Monday, October 29, 2018

Well, now it's 2018

A short while ago, I updated the header of this blog with the new line of "With the passing of my Wifey of 20 years I am also now a widower who is trying to find a sense of direction. Losing a friend is hard, losing family is harder, losing your best friend and partner in everything takes "SUCKS" to new levels..."

So it's very late in 2018 at that.  I've started, restarted this entry a couple dozen times.

This year, my garden matches my mood - With the passing of my Wifey at the end of 2017 at only 50, I have spent the last year in a profound funk.  Adding to my issues, I left a good paying job because the new management started ignoring the technical staff and setting goals that could not be met.

This is where prepping becomes a practical skill.  In leaving my employer, I was given a sizable amount to stay on for a month and help train those staying behind in what I did.  This padded my emergency savings and extended the time I could take off to mourn my Wifey.

A couple of years ago, I had to take over the house bills as my Wifey was having some medical problems.  Being a techy person and having a lot on my plate already, I needed a way to know what bills were due each month.  Keeping the bill's due dates in my calendar was a start but I started to want to know what my monthly overhead was looking like.

This was where a spreadsheet made all kinds of sense.  I started with a simple list column with monthly payable names on the left and the other columns named for each month.  A totals calculation at the bottom of each month told us just how much was going out each month.  My first reaction was shock and horror.  I was still working back then and the expense was livable but the savings could have been growing much faster with some cutbacks and streamlining, most of which did not happen. I always had a hard time telling my Wifey no.  It's a husbands responsibility to spoil his wife where ever possible.

Jump forward a few years, there's been a string of major life changing events and my income has come to a halt.  Unfortunately my bills and debts are still ongoing.  This is where my spreadsheet work started to shine - I immediately knew where I could make cuts and savings.  My cable TV was the first to go and I switched to streaming TV and I am more satisfied than having cable.  The house phone is only used as a backup but still necessary for some banking calls, this was costing more than $40 a month.  I found a service called MagicJack that would only cost me $30 a year to move the house phone over to and it had a few features that AT&T would not provide.  It was an easy sell.

One of the higher dollar monthly payments was a car payment.  This was second only to the mortgage on the house.  Since my Wifey's car was paid for, what made the most sense was to sell her car and payoff my car.  This cut a very large payment out and also reduced the insurance overhead as well.

As for income, I am looking for a new job.  Following the old model is meant to be the easiest but being a Network Engineer and over 50, I am seeing where the job market favors the young.  There are many laws in place to prevent 'ageism' but who's kidding who.  As a backup, I am looking into doing consulting and other professional services.  For the next year, I can draw unemployment.  This was an option that I really did not want to use but after being told by several good friends that "you've paid into unemployment for 30 years, use it" I am now getting a little help and not solely living off my savings.

So far I've stretched out my savings from the initial couple of months to seven months and going - my mortgage and remaining bills are all paid.  A new income will present itself soon, of that I have faith.  Having others praying for me helps too.  The loss of a spouse is devastating and I have spent this year feeling like I am navigating without a compass.  It's taken a while but I am finally trying to put my feet under me again and stand back up.

The biggest take away from this blog post is that life happens, Be Ready for it!  Be Ready to live on less.  Be Ready to make what you have last longer.  Be Ready to make hard choices and to know that you will choose wisely.  Some simple changes in how you live and keep track of mundane items can make a huge difference in your life or the life of those you leave behind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It's been kind of boring in the garden this winter...

It stuck me that I have not posted anything to the blog since November of last year.  Not out of shear laziness but there has just been a lack of activity.

Over the winter, the chickens have stopped laying to the point where they ALMOST got to go to freezer camp.  One of them has finally started producing so I'll have to put off that chicken and dumplings dinner a little longer.

In January, I visited my oldest son in northern California.  A little town called Dunsmuir, near Shasta.  During this time I had to make sure the chickens were fed and tried a couple of new self feeders.  The first was a flip top with a treadle but my birds could not work out to stand in the right place to open the lid.

