Horse Snot in Utah and Out

Not the state. The horse. People in my family understand this reference.

Utah was a pretty big pony, almost horse size at 14 hands. Heidi, a Welsh Shetland cross, nearly kilt herself bearing that big boy. He had a few issues… Apparently the genetics were not as sound as the breeders liked. One of those things was an epiglottis that sometimes failed to understand its job in keeping food out, so the horse could sometimes end up with unexpected coughing fits.

He was a good horse though, a bit stubborn now and again, but large enough that my sizable grandfather could ride him without fearing injury if he were to break out into a trot (the horse, not my grandfather, he never broke out into a trot). This was important to Grandpa, because Heidi was really too small for Gramps, and had a habit of giving him a tiredly accusing look if he were to try to ride her. The grandkids got a lot of mileage out of Heidi though, so Grandpa had a reason for keeping her, and Topsy, another mare about the same size as Heidi, but not quite so round.

One day my grandpa fed Utah a treat, and he managed to choke (the horse, not the grandfather…), and it was bad enough that he actually went down (again, the horse… Gramps stayed upright for the moment).

“You ever seen a horse turn blue?” Grandpa asked when he told me this story. He waits, for me to register this and laugh. “His lips did anyway.”

There was Utah, DOWN. There was Grandpa, coming close to a panic. He was a respectable millright, and a noted record blood donor. You just don’t assassinate your favorite horse with a bucket of oats.

Not knowing what else to do, he sat down on Utah’s ribs. He’s a big guy (Grandpa, not the horse), and he said he heard ribs crack (the horse’s ribs, not Grandpa’s).  Poor Utah.

Whatever, poor Utah got the hint, went “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” (and maybe a few more exclamation points, Grandpa tells this pretty emphatically), and staggered to his feet.

He then coughed (the horse, not Grandpa), and landed a great big gob of horse snot RIGHT ON GRANDPA’S BOOT. Right on the curve of the front of the boot, where it instantly bonded with the laces.

Grandpa was NOT HAPPY… he was holding back his gorge, trying to get to the hose to swill down his boot, trying and failing to stop thinking about that big gross gob on his boot, his stomach trying to heave every time he thought about it, finally managing to hose it off without throwing up. He didn’t even want to THINK about how much of that had seeped into the boot and onto his socks.

Utah is fine with all of this, he can breathe again, in spite of the two broken ribs (Grandpa counted, said it was obvious), the snot does not bother him one bit anymore. Grandpa keeps the story pretty much to himself…  mostly because he can’t tell it without a surge of nausea at the remembered image of that great plop of mucus.

Now Robin wasn’t a horse. Robin was a little bird, whose wings had been broken so many times by someone who thought that was fun, that she was plumb scared to fly. She hadn’t forgotten how to run though, and still had some pluck left, though it was all wrapped up in a little ball of watchful scared. Really, she was a little girl, whose life had been pretty rough up to that point, and my grandparents adopted her and her brother Tony. They were some kind of messed up, but then, so were Gram and Gramps sometimes, and at this time, she’d been with them long enough to know her place there, but not long enough to learn to know how to laugh or to really remember what tears were for, let alone that she had a right to them (She did eventually learn that.).

Next morning (after the Great Snot Plop), Gramdma comes out into the entryway of their house, and there is Robin, hunched down over Grandpa’s boot.

“What are you doing, Robin?” asked Grandma.

“There’s something on Grandpa’s boot.” she said. She didn’t look up. I guess Grandpa didn’t do as good a job hosing that boot down as he thought!

Grandma looked. Grandma puzzled for a minute. “Did you do that, Robin?”

“There’s something ON it.” Robin insisted. “I thought I’d clean it off but I don’t know how.”

“Robin, did you put that there?” asked Grandma.

“No. It was just THERE.” she’s still looking at that boot.

By now, Grandma is pretty sure she’s figured out the nature of the something on the boot.

Robin shakes her head, and says, “That’s too big to come out of MY nose.” she’s still examining it, then she looks up at Grandma and says, “You better ask Tony if he did it!”.

Grandma laughed, and thinks the better of asking if HIS nose is big enough. Robin looks up at her. “It’s ok to laugh, Robin.”

“That’s too gross to laugh about.” Robin said.

Grandma patted her on the head and went back inside.

Robin didn’t laugh, but she smiled.

Grandma gave Robin a scrub brush, and Robin cleaned the boot. At least, that’s what she SAID she did. Grandpa never did comment on the wet inside of his boot, or the amount of SOMETHING that he wiped out of the inside of it.

Later that day, Grandpa thanked Robin for cleaning that boot, and Robin asked about the mess.

“Utah did that.” Grandpa said.

“Well, HIS nose is big enough!” Robin was satisfied that the world now made sense.

And that is the story of Horse Snot in Utah… and OUT of Utah.

Stouffer’s, Did You Pee In My Chicken?

I run a family safe blog, so my deepest apologies to those people who did not need to hear the “P” word here today. There was just no other way to say it.

We loved Stouffer’s Chicken Alfredo meal. We had watched the quality of their lasagna decline until I could not really eat it anymore (Where’s the meat?), but we bought a few other dishes every few weeks to alternate with other once or twice a week shortcut meals. The Chicken Alfredo was actually good.

A few months ago we brought home a large size Chicken Alfredo (and yes, it WAS Stouffer’s, the stores we shop at don’t carry any other brand of Chicken Alfredo). A few days later I opened it up and flipped it onto a cookie sheet, and then flipped it again into a metal baking dish – we don’t do plastic and paper in the oven here I’m too allergic to plastic – and I popped it into the oven, and we went off to do livestock chores (this is a pompous way of saying “feeding the chickens”).

When we came in, I pulled the Alfredo out of the oven, and noticed it smelled different. Not strongly so, but THERE. I dished it up anyway, and we sat down to eat. The first bite of chicken and I KNEW something was REALLY WRONG. It tasted so foul that I could not eat any of the chicken… I picked it out and got some of the noodles down, but could not even eat much more of that. We ended up tossing out most of the dish, which should have lasted more than one meal.

We have never bought it again.

It was a day or so after that disaster that I realized the smell in the dish was Ammonia.

The Tyson Chicken we put in the oven a few weeks later was simpler to identify. When the oven door opened at the timer beep, a cloud of urine smell rose from the chicken to assault my nose. If you overcook it, the smell dies down enough that you can gag it down, but you find yourself NOT wanting to eat any leftovers, or cook any more of it!

A short time before the Chicken Alfredo went off, I stopped buying Hillshire Farms Smoked Sausage. The flavor was so disgusting I could not finish a hotdog sized sausage.

How can you eat food like that? How can manufacturers SELL food like that?

The problem with all of these foods is Ammonia. This is a LOT MORE than just using ammonia on the processing line, they have so much you know they PUT IT INTO THE FOOD.

Now, let me make this absolutely clear…

There is NO JUSTIFIABLE REASON to put AMMONIA into food! If you do, it is not FOOD anymore! It is POISON.

Ammonia is difficult for kidneys and liver to clear from your system. And excess ammonia in the body is known to be neurotoxic, and to cause a form of degenerative dementia (resembling Alzheimer’s in many cases), and a condition that is similar to dopamine resistant Parkinson’s, as well as neurotransmitter deficient seizures, an increased risk of several types of cancers, and various forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

It is deadly. Short term, or long term, it kills.

So watch out, folks. There’s a distinct YUCKY flavor to this stuff, and much of it smells of urine, which is the smell of Ammonia. Many kinds of processed meats not mentioned here have this in it, as do many processed meals.

There are a number of other products I have to warn you about, and they do not have Ammonia in them, I can only GUESS what they’ve done, by flavor, and tendency to vomit after consumption.

The first blew us away when we discovered that Nesquik had changed their recipe in the bottled chocolate milk. It was readily apparent that whatever it was flavored with, it WAS NOT CHOCOLATE. It tasted more like a blend of burnt soybeans and burnt carob. NASTY. It was also apparent that whatever was flavored with the Not-Chocolate, was NOT MILK! The underlying flavor of soy, and the thin and watery consistency of it clearly indicated that a cow had nothing to do with the new recipe – I admit I may actually be wrong here, they COULD have thrown in a miniscule amount of powdered milk, but if they did, they held out enough that you can’t actually say they did! There is a chemically sweet unnatural flavor that is so scary to find in food that we are pretty certain that it is contaminated with other nasty things. We can TASTE that the ingredients listed on the label (which did not change), are NOT ACTUALLY IN the end product! Finishing the 16 oz bottle was NOT possible!

Watch out… It DOES cause stomach upset.

Red Button Triple Chocolate Chunk ice cream (which says “Old Fashioned Creamery” on the label) also gets panned here, it has the SAME flavor as the new bottled Nesquik, and by the time you get into the second scoop, you just know you will never want another bowl of whatever THAT was! Ice cream hides the nastiness better, because of the chill, but it does not hide the belly-ache that follows. Somehow I suspect that if any old fashioned creameries made anything like this, they were not on the end of town where one goes to buy the good stuff.

