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Monday, January 9, 2017

Reflections made in contentment of my life so far.

A Winter’s Ode

What is it about near zero snowy winter in Michigan that I like?

What is it about being somewhat self-sufficient that I like? 

As I sit writing this blog I have a sore throat and a little cough from snow blowing for two hours yesterday in the snow. The temperature was 7F. Sure I was dressed with long underwear and wool socks, boots and pants and flannel shirt and appropriate outerwear and a hat covering my ears and most my face. But with the wind I was covered in snow and ice after two hours of snow blowing.

What can I say, kind of the opposite of “fun in the sun”.

One just has to look a little harder to find the “fun in the snow”.

Two days before I had a friend with a tractor (mine’s in the shop) help me carry a cord of cut, split and stacked wood down to my wood shed by my house. Each day I have to carry in a few armfuls of wood that I burn in the only source of heat I have - my indoor forced air wood burning furnace. I put ducts on it 2 years ago to help move the heat around my house and what a wonderful thing that was.

Still every morning my winter house temperature hovers around 60F and that is cold. My first thing is let out the dog and start up the fire and start the whole house warming process over. As I am the one who cuts, hauls, splits stacks then re stacks and then carries each piece again into the house I burn as little as I can to get by. That amounts about to a cord a month.

When I first bought the house it was November and I hadn’t really realized that I didn’t have any heat except with the wood furnace. I didn’t really know the work involved to accomplish that in the dead of winter.

The only wood I had around was a few left over “tops” from the harvesting the previous owners did before I bought the place. Each day I would search for, then find some tops, then snow blow out a path and spend that day cutting and hand splitting that pretty green wood. My daily goal was to gather 2 days’ worth of wood. Slowly I built up a 5’ rack inside and built a 10’ rack outside which I needed to tarp.

That wood was green and hard to get started burning. It seemed like I spent forever hand splitting pieces into really small pieces to get a fire going then a bit bigger pieces to get more coals and it seemed like it took hours to get a self-sustaining fire going. Even then most of the heat of the fire was used drying out the wood and not heating the house.

Without ducts, the basement would get warm and the rest of the house remained cold. I set up an elaborate set of fans trying to get the heat out of the basement. It helped a little but only enough to survive. I vowed I would not be in that situation again.

The next spring, I cut up all remaining tops and anything else I could find and built a couple more racks by the house. I managed to have enough wood for the winter. The wood had a chance to dry out and the fires were a lot easier to start and they gave off much more heat.

Since that hard first winter, I’ve had up to 8 cords cut, split, racked and tarped, of dry easily burnable wood. I made a staging area up the hill where I have 7, 24’ wood racks for which I bought 7, 30’x 6’ tarps to hang over them to keep them dry yet allowing enough air to circulate and dry them faster. I have built a wood shed by the house in which I move a cord at a time to. I also built some ducts going to the far end of my house to help move the heat and they work great.

The start of the wood shed.

Finished wood shed

The most wood I’ve used in one winter is 5 cords. That was the winter of 2015, my worst winter since I’ve lived here. I actually saw minus 20F on my thermometer. My water pipes from the well to the house froze and I spent several days out in that frigid blizzardy weather pounding through the permafrost that reached down to the pipes. I wore layers and covered them all in my Carharts head to foot. I was sore for 2 weeks, my joints ached and my arm and hands would go numb all day long for a couple of months afterwards. I could only type a few sentences before I had to stop and shake the feeling back into them. Snow blowing during that time was especially problematic and bothersome. But it got done. And I remember even then feeling proud of finishing that whole thing.  

I still remember the 2nd day of pounding and digging and thinking I couldn't go any longer when I heard something.  It was chunks of water crinkling in the pipes as the ice was breaking free.  What a lovely sound.  What a great feeling.

After that, I set about figuring out a way to stop that from happening in the future. The next summer I dug my pump hole a foot deeper, built a more insulated enclousure and ran the pipes (a foot deeper too) directly into the house then to the back along the ceiling in the basement to where it needed to be. That put only 10' of pipe outside instead of 30'.  The whole thing was a lot of digging etc. but it was a lot easier in the warmth of spring than the dead of winter. I felt good about that.

I remember other less drastic time’s snow blowing nearly a foot of snow from my 700’ of driveway out to the road only to find the road impassable for my little low to the ground car. I’ve been stuck like that only a couple of time for more than one day. That out of 6 winters isn’t so bad.

So what is the joy in all this? Why do I seem to like all this hardship?

In an age consumed with 24/7 news and the ever perfection seeking busy body commentators and the wannabes on the likes of Facebook, (where anything one does or says is interminably knit picked to death by people who are obsessed with others and making sure others do things perfectly), it is a relief to just do things and get them done and in one’s spare time reflect in front of a fire on how to do it easier and better next time while patting yourself on the back for the accomplishment of fixing the problem.

It is OK to do something not in the context of whether it is for the greater good somehow but for simple survival sake. Or simply because that is what you thought was the best thing to do today. Getting meaning out of life is not about perfection but succeeding at something.

Take it from Stephen Hawking.

And I might add, feel good about the doing of it.

I know I get a good feeling of contentment after I snow blow for two hours and I see the nice open driveway, accessible wood racks, parking areas, dog run and the path from the wood racks down to my wood shed I built two years ago by my back door.

