Finding My Power: Which World?

I was listening to two audio books that randomly ended up perfectly paired. They both dealt with the idea that to live the best, brightest, most awesome life we can, we need other people’s support to make it happen. How each of the authors went about getting that support is all the more important as we gear up for the 45th President of the United States.

The first presents a world in which one goes for the deal. Find out what the market is looking for and give it to them. Test market and don’t start production until you’re sure there’s an audience. Buy your components and advertising cheap and sell your final product for as much as the market will bear. What you can’t get off your plate by streamlining in the process, outsource to the lowest bidder. Then, the payoff. Everybody wants to travel the world, and the global south will let you get a whole lot of bang for the bucks you have coming in.

I think it has some useful ideas. There are ways to work the system to your advantage. I’m particularly fine with doing that to large companies. They can handle it. Our culture runs on money, and making it is a reasonable goal.

The second takes a much more relational look at things. You have your strengths and gifts, they have their strengths and gifts and between you, both sides can come out ahead. If you’re travelling the world, couch surf and in return offer something of yourself. Maybe it’s return surfing, maybe it’s art, maybe it’s an experience, but it’s something that’s yours to give. Make money with your gifts because we all have bills to pay, and always pay your debts. But the payoff is wrapped up in the relationships that you’re building as you share what you have and others share what they have, allowing you all to build richer lives.

This one’s hard. It requires a balance between knowing and believing in yourself and your gifts with the ability to be open to asking for and accepting help. You need to be able to connect with people in a trust that we don’t see very often at this point.

The world as it stands right now supports the first book. If you buy low, sell high, and get a deal, particularly if it makes you rich, then you win. The second is a lot harder, particularly if your interpersonal skills are less than awesome. For the first one, you will be rewarded superficially, but I’m not sure whether it offers true long-term richness. The second one offers the real deal, if you can buck the current culture long enough to develop the relationships.

Right now, it’s all about tweets and “making deals.” Its about making sure that everyone pays up and no one gets a free ride. If you can’t bootstrap yourself into a better position, then its your fault, not the fault of a culture that doesn’t care about you unless you’re rich.

The thing about bootstraps, though? You can’t lift yourself by your own. But you can lift your friends, and they can lift you in return.

 

Tim Ferriss vs Amanda Palmer

A Good Winter’s Day

I had intended to write a post about some books I’ve been listening to, but then life intervened. It’s been wicked cold the last few days and I got to handle the fallout from a decision I hadn’t thought through sufficiently earlier in the year. When you live in a place where winter is the dominant season but you fail to take that into account when choosing your chicks, frostbite is a probable result. Particularly when the night before the temperature was around -10 degrees F.

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The white tips on her comb and the black skin is frostbite. The white spot in the middle I’m less sure of, but the comb does usually flop to that side. I brought her in the kitchen to thaw out the flesh before she spent the night in the garage which doesn’t dip below freezing.

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The rest of the girls seem to be doing fine in their winter quarters. It’s a partition in our garden shed that doesn’t have a roof, aside from the metal shed roof, so I don’t have to worry about condensation, but I’m also really not holding much body heat. The feed and water are tucked under the ramp up to the exit window so I don’t lose too much ground space that way. The waterer has a heated base that gives off some heat, but the girls seem to prefer getting cozy on the roosts when it’s very cold.

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My chicks are even so classy they have curtains! That bright light out through the window? That’d be snow. The curtains are so I can have the window open but maybe cut down on any breezes coming into the coop. Lucky for me, the only appropriately-sized curtains at the Salvation Army also let in light.

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The next morning it’s confirmed that her comb isn’t going to get better. I slathered on a little coconut oil to help protect the rest of it before I took her back out again. I waited until the afternoon when the temperature was a solid +10 degrees F. A chicken can survive with frostbite, but it’s a painful condition and in this case could have been avoided with just a little thought on my part. At this point, I’ll be keeping the two Leghorns through this winter and next summer, since they are very good layers, but I think they’ll go to the butcher next fall.

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I was also working on another project for my girls at the same time. Making suet cakes. Like a good Millennial aspiring farmer, I found instructions online. The connective tissue between the layers of fat is kind of weird, but the more you can pull out ahead of time, the better the melting process is supposed to go.

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For a long, slow melting, what better way to do it than on the woodstove that we’re using to heat part of the house? It’s not a cook stove, so the top is warm enough to keep the tea water hot, but not so warm that it’ll burn my tallow.

All-in-all it was a pretty satisfying day. I did make a newbie mistake with my birds, but I’m handling it and I’m working on fixing it for next year. I am having a hard time finding cold-hardy breeds that lay white eggs, though. Do you know any? I’m also working on a new skill since rendering fat can be useful as the basis for all sorts of practical things including soap, fried food, and a warming supplement for the chickens for the next wicked cold snap.