The next one disappointed us also, and is a bit of a tragedy for my husband, who used to love Chef Boyardee Ravioli for a quick lunch. His enjoyment had lessened, year by year, as they pronounced meat to be outdated, and extolled the virtues of soy, one of which they apparently believe is that you will never be able to tell they put it in instead of real meat!

We noticed. The fact that it was on sale did not entice us to purchase more.

The latest change though, like Nesquik, is so major that their label should have changed to reflect a change of ingredients, and it did not. I do not even know how to describe the changes.

The ravioli are stiff and the pasta is almost toughly crumbly, and does not have a clean pasta flavor – the color is dark and dirty looking. You WILL notice if you attempt to eat them. You can’t really finish a can of them, or even a half can, if you have any sense of TASTE at all!

The sauce is thin, and the flavor is off. That kind of nauseating “off” that makes you wonder whether the can was properly sealed, or whether it came in contact with animal waste products prior to distribution. Very yucky!

I don’t know if it is Ammonia in the token bit of meat they may still be putting in, or melamine in the flour, or some other nasty thing. What I can say unequivocally is, that SOMETHING IN THEM IS NOT FOOD.

The next major issue I had was that the last box of anything Hostess that I purchased almost a year ago was inedible also. The Zingers, which should have tasted of chocolate and that mysterious white greasy sweet stuff they put in the middle, tasted instead of Chocolate Engine Oil. And I’m pretty sure that is a product that is NOT made for use in food! It as such a strong flavor that you could not mistake it, and I was not able to eat them. Engine Oil is not a smell or taste you should find in FOOD!

Food Club brand Orange Juice is something I bought ONE TIME. The carton. The flavor is sorta scary sweet, washed out, and weirdly wrong. You don’t figure out there is really something wrong for a couple of days if you have one glass a day. But this orange juice toxed me in the same way heavy air fresheners do (you know, the neurotoxic kind that gives you insomnia and microseizures?). Something in this is a thing that should NEVER be consumed as a beverage, let alone a healthful one! That thing that happens when you take a drink and say, “Well… I suppose it does have some orange flavor… but how odd… is that sweet natural?”. That thing. That is the only warning you get with this one. Three days in, you start to get sick, and you don’t get better until the orange juice goes away.

I absolutely LOVE Santa Cruz Organic Apple Juice (can’t vouch for whether it is still as good as it was or not, they are not the one that messed me up). I cannot get it anymore, but I loved the stuff. One day I could not get it, and Knudsen’s Organic Apple Juice was there instead. The three quart bottle. Both are a pressed cider type product, not a steamed juice type product, which is what I wanted. I bought it. I regretted it. I opened the bottle, and I could smell the chlorine in it – it produces a distinct chemical smell, that takes a bit to identify because of how it interacts with the apple juice, but it is identifiable because it is SO strong. I could not drink it. Chlorine overload gives me raging headaches and causes a flare of IBS (and if I am not careful, will lead to Crohn’s), and if I ignore that set of symptoms (or cannot avoid the chlorine), it will precipitate an allergic crisis which ends in anaphylactic shock. Not somewhere I can go.

Shame on you, Knudsen’s, for adding chlorine to a pressed apple cider type product! There was NO CAUSE to add water to it, and NO CAUSE to have chlorine in the product at all! This seriously disappointed me, and their brand instantly became one that I cannot trust.

Colossally disgusting. Completely inedible. Dangerously contaminated.

Call it what you will, these companies deserve to go under. They deserve to have America (and anywhere else where these products are sold) turn away and refuse to buy. They deserve to be held accountable.

I sincerely hope that somewhere in here there is a fluke. Just a single time error on the line. Because the food was entirely inedible, and I no longer trust any of these companies, and cannot buy ANYTHING that they produce.

NOTE: These were my honest experiences with these foods. If these companies wish to refute, they will have to do so with edible food that replaces the products that are inedible. I sincerely hope others have had better experiences, but I did not.

Goodbye Mama

We’ve called her “Ma” since we were in our teens, but today it seems she’s gone back to being Mama.

She was taken to hospice a few days ago, in end stage kidney failure. Our relationship over the past few years has been complicated, usually companionable but sometimes turbulent, and I had not talked to her for a while (she could no longer communicate well on the phone), and could not possibly go to visit her, many hours from where we live.

I had gone to bed that night, and it took me a while to fall asleep. It took me til nearly midnight to settle in. As I was drifting off, I had a thought.

“I wrote a story today, Ma. I learned what it means to spin straw into gold. It is flax. It is dried, and kinda rough like straw, but you treat it, then spin it and wax it, and if you do it right, it ends up golden colored and shiny. So you really can spin straw into gold.”

I heard a reply. Not with my ears, but more like an echo of my mother’s voice in my mind. “That’s JUST the kind of thing I love to learn!” She sounded really tired.

And then, “Laura, I’m afraid.”.

“It’s ok. It’s just a door. You’ll keep learning cool stuff, you just won’t hurt as much.”

And I went to sleep. I am comfortable with death, and I’d often felt my father, and my daughter as though their presence was near me, after their deaths. On some occasions, I’d had that feeling of hearing them in my mind. It was a comfort to me, to know they are still aware of the lives of their loved ones.

I woke a few hours later to go to the bathroom, and heard my mother in my mind again, “Laura?”

“Yes.”

“You gave me a gift! I’m ok! I’m not scared, I’m ok!” she sounded cheerful.

I went back to bed. In the morning we got the news that she had died in the night.

She loved to learn new skills, and had once learned to spin. I hope she really did hear what I tried to say. The one thing I am certain I learned from my mother is that if I need to learn to do something, I can.

Her body and mind were so crippled for the last several years that she really could not do that anymore.

It was several days before I realized I’m not even grieving her death. This is a hard thing to admit, since people get so nasty about it if you do, but my stages of grief over losing my mother were over long ago. She left years ago, and the person in the house with us just wasn’t her anymore, and wasn’t going to BE her anymore. She lived in her chair, and entire days would go by without her saying anything to anyone. She’d hold it together enough to be chatty with visitors, but even then she could no longer control her side of the conversation. Dementia robs you of the person day by day, and you grieve it out as it happens. By the time they are truly dead, they’ve been gone a long time already, and there’s nothing left to mourn.

Ma lived next door to us for about 11 years, and relied on us and our kids to help her out. I was the one of her children who saw the gradual breakdown of her capabilities and her capacity to reason and think things out. We moved away, and she would not go. When we met up with her again a few years later, her capacity had declined so much that she could no longer live alone. The last 4 years of sharing a home with her were tragic in so many ways, that her death has brought us only the sorrow that those years were so difficult, and so painful for both her, and us.

We did not have a funeral, there really wasn’t any point, since only a couple of people could get there. And I’m really ok with that, f I could afford to travel up for a funeral, I’d have done it when she was alive, when it mattered to her. I did not need to say goodbye to an empty body. She was already missed… and we are kind of used to that.

I hope she now has the chance to learn to spin straw into gold.

Rumpled Skin and the Queen’s Stilts, A Historic Fairy Tale With Sarcasm

Once upon a time, in a land we hope does not actually exist, there lived a King. It is always a King, it has to be… Occasionally a Prince, but we know he HAS to grow up to be a King. Otherwise it would not be a fairy tale.

This King, like all Kings, needed clothing. And the clothing MUST be fine! If it were not fine, he would cease to be King, and look like all the other sad relics in his oppressed Kingdom. (Of course they were oppressed! He’s a King after all!)

The King is single. This makes clothing much more of a problem, not having a wife to tell him he looks good in this, to order the fabric for that, to sit by his side throughout the day spinning exotic thread just to weave his very own clothes! WORK WITH ME HERE! THIS ACTUALLY WAS A THING!

Fine clothing comes in many kinds, but some are finer than others. And finer cloth requires finer fiber, and finer fiber is often more difficult to spin than coarse fiber. Remember that, it is kind of important for the story line.

Imagine this to be somewhere in the middle ages. The whole story just works better if you do!

Wool is the most common cloth. Sheep are plentiful, and there are many kinds of wool, from coarse and durable to fine and soft. Kings like the fine and soft kind, they only like the durable kind for horse blankets and shoulder patches when one must go hunting. Wool may be spun very fine, and pretty much anyone can spin wool. If you can spin, you can produce reasonably usable wool yarn or even wool thread. The King has plenty of wool.

 

Cotton is not a common cloth at this time. It is worn, but it is not highly durable, and is fairly costly to produce, so it is far less often worn than wool. Cotton is simply too difficult to process, and even slavery makes it expensive, so there’s no help there! Cotton is spun thin, into fine yarns or threads, and while it is a challenge to spin it well, the King is not concerned with this. He can obtain all the cotton he can afford, and there is not a serious obstacle other than general availability.

 

Silk is wonderful, not highly durable, but fairly easy to spin once you learn how. The issue with silk is not whether it is easy to spin, but other inconveniences. It is VERY costly to process into Noil (clumps of fiber that are ready to spin). Every cocoon has to be opened, cleaned, de-glued, and shaken out. Cocoons range from 1-7″ long, and it takes between 20 and 200 cocoons just to make a single OUNCE of silk Noil. That spins up into a little less than an ounce of thread – and silk MUST be spun fine. Spinning fine takes a LONG time to do, you can spin 8 ounces of knitting wool in the same time it takes to spin about half an ounce of weaving thread. But anyone can spin silk, provided they have the time!

