Self Sufficient Steward

“Status Report” Mr. Green Jeans?

Yeah, I know. Cultural overload to channel Kirk and Kangaroo in the same sentence, but it fits the bill.

All crazy on the western front. Work is insanely busy, spring is a month early. We have two new ‘rescue’ dogs, and my wife is squeezing ten years worth of out-of-town travel into six months. I’ve also been looking at setting up a separate area for composting my garden waste. I’m thinking of a fairly efficient set up, possibly with one, maybe more compost tumblers. These simple devices help you toss the compost easily so that it ensures the pile gets evenly composted. I’ve been checking out a couple of websites as background work on which ones a the best to buy.

Anyway, busy times, so, any update is by necessity, a quick pictorial one. From this morning:

Some irises, with a hint or Knockout roses to come.

The ten foot long, high tunnel cold frame (now mostly open) was a huge success for greens through the winter and early spring, The true test? Whether shade cloth can make succession planting work through the summer….stay tuned.

A good spring for plums. The plum curlicos thought so too.

The good news? Tons of baby peachettes. The bad news? The same. So I’ll be removing most (down to one per six inches) so the young tree grows instead of the fruit, leaving enough to whet our appetite for a full grown tree.

Now HERE is the real deal. Midday on Saturday, this 600 square feet of dirt, was a two year-old chicken yard, with foot tall weeds and some seriously entrenched turf. After hours with a borrowed Troy-Bilt Horse and my Mantis tiller, and more hours on my knees with a shovel making the raised beds…..voila! Three dozen (so far) heirloom tomato varieties are comfy, after being raised from seed in the back room. They’re mostly planted about 16″ deep, so drought shouldn’t be an issue (given the water bottles).

Yeah, I buy liniment in bulk.

Credit: Best Rotating Compost Bin for Mixing your Garden Compost (GardenEaze)

Plodding Along

After a period of using Facebook to blather about my world, I’m returning to the blogosphere. No, it’s not because I’m convinced that my story needs to be heard. Rather it’s that my memory sucks, and if no one reads these posts in the future but me, they will have served their purpose.

So, the first phase of the additions started with the front looking like this, taken in mid-February:

Now, on April second, it looks like this:

Six weeks is a long time to just get this far, and it’s been discouraging. But so be it. First, the weather has sucked. Second, I am not the thirty-two year-old that did this part the first time in 1987. Third, this time, it was me and a shovel, mattock and wheelbarrow. No backhoe, etc. And fourth, I did manage to slow progress by squeezing in one trip to the ER and two follow-up medical ‘procedure’ days lost (3/16, 3/24, 3/31) due to ‘acute colitis’ and excessive dehydration. But at this point, I am smarter, lighter, and better hydrated, and looking forward to the next steps. And today, the County gave me a thumbs-up to pour concrete; hopefully tomorrow.

Stay tuned readers. By that, I mean me.

Wrapping Up a Personal Interregnum?

Yeah ‘interregnum’ is an SAT prep kinda word, but for some forgotten reason it came up the other day, and hung around in the back of my mind. I’ve always thought of it as defining the ‘unruly’ period between two monarchs, and it occurred two me that perhaps that’s what I could call the last six months: my own personal interregnum. By that I mean, that period between my previous life, which was ruled on a daily basis by school/work, and my future life, which will be ‘ruled’ by….still unclear. While I’m not certain, I think I’m beginning to sort out what will order my daily routine. Don’t get me wrong, my first six months of retirement have been both productive and enjoyable. I’ve gotten ahead on some projects here in the country, though by no means am I caught up. And I’ve also had some time to think about me, and what brings me satisfaction. On that list of satisfiers, (along with a stiff bourbon at sunset), is a task to be done, preferably in my own manner and at my own pace, with skills that I at least sort of possess. I mean, while I’ve thoroughly appreciated having more time to fish, and continue to look forward to my weekly sessions gardening with the kids doing community service in Siler City, I realize that I emotionally need a to-do list damn near everyday or I start twitching. So, in gradually ending this first phase of retirement, I’ve decided to tackle a big project, which will likely ‘rule’ my life for the next few years. It’s one that my wife and I have talked about for years, but I’ve been seriously dragging my feet, reluctant to spend our savings to pay for someone else’s labor (and giving that someone else control to boot). So starting in early spring, I plan to embark on stage one of a three-stage home renovation/addition project. It will mean sore muscles, buying a bunch of new tools (thank god for sites like Home Tool Helper) and acquiring or dusting off construction skills largely dormant since we built our own house in 1986-88, while I was teaching high school. I’m hoping to farm out as little as possible, but point-and-pay is always an option, since I’m definitely not as young as I used to be.

