Saturday, October 22, 2016

Harvest Time on the Farm

I went up to College Station Friday to visit with my son, and figure out how we were going to handle housing while he was in college.  On the way from Brenham to College Station we passed a lot of fields on highway 50.  Lot's of harvested, and about-to-be-harvested cotton farms out there.  It made me realize that we are really in Harvest time now, and it made me want to take a look back at how the Cromwell Farm's harvest is going.

The problem with too much land, it takes too much focus to maintain it.

Back in the winter of 2016 I decided to focus the farm on fewer fields.  The idea was that there were several fields that were under-performing, and costing too much to keep them running.  The studio space in Houston was one of the lots on the block in fact.  I started setting up a studio space on the farm proper, and moved items from the Houston space to the farm.

Also, in the winter it was realized that the upkeep for the tenant farms were making them too costly to keep.  I needed to adjust the budget in order to keep them going.  These farms used to produce more than enough to cover their expenses, but the cost of taxes and maintenance keeps going up.

In the end, the budget adjustment has been enough to forestall the land loss.  This makes me kinda happy, but I know it's only a matter of time until the whole thing turns back around again.  If it's not being maintained, then it's just going to end up costing money with nothing to show for it.  Next time cutting expenses might not be enough to avoid the problems.

Back to the Harvest

It's the busiest time of the year of course.  If you leave things in the ground too long, they are lost.  If you don't get them to market in time, they are lost.  If you don't collect enough seeds for next year, then you'll have nothing to plant (and no harvest next year).

All the worrying about land, meant that not much got planted.  I'm trying to harvest an art show right now, and the work is slimmer than I would have liked.  Furthermore, I am having to generate framing right now for the work, and this is cutting into production time.  So, I'm sure some pieces are going to be lost in the ground for this season.

Due to increased taxes and a major investment in the tenant farms, there is nothing to harvest from that land.  I'll be paying into it for some time before I break even again.

Not all Gloom and Doom

I do not want to give the impression that this has been a terrible year.  There are certainly some things that were harvested, and were good.  I was able to get my first book printed.  This is a new way to harvest from my work in the art fields, and I'm hoping to do more of these.

Upkeep work is being done on the tenant farms, hopefully making life better for those tenants and helping them be more productive.

Also, I've been adding to my reserve of seeds for next year's planting.  After a thorough cleaning, I discovered lots of art material for new projects.   I have a few months before I have to worry about this, so I won't go into details here.

Basically, we are going to be able to pull it off for one more season, and that's better than not.  This way of looking at things in seasonal time (like a farm) definitely has advantages.  I like being able to say that 2016 was minimally successful without having to wait until January 1, 2017.

This Tiny Plot of Land

I like the fact that even though some debts will still be with us, we can put the problems of planting and managing and harvesting into a book called 2016, close the cover and walk into the future.  Therefore, the tiny plot of land that is this blog and what it represents, has had a positive harvest.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Growing a Money Tree

So I've planted a money tree on the farm.  I'm hoping to get a good crop this year.  According to the tag it was suppose to be a hundred-dollar tree, but I have a suspicion that it's actually a one-dollar tree.  Of course we won't know until next spring.  The trick with the money tree is the watering -- it's very thirsty.  The other issue that this tree has is it doesn't produce seeds.  How great would it be to have a money tree grove.

So I know that some of you are asking at this point how I got a money tree, especially if it doesn't have seeds.  Simple, I made it up.  There is no tree, and no harvest coming in the spring.  It's a great idea though right?  Just think if you could see the buds of future money growing and changing color as the season progresses.  What wouldn't you do to protect that tree?  How much time would you spend watering and feeding this tree.  It's so easy to work on things when the result is so obvious.  Water a money tree, and money grows, and then you pluck the leaves and have money.

Lets pretend for a moment that there was a money tree.  Now lets pretend that it is kept on an island way out in the middle of the ocean.  You know where it is, and occasionally a shipment of leaves gets delivered to your house along with a bucket that you must fill with water and send back to the tree (there's no fresh water on the little island).  How confident do you feel about this tree?  You don't know how big it is, or what the conditions of the island is.  You don't know how many leaves are growing or how fast.  You don't even know if the water you are sending back even makes it to the island.  How do you feel now?

I can tell you that I would be planning an expedition to the island, or looking for another tree.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

You know that the refrigerator is just a box full of cold air right?

Boxes have a magical quality. They can make different things the same. They can make many things one. They can make things disappear.  This power, like all power, can be used for good or evil. I find that the more boxes I have around me the more likely I am to use them improperly. The refrigerator is a good example of one of these bad boxes.

... their power can be used for good or evil ...