 

Hemp was not worn. Nor was bamboo. Both take intensive processing to produce wearable threads or yarns, and if you try to make clothing from less processed hemp you end up wearing burlap (VERY itchy and rough), whereas bamboo is just splinters. So forget trying to tell me how you think they must have used these for clothing in the middle ages, they did NOT. Hemp was used for coarse rope, and bamboo was used as an alternative to wood.

 

Flax is the thing. Flax not only gleams and looks good, but it is also VERY strong and durable. Flax is just a plant that is dried, and the hay-like stems processed into fibers. It can be processed into a few types of fiber – coarse brown, semi-smooth (comfortable) gold or light brown, smooth or rough cream, and smooth or rough white. All are difficult to spin, due to the length of the fibers, which must not be cut if you want really strong thread. Flax is also spun very tightly, so you have to have a spinning wheel set up to spin it, with a higher bobbin ratio than most wheels, or without a flyer – It CAN be spun using a drop spindle, but since you have to work the fibers down as you spin it, with both hands, it is more difficult to do, and flax can be temperamental when attempting to get an even thread or yarn. If it is processed correctly, each lighter color of flax is progressively smoother and more difficult to spin – contemporary processing leaves it rough at any color. Flax is also slippery if you are spinning smooth flax, and this is considered one of the most difficult fibers in the world to spin. It takes skill, and patience, and good hand coordination to be able to spin smooth flax well. The person who can do this is rare, and remarkable. And this is the thing which preoccupies the King – and he has a preference for smooth gold flax.

Flax is the fabric that both looks good and wears well, and the fabric that one never has enough of if one must have fine clothing for events of state. This King knows, if he is to marry, he has to have a wife that is skilled enough to run the royal household, and to attend to all the important things that annoy him so much if they are not done! Spinning of flax is not the ONLY thing… but it is a thing one can find out fairly quickly, if one just puts another to the test.

The King loves silk, and sometimes spins it himself, just because it is about the most fun thing to spin, and if you HAVE to spin something, this is the one you choose first. We need to understand the character of the King. Oh, he’s a despot, naturally, but he believes in Nobless Oblige. So if spinning must be done by all in his household in order to provide for the common good, spin he will! It is his duty, just as it is his duty to tax the peasants and threaten the lesser nobility. A successful King must understand these things!

A successful King must also marry. How is he King then, and not married? Surely if he be King he must be old? We are uncertain of the details, but we are assured that he is young enough that he MUST marry to secure the succession to the throne, and he has no parents to foist a bride upon him, so he must find one himself.

He sets out to find a bride who has the necessary birth, and skills, but those with birth seem to be singularly lacking in skills!

They can paint a watercolor that has some colors that suggest the scene they are trying to capture. They can make a small needlepoint tapestry without too many freckles. They know how to dance at least two different dances. One or two are able to sew a seam, or embroider a daisy (a few can even make a French knot!). Not a ONE can dress themselves. And none can spin flax into thread.

The young ladies all know how to gossip, they all know how to swoon, they can sit for hours complaining while their hair is done, and they know not to fidget too much while the maid is buttoning them up. But when he asks if they can spin straw into gold, they look at him dumbfounded, and ask him why he should need more gold, he being the King and all? They haven’t a clue in their little heads where a practical skill is concerned, nor the common phrase to describe the valued talent.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Kingdom, there lives a young miller’s daughter. No ordinary lass this, otherwise she could never come to the attention of the King!

No, she is not an ordinary miller’s daughter. She is, in fact, the adopted daughter of the miller (the plot thickens). A girl of questioned, though broadly suspected and gossiped, origins. Origins quite easily explained, by a passing nobleman (who was not in fact noble in character), the OLDER miller’s daughter, and an unnamed hunting lodge somewhere in the Smoky Mountains, no doubt.

The miller makes a living. A fairly good one. He is, in fact, well off, and having a daughter of marriageable age, has a dowry to offer. She, being the bastard daughter of… She, being the orphaned daughter…. No, that isn’t going to work either. Anyway, given her background, there aren’t any takers. At least not for the girl. Plenty want the money!

The miller has never received a dime from the presumed fatherer of the girl. You can’t pay someone to raise your bastards, you see, if you do, you’ll never have an end of it. They’ll squeeze you blind, and the miller is a merchant of some repute, and good at squeezing, so the nobleman isn’t about to take a chance with that!

But the King is on the hunt… and the miller knows this. The King is also a greedy… Well, we can’t say that. He was born to married parents! The miller suspects maybe there is an opportunity. And he knows as well as the King, where the value is.

The pity of it is, the miller has not taught the girl a thing that would help her be a good queen. He hasn’t even taught her anything that would make her a good mistress, fearing greatly that this might be the only offer she’d receive! He has SOME principles, after all.

The girl can spin. She spins a good, smooth woolen yarn, and a nice, usable woolen thread for weaving. She can’t even spin sewing thread, her mother (having no time for this) has to buy it instead. But she has never even handled the finer fibers, in her whole life.

The miller bids his wife pack a pack, and he saddles his horse, and rides off, he says, to trade in the big city. And trade, he does.

A certain nobleman being vulnerable to a suggestive threat, the miller receives an audience with the King.

Through much inference, a respectable amount of flattery, and a good deal too many words, the miller finally gets the bored King’s attention and persuades him of two things:

The miller has a daughter of marriageable age, of uncertain, though CERTAINLY NOBLE birth, with a SIZABLE DOWRY, which, unaccountably, nobody wants.

 

The daughter can spin. She can spin FINELY!!! So fine, in fact, that she can spin straw, into gold.

The King is intrigued.

The King is also emotionally disconnected. Not terribly good husband material, too many wars, too much indulgence of his whims, you know, the usual Princely challenges. He is, in fact, Nobless Oblige aside, a bit of a bully and a brute. Not a BAD King, mind, just not a good MAN.

Our psychologically dysfunctional King is caught in a fit of consternation.

The spinning he wants.

The dowry he wants.

The wife he must have.

But he must also be able to prove that the bride is worthy of his attentions. His advisors will bow to his wishes in the thing, but he cannot just go out and marry a commoner. He’s got to have SOME upper hand in this, to prove his judgement just.

So he informs the miller that he is to bring his daughter to the dower house, which is occupied by the Aunt of the King, where she is to be installed in the second drawing room with an appropriate amount of straw, which she is to spin into gold within three days. If she fails, she is to be put to death as a consequence of the dishonesty of the miller – fair being fair and all. Men of those days understood the importance of justice, after all. (The plot sickens…)

The miller returns home and informs the poor girl of her fate. This girl has no clue other than that she knows people say it is hard to spin flax. The only way she is better than any of the others is that she knows what it means, and has an acquaintance with a spindle. Oh… and she can protest. But this is not an asset in a prospective queen.

The following morning she is bundled into a cart and hauled off to the residence behind the castle, and installed with a basket of dried flax, into a nice sized room with a chaise in the corner. She is given leave to go to and from the room to meet her personal needs, and told that she may request what she needs to finish the task.

This flax must all be spun by morning, she is told, or she’ll be put to death. And then she is left alone.

The girl tries to pull the flax apart. It separates, but is stiff, rough, and won’t spin into thread. She’s pretty sure it ought to be nicer.

She tries for an hour, and cannot do it. In despair, she puts her head in her hands and sobs out her frustration.

A man enters the room. He’s pretty old, rather bent, and NOT attractive at all. He carries a bottle, and a bucket.

He tells her that if she will give him the necklace she wears, he will give her the things she needs to make it work.

She protests… The necklace, a simple locket, was given her by her mother. A token from the girl’s birth father, with a name inscribed within.

But she must spin the gold! So she surrenders the necklace, and the man gives her the bottle and the bucket, and hobbles out the door.

The bottle is vinegar. She pours it into the bucket, and drops a bit of flax in, and stirs it for a few minutes. Then she pulls it out. It is different. Smoother. Flexible.

She needs WATER. To rinse the flax. And washbasins. And more vinegar.

These are brought, and the flax is treated, and then rinsed, and laid to dry by the fire.

Once dry, she begins again to try to spin the flax. It isn’t straw anymore, it is fiber. And spinning it is HARD.

It spins, but wants to stick out on the sides. Getting it even is difficult, the fibers are so long they do not distribute well, and teasing them straighter requires some strength and considerable fussing.

By 3:00 in the morning the flax is spun. It is not beautiful, it is still a bit rough, rather fuzzy, and not quite even. But spin it she has, and she collapses onto the chaise to sleep off some exhaustion by morning.

She awakes in the morning to find the Aunt gathering her work, while a footman carries in two baskets of dried flax. This must be spun by morning, or she will be executed.

Her work of the day before is taken to the King. He examines it, and pronounces it to be poor work, but she HAS done one thing… She has spun the straw into gold yarn. He cannot say she has not done it, only that she has not done it WELL.

