Marriage, Mortgage and Faith…Reading Journal Week 34

My blog and I can’t seem to get together these days. I still farm. I still work. I still carry a stack of books around with me everywhere.

Recently I was talking to some co-workers about “rich people” saying you probably have no idea who they are. You only notice the flashy jerks but that doesn’t mean they are all flashy jerks.

So who are the millionaires really? That question was answered by The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley and Danko. Stanley goes the next step to find out what’s going on between a millionaire’s ears to separate them from the pack in The Millionaire Mind. This week I read The Millionaire Mind.

So back to my question. Who are they? The introduction covers that well enough. I’ll just pull a few quotes.

  • I am a fifty-four-year-old male. I have been married to the same woman for twenty-eight years.
  • We live in fine homes in quality neighborhoods, but only 2 percent of us inherited all or any part of our homes and property.
  • Some of us have inherited a portion of our wealth…61 percent of us never received any inheritance, financial gifts or income from an estate or trust.
  • 97% are homeowners
  • …with small outstanding mortgages
  • Nearly 50 percent of our wives do not work koutside of the home.
  • 90 percent of us are collage graduates.
  • Many of us play golf and/or tennis on a regular basis. In fact, there is a strong correlation between golf and level of net worth.
  • We became rich without compromising our integrity. In fact, we credit our integrity with significantly contributing to our success.

I’m pulling just a few examples from a lengthy list but I want to focus on three ideas: Marriage, mortgage and faith. I simply don’t have time to cover the book in depth today. I STRONGLY encourage you to read both this and the previous book, The Millionaire Next Door. Julie and I first read them in 2002 or 2003 and they made a big impact. Reading them again later we find them to be even more impactful…the path ahead is more clear now.

Marriage:

Millionaires do everything differently including how they pick spouses. There is a joking quote in the book that says,

Given the choice, I prefer to be physically attracted to a woman who is intelligent, honest, unselfish, well-adjusted…

So there you go. He breaks it down into qualities that lead to a successful marriage according to millionaires:

  • Honest
  • Responsible
  • Loving
  • Capable
  • Supportive

These words describe my wife well…not that my 18-year-old self had a clue what he was doing. But those are words that describe “spouses”. How did they describe potential mates?

  • Intelligent
  • Sincere
  • Cheerful
  • Reliable
  • Affectionate

Again, Julie.

But what’s not in that list? Measurements? Muscles? Money? Nope. So what if you married for money, muscles or measurements and find your marriage to be lacking in cheer, affection and honesty? You might try to become the embodiment of the attributes listed above.

The author goes on to cite research into “normal” marriages.

Dr. Tucker also found that, overall, both men and women would contemplate divorcing a spouse who lost his or her job!

Compare that to story after story of entrepreneurs who listed failure after failure, firing after firing, flop after flop. A whole series of examples of couples saving up, stepping into the unknown, getting their butts kicked by life, dusting each other off and trying again, ultimately succeeding.

I’m moving pretty fast here but Julie and I have been through the grinder and she has always been my biggest fan…even when I’m ready to give up. If we ever accomplish anything together it is because of her. And this book points out the significance of her contribution.

Mortgage:

It’s amazing to read the details on the kinds of homes Millionaires typically owned in 1996. 5 bedroom homes. Nothing huge or opulent. Just a house. But a house that is worth $1.4 million in 1996? Surely there are better deals out there.

Most of us have mortgages, but 40 percent have no mortgage at all. Less than 5 percent of us have an outstanding mortgage balance of $1 million or more. Only about one in three (34 percent) of us have a mortgage balance outstanding of $300,000 or more.

Read that again.

Most of us enjoy living in well-established neighborhoods. There is nothing flashy or even modern about the style of houses in these neighborhoods. Our homes give us away – for the most part they are conservative in style, like our lifestyles.

I have TONS of people in my life who try to borrow 120% of a property’s value so they can lever up their way to wealth. But that’s not what the millionaires detailed in this book did. They were wealthy before they bought. And they bought something that would add to their wealth at a time when they could get a deal. Let me quote a little more from the book. He is narrating with a typical millionaire respondant’s voice:

I purchased my home about twelve years ago, and my family has lived there ever since. The approximate purchase price was just under $560,000. According to conservative estimates, it would sell today for just under $1.4 million.

