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Answers To Some Questions About Our Remodel

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My good friend Sha had a few questions in need of answers regarding our remodel, and here they are:

From Sha:  “You and Bev have been quite busy, Bill! I love your new flooring and the countertops in the kitchen. Are the appliances stainless or black? I have black appliances in my kitchen and love them.

“What colors do you plan on painting the kitchen and bathroom? And, what on earth is hog paneling?

“Your gardens are coming along nicely. I can’t wait to see the fruits of your labor. What types of berries and fruit will come up in your front yard?

“Now that you’re nearing renovations, have you decided to keep the house? I actually hope you do.”

So I guess I better get to answering them, eh?

I’ll answer the last, first. Yes, after about two years of weighing options and debating, we have decided to stay in this house.  Bottom line: we are comfortable here and we love it here.  We keep getting tempted. In the last six months, three homes within two blocks of our home have sold for ridiculously high prices, I mean bidding war prices. With the interest rates so low, and the demand so high, the price of our home just keeps on climbing.  It has literally risen $50,000 in the last six months.

Crazy!

Okay, back to the questions. The appliances are stainless.

Bev has opted for one color throughout the entire house. I don’t get involved in that decision because, well, I just don’t care. She has decided upon a light gray/blue color, which is fine with me.  My job isn’t to debate colors; my job is to do the actual painting, and I’m not sure when I’ll get around to that. Outdoor projects and the dogs are keeping me quite busy this spring.

Hog paneling is hog fencing. It is welded metal fencing.  You’ve seen it a million times, and probably didn’t know what it was called.  If I remember I’ll include a picture of it.

Oh my, what berries? I’m not sure I know them all. Blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries. Boysenberries, three different varieties of blackberries, and I’m sure there are a couple I’ve forgotten. The fruit trees are Asian Pear and two varieties of apple which I’ve forgotten.

And I think that takes care of all the questions. I still have to plant the veggies, but that will probably wait for another two weeks, until we are sure the last frost has happened.

Thanks for the questions, Sha, and Happy Spring to you all!

Progress, Not Perfection

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Things kicked into high gear as January unfolded. After several months of lethargy, the remodeling of several rooms in our house took place, and now we turn our attention to the outside.  Let me share a few pics of the improvements inside, and then a few of the outside and the spring plans for that area.  Please ignore the painting on the interior. We haven’t done that yet so no, the colors do not match and yes, we are very aware of it.

THE KITCHEN, BATHROOM, AND ODDS AND ENDS

New flooring, new countertops, new toilet, shower, sinks, all completed and what a difference it made. My God I was tired of that old flooring.  It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you dislike, because you see it daily and you get used to it, you know? But replace it with something new and suddenly you realize just how crappy the old stuff was.

The old kitchen
The new
New bathroom toilet, sink, flooring, and shower

Oh, and a new front door and new sliding door to the back, toss those in as well. All that’s left is to replace the picture window on the front wall, something which will be done in April.

Front door

THE GARDEN

The main garden is about ready for planting. It has sat under layers of cardboard and mulch for six months now, and the soil is actually in motion from so many worms, a sure sign that the preparations did the job properly.

Main garden
New garden

THE FUTURE GARDEN

Same things, cardboard and mulch, plus compost, has changed this useless piece of grass into a nice section for planting. I’m going to use hog paneling to form mini-greenhouses over that new section. The hog paneling will be the perfect structure for six feet of peas and pole beans, and one more section I will cover with plastic and grow tomatoes in there.  Very exciting stuff for a gardener, as you all well-know.

THE FRONT YARD UNTOUCHED

The front yard is in good shape. We added a layer of leaves over the winter. We pruned all the berries and fruit trees.  We are now ready for nature to do its thing. I think we have ten varieties of berries out front, and three fruit trees.  It should be a great season.

Front yard waiting for spring

AND THAT’S THE UPDATE

I have two more projects to complete, but I don’t have any photos of them, so they can wait for another day.  From my garden to yours. Have a great March/April, and may all of your plants yield bumper crops.

Bill

Family First, Then Neighbors

How many of us, living today, 2021, have lived through events so monumental as to completely alter our lifestyle and our beliefs?