The next stab at a self feeder was a 5 gallon bucket with a pair of 4 inch PVC right angle pipes through the sides through the sides and about an inch off of the bottom of the bucket.  This home brew feeder worked well in that it held a lot of feed and the chickens would stick their heads in and eat.  After a few days and then I found the "BUT" in using this feeder - Mice.  When I checked the level after a couple of days, there were mouse droppings on top of the feed.  The little b@stards were diving through the feed and gorging themselves

My last hope was the PeckOmatic feeder.  This is a hanging bucket with a kind of funnel in the bottom and a pendulum with a catch cup below the funnel.  When the birds want to eat, they simply bump the cup and more feed drops in. The cup is high enough to keep out the mice out and yet simple enough to use that my "Special" breed of chickens don't starve. PeckOmatic is a winner!

On the gardening front, I did start some radishes in an empty planter I had in the front yard.  They've been watered only with rain water.  In another week or so, I'll pull a few and see what they look like.

In the next couple of weeks, I'll rototill the garden area and try to start getting rid of the weeds and sunflowers.  After a couple of years of lawn clippings, straw and poop going into the chicken pen there's a pretty good layer of soil build up that will be going into the garden on the second tilling.  There's also a couple of barrels of leaves and clippings that have been composting for the last four months and that will get mixed into one of the tilling cycles.

Thanks for reading and comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Go vote!

Get out and vote.  If you're a US Citizen and registered to vote, get out and vote!

This is the minimum amount of political involvement that you can do and still be honest in complaining about the government.  Growing up, my father and grandfather would sit around the table griping about taxes and politicians but neither one had voted in over twenty years.

I love my family but I happen to be of the opinion that if you are going to complain about something, do what you can to make it better.  

It's kind of like complaining about sitting in traffic for an hour because people are stopping to look at the wrecked cars, then stopping yourself and being part of the problem for everyone behind you.  Don't stop, step on the gas and move it!

Don't just stop to see the wreck that happens today, step on the gas and do something about it.  Unless you're a Hillary supporter and voted for Obama twice (or more), then just stay home - You've shown a profound lack of intelligence already and The Republic is better off if you stay home.

If only we could bring Ronald Reagan back..  Or at least revive the concepts of smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes, higher employment, stronger nation!  Government was not originally meant to replace your Mommy - wipe your own nose, think for yourself, live responsibly and within your own means.

Voting for a candidate simply because of their skin color or gender is possibly the greatest act of stupidity one can do short of jay walking on a busy freeway.  

  • Vote for someone based on their past performance - good and bad
  • Were they properly representing their constituents or were they simply collecting a paycheck and lobbyist bribes?
  • Is your candidate constantly in legal trouble?  What kind of moral character do you want to show as YOUR representative.
  • Does your candidate represent your overall community values or a small enclave minority of the community.

Well, that's enough rant for now.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

My dog planted a tomato for me

So I'm sure we've all heard the expression "My dog ate my homework" but in her zeal to dig up a gopher, my dog buried a limb of a tomato plant at a time when the heat was killing everything.  Now that the season change is bringing cooler weather and my Son is leaving a leaking hose in the garden, things are greening up again. Including the branch the dog buried which is now it's own bush.

The water was drying up before it could get to the roots.  Between the heat and the June bugs the tomatoes were a loss (as with most of the garden).  Again, the tomatoes are blooming and making a second round of fruit.

On another note, I received a package from the California DMV last week - 

Snoopy plates!  These were made in support for the Charles M. Schulz Museum and I've had to wait for more than a year to finally get it.  It's not a prep and it does nothing for my garden but sometimes the rules of Zombieland really apply.

Sometimes, it's the little things that make life so much more bearable. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mouse problem solved (slowly)

On and off I've had problems with mice in the garden and floor of the chicken pen.  I've tried several types of traps but most end up being useless.  So far the most effective means of killing the moochers is my backyard predator and that sometimes leads to far more destruction than the mice could ever have achieved.  But she's also very sweet and loving so I can't stay mad at her...

As cute as the dog is, she is also not as effective as I'd like.  A kill rate higher than one a week would be nice.  

