Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Collapse XII Trash

02 July 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

The oddest thought just occurred to me and I realized that it is a question that, while undoubtedly not burning in your mind, is none the less relevant: what do I do with my trash?

(Yes, dear friend – I know it is not a burning question. I just wanted an excuse to write).

Oddly enough, I was practicing the concept of “Zero Waste” unconsciously even before everything began to break down personally and professionally – by the time of the sale of the house, we were generating less than 1 bad a week in trash and a great deal more in recyclable materials (although our efforts to reduce our outflow did not in any way reduce our trash bill. A very odd way to encourage waste reduction, by my thinking). A great deal of this was due to more carefully culling the recyclables of course, combined with a decreasing household size as well. We were down to 1 bag of trash a week and a container full of recyclables when….well, when things started to go in an undesired direction.

It is an odd thing, is it not? Society demands that everything be properly packaged to prevent contamination, soiling, and destruction, yet decries the use of the packaging that it demands. We use energy and materials to create something that is theoretically demanded, then disdain the fact that we need the materials in the first place – on the other hand, most people demand their fruit and vegetables come packaged rather than just picked because they might “get dirty”. Madness.

Up here, things are a bit less “structured”.

The trash truck does not come – about a mile down the road are two large containers, one for garbage and one for recyclables, which are periodically transported along to somewhere else. The whole thing is somehow paid for by the sewer tax.

But what happens, of course, when the trash truck no longer comes?

Fortunately my habits of minimizing trash have carried with me – helped (thankfully) by a wood stove that will cheerfully burn my combustibles. I have made a habit of buy in bulk where possible as well, so that my overall amount of discard is less. My ongoing compost bin consume my organics that I generate, and I have been testing different methods of composting fish parts (my number one organic non-compost pile item).

There are a certain number of items that do not fall in to any of these categories, of course: cans and plastics are the biggest offenders, old items that I no longer want or need and cannot otherwise repair or donate as well. For now, I carefully collect them and ferry them a mile away; should things become worse, I suspect this will not be a problem at all as I doubt those things will be available.

Until then, I follow the well-worn trifecta of “reduce, reuse recycle”.

Your Obedient (and Recycling) Servant, Seneca.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


It is odd how you end up in places you never expected.

I was never much of a life planner, as I knew some of my friends in high school and even in college to be.  They had clear plans and clear goals about what they were going to do and where they were going to do it.  I was much less of a planner, with some vague conception of "I will have to do something someday, somewhere".

I cannot speak for all of them - I speak to almost none of them - but I am willing to bet good money (based on my own circumstances) that very few of them ended up where or what they expected.

I wonder if life was always like this - I expect not, as (in those days of yore we all speak of) those choices were a lot less available and the world was not nearly as malleable as it is now. States, political theories, entire industries - they did not change as they do now.  Travel was not as nearly convenient as it is now (or relatively inexpensive).  

I would guess that I am grateful - after all, I have seen things and done things that I never would have expected if I had stuck to my vague idea of a plan.  And yet, at the back of my mind I always wonder:  if I had truly planned better (instead of drifting), how differently would things have turned out?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Slow Motion Crystal Ball

Once upon a time, one always wondered about the choices never taken, the roads never followed.  One would leave one's hometown or college or a relationship and perhaps seldom (if ever) hear about the people one had left behind:  what they were doing, how they were doing, and how their lives had advanced.  Certainly, one almost never had the sense of what would have happened if one had stayed in the town or the relationship.

But the InterWeb and Social Media has changed all that.

Suddenly, we can see our old friends and classmates and lovers from times past.  And if we dig in a bit behind the "look where I vacationed pictures" or "this is my family", one begins to find what they have become and what they believe (for good and bad).

And all of a sudden, one can begin to understand the possible outcomes of the choices one did not make.

Decided to remain in a town or city instead of moving?  Here is what the town became and here is what your old friends are like.  Stopped dating that person?  Here they are now, and here is what they believe (and probably what you would have believed, if you had stayed).  The confrontations and issues they went through over the years would have become your issues as well.

All of a sudden with a little thought and imagination, you can pretty clearly see how you would be yourself.

I am not here to question whether those developments are good or bad, as we can only judge based on where we currently are (and some of those possible decisions lead off in very different directions).  But we have a slow motion crystal ball, something that has never been available to generations past.