Some might point to 9/11 as one such event. I’m not sure I would agree with that, but I understand the tendency. Some might say the death of a loved one, and I can understand that as well, but those seem like short-term alterations to our lives, don’t they?  Can I honestly say that 9/11 changed the way I live my daily life? No, I cannot!  Did the death of my father, when I was twenty, affect my life today?  Perhaps emotionally it did, and still does, but I haven’t really altered the way I go about my day because of his death.

But The Great Depression?  People who lived during the 30’s had their lives completely altered, and they never again looked at life as they once had.

One such seismic shift in attitude which happened to my parents was the belief that family comes first, followed closely by the welfare of their neighbors.  In other words, a small community should look out for each other, because you sure as hell can’t rely upon the banks or the government to bail you out of problems so monumental as to seem soul-crushing.

Food

They produced enough for their family to eat. They dried foods. They canned foods. And when they had enough to family, and there was still food left over, they walked it over to the neighbors and asked them if they needed it.

And the neighbors did the same thing!

Chores

Doing a home repair? Fixing a fence? Building a new addition to the barn? None of those chores were done in solitude in the 1930s, not in Charles City, Iowa, not in the social circle my parents lived.  Many of you have surely heard of barn-raising parties? They happened!  People would travel impressive distances to help a friend or neighbor build a barn in one day.  Go outside to work on a downed section of a pasture fence and Bob and Andy would show up, with hammers, helping their neighbor, knowing that when the roles reversed the help would be there for them

Security

It is no exaggeration that everyone in a small community knew everyone’s business during the 30s.  That’s just the way it was. Strangers were looked on with suspicion.  Friends were watched closely to make sure they were safe from two-legged predators in search of a quick steal.  Who needs a security camera when Mrs. Shields was watching from her kitchen window 24/7, 365?

And in times of trouble . . .

One of my earliest memories, growing up, was Mom and Dad racing for the car when they heard a firetruck siren.  We would pile into the car and race through the neighborhood until we found the source of trouble, and there we would get out of the car and Mom and Dad would pitch in, helping those in trouble.  It was remarkable to see back in the 50s, and it’s still remarkable to think about today, seventy years later, and where do you suppose that practice originated?  Yep, the Great Depression! Neighbors helping neighbors, good times and bad.

The point of it all

I’m not here to romanticize the Great Depression. That would be ridiculous. There was very little to romanticize during that decade.  It was a horrible time for most working-class people.  But I am here to tell you that some very admirable and honorable ways of treating people came out of those horrible years, and in my humble opinion we could use those ways in great supply in 2021.

Family first, then neighbors . . . four simple words which pack such a strong punch!

Bill

Lessons From the Great Depression

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Many of you know my parents were children/teens during The Great Depression.  I thought you might find it interesting to hear about some of the things they did, and their families did, just to survive during the 1929-1939 years.

It would be easy to simply look at that time as a history lesson and nothing more, but I believe many of the things they went through, and many of the solutions they turned to, are applicable today.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how hard life was during that time period.  For many, and I’m talking maybe 20% of the population, if not more, hope was lost – literally and figuratively lost!  They would get up each morning convinced that nothing good was going to happen.  My parents told me several in their small town committed suicide, no light at the end of the tunnel, no reason to continue, all worldly possessions gone.

 So, let’s get started with a look back, ninety years, my memories of their recollections.

THE NEED FOR FOOD

There are two sides of the family to talk about when it comes to discussions about food during those horrible years.  My mother’s side had a farm in Charles City, Iowa. My father’s side lived in a tough city called East St. Louis, Illinois.

The farm held some advantages.  Crops, gardens, chickens, food storage options, they were able to constantly put food on the table. Canning was huge for them.  Hydration techniques were used.  Meals were prepared and stretched as far as possible.  Huge stews were made on Sunday, and those stews lasted all week.  Bread was scarce, and actually avoided, because it took too many essentials, like flour, to make, so biscuits were the default treat with meals.  Cornbread was also a common food on the dinner table.

My father’s side of the family had no such advantages. They stood in bread lines.  They worked odd jobs, whatever was available, to make a little money for meals. My dad dropped out of high school and went to work, sending money back home from distant towns, riding boxcars around the Midwest.

The bottom line is this: they found a way. They used what they had and made it work, and if they didn’t have anything, they worked extra jobs, wherever they were, just to survive.

It’s what you do when times are tough, as my dad often told me, “you keep moving forward, Bill, and you never let the bastards know you are afraid.”