Compare that to a recent conversation I had with a friend who had borrowed from his 401k to make the downpayment on a home he could just barely afford saying, “You should always buy as much house as you can, right?” I really don’t think so. Dude, you borrowed from your retirement so you could have a big house today. That’s not what the millionaires detailed in this book did. They bought high-quality but distressed properties when sellers greatly outnumbered buyers…and they probably bought them from people like you.

But let’s not talk about suburban palaces. Let’s talk about farms. I mean, this is a farm blog, right? How much money COULD I borrow? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I have a mortgage that is, according to this book, too large compared to my total net worth. What I need is a return on my investment from this farm. I started small. We grew a little. But before we grow any more we need a cash-generating machine to push us onward, not low interest rates. And I think that’s the lesson here. Produce before you consume.

Faith

In the chapter The Realtionship Between Courage and Wealth the author includes a few points about religious faith. He kicks things off early on by talking about overcoming fear. Let me tell you, I know a little bit about fear. I know a little bit about failure too. But I am not afraid. And I am not a failure. These are things millionaires have to remind themselves regularly. They have to build up some level of confidence and courage over time, daily reminding themselves of the truth. Every day I have to remind myself of the truth.

  • I am not an accident.
  • I was made for a purpose.
  • I am God’s workmanship.
  • Even if I fail I have value.
  • I am loved. No matter what.

But what if you were never taught those truths? The book indicates that you will be less likely to accumulate wealth. In fact, there is a positive correlation between faith and higher wealth.

I don’t like to be preachy so I’ll stop with one more quote. One I tell myself often.

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.

Is this a book about farming? No. But this is certainly a book about the majority of farmers I have met. Hard working and frugal with enduring marriages. They struggled together and built wealth over time and, as noted in the book:

There is a strong correlation between net worth and the proportion of one’s wealth that is invested in real estate.

Be sure to read that correctly. He said “wealth” not “debt”. You can’t farm in debt. That’s why I have a job in town.

I think there is a lot of real insight into what it is like on the other side. In fact, I think the truth presented in this book makes the endpoint approachable. The majority of millionaires didn’t inherit money, they didn’t necessarily get top grades in school, they aren’t the best looking people. But they are careful in choosing their spouse and they make that relationship last. They know the difference between risk and opportunity, between wealth and debt. And they appear to be fulfilling their role in creation.

These are goals I can work toward.

August Farm Photos

Hello everyone! This is Julie. I love to take pictures and I am going to start sharing some of them here on Chris’ blog. I hope you enjoy! You can also follow me on Instagram.0726150755~2~2

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Chris taking over…You know I can’t let a post go up with so few words. Comments in order of pictures:

  1. Somebody photoshop me into the Abbey Road cover. And remind me to stand up straight.
  2. Reserve your turkey now. Now.
  3. How did he turn 11? What happened?
  4. Swallows have about a week left before they go away for the winter. Dragonflies are coming through now. Hawks will start soon. Less than a month until we light the wood stove. That picture is a reminder of how little time we have.

Helpers

HelpingHands

Our youngest likes to tag along and usually wants to hold our hands as we walk. It’s nice.

All of our kids help in one way or another. The youngest is a lousy dish washer. Lousy. But she’s an excellent kitten tamer. The boys are ready to rip the guts out of chickens on butcher day because that job pays the best. The girls prefer not to do that specific job. One spent the first 3 years of chicken processing in the house preparing lunch with grandma. And that’s helpful.

But the key is to find the opportunity for each of them and to appreciate what they each do.

I appreciate anybody who is willing to gut a chicken. I also appreciate anybody who is willing to bake a pie and share it with me.

And I appreciate my little girl taking big steps to keep up with mom and dad so she can hold our hands.

Some Thoughts on Keeping Chickens

I don’t claim to know all there is about keeping birds. Heck, I don’t claim to know anything at all. This is a post about what I think I know about chickens…and I have given this topic some thought.