He sends word back to her… It must be FINER, and it must be SMOOTHER.

She cannot make it smoother. She can make it finer, this comes with practice. And it makes the fingers sore. But this is the work, so you do it.

If you make thread instead of yarn, it takes longer. It must be spun tighter (more turns), and it takes longer to spin a large bulk. There is NO WAY her poor spindle will produce enough thread to finish TWO baskets of flax by morning.

Once again she lays down her head in her hands to sob out her discouragement. And once again a man enters the room, the same as the day before.

This time, the old man asks for her ring.

She protests… This ring, the only other thing she has of value, also from her mother, was given her by the man who fathered the girl. It has a family crest on it.

Reluctantly, she gives him the ring.

He brings her a spinning wheel.

A flax wheel is hard to learn to use, and she’s never learned to use a wheel at all. It is threaded, with a leader thread, so she ties a bit of flax to the leader, and starts to spin slowly. She has to stop periodically to replace the bobbin full of newly spun thread and start again.

It takes a few hours to really get the hang of the wheel, and her thread is spinning faster, and she’s learning to keep it neater, but it is still hairy, with fibers sticking out. Flax tends to not want to bend, and the loose fibers want to unwind and stick out.

But gold thread is produced, and the baskets empty. By 1:00 in the morning she is feeding the last of the flax into the spinning wheel, and again falls exhausted onto the chaise to sleep.

Morning heralds the arrival of the Aunt once again, to gather the night’s work to take for inspection. The footman brings three fresh baskets of dried flax, and replaces the empty two. It must be done by morning, or her execution will be carried out.

The King once again inspects the work, and is not fully pleased. She has spun a finer thread, but it is still hairy. He wants it smooth and gleaming. He sends word that he will not accept it in the morning unless it is both fine, AND smooth.

She cannot get it so! It will not go! A sob and a wail and she’s down again!

In comes the little old man. He’s strangely happy today, like he is about to get what he wants. It isn’t a nice kind of happy.

He has the answer. She knows he does, he’s had it before. He’s got an old spinster in his pocket, and she’s helping him out, because he’s obviously a man to whom work is not a familiar visitor. But he has gotten the answer, and he’ll barter it for the right price.

She has no currency. He is not disturbed, he only wants a little thing. Such a little thing she’ll never miss it. Just a child. Just one child. The first one… Oh, not a girl, that does not count! The first USEFUL child, of course.

What can she do? Her child, or her life? Her shoulders slump, and she agrees, hoping the man may die before she has to comply with the promise.

The man hands her a small packet wrapped in a cloth, and leaves the room. The cloth conceals a bar of beeswax.

She has seen her father make rope, using  waste tallow to hold it tight. So she has an idea of what to do with beeswax.

The spinning wheel has a wax box in the middle, and the bar goes there. She rubs her fingers in the wax, and smooths a bit of thread. The thread is a bit waxy, and dull looking, but smooth. She wipes it again, and the thread starts to shine.

With practice, she can spin and wax the thread, and she gets faster and faster as the day goes on.

There’s a thing with spinning. It wears you out when you are not used to it. She’s used to it. But this involves new motions, so some of her muscles are sore. You have to not just get FASTER, but you have to learn to MOVE more efficiently, or the soreness will slow you down instead of skill speeding you up.

By midnight she’s finishing the last of the third basket, and she tumbles onto the chaise just before the clock in the corner chimes the half, and she’s asleep before it is heard.

Morning arrives, along with the Aunt, but no footman. She gathers the best of the previous day’s work and carries it off while the miller’s daughter slides back into an uneasy sleep where bars of beeswax make her feet slip, yards of tangled flax trip her, and someone keeps trying to execute her with a spindle. The human mind is a strangely logical thing sometimes.

The King is resigned this morning, that he’ll have to marry her if she’s finished the job. She IS at least capable of learning, and that is a great asset to someone who may lack a few of the finer social graces, and she isn’t bad looking, there’s many a queen flat out ugly and proclaimed a stately beauty, and this girl isn’t ugly. Besides, some of his Counselors are pushing for this girl, on account of the dowry, and the nebulous presumed noble connection. Court politics never stop, and there is a manipulator around every corner, so this kind of intrigue is to be expected.

The flaxen thread is lovely. It has been prepared with a good sense of timing so it is neither rough from under treating, nor colorless from over-treating. It is fine enough for weaving a strong cloth, and very even (which is a big deal). It is smoothly waxed, with just enough wax to shine, but not enough to dull or cause the thread to stick together.

He could send her home now, and break his word, and she’d be bettered by the skill. But if he does, he’s still stuck with trying to find a bride who can do what this girl can. All in all, he’ll be no worse off, and perhaps a little better off with a wife.

The girl is left no choice. The decision is made without so much as anyone questioning whether she WANTS to marry a tyrant who would kill her just because she did not live up to the promise of the miller’s lie. King or not, that sort of thing tends to lower the value of a suitor in the eyes of a prospective bride.

But the King decides, the miller rubs his hands in glee, and the little old man in the corner gives a nasty little chuckle.

The thing is done, the girl is queen. That is queen with a LITTLE “q”, not big “Q”. That’s important.

The King and the queen proceed to create a large family, all very healthy, and all girls. Six red, screaming baby girls into their married life, she finally bears a son, and has no idea whether or not the little old man has persisted in life or not.

The boy is Christened, Breached, and Baptized, and enters training in the court under the eye of his father. He must learn a few Kingly skills, and they are duly exhibited for his edification.

Oh, we’d all like this to involve a threat and having to guess a name, wouldn’t we? But you forget, this is palace intrigue. And it follows a more crooked course.

The old man is there. He’s been there all along. And he already GOT the son.

The queen meets him in the hallway one day, even older, and more bent, and realizes, he’s been there advising her husband, training her son, raising him up so that when he becomes King himself, there will be a puppetmaster behind him, either the old man or someone who is chosen by him to follow in his footsteps, so the young King will know to whom the favors and privileges are owed. This is how power play works with children in the palace.

She can’t get rid of him. But she CAN guess his name.

It is inscribed on the inside of a locket that he took from her.

But all in all, he made a fair trade.

And the queen really COULD spin straw into gold.

 

About the name of the story: An old man, and a miller’s daughter who is elevated. Actually, it was just a silly reference to Rumplestiltskin.

When Hearts Fail

I don’t know if I can ever publish this (note: apparently I can). But I’ll try to write it.

I don’t talk anymore. My kids have their lives, and call to see if we are ok. And I have nothing to say. I want to. But it is not there. A combination of lack of interesting things in my life, and deeply private processing of thoughts and circumstances that one only shares fully with God.

The last eight years have been the most brutal of my entire life. Family, work, health. All exquisitely painful so much of the time that there were days I could barely breathe with the hurt of it.

I knew absolutely before this that I wanted a long life. I wanted another 50 years. I wanted more of the work, the laughter, and I’d endure the discomforts and disruptions to get it.

When I got it, it was not anything like a continuation of life. It was a slow descent into the borders of Hell that left me feeling like Remi standing in front of the hardware store, crying, “You’re telling me life can only be more of THIS???”. Crying to Heavenly Father that if it were 50 more years of the last several, it really wasn’t what I’d asked for more of.

Other than the obvious that our close friends know about, the worst has been the uselessness. Purposelessness. I live. I do things. I write about them. I have a husband who loves me, and he is often my motivation to keep going. But there is so little meaningful activity in my life at times that I look ahead toward the stretching years, thinking that if they contain nothing but this, that they are bleak beyond enduring. Trapped in every way, and unable to make the changes we knew we SHOULD have been able to, but lacking the resources to even plan a way out. All I could do, and all I can do now, is strive to determine what God wants of me, and to try to do it, even when I cannot. It keeps me breathing, and once in a while, it hands me something to do that puts a little spark of interest back into my life again.

But it still isn’t the kind of thing you can talk about.

I learned to forage for wild mushrooms, and gathered a collection of around 100 edible types, and dried enough that I can have pretty much any kind I want whenever I want them. Not being a great mushroom eater, I still cannot explain to anyone why I am so fascinated by mycology, but it is certain that the bin of mushrooms that I collected will probably last us a decade or two (they are dehydrated).

I learned to can some things I had not known how to can, and I discovered that if you had the right pressure canner that it did not have to be a terrible sentence to have to babysit it, because it did not require constant vigilance, simply being able to HEAR it.

You see? How many people in the world really get excited because you discovered that you could actually can your own pork and beans that tasted pretty close to actual pork and beans? The average person, their eyes glaze over… And my family and friends are no exception!

I bought some plants, and explored some possibilities with container gardening, grew some herbs, learned to use them effectively. And I wrote about it. This took two whole years. The rest of the world remained largely oblivious to my efforts, and likely will stay that way, even if I do get the pictures to finish the book about it. No conversation starters there.

This winter, in a series of events that were so discouraging and personally grieving, our living circumstances changed. The events involved several other individuals, and little good would come from detailing who did what to whom, but they were the catalyst for another set of challenges, with obstacles we simply cannot overcome in spite of doing all the right things to do so.