PASSING IT ON

So, by the time I was a young kid, those lessons were being passed on to me.

I remember clearly Mom cooking up a big roast on Sunday, and that roast appeared for dinner, in one form or another, for the rest of the work week.  A roasted chicken became chicken soup.  Broth was never discarded. 

The one thing my parents would not do, and I remember asking them about it once, was grow vegetables once they had their own home and both had jobs.  “I’ve grown enough potatoes to last a lifetime, Billy,” Mom told me. “No damned way I’m growing anymore, not with a grocery store three blocks away.”

We did, however, have fruit trees in our backyard, four trees planted within weeks of purchasing my childhood home, and those trees provided fruit for canning for the twenty years I lived there.

Old lessons die hard!

MODERN TIMES

It’s interesting to see the subtle changes happening in cities across the United States.  Many zoning commissions are now allowing community gardens within the city limits. Many cities, like the one I live in, Olympia, Washington, are allowing vegetable gardens to be grown in the front yards, instead of lawns.  Many cities, like the one I live in, now allow property owners to raise chickens, quail, rabbits, and other food-producers.

I see an increased number of notices on public bulletin boards about classes being taught for canning, for gardening, and for other food preservation methods. YouTube is suddenly inundated with “sustainable living” videos.

It’s an interesting transformation, and I suspect it will continue.  It would be easy to say we are not in a similar great depression, in 2021, but with so many people struggling financially, working for minimum wage, rents increasing, cost of living increasing, the reality is that millions of Americans have it every bit as bad as my parents did in the 30’s.  Millions are homeless.  Tens of millions of children suffer from hunger.

A change was needed . . . a change is needed . . .  and it appears a change is happening.

If you can, reach out and lend a helping hand to someone. We will make it out of this mess, together, one act of kindness at a time.

Bill

Winter Planning, Spring Dreaming

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A vision is finally taking shape for us.

One of Bev’s son is here in January to do remodeling and repairs to our home.  Once he is done, we will then decide whether to rent out the entire home, and go somewhere else to live tiny, or live out of our “remodeled” garage, and rent out the rest of the house to someone else.

In other words, we have options.  I suspect we will live here, out of the garage plus another shed we will build. The new shed will be the living space, and the garage will be the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room for us.

We also have the option to park a tiny home in the back, or purchase a used RV and put that out back. I love having all these options.

Of course, in the back of our minds, we keep thinking how nice it would be to have a couple acres somewhere, and put a tiny home on that acreage, but the price of acreage in Thurston County is ridiculously high, plus there is all of the hassle of clearing land and starting over, and that just sounds exhausting to me. I’m not nearly as eager to start over at 72 as I was ten years ago.

Woodshed

We have firewood stacked in the side-by-side aviaries I built long ago. I’m using up the one side as quickly as possible so I can convert that side into a greenhouse. I’ve always wanted a greenhouse, and this spring of 2021 I will have one.  I’m thinking of growing herbs for sale, but I’ll play around with other ideas until I’m ready to convert it.

City Council

The Olympia City Council passed new regulations which greatly increased the options for homeowners regarding outside additional structures.  It’s an attempt by the Council to address the shortage of affordable housing in our city, and it’s a good decision/action.  Most zoning areas in our city will now be able to build grandma apartments in the backyards, or convert the homes into duplexes if they choose.

Yes, we have options

And it’s a nice mindset to have.  It’s nice to have Bev’s retirement within sight. She’s worked hard all of her life, as have I, and now we want to make the right decision for us moving forward.

Stay tuned!  In the meantime, Happy New Year.  Let’s hope 2021 is a year of bounty rather than a year of deprivation.

More On No-Till Gardening

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A quick definition

I confused a few people in my last blog post by using the term “no-tilling.” It should be easier to understand if you think of no-tilling as “no plowing.”

The whole point is this: turning over your soil, at the end of the growing season, or early in the spring before planting, not only eliminates many microorganisms, but also makes the soil unstable and prone to erosion and poor drainage.

Think of a forest!  No one plows a forest, and yet growth occurs constantly there. This is possible because the forest is constantly being fed by decaying matter during the year, and that decaying matter produces some of the healthiest soil in the world.

What’s the point of cardboard?