Egg Eating

All chickens eat eggs happily. All chickens. Just break an egg open in front of your flock and see who comes running. I THINK this is a normal, instinctive behavior. Birds don’t want messy nests so they clean up broken eggs. And believe me, I have some experience in this matter. I have heard and read that egg eating is contagious and the only cure it is to cull the whole flock. I believe this to be false. I believe the contagion is the end-result of nutritional deficiency in the flock or of unclean nest boxes.

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There. I said it. This is total heresy in the farming world though.

My birds have had trouble with this from time to time (keep in mind I have a flock of four year old birds). Most of the time the cure has been to keep oyster shell in front of the flock free-choice. When that runs out, eggs start breaking. The other possibility has been packed or dirty nesting material. If we have a prolonged period of rain I may not be as disciplined as I should be about cleaning next material. Wet birds with muddy feet do bad things to clean nests. The final reason I believe I have had periodic trouble with broken eggs is because we are sometimes delayed gathering eggs. Things work better if we collect eggs at 11am and at 4pm, not just when we tuck in the birds at night.

clean nest boxes

In summary, I THINK you should keep oyster shell in front of your birds keep your nesting material clean and fluffy and collect eggs frequently to prevent egg eating. And I don’t think you should cull the whole flock when you notice the behavior.

Old Birds Don’t Lay Eggs

I think there is some merit to this idea. I do. I have a flock of NH Reds that have passed the 4 year mark. This is a small flock. Survivor birds. They have been here since the beginning. They survived the mink, several skunks, hot, cold, rain and dry…these birds have seen what Macoupin County can throw at them. I say I keep these birds as breeding material to build my own flock of acclimated birds but, really, I’m not hatching any eggs. I just have the birds because I want the birds. They seem to lay well in the spring and summer but things slack off noticeably in the fall and winter. I suspect one should start chicks every six months and rotate out flocks every 18 months. But that’s a lot of work.

Revenue

How much money can you make selling shell eggs? It depends. How much money do you have to spend to keep your birds alive, healthy and how efficiently can you pack eggs? I think layers provide two main benefits to your farm. First, they add and manage manure on your behalf without any training. Second, the eggs you do sell provide ongoing customer exposure. Every yummy dozen eggs you put in someone’s kitchen is a chance for more. Maybe they want a chicken. Maybe they have a neighbor who wants to try your eggs. You need exposure to get word of mouth. Eggs provide constant exposure.

But not a lot of profit. If Henderson couldn’t make shell eggs pay…

Sick birds

I am not a veterinarian. I can not afford to call a veterinarian. If I have a sick chicken I just make a decision on the bird and move on. I don’t spend a lot of time on this topic because I keep my birds well fed and healthy (and I do think you feed health into your livestock). But I also don’t waste a lot of emotional energy on this topic. When it’s time to do something I just do it. Make a decision and move on. For example, we found four turkey poults were having trouble walking and put them in a hospital pen. One bird was looking particularly rough, the other three were recovering. What caused the problem in the first place? Maybe too crowded? Not enough Riboflavin? Too much protein in their feed? Dunno. I’m monitoring the situation. But that one bird? Compost. No second thoughts.

Also, and I know this seems uncaring, sometimes birds just die. No apparent reason. Just a dead bird. Was it defective? Did it break its neck getting on the roost? Did it choke on a grasshopper? Dunno. One dead bird is not cause for alarm. It is going to happen. 20 dead birds in one night is a problem to be solved.

Size of flock

How many birds should you have? More. Always more. Too few birds and you don’t have enough to sell and I would suggest a minimum of 50 birds to make it worth the management effort. If I had 100 birds/acre I would be a busy boy but I don’t think I would overload my farm. My current marketing reach could not move that much product but it would be fun to solve that problem. But the more birds you have the more efficiently you can operate. Every 250 birds or so will need a range feeder and a couple of drinkers. You should probably have 80 nest boxes for each 250 birds. And once you crack 250 you need to aim for 500. Then you can start getting bulk discounts on egg boxes and selling eggs by the case to larger buyers. I’m not there yet. I, personally, may never get that far. But I suspect the next generation will expand what I have started. I think you need more birds. Yes, I’m talking to you. Yes, you.

