Business

Posts related to business, but not marketing.

Opposing the Minimum Wage Based on Reality

Math. Pesky math. Somehow it always wins, in spite of the dogged persistence of some activists and politicians to get it to go away. History too. History is a constant annoyance to those who wish to promote their version of fantasy where things do exactly the opposite of what they actually do in reality.

Minimum wages are counterproductive in solving the problems they purport to solve. Increases in the minimum wages do not work either – in fact, a market driven economy will usually raise starting wages for many businesses long before the minimum wage is increased.

Since Wal-Mart and McDonalds seem to be the stereotypical businesses to bash where minimum wage is concerned, we will use them to represent all businesses. Because they all have to work on the same principles.

Wal-Mart does NOT in fact pay minimum wage, they typically pay at least a little more, and quite a bit more in some areas where there are employee shortages. But we will use Wal-Mart anyway, just because they will be affected along with everyone else.

WalMart occupies a specific niche in the retail world. To be able to keep their prices low, and still maintain a profit margin, they operate on low margins. Their profit margin is ALSO LOW, so don’t go around saying they have plenty to spare and they can absorb the cost of doubling their employee salaries, because they can’t. Their profit margin won’t cover that, the MATH does not add up, and in order for ANY business to stay OPERATING, the math HAS to work.

Cost increases of 25% across ALL areas of their operating expenses CANNOT be absorbed by a 1-2% profit margin. Yeah. Math. CAN’T HAPPEN!

One of the ways they keep prices low is to use loopholes in regulations to keep the cost of regulation lower. Part-time employment is one of the ways they do that, because the law requires benefits for full time employees, but not part time. (This concept applies to mandated benefits like Obamacare also.)

Fast Food and other minimum wage employers do the same thing. WalMart typically pays just a little higher than minimum wage for entry level employees – and everyone who has been there for a while GETS MORE (and they have to, or they won’t stay). In order to stay in business that is what they have to do. Seven years ago, they had more full time employees. The regulatory burden for employers increased at that time, along with a dramatic jump in health care benefit costs. Many of their stores dropped to part-time only at that time (previously most had a set amount of full time and part time positions per store).

There’s a trade-off in going to all part time – the cost of training employees increases dramatically, because there are both more employees to train, and because part time workers have a higher turnover rate – so the ONLY reason an employer will absorb that cost is when the cost of full time employees becomes so high that it is more cost effective to pay the cost of repeated training.

The cost of goods dramatically increases every time mandated increases in the cost of doing business are put in place also. It can’t NOT happen that way.

When the cost of hiring and paying workers increases, YOUR cost at the checkout GOES UP. (This is pretty basic math, by the way, but there are still people who are shocked by this.)

This is how business works – every time the government regulates a change that drives up the cost of doing business, the customers and the employees pay that price. Employers do not even TRY to absorb that cost, because they CANNOT and still stay in business.

The cost of the average full meal at a fast food restaurant will run approximately the same as the current minimum wage, or higher. They may have frugal deals that are lower, but the regular price runs on that rule. Every time the minimum wage increases, the cost of a full meal deal goes UP proportionately. Because the business does not have to absorb ONE cost increase, they have to absorb a cost increase in EVERY ASPECT of business.

They do not plan for the cost of the meal to keep lock step with minimum wage, it just does because that is what it COSTS. Once the affect of wage increases filter down through every layer (and it takes 1-2 years for the full effect of EVERY increase to be felt, which is why governments like to obscure it by incremental increases), the cost of your full fast food meal is predominantly dependent upon the cost of labor at all levels of production.

Stay with me here, because this is where liberals like to let their eyes glaze over and pretend this stuff does not matter. IT MATTERS… This is BASIC MATH, people!

When the cost of labor goes up, it goes up everywhere, for more than just minimum wage. It has to.

The bottom wage increases, and you HAVE to increase ALL THE OTHER wages also, because if you do not, it is NOT FAIR to employees who have worked three, five, and twenty years for your company. It is INHERENTLY UNFAIR to pay an entry level, unskilled worker (which is what minimum wage pays for, and ONLY what minimum wage pays for!) the same wage as someone who has skills, and work experience!