Happy Holidays, and stay warm!

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Regaining My Power: Day 365

Today is Day 365 on my 1,000 day challenge. It’s a really cool idea that you can change your life in 1,000 days (or less) but if you find out that you’ve changed it all in the wrong way? Well, write that one off and try again- it wasn’t that long, after all! It ends up being less than three years, all told.

My first 1,000 days was started on July 14, 2016. It was 1,000 Days to a Viable Farm. It didn’t work. There was no way I could believe in a viable farm when I was renting a room from someone who didn’t want me to dig holes in her yard and I didn’t have the income to support living anywhere else.

By October 15, 2016 (no, the math doesn’t work, but I’m rolling with it!) I was ready to do a reboot and actually log each day. I had managed to buy and move into an RV, and I had come to terms with the fact that life wasn’t working in Colorado and I needed to do something different. I also realized that a viable farm couldn’t be my first goal. The current challenge is actually a dual challenge: 500 Days to a Life Worth Living and 1,000 Days to a Functional Farm. After all, a farm can’t function if its farmer can’t manage to roll herself out of bed in the morning.

I have been almost completely consistent in noting each day, and I think that alone is helpful. The three things I’ve noted each day is whether I took my supplements (they have varied some), what I did for my job (“went” is a common entry), and my movement that day. Commentary has moved from evening to first thing in the morning for the sake of consistency. Currently the common theme is “I hate 5 am.”

The negative, because that’s always the first thing I see: I weigh more (five or nine pounds, depending on where you count from), I’m further in debt, I no longer have any idea when I can live on my own again, and I still don’t have a “real” job.

I weigh more because when things don’t go well, I gain weight. That “real” job that I thought I’d snagged when I got here? Very bad for my waistline. I am currently employed, more or less gainfully, as a temp, though, and it’s mostly covering the bills without driving me ’round the bend. The additional debt is because my car bit the dust in the last year. After 12 years of me as the owner, Io did deserve her rest, and she did wait to die until I was in a place that I had access to help and a reliable replacement car. She did well by me all the way until the end. As far as living on my own goes, that won’t happen until I have the kind of job that will support enough space that I can take my chickens with me. After, of course, I’ve made a dent in my debt with that income.

The positive, because I need to remember that it happens, too: I have chickens, I can think again more often than not, the food is really good here, I’m slowly thinking through the farm thing again, and I have a truck!

Ok, so the truck isn’t a “real” truck by my definition. There’s no way it could pull a horse trailer. On the other hand, it’s supposed to be darn near indestructible, and I need that in a vehicle. It also gave me a truck bed for hauling the turkeys I’d raised off to be butchered. Five of my hens are laying, and all six are healthy. This is all giving me numbers and actual experience to extrapolate from. Things like- make the coop bigger the first time! I’m currently reading and thinking through a book on farm finance. It’s actually quite interesting, now that I have the brain power to apply to it. As for the food, nothing beats garden veggies at every meal. Particularly when I don’t have to cook them!

After 365(ish) days, it’s a mixed bag. Maybe I would have done better if I’d set more concrete, measurable goals, maybe not. “A life worth living” is a very slippery thing to define, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m closer to yes on that than I was when I started. As for the functional farm? According to the book on farm finance I’m solvent! Just don’t ask to see the profit and loss statement . . .

Chicken Update!

It’s been a while since I’ve updated you on my adorable little fluffballs. They are now somewhat less adorable, but still pretty entertaining, featherheads. This is a bit before I put them in their outside coop- two turkey poults and three chicks in that group.

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I did not lose any birds in the early, fluffy days when it’s pretty easy to get them too hot, too cold, too crowded- too anything, really. I had read about this heating plan where instead of lights, you make a “hen” from a seedling heating pad, some sort of arch to hold it up, and towels so they don’t interact with it directly. It gives them a warm cave to retreat into, just like Mama’s wings would be, but without light that can mess up their clock. It worked for me!

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Clearly, they also thought it was a good foot-warmer. I didn’t lose anybody until I put them in their coop outside. It was kind of early, but I was flat out of room in these containers and the little buggers were starting fly out when I opened it up to do anything. I shifted the seedling heaters into the nest boxes for a couple of weeks to give them a little extra heat, and it doesn’t appear to have caused any bad habits. No one died of chill or illness. However, the ducklings didn’t like the ramp so they chose to sleep outside. They were big enough to stay warm, but not too big to be pulled through a gap between the bottom of the fencing and the ground. It happened a couple of nights apart, and I only ended up finding one of the carcasses. The predator, still not sure what it was, had the same idea I did. I bet the ducks tasted good.