When the commotion subsided, I found myself with a bag of Mohair. I’ve told the story elsewhere, and intend this to be quite a bit shorter, because I’m not taking this account in the same direction.

A kind friend gave me a drop spindle. I wanted to skippy-do right there, but my feet don’t move that nimbly right now. So I inadequately expressed my thanks, and went home to fret. It was Sunday, and I had not yet realized spinning is actually a good Sunday activity. I took it up on Monday, and my life changed in a way so small that the onlooker would not comprehend the significance.

There are events in your life that you know saved it. I don’t mean saved me from suicide, I’m not the type. I don’t mean saved me from physical decline, I was actually getting better. I mean, saved me by giving me something interesting to do.

I never thought SPINNING would be interesting. It has been far more than that. It has been educational, thought provoking, metaphorical, peaceful, comforting, and physically easier than I thought it would be. It has also evolved, from “how you are supposed to do this”, to “how you can do this better”.

I made all my equipment except that first gifted drop spindle, and a wire dog brush that I got to use as a flick carder.

I also learned old ways of doing the whole wool to yarn process, that do not require so many tools, and which are far simpler than what I’d been taught. I was taught that many things were NECESSARY that were not, and that some things were NOT necessary that ARE the majority of the time. I LEARNED rules for when they are and are not necessary, and the process of spinning is so simple compared to what I was told it had to be.

I learned that it need not be painful, though sometimes my hands or arm does get sore from working at it a lot during a single day.

When I say I made most of the equipment, I don’t mean that I looked on Pinterest, or Googled Spinning Wheel designs and went to the shop to craft an heirloom.

I mean that I went into the back yard where the elms and wild cherry were turning into thickets, and pruned branches, and made spindles, yarn blockers, a nostepinne, and a loom, from small branches.  Doing that lead to learning a way to spin with a drop spindle that did not hurt my back.

I now have a REALLY neat collection of sticks. They work for this or that in the process of getting fiber to a ball of 2-ply yarn. But they are really just a bunch of sticks. People just don’t get what I’m even talking about!

Spinning has surprised me. It is that easy thing to do, that does not require much thought, that keeps the hands busy, while your mind is engaged elsewhere. It is the thing you can do when you HAVE to sit down, but feel guilty if you are not working.

I didn’t expect to love it. I didn’t expect to learn so much about fibers and history. I have not yet persuaded Kevin to take up the Kingly art, but it feels like one of those skills you learn, and that you keep, because there is a PLACE for it

I like that it is part of a chain of activities, from raising an animal, to creating a knitted, crocheted, or woven item. It seems to complete other skills that I have already. It also involves a series of skills with itself that have been interesting to learn.

But this is still not something I can talk about. “I learned to spin.”. “Oh… that’s… Nice?” You see?

It gives time to think, and I’ve been able to process many of the events that have been so hard to understand. The personal revelations are so mind expanding, and sacredly private, that words are not adequate, even if I did have the need to share it.

I still have nothing to say that is not so difficult that other people turn away. And I cannot bear that either.

But if I have something to do… ANYTHING honorable that I CAN do, it makes things bearable, even when things are so difficult in other ways.

And I CAN spin. I can spin sheep wool, Alpaca, Mohair, and silk. Silk is my favorite, it just FEELS more fun to spin. Eventually I’ll try flax and Cotton. I just want to KNOW.

I’m also learning to weave.

And it’s no great conversation starter.

Just Wish It Was Not DISNEY

So we did a dumb thing. We joined the Disney Movie Club. We purchased additional movies at the time of joining which reduced the membership commitment from 5 to 3. One later. So we had 2 to go when our income tanked.

Fast forward to the end. Letter lets us know we have two to go. Ok, so we file that in the back of our minds, no ability to do it today.

Second letter comes. Not only are they telling us that we need to finish, they tell us they’ll bill us $98 plus change if we don’t comply by such and such a date. But they let us know (kindly, I’m sure) at the bottom that we can fulfill the commitment before *this* date, to head off disaster, by purchasing any two movies with a NON-discounted price of $9.95 or more. I repeat, NINE DOLLARS AND NINETY FIVE CENTS. I checked it three times before I placed the final order.

Letter also says that our commitment status will update when the payment is made for the last two items.

So I went into the site to try to place an order that qualified. Everything is discounted! I can’t tell it to charge full price in the cart! Finally dig around and find the “Offers” link, which has the option to Turn Off Discounts site-wide. It defaults to a discount, so you have to actually turn it off to meet your membership requirements.

We purchase two movies. Both are $9.95.

Commitment status does not update. Payment is made.

We wait a few days, just to be sure.

Then I call.

They assure me that it WILL update just as soon as we have purchased two movies with a non-discounted price of $19.95 or more.

I tell them the letter we received said $9.95.

They assure me this could not be so – it is $19.95, always has been, always will be, never has been written otherwise.

They ask me for a copy of the letter. Of course, Kevin has tossed it by now. After all, we placed the order!

Now, on this point I am dead certain of the price listed in the letter. Because I checked it several times. And because I don’t lie.

I also know that if WE received it, it is a standard boilerplate letter. It goes out to EVERYONE who has not bought enough. Customer service KNOWS THIS.

They assure me this is the first they have ever heard of such a thing (several customer service people said EXACTLY the same words – “this is the first I’ve heard of this!!!”, and they repeat those exact words each time they try to explain their surprise at my complaint – if the words were different, I might believe that three people were offering repeated sincere assurances, but since they are repeated verbatim, I am not buying it).

I am not playing ball. This is not right!

They make an offer – They will do me a favor and OVERPRICE the two movies we bought, with an extra $10 each, so that we will meet the commitment.

I’m not happy. I cannot afford that.

Now if the letter had said $19.95 to begin with, I’d have purchased two movies at that price – in fact I tried to, before I checked the letter (again), and realized it said $9.95. Money being tight, I went for the lower cost option!

They pass me to a supervisor, who goes through the same thing, same offer, same assurance that this is the first SHE has ever heard of this problem (she tells me this several times). I ask if I am going to have to sue in court to get them to do the right thing, and she quickly offers to do us a favor and settle it with the two we purchased as fulfilling the commitment.

She tells me repeatedly that I may be assured that this WILL happen, and that her word is good. I can’t even nod and smile, I’m way past that!

Then she says she cannot send an email to confirm the agreement. But… she can take down my number so someone can call me back, and I can then request an email to confirm!

I am not going to have a Sears experience again… And frankly, the fact that the supervisor had a Middle Eastern accent WAS unsettling, especially after our experiences with Sears. But today I’m not trusting anyone to call back, or to do as they said, without SOMETHING in writing, and email is the best I can do.

I ask her to transfer me rather than a call-back. She expresses doubt as to whether someone is there to answer, but finally does this.

Customer service also assures me that they’ve NEVER heard of this problem, but she leaves to confirm the agreement with the supervisor. Finally comes back and sends the requested email – we have that on file now. She also offers to remove our CC data from their database, and assures me she has done so, and that this may prevent the company billing us before the status change can go through.

I’m still not happy.

I mean this is DISNEY! If you can’t trust Disney, the world is pretty well fracked.

Our customer service experience wasn’t a mistake on their part. This is part of their SYSTEM. I work with websites, and businesses, and I know full well if a boilerplate letter went out (and that is what ours was), that the template has the details all there, just as I read them on ours. And if that happened, the lower price is STANDARD, OR, it is an ERROR that was perpetuated across thousands of accounts, which they are fully aware of, and have a policy to deal with.

In either case, THEY WERE WRONG, and THEY WERE LYING. And they are still giving us grief about it, acting like WE are the ones that did not follow the rules!

I am pretty sure that someone in accounting has done the math, and that they’ve realized that it is better to let someone fulfill an overdue commitment with $9.95 movies, and keep them a customer (they’ll purchase more later, even if they are almost broke, since they can purchase discounted), than it is to bill them a penalty and lose them.  But somewhere along the line, the website is not in the loop, and customer service is yanking people around over it. Maybe another case of “the left hand knoweth not what the right hand doeth”, but I’m suspicious because of the behaviors of their customer service people. You don’t just all end up giving the same line over and over again without variation when the situation IS an unexpected one – they were REHEARSED on that one!

It is bad enough that the quality of their movies is such that I won’t even WATCH some of what they’ve produced lately. But to have them messing around with customer accounts in a way that really casts a negative light on their honesty is an unexpected twist for us.

Disney, you really disappoint me.

The Ongoing Truth About Telecommuting and Work From Home Jobs

I was referred a few days ago to the Utah Rural Online Initiative, and this editorial is a combination of a generalized overview of the current status of telecommuting and working from home, and a discouraged commentary on the uselessness of the U-ROI.

If you are here for the info in the title of this article, please bear with me. It IS here. I’ve written this though, to help people save time and understand that government intiatives fail in this area because they never isolate the REAL problems with working from home. They NEVER have people with experience working from home full time in the idea pool, and they NEVER try to teach what IS a real work from home JOB, and what is a SCAM, and they simply BELIEVE every single job title that suggests telecommuting, but they do not READ the job posting to see that it is NOT what they think it is.