You have to increase ALL SALARIES.

And when the cost of the farmer’s food, seed, equipment, and employees goes up, he charges more for his crops (or he goes under – that happens a lot too, so you have to buy from someone who DID raise their prices), and the cost of transporting that food goes up, and the cost of trimming, washing, packaging it goes up, and the cost of warehousing it, labeling it, and distributing it goes up, and the cost of buying it in your local store does not just go up by the cost of THEIR employee raises, but by the cost of every other employee raise along the way because EVERY COST they have, goes UP.

Within 6 months, the affect of the raise in minimum wage is nullified by increased costs, they STILL cannot afford to live any better than they did two years before, but now they are in a higher income bracket, and may not qualify for some services that they qualified for previously. Within 2 years, the full effect of the increases are completed, and the worker is WORSE off than before!

Did you get that? Did you really understand this? Because if you did not, you are too ignorant to vote! This is critical to understand!

When the cost of minimum wage goes UP, the cost of groceries, utilities, transporation, medical care, housing, and EVERY OTHER COST for BASIC LIVING, goes UP, by AT LEAST the SAME PERCENTAGE, often MORE! So this new salary, that suddenly seems like so much, WON’T BUY ANY MORE THAN THE OLD ONE! It evaporates away under an onslaught of higher prices, and the person that the law was supposed to “help” still struggles just as much!

It is also VITAL that you understand, that the ONLY people making minimum wage, are people who have been on the job less than 6 months, and who have just started a new job that requires NO SKILLS!

Within 6 months, they are no longer making minimum wage. Within 1 year they can get a job somewhere that pays a $1 more per hour than where they are now. If they are smart, and gain SKILLS (either through work experience at a job that provides useful work experience), or through seeking after hours training, there is NO NEED for them to ever work another job that pays minimum wage! THEY control their OWN destiny and their OWN ability to GET OUT OF THE HOLE.

The only people who work minimum wage for more than 6 months of their life are those who REFUSE to better themselves, and are incapable of holding a job for more than 6 months! That is their CHOICE, and the world does not owe them a better rate of pay!

And that is why people who understand math, and people who can THINK rationally, oppose a minimum wage in the first place, and always argue against increases.

All it does is increase costs for everyone. Including YOU who voted for it!

Increases in minimum wage DOES cause a loss of sales for some businesses. Temporary for some, permanent for others.

Where people have a CHOICE, they switch to a lower cost option.

Where they have no choice, they either do without (if it is an optional expense), or find a way to cope if it is not.

So some businesses will lose revenue over it. Some will go out of business over the cost increases, ESPECIALLY when a minimum wage increase is only local, and buyers can go elsewhere to get what they want at a lower price.

Increases in minimum wages ALWAYS cause some job loss. Some of it will recover in time, some will not. So those people who are working minimum wage jobs not only face more of them being cut to part time (so the employer can save on benefit costs), they also face potential closure of their business, or lay-offs due to reduced customer demand for an overpriced product.

Here is the great irony in that….

The FIRST PEOPLE TO BE LAID OFF, are those who are paid MINIMUM WAGE! Because they are the MOST EXPENDABLE employees!

They are the employees who are most recently hired, who have the LEAST SKILLS.

Some businesses will lay off employees and downsize in reaction to minimum wage increases, in order to cut employment costs, but the majority don’t, because it is a dead end to do that unless your sales also decrease. The successful businesses do not lay off employees and downsize (other than making sure all employees are actually vital), because they understand that loss of employees means loss of revenue due to lower production. The only time you cut employees is when you want to reduce production, as a result of loss of sales. The big businesses will simply raise prices and adjust their equations across the board, and go on, as well as implementing other strategies such as higher percentages of part time employees and lower starting wages for businesses that USED to pay more than minimum wage.

Businesses that try to absorb the cost, go out of business. Universally. The costs are TOO BIG to be absorbed. Fewer Jobs. More hungry people. Way to go!