I wonder, are we using it effectively?

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Fall Of A Basket Empire

On a whim this weekend, I went to look up the ongoing of fate of The Longaberger Company.  You may remember them from the 1990s to 2000s, a basket company that sold all its units through home sales. Originally in baskets, they branched out to pottery and iron working as well.  The last time I wrote about this almost two years ago, they had laid off 96% of their employees from a high of 8000 employees and $1 Billion in sales in 1999 (A brief history of the company is contained in the above link).

But now they are gone. In Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, from which you do not emerge.  Their baskets now dot the electronic marketplaces of E-Auction and Bitsy for (literally) pennies on the dollar that we paid for them.

We have baskets here at home, coming out our ears - I believe we have them in every room of our house.  Our regular dinnerware is all Longaberger and we have Christmas dinnerware as well.  I hesitate to think at this point of what we spent in current dollars on all of this.

And now, it holds the position of being both priceless (in the fact that it can never be replaced) and almost worthless (in that it has little to no cash value).

As I had written before, two communities (Dresden, Ohio and Frazeyburg, Ohio) depended largely if not completely on this business (Dresden was the founder's birthplace) and (if my quick research was correct) are now largely in a very bad place because of that.  It makes me sad - I am a lover of small towns and saving them and it is likely that within 10 years, they both will be very small places to stop for gas in and nothing else.

The most vivid memory I have - and at the same time, one of the saddest ones I have - was when The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I visited in 2004 and as part of that visit, went to the plat where they processed logs and performed some basket weaving.   After the tour on our way out, I remember a number of the employees waving to us and saying thank you.  It was only later that I realized that there was quite likely as much desperation and hope in those wavings as there was sincerity.

In our age of disposal items and "less is more", baskets and pottery were likely not to survive very well (and the bankruptcy, I suppose, proves that).  Some of them will circle the Interweb while others (likely ours) will eventually be passed down and given away (mostly to charitable causes I suspect as none of the children will want more than a handful).  Within a generation they will likely be relegated to curios in the house of elders, something for a child to look at or play with or hold things.  Perhaps they will flip it over and see the signature of the person who wove the basket, wonder why someone signed the basket, and them flip it back over and move on.

A forty five year old saga ended this year.  Within another 45 years, no-one will remember.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday

I remember a time before Black Friday.

Once upon a time, back in the mists of history, Black Friday was not a thing - for many people, they simply went to work on Friday like any other day (much like those in retail do now).  Then, someone realized that so many people were taking the day after Thanksgiving off it probably made more sense to give it and take away a different holiday).

Then, on the fateful day somewhere, someone decided they could use the extra day off to start shopping for Christmas.

I am not sure where this precisely occurred.  In the 1980's I do not recall it being a thing; by the late 1990's it was in full swing.

Then, of course, things started to expand into Thanksgiving.  First it was 'We are open at 6:00 PM", then "We are open at 2:00 PM", now "We are open all day."  The counter-shopping movement has been somewhat interesting, but to be honest many of those companies also maintain electronic stores fronts - and somebody, somewhere, is manning those.

As you would probably guess, I seldom venture out on Black Friday.  There are some good deals to be had so I am selective:  one trip, three stops, and then I am home.  I will spend my time before looking precisely for the things I want, which allows me to be as quick as I can about actually being there.

Eventually of course, Black Friday will become another relic of Retail Age, done in by the continued march of on-line retailing (after all, who wants to fight the masses when you can shop from home).  The shops will go back to being closed (because who wants to pay the salaries of workers for no business?).   And once again, the Friday after Thanksgiving will simply become another day of vacation, with grandparents telling harrowing tales of "The Great TV Rush of  '08".

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Day 2018

George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On Great Mistakes and Decision Making II

Having written about my greatest mistakes, the thought would not leave me alone.  There was something about them, some thread that ran through them, that kept pointing me towards some larger conclusion that eluded me.

And then it hit me.

Every time I have made a decision from selfishness or impatience it has been detrimental.  Every time God changed the circumstances of my life it has been beneficial.