I've tried several DIY traps as well as a few of the "off the shelf" traps and most end up being ant feeding stations.  The bucket of water and roller with peanut butter bait looked especially promising but after a week of cleaning off ants and dabbing peanut butter on the roller I called that one a flop.

Other multi-mouse traps (trap door types) proved to be as effective as happy thoughts.  Getting mice to go into a little box with a door that closes behind them just did not work for me.  My ex-mother-in-law had several of these in her garage and they worked for her.  For my garden mice though, not so much as a scratch on the door.

What has worked was a bit more than I wanted to spend for but I finally bit the bullet and gave it a try:
A little chicken feed, two C batteries and an hour later I had a dead mouse!  There were three dead mice the first night.  All I had to do was dump out the body, pour in a little more chicken feed and put it back in the same place.  The Victor electronic rat trap has racked up more than a dozen mouse bodies since I picked it up from the local Ace hardware store three weeks ago!  There is a warning label about indoor use only but my mice are not indoors (Thank GOD!) and the device is placed where the dog cannot get to it.  

On the DIY front, sure I could have made something to trigger and zap mice myself.  I have neon transformers in the garage with an output of 12,000 volts @ 3A that throw a spark more than 4 inches so crispy mice is not a hard point to get to.   Building a battery powered unit is not hard and a nice flyback coil or even ignition coil would deliver a killing strike. Maybe in the future.  

All these ideas are great but as I get older, I find that the time to execute these great ideas being very short and for the hours I would put into killing a few mice, the $40 for the electronic trap was worth the result.  That time was better spend with family, friends, Faith and making a living.  

Sure, I'm working on another computer based watering system for the garden so I have not abandoned the DIY for everything.  I'm just trying to pick my battles more wisely.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Support your local handyman!

Well, back at the blog again.  It's been hard watching the garden die off with the California heat and the drought that keeps the water from doing much good.  As an upshot of having my youngest Son water the trees in the afternoon some of my tomatoes look like they have recovered and will maybe produce a second harvest for me.  With the Japanese Beatles gone, I may just get some salsa out of this after all.

Back to the title subject - Support your local handyman!  We have had this house in sub-urban California for almost 19 years now.  In all that time there was a 'back porch' that looked like something out of National Geographic's photos from third world villages.  Most likely it was built by someone from that corner of the world anyways...

After 19 years of hating the back porch because the roof never got finished, never got painted and became sun damaged, dirt (mud) floor - I am now very happy with how the back porch has turned out.

Around the first of the year, our neighbor has a beautiful paver store patio put in the front of her house.  I told her that I was jealous of her new patio and she was kind enough to introduce me to her best friend's husband - a Handyman.  He came over and looked at the cruddy back porch and listened to what I wanted to do with it and went to work! No more dirt or mud right outside the back door and the dog loves to scratch her back on the stones.

I would say that the hardest part of the back porch paver stones was finding something that matched the house without over spending.  He was able to find a gray cobble stone that a local small builder supply carried once and convince them to order a couple more pallets.  It was great in that it matched the house stucco color well enough and was not overly expensive.

My last step in this was to get the porch cover finally repaired.  It started out as just new plywood sheeting and a roof but went bad from there very quickly.  The lumber was never painted and already cracked when we purchased the house - something he pointed out day one. Turns out that the new lumber would not be more than what I had budgeted for the repairs anyways so I had him replace what needed to be taken care of.

Two weeks later and I have a porch that I am proud of - Water proof roof, painted lumber that matches the house trim paint and if you look at it from an overhead photo it only looks like the third world porch got a roof finally.

Not that this helps my preps out any but it makes for a much better place to rest up from working in the garden.  It will also help the resale value of the house if I can ever convince my wife to move out to one of the Redoubt states.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Learning lessons, making progress, searching for motivation (long)

Time to catch up with the blog.  This is one of my many interests and with work and home I have felt a bit spread thin both on time and mentally.  If only I could apply the same effort to getting rid of my waist line as I do to keeping things running - I could be back in my college sized clothes.  Getting old sucks!  Pardon the rambling but I've been busy...