Minimum wage laws HURT EVERYBODY, but they hurt the people they claim to help MORE than they hurt anyone else. Any potential benefit is always so short lived as to be useless in the long term, and MOST businesses that understand MATH, will raise their prices right BEFORE the hikes go into effect, so there is INCREASED financial hardship before the wage increase even occurs.

BTW, history shows that everything stated here is correct. If minimum wages actually worked, the problems they are supposed to solve WOULD BE SOLVED! But instead as soon as the rate is raised, there is a general outcry to raise them again!

Do the math! There is no way the REAL math can be interpreted to support minimum wage increases.

The Contradiction of Self-Sufficiency and Living Tiny

The interpretation can be rather subjective. I find that self-sufficiency often conflicts with the popular notion of “minimalism”.

How can I preserve my own food without the proper tools? Those tools take space.

How can I garden without my shovel and rake? I have learned I do not need more than a shovel, rake, and wheelbarrow, but I DO need those! A hoe, and a trowel are handy also. And the containers for the container garden. and the greenhouse. I’ve already exceeded the “minimalist’s” idea of minimalism, though my list for gardening, even a large garden, is QUITE a bit smaller than that of other people I know, who cannot manage to garden without a tiller, hoe, and other specialized equipment. I also store some seeds year to year, and must have a spot to put them, often in the fridge, which is too small for this in a tiny home.

If I have livestock, I must have buckets and a storage area, and coops and hutches and shelters. I need a cupboard in the house for the assorted vet supplies and herbals for the animals. And I MUST have livestock, my health is so much better when I do.

If I make my own clothing, or mend damaged clothing, a sewing machine is required, along with a mending kit, and fabric, thread, and notions. I do needle work, so my crochet hooks, knitting needles, yarn, crochet thread, pattern books, and storage baskets are necessary. They are necessary for wintry evenings when we catch up on hand work, and for fall when we are preparing for Christmas, and for the rest of the year during those times when I MUST rest, but do not wish to sit idly doing nothing.

My husband’s woodworking tools and automotive repair tools are essential to our ability to provide for ourselves, along with tools and supplies for building cages, fences, and repairing greenhouse and shelter structures. We can live far more frugally when we have supplies of lumber, wire, screws, and various other bits and pieces, bought in a time of our choosing, rather than wherever we happen to be able to get to in an emergency.

Our self-defense equipment and supplies are needed, as well as hunting and butchering equipment and supplies, even though we go pretty basic, these things still take quite a bit of space.

Our library is also an essential element. We have a good library of DVDs, for uplifting entertainment which helps us both unwind and relax, and which helps boost us emotionally, especially in the winter when evenings are long, and there is stuff to do with our hands while we watch something we enjoy. We used to have a large library of books, but we no longer have time for recreational reading (I can watch a story and crochet at the same time, I can’t do that with a book), and though I LOVE reading, it seems the only books we can justify now are instructional books. We have a fairly good increasing collection of DIY and animal husbandry books (we once had a large library of this type, but it was lost in a malicious disaster). The library requires shelves, and a place to put it (around the walls of the house if nothing else).

And then there is the food storage… There will NEVER be enough room for that, nor enough jars, no matter how many we acquire! The food storage that allows us to buy food on sale, and preserve it so we don’t have to pay high prices for everything. The food storage that allows me to preserve foods that are healthy, that I can fix in a matter of minutes, so we do not have to buy commercial quick-fix. And the food storage that sees us through the economic vagaries of the current unpredictable national political climate, with a minimum of hardship. The shelves for jars, the freezer, and the extra fridge that allow us to harvest from our garden, or accept extra from the gardens of family and friends, or take advantage of a sale on produce, or raise our own animals and have a way to store them after butchering, so we are not dependent upon the prices and production methods that are commercially popular, but not so good for the bodies in our household. The shelves to hold the empty jars until they are filled again, and the space to put the dehydrator, the canner, the juicer, the slicer, the grinder, the food mill, and the buckets, bowls, and pots that are required for the processing of the food.