 

Anyway… To the story…

I’m always a bit skeptical when a government entity sets out to solve a problem. Usually they approach it from the rear, try to bridle the back legs and tail, and then get into the saddle with the reigns facing forward and try to ride the beast with no way to direct the head. This attitude of mine proves founded so many times that I will not excuse myself for the sarcasm that it usually smears across my commentary.

The House Bill that appropriated the funds and stipulated the goals sounded reasonable.

Utah youth move away from rural areas. No jobs. We know this.

 

New residents (except retirees) stay away from rural areas. No jobs. We know this.

 

Existing residents move out of rural areas to find upward career growth. No jobs, no advancement. We know this.

 

Populations in rural areas are declining, except for seniors. Jobs are a factor. We know this.

So in an effort to resolve this, the legislature was persuaded that telecommuting, or freelancing was a good solution.

Now, we must first understand (as they did not), that telecommuting and freelancing are two VERY DIFFERENT THINGS!

Telecommuting, or Work from Home JOBS are jobs that are paid by an employer, sometimes with benefits, and which involve regular hours and steady employment.

 

Freelancing is just self-employment. Yep. You own your own business, you hustle your work from a collection of clients, you work as a subcontractor, and you do your own taxes. No benefits.

This difference is VERY CAREFULLY AND DELIBERATELY cloaked on all of the U-ROI descriptions.

Because people want a JOB.

 

They do NOT WANT A BUSINESS, it is TOO MUCH WORK!

There is some noise in the original HB that funding is also being provided for businesses that are willing to expand with remote workers. (Apparently they have been unable to find any, because there is NO EVIDENCE of this goal in any of the resulting program pages.)

The resulting program provides training for workers. That is all. Just a training program, and NOT for employers.

To make it sound impressive, they made it a CERTIFICATION program.

It is administered by Utah State University. It is clear they have a TOTAL disconnect between the program they are presenting, and the ACTUAL NEED of workers in the state.

The training consists of learning team cooperation, video conferencing, project management software, and time tracking. They do take a swipe at a few other useless modules also.

If you are telecommuting, the training is COMPLETELY USELESS.

 

If you are freelancing, the training is BEYOND USELESS, and doesn’t even come CLOSE to approaching the training you REALLY need.

There is NOTHING for a business that WANTS to allow employees to work from home, and there IS a solution that would open doors for about 1/3 of businseses to allow that in some respect.

 

All of it demonstrates clearly that they have NO IDEA what the jobs are that are ACTUALLY available, or WHY more are not showing up.

The telecommuting world, as a whole, has NOT MOVED FORWARD AT ALL within the last TEN YEARS. Technology has done its utmost, and we are stagnated.

Yet somehow these people think this mostly failed concept is the new doorway to an old problem.

It COULD be PART of a solution. But not unless we acknowledge the current state of affairs.

This is what “telecommuting” is now, and what it has been since its inception:

  1.  The old “envelope stuffing” scam, and all kinds of variations on it. We must acknowledge first and foremost that the phrase “telecommuting” or “work from home” is one of the top scam phrases in the world. And most of what you find under it is outright scam, or something OTHER than what it is presenting to be. (This is never acknowledged in the training, and no caution is ever given.)
  2. “Outbound leads acquisition”. This is telephone sales, people. Cold calling. And it is so brutal that nobody stays at it long. You spend all day trying to get just ONE PERSON to not hang up on you. And you get paid $2 for a confirmed sale. You can’t make money at this. NOBODY PAYS HOURLY on this!
  3. “Inbound sales”. This MIGHT be calls coming from ads. It might. But if it is, you are in an office, on-site. If you are HOME, it is computerized call transfers. Same thing as cold calling, only you get it partially pre-screened. You can’t make money at this either. It is still $2 per sale.
  4. “Technical Support, Phone or Chat”. Now this is REAL WORK, and it pays HOURLY. But you don’t get to do this unless you are a TOP customer service rep, or TOP TECH. This means you have had 2-4 years ALREADY on-site with the same employer. It is NEVER every day. It is only a few days a week, and usually half days or less. The rest you do IN THE OFFICE. We do NOT HAVE call centers with all the workers in their homes. Supervising them is a nightmare, and completely impractical, and the limited ability they have to do so is inadequate.
  5. All other out of office jobs. This is a wide range. You may be doing graphics, coding, writing, client meetings, outside sales, deliveries, setups, troubleshooting, consulting on-site for the client, and many other jobs.  These generally pay hourly, and ALL OF THEM can usually be done as a freelancer (your own business, as a subcontractor). They NEVER hire someone to do these jobs outside the office unless they have a proven record INSIDE the office (except delivery and worksite-call jobs, and those are NOT work at home jobs). ALL of these may be listed as “telecommuting jobs”. You spend 3-5 years IN THE OFFICE before you get to even take work home and still get paid for it. These are also NOT a job you can work from a rural area, when the company is in a city, because you have to REPORT IN PERSON for a couple of days each week at least, or you pick up at the beginning of the day, and report at the end of day. They require that you LIVE  in the city WHERE YOU WORK.

So, we now understand that either the job is a BAD ONE, or that it requires that you live in the same city as the job does.

And this is why the training is useless.

NONE OF THESE benefit from the training.

 

Either you learn what the U-ROI course teaches ON THE JOB, or you do not NEED it.

They teach three pieces of software, and none of them are industry standards for telecommuting, they are just used to facilitate the training. Software you need for the job is something different, though project management and video conferencing are sometimes used, the ones taught are NOT commonly used.

So what was really needed?

Training for EMPLOYERS, to open the door for REAL working at home. This means both an increase in remote work at home opportunities, and an increase in the use of subcontractors. And the training that is needed is NOT anything like the University is offering, it only needs ONE training module (yeah, I’ve got it, hold your horses… that means the HEAD, not the REAR).

 

Training for WORKERS, to learn to run their own business as a subcontractor. Unfortunately this is fairly extensive training, and the University is TOTALLY unqualified to teach it since they have NO IDEA what is actually involved in making money from a small business (they can only scale down corporate business training, and this is ALL WRONG for a small business) Any other training is useless, since if you are qualified to work in the office, you are qualified to work at home. (Yes, I am qualified to speak definitively on this subject, given my background in small business startup consulting and small business website development.)

The real problem with telecommuting, and the reason that it has not expanded is obvious to every employer who tries it.

You cannot monitor the productivity of your workers.

This is a MASSIVE Problem!  It stops you cold with pretty much every worker that you DO NOT TRUST, and that you cannot see, from work turned in, to judge productivity in your absence.

This is a VALID concern!

So we need to acknowledge three significant truths:

  1. Employees hate to work, and we are in the middle of the biggest employee laziness crisis that the world has ever seen. If you don’t SEE the work, it ISN’T happening, and your business DIES. This is REAL.
  2. If you pay someone by the hour and they are not in your presence, you need to understand average productivity per hour, and know whether EVERY EMPLOYEE is producing at least an average amount of work. (Me, I go for higher standards than that.)
  3. There are only certain kinds of work that can be monitored remotely.

Those that can be remotely monitored through technology (and we’ve tapped that).

Those that can be monitored remotely through work turned in (documentation of work done but not visible is a time waster, so don’t even go there…. oh…. you already did… I’m sorry you are losing your shirt). So the expansion potential for home based work is in WORK TURNED IN.

So what is the real solution?

Flat rate pricing. Also known as Piecework.

This works for Subcontractors, and for standard Employment. With benefits if you wish (determined by work output rather than total hours).

For an Entrepreneur, hourly rates are a trap. If they convert to flat rate pricing, they break the income ceiling, and open up a window for unlimited income growth. This article explains.

For a business owner, paying flat rates to subcontractors or remote employees (or even employees on-site) allows them to pay every employee according to ACTUAL productivity.

Yes, there are problems. But they are solvable.

  1. Tracking production. This works best if you have only one person per task or sets of tasks (or per station). YOU have to be able to verify counts. This makes some types of work suitable, some types less so.
  2. Employee theft. If you have a chaotic shop or office, employees WILL steal each other’s work. Off-site employment pretty much stops that, but separating stations and tasks does this also. MANAGEMENT theft though, is rampant either way if it is allowed in the business.
  3. Motivation. If you work your numbers right, a new worker will make LESS than they want to make. As they speed up (watch for quality issues as they do), they’ll realize that they make as much as they work to make, and they’ll get more efficient, and quickly learn to make MORE than they could have by the hour. This is GOOD for the employer, because he only pays for what is produced anyway, and the faster the workers produce, the less the employer pays for in shared overhead per output.
  4. Pricing… This takes experience. Some things run on an average, so sometimes it takes less time, sometimes more, but averages out to a reasonable pay scale.
  5. Lazy workers. Ok, so I said this. But if you pay flat rate, every new worker will complain about low wages, because they haven’t learned that they EARN based on EXPERIENCE, and SPEED. It takes them WEEKS to really grasp that every time they are disappointed in their paycheck they can look at their work and find a way to speed it up.