As I sit each morning getting the fire started I get myself and my dog warmed up as the furnace heats up all around us. Then as the blowers kick on and starts blowing heat through the ducts I installed warming the house, I can sit and study or go online in total comfort eating breakfast and luxuriate in a sense of what Arthur C. Brooks calls “earned success”.

As you might guess a lot of this work I do started out of the need to save money. More than that I’m trading a full time job for putting the same amount of time into doing things to save money.  I guess the simple reason is to be able to do the things I want to do.

Examples abound. I haven’t had to buy any wood yet for my heat. I find it and haul and split, stack it myself. To do this my little car becomes a wood hauler and I always have a chainsaw in the trunk with the gas can for it to take advantage of any wood I find.

I do all my own cooking and make my own bread. I take great comfort knowing I can take a chicken I buy on sale and roast it for a meal that day with corn and mashed potatoes and gravy, then cut up the different pieces; legs, thighs, wings and bag them into enough for 3 more meals and freeze them, then slice up the breasts and package them for 3 more meals of different versions of Chicken ala King.

That first night I take the carcass and boil the heck out of it adding an onion and some spices then before I go to bed I strain out the broth and set it in the fridge then take the strained left overs and pick out all little bits of meat while I sit and watch TV. Usually I get a full bowl full. Next day I take the broth out of the fridge pull off the congealed fat and start making soup.

I also have a nice garden and have taught myself to can and freeze and store what I grow. I grow and save; corn, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions and all kinds of strawberries. I also grow turnips, parsnips, a little asparagus and some different squashes and green peppers. So I end up with a really healthy and hearty soup. I call it my garden soup.

Don’t get me wrong. As I’m always changing my ways of gardening for the better, this last year the change turned out for the worse and this winter is the first time I’ve had to buy potatoes, and onions from the store. Luckily I’ve canned/frozen enough of the veggies and tomatoes to get me through. Not all of my idea are good. But with the time like now and by the fire in the morning I get to reflect (Think) of better ways.

Again I’m trading time for money. I spend what time I would be working at a job finding ways to save money. As I sit back and reflect I can find plenty to make me feel content with my lot in life. After all I choose it for myself.

For income I do have some Social Security and a part time elected job as Road Commissioner. Together they give me about 10,000 @ year take home which includes about $40 @ month each from sitting on the County Parks and Rec Board and the Newfield Township Planning Commission.

I live on a strict budget but again that too I’ve learned to enjoy by making of it a game and in the doing have found a myriad of ways to save money. 

That budget allows me to pay myself an allowance every week of $70. $20 for food, $20 for Misc. and $30 for gas for the car. I stick to it. If I run out I wait till next payday. 

Try doing without and as I did with the wood after the mess the first year, and one learns some lessons to apply to all things.  I have built a pantry to store food in and have two large freezers one of which I have filled now with the sale items I buy. The rest of the income I get each month goes directly into all the different categories of my budget. I now always have the money saved aside for car insurance, taxes, utilities etc. when the bill comes.

That too is a good feeling adding to my contentment. Over the last 5 years I’ve been able to save a decent and ever growing however slowly emergency fund.

I guess the bottom line is all the work I do including the hard sometimes bitter things, along with the more pleasant things I do to survive gives me a great sense of overall satisfaction. I feel really good knowing that I am my own master of my house and its 20 acres. I have a son in Cambridge I’m proud of and my daughter lives close by in Muskegon and I have a grandchild. My big excursion is to drive to Muskegon to see them.
Pic below of Liz and Rob with baby Bryar.

They round out my existence. I also have friends I’ve made of some neighbors and some political friends I visit and we do things together. Matter of fact the fella who came over with his tractor to help me move my wood was State Senator Goeff Hansen. We’ve helped each other politically and otherwise since before I moved from Muskegon up here to Oceana County and have become friends.  

Some friends and I set up a Tuesday morning 8am breakfast at the La Fiesta Restaurant in Hart we call the Cozy Conservative Corner. I have been going to that without fail every Tuesday for over 5 years now.  I did miss once this year on election day as I had a job from 7am to 8pm doing a survey of voters and how long the different parts of the voting process took.  This was for Ohio State University.  They paid well but I missed the CCC breakfast but others were there and I called in during it.  LOL.

Like Hawking said and I paraphrase, I can always find something to succeed at. 

So I guess it is obvious why I like the conservative message which stresses individual initiative and getting the government out of peoples way letting them solve their problems themselves. 

We are all more capable of relying upon ourselves to one extent or another than we think. If you doubt it, look at all the help that flooded into Louisiana during Katrina and New York after 9/11. Look at how people invented ways to help themselves before the government could finally get help there and begin telling they couldn't.

Also with this self-reliance there comes an intuitive understanding of the need for assistance from friends or yes the government. Yes I rely on the government.  My Social Security is half my income. Without that I would be hard pressed to survive. There is very little left to cut in my budget.

An honesty (humility) is also forced upon ourselves by reality as we learn we are not the sharpest tool in the shed in everything we do. But harking back to Hawking in paraphrase, we all can find something we can do and succeed at. Just not everything. With time we generate a sense of contentment and well-being from taking care of ourselves.

We tend by this to find a spiritual side to existence.

This again goes back to a favorite saying of mine. We learn best by the doing. Or we appreciate most what we accomplish by the doing. Or how about we can learn more how to do something better more easily after we’ve done it in the first place?

Regards, Bob Carr --
Live Dangerously, Tell the Truth

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