This week, my opening moves have been spent in front of the computer, learning the CAD program I used to generate the 2D and 3D images below.

In the image above, our existing house is under the light colored silver roof, and is sided in white. Stage one is adding a new entrance, seen in brown siding, under the darker roof (red arrow) seen at the left front. Stage two (a dining room) also uses brown siding in the drawing, but is largely under the light-silver roof of the existing house, since it consists of converting an existing screen porch/entrance. This addition is seen on the right. While stage three (the most ambitious) is a large, geriatric-friendly bedroom and bathroom, seen under the back right red arrow.

In the two dimensional plan, stages one and two are outlined in red. The area in green is the existing screen porch, which we plan to double the existing width and morph the area into a new dining room. Stage three isn’t shown on the 2D plan (it’s off the bottom of the page), and is only vaguely roughed in on the last 3D image below, in which it is the right-hand red arrow. The middle arrow points to the planned bump-out to widen the dining room, which will require adding six feet or so to the existing roof line.

So, after six months of deciding how to spend my early years of retirement, I’m hoping that this is a good call. Wish us luck.

Cutting and Running?

On June third, I was arrested and charged with second degree trespassing and failure to disperse at a Moral Monday protest at the NC General Assembly. Tomorrow morning is my first court appearance. After several days of consideration, I’ve decided to accept the District Attorney’s plea agreement rather than plead ‘not guilty’. The agreement involves paying $180 in court costs and serving twenty-five hours of community service. Accepting it was not an easy decision, and most of those who are aware of my arrest will likely be disappointed in my choice. So, I’m going to try and explain my rationale.

First, why did I get arrested in the first place? For me that is easy. What was happening behind the closed doors of the General Assembly was in my view unconscionable, yet the majority of voters were ignorant of the policies that were being enacted in their name. The Democratic legislators in the minority were powerless, and so the NAACP, joined by a cross-section of citizens, committed civil disobedience week after week by refusing to leave the General Assembly rotunda when directed to do so. The resulting nine hundred plus arrests made news week after week. And citizens in their living rooms across the state, indeed across the nation began to ask why. The answer to that question required an airing of the specifics of the myriad of horrific bills that had been passed. And that exposure caused an increasing number of people to question the actions of their legislators, so that in time more people approved of the Moral Monday protestors, than approved of their legislators. So far, the movement has been a remarkable success.

The protest was about legislation involving voting rights, educational cuts, regressive tax rates, etc. It was not about access to the rotunda. In that sense, I have a hard time pleading ‘not guilty’ to the charge of trespassing. I knew the law. Frankly, I was not there to protest the law I was accused of violating. But I violated that law, and I am willing to pay the price demanded. Yes, as these cases proceed through the courts, that law will be challenged, and it may or may not be eventually overturned. But the attention of the public will be on the burden on the court system, not on the law itself, and most importantly not on the horrific legislation I was there to protest. If that particular trespassing law needs to be challenged, then a single case will have the same impact as nine hundred cases; the law will stand or it will fall. And a single case will not burden the court system and the taxpayers further. In addition, this situation is not analogous to the the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s or the Campaign for Southern Equality protests of today. Those protests directly challenge an unjust status quo, and each and every case reminds the public of that specific injustice directly. In our case, most people outside the movement would fail to connect the dots; while watching news coverage of a trespassing trial, they’re unlikely to ponder cuts to early voting.