I don't cook for many people -- usually just one.  I want to cook good healthy food and therefore I often pick up a few vegetables at the store.  When I would get the groceries home I would load up the refrigerator.  At the end of the week, I would go through the fridge and pull out all the food that had gone bad waiting to be used.  I finally decided that I need to stop this wasteful process.  I was wasting money on food that wasn't eaten.  I was not eating healthier.  It was just not working out.

... I was wasting food ... not eating ...

The problem that I determined was that I would not see the food.  It was hidden in the refrigerator box.  When I see kitchens on film there is always food laying around ready to be cooked.  When you walked into my kitchen there were just unappetizing boxes.  No one has ever said, "hey man, that's a delicious looking fridge."  When you are hungry you want food.  If there was food in the kitchen rather than boxes I would be more likely to eat it.

... That's a delicious looking fridge, said no one ever ...

I started by taking out the eggs.  I have them for breakfast, so they are used up fast enough to not need refrigeration.  Then my mother surprised me by suddenly leaving her butter out on the counter in a sealed glass container.  It was super handy and it was warm and easy to spread.  Then I was shopping for vegetables and thought about green onions.  Now, green onions are one of those things that really bug me.  I cannot eat a whole bunch of green onions before they go bad.  So I was looking up storage options.  Someone suggested putting them on the counter in a glass of water.  I tried this, and was completely amazed by the result.  Not only did they stay fresh, but they actually grew.  I increased the amount of food that I bought by simply not refrigerating it -- mind blown.

I'm still at the beginning of this kitchen change.  I've more things to learn, but I have a good feeling about it.  My goal is to get rid of my large refrigerator in time, and just have a small one for those things that must stay cold (uncooked meats, drinks, etc.)

Friday, September 16, 2016

New Roof

This next week the I'm having the roof on my house re-shingled.  Hopefully the weather is cooperative.

I wonder about what is the next thing that will need fixing around here.

When I bought my house I thought that I would create a manual for the maintenance of the property.  I imagined that it would be nice to have a scheduled maintenance book like you might get with a new car.  Something that would list how often the door should be painted, and the sink gaskets replaced.  Every 25 years there would be a roof.  Every six years the kitchen appliances would be maintained or replaced -- and on and on and on.

I've owned the house for 20 years, and I've had to do work on different things.  No manual was ever done, and I wonder if that would have made any of it easier.  Of course, the wise person would turn to me and ask, "Kevin, do you do all the scheduled maintenance for you car?" I would then say something about time and money and blah blah blah.  No a manual would not make it easier to get things done.  Planning would make things easier.  Saving would make things affordable.  Being proactive would make the time available.

If I ever get my home-owner's manual done I'm sure that it will make it here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

How it all goes down the drain

I've been called an "enabler" before.

I submit that the difference between "enabling" and "helping" is that help must be asked for.  Many times enabling is caused by the enabler being stressed out about a situation, and not willing to wait for the person actually involved to figure it out.

I admit that I've done this just yesterday at work, rather than letting a co-worker figure out their coding mistakes, I just re-wrote the code myself.  It was the stress I'm feeling over the time to complete tasks more than my feeling bad for the co-worker that led to this action.

So now I've been dealing with a pair of enablers my whole life, and recently they swooped in with some more enabling, and I'm having to deal with the effects of it.  Specifically, my kitchen sink was not working - and this also affected the dish washer.

Other sinks were working, the bathrooms were fine, and also the clothes washer.  Basically this was just shutting down the kitchen, which as a bachelor farmer, I don't use that much anyway.  In the post-Christmas bill avalanche that comes every year I have to spread out bills as much as possible.  Since this issue was not stopping me from living it was put at the end of my list.

So, at some point in the near future I would be able to take care of the sink, and feel the accomplishment of my plan working.  Also, I would be happy to have the sink back.  If you read my previous post about things I was planning to do to make the kitchen work better, I was planning to buy a dish tub to hold dry dishes until I could get around to washing.  I did this, and it was actually helping with this situation.

Not super pretty, but handled until I could get the sink fixed.  Then the enablers swoop in and fix the sink while I'm at work unable to do or say anything about it.  Thus, the motivation of successfully completing all the tasks on my plan is denied me.  This kind of thing could really derail me.

So this is the real damage that enabling has done to me.  I'm not suddenly going to just depend on others to take care of stuff, but I lost the opportunity for that motivational boost to help me through other projects.  I'm re-wiring my brain to be able to accept this as part of the plan right now.  I'll pay the enablers back when I was planning to take care of the original project, whether they want it or not.  

I think we enablers need to learn that help needs to be asked for, and also that our own personal stress is not an excuse to interfere with other people's lives.  Before I force my help on someone again I'm going to do some inner reflection, and ask them if they want help.  If they don't, I won't.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Better Gift Giving in 2016

So how did Christmas 2015 go on the Farm?  It went well, there were family and friends and food and presents and fun.  Nothing really to complain about, but plenty to improve.  This holiday was not the send off I was hoping for the year, and did not provide me with the kind of happiness that years past had.  In fact, I feel that I barely made an appearance this year.

I am looking forward to Christmas 2016.  Hopefully I will be able to do the things I wanted to accomplish last year, next year.  I expect to be more productive, and make better plans, and do all those wonderful things we write New Year resolutions about, and the Farm is how I'm going to get there.

What's going to happen when Christmas 2016 rolls around?  How am I going to make it an even better experience than 2015?  Simple, I'm going to improve myself through better gift-giving.  This is not to imply that I will be giving better gifts, though that is a possibility.  No, I will improve the way I give gifts, and find a better way to share the bounty of the year with others.

So, upon reflection here are the things I've learned about my gift-giving practice:

I worry too much about giving "good" gifts.  I've never received a "bad" gift in my life, yet I spend so much time worrying about the gifts I give, and whether or not they are good enough.  The stress of good gifting causes me to want to stop gift-giving all together.  I know that I'm not alone in this, yet this is really a sign of our problems, not problems with the world.  Giving gifts (if done for genuine reasons) is always good.

I hate giving money as a gift, because to me it feels like I don't know this person.  It highlights my lack in maintaining personal relationships, allowing myself to become too self-focused.  This year I received a gift certificate for new sunglasses.  This was like receiving money, but at the same time it allowed me to get something I wanted (and got to pick the style I liked).  I've been thinking about other people's projects.  I tend to come up with tons of projects every year.  I never have enough help, time, or money to finish most of them.  This year I plan to help others with their projects, with my time and if necessary money.  These gifts will not be held back till some holiday, but will be given throughout the year.

Not all gifts need to be practical.  A hammer is not a gift, it's a hammer.  When my father gave me my first set of tools it was great, not because I really needed a hammer, but because I could work on things with him in the shop.  Somehow, especially when money and time get tight, this concept of practicality rears its head.  The problem with practical gift giving is that it misses the point.  The point is about sharing and showing people that you care.  This year I received a beautiful piece of art that I will now need to build a display cabinet for.  I will enjoy this every day, and think of the person who gave it to me.  I also received a bunch of CDs that were picked randomly from a bin at a store.  Its been fun to listen to something I would never have picked up.  Art, music, food, and fun are some of the best gifts.

Sometimes it is easier to give gifts to complete strangers rather than to your friends and family.  I've often done my office Christmas Gift Exchange shopping before I've done my "important" gift shopping.  This is
simply because there is no expectations for an office party gift.  However, when I start thinking about family and friends nothing is ever good enough.  This year I thought of someone I haven't thought of in years.  A friend of my grandmother, who we would visit every summer when I was young.  Every year this woman would send a tin of homemade chocolate pralines to our house (mmmmmm), and I always looked forward to that.  It was a tradition.  I don't know how long it has been since we last got one of those tins, but I miss them and the person.  Perhaps instead of thinking of gift-giving as the tradition, perhaps I should think about the gift as a tradition.  Something that will come every year.  It's simple and meaningful.  Sometimes there's a little extra, but there is always the tradition.

Giving gifts is wonderful, and making people happy is wonderful.  To become better at this is my goal.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beware of Tree

So, I was informed by a friend the other day that I needed to rake my sidewalk.

This made me think that I've probably not been paying enough attention to the front of my house.  I used to have two sweet gum trees in my front yard.  They are nice trees with good shade and beautiful fall colors, but they have a downside.  The dreaded sweet gum ball.

When one of the trees got killed in a storm not long ago, the issue seemed to be much less; however, I've obviously been overlooking a terrible problem.  I suppose I could put up a "Beware of Tree" sign, and let people watch out for themselves.  However, I should be a responsible tree owner and help my tree to be less dangerous.

Here's what I saw when I went to look at the sidewalk this morning.

It looks pretty harmless, but I recognize that the danger is hiding right at the edges of the walk.  So, as my friend requested I got out my rake and raked all the leaves and sweet gum balls from the edges.

I then swept all this up and off the sidewalk.

After this, I raked all the leaves and stuff from the edge of the lawn back into the lawn, so it want roll out into the sidewalk.

When someone calls you out on something that you are doing (or not doing) it can be a bit jarring.  I have a laundry list of reasons ready to go to defend my lack of lawn care.  I won't drag it out here, but know that I have one -- hahaha.  I had to ask myself if someone wants me to do (or not do) something, should I.  Of course, I want to be a good neighbor, and responsible tree owner.  Therefore, I must do this whether or not I have a valid excuse.  This is part of why I started this blog, and this commitment to improve myself this year.

Please enjoy the safer sidewalk, and remember that sweet gum tree is really a nice tree.