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading about gardening during drought conditions.  There are some really interesting ideas and a lot of proven methods for efficient watering trees and gardens.  I decided to move ahead with a proven method for watering trees and made the two mile drive to the local Ace Hardware.

The method I installed was called "Deep Root Watering", but it involved drilling holes into PVC or ABS pipe and putting the end in the ground where it would be fed to the roots directly.  This would also promote root growth to go down instead of spreading out to pickup surface water.

Here is a capped end of one of the 3ft sections of  PVC pipe.  I've drilled a line of 10 holes with the last one being used to drive a nail through the cap and the pipe to hold the cap on if I needed to pull it back up.

Placing the pipes would be pretty messy and destructive with a post hole digger so I wanted a dirt auger to neatly make holes to place the watering pipes.  Dirt augers are a bit more expensive when they are for sold for irrigation but oddly enough, animal trappers use dirt augers to make holes for small game animals and were less expensive.  Thanks again eBay!

As evidenced by all the lovely nut grass and other weeds, I have been surface watering this citrus tree and hope to have fruit from it next year.  Maybe the weeds will start to subside now that they are not getting watered.  I'm also going to see what citrus fertilizers are available to help it out.

I've installed one for the other trees as well but the little grape vine has actually perked up with this watering method and there is new growth coming on just a week after installing the watering pipe.

Not shown is my fig tree start that was only up to half the pipe when I installed it but has actually doubled in height in two weeks.

As for the lessons learned, the unruly jungle above is my row of tomatoes.  I was skeptical about using the simple cages but that has thoroughly been confirmed and I will be using pigwire fence cages next year for the tomatoes.

Also, the black weed cloth didn't do to bad but I believe the dog has helped the weeds with her unauthorized digging for gophers and throwing dirt around which gave the weeds new places to start.  I'm thinking next season will be a combination of weed cloth and straw mulch.  

On the whole, I think my garden will take a different shape next season as well.  In keeping with the drought watering I was reading about ollas and other clay pot watering methods dating back to before Roman times.  This method of watering was 'invented' on every continent and seems to be making a come back for smaller farmers with limited water resources.

I am thinking to maybe even automate the refill  process using a computer based irrigation control system and power from the solar installation on the chicken pen.  My front lawn has been watered using a PC based system with a relay board for years.  Just plug in the sprinkler valves to the relay board and scheduling software to open and close the flow.  Using a remote desktop session I can turn the water on a neighbor's dogs or kids - It's been great!

For the garden, I'm looking into using an Intel Stick computer and a USB relay board to control the sprinkler valves.  It's tiny, uses very little power, has built in wireless networking and no moving parts to wear out.

Back to lessons learned:

  • Corn - WTF was I thinking.  I always miss the correct time to pick the corn and end up with starchy corn.  Drying it out and grinding it for the chickens has been my only use for it.  No more corn.
  • Collards - I am the only one who eats them.  Next year, one or two.  Maybe

  • Strawberries - CONTAINMENT!  I need to cut this back to a 4 x 10 patch and keep the runners from going everywhere.  I was thinking to use cinder blocks to make a edge boundary around the patch that will also double as a hoop house base so I can over winter the plants without frost killing them off.
  • Okra - I'm the only one eating it.  My timing to harvest is really messed up since I miss them when they are at the small edible stage and am only picking large woody okra pods.  No more.
  • Squash - Again, I'm the only one who will eat it so it's kind of a waste to grow.

  • Sunflowers -  I really need to stay ahead of the weeds but these sunflowers are just getting out of hand.  I like that they help with attracting bees but it's a bait and switch for the bees since there is nothing really for the bees.

And so to my last topic, motivation.  I have a refrigerator full of tomatoes and salsa fixing and have not even started chopping and mixing salsa yet.  Plenty of tomatoes on the vine and a whole mess of peppers that need to be picked as well.  I really need to work less and garden more but that just does not seem to pay the bills so I'll need to work that out.  Anyways, it's 115 deg outside today and that's just WAY to hot to want to putter around in the garden.

Thanks for reading.  Comments are appreciated.