I mentioned in the earlier article that you should layer cardboard over the entire garden area in the fall, once you have cut down stalks to the surface.  Cardboard is organic matter.  It serves as food for worms. The worms eat it, and then the worms poop it, and worm castings are nature’s perfect fertilizer.  In addition, under that cardboard, the plants you left in the ground, and their roots, decay during the winter, and that decaying nourishes your soil.

Many people think that by laying down cardboard you will eliminate weeds. That is false! You will suppress weeds, and slow their appearance, but weeds will eventually break through the decaying cardboard.

Can you do this anywhere?

Someone asked me if this method is suitable for any climate. The answer is yes, as long as that climate has a growing season. I doubt seriously if this would work in Siberia, or Northern Alaska, but anywhere in the Continental United States, or almost all of Western and Eastern Europe, most definitely most of Asia and South America, this method works beautifully.

Ground which has never been used for gardening/farming will magically transform under the cardboard, compost, and mulch.  No digging or plowing is necessary!

And then someone asked me . . .

Why do farmers in the Midwest, on giant farms of hundreds of acres, plow?  And my answer is because that method is all they have ever known, and it is convenient for them to do so.  If you have 100-acres of corn, that is a seriously large amount of cardboard needed.

And then someone asked me how do large farms manage to grow quality produce if they are harming the soil by plowing? And the answer is they really do harm the soil, but then they regenerate it using fertilizers and chemicals. They also have learned to leave sections of large farms fallow (not planted in) for a year so the soil can regenerate without being disturbed, which is basically the same principle of no-tilling, at least for one growing season.

Bottom line

If you want a garden which has very healthy soil, and you do not want to use fertilizers and other man-made additives, and you don’t feel like straining your muscles turning over soil with a hoe, or shovel, or plow, then give this a try. I promise it works!

Bill

No Till Gardening

We’ve been busy this fall with our gardens.  In a normal year, we are every bit as busy in the fall as we are in the spring, because the fall is the time when we prepare the soil for planting in the spring, and preparing the soil, for us, means no-tilling.

I won’t go into a lengthy diatribe on the benefits of no-till gardening, nor will I discuss, in length, what we believe the detriments of tilling are. I will only say that we do not believe in tilling the soil. We believe the soil will be much healthier in the spring by not tilling, and that method has worked quite well for us.  This no-tilling method promotes worms; worms promote healthy soil by aeration and worm droppings; and, in the end, the soil is very happy.

Our version of the no-tilling method

At the end of the growing season, we go into the garden and we cut down all stalks to ground level. We do not pull them out of the ground because to do so would disturb the soil and remove nutrients.

We then cover the entire garden with cardboard and newspapers we have saved up over the summer.

On top of the cardboard we put a thick layer of compost.

And on top of the compost we put a layer of mulch i.e. straw or wood shavings.

We then leave the garden alone over the winter and allow Nature to do its thing.

By late March we have an incredibly healthy garden with vibrant soil and a multitude of worms.  We then have two choices: we can either remove the remaining cardboard, and plant, or we can punch holes in the cardboard and plant in the holes. Either method works. We prefer to remove the remaining cardboard but again, either method works.

We then can sit back and watch our bounty of vegetables and berries grow.

New gardens

This method works quite well if you are thinking of starting a new garden.  Do not till the space you have designated for your new garden. Stake out the corners of your planned garden, lay cardboard on the space within those stakes, and cover with compost and mulch.  In the spring you will have vibrant soil and be ready to plant.

Trust me, this works!

Check out this video on no-till farming. I think you’ll love it; the guy in the video is a national guru in this method.

Bill

More On Trees

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Today’s lesson is about palm oil.

Palm oil is used in the production of cosmetics, candles, biofuels, and about half the products you purchase in a grocery store.  It is a very big industry.

The actual palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm, originally cultivated in West Africa, but also cultivated in Southeast Asia and North America, a species most often found in rainforests, and at this point your warning light should be coming on.

In Malaysia and Borneo alone, 300 football fields of oil palms are cut down hourly to produce palm oil.

Read that last sentence again.

To produce our snacks and our cosmetics and our candles!

From rainforests!

I’m going to call it like I see it – this madness must end!

Please, I am asking you as nicely as I can, please read labels when you are purchasing products at the store and please, don’t buy products with palm oil.  It affects the environment, it affects indigenous peoples, and it affects wildlife when you purchase these products, and this is a case of destruction we can control if enough people stop buying those products.