If I look through the list of the major errors and blunders of my life, they have all been rooted in either selfishness (I want what I want) or impatience (I want it now).  In every situation where this has occurred, the outcome was bad - and my bad decisions range from the intensely personal and emotional to the financial and career side.  Every time, the outcome that I desired turned to ash in my hand.

On the other hand, every time that circumstances changed because of God, they have worked out well - like finding a job after The Firm after a month or finding a job after I was laid off in 2009 just as the severance package ran out.  Or finding a home here when we needed it, or finding another one to buy just before the market peaked.  Or finding a second job here, one that has done a great deal more than I could have ever hoped for. 

What does this remind us of?  Proverbs 3:  5-8:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all  your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will direct your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes:
Fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

It will bring healing to your flesh,
and strength to your bones."

What does it mean practically?  That I need to make no decisions based on selfishness or impatience.  That I need to submit my decisions to God - and wait.  And especially, in the absence of any direction, do not move forward with either selfishness or impatience.

It means that I accept my current situation from God.  If things are not going well - whether it be my job or my finances or my personal relationships - there is a reason for it.  I need to persevere through the situation or be released from it - because it is occurring for some purpose that is ultimately good.

I cannot pretend this will not be easy.  But if I am driven by data at work, I can be no less driven by data in my personal life.  And time and again, this is what the data shows.

Wait, be patient, be blessed.  Do not wait, be impatient, do not be blessed.  It seems it is rather that simple.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On Great Mistakes And Decision Making

Yesterday morning, at the prompting of something within me that I am not quite certain of, I began to construct a list of my greatest mistakes.

To qualify as a mistake, it had to be something that I myself chose to do instead of a circumstance created beyond my control.  It also had to have ended up having a detrimental impact on m life in some form or fashion - sometimes something that has taken years to evidence itself.

The results were, sadly, rather depressing.

I came up with six major errors (no, I will not be listing them here.  You have your errors.  I have mine).  But what did come up as a consistent theme throughout each of them was that they were primarily all based in a lack of self control and secondarily based on an inability to plan for the future.  In layman's terms, I want what I want now and do not really care what impact it has on my life.

I am fortunate - more likely blessed - that none of the impact of these items are the sorts of things that permanently resulted in harm to myself or others (there are those decisions as well).  But they have done harm none the less, to myself and others - bad memories at best, true hardship (mostly financial in my case) at worst.

There is obviously a reason this is coming up now, and obviously something that needs to be learned from all of this.

I am a man of impulsiveness too often, given to wild flights of fancy about the grass which is (undoubtedly) greener on the other side of the fence - or to compensate for the dry grass on my side, I look for ways to make it more endurable.  Neither of these are the correct solution.  Instead, I need to decide how I want my lawn to be and then so manage my life within my own fences that it becomes that.

The resolution is, of course, rather simple:  make no decision based on a lack of self control (or alternatively, only make controlled decisions) and make every decision with an eye towards what it will look like in ten to twenty years (I think realistically, we can say that any consideration to a decision fifty years out is pretty wishful thinking at this point, except for those things that will impact eternity).

Which strikes me as both interesting and odd - for the first time in perhaps 50 years, I have a rubric for making decisions. I wish I had come up with this years ago.

Monday, November 19, 2018

2018 Throwing Done

This weekend we had the last of the 2018 Highland Games, at least for me (and most of us in this part of the country).  Surprising as it may sound, I still managed to get a PR in Light (16 lbs) Hammer:  61' 2", an increase of 1' 2".

It was a somewhat strange for throwing, this year.  To be frank, my heart was not necessarily in it so my throwing was pretty inconsistent.  I was on and off about attending games and practicing was virtually non-extant.

Still, to put it into context, my score in 2012 was about 1500.  My score this year (not completely finished yet) stands at around 3800 with two games left to be entered.

But every time I go, I am reminded of why I go:  the people.  In a world of social media "friends" and relationships that do not last the next new job or next move, these are your family, the family you never knew you had until you met them.  These are the ones that care - actually care, not just kind of.  These are the sorts of folks the best stories are made with: the road trips, the overnight drives, the throwing in the rain and snow and lightning and heat - and then reliving everything in the story.

As The Viking and I drove home after the game, we were analyzing how we did.  "You have enough power"  he said, "we just need to work your technique."