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Bird Breeds

It’s no fun to work with flighty birds. A reader, Eumaeus, suggested that his experiences with Silver Laced Wyandottes were negative…mostly that the birds were flighty. I find that I agree. SLW are flighty, lay medium eggs but they appear to winter well. Customers invariably ask me for Large eggs instead of Medium. It’s a problem.

We bought a flock of Rhode Island Reds from Central Hatchery some years ago. When I sold the aging birds they each weighed 10-12 pounds. Those were big, big birds. They were also pretty chill and gave fair numbers of large eggs.

We have also had good luck with a number of red sex-link breeds but our favorite, by far, are New Hampshire Red. Those are large birds but not as big as Central’s RIR. They lay dependably and tend to tip toward Large eggs.

Years ago we had Barred Plymouth Rock. Those birds didn’t do well with our heat here and I prefer not to raise them.

Eggs

We have also kept large numbers of Americauna chickens. For years we would pack a blue egg in the front right of every egg box. But we stopped. Americauna seem to stop laying entirely in October and don’t pick up again until April. Their eggs tended to be medium, they don’t do well with the heat…not worth the novelty.

Housing

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Our recent chicken house is, I humbly submit, a work of genius. We insulated the top and left the upper two feet open, wrapped with chicken wire. That is a cool structure for the birds to sleep in through the hot summer nights. Dad even wrapped the top in plastic over the winter to keep the birds warm in sub-zero weather. It worked very well. Predators seem to be reluctant to climb the ramp up to the chickens too. It’s a win all around.

It beats our other chicken housing attempts in every imaginable way. We have tried to close the birds up tight and they suffer in the heat. We have tried to leave them completely open to the elements and predators and they did a little better, though owls would pick them off as they roosted on the roof. The wheeled chicken house is highly portable, convenient and safe. 10/10. Would chicken house again.

Those are a few of my somewhat random thoughts on keeping chickens. Even if you don’t agree, please comment with your thoughts below. I can take it.

The Unsexy Truth Reading Journal Week 28

This morning I read Playing BIG: The Unsexy Truth About How to Succeed in Business by Kim Flynn. Julie attended an online seminar recently but, due to technical issues, the seminar couldn’t happen. The speaker, instead, sent everybody a free copy of her book. The book and the author’s primary focus are on women in business but truth is truth…even if I don’t understand the author’s near-constant references to shoes and haircuts named Bob.

I often start with a tangent then roll it back to the farm. Today, my friends, is no exception.

As I was sitting to write this post I accidentally clicked on Notepad++ icon in my toolbar instead of the Google Chrome icon. I spend an awful lot of time in Notepad++ professionally. Clicking on that icon just seems natural. But before I used Notepad++ I just used Notepad. But before I used Notepad I just ran stuff from command line. The first command line I remember using was on our Commodore SX-64 which Wikipedia tells me was released in 1984.

1984

2015

31 years.

I still practice. I still learn. I still read. I still research. Every day. I work each day to get a little bit better. I work to make myself a little bit more valuable. I work to gain skill and spread knowledge among my peers and employees.

31 years of continuous work and I still have a lot to learn.

That, my friends, is the unsexy truth. Kim Flynn says it clearly on page 21:

So here is the unsexy truth: You can’t shortcut growth.

And again on page 76:

The hard part, and the part that most people aren’t willing to do, is the every day. Doing small, seemingly insignificant things every day, one at a time, over and over again, now that is hard. You win the race by doing these unsexy, sometimes boring tasks, day after day after day.

How do you get a job like mine? You spend 30 years learning to type, writing scripts to delete files, writing scripts to retrieve data more quickly, writing scripts to notify system administrators of processing failure…the same solutions over and over and over day after day after day.

It’s time to roll this back to the farm.

Once upon a time I shared a big vision. What if we could graze all of Illinois? That’s not really our vision, that’s just an exercise we went through. What COULD be? What would it look like? I also read about Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch. He brought home the reality of that vision…apparently owning a big cattle operation includes a lot of flying around the world, making deals and drinking large quantities of alcohol.

But let’s step that back a bit. 5000 cows. That’s a more realistic vision.

How do I get to 5000 cows?

I start here.

I start with 20 cows. And I have to cull some of those.