The newspapers we store for cage liners, the boxes we save for shipping product, the shelves and bins for growing fodder or microgreens, the place to put the herbs that we grow indoors, and a place to put the plant starts when spring arrives.

Self-sufficiency takes space, and organization of a large body of belongings. There is no way you CAN do it on a minimalist’s philosophy, fretting over every square inch of space that it takes, fussing over every single object that it requires. Every single person who strives to be self sufficient is constantly battling an insufficiency of space, trying to fit in just one more shelf unit, just one more cupboard, just one more storage bin, rearranging furniture and storage rooms one more time, to see whether there is an un-thought-of arrangement that will allow them to fit just one more piece of equipment into the room. They expand their home, or a kid moves out, and they shout with glee over the spare room (while grieving the expense, or the absence of the child), and within moments of getting to work arranging the extra space, they are already wondering how to fit it all in, and discouraged that there STILL is not enough room! They dream of having a dedicated room for crafts, or canning, or a room large enough to hold ALL THE JARS, or a shop that is large enough for the projects they really want to do. And they never get it.

I could never live “tiny”. Not that I am unwilling to live with little space, I’ve done that many times. But I did so in want. And I did so when our situation required dependency. I cannot do it with full self-sufficiency.

Indeed, a tiny home, by its nature, demands dependency upon frequent shopping, frequent laundry, and almost NO DIY. It works for someone in a city who does not mind shopping every other day, and who does not need nor expect to do anything for themselves that requires tools, equipment, or supplies on hand.

Once you pursue real self-sufficiency though, more space is required, even if it is just a lean-to out back. Pioneers had small cabins, but they also had barns to store the equipment required for daily production. I have a small juicer, they had a large cider press. I can make soap in the kitchen, they did it in the yard, with a large cauldron that was stored in the barn. However you do it, you have to put the supplies SOMEWHERE.

It is a great temporary option to get started, to keep costs down – If you DO keep them down – by minimizing square footage. But most tiny homes aren’t a significant savings either, you can generally find a larger home for far less, due to the expense of miniaturized elements in the home.

If that is your dream, good on you. But if your dream is to homestead, and be truly self-sufficient, a tiny home is not going to be sufficient to get very far, unless you have a lot of additional storage. And then you aren’t REALLY living tiny. You are just doing the VISIBLE part of your living in a tiny environment.

If you have a small house, and a second house with a kitchen and laundry, and a third storage shed to hold all the preservation equipment, and a fourth heated building to hold the food storage, and a fifth shed to hold the rest of the stuff that doesn’t fit, you aren’t really living tiny! You are just living in five houses instead of one!

I already know I am doomed to spend the rest of my life constantly questioning what I can throw out, what I truly need and don’t need, and simultaneously lamenting the lack of space to put the things I DO need to live the life I want to live.

Tiny is cute.

But for us, it just is NOT practical for a long term solution.

Free-Range Chickens and the Bad Neighbor

I hear stories of people free-ranging their chickens, and running into objections from neighbors. I would not feel the need to comment on this, except that I KEEP hearing this. Over and over!

It is usually a variation on this:

“My neighbor is complaining that my chickens poop on their car. How am I supposed to deal with him?”

Or something like this:

“My neighbor’s dog won’t leave my chickens alone. I don’t want to fence them up! What can I do to protect them from the dog?” (And it turns out that the dog is NOT on the property of the chicken owner, but on the neighbor’s property where it belongs.)

FENCE YOUR CHICKENS FOLKS! Really, how rude can you be? Free ranging does NOT mean your chickens can go wherever they want! It means they have a large area over which they can forage! Fence them in!

If you do not contain your chickens and keep them from pooping on your neighbor’s car, eating from your neighbor’s garden, pecking the fruit in your neighbor’s trees, then YOU ARE THE BAD NEIGHBOR! They are not!

And then you top it off by maligning your neighbor because they don’t love your chickens messing up THEIR property!

