're building buildings, cooking food, caring for babies, doing magic tricks. I am ecstatic that I get to spend my days around these people. We all love each other so much. Our love and our efforts all come together to make this a beautiful home.

This isn't work to me, either.