Fast forward to September, and decision time for me. I lay out the pros and cons of accepting the plea agreement, versus continuing the protest by pleading ‘not guilty’ and forcing the case to trial. I attempted to divide the argument into how my choice would affect me personally, and how it would affect the overall goal of the protest. Personally, foregoing the plea deal is less risky for me than for many. As a retiree, I have time. I live within sixty miles of the courthouse, and I can afford a larger fine if that is the result. That said, I do not want to invest large amounts of time, or money, and I certainly do not relish the thought of actual jail time. However, I feel strongly about the issues that drove me to protest. If I didn’t have serious concerns about the wisdom of an ongoing number of Moral Monday-related trials, I honestly feel I would stand my ground. But I’m not. Because I think pursuing this further is a bad strategy when it comes to achieving our goals. I’ll try to articulate why.

Let me be clear. I am proud to have been arrested as part of this movement, and am not re-thinking the wisdom of that decision. Because I am firmly convinced that those protests achieved their goal – the enlightenment of many North Carolinians who would otherwise have remained ignorant about cuts to their school budgets, about steps taken to suppress future voting, about additional abortion restrictions, etc. The publicity surrounding those weeks of protest accomplished that goal. But the question I asked myself was: “What would the publicity surrounding months of Moral Monday trials accomplish?” Would it improve the public’s understanding of the new regressive tax structure? Would it highlight taxpayer money diverted from public education to private education? Would it explain the gutting of the state’s key environmental oversight commissions? I expect not. I don’t think that it will educate the voters. It will simply showcase taxpayer money being spent on trials of people like myself, who deliberately got ourselves arrested. I believe that many largely apolitical voters, feeling that these trials could have been avoided, will lose sympathy for our efforts. In short, I think continuing this process could backfire. And I believe it is time to declare victory and focus our energies on voter registration and education, so that we can overturn the acts of this past legislative session.

Finally, I fully realize that my position is somewhat heretical among people, zealots like myself, who feel strongly about the righteousness of the Moral Monday protests. But if our goal is repeal of these laws, then that must happen at the ballot box. And to win at the ballot box, we must convince large numbers of non-zealots of the wisdom of our efforts. We did just that with this summer’s rallies, and with the exposure generated by our arrests. I am proud to be associated with those who feel the need to continue along this path. But I do not believe that we will repeat our previous success by pursuing this avenue.

In Over My Head

So I’ve been retired for ninety days. More time off than I can remember since I was fourteen. But it’s zoomed by, filled with two week-long road trips (one on the other side of the continent), preparation for three mega parties on the property (a retirement party for 100+ and two showers), six trips to Raleigh, culminating in getting arrested, a fortieth high school reunion, and a LOT of mowing and weeding to keep up with an amazingly rainy summer. Still, I’ve been making progress on some projects and am just barely beginning to get a handle on what retirement will hold for us. As part of the long view, I’m determined to acquire a few life skills, among them…cooking. Let me explain. We grow a lot of our own food. I help with that. A lot. We preserve a lot of our own food. I help with that. Very little. But most importantly, the VAST majority of the meals we eat are cooked at home. I help with that. Not at all. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Although, in my defense, honoring the prominently displayed plaque over our kitchen sink (“No man was ever shot while washing dishes”) I do wash a lot of dishes (take out the garbage and compost, etc.) But I do NOT cook. Ever.

Until tonight. And it wasn’t part of the plan. I had mentioned my ‘continuing education’ plan to my siblings. Error. As a retirement gift, I received kitchen towels, two books on cooking, and a kitchen knife worth more than my car. Crap. Bet called. So my wife and I agreed that I would start next week. No problem. Plenty of time to study up and achieve a sufficient level of Prozac beforehand. An over-reaction? Let me explain. My wife is a phenomenal cook. A freaking prodigy. I have dined like a king for thirty-five years. Practically every night. So my agreeing to cook dinner one night a week is roughly equivalent to saying: “Shit, I been playing b-ball since 1967. Meet Koby in the Staples Center? Hell yeah! And he better bring it!”