Implementation of flat rate pricing is simpler than it seems, but does take some judgment calls in the beginning, and then adjustments to the reality. We often see the ideal, or the worst case as being the “norm”, and base our pricing on that, and over a repetition of 20-100 times, we can get a good average production time for a specific task, and come up with a fair price for it.

You start with a generous hourly rate basis. You do NOT start with minimum wage!

Start with a well paid, productive worker. Let’s say somewhere between average and top producer, with the same hourly pay scale.

 

In-office that might mean anywhere between $12 and $35 per hour, depending on industry (though many go higher).

For a subcontractor (they own their own business), you must increase it by 50-100%, depending on industry, overhead, etc. Remember, you SAVE that money in your office, so a subcontractor is WORTH that much more. THEY set their rate, but YOU negotiate, and you have to be able to calculate what it is worth compared to hiring it in-office in many instances.

Next, observe the output for that productive worker. For our offices, that is me. I want to be generous here also, so I don’t calculate my top production rate, I calculate it when I am skilled and have learned one or two rounds of speed increase.

So if I am working comfortably (not pushing it) I can make 20 valves per pour. It takes me 15 minutes to do 1 pour. That’s 80 valves per hour.

 

I can unmold, trim, and cut,  about the same rate per hour comfortably. This is still not pushing it.

 

So I can produce 80 valves in two hours. And this is NOT at my top speed.

 

I pay 50 cents per valve, finished to quality standard.

 

I have calculated my other expenses for the product, and can AFFORD to pay 50 cents per.

 

A competent worker can earn at $20 per hour, once they learn to do the tasks. They will START OUT earning much less. Probably half to begin with, until they are familiar with it.

 

A FAST worker can earn twice as much. A worker who pays attention to detail in the pour, will trim less, and can increase their speed again.

 

Ideally, you want top workers who are innovative enough to be earning $50 per hour or more as subcontractors, or $20 per hour or more as employees, in a similar situation. Many industries would need to have a MUCH HIGHER earning potential.

If your hourly rate basis is fair (this consists of the pay that an average GOOD SKILLED worker would make per hour at the flat rate you pay), and if your employees or subcontractors get the idea of increasing speed without compromising quality, and if you pay attention and start teaching productivity skills, you, as an employer, can reduce your payroll waste, and improve your production.

Yes, I’ve done this with services. It works. I never CHARGE hourly, and I never PAY hourly, it is all flat rate.

Flat rate piecework pay models are probably the number one overlooked business tactic today, and they are the single most liberating tactic for small businesses to increase pay potential, as well as being a means where many businesses can hire more remote workers.

I’m really disappointed to have to be so negative about a program which has at the root a real possibility for growth. But the way they are doing it is not going to change anything, because they didn’t isolate the problem before throwing a canned solution at it.

The U-ROI doesn’t accomplish anything meaningful in bringing more rural employment. Conversely, all it did is assure a few more jobs on the USU campus. But that may have been their real goal all along anyway.

Yes, our company DOES offer consulting for both small and large businesses for flat rate pricing, subcontracting success, and small business startup and profitability.

And unfortunately, we are NOT hiring in rural areas.

Doing Math With Google AdSense

I used AdSense on a few websites many years ago. I made enough money from it to be worth my time. I sold the sites I had it on after the third or fourth noticeable drop in click revenue in the face of increased traffic. Google was obviously getting more greedy.

When I checked back a few years later, a penny a click was the norm. Gone were the days of being able to actually EARN from AdSense.

Recently I tested it again on some of my websites. It is even worse. I concluded one thing:

Google does not know how to do math.

If you earn 5 cents one day, and that gets added to 2 cents from the day before, and your monthly total was already 35 cents, you’d think that you’d have a new balance of 42 cents, right?

Wrong.

You now have 38 cents.

Now, you may think I am being petty using such low numbers. Or that I’m being silly. Or that my own numbers must be higher. Or that if my numbers are not higher, I’m doing something wrong.

You’d be wrong again. Many people with AdSense don’t even do this well.

I was using GENEROUS numbers.

GENEROUS, PEOPLE!!!

A few days ago I had $2.61.

I earned $1.14 the next day. It was a bumper crop!!!

That gave me a balance of $2.64. Apparently most of the apples were rotten and we just could not see it.

Then I earned 16 cents the next day. All in all, a fair harvest.

I now have a balance of $2.68. By now I’m SURE the pickers are stealing from me.

I’ve seen the monthly balance drop.

I’ve seen EVERY SINGLE DAY that I earn over $1 wiped out at least in part in the monthly balance.

I have NEVER seen more than two or three days in a row without downward adjustments.

I have more than one website with this on it. They are not high traffic, just normal. The kind I used to be able to make $100 per month from with AdSense.

So let’s do the math. Google obviously cannot!

I have en0ugh traffic to get AT LEAST (we are being conservative here) SIXTY CLICKS PER DAY (ok, go ahead and laugh, but I know the clickthrough averages, and I know what my site traffic is for some fairly obscure websites!). Remember I used to make money even with this little traffic!

Even at ONE PENNY PER CLICK, we should be averaging SIXTY CENTS per day!

You can laugh again… But let’s finish this!

They are SUPPOSED to pay you on a percentage. And the lowest a click can cost is (or was) 5 cents… and they DIDN’T lower that number! Most keywords cost WAY more than that! But Google does not seem to pay more than a penny for anything anymore.

Even so, at a penny a click, I should be earning MORE than 1 penny a day, EVERY day. Right?

Because there are SIXTY legit clicks per day average!

That’s $18 per month. Legit clicks. REAL CLICKS!!!

No big deal. But stick with me.

I average $5-9 per month.

This month had particularly good traffic.

The income is $2.68 on the 28th day of the month. I doubt it is going to top $3.

This is the first month since putting the ads back that it has made less than $5 in a single month.

I suspect Google has gone to fractionals anyway, but it is now clear that they are engaging in outright click-fraud.

It is no wonder people are taking down the Googles.

I’m going to run this a little longer, and optimize a little bit. But I expect this is going to be more work than it is worth (I’m a tester of things, and a writer about tested things, so I’ll get my money another way).

Just one more thing that is sounding the death knell for Google. Cost of clicks is UP UP UP, and payment for clicks is DOWN DOWN DOWN, and organic search results are a thing of a bygone era. There are major problems with most of their “free” services, and we don’t even want to talk about Google Labs.

Shame on you, Google.

The Scientific Limitations of Women’s Brains [Sarcastic Editorial]

Being a woman myself, I’ve noticed some interesting things in certain professions regarding the capacity of women to contribute to the industry.

I’ve had a few experiences that have suggested to me that under no circumstances will a woman be allowed to propose any kind of challenge to existing knowledge, no matter HOW logical it is. In fact, if a man (one who has a reputation in the industry, or one who is the rankest of careless anateurs, it matters not!) is mulling over two hypotheses, one of which is more logical than the other, and a woman suggests that this is the case, he will immediately take the weaker case, insult the woman for not having the brains to know which is actually true, and when he cannot support his contention with fact, will resort to name calling and personal insults, in a barage of verbal abuse designed only to drive her off. It usually works – at least on one hand. She leaves. But he is still an unthinking idiot.

Don’t get me wrong here – I know many men, who are actually shining examples of rational thought. So not every man does this. But enough do that the pattern is verifiable.

It seems that some men have not moved far from the Middle Ages in their thinking regarding women.

It is apparent that they still believe that since women’s brains are smaller in size, obviously they lack the ability to process certain types of information: Psychology, Mycology, Surgery, Mathematics, Engineering, the knowledge to obtain any PHD, and many other types of “higher” learning.

They assume that because a woman’s brain is smaller than a man’s, that the portion that is “missing” is the part that is responsible for actual thinking, especially the part that is responsible for NEW ideas!

Lest someone think this is actually a sustainable argument, women are smaller in size than men, overall, therefore do not require as large a brain to power the body. A man and a woman of equal size, will have an equal size brain, if all other considerations (genetics, nutrition, use of recreational drugs or medications, etc) are also equal. So the whole “men have bigger brains than women” is a false argument in the first place.

A cleric in Saudi Arabia was recently mocked and publicly humiliated for claiming that women should not drive cars because they possessed only half the intellect of men, which made them unsuited to controlling a vehicle. I’m sure some of the men whom I’ve encountered would agree – but most of the thinking world has moved beyond such unsupportable fabrications.

This attitude was widely held in earlier ages of this world. One would think that we could move beyond it, since standardized testing shows unequivocally that women are in fact better students than men, and that they score higher across the board in intellectual achievements.

Having been verbally abused numerous times by men who knew less than I did about the topic at hand, and who exclaimed in outrage that I must be wrong because other “experts” said I must (in the face of evidence to the contrary), I have run out of patience. I have left the scene, boys (and a few girls who cling to the boys but cannot stand on their own to support reality). I am NOT going to stand down just because you have insulted me. I’ll go somewhere else, where YOU are not, and continue my work. I’ll publish where you cannot ban me because I would not be intimidated by your abusive paranoia. And I’ll just continue to prove by evidence what you deny by reason of “he said so”.