At this point in my life, the fact that there is still the hope of any improvement - let alone great improvement - is a heady thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Fellowship In The Gospel

"I have to learn that the aim in life is God's not mine.  God is using me from His great personal standpoint, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him, and never say - Lord, this gives me such heartache.  To talk that way makes me a dog.  When I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance.  He can crumple me up or exalt me, He can do anything He chooses.  He simply asks me to have implicit faith in Himself and in His goodness.  Self-pity is of the devil; if I go off on that line I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world.  I have "a world within a world" in which I live, and God will never be able to get me outside it because I am afraid of being frost bitten."

- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Few Words From.... Ronald Reagan

"Let us ask ourselves, 'What kind of people do we think we are?' And let us answer, 'Free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well.'"

"The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

 "History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Collapse X: Power

30 June 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

How much power do I use? What a delightfully specific (and rather odd) question to ask. But I will play along.

My appliances; Stove, Refrigerator, Water Heater, Water Pump (the microwave went out years ago when it died and was never replaced – who needs a drip coffee maker when you have an original aluminum percolating camp model and a French Press). Other than that, lights and the power to my computer and music player.

Power was one of the first things I made a serious effort on when we first closed on the place. The Refrigerator is a very old International Harvester (can you imagine such a thing still exists?) – a power drain for sure, but built like a tank (it lasted my grandparents and my uncle and may well outlast me). The Stove is something I use really only once or perhaps twice a day and the oven almost never – in summer I heat my coffee while in winter I use the woodstove to warm the water putting it in the French Press (it never seems to boil but it is certainly hot enough to make the coffee quite drinkable). In the summer I use a BBQ for as much of the cooking as can, both to conserve energy and keep the house cool (Did I tell you I tried my hand at making charcoal? Some other time perhaps; rather fascinating process).

The Water Heater and Water Pump run together: the more water I use, the more I have to use them. I have made do to this point without a clothes washer by availing myself of the local campground facilities (until that is gone, of course) so I have only a shower and dishes and drinking to account for. I have looked into very small cylinder clothes washers (I used on in Eastern Europe while I was there), but find that they are rather hard on clothes. For now, I will use what I have and make do with the bathtub when I have not.

I supplement where I can: solar panel for the computer battery and rechargeable nicad batteries, candles in the morning and evening, and the occasional use of the head lamp (although I quite despise the thing, to be honest: I look like a fool). The Winter makes the recharging a great deal more difficult (read almost impossible) but it is simply a matter of matching my life to the available light and acting accordingly. I have thought about kerosene lamps but the smell and the smoke bother me in such a small place.

I know how you think: yes, the candles have to come from somewhere and batteries eventually cannot be recharged. But that is really no different than the reality that, given our current trajectory, we are quite likely to have the lights go out as whole as well.

I have tried to test run this: in Winter (especially) I will make a run of one or two days where I “divorce” myself from power (I try to keep the items in refrigeration low before I do this). With the woodstove and its ability to heat, I keep myself going rather well: I have hot water for tea and coffee and slightly poached eggs and I have enough hot water (given time) to take a reasonable bath (yes, I understand that by using water I am “using” the pump. My counter would be with a manual handle I can do so anyway).

In any circumstances, the greatest issue is light (or the lack thereof). What I have found over time is that by minimizing generated lighting and living largely (if not mostly) by ambient light, I can manage my time appropriately – during the Winter Solstice, we have only about eight hours of daylight (for the Summer Solstice, by comparison, we have almost fifteen) and I have learned to pack in the activities during the day. By the time the sun goes down, I try to have activities that can be accomplished with the light of the fire and a single light source.

It is a matter of adaptation of course, but I am trying to adapt now before I have to.

Your Obedient Servant (currently still writing in the waning sunlight), Seneca

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

On Writing The Collapse

Do we write what is in our souls, or by writing does it imprint itself on our souls?

As I have been writing "The Collapse" (which is actually based on a real placed and maybe based on certain aspects of my own life), I have found myself thinking in certain ways that previously I would not have contemplated:  what would life be like if I lived life on the essentials?  What would life be like if I lived away - truly away - from people?  What is life like when you are largely alone?  What would life be like under a government which, if not actively hostile, was at least passively so?

As I write (and then read), I begin to wonder where these thoughts are coming from:  is it from myself?  Or is the character I am creating making embedding these thoughts in my mind and making them a part of my thought patterns.