Yes. Self-induced pressure. But I had another six days to get ready, until early this morning. I have my list of chores at home. A full day. looking forward to it. Sent my wife off to work and started into the list. The phone rings. It’s my wife. She has that voice I’ve only heard a handful of times in thirty-five years, and hope to never hear again, though I certainly will. Something seriously bad has happened. Someone has died, and it has shaken her to her core. But she has a job to do; a staff of youngsters that need a leader. Her, their mama doc. So she plunges into her day, amidst the tears of her entire staff. Meanwhile, I hang up the phone. Sad at the loss of a young man I also knew, and unspeakably sad for his family, but also amazed at my wife’s resilience. My wife of thirty-four years, who will work a long, long day. And then come home to cook dinner as usual, after a most unusual day. So I jumped the gun. I called in the ‘pros from Dover‘ (my brother and his wonderful significant other) for assistance. Despite teaching college classes in Virginia, she helps me to do the only little thing I could do. Attempt to pick up the load and cook, so that my wife arrives to the smell of a homemade quiche, a unique summery salad featuring watermelon and cucumber, and ice cream with a truly killer blackberry sauce (from berries I picked here this morning).

My efforts (and hopefully the food) made her smile.

And that meant the world to me.

High Cotton Indeed

We spent last week in San Francisco, cramming in as much of that fabulous city as possible. But the main reason we were there was to take in some of the Louis Vuitton Cup, a series of races to determine who will challenge Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup next month. To that end, we rented a condo in that part of town and spent three afternoons watching the competition. But prior to that, we were fortunate enough to hook up with an old friend of old friends, who took us out for a ‘three hour tour’ of San Francisco Bay in his Swann 51 sailboat. During that afternoon, we were delighted to see three of the Cup contenders getting in some practice time, as well as see a replica of the yacht America out for a sail. Highlights of the afternoon are captured on the five minute video below.

For reference, the America’s Cup boats are 72 feet long. More on that (and race footage) to come.

The harbor tour was the start to a marvelous week; high cotton indeed.

Moral Monday (6-10-13)

No, I didn’t get arrested again. That would be violating the terms of my release from jail last week. So make note: news reports of the ~390 arrests during six weeks of Moral Mondays fail to point out that this represents 390 individual choices, not the same folks again and again. As you can see from the video I took yesterday, despite a downpour during the rally, there were easily 1500+ people there to bear witness. And as you can see from the two-by-two procession near the end, a significant portion of those practicing civil disobedience were clergy. North Carolina clergy, I might add, Governor. Not ‘outsiders‘ Some six hours after the video, I personally drove several of them from the detention center following their release, to Pullen Baptist Church where food and more friends awaited them.

So, in the weeks to come, please consider lending a hand. You could send money to the NC chapter of the NAACP. (Their State Treasurer was one of the friends I made late last night, a sweet woman about my age, who clearly puts in LONG hours for the movement.) You could safely attend the next rally, as thousands have done with zero chance of arrest. Or you can deliberately make the decision to commit civil disobedience by refusing to leave the General Assembly when asked. It doesn’t involve shouting, or being dragged, on confrontation of any kind. Other than a polite ‘no’ when told to exit. All parties involved know that neither is the ‘enemy’.

What a Difference a … Couple of Decades Makes

I know that this won’t be funny to anyone else but me. But I came across this memo last week while cleaning out my office. It struck me as absurd at the time (memo is dated 1992) enough so that I pilfered a copy. But the edict was honest-to-god serious, from our department’s home office on the third floor. Not just any third floor. We’re talking about a fairly prestigious medical school, in the oldest public university in the United States.

The point is: Despite the fact that I still love teaching ‘kids’, it is SO time for me to leave that noble work to others, in this age of instant access to literally the world’s knowledge.

Given that I was forged in the age of mimeograph machines, overhead transparencies, and pencil sharpeners.