Every day I walk to the cows. I greet my cows. I look at my cows. I look at the pasture behind my cows. I look at the pasture ahead of my cows. Every day. In the rain. In the heat. In the snow. Whatever. It’s kind of a grind.

But that’s what this book says business is all about. It’s not a series of efforts to begin something new. It’s a series of efforts to build momentum over time toward a single goal.

Now, let’s be clear. The book has some good advice. The author isn’t wasting the reader’s time with pure advertisement but the book is an advertisement. The author makes her money through coaching and seminars, not by authoring books. However, there is value in these pages. She lays out steps I can act on here at home, at work and on the farm to become better. In an early chapter she has you score yourself on leadership, marketing, customer service and finance. In the words of Wile E. Coyote, “Yipe!”

We have been here for 5 or 6 years, Julie and I. 5 or 6 years. We are still at the beginning. In part because we have so much to learn. In part because we haven’t been serious students.

This book was a light, quick read and served as a reminder that I have more “dream” than “do” in me right now. Big hat, no cattle.

But while the book was a light read, it is also worthy of further consideration. The author did an excellent job of pointing out my weaknesses. Now I have to address them. Little by little. Day by day. Year by year. I’m going to start with standardization and automation. I hate writing SOPs but I need some way to ensure that I am not a single point of failure either at work or on the farm. So we’ll begin by breaking things down. Here’s what you do on Monday. Here’s what to do if it goes wrong. Here’s how to know if it went well.

I am probably choosing this exercise because I don’t want to learn QuickBooks as the author suggests. That sounds like a lot of work.

I’m sure I’ll revisit this book in the future. But the author has given me a lot of work to do between now and then.

What Is It About You?

I kissed you for the first time in December of 1993. Do you remember that?  Of course you do. That didn’t end well.

But why didn’t it work then? I don’t really know. You were/are a pretty girl but…I dunno…something wasn’t quite…

The next summer I was busy telling you all about that other girl I was hoping to marry someday. But said girl wasn’t having any of it. Why was I telling you?

Shortly after that I swore off playing kissy face and got more “serious” about work and school. You remember that. I was “tired of wasting my kisses” (ah, the smell of teen drama…). I wouldn’t kiss another girl until I knew I was going to marry her. You were there. I told you about it. Why were you there? My parents had a party to celebrate the new house they had built. We were sitting on the front step talking. I was talking about that other girl. You were rolling your eyes.

How did you know?

I didn’t hold out. Somehow you broke down my barriers. I remember kissing you in November of 1995. Do you remember that? Of course you do. I got you an engagement ring at Christmas but it arrived late. I spent every last dime on that ring and I didn’t have a present for you on Christmas Eve. Not even a card. Oh, the things I would do differently…

Christmas

What happened in between? How did I go from “something wasn’t quite…” to “let’s get hitched”?

You came home from a trip in the fall of ’94 talking about some dude you met and I felt myself getting angry. Mark. Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark, MARK! Why was I getting angry? I had nothing to be jealous of. We weren’t dating. I was just hanging out at your house playing video games with you and your brothers.

I wasn’t there specifically to be with you. I was watching movies and making potato guns and listening to music…you were just somewhere nearby. We played king of the mountain in the snow, we caught frogs and snakes and stuff…we just played around. You were there too.

Why were you there?

Why did we get engaged? Not because of Mark.

I'm going through old boxes and found our engagement picture. I was only 4 years older than my oldest is now. Eek!

A photo posted by Julie Ann Jordan (@20acreacademy) on

What did you do to me?

Whatever you did seems to be working. Nearly half of my life I’ve been married to you. And Mark hasn’t. Nanny-nanny boo-boo. (I hope I don’t find out someday that Mark is fictional…)

So what is it about you? Is it your hair or your looks? You are certainly a pretty girl. 20 years and four children haven’t changed you at all.

The ever fashionable rainsuit.

A photo posted by Julie Ann Jordan (@20acreacademy) on

Maybe it’s that you look great standing in the rain and mud after milking the cow and taking a selfie. Or maybe it’s that you stand in the rain and mud after milking the cow and take a selfie. Or maybe that you milk the cow in spite of the rain and mud. Maybe that was the point of the selfie.