What is really happening is nothing more than pure envy. There are still people in many industries that will “review” the work of another scientist or scholar, degrade it violently, and then turn around and publish it as their own work. This reprehensible practice has gone on since the dawn of time, by unprincipled “experts”. You will invariably find that there are more people succeeding at this practice who HAVE a reputation than there are who have not! This is kinda sad, since those are the people that the world thinks drive the industry – when in fact, they are hiring a chauffeur with a gun to his (or her) head, and claiming to have got there under their own steam. Theft is rife in the academic and research world. And this happens with the works of men, as well as the works of women – but a woman is more likely to be slammed and belittled in the process. They’ll deny her the PHD for her writing, and then publish it almost verbatim as their own brilliant idea.

For those men who have adopted the attitude that women have no place in the world of the sciences, I have only this to give you:

“And if a person [interpteted to mean “a man”, since women did not merit the distinction of personhood] lived a good life throughout the due course of his time, he would at the end return to his dwelling place in his companion star, to live a life of happiness that agreed with his character. But if he failed in this, he would be born a second time, now as a woman.” Attributed to Plato – [Needless Commentary: I womder if he thought a woman could ever live so as to aspire to becoming a man? If so, what a horrid after-life it would be – or if he thought there was no afterlife and only reincarnation, what a horrid place a “perfect” world would be, with only men to populate it!]

What IS It About Boys and Sticks?

We actually had to have a RULE in our home (and for our yard), that you could not play with sticks. Cruel, I know! But it was NECESSARY!

Something about a stick, and a boy. Ok, so not just boys, if you have boys, and girls, the girls have this problem also.

Oh look! A stick!

(Picks up stick.)

No fair! He has a stick!

(Grabs other end of stick – notice the yard is full of sticks.)

(Brief wrestling in which both boys cry foul.)

CRACK!

Oh look! We have TWO sticks!

No fair! You have the bigger stick!

(Drops stick, grabs end of other kid’s stick.)

WHACK!

Where’d SHE get THAT stick?!

(Starts over, with all three kids.)

You see, if there is a stick, they HAVE to pick it up! And it is all down hill from there.

If you clear out ALL THE STICKS, they will find something that is LIKE a stick. And you can NEVER clear all of the things out, they will always find one.

They fight over them. They fight with them. They hit things with them. They break them off things, they break things with them. The only thing they do NOT do with them is clean them up after a storm and THROW THEM AWAY.

I have it on good authority that girls love sticks because they are ALWAYS the magic wand. You have to hit things with them. Hard. Or the spell will not stick.

There is NO safe game you can play with sticks. Trust me. My kids played ALL OF THE GAMES with sticks!

So we HAD to have the rule.

And they still played with sticks. Badly

Turning Down the Unwanted Customer

With recent news regarding the infamous (and I mean it) bakery attack by individuals who cried that their rights were violated because the bakery owner denied their request for a “wedding” cake, I find that there is a commentary that NEEDS to be made. And a strategy that I have used, which is effective.

While the Supreme Court has ruled that it is NOT Constitutional to use the law to punish business owners who have denied service based on personal conviction (including religious conviction), where essential services are NOT an issue, this kind of attack is BOUND to happen again. Those who planned and carried out the first attack will undoubtedly try again, or others with the same agenda will do so, in an effort to find SOME kind of circumstance under which a direct denial based on moral grounds can be challenged, and profited from, through the courts.

I have thought long and hard about this. There is ONE way that I have found that I can REFUSE artistic or literary services (none of which are “essential” to anyone’s survival!), that they CANNOT refute. Because it is absolutely true.

It is this:

  • I do not understand this product well enough to market it effectively.

Their response may be “You can learn.” Counter response:

  • If I take the time to do so, it is not worth my fee.

If the prospect is trying to TRAP you, they may counter with “I will pay a higher fee to compensate.” The truthful response may be:

  • If you pay me more, I still have to move aside other things in my agenda in order to study your target market, marketing messages, product philosophies, and to get inside the head of your prospective customer, and I do not have room in my schedule to do this.

This is perfectly true. I have NO time in my life to learn about the mind of a person who wants to engage in acts I find morally reprehensible. You may or may not wish to be FIRM about your refusal, but DO NOT try to JUSTIFY your reasoning or choice!

  • I CHOOSE not to engage in a contract (or business transaction) with you, for that reason.

My words in this matter are completely truthful. I have used them when I have turned down customers selling addictive substances (legal), artwork that depicted subjects I could not appreciate, media that contained content I could not promote, and a few other prospective clients whose products contradict my personal beliefs.

It may be wise to finish with this, to avoid being accused of unkindness (which the attackers in at least one of this kind of court case tried to suggest of the defendant, who had in fact referred them to another provider):

  • These people may be able to help you FAR better than I can do (referral).

The thing is, a little thought regarding YOUR business, can come up with a completely rational, and DEFENSIBLE reason to deny ANY customer where providing any product service which requires an act of artistic or literary expression. The beauty of this particular response is that it is absolutely true. I simply CANNOT throw my BEST work behind something I cannot comprehend. If they want the BEST work, they do not want it from ME, because I am not the person who can give them the best, at all!

It would be wonderful if our laws allowed us to post and act on the old “We reserve the right to deny service to anyone, for any reason.”, but courts have consistently ruled against SOME reasons, and even NO reason, saying that if you have an establishment offering goods or services to “the public”, that you have to serve ALL of the public. I cannot find that in the Constitution!

I think it is worth posting still, but I think you’d have to post it right at the door, in plain sight, with the following words added: “Your entrance into our establishment constitutes agreement to this policy.”. Legally, if you DO that, under strictest interpretation of precedent, then you are NO LONGER a “public” establishment, but an establishment that ONLY serves those who agree to your terms. The courts may not agree next year, or the year after, though.

You can also simply say, “No. I’m sorry.”, with NO reason given. But if you do, someone may STILL try to claim prejudicial action on your part. And the dumb thing is, there won’t BE any EVIDENCE that you have broken a law, or that you have harmed them in ANY way, but they may still win. That is the thing about such cases that has been contrary to United States law, and case law – no one was harmed. They were merely offended.

If this is likely to be a problem for you, in your line of work, then I challenge you to come up with a statement that you can use, in ALL HONESTY, to deny those for whom you cannot, in good conscience, provide a suitable product or service.

How Men Can Earn Permanent Points From Their Wife

So we’ve all heard the points system. How men and women score points differently. I can’t remember which funny man said this first, and I can’t seem to get Google to cough it up either, so we’re just going to have to pretend I know who to attribute this to, and that everybody already knows what I’m talking about.

Kevin and I joke about points a lot. “Wow! You really did that!”, and he says, “So am I going to end the day with a positive total?”. I’ll tell him maybe! He’s already a point and a half in the right direction! He rolls his eyes and laughs. Sometimes I am flagrantly generous, and award more than one point for a thing also.  There have been occasions, not many, mind you, but some, where he has actually ended the day with five or six points!

(Please laugh, this is done entirely in jest, and if I were really awarding points, I’d lose count pretty easily because he really does rack them up FAST.)

Anyway we have some fun with the whole thing, and there is some truth to the way men’s and women’s brains count up meaningful gestures.

But something men just don’t get. Something the male relationship experts haven’t even figured out.

Women also award permanent points. Points that never go away.

It isn’t for the regular things. He doesn’t get this for complimenting her, or bringing her flowers, or taking her out, or even for doing the dishes one evening.

  • He gets permanent points for getting up in the night when she’s had a hard day, and taking care of the kid that is throwing up.
  • He gets them for hugging her every day when she cries in grief over a loss that he can’t fix, and that makes him feel utterly helpless.
  • He gets them for not expressing irritation at her for an accident that totals HIS car, not hers.
  • He gets them for doing the laundry year after year because the detergent and heat from the dryer makes her so uncomfortable she dreads it.
  • He can even get them when he WRAPS her Christmas presents instead of just handing them to her in a bag!

They aren’t things anyone can really PLAN for. They are the acts that show the depth of character and love right in the middle of the chaos and crisis and frantic coping of real life. Things unexpected, and given just because he COULD, when nobody expected he WOULD.

Permanent points are never forgotten. They don’t disappear at the end of the day. They embed themselves in her heart, and serve as an anchor for love to grow on.

When she’s just HAD it with him, and isn’t sure its worth it, those are the things that she hangs onto, that pull her back.

When her friend says, “Why do you stay if it is that hard?”, she says, “That. That thing, right there!”.

“So what, exactly, IS that thing?”

“I can’t remember. But it was that thing. That one. Right there.”

The things that remind her that he really DOES love her, even when she’s forgotten exactly what it was that he did. A thing that CAN’T be forgotten entirely, even if she can’t remember completely.

Regular points, they reset at the beginning of the day. Usually. Unless he was in REALLY deep. Then they might not COMPLETELY (fair is fair, after all!). But usually they just reset, positive, or negative, he starts fresh each day.

But permanent points stick. Little bits of glue, bonding him to her heart, in spite of the day to day.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.