The future the character lives in seems in some very meaningful ways very different from the one I foresee for myself - yet on the other hand add in a couple of twists of fate and it is a very real future indeed.

Part of our lives is built on the idea (at least in the modern world) of predictability:  that things will largely be as things have been and that the water will run, power will click on with a switch, and that my variety of apples will always be in the store.  Up to 100 years ago that was no more true in the Western World than anywhere else; now, to present this to people (especially the young) is to present a world as unreal as Barsoom or the Hyborian Age.

It also presumes that our personal relationships will remain as they have ever been, and that those friendships and family relationships we have had over the years will continue to be the same.  Practical experience of my own as well as readers of this site would tell you otherwise.

I do not fully know where the character in "The Collapse" ends up; no author ever really does.  At some point characters and situations acquire a life of their own and the author becomes no more than a journalist recording events.  But I do know that his thoughts and ideas are coming to influence my own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Of Christmas Catalogs Past

For the first time since I was a wee lad, Toy R Us will be producing no Christmas catalog.  Sears may have one, but I suspect they will be gone by this time next year.  Best Products, it turns out, went out of business in 1997.

In other words, there will be no Christmas Catalogs this year.

Oh, how I remember waiting for them, once upon a time.  The day they came in the mail was the greatest day of the Fall.  My sister and I would carefully go through the toy section and circle the things that we each wanted - then, somehow magically, Santa got the message and at least a few of them appeared under the Christmas tree.

Sadly though, those days are gone.  I kind of wonder how families go it now - is it advertising?  Is it a list?  Is it something posted on as "Wish List"? 

One thing it is not - and will never be again:  a child under the covers with a flashlight, pouring over the colored picture wonders of possibilities and picturing what each of them would be like to own.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Feeling Unsettled

Is it incorrect to say that there is a vague sense of dread hanging over my head?

I cannot give a firm reason why I feel this way.  There is nothing in the media that is more or less shocking that it was two month or even two years ago.  But I feel it, none the less.

It strikes me as the sort of thing that happens in a group of people, where there is an issue or incident between two people that is simmering beneath the surface that is never spoken of but everyone has an inkling that something is going on, just out of sight and out of reach.

Going back into the memory banks (and I have lived long enough to have them), it seems to me that every election since 2000 has resulted in us becoming less united instead of more united and less able to discuss things in a rational manner than more so.  I look back to some of the "issues" that existed in 2000: they seem so benign and far away as if to be from another era entirely.

Something is pushing us apart and narrowing us down, something which is pushing us towards  a goal of open or quiet war.  I cannot see what is pushing us.  All I know is that the matter and anti-matter of political thought are getting closer and closer together even as they move ideologically farther and farther apart.

And we all know what happens when matter and anti-matter meet:  total annihilation. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

In Flanders Fields

(Today is the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, the 11th day of the 11 month that brought an end to World War I.  As always, we post the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, himself not living to see this day:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Lt. Colonel John McCrae 03 May 1915

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Who Am I?

"Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as through it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely question of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Founder of the Confessing Church, imprisoned by Nazi Germany in 1943, executed 09 April 1945, 23 days before Germany surrendered.  This poem was written from prison.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Collapse IX: Taxes

25 June 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

I am grateful that the honey arrived. It is from last year's harvest, but should be good none the less. I hope you enjoy it in lieu of sugar (which, at least up here, is harder and harder to come by).

Finances. Yes, they have been a struggle for me as well. I did not intend to live on an essentially fixed income so much sooner than I did, but life often does not work out like we had intended. And even though I – we, from what I gather from as well – are on an effectively fixed income, the taxes come due none the less.

Much like you, I had a variety of taxes to consider: property taxes, state taxes, federal taxes. But events have served to effectively force my plan into place.

Sadly, I am still too young to “claim” my Social Security payments and my other investment savings are some years away from being accessible without penalty, I was left with the specter of having to either find something to do or live off of what I had. I had the money from the sale of the home and whatever I had in the bank at the time.

I had done some tax calculations prior to relocating – my wife and I had talked about it at some length – and found that for here, an income of $6,000 a year would keep us completely tax free. So that has become my maximum allowable income.