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According to my notes, I picked everyone up on May 5. This is one of the two that didn’t match each other. I ordered Araucanas, but apparently you only get real, honest to goodness Araucanas or Amaraucanas from breeders. What you get from a big hatchery is a mutt that should have a blue-egg gene, but isn’t pure anything. So she’s one of my two Easter Eggers. You never know quite what you’re going to get. On August 28 I found three eggs- white, from a Leghorn, and they were expected to be the first ones to start.

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The first eggs are always small- but check out that healthy orange yolk! The Leghorns have been fairly steady- and did somewhat redeem themselves when I found the 17 eggs one of them laid out in the yard. At least she was laying, even if she wasn’t sharing.

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My first thought on seeing this was, “This is why I need a pig. I don’t need to know the egg age to give to a pig!” The next layer started on September 1- one of the Golden Comets with brown eggs. At first I was wondering if the two of them were tag-teaming perfectly since I was getting a brown egg every single day. Nope. The second one started laying on the 18th and they have both been absolute machines. I can pretty much always count on my two brown eggs. The two white layers are fairly consistent, but not like the browns. I didn’t get anything from an Easter Egger until October 8, but they are bigger than the other two and probably took longer to mature. Tragically, it’s a nice, medium, pinkish-beige. I’m still holding out hope that my last hen might decide to lay a green egg, but I’m not holding my breath at this point.

From my first egg until October 20, I have gotten an average of 3.17 eggs per day. However, if I count from when hen #5 started until the 20th, my average is 4.5 eggs per day or 5.25 eggs per hen, per week. Not bad, since one of them is a free-loader!

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My third kind of poultry, of course, were the poults. Didn’t they grow up into a handsome couple! And a very large couple. After quickly outgrowing the chicken coop, as expected, I cobbled together their own cage with parts of the winter garden skeleton. They really outgrew that, too, but Mom was keeping them very well supplied with weeds and garden leftovers, so they were doing ok.

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So ok, in fact, that the little one, Hen, weighed in at 22#. That’s her being “vacuum packed” before freezing. We had to scramble for something to pack them in since I did find someone to butcher them, but he didn’t have any bags that were big enough!

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Tom, however, was so big that he broke the rope the butcher was using to hold him up for plucking. At a healthy 32#, we determined he’d never fit in the grill to live up to his other name- Thanksgiving. Dad dismembered him for me so he should thaw faster when it’s time to get him out of the freezer. Imagine how big they’d be if I figured out a month earlier that I was underfeeding them on protein . . .

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At this point in the poultry experiment, I’ve gotten 180 eggs, 54# of meat/bones, and have had to deal with unintentional loss. I’m about to build coop number two for the winter, since the original chicken coop really isn’t big enough for six hens in a Maine winter. It will be cobbled together temporarily in the garden shed, so coops number three and four will be built next spring/summer. I’m glad I sent the turkeys out this year, but learning how to butcher them myself is still the plan. I also plan to expand the egg operation next year to sell some and I’m considering meat turkeys and/or chickens for the house and possibly for sale. I need to run the numbers. I might also start breeding on farm. Everyone who can really should help to keep heritage breeds around until the rest of America figures out that having one breed of cow, one breed of chicken, and one breed of pig is a poor idea. So far, this experiment is enough of a success to continue it for another year- provided I do a little more planning on the housing first!

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Regaining My Power: Thinking-Thoughts

I’ve been slowly coming to this idea that I have “thinking-thoughts” again. For a long time I have been trapped by “bramble-thoughts,” or thoughts that are the mental equivalent to the blackberry problem in the north west. Due to the nature of bramble-thoughts, I’m not even sure how long they’ve been dominant. What I do know is that for what felt like a long time, I knew my brain wasn’t working the way it was supposed to, I just couldn’t for the life of me remember how it used to work.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I deal with depression. I haven’t said “suffer from” for, well, I’m not sure I ever really did. It’s part of who I am and just something to work with. Kind of like shopping for pants with my big butt. I can’t wear wicked low-cut jeans and I don’t get to know what it’s like to wish for immortality. It’s just how I roll.

The bramble-thoughts are part of my depression. They start out innocently enough with a cane or two. They even offer berries in the form of writing ideas. Ok, so I get scratched reaching past the thorns for the berries, but it’s a great idea! But they grow. And as they grow the berries get harder and more sour. Instead of what I can write about, they become why my writing is stupid. Then the surrounding thorns of why I shouldn’t even try to write- not that I can by that point. But I keep reaching through the thorns and eating the berries because by then, that’s all I’ve got. The bramble-thoughts have managed to out-compete anything else in my head that might offer a different opinion.