Why should they put up with your chickens? Will you put up with their dog pooping in your garden? Do you want their cat lunching on your chicks? Will you accept their poultry roaming YOUR property as though they own it? Should they free-range their goats, and let them wander your property eating whatever they can reach? Should we just dispense with livestock fencing entirely and declare the entire neighborhood open range?

If you think your chickens should be able to wander where they please, and do just as they please, regardless of property lines, then you do NOT have “free-range” chickens. You have FERAL chickens, which belong to nobody, whose eggs you won’t find, which are food for every opportunistic predator, and which the neighbors can exterminate on sight. Domesticated chickens require responsible CARE, which includes limiting their range to the safety of YOUR property.

Free range does NOT mean you have some magical license be rude to other people because you are free ranging your chickens! The objective of giving your chickens increased freedom does not give you license to violate property lines and use your neighbor’s land to feed your livestock! It means you have an OBLIGATION to be RESPONSIBLE for assuring that your chickens (ducks, geese, whatever) do NOT mess up other people’s property, and that they STAY on YOUR land.

A fence is NOT an unreasonable confinement, even with a fairly small yard. They are chickens, for pity sake! You would not let your kids run wild over the neighborhood without supervision! Why would you let a brainless bird do so and expect it to stay where you want it to stay? (If you expect them to stay on your land, you have to fence, they require it! If you do not expect them to stay on your land, then you are thoughtless, and inconsiderate, both of your neighbors, and of your chickens.)

Fence your chickens! Put up a high fence they cannot fly over. For THEIR safety!

And then go apologize to your neighbors. Take them some cookies. They deserve it for not dispatching your chickens on sight!

Kissing Hostgator Goodbye

We have used Hostgator for hosting for more than 10 years. They were old friends. The best in the industry. Support rocked.

We didn’t just have a hosting account with them. We had a dedicated server. That means not only my personal websites, but all of my client websites were in that space. Our business really does depend on good hosting, more so than most.

Three years ago, support started to take a dive. Then specs dropped. Prices stayed the same, while other competitors began edging down. They started throttling functionality in the background where they thought users would not notice.

I switched servers with them, and it was much more difficult than it had been when we set up our original dedicated server with them. And what we got for the money was nowhere near the same quality or performance as it had been before. And I kept finding things that had been turned off – some during the move. Some after. Months after. Things kept changing. Always for the worse – things that were not SUPPOSED to change when you have a dedicated server.

We struggled on though. Moving a server is a major commitment in time and money, and it is very hard to find a replacement company that is actually better. You don’t do it unless you have to. It is just too risky. And expensive – since you have to pay overlap time while you are transferring.

So what was the thing that made us finally leave?

No Support. This is the thing that made us know we had to move, eventually. Tickets go unanswered, or are dodged so they take too long to resolve (first they dodged, then they simply quit answering). You have to call – and for some issues that is difficult, especially with longer and longer wait times since the poor response on tickets is pushing everyone to phone support.

Support first became so bad I could not get a response on a simple question without them sending an email back saying they have to verify my identity by having me reply to the email (to prove that the email request was coming from a verified email address – when it had been SENT from a verified email address)! Really? That stupid?

My last request was made from the verified email address, and included a second identifying factor which they require on the kind of request I was making. They took FIVE DAYS to respond. And they told me… you guessed it… that I had to supply TWO FORMS of verification (which I had already done) in order to carry out my request. They suggested I might want to try chat (which I hate) or call them (my phone has spotty reception).

Email support now consists principally of having someone send you a canned response to either verify your identity (even if you already did), or with a reply which has nothing to do with the problem you are having – it is obvious they are hiring people who do not want to actually provide support, but who make their money each day by simply sending meaningless replies until the next person comes on shift, at which time you have to explain all over again what it is you needed because they NEVER read the back thread.

They then cut off email support, and required that all support tickets be submitted from inside the client area on their website. Ok… I tried that. They never responded at all when I did.

