Letting Go

It’s been a traumatic week since we discovered our time in our rental will not be another year. At the moment, Kim is struggling to arrange a time to close the sale of her chickens and ducks. I spent my first couple days of shock tearing down the greenhouse we built about this time last year. We still have no idea where we will go. 


The greenhouse has been a saga in itself, and to some degree I suppose I welcome the closure of disassembling it. A lot of hopes were started and nurtured in that project. Combining the chicken roost was the defining feature. A little cedar plank door did what it could to keep the wind off, but was not airtight by any means. The chickens were pretty spoiled to have a dry, heat lamp lit place to sleep. I will certainly miss my jumbo grade Americana eggs as much as the tiny little creme bantams. Alas, too many of our plants succumbed to the wet October rains that took us all by surprise. Cold and wet. What the drop in temperature and low light didn’t kill, the mold was sure to overcome. Cold and wet and moldy in a greenhouse. As an early winter ensued and all had been lost, rats came along scavenging overlooked chicken food. Finally, they nested up in the nice dry roost and started taking eggs from the nest box. 

Well, what about all that? It’s been a lot of time, money, and energy put in to something that resulted in a scant few tomatoes, mold, and rats. Was it a wasted endeavor? Doomed to failure from the start or driven there by inaction? Well, a brief summary of its life hardly lets on to the waves of emotions that have shaped it like the ocean floor. The screen door separating the chickens from the plants was one of the last design struggles we faced before I felt my frustration severing my connection to it all. Details withheld, much of the design and construction of the runs were subject to the same frustrations. 

Most of it now leans stacked on the side of the garage, destined for storage if we are lucky. It and so much other material collected for that backlog of projects may just be purged, the easy way by sale if we are at all lucky; the hard way by disposal charges being the more likely. It’s crushing to think of that coming true after its whole mode of being was by way of salvage. We tried, and had a promising chance of, doing the environmentally conscientious thing and making it work. A greenhouse to both reduce landfill and produce food in an urban setting. It was a great thought. 

It’s only been 3 weeks since my pinched nerve, and tying my shoes is still excruciating. I shoveled the compost pile down, filling in low spots in the lawn. Same with the raised bed along the fence, 30 ft of it. I started hauling out pots of moldy plants when Kim came to help. We spent an entire day cleaning out the inside and some of the back yard. The following day, the roof came off and most of the walls brought down. The yard here started with enough grass to need regular mowing, so I hope we can seed the bare spots and rest will come back. However, it has clearly been over grazed and it’s hard to come back from that. It’s hard to have to put more work into cleaning up after all the hard work that went to waste. It’s hard because we had our sights set on a seed swap and planning the year of growing ahead of us. What should have been a cleaning effort making way for a new year of gardening became a dead end of work just to avoid even more expenses. 

What’s more is that the greenhouse is only the first of many vanishing efforts we have to undertake. An entire wood shop of tools and materials is coming up next. As painful as letting go of the greenhouse and chickens has been for Kim, the business and wood shop will be as much for me. Mostly, I just walk away from situations like this. This one I have to also clean up. It’s difficult. We don’t sleep well at night, even on our new and far more comfortable mattress. We just don’t have any good options left and it scares the hell out of the both of us. 

Truth is, homesteading is not a pursuit of the kind of simple life that liberates you of 50 hour work weeks. It is only a pursuit of the kind of simple life that is far removed from the smoke and mirrors, hook and bait, shove and hustle of the city given momentum by those who profit by preying on the most powerful human emotions. It just requires more work to support your own system than to blindly buy into others. We cannot anymore. It was worth it while it lasted, but we just cannot. 

It’s hard to let go of the values and ideas that have been building and growing. It’s hard to accept that all of the life and love that this house and land contained is being replaced by a lawn that will most likely be manicured twice weekly for nobody and nothing other than maximizing the thickness of cash stuffed in a wealthy old person’s pocket.

I don’t want to let go of the ideological importance of urban agriculture, but I do have to swallow the bitter pill. From apartments to houses, the little bit of nurturing soil not yet covered with concrete is valued more for visual complement than for the sustenance it is meant to provide. 