About half of that amount comes from residual on investments and savings. That is enough to pay for property taxes and utilities (electricity to supplement the solar and the water district in which I live).

Anything above that has come from a variety of sources. Since moving I have taken the odd day job – work at a ranch nearby or washing dishes for a catering event (both of which, I might add, have largely dried up) - and at the current rate of minimum wage, that is about 30 days of work. Some of it is under the table but I always report it – the last thing in the world I need now is a curious tax agent wandering through my life. And in fact, my first year here, I had no job at all. A year on $3,000 makes for a very lean go of things – after the above expenses, that left about $100 a month for everything else.

But truly, I have had no reason to complain. Even through that very lean year, my needs were met – as I mentioned earlier, you can by a great deal of oatmeal and fishing here is the cost of a license. And my interest in my garden has become more than just a hobby at this point.

That said, I am doubtful that I will ever reach the point of being able to access Social Security (as events now convince me we are closer than ever to never seeing it again). I have not fully decided to pull out my other investments at penalty (as you know, those penalties are quite steep now – almost confiscatory in nature). So I continue to live a frugal life and take the money when I can get it.

Have no worries about me, Lucilius. It is a frugal life that might be devoid of many of the “luxuries” others have, but I rest easy in knowing my little is very uninteresting to almost any one – and I am not funding the very government that so often seems to be trying to cause me grief.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Sad Cheese

This past weekend I picked up making cheese again, something that tends to fall off during throwing season as it requires parts of a full day to complete.  The result was less than exciting:

This is meant to be English Farmhouse Cheese, something I have made several times with good results.  As you can see on the left, the results were not quite what I was hoping for.  For some reason the curd was not as firm as it should have been (more rennet, I suspect) and we had a structural problem transferring the curd.  And then, of course, releasing the cheeses from the molds (I use ricotta molds because they are what I have - sadly, they are not ideal).

There are fixable problems, of course.  More rennet is easy enough to add and I am looking at new molds (I think I found some Chevre molds that will do the trick).  And I did try some this afternoon - sure enough, no matter what the appearance, it tastes just as good as ever (for soft cheeses, I recommend honey over them. They make a great dessert).

The point of this (I think) is to remind all of us that not everything we try to do to be skillful or self-sufficient works out quite as we had anticipated. That is no reason not to try, though.  We only make the effort time and time again to get better.

After all, you cannot fall off the floor.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Election Day 2018, Or Why This Election Changes Nothing

Dear Friends:

Today the 2018 Midterm Elections occur in the United States (to my ex-US friends, my sincere apologies as I fear it may have taken over your news feed as much as it has taken over our own.  I can only hope this is a minor inconvenience).  By the end of the evening, we will largely know the structure of the United States Congress for the next two years.

There are one of three outcomes of this election:

1)  The party not currently in power gains power.
2)  The party currently in power strengthens its majority.
3)  There is a status quo with some seats changing hands but the balance of power at or near what it is.

In none of these solutions is there a true resolution to the ills of this state.

1)  The party not in currently in power gains power - for the next two years, there will be an inability to get any legislation passed (and multiple calls for impeachment, our version of "Replace the President before an election").  The opposition base becomes more motivated.

2) The party currently in power strengthens its majority - look for the opposition party to increase the rhetoric and unrest to continue to grow as they are motivated.

3)  There is a status quo with some seats changing hands but the balance of power at or near what it is - More of the same of the last two years.

In none of the above possible outcomes is a true unity possible.  And this is the real problem of the state.  We are tearing ourselves apart - politely (more or less) now, but more violently as we go forward.

I have been thinking of a solution where the nation emerges stronger and more united from an election, not weaker.  I cannot think of one.

I have been arguing (for years now) that the only reasonable and rationale way forward is to separate into our respective corners before we do it by force.  And I see nothing coming out of this election that will change any of that.

Sadly, I fear national unity - or at least respect for one's fellow citizens, even of a different belief - has ended.  We shall not see its like again in our lifetimes.

Monday, November 05, 2018

A Brief Encounter With Prepared Food

Last Wednesday The Ravishing Mrs. TB texted me.  "One of my acquaintances received an extra shipment from Blue Apron that they were not charged for.  Are we interested in taking it?"

Free food.  Yes, yes we are.