The thing that made us HAVE to leave is that the security issues have been worse and worse. They set up the new server with things disabled that would have saved us a lot of time – they left off some security features. They have changed settings in my system – no one else had access, and if it were breached the invaders would have done worse, so it has to be coming from Hostgator.

In past years, when things went wrong on our server, they would email us, and disable the offending files. We would clean up the mess, and plug the security holes.

That has now changed. They no longer “monitor” your site for security issues. At least this is what they tell you. Only they DO! Because when they find them, they shut you down – if ONE account on a dedicated server has a problem, they will shut down the ENTIRE server. And they no longer notify you that they have done so. Suddenly your sites do not load, or your control panels cannot be accessed, or your bandwidth is throttled, ftp is blocked, or your email stops working, and they just smugly punish you for something you have no idea is happening. It can take days to resolve the issue with them sufficient to get the functionality turned back on, and in the mean time your business is dead in the water, and so are all your clients.

Worst, the actions they take often REMOVE your ability to even fix the problem they are punishing you for! Not only that, they REFUSE to help you do the things they have stopped you from doing, and REQUIRE that you do it before they will turn anything back on! Beyond moronic!

They will not longer assist with any security issues. They are selling a service listed as “managed server”, but they no longer DO any of the things they used to class as being part of the service. A Managed server costs about $100 per month more than an unmanaged one. I do not know what I am paying for anymore, because they do NOTHING for us now that they would not do for an unmanaged one.

And that is not all… they have decided that not only will they not provide many of the services they used to provide, they refer you to a third party company whom they say will be happy to charge you to provide the services. Their entire server setup process, and support process, is now designed to DRIVE you into using that service. I can’t prove it, but it makes me think that they may be owned by the same umbrella company. The service costs $29 per month… PER WEBSITE. Yeah. 20 websites.

And then there is the password issue. When they have to work on the server, they temporarily switch the password – meaning I cannot access it. They used to do this in the wee hours of the morning, but now they do it whenever, and frequently (though I have no idea what they are doing, because all updates are automatic, and they are not supposed to be messing around with things that require an access password). I will try to access, and find that I am blocked. I will call, they will tell me they are working on the server. Two hours later it will be back. This used to happen maybe once every six months. Now it is far more often. No advanced notice.

Hostgator has sunk to such depths that we cannot function as a business anymore on their service – or lack of it. I simply cannot call and be put on hold for half an hour every time I need to resolve an issue, and I cannot work with a company that shuts down my server and does not tell me, when there is an issue with a single website.

I’ve been patient. I’ve watched it get worse and worse. This is the end. Farewell Hostgator. I can be a loyal customer as long as you hold up your end of things. I will not be a loyal customer when you drop the ball again and again, and especially when you set me up for failure. My business relies on my hosting service. I require reliable partners to help me stay in business. You are no longer a reliable partner.

One more company destroyed by turning into a publicly traded company.

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And then there was A Small Orange. The sales guy was great. He said support would assist me with the things I needed. Reviews were mixed. They always are.

It took several months to get to a point where we could afford to move. When we finally did, we gave ourselves plenty of time, but we did still have a deadline. It was 4 weeks away so we thought we had plenty of time.

I had thought Hostgator had sunk to the depths. I did not realize any company could be worse.

It took a week just to get the order processed. It took another week to get the server provisioned. I then submitted a support ticket because the welcome email did not have all of the access info that I needed to configure the server. No reply. Silence.

I tried chat. After an hour (a half an hour after the progress bar said I was the next one up), I gave up and requested a refund. If I cannot even get the info I need to set up the server, I am dead in the water. All this, against a deadline – I am already paying an overlap, the deadline for paying another month on the old server is fast approaching, and I am wondering how in the world I can go forward.

As it would happen, the ducks I ordered never came in. The money I held for them was still in the account, so I used it to try yet another company. The jury is still out, but they did in 24 hours what A Small Orange and Hostgator failed to do in much longer. The server was provisioned, the welcome email sent, and support ticket answered all within 24 hours of paying for the first month. Support is a little sluggish, and less quick about getting actual work done than I’d like, but they are at least DOING something and replying to tickets. This, I can at least work with!