Please!

Truth be told, I grow depressed when writing a blog like this one. What possible difference can it make if I write this article? What difference will it make if I convince one other person to stop purchasing items made from palm oil?  Will it really affect anything?

But then I remember that major changes start with small, grassroot movements, one person, one change, at a time. 

And so I try!

Bill

A Treeless World

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THE PROBLEM

Fifteen billion trees were cut down, around the world, in 2019.

Fifteen billion!

That’s an average of two trees per human being living on the planet . . . per year!

There are three trillion trees on this planet of ours.

Take a moment and do some math.  Divide 15 billion into 3 trillion. The answer will tell you how much longer we will have trees on this planet unless something is done to alter the madness.

Let’s continue with the statistics.

23% of the wilderness on this planet remains, down from 100% when mankind discovered farming around 8,000 B.C.  We have, in fact, lost ten percent since the end of the 1990’s.

Do the math! How much wilderness do you think will remain in ten more years?

These are not random statistics I found on some disreputable website. I spent several hours following up on these statistics, looking at different sources, hoping against hope that what I found was incorrect.

Nope!

Our vast human numbers, and our need for resources, and our lifestyles, are using up the Earth at an alarming pace.

Which leads us to this question . . .

WHY ISN’T ANYONE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT?

Well, in fact, there are quite a few organizations aware of the problem, which are trying their hardest to make people aware and change lifestyles, but the fact of the matter is, most people are unaffected by this during their daily lives and thus, unconcerned.  As long as they can go to the store and purchase toilet paper, or as long as they can go to the store and purchase palm oil products, everything is fine in their world.

But it really isn’t, is it?

WHAT CAN I DO?

On a global scale, I can do very little. I am not a world figure and, in fact, it would take the agreement of all world leaders to really make a substantive difference.

All I can do, and this is more for my own peace of mind than anything else, is do my part. I can plant more trees. I can lessen my own personal consumption of wood products.  I can keep writing articles about it, hoping that I reach several people in the process.  I can recycle like a man gone mad.

It doesn’t seem like much, but at least I can put my head on my pillow, at night, and sleep a little bit better.

For more information, here’s a link to the Nature Conservancy.

Bill

A Word About Simplicity

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I came across this fascinating statistic the other day: there are 2.2 billion square feet of self-storage space in the United States alone.

Let that one sink in a bit.  2.2 billion, with a “b” . . . I mean, we all see those self-storage units when we are out driving, but who would have guessed that figure?

Now let’s take it a bit further . . . there are 330 million people living in the U.S., and of that total, 253 million are eighteen-years or older.  So that means that 253 million people need 2.2 billion square feet of self-storage space to store their junk that won’t fit into their home.

I don’t have a calculator with me, but that seems like a hell of a lot of junk, per person, to me.

Capitalism at its best, right?

Listen, I know there are valid reasons why people would use a storage unit. Heck, I worked for one of those companies for a year, so I have heard explanations that made perfect sense.  As one woman recently pointed out to me, rather condescendingly, I might add, in today’s society many people are homeless, and they just need a storage unit to store their possessions once they have lost their homes. I understand that, but that in no way explains why there are so many storage units being used.

By and large, the major reason for renting a storage unit is because a person has too many possessions.  Period! End of story!  That was my experience while working in that industry, and it’s my belief today.

People buy too much junk and then need a place to store that junk while they go out and buy more junk.

The American Dream, right?

And then would you like to discuss the average debt of Americans?  Credit cards, student loans, personal loans, car loans, the average American has $38,000 of debt excluding mortgages, according to one study I read. I read several studies and that $38,000 figure is the lowest I found. Some studies claim the average debt is closer to $80,000 per person.

The American Dream equals financial madness, in my humble opinion.  And loan companies, banks, and major corporations are applauding our madness.

It’s just something to think about on this “Living Simple” blog.  I’m not selling a darned thing. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I’m just tossing out some figures for your consideration.  My wife and I, we are simplifying.  We are getting rid of the excess baggage, one piece at a time, so that by the time she retires, in two years, we will be a lean machine, no debt and no excess baggage.

Just something for you to think about!

Have a great day, and thanks for the visit.

Bill