I really don’t know.

So what is it about you that I married?

Remember that part about your brothers? Your dad played video games with us too. Heck, your mom played Dr. Mario with us. And your mom made us pizza every week while we watched movies. And your grandpa hired me. And your grandpa fired me. And your grandma hired me. And your aunts and uncles are pretty cool.

Maybe I married your family and you were just a bonus.

Maybe. But I don’t think so.

I think it’s just something about you. Something I can’t quite pin down. And I have no idea how you did it.

Maybe I’ll figure it out in another couple of decades.

I know that I love you. It’s hard to be specific about what I love about you so I’ll just take the whole package and not ask “Why?” questions.

I love you. Happy 18th anniversary Julie Boo.

Addition:

Friday night Julie said, “I know you do a blog post for our anniversary every year. It might be nice for us to work on that together.”

“Um…it’s already written and scheduled.”

This post isn’t old enough for me to regret writing it yet but maybe I should have just scrapped it in favor of the collaborative effort. But she’s reminding me of details that…ugh. What a dork. Why did she marry me? She even said, “You can’t put that in the post…” Nope. I can’t. Ugh.

Sunsets and Reading Journals

My lovely bride and I were taking a leisurely stroll through the pasture Tuesday evening at sunset. Well, that’s not quite true. We were closing up chickens at sunset, collecting eggs, separating the dairy calf and preparing to move one of the layer houses. But whatever we were doing, we saw something beautiful. Something my phone couldn’t quite capture.

So as I show you the first picture, look past the ground trampled by the cattle during the heavy rains we had last week that has since been trampled by chickens. It’s a mess. But it’s a good mess. Instead, look at the trees in the background as the sunset imitates fall colors.

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A little later Julie and I were checking on the beef cattle and she stopped to take a picture. She was trying to capture the silhouette of the silo in the sunset. I tried too.

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The pictures don’t capture the beauty of the moment though.

And they certainly don’t tell the whole story.

Julie was excitedly telling me what she had read in Emerson’s Essays and English Traits earlier that day. There is too much I want to comment on in her reading so I am going to pare it down to the minimum and circle back around to sunset chores with my bride. You with me? Emerson essays, a pretty girl and a beautiful sunset all wrapped up with a neat bow. I think I can do this.

I find Emerson impossible to read. I sometimes get as far as a full sentence without having to stop and reflect. College reading assignments required tight timelines. We just had to read and regurgitate, rinse and repeat. I didn’t do well. I don’t want to read and regurgitate. I want to read and reflect. I got a degree in biology instead of a degree in English.

But the college thing is in my past. I still don’t have the time but I LOVE to read. Love it.

And I enjoy reading Emerson…when I have the time to reflect on it.

There is a little time for reflection while Julie and I finish up our evening chores. Sometimes just as we walk together. Maybe as we wait for a water tank to fill. She read the following and wanted to discuss it:

But quite apart from the emphasis which the times give to the doctrine that the manual labor of society ought to be shared among all the members, there are reasons proper to every individual why he should not be deprived of it. The use of manual labor is one which never grows obsolete, and which is inapplicable to no person. A man should have a farm or a mechanical craft for his culture. We must have a basis for our higher accomplishments, our delicate entertainments of poetry and philosophy, in the work of our hands. We must have an antagonism in the tough world for all the variety of our spiritual faculties or they will not be born.

Julie and I are working together. And the work is hard. The previous evening I waded into the pond to convince the cattle they should stop imitating hippopotami and return to solid ground. After wading bare foot through surprisingly warm and mushy piles on the bottom of the muddy pond (yeah…) and swarms of insects, I returned the electric fence to it’s full, upright position and powered it up then washed the mud and manure off of my feet. This counts, in my mind, as antagonism in the tough world. It builds character. And strength. And callous.

Our eldest was with us when I repaired the fence. Maybe I didn’t have the most pleasant expression on my face. Maybe I wasn’t the cheerful worker I would like to be. I am afraid he thought this was somehow his fault. And in some ways it maybe was but I certainly wasn’t mad at him. I really wasn’t mad at all. I just wanted to finish up and get home. The electric fence had been off. Had the electric fence been on it would not have helped as that leg of the fence was disconnected. These are things Julie and the boy had worked on only an hour prior to the hippogate incident.