Back to Work

Well, here I am with the same backlog of projects I was pondering over a week ago. My space is very limited, so I can’t leave much piled up or it prevents me from using any of it. I often think about the clever ways I’ve seen Japanese homes used when I’m working. The layout shifts and morphs with every project I tackle. One day I might have a runway cleared to haul in sheet materials and rip them down. Next day there might be hardly any room to walk as I set up sawhorses for assembly. The most surprising feat was building a structure inside the garage which, laid on its side, barely fit through the entire garage door. 

In the foreground of this pic is a set of small boxes waiting to be glued together. In the background, a set of nesting boxes needing one final piece to be complete. I sometimes struggle to complete things, and it’s a habit that I’ve cursed my father for as a kid. These boxes, and one in particular, are now 3 weeks overdue. The lids to them are also half complete, still clamped in the machine awaiting a finishing pass. The nesting boxes require only one more piece cut on the table saw and nailed to the front. 

A set of mason jar crates is also due this week, but may require more material than I have available at the moment. Of course, much of this is all work that hopes to turn more money in the not so distant future. With rent coming due very soon, I also have to get after other, more immediately paying work. I’m off to the mach shop now. I will try to post on projects as they progress, so that will not be routine, but will be somewhat frequent! 

You Are Only Human, After All

I stood up this morning. Most people stand up in the morning upon departing the bed, and the sliver irritating my brain is that I expect that. 

I stood up by means of grabbing the half open bathroom window and the sink, taking a deep breath, and pushing with my sore arms and shoulders. It’s day 6 with the persistently stabbing pain in my tailbone along with a more dull, pulling ache in my back and right leg. Last night I added a pulled groin to the list getting in and out of my car. I had little choice but to suffer the 15 minutes holding my butt gingerly off the seat to go pick up my son. His mom and I have that kind of relationship where I wouldn’t dare not be there, nor dare ask for any accommodation. Ugh, life is never short of challenges.

Now, a lot of older folks have suffered or do suffer sciatica. My neighbor had both hips replaced, so I know I shouldn’t whine about it. Still, most sufferers have a clear connection, be it too much golf, driving for a living, lifted 3 sheets of plywood by themselves, whatever. I haven’t been able to place the cause of mine. I slept on the floor the first night, and crawling into my bed the second night made me suspect it as the main offender. That, and maybe my shoes. Anyway, I went so far as to start a gofundme because I’m in real pain, my partner is in pain, and we can’t support our family starting every day tired. 

Well, those that know me well pointed to another possible cause that I suppose I denied when presented. Maybe I literally stressed myself out. I just don’t see it in myself when it’s physical, I rely on mental cues to warn me of unhealthy stress limits. On the lighter end, it’s simply anxiety over the important tasks that I drop. Curable, often, by just committing another block of time to catch it up. When stress builds up enough, I might catch myself with a spray bottle and a rag rubbing some slightly marred surface relentlessly, as if a genie is going to pop out of it and take away all my problems. Again, though, at some point I tire myself out enough to sit down and think things through. 

I have a plan. I track metrics and check them against my plans so I can make better plans. I eat healthy, I work a bit on my feet, and I do some work sitting down. I spend time outside, chase kids, go for walks, and all that. So seriously, could I really have hurt my back just by being stressed?

Life is challenging right now, no doubt. I feel like I’ve lived through worse. I survived Iraq and a divorce. I severed family ties to break myself away from the substance abuse and bigotry that festers and infects like blight on tomatoes. All that time, and I’ve never suffered physical manifestations like this. 

I don’t get stress headaches, like most people seem to. My shoulders get sore and achey, but as long as I’m not lifting a ton of heavy things it’s not a concern. Mostly, and more frequently than necessary, I just overload my plate then get frustrated at what doesn’t go right. Council with peers and supervisors often results in the advice, “You are only human.”

My partner and I have two wild 6 year olds that act like the siblings neither of them have. We live in a two bedroom house and every morning we all fight over the only bathroom. We can barely afford rent though it’s about the cheapest we could possibly find. We have borrowed from generous friends and family to avoid eviction, while some of our family members look down on us for walking away from the corporate world and instead shower the already well-off with their financial blessings. Groceries for growing bodies, electricity for leaking heat out the single pane windows, car payment for the only reliable vehicle we have, chickens to feed, and all those student loans. 

How much work can we do? Put the question out of mind and ask rather, how much work must be done? The Little Red Hen might have sewn all the seeds, reaped all the wheat, and ground all the flour to bake her bread, but the truth is: we are only human. While I write in first person, I speak for many. This is the struggle of a generation. I’m not the only one out there that feels like too much of their life is in the hands of corrupt relationship abusers. I am not the only one turning their back on the promising embrace of ‘family’ and facing life as an independent. 

For all of those fighting this fight and taking the blows to the chin, we must all learn to redefine family. There is too much work to do alone, and each one of us is only human. 

State of the Union

Well, here I am at day 4 of my pinched sciatic. I’ve achieved crawling to the bathroom mostly unassisted and am looking forward to trying to bathe. I hate life. I feel trapped in disaster’s path as every day passes without being able to earn income. Outside, the -obvious absence of climate change- <cough, cough> has almost every street in Portland iced over. So my girlfriend has not been keen to Uber with my new car, despite the 3x earnings being available. Something about all the shit heads ripping around in their 4wd rigs sporting studded tires. I’ve had quite a bit of time to ponder life these last few days, and it seems like despite America’s best efforts to carry on there persists an air of underlying panic and maybe anger. The country seems split and if it is, I feel like I’m still on the fence.

The election. THE election. Before this year, rolling your eyes while saying that would probably have eluded to Count ’em Again, Florida! The fact is that the Republican party was nearly guaranteed to win. Do the math: in the 193 years that the Republican and Democratic parties have been independent of each other, the latter has held the Oval Office for 3 consecutive presidents exactly ZERO times; the elephants in the room have  done this twice, along with a 4 president run following the Civil War. A more simple metric to consider is that for the same period, 16 of those 38 presidents were democrats. That puts the ratio at about 2:3 and combined with the previous observation, the historical trends pointed straight to the Republican seat and whoever happened to fill it. My political opinion is not so much a subjective feeling of apathy, just the observation that Trump knew he didn’t have to win your vote, my vote, or the electoral college’s. He really only had to win the Republican nomination, the rest was all but in the bag.

But then, what I haven’t really understood is WHY the behavior. After all the reading and reflecting, I might take a stab at it. Suppose Trump wanted non-republicans to feel apathetic? What if he wanted them to disengage? What if he could just make the people who don’t back him not care about or even pay attention to anything he did? If that was his intention, he obviously succeeded.

I guess the burning question for everyone is just how to get out of this economic rut we’ve admittedly not escaped yet. Have we really not identified the pinch point? A great deal of people I speak to involved in real estate claim the market is healthy. Unemployment is down, but the GDP just hasn’t fully recovered yet. Gallup finds that productivity is lacking in the workplace even while a record proportion of the workforce claims to be happy with their jobs. A deli clerk I spoke to the other day was a math major and the sales clerk I bought my phone from had a background in software. The cost of living is squeezing everyone, but wages just aren’t giving way easily. It’s strange times for sure.

We all understand cycles and know that eventually, under one political atmosphere or another, it will get better. Through economic downturns, successful companies have figured out that the best thing to do is invest in research. That way, when economic forces eventually favor production again, the company (hopefully) has the technological edge, thus maximizing the return of said investment. As individuals, many Americans returned to school. When economic forces were favorable again, which individuals held the advantage and were able to maximize their returns? Well, the slew of highly educated folks working in industries paying far less than their own should be a great big red flag. Of course, it’s probably impossible to correlate labor data with education data to check that claim, but if anyone does, I’d like to know. I will boldly say that maybe, just maybe, we have created an economic bubble from education the way the housing market did before the new millennium. The companies that fall behind in the market cost their investors in value they already possess or in value they hoped to gain. When individuals can’t be competitive with their investments, it’s the lenders losing value that was never there. Nobody was granted student loans on the condition of having enough assets or income to support it. I watched my parents play that same gamble with postdated checks, and it doesn’t work.

Speaking subjectively now, it does feel to me like everyone and their dog was getting their undergrad when I was attending. A couple tactical moves from my school successfully drove increased enrollment, and it all seemed so exciting. Just a few years ago, it became a feeding frenzy for entry level jobs with real juicy content. Of course, those that didn’t come with a respectable salary up front promised so in short order. If I was looking for an entry level professional job today, I doubt I’d find anything aside from data entry or paper pushing. I’m not saying the good jobs went extinct, just that you have to dig for them. So, maybe we are getting to the root of this nerve.