I am familiar with the prepared food concept:  you have your meals planned and all of the ingredients shipped to your door.  You do not have to choose recipes, decide on amounts, or even shop:  you just pull things out of the box and then prepare them that night.  I believe there are several different versions of the same service.

I happened to be home when she was opening the box.

Everything was cold (but the gel had leaked a bit on the cans).  The meats and vegetables appeared of high quality (some services tend to focus in the more organic area). All sauces, mixes, etc. are included in individual pouches.  Also included are the individual recipes with pictures (making it easy for someone as slow as myself to figure out the instructions).

That night we had Sesame Chicken with Broccoli.  Yesterday we had Beef Ragu. Although in both cases these were supposed to be four serving meals, there was well above four servings present - we had enough left over for two individual lunches.

Benefits?  The Ravishing Mrs. TB liked having everything already there, in the appropriate portions, and (other than chopping) ready to prepare.  The meals were quite tasty.

Negatives?  She looked on-line and the cost is about $8.00 a meal per person.  That is $32.00 - not quite as bad as going out, but almost.

I can understand the attraction if one was single or married and both had very busy full time careers - beyond the putting away of materials, there is only the immediate prep time (in both cases less than 20 minutes) and cooking (again, maybe 20 minutes).   But at 5 meals a week for a family of four that is $160 - far too pricey (in our case) for the convenience.

It was fun though.  And I would certainly take the food again, if offered.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

A Few (More) Words From...Miyamoto Musashi

"Deliberately, with a patient spirit, absorb the virtue of all this, from time to time raising your hand in combat.  Maintain this spirit whenever you cross swords with an enemy.

Step by step walk the thousand mile road.

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior.  Today is victory of yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men."

- Miyamoto Musashi, The Water Book, A Book of Five Rings

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Collapse VIII: Small Town Living

18 June 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

I received your package in the mail last week. I do so love receiving the prayer intention cards from your parish. I have quite a collection of them now – how long have you been sending them, 20 years? Sometimes I find the best pictures on them or an unusual historical fact I had not known. And yes, no-one is more surprised than I that the Postal Service continues to function given what seems to be the general degradation of social services in general.

You had asked me about living in a very small community in the current circumstances, so I thought I would indulge you.

The “town” I live in had a perhaps a population of 120 prior to the ongoing economic difficulties, split largely (it seemed) between retirees and people who are/were employed in the surrounding communities. I suspect this number has dropped somewhat, as the jobs related to tourism have all but disappeared (in an unstable environment, tourism is the last thing on people's minds, it seems). The town does have a small school building (not the one room school of yore but certainly a one building school), which may truly be the reason that it continues to exist as an entity. I believe I have referenced before that the industry of the town is a post office/gas station, a bar/RV park, and another RV Park. The RV parks appear to have more RVs than what I would expect given everything – I suspect it is due to people staying in one place rather than moving on.

For myself, I live at the end of a small country lane at the northern edge of town with neighbors at the end (to whom I wave as they head off to or come home) and a plot of land between us bearing the foundational remains of a manufactured house which was there in my youth but was hauled away long years ago. Neither party at this point knows who owns the land nor have owners contacted either of us. It creates a convenient fence between us.

As a late comer to the town of Birch – certainly not since things started to turn sideways but neither as a long time resident – I occupy a rather unusual position of almost being a “regular” but not quite so, the sort of person that if there were a coffee shop with old men drinking coffee I would be acknowledged by nods but not by name. I know a number of people by face but am seldom talked to more than a simple greeting. The neighbors have stopped as they are driving out or in and we have talked through the truck window, but that is as far as it has gone.

Which, as you can imagine, is fine by me. I have had my fill of social living before I moved – yes, the good things that come from greater interaction but the equally undesirable bad things of the veneer of character and falsity of actions versus words and just the constant need to “be involved”. I have my church visits upon occasion to fill the need for interaction – beyond that, it is a great deal of silence and thoughts and talking to the rabbits about the state of the world (and correspondences like this, of course).

Self sufficiency is not just found in the area of provision of food and shelter, it seems. It also exists in the ability of one to manage one's social interactions and needs largely by one's self. This was an unanticipated outcome of my relocation, but has become one of the most noticeable aspects.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca