Saturday, December 2, 2017

Another Man's Junk...

I got my alkaline battery charger, and it works! It takes 4+ hours to charge. The time will vary from battery to battery, so in my case, one AA battery charged in a couple of hours, and then the rest took as long as a day.  When I say it took a day, it's because I unplugged the charger when I wasn't home. The work hours I keep mean I'm only home and awake about 3 hours a day. Regardless. The thing works and I am pleased!

I'm taking the sustainable project a step further. I have acquired a handful of very useful, battery operated LED lights that have some imperfections in their design. They retail for $35 or more. At that price, imperfections are not O.K. to the buyer. Therefore my company chose not to promote them. I asked where these imperfect samples were going, and was told pretty much nowhere. I translate that to mean they'll end up in a dumpster or maybe Goodwill.

I had no idea if these lights even worked, but I took them anyway. One is a motion sensor light that can be attached under a cabinet or on a wall where you need sudden light. I'm thinking cabin porch or shower area.

Guess what?!  It runs on AA batteries, and I had recharged alkaline batteries! They worked, and this little light definitely works. It was rejected for promotion because the back of the light won't close securely, thus exposing the batteries. In my opinion, this is a matter of positioning. If hung correctly, the weight of the light will keep the back secure.

Without question, I have turned into my Gramps. He would be so proud of me. I have recharged "disposable" batteries and used them to power a defective motion light.

I also have this great LED light that can be hung - like in an outdoor shower - or inserted into a wobbly (therefore defective) stand.  It's super bright because it uses four AAA batteries. A great case for recharging and reusing. Otherwise, it can be used to light a night shower, or be hung in a tree to light the outdoor space, or be carried as a flashlight, or even gently inserted into its stand to be used as a table lamp. This might be the best free thing I've ever picked up.

Here's another good idea! It could be used as a light saber in a homemade Star Wars costume. Anyway, I think it's very cool. 

Does Christy wander the streets putting questionable junk in a stolen shopping cart?

No. I do not. 

I'm not sure what's up with me. I guess I'm getting old enough to dream about the fixed income retirement I'll enjoy, and I want to be resourceful. The other possibility is that I am just sick of the disposable society I live in. People throw away the remnants of convenience. People have this lightening fast market called the Internet. It is mostly ruled by Amazon and countless "deal" websites that sell the very things I picked up for free. If these products are returned to the seller, I want to believe they end up somewhere besides the warehouse dumpster. Most of you know blind faith is not indicative of my personality, so...

I don't have to hustle slightly defective products to survive, but it sure is fun to conquer the disposable spoiled beast that is fed by the equally spoiled American shopper.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Extending the Life of Alkaline Batteries

A good number of households have a huge energy suck. It eats double helpings of food, turns on every light in the house in the middle of the day, has a Wii, parks its ass in front of the television with the remote nearby, and has no problem saying,

"Hey Christy! I need new batteries for (fill in the blank)."

Batteries are in endless supply in this energy eater's mind. Electricity is a mysterious wonder that never fails. Money is limitless and as reliable as the sunrise.

It's Thanksgiving Day. Tomorrow all of us with this thing will start buying it more stuff to use for eating more energy. I'm telling you! The battery companies worship this being like a god.

Today, I decided to win one little victory over the teenager. When I was handed 4 "dead" AA batteries yesterday, it occurred to me that these should be as rechargeable as my deep cycle batteries at the cabin. I did some googling and came across two useful ways to squeeze the life out of the Energizer company.

There are a number of YouTube videos that recommend Universal Alkaline Battery Chargers. Lickity split! I bought one. I'm going to wrap it and put it under the tree for me. A good charger should work for AAA, AA, and 9V batteries. I'm highly doubtful I'll get the batteries back to full charge, but if I can recharge them for even 3 extra uses, I'll be pretty happy.

I also saw a video demonstration of someone using old batteries to power LED lights. He powered little night lights, lamps and flashlights. LED bulbs use less power, and they require less voltage to light up. Many modern devices will stop working once the battery had discharged below 1.5 volts. Usually around 1.3 volts, death of the fun will happen. LED lights don't need that much power to work. I had no idea.

As a society, we're spoiled and wasteful. We don't think twice about energy and how we get it. Many people with a reliable and good income constantly complain about "not having enough money." I admit it. I do it sometimes, too. This renewable and sustainable project of mine is not only teaching me new and interesting science, it's making me much more aware and appreciative of my resources. Everyday, I am mindful and consciously thinking about energy, where it comes from and how to respect it.

Now that I've discovered the lasing truth about alkaline batteries, I would like to give thanks for the cheapo guys out there that have figured out how to extend the life of these little energy staples.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Finding Joy in Work and Play - Building a Shower Stall with Pallets

Strange title. I know. Tammy and I had the weekend to ourselves, and I told her early in the week that I really wanted to take a walk through our woods. It syncs my body, relaxes me, and frankly, feels like home. She readily agreed for the same reasons. She also suggested we get a couple of huge pallets I picked up at my office (after they installed new bathroom stalls) out of the garage and use them to create privacy walls around the outdoor shower.

We would work a little and play a little. It also gave me a chance to use the power I've been producing from the solar set up. Before I get started on the shower build, here's a cute picture of one of our neighbors. She's very kissy and friendly. She definitely loves Tammy.

Until we have a chance to ask her owner what her real name is, we're calling her Sugar because she's white and gives lots of sugar. Her breath smells like a hay bale, but the kisses are sweet.

Building Shower Walls with Pallets

Since part of this country experiment is about sustainability, we've been collecting pallets whenever we can find them. I found two 5X8 pallets in the parking lot at work. The building remodeled the bathrooms, and the stalls came on huge pallets. I got a couple of guys to help me load them up, and they've been sitting in the garage for a few months. We had an idea we'd use them to frame walls, but hadn't decided which walls they would become.

Saturday was cool and beautiful, so we decided to split the country trip into half work and half play. We loaded up the pallets and a jigsaw (my circular saw rusted in the constantly flooding condo garage; which make me mad), stopped  by Home Depot for some 4x4s and cinder blocks, and headed to the cabin.

The pallets were a little longer than we needed, so we decided to cut off one section. We'd set the 4x4 posts in the cinder blocks, fill them with pond clay, and then attach the pallets to the posts. This way the walls are portable/movable. None of this outdoor stuff feels permanent. At some point, we'll put in a small bathroom with plumbing, but we need to get the rainwater catchment system set up first. Then we can add a small septic system and retire the famous composing toilet.

Sizing the pallets gave me the chance to use a little solar electricity. It worked great. In fact, I highly recommend this portable system to anyone who has to do any off grid construction. 

It was crazy windy because a cool front was blowing in, and that's good. We would not have stabilized the walls if the wind hadn't knocked over the first one we built. The original plan was to slip the pallets over the 4x4s so that the walls could be taken apart as easily as they were constructed. That didn't work. There's nothing square about a pallet.  We had to remove the back slats and nail the pallets to the posts.

Then the wind knocked one over. We ended up using the removed back slats as stabilizers. The whole set up stood on it's own as we took our walk through the woods. As far as we know, it's still standing. We'll add metal siding the next trip out. I also ran out of nails because I didn't think I would need extra nails since the original plan was to slip the pallets over the posts. It's nailed together in all the right places, but I need to add a second nail at every attachment.

We'll also finish up a footpath into the stall next go round. We'll need to terrace the slope a bit to make walking around with wet feet less treacherous. The next big project will be installing a gutter that drains into a collection barrel next to the stall. I'll add a solar powered pump, and we'll have a nice, easy shower set up. My aunt suggested a propane, on demand water heater, and indeed! They make them for just this kind of setting. Off grid is getting pretty comfortable!

Rewarding Ourselves with a Walk in the Woods

With an hour of sunlight to spare, we took a walk. First, Tammy had a visit with Sugar, then we headed into the woods to look around.

I showed Tammy the other neighbor's deer stand, built partly our property, to shoot deer that bed down right there. That will get the sledge hammer next visit. Following the sledge hammer, I'll let that individual know he and his sons get a visit from the game warden if I catch that shit in action. We encountered one of the deer that live back there. We did some rock hunting in one of the wet weather creeks. We crawled through the under brush to the very back, remote corner of our place. The original stone used to mark the Northeast corner of the property, 100 years ago, is still there. 

We'll definitely leave several acres "raw" for wildlife and privacy, but slowly, we'll build a really beautiful country home. 

Note:  Sustainable living is a "serious" hobby for me. If my blog posts about "off grid" living pique your interest, start with a book or two. Have fun experimenting wherever you live. You might be surprised at how self reliant you really are! I started with a book and a whole lot of internet searches.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Let's Get Back on Track - Creating a Rural Getaway

Let's get back to talk about the sun.

I get off the subject quite often. I originally created this blog to share our country getaway experience. I often feel that I don't have much to share. Actually, there are plenty of things to write about when we make an effort to actually GO to the country. I've been making a few trips lately. I love this time of year. While there, I successfully created a small solar power system!

This looks pretty trashy, but I'm not one to go all out and spend a bunch of money on something until I know it's actually going to work. 

1. This set up includes one 100W 12V monocrystaline solar panel. Monocrystaline panels are more efficient than polycrystaline. However, they are bit more expensive, and maybe not necessary for a weekend set up. 

2. Two 75AH deep cycle batteries. They're inside the cooler to keep the temperature constant, and to protect them. They are lead acid batteries, and they do require maintenance. Some schools of thought say they last longer. The upside to maintaining them is price. They cost less than gel batteries.

3. 30 Amp charge controller. It's inside the cooler, too. I attached it to the side. It's connected to the solar panel, and the batteries. The batteries are wired in parallel (I'll get into that in a later post). The charge controller regulates the flow of power from the solar panel. Once the batteries are charged, it goes into a "float" mode and acts to trickle charge the batteries and keep them topped off. 

4. 1,100 watt power inverter. I connect this to the batteries when I'm ready for power. It converts direct current power to alternating current. Your household electric is alternating current. So DC to AC power. The inverter has two places to plug in an extension cord. I run that from the cabin to the cooler, and viola! Power!

5. A cheap cooler makes a great place to store batteries. You don't have to feel bad about drilling holes in it to run your cables. Mine has wheels because I might want to move this system around, and the batteries weight about 48 pounds a piece. So, you could call my little system "portable."

Realistic Power Expectations

Let me say up front that this system is not a final solution to having the comforts of all things electric. It runs a box fan all night. I would probably run a small heater, but I think I'll stick to propane heaters for now. It runs lights, keeps a computer powered, and charges phones.

It will not run the window unit. It will not reliably run a small refrigerator. To do these things, I need more batteries. Extra panels would charge more batteries faster. Right now, I don't need all that. I just like the idea of having some quick power and a few comforts.

Turnkey cost of this system is around $500. The panel and charge controller cost around $175. The inverter was close to $100. Batteries run around $95 a piece (on the cheap side). The cooler was $40. Heavy gauge extension cords are $50. I also have my backup generator. A night of air conditioning costs around $20 in propane. The generator will run the window unit. However, Tammy is right when she says this is all still cheaper than a hotel.

And I'm learning something new. Heck. I'm even thinking of going to a prepper convention to see what other neat things I can try. Rainwater collection is definitely in my future.

Also, I have a sanitary, smell free composting toilet set up, too. I use old ash from campfires or brush burns, and I mix it with hay and wood shavings. Works pretty well along with a little outdoor washing station. I'm telling you. A 2-gallon sprayer will give an efficient and effective shower while saving lots of water. And I have water left over for hand washing and washing dishes.

Our plan is to get out to the land this weekend and try out some of my handy work. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sexual Hypocrisy in the Workplace

Sexism and sexual inappropriateness in the workplace. Ubiquitous. Happens to all of us. Who can afford to lose her job to stand up to it? Who gives up and just counts the days until retirement? Who buys a lotto ticket two times a week on a long shot to infinity; hoping this one will be the winner and she can quit her job?

Who uses her sex to manipulate men in the workplace? Who finds her power there? Who doesn't care how it affects other women? Who was taught sex and desirability is really where a woman's power lies?

Hypocrisy. Ladies, you all know what I'm talking about. We live in a culture that still pushes sex as power. Here's an example:

Dynamite Clothing - The Rise of WorkLeisure

If this doesn't drip with sick irresponsibility, I don't know what does. This marketing campaign shows a gorgeous woman of mixed race lounging seductively, tucking her chin coquettishly, swaying her hips through the boardroom, modeling off the shoulder tunics, backless blouses, and form fitting leather skirts as a campaign for blending the lines between work and happy hour.

I'm going to tell you with complete authority and 25 years of management experience that everything about this campaign is a bad idea. Girls don't do it. Mothers, tell your young professional daughters, "don't do it." I'm not being prudish. Women should feel good, beautiful and powerful. Women should then be successful based on work merit and ethics. I'm completely certain that an ad campaign that gives a style for every day of the week, and calls Thursday's style "Trophy Thursday" is not concerned with a woman's intellectual abilities.

Don't do it.

This campaign drips with disaster. Even if sexualizing her work power works, eventually it will ruin the woman who does it. Unwanted sexual advances, sexual assault and pariah status are probably a given possibility, but the underbelly of this kind of approach to work is a deep, slow burning self hate. Loneliness. Broken Trust. Lack of meaningful connection. Spiritual decay. Decay.

This is harsh, but I'm going to say it straight - A piece of meat decays.

I think if you ask around, you'll find that most people in an office don't trust the "dynamite" girl. She may be perfectly wonderful, interesting and smart, but who wants to sit with her at happy hour? Not her female peers. Not the men who know better. Don't do it.

Part 2 - My Own Hypocricy

I once attended a company meeting where a senior leader popped off a sexually inappropriate joke about women. It was sandwiched between his frequent use of the F-word; which is probably his favorite superlative. The female VP of Human Resources was there. She murmured a weak protest, and then let it go.

"He's a good guy. You know how they are. They're just different than us."

True statement from a workmate in my office.

A few hours later, I met with the VP or Human Resources. My goal was focused. Better training tools and systematic ways to document progress. I went in and pitched for my staff. For ways to showcase their gifts and talents. Ways to help them advance based on skills and merit. I did not mention the earlier gross behavior. 


Did I let that go because I didn't want to hurt mine or my staff's ability to promote and succeed?  Had I justified the comments because good guys like him are just that way; when I don't believe that bullshit excuse anyway? Most definitely, it was self preservation in a very male dominant company.

I'm a 50 something woman. God. I won't even get into that one. I have a family. I have a home, a car, a 401k, rural property. I also have a long successful work history as an operations manager. I have a Master's Degree. In my current job, I manage one of the largest teams in the company. I manage multiple projects. I am the poster child for a mother in the workplace. I do it all, y'all. I know a lot, and I am valued by my peers. There are about 5 layers of managers above me. Only two know my name. The rest have a vague idea that my department can make or break the whole business. Yet, I'd probably react the same way today if a similar situation happened. I'd self-preserve.

So, how do respected, successful women change this culture? Much like teaching young girls self respect falls on the parent, it may be that teaching professional self respect falls on the leader. That's me. It may be you.

I try to keep my eye to appearances wide shut when interviewing job candidates. If looks become a distraction, I talk about it with a trusted peer so that she can help me shake that and make a good hiring decision based on merit. I don't shy away from different. I do have my ways of peeling back the interview facade to take a look at social beliefs and views of the world. I have to do this because I can't tolerate backwards social thinking. I can't hire hidden misogyny. 

What's left to do? I have to believe that I am so critical to the mission that I can stand up to sexual inappropriateness without fear of repercussion. I'll let y'all know how it goes if the situation arises again.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's Never Enough

I'm curious. At what age does someone care more about retiring than working? I feel like I'm teetering on that time. God knows we're nowhere near retirement. We have many, many years of work to look forward to. I'm not sure if mine is a symptom of introversion - because I'm not crazy about people all around me - or a sense of defeat that says it's not going to get much better than this. i.e. I won't be retiring as a multi-millionaire.

I want to chuck it all and go live in the country, but old age would be pretty scary. No doubt, we'll live a long time, and that means outlive our means. Maybe Trump and Kim will destroy the world as we know it with sophomoric mouthiness gone bad, and then we'll be richer than most because we have a nice little patch of land.

We happily talk about what to do next. Put new floors in the Austin house? Clear another acre in the country? Landscape the backyard? None of those things will happen for at least a year. Why? We just got a whole new HVAC in the Austin house. I knew it was going to happen because the existing system was failing when we bought this house. Some freon and a new capacitor gave it a few more years of function, and then reality came a callin'. I guess we can call the new HVAC our first major improvement to this house.

I'm pretty sure we're living the real American Dream. You know. The one where we race forward at breakneck speed while sliding backwards an inch for every mile. Lately, I've been trying to figure out how to get the inch back.

A side hustle that doesn't wear me out more than I already am each week. A side hustle I can do by myself because my wife is beyond worn out each week. I haven't figured it out yet. I thought I'd add a few commissionable links to this blog, but it's the wrong kind of blog. Small readership. Older. Not particularly swayed by the impulse buy. Not reading this for advice. So, that's not the solution.

Spend less money. Let me tell you. I am not a frivolous person. Neither of us are spendthrifts. HVAC. That's where the extra money goes.

Save more money. HVAC.

All in all, I KNOW how blessed we are. It's my personality- my close resemblance to a goat - that makes me want to achieve just a little bit more. Make things happen a little bit faster. Climb a little bit further. Because in my mind, that next financial plateau is what makes retirement come sooner rather than later. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

That Cheap, Old, Awesome Dinnerware and Glassware That Never Dies

O.K. I'm back to the Antique Week chatter. Now that summer has blown away, and fall is kicking in, your favorite home decor retailers are revving up the holiday tableware sales pitch. The cheap old stuff your granny passed along to whoever would take it is actually a better buy, if you ask me.

Frankly, I love the old Depression Glass and cheap Green Stamps tableware my mother gave me. It transcends its cheap and slightly tacky look to be retro urban cool beyond anything the big retailers can offer. Although I don't actively collect depression glass or other vintage glassware anymore, I think it adds a nice touch to everyday dining or the occasional dinner party. So we do pull it out sometimes.

Avon Ruby Glass

I have a collection of Avon Ruby wine goblets and port glasses, I have plates and glasses of various size in the Depression Glass pink Sharon pattern, along with other random pink pieces, and a sizable collection of Sterling China (Japan) that my mother gave me. I recall this stack of dinner plates, saucers and tea cups coming from the Minimax in Edna, Texas. I think she collected stamps to get them. They were our everyday plates before the introduction of the microwave. After that, she boxed it all up because they have decorative metal rings that sparked. Now I use them with my family, but usage comes with strict instructions not to put them in the microwave.

Sterling China Florentine Pattern

Something I love about the Sterling plates and my Depression Glass plates is that we eat less. The pink plates are only about 9 inches in diameter, and the Sterling has about that much eating surface, with the rest of the plate dedicated to the outer pattern. 

Pink Depression Glass Sharon Pattern

Now that I've shown off my shabby collection of cheap glass, I want to encourage you to buy the old stuff. It's actually cheaper than the new replicas, and the old stuff has soul. Somebody else ate and drank off of this cheap dinnerware. They collected colored glass out of  oatmeal boxes, or at the movie theater, or like my mother, at the grocery store. We still earn the "free gift" today, but our contemporary freebies won't last for generations.

If you're headed to Antique Week, look for some cool old glassware. Make it the star of your Thanksgiving dinner party. Brighten up the holidays with nostalgia. That's what we'll do. We'll put up the every day Sterling plates and set the table with the pink stuff. It will be fun, and it will feel like our history.

Final bit of advice. Check eBay for these old table relics. I did some quick comparison, and I found that websites dedicated to the 3 different collections I own were more expensive. I really don't know what the prices at Antique Week will be. Here are three easy links to the glass I own:

Pink Depression Glass

Check out the other Depression Glass colors, too. I love the greens and blues, and my sister has a big collection of milk glass she inherited from our grandmother. It's heavy and ugly to the point of being cool. 

Milk Glass

Whatever style you like, buy up enough to set a table, and have some fun with holiday dinner parties.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Twelve Year Disaster Season

The last 25 years have produced devastating hurricanes in my part of the country. 1992 is stained with the destruction of Andrew; a category 5 storm that destroyed Florida. 13 years later, Katrina became the monster that not only killed people, but it also exposed the shortcomings of the American government when it came to the country's most vulnerable population. 12 years later, Harvey leveled sleepy coastal Texas towns before drowning Houston, La Grange, and the Golden Triangle. We couldn't even take a breath, and now Florida is in the midst of another disaster of Andrew proportions.

La Grange neighborhood destroyed by flooding from Harvey

Basically, about every 12 years, hurricanes destroy parts of the Southeastern United States. That's just long enough for most people to forget what it really means to suffer. Honestly, I feel a little guilty chattering away in my last post about something as luxurious as Antique Week. This trendy event is taking place 20 miles from the devastation in La Grange. While the antiquers shop, some folks in the county will rebuild. It happened, it's Texas, people muscle up and start rebuilding.

Tammy, Elizabeth and I met up with my brother, a couple of workmates and a friend to help do some demo work in La Grange. It's a whole different thing to see this kind of destruction in person rather than see it in photos and newscasts. To feel the emptiness and loss is to give these kinds of natural disasters a hopeless respect that, frankly, shouldn't be forgotten for 12 to 13 years.

I don't need to wax on about the devastation. Nor should I have to encourage anyone to make donations of work or money or goods. You should do that on your own, if you can. What I do think deserves some blog time is preparedness. Even if your emergency supplies sit for 12 years, get prepared.

5 Things We Own That You Should Own

  1. A generator. We have a 4,000 watt generator that runs on gasoline and propane. I run propane because it's cleaner. This little gem will keep a refrigerator, freezer and fan running while the electricity is out. It will also run a 10,000 BTU window unit for cool nights and a few lights. 
  2. Emergency radio. The kind you can power by hand cranking. These gadgets usually have a feature that allows you charge a phone, too. Super handy if you don't have a generator.
  3. Emergency lighting. Flashlights, camp lights, lanterns, and even solar charged lights. 
  4. First aid kit. Not just the band aids and tylenol, but include an emergency blanket, bug spray, and soap. Throw in toothpaste, too. 
  5. Emergency food supply. You do not need doomsday prepper food buckets. Stock up on canned goods. Don't forget the can opener. Throw in a camp stove, or at least one propane burner. And food does you no good without water. Fill up those 5 gallon jugs, and put a hand pump on the one you're using. Have two or three on hand. 
The same stuff one needs for an emergency situation is the stuff we use to "live" in the cabin. We are prepared by default. Fortunately, we didn't need any of these items for "survival," but it was comforting to know we had it. 

We have a few more months of hurricane season, and if 12 year weather cycles hold their course, we'll likely have a good freeze this year, if not in the next couple of years. A hard freeze can knock out electricity, so you want to be prepared for that, as well.

I can't speak for folks to north and west of us, but if you're in our parts, be as prepared as you can be. If you don't need your supplies, maybe someone else near you will need them.

Just like the good ol' boys in their bass boats who saved flood victims, be prepared to help your neighbor, too. I heard a reporter say that he asked every good ol' boy he interviewed why he was risking his boat and himself to save total strangers. Every single person gave the same 3 word answer. This is Texas.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Antique Week is Coming to a Field Near the Cabin

Oh, lordy.

That phenomenon known as Antique Week is already moving into Round Top. It will creep its way towards Carmine in the next week or so, and then it will explode all over Northeast Fayette County. I have yet to convince Tammy she needs to experience it. It just isn't happening.

However, many of you love the idea of a day in the country, wandering through cow pastures of... stuff. Some of it is antique, but most is... stuff. Shabby decor. Fun little finds. Think Junk Gypsy pointy-toed boots, sassy tees, and conversation piece pillows. The stuff you find at Pottery Barn, but with an outlaw flair. That's what you will find a LOT of.

Buy your boots before you get there, and get a better deal.
Once upon a time; like 30 years ago, I loved this antique fair. In fact, I still have furniture I bought out there. However, I was just as likely to walk into any random antique shop on any random day and buy something cool. I used to collect depression glass, so that was my justification for stopping to shop. For years, my plates and glasses have stayed tucked away in some forgotten cabinet. In the last few years, Tammy and I have started to use the plates because they are a more reasonable size than the modern dinner plate. So we're shabby cool and health conscious.

Here are my thoughts and tips for Antique Week Fall 2017:

1. Make a plan. It's too big not to. You need to have some idea of what you like/want, and then find the general area for shopping. I mean, this thing is miles long. It's huge. Try this site for planning -

2. Try your best to find lodging, but don't hold your breath at this late date. However, I once found a room in La Grange, during Antique Week. Someone cancelled at the last minute, and viola!

3. Wear comfortable shoes. I know you want to look super boho, but make sure the shoes are comfortable. You will walk through cow pastures. You will feel dusty and gross after a day of shopping.

4. A wagon with a cooler of drinks is a good idea. Drink water. Drink water. Drink water. The booze is plentiful, but drink water. You're outside, and it can be pretty warm.

5. That being said, expect it to rain and be very muddy. See #3. Don't ruin your cute shoes.

6. Go a few weeks early. Go as the vendors are setting up. Or go the Monday after the final weekend. Actually, the Monday after is great for making deals because these dealers come from all over the world, and the less they have to haul away, the better. They'll make a deal.

7. Final (or the big) weekend is the first weekend in October.

8. The traffic jam follows you to Antique Week, so be patient. These are two lane roads, and it is bumper to bumper traffic moving slowly to avoid pedestrians.

That's just a few thoughts off the top of my head. I guess I would say as a final bit of advice - do not think that people in Round Top and the area are like the antique week community. Some are like that, but most are quiet, hard working, family oriented folks who resemble pretty much any good folks from rural communities. Round Top has notoriety because of Junk Gypsies, Antique Week, and such, but most days, it's just a nice little spot along the road.

Here's a little more detail from folks who know more about it than me.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

How to Lie About Yourself in a Photo

It's rainy and soggy, and by Texas weather trends, the likelihood of thunderstorms is high until after Memorial Day. So no country visits this weekend. Instead, I have this urge to write about a pet peeve of mine. Pictures that lie.

I work in marketing. Most of the companies I manage, on our websites, are clothing companies from all over the world. Many allow their customers to "share" photos of themselves wearing the clothing they purchased at said company. It's free advertising. And I'm o.k. with that. What I'm not o.k. with is the cliche of stock poses people use to look "modelesque." For all of its many poisonous symptoms, this week's social media bug is the way people lie about themselves in photos.

Here's the rub. Most of us are perfectly perfect the way we are, but we live in a global society that says we have to be skinny with luxurious, long locks, if we're female, and ripped and prison rugged if we're male. Even though I know this is pure social pressure b.s., I find myself being way too hard on my 52-year old body. So maybe a little rant will serve as a personal pep talk for me.

Three Cliche Poses that Reveal Insecurity

As I wade through hundreds of websites and images a week, I have come up with the three most common social media poses designed to make a girl look hot without facing the insecure truth.

Head Slightly Turned

Adriana Lima looks pretty here, and she is demonstrating one of the most common poses of everyday women's face selfies. They don't look directly at the camera. They slightly turn the head. It's also good to slightly tuck the chin. Is this slimming? Or is this some little lie meant to subconsciously hide insecurities about who she really is?  I never trust a face shot like this. In my mind, somebody's lying about something. Probably to themselves more than me.

One Arm Raised Above the Head

Oh, Leryn Franco. You have a great body because you are an Olympian! Why do you feel compelled to raise that arm and make yourself look more lean than you already are? Women all over the social media world imitate this pose to look ummm.... carefree? relaxed? skinny?  I hate this pose. I imagine that the regular, perfectly fine anonymous women who do this pose must hear "The Girl from Ipanema" in their minds, suggesting a sexy Rio de Jeneiro  lifestyle. Folks, Brazil is a broken place. Brazil doesn't lie about it. They know they have some ugly, but they also know it doesn't take away their timeless beauty. Let's all think of ourselves as Brazil. We don't need to stretch an elbow to the sky to be beautiful.

The Staggering Strut

When I do this, I fall down. Another variation is that knock-kneed, casual stroll with the arm raised above the head while dragging a designer purse in the other hand look. You have no idea how often I see everyday women doing this pose. I kind of get mad at Ashley Stewart for posing their models this way. The above woman is an Ashley Stewart model. Why are they ashamed of their plus-size style? That's one gorgeous lady, without making her trip over her own feet. 

Rant Over - Try This Instead

I'm done. This little rant's been building in me for years, but it's swimsuit season. Tammy and I are taking a beach vacation in a few months, and I thought that writing about my own body image issues might help me along, and maybe it will help some of you, too. So with that, I want to leave you with a nice, honest image of a model. Full frontal, straight on pose. And she's still a stunner...

Kitty Underhill Angel, London - Photo by Darren Johnson

(I know these are models. It's not my prerogative to post private, personal photos. I posted photos from the public domain, of people who get paid to pose.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Two Girls and the American Breakdown

I don't know if we're just getting old and tired, or if the world really is getting more and more chaotic and demanding. If I think about history, I am certain there are times in the evolution of Western Civilization that folks had it pretty darn bad.

But damn.

Adolescents and social fantasy make parenting tactics anachronistic

That is true. Any parent over the age of 40 who is parenting an adolescent knows that is true. What is an anachronism? 

Anachronism - My mother's well played fear and guilt tactics that made me behave due to an irrational fear of public shame and sudden death by an out-of-control fly swatter.

That shit worked.

Not so much today.

Tammy and I did not have the ethereal support of social media, smart phones, and well-connected friends. We were certain to have long periods of social isolation when we walked through the front door, after school. We never really got a private chat in because Dad was going to pick up the phone in the kitchen and listen just long enough to embarrass before yelling, "Get off the phone!"

Today is fast, suggestive, driven by 6 seconds of fame, and things no kid needs to experience before the age of gainfully employed. Currently, our kid thinks she's a roommate rather than a captive ward of the house, and she's really, really lucky our fly swatter only swats flies.

We're not really cool parents. We're exhausted parents who work too hard to spend much time enjoying the things we've earned in life. Our kid tries to reach us via a Pandora station for 80's Country, but friends, Tammy and I are hopelessly lost in the grind.

Digital Marketing Job + Bilingual Healthcare Job = A Sartre Quote

Jean-Paul Sartre

I'm thinking about Jean-Paul Sartre because an NPR commentator, during my morning commute, was talking about his girlfriend, Simone de Beauvoir, who was an existential feminist of sorts. Frankly, I'm not even sure Simone could handle mine and Tammy's workload. With that, I quote the great philosopher himself.

"Everything has been figured out, except how to live."

There are two girls who have committed to the long game to get one kid through school, while remaining debt free, plus building our assets, so we can retire and live simply and comfortably. These two girls get up every morning, before sunrise, and battle Austin traffic to go to jobs that feel like mental sprints. These two girls come home and look at each other with this strange empty exhaustion that longs for a moment to slow down and "just be."  

Tammy says that. "Just be." But I swear, I have no idea how to do that. I cannot figure out how to live anymore. So what is it?  What changed?  Have we slowly amped up the expectations of American life to the point that we can barely keep up with it?  We're both really good at our jobs, but to what cost? My brain moves too fast. It always has. And I am extremely systematic and compartmentalized. Until just recently, systematic compartmentalization was working. Last week, I had to fight back the urge to lay on the horn while racing down the breakdown lane while cussing at traffic while trying to get home in under an hour.

That's crazy.

My mind was shot from managing a large corporation's multiple website commerce needs. My patience was long gone for being pleasant about it. Austin traffic did me in.

Tammy is shot from 10 hours a day of patients who have never had their teeth cleaned, so their teeth are falling out, and they don't speak English, and they bring screaming kids to the appointment because they're too poor for child care. She battles the same insane traffic, and it makes her late more often than not.

I'll stop whining now and say this...

We think we have to live this way. We think we've got it figured out. Except the part about living. So with that thought hanging out there, let me end with one more Sartre quote:

"Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Water - A Problem Worth Solving

We've had so much rain this spring and winter, and I'm afraid it's about to dry up on us. I feel unaccomplished because I didn't get rainwater catchment set up while there was water to catch.

The pond is full for the time being.

It's home to frogs, snakes, turtle and minnows. If there are any bigger fish in it, I haven't been able to see them. I've sat on the bank and watched a few times, but so far, I haven't seen the kind of splashes and surface swirls that indicate neighboring fish washed down the stream during one of the big, spring storms. 

I love sitting on pond banks and thinking about life. In the case of this off the grid cabin experiment, I think about water as life. There are definitely ways to distill pond water for cabin use by creating a solar still, but I'd get more bang for my time and money by getting some gutters on the roof, and then directing the rain into barrels.  

Once again, even the simplest set up is pricey. When in the world did a 50 gallon barrel get a $200 price tag?? Of course, my solution is a trash barrel with a hole in the top and a retrofitted faucet. It's ugly, and therefore, not Pinterest worthy. Then there are hidden costs and challenges. The cabin roof hangs over the walls in a way that it's not so easy to attach a gutter. It's going to take some engineering to make gutters stay attached without ripping off the roof during a full on Texas toad floater. 

We also need to direct discretionary income towards our house in Austin. It is in desperate need of some upgrades. We don't like to carry debt, so our cash only philosophy has to be shared between properties.  We'll just have to keep toting water out to the country. Tammy found a great little hand pump that sits on top of a 5 gallon jug of water. It's super easy to use and reduced the need to carry a bunch of smaller bottles and jugs out there. It also helps illustrate how wasteful we tend to be with water. 

When we can see that water line dropping, it makes us aware of every drop we use. We've learned that we waste so much water; even when we bathe. This one five gallon jug has lasted for multiple weekends. Along with our two gallon hand pumped shower solution, I'd say we're doing just fine.

I've also figured out the composting toilet technique, so once we get the gutters, the barrels, and a better grasp of solar energy, I think we'll be pretty comfortable in our sustainable little cabin.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Fence Beast Forces Tammy's Hand

I gotta tell you. I was not a big fan of stretching goat fencing around the cabin. It's flimsy and just a first rate pain in the rear. But we did it. It looks pretty good, and it allows Tanner the freedom to roam and "chase cows" without really chasing cows.

Within a couple of weeks of completion, the one longhorn that grazes our property managed to get her horn stuck in the fence and pull the welding loose. It's not that visible, but it was inevitable. One of the reasons we want to stay on top of mowing is to discourage cows from pushing over the fence to get a meal.

Even that one little horn mishap was enough for Tammy to start seeing things my way. We need to put up sturdy cattle panel like we did along the road. It will be pricey, but it is much harder for a cow to tear up.

The next weekend, after the longhorn damage, we arrived after dark, with Tanner in tow. He was in one of his weird, nervous moods. Tanner doesn't believe he's a dog. He thinks he's a sleek and handsome prince trapped in a big hairy body. For example... as I write this, he's taken the liberty to make himself comfortable on the bed, on my pillow.

As we were unloading the truck in the dark, Tanner decided to make a dash for it, and jump back in the truck with Tammy. He ran right into the fence. Tammy said it looked like he stretched it two feet before it bounced him back into the yard. So a 90 pound dog hits that wimpy goat panel at full speed.

That section looks like this.

Actually, it was pretty much laid over. This is the "repaired" section.

How ugly.


It just means we'll get the fancy heavy duty cattle panel fence a little sooner than we planned.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Spring Cleaning

We're so grateful for the rain we've had this spring. However, it's created a challenge at the cabin. Rain means healthy grass and weeds.

Even pretty weeds.

I regret that I sold my lawn tractor, gas weed eater, and even my little garden tractor, but when I moved back to Austin in 2011, I thought I would stay put in a condo. I'm really glad I didn't. I was overjoyed to find Tammy. She loves the country as much as I do! We have this great piece of property, but we have to maintain the part of that we've cleared. These days, we mow with our push mower. It's not so bad because truly, there's not that much to mow. Cows take care of most of it.

We only have to maintain our little yard and a few feet surrounding it.

Weed eating around those logs is not fun. One day, I'll pull a sneaky stunt and have someone come move those things out of the way. They need to be stacked neatly until we use them. The driveway has gotten grassy because we're just not out there enough to drive down the green.

So that requires a little push mowing, too. We don't see any point in getting the proper shredding equipment until we have the next acre cleared, and we can put a secure barn on it. So for now, we're those stupid city people who try to maintain land with a suburban tool set - although Tammy did break down and buy a stupidly expensive Stihl weed eater. 

It's a good brand. The thing should last forever. 

I need to get some brush blades for it, so that I can cut through the wild roses and other low brush that wants to fight its way back along the pond and fence line. Wild roses are pretty, but they are thorny evil winches who exist only to punish property owners.

Like their domestic counterparts, they have viscous thorns. Unlike their counterparts, nobody gives a crap about them until it's too late, and they've completely swallowed a fence, small trees, and maybe an entire pant leg. I want them gone. 

We'll just have to do hand battle until we get the next acre cleared. It's a dense, unkempt patch of nature, let me tell you. Our neighbor - who is Dutch and blunt - introduced herself by exclaiming in an incredulous tone, "You bought that place?! Well, I hope you didn't pay much for it."

She's happy with our first acre of effort, so maybe this next patch will soothe her sensible soul a little more.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

More Battery Confusion

I'm still struggling with this battery issue. I did some more research, and the few sources I could find that discussed deep cycle battery usage, indicated that I should get about 70 - 80 amp hours from my current battery.

In a previous post, I stated that I only used 12 amp hours. I was wrong.

I did some more math - which is much more advanced than any writer wants it to be.
Hopefully, I got this right by using the formula for AC single phase watts to amps calculation formula (it's o.k. if your eyes just glazed over. Mine did, too, the first time I saw this formula).

Shop light doubling as a porch light would go something like this:
65 Watt Bulb / (0.8 x 110 V) = .73 amps
To get amp hours, I would simply multiply .73 by the number of hours the light was on.
Since it was just a few hours, I'd say a light did not drain my battery. The light set up's biggest offense was that is looked a little white trashy.

My next offender was the little fan that I put in a window for about 10 hours. I think it pulls about .8 amps. So that would get me up to 8 amp hours, and since I used a weed eater for a an hour or two, the weed eater must eat power like crazy.  Clearly, I need to investigate power tool power usage more.

This sucks.

Basically, I think I need one battery for the fan, and one battery for lights and other small electronics.
I also should probably buy a 100 watt solar panel to recharge the fan battery each day. That's another $150 to spend. Otherwise, my 8 amp battery charger, on the generator, will take about 2.5 days to fully charge an 80 amp hour battery. That's a lot of propane!

I read somewhere that deep cycle batteries slowly discharge even when they're not in use. I'm hoping my trickle charger slows that enough to keep any battery charged while we're away. (Also, thanks to Hank Finn for educating me on batteries a bit more. His recommendation is to charge it slowly because batteries like that better.)

Anyway. The moral to this blog post is this - off grid power is expensive.
Moral #2. Never underestimate the mathematical ability of a doomsday prepper. I love to make fun of these people, but dang. They must have pretty great math skills to live off the grid! I apologize to all you conspiracy theorists.

Math rules.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Surprising Discovery About Beanee Weenees

I've gotten a little tired of cooking over a campfire while in the country. It's easy to build a fire and cook over it, but what I'm done with is the smell of smoke on my clothes and in my hair. The initial solution to my proclamation of smoke-free meal preparation was to rely on take out.

Beanee Weenees

We can choose from Carmine, Round Top or Giddings for restaurant variety. We can take gaping chunks of money out of the bank to do it. It's stupid. There are other solutions, including Beanee Weenees.  I know they sound gross, and honestly, they never come to mind for me. The name alone suggests a diminished little joke of a meal. But when you're not really into one more drive to "town," you grab a can and a drink and have lunch.

I thought Tammy was feeding me a load of crap when she claimed they were high in fiber and protein. I figured they were fake food with a bad flavor, but I ate them anyway.

The nice thing about the country is the lack of distraction. No computers. No television. I entertained myself by reading the Beanee Weenee label. Aside from the obligatory corn syrup, these weren't as bad as I thought.
260 calories, 9 grams of fiber, and 13 grams of protein. One can - $1.

Food Insecurity

I'm always deeply upset by the food insecurity in this country. The balance of pay is so whacked that people don't get enough to eat in some communities. I certainly don't propose we fill up the food banks with canned beans and wieners, but emergency assistance doesn't mean offering up that last can of 4 year old hearts of palm in the back of a suburban family's food pantry. 

A little can of Beanee Weenees would do the job. No cooking required. Just pop the top and feed someone.

I'm trying to lose weight. I sit in an office all week, and I often end up at a restaurant for dinner. My family and I enjoy whatever we want on the menu. My waistline shows it. During my vacation, I decided to up my fiber and reduce the calories drastically. I'm reducing calories at will; not because I can't afford food.

This just looks stupid to me when I think about hunger in Austin, Texas.

Before the day is over, I'm going to the store, and I'm going to buy a case of Beanee Weenees. I am going to drop them off at the nearest organization with a food pantry.