Three days later, A Small Orange informs me that they have processed my refund, but it has not yet shown up in the CC account as a credit. I’ll give them a few days, then complain if it does not show up. (The refund was in my account several days later.)

At least we are moving forward, it appears that we will meet the deadline and that I will be able to do this after all.

Now to get my products ready for the market tomorrow, while I wait on support to move the sites. If all goes well, we should be fully over to the new server early next week.

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We moved to InMotion Hosting.

It took a little longer than I wanted to get the sites transferred, and then the bugs worked out, but it got done. I can say that while Support at InMotion is not sufficient to cover dedicated server issues – regular support gets lost with it – their Advanced Hosting techs are really good. Not fast, but they know their stuff. Problem there is that they charge for any assistance over the initial setup of the server. So if you need advanced support later, you either wrestle with Support, or pay for something more skilled. I can probably live with it, mostly. I doubt I have a choice, since most other companies leave you without any meaningful support at all.

Since we cannot find a company that offers affordable dedicated hosting that is any better, we will make the best of it.

Beguiled by Bunnies, Charmed by Chicks

Our PLAN was to build a wood hutch. Our PLAN was to order some chicks and ducks this month, and a few more next month, and to build the bunny hutch this month, and to get the rabbits next month.

Until we went into the farm and ranch store. And they had chicks. And rabbits. They RARELY have rabbits. They have a hard time getting them in stock here. And basically, I buy chicks from the hardware store, but I NEVER thought I’d buy a rabbit that way. You don’t know the breed, you don’t know the age, the gender, or anything. But it is also really hard to find any rabbits other than New Zealand out here, and I’m just not crazy about that breed. Hard to find anything else any closer than 150 to 200 miles away.

But there in the rabbit pen was a good sized chinchilla rabbit. Sprawled out all comfortable. And my husband, who always LOOKS at the rabbits, but rarely gets INTERESTED in a particular one, started asking questions, to which he was given no satisfactory answers, but it did not matter, the damage was done! There were two other bunnies also, much smaller – one adorable little fluffy thing, and then another that will probably have to be named Flopsy by someone, because it has one lop ear, and one perky upright ear.

And they had Buff Wyandottes. We ordered some layer chicks. We still needed meat chicks. Wyandottes are classed as a Heritage Meat to Dual Purpose breed. I like Wyandottes.

After doing our scheduled shopping, we took a trip into another ranch store. There, in the back, we found some rabbit cages that we could afford. From that point on, it inevitable. To our great delight, when heading to the feed area, we found a stack of clearance cages – We managed to pick up two large ones for just $14 each, and a smaller one for $20. I had already picked up two large used totes at the second hand store, so we were set.

We picked up a little lumber so we could build a frame and enclosure for the cages, and then headed back to the first ranch store. Kevin made a beeline for the bunnies, and asked for the chinchilla. I told him that I wanted one of the other smaller ones too – the lovely little fluffy beige bunny with darker tips on its ears and paws, which looks like it might have a little angora in it, but not enough to be too fluffy. Since we want meat mutts (we like the hardiness of cross breeds), and since we want to start working with the pet market, with smaller “cute” breeds, these two fit right into our plans. And it does not matter whether they are male or female because as the first two, we can acquire others depending on what these turn out to be – we will subject them to the indignity of a gender check in the next few days sometime.

And then there were the chicks. Of course the ones I wanted were more expensive. But I just could not make myself buy the cheaper ones, they were NOT breeds I needed! I did not need more layers! So I decided, after quite a bit of arguing with myself, to get 8. I wanted more, but just could not justify the cost. As the sales associate lifted them into the box, he said, “You might as well get nine, and then you’ll get 12.” They were running a Buy 3 Get One special. Yeah. Might as well. 12 it is!