Eventually, if the bramble gets dense enough, I lose the ability to move. I’m so hemmed in by the thorns of what I’ve done wrong, why I’m stupid, and what I’ll never be able to do- not to mention knowing that everyone is aware of every single short-coming and only spends time with me out of obligation or pity- that I can’t even look up to see if the sky is blue because I know I’ll just get stabbed by something else. And it’s probably overcast anyway.

Lots of things feed the brambles. I always have a cane or three in my head, poking me when they can and just waiting for the environment to shift a bit in their favor. More than one job has nurtured this latest crop, particularly encouraging the “you can’t do anything right” thorns. The general economic climate and my insufficient income in the last few years managed to clearcut swathes of healthy shade trees of possibilities, leaving that lovely empty space to be grown in. My current debt situation and erratic employment has made any ideas about my future weak, anemic things that can’t shoulder aside the brambles to make their own space.

Luckily, my current job is helping me start to smother the brambles. I’ve been temping at a couple of different places doing the sort of jobs that don’t require a whole lot of thought. I’m good at the jobs, much to the bramble-thoughts’ dismay, and not needing to think too hard means that I get to listen to books on tape. I hate being read to, so they’re non-fiction. It’s like listening to a lecture. At about a book per day, it doesn’t even really matter what the book is, since it’s not a huge commitment.

Between the work that’s keeping my hands and a small slice of my mind busy, and the books that are occupying the rest of my mind, there isn’t anything for the brambles to feed on. Praise from coworkers has even been scything them back just a little. When I started I was mostly just listening. I was picking up the odd idea here and there, but not so much thinking. Now I’m finding myself taking the ideas I listen to during the day and actually having thinking-thoughts about them on the drive home. How do these ideas apply to me? How can I use them toward my own goals? What does this mean for me in the greater scheme of things? What other books should I find to flesh out these ideas?

Thinking-thoughts come with their own drawbacks. After all, I simply don’t have the energy to explain to everyone how a cap on CEO salaries and reasonable wages for the rest of us will help businesses, and come up with a start-up company so that I can have passive income so I can afford to do everything that I want to do, and actually write in this blog, and start a locally-focused blog, AND figure out how to expand my chickens and turkeys, AND, by the way, get my turkeys butchered and in the freezer, AND work up numbers on beekeeping in Maine, AND . . . Also, I want to do it all right now!

Now that I think about it, those bramble-thoughts are some really nasty invasives if they managed to snuff all that out! And I’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m starting to remember how my brain is supposed to work. The thoughts are getting stronger in the places where the bramble-thoughts have been smothered back, but they aren’t going full-bore yet.

Thinking-thoughts are showing up just in time, too. On top of everything else, NaNoWriMo is coming, and I really need to beat last year’s numbers!

Regaining My Power: What I’m Worth

I got a call on Friday with an offer to do a day of flagging on Saturday. It paid $12 per hour, which is pretty good for flagging. I would be one of those people in bright vests that endeavors to get people to park in straight lines at a fairground event. I really should have worn a hat, and I was told at one point that I was so polite I must be from the South. For my 6.5 hours of chasing cars, directing people, and not sitting down once I made $78. Assuming a 25% tax rate- the least individuals pay that are living off of work not investments- I get to walk away with $58.50.

With all of my job hopping lately, I can tell you that $12 per hour is considered a half-way decent amount. It’s certainly far above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 or the Maine minimum wage of $7.50. I, personally, look at $12 and see an amount that’s big enough to work with. That $58.50 that I made? That’s almost 3 bags of chicken feed (yeah, I get the pricey stuff) or two pairs of jeans bought new. It’s a week and a half of what I set aside for my food and supplement budget.

But let’s look at that $58.50 from the other direction. The President of the United States makes $400,000 per year. The government uses 2,087 hours per year to calculate hourly pay. According to this calculation, the President makes $191.66 per hour. In other words, I spent all day making the amount he makes in about 18 minutes. Unfortunately, most Presidential candidates are looking at a pretty severe pay cut to take office.

In 2015 the CEO of Coca-Cola made $14.6 million- or $6,995.69 per hour. Just typing that makes me a little nauseous. What took me a day to make, he makes in about 30 seconds.

The CEO of Time Warner did a bit better at $18,051,386 in 2015- or $8,649.44 per hour. He pays his customer service representatives as little as $9 per hour, but averaging around $13. What I made in a day- and what his customer-facing employees make- is worth 20 to 25 seconds of his time.