Who has time to do the amount of digging required to find a good job that can effectively pay back their investment and keep them competitive in the job market? In my experience, I would estimate that time frame at 2 to 6 months of full time searching. Well, I’d say that whoever has the ability to take on job searching full time without the need to earn income for several months are the individuals with the competitive edge. That means married couples without dependants or medical issues and singles still living rent free with their parents, basically. All the rest of the indebted scholars either gave up trying to stay afloat or are working themselves to death hoping they don’t just die tired anyway.

Now that companies are making hay with their newfound knowledge seeded during the Great Recession, perhaps the only hope for those struggling individuals is innovation. I’d like to think that the spirit of entrepreneurs will bring this along, but that’s only partly true. The very real hazard of that approach is that even a good idea is hard to realize, and even harder to make a living on. Especially so anytime the political party in office favors corporate growth. This strange climate is probably the severe mismatch of talent with responsibility. People are simply not doing the jobs they are best at doing. Companies are strapped with individuals that got an awesome job with excellent pay, and could absolutely care less about job security because their life is stable enough without their job. They do the bare minimum to keep employed because there is little incentive to go above and beyond. Those suffering a lack of savings or financial support have no choice but to take the very first offer they get, which is usually not going to satisfy the bills. Sure, it’s not impossible to improve your station, but working 50 or 60 hour weeks doesn’t facilitate job searching either.

I don’t know what will break the rust off our economic gears, or if we’ll enjoy growth at all in the coming decade. I just know that student loan debt is everyone’s problem and there are too many degree holding workers not making the wage they need to pay for it.

There ya have it, folks. I am not a voting man, and never will be so long as I only get two options and they both suck. I don’t care for politics, either, so this will probably be my only mention on the matter.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to being back on my feet soon so I can share some more interesting and practical stuff!

Down for a week?

It’s day two of the horrendous torture of my pinched sciatic. I know there are worse pains to suffer, but I think this is the worst I’ve ever suffered in my life. My girlfriend tells me I’ll be down for about a week, and I can hardly wrap my head around it.

The physical pain goes from feeling like a stake driven into the spine onto a more general ripping of tendons across my entire back and legs down to behind the knee. But what pisses me off is that I didn’t even DO anything to cause it that I can think of. I was just standing there about to pick up a pencil or something and that stabbing feeling just above the tailbone suddenly dropped me to my knees.NOT FAIR, life! At least let me have a good snowboarding or stupid moment story to go with it.

Nope, just smitten with a sudden shot of crippling pain. After pondering possible causes, I concluded that it’s a combination of sleeping on an old, broken down bed, working in shoes that are falling apart, and driving for part of my income.

Perfect Timing

Well, hello friends new and established! I’ve been off the radar for a minute, so my apologies to everyone who has been wondering what ever became of me.

I would like to kick off my blog with something awesome and profound. Matt Banner @ On Blast Blog suggests polishing the opening post and starting strong. Somewhere in his 40 tips for blogging is a quote about it never being the perfect time for anything.

However, there’s something to be said for mission accomplishment. I have been trying to find 30 min just to sign up but between driving for Uber, launching a business with my girlfriend, and chasing after two 6 year old terrors, it has evaded me. One key to getting shit done is being opportunistic with time, and right now is the perfect time to stare at my phone since life just gave me a great big slap on the sciatic nerve! Ugh, what incredible pain to suffer. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, but the last 7 hours has been relentlessly awful. Really, though, I don’t know which is worse-the actual pain or the frustration of being so incapacitated that I have to be dragged to the bathroom!

Well, considering the pen is mightier than the sword and I can’t even lift my head without agonizing pain, it is indeed the perfect time to get blogs up and other screen time efforts underway. I have a project I hope to post on IndieGoGo and events to line out for vending. I will be posting updates on all of my efforts here as well as my own ramblings. 

So, pretty as my first blog may or may not be, here it is!

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I have a lot of good stuff to fill my blog posts with, so I can roll with the ocean scene for a first. I was 18 years old on a cross country road trip when I first saw the Atlantic. Since then, I could hardly imagine living more than a couple hours from an ocean. Feeling small, so miniscule while gazing at the vastness is curiously enlightening. Few things in this world can ground you in the moment like that. Except a child’s love 🙂

Thanks for reading!