But what about the boy? What is his involvement? How are we investing in his character? Is the farm his? Mine? I don’t feel obligated to run the Tom Chism museum. Will he feel obligated to run the Chris Jordan museum or will the farm be truly his? These are the questions I was asking myself as Julie continued to share her reading with me as the sun set on a Tuesday evening in June.

Consider further the difference between the first and second owner of property. Every species of property is preyed on by its own enemies, as iron by rust; timber by rot; cloth by moths; provisions by mould, putridity, or vermin; money by thieves; an orchard by insects; a planted field by weeds and the inroad of cattle; a stock of cattle by hunger; a road by rain and frost; a bridge by freshets. And whoever takes any of these things into his possession, takes the charge of defending them from this troop of enemies, or of keeping them in repair. A man who supplies his own want, who builds a raft or a boat to go a-fishing, finds it easy to calk it, or put in a thole-pin, or mend the rudder. What he gets only as fast as he wants for his own ends, does not embarrass him, or take away his sleep with looking after. But when he comes to give all the goods he has year after year collected, in one estate to his son,—house, orchard, ploughed land, cattle, bridges, hardware, woodenware, carpets, cloths, provisions, books, money,—and cannot give him the skill and experience which made or collected these, and the method and place they have in his own life, the son finds his hands full,—not to use these things, but to look after them and defend them from their natural enemies. To him they are not means, but masters.

I don’t want the farm to master my children. I don’t want to enslave my children to my dreams.

But I do want to share my dreams with my children. Maybe inspire them to have similar dreams. Maybe they will look past my own limited view and carry us further than I imagined possible. With or without cattle.

Julie and I bought a farm because Julie and I wanted a farm. Then we turned the kids loose. We played in streams. We caught frogs and crayfish. We played with kittens born in the barn or jumped from bale to bale in the loft. We went swimming. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. That’s a typical Sunday on the farm. Cows? Pigs? Eggs? Those are a means to an end. The means to an end Emerson spoke of above. The basis for our higher accomplishments. How much brain power is required to shovel horse manure? None at all. But that doesn’t mean we switch off. We think. We talk. We wonder how we can inspire the children and give them a real sense of pride, ownership, vision and place. We explore our perception of the world together.

And we talk about how our reading impacts our thoughts today. My beautiful wife and I. Holding hands and watching the sun set over the barn roof.

I don’t want to enslave my children to my chore list. I want them to have what Julie and I have. Their own dreams. Their own work. Their own thoughts.

Further, I want them to be confident in their own thoughts. Confident in their own genius. Confident in their purpose.

Emerson covers genius in the next chapter and I leave it to you, reader, to discover it for yourself.

Mind Your Own Busyness

Holy. Cow.

Where does the time go? You know all those things I want to do with my day? Well, there’s more stuff to do than there is day to do it. And it’s becoming a problem.

I hate the idea that keeping busy is good. I don’t want to be busy. I want to get stuff done but not for the sake of keeping busy. I just want to get some things done. But I’m not getting anything done. I’m just busy. Arrgh!

A typical day goes something like this: Get up at 5. Well, turn off the alarm at 5. Then lay there questioning my life choices for 30 minutes or so, fading in and out of dreams. Then I get up. Maybe wash a dish, maybe take out the trash, definitely make the coffee. If things are going well I see the cows and release the chickens in time to shower, dress and get out the door by 6:30. Then I have a whole day of misplaced priorities, good intentions, uncertain goals and a few people yelling at me followed by the evening commute…where, again, I question my life choices. Once home I butcher some chickens or build fence or just do whatever needs to be done until it’s dark and I’m forced to eat supper. By 9:00 I’m laying in bed wondering where my day went, why I got so little done and questioning my life choices one last time.

So I have to ask, “What have I done to end up here?”

Oh, Geez. I don’t have time to answer that question. I was an average to below-average student in school. I was not popular or cool. At. All. (I played tuba in the marching band.) How did that guy end up married to Julie? How/Why did Julie let me buy my grandma’s house? How did I make it this far in my professional career? Why am I asking you? I don’t know anything.