The CEO of Citigroup took a hit in his pay for 2015, only making $13 million while over at JP Morgan, the CEO is going strong at $20 million. The people that crashed our financial system and had to be bailed out by, well, you and I, are making $6,229.04 and $9,583.13 per hour. A good solid sneeze will see them paid what it took me 6.5 hours and a sunburn to earn.

How many people do you know that make in the $10 to $15 range? Or less? For better or worse, a whole lot of our personal self worth is tied up in how much we make. The more we make, the more we’re “worth” to society. Certainly the more we’re worth in our current democracy where there are more lobbyists in DC than politicians.

I am worth more than a CEO’s sneeze. I spent my day keeping order so that small business people and individuals could exchange goods and money. There is no way that as many cars could have parked in that field as were there if it weren’t for the team of us keeping order. I’m not saying that I need to make a CEO’s salary for something like this. However, I think there is a big problem when what I’m looking to make in a year is what the JP Morgan CEO can make in 3 hours. Or less.

Like so many others in the precariat class, all I want is a home, the chance to reduce or eliminate my debt, and the chance to maybe not work until the day I die. Why is that too much to ask for when there is a not insignificant portion of our society that needs to decide whether to buy a second yacht, a third house, or, the heck with it, both! I need to hold on to the idea that I’m worth more than a CEO’s sneeze. Because I am. Considering the behavior of a fair number of CEOs over the last 10 or 20 years, I have more to give to this world than the CEO does.

Rent Workers vs Rent Capital

I’ve been on a documentary binge again. It’s so nice to have my brain working well enough to do that! So I’ve been sitting here slicing blueberries for the dryer- it’s as tedious as it sounds and requires a very sharp knife- and watching tv. I’ve ended up with several documentaries today with subtitles, which is challenging while you’re cutting things up, and this one was no different. However, this one also inspired me to set aside the blog post I started this morning so I could go in another direction.

As a wage worker, I am, in essence, renting myself to a company for a set amount of money. The pay might be per hour or per week, but it’s not tied directly to how the company is doing or, strictly speaking, how well I’m doing my job. If I do my  job badly enough, or if the company does badly enough, I might lose my job, but it’s not a very tight correlation. The first thing I realized is that I’m renting myself out way too cheap, and I need to figure out how to fix that.

The second thing I remembered is that it’s always a bad idea to buy a second-hand rental car. Why? Because people tend to be rougher on rental cars than on their own cars. Why not? They don’t have to deal with any long-term consequences. As a rental body, my employer has every reason to feel the same way about me. Sure they doll up the situation by talking about perks and benefits, but when it really comes down to it, I am there to get as much out of as possible and if it leaves me with structural damage? Eh, easy enough to rent a fresh one.

The reason we put up with it, as they point out, is because the consequences of walking away are even worse. As the richest country in the world, why do we have a massive amount of our population- they quote 20%- living in poverty? Because that is the whip the companies wield to make us put up with pointless jobs that don’t pay what our time is worth. Take what they deign to give us or risk living on the streets. No wonder the lobbyists- I mean government- fought so hard against Obama Care. Anything that strengthens the social safety net even a little will weaken their ability to abuse us.

So what’s the solution? Instead of renting ourselves to investors (business owners/management), we rent the investors. They give us x amount of capital with, I assume, y amount of return either in fixed percent or in percent of profits- but they don’t get any votes. The people that are doing the work make the decisions. All of a sudden, shifting crates around a warehouse on a forklift isn’t a pointless job because your income and employment is tied quite directly to what’s in those crates and how quickly and safely they get to their destination. And if the warehouse is being used inefficiently, you are the person who will see it- and who will be expected to speak up about it. A couple of the side effects they’ve seen are also more efficiency and fewer managers. Imagine- fewer managers.

There are even larger impacts that turning our workplaces from dictatorial institutions to democratic ones could have. From a political perspective, if we gain some sort of control over where we spend 40 or more hours of our week, we might believe we can have control over things like our government on small and large scales. From an environmental perspective, we can ditch the idea of perpetual growth because we need to produce enough for all of the workers to live well in their community, not enough for the owner to buy a second yacht for the Bahamas. From a happiness perspective, as the company becomes more efficient, we don’t need to invent busy work to justify our incomes- we can shorten work days and lengthen vacations. We might even end up with enough time and money to start a small business of our own.

Goodness. No wonder the worker rental prices are so low. When people have the time and energy to do more than drag themselves from one work day to the next, who knows what else they might come up with! They might start demanding unrigged elections and clean water! No, best to keep things the way they are. After all, we wouldn’t want to go changing the things that work so very well for only the very rich.