I really don’t.

Empty heads spill a lot of words. I would write on my blog more if I only had more time. I need to write on my blog. It forces me to learn. Forces me to stop and think about stupid decisions I have made in the past and document current choices for later regret reflection. It gives me a chance to listen to your thoughts too.

But I don’t have time for reflection. I’m busy. Busy doing what? I really don’t know. It took me almost three weeks to set up a new laptop for my mom. It took me a month to build a new PC for the kids to play on. There is brush needs to be cut. Layers need to be moved. Portable shade structures need to be built. None of it is getting done. Hay wagons to repair. Barn repairs to be made. Home remodeling projects. No traction.

It’s summer. That’s how it is. At least that’s what I tell myself.

A reader, Kari, recently asked how I’m doing on my ambitious list of goals for the year. About what you would expect. The things I had to do have gotten done. Some things turned out to be wants instead of needs and have slipped to the side. And that’s how it goes.

How are you doing on your list?

Laundry Time

It’s that time of year again. 90 degrees and 90% humidity at 7 in the morning. Good times. We are generating a lot of laundry. I sweat through all of my clothes before breakfast. Then I shower. Then I put on my office clothes. I wear long sleeves every day because I work in an air conditioned office but am acclimated to life outdoors. But long sleeves on hot days waiting for the car’s A/C to kick in…well, not the best idea. At the end of the day I put on a fresh set of work clothes which I sweat through while moving the cattle. I later set those aside because I will need to wear them again (however wet and/or smelly they are) when I close up the chickens at dusk. Then I shower again.

Every day I generate a lot of laundry. A towel or two, two pairs of jeans, 3 or 4 pairs of socks…you get the idea.

Julie also generates a lot of laundry.

So do the kids.

Let’s paint the picture more fully though. And I can do this without droning on about smelly work clothes.

The grass is waist-high right now and we have been getting heavy rainfall. We need hip waders to get through the grass without taking a bath. Even on the days there is no rain the condensation on each blade of grass is enough to fill your rubber boots with water (Thank God my boots have holes in them to let the water out!). But the tall grass brings welcome relief from the swarms of hungry deerflies, desperate for a level of intimacy I don’t care to reciprocate. There is enough breeze on the ridges to keep them at bay but the valleys are hard to tolerate. I feel for the cattle. There are patches of horn flies on the backs of most animals, deerflies buzzing around and biting and huge horseflies here and there. Man do horseflies hurt when they bite!

Why are there so many flies? Well, there are just lots of insects. More than I remember from previous years. More of all kinds. More dung beetles, more praying mantis, more spiders, more wasps, more solitary bees, more moths. There are more barn swallow nests than I remember seeing in previous years. More frogs and toads.

But there are also more weeds.

Thistle

I started talking about my clothing but now it’s time for the real dirty laundry. I have a pasture full of flies and weeds. And I don’t like it.

But I’m going with it and here’s the theory. I believe, perhaps naively, that what I am seeing right now is a return to soil health. Over time, as soil health builds, we will see a continued increase in plant and insect diversity but a decrease in the number of flies and thistles. For decades the cattle were allowed to make trails through my pastures. Those trails are beginning to heal now but the soil is massively compacted. The Earth doesn’t want to be naked. Right now it’s being covered by anything that will grow in that compacted and eroded soil. But over time things will calm down and succession will push forward.

I see my pastures as being in their awkward teen years, covered in pimples and voice cracking. Hormones are out of balance, diet is poor, sleep is irregular. It hasn’t figured out how desperately it needs to shower and wear deodorant. But it will. Or I will. The pasture succeeds at pointing out my most glaring management mistakes but I see things moving forward. We have seen big increases in palatable grasses and clover density in some places. Other places, I think, just need a little more practice. A little more time.

Time is the key factor.

And the post is really about time, not about laundry. It’s the time of the year when we generate a lot of laundry. We generate a lot of grass. We generate a lot of insects. But time will soon change. The leaves will fall. Then the snow will fall and I’ll shiver under a blanket remembering those glorious days of 90 degree mornings. Right now I look forward to blankets and books. But the shine will wear off of that in January and I’ll start dreaming about hot weather and hay bales.