We hauled them home, fed the rest of the poultry, and then assembled a cage for the bunnies. They can share (they were in the same pen anyway), until we can get a framework and shelter made. Then they can go out. Nice thing about the pen, the wire is good quality, heavier than I expected. Of course, it was held together by flimsy plastic clips that would not hold up under real use… but lucky for us, we keep J-clips on hand, so we just assembled it with those.

The chicks get to spend a few weeks in the house before start to we transition them out.

But we are definitely going to need to get another sack of feed!

I Don’t Do Compost

Growing up, it seemed we always had a compost pile. I remember taking kitchen scraps out to it. I remember the pile of stuff, decomposing from bottom to top. When you had scraps and peelings from the kitchen, that is just where they went. In my childhood, this was the purpose of the compost pile.

I did vaguely understand in the background that compost was supposed to be used. That if things rotted enough, they would no longer be moldy, blackened soggy disgusting things, but something else instead. But I didn’t know what. Because I never saw it. My mother assures me that she used compost on the garden. But she did not do it in my presence. All I ever saw was the compost pile that gradually grew some of the healthiest weeds around, and some volunteer tomato plants that never seemed to bear.

What we did use, is the manure pile that was below the hatch in the wall of the barn. The hatch that you never wanted to be near when someone was shoveling out the barn, because that is where the manure was chucked out into a pile that always seemed to be about 4 ft high and 6 ft wide, no matter how much you had just thrown into it. The pile that produce the BEST worms in the area… And which we scraped off the top layers from so we could get at the bottom, every time my mother said we needed manure for the garden, and which produce black, black composted matter at the bottom of the pile, which we shoveled into the barrow and hauled to break up and scatter on the gardens.

I miss that old manure pile… We haven’t had sufficient large livestock at one time to generate a manure pile of that magnitude or value.

But everyone now says you have to make compost to enrich your garden soil, and to recycle the organic waste from your kitchen and yard.

The idea of saving scraps, and turning them into soil enhancement is alluring. But it just never seems to work out that way for my family. The bucket in the kitchen does not get emptied daily (no matter how we promise that it will), so it ends up being a breeding place for fruit flies which then end up in the potted plants, sprouts, seed starts, and everywhere else that we don’t want them. I know, put a lid on… but then I have to pry a lid off every time I want to put something in, and that usually means I remember after I have the knife and the mango already in my hand, and the first piece of peel is already off… and there I am with drippy fingers and full hands trying to remove a lid without getting juice on the counter or the outside of the bucket… Sigh. It is just easier to toss it in the trash.

If the refuse makes its way from the bucket to the compost outside, it sits there. If we have a container, it rots in there, making a horrid mess. IT DOES NOT TURN TO DIRT!!! It turns to mucky black stinking stuff. If we poke holes in the bottom, it turns to dry mucky stinking stuff. Oh… you are supposed to turn it, and whatever else. Who remembers? Compost maintenance is just not high on my list of must-do tasks! If it is not convenient and easy, I am not likely to get it done!

So after years of flirting with it, and failing, I don’t do compost. I USE compost. And I recycle scraps. But I don’t have a compost bin, or a compost pile.

Mostly, we feed the scraps to the animals. When the bucket on the counter is FOOD for something that needs to be fed, and when it is a savings of money (because it offsets some purchased feed), or savings in work (because it offsets some feed we’d have to either grow, or gather), then that bucket is an asset that is remembered every time we go to feed the animals. It gets emptied twice a day, because we feed animals twice a day (when feeding fresh foods instead of commercial formulated feeds, the food stays fresher and the animals do better on twice daily feeding).

There is very little that comes out of a kitchen that cannot be fed to some kind of livestock. Some of it they won’t eat, but if you toss it in a pen or field for them, they’ll eat what they want, trample the rest, and it gets reincorporated into the soil with no work on your part. Chickens are great at this, and composting refuse in their pen also provides a lovely breeding ground for all kinds of insect larvae, which the chickens will happily gobble up. Free food from free food. How cool is that? And if you need the end compost for the garden, you just shovel up some of the trampled manury dirt from the pen, and you get the best of everything.

So the majority of our refuse is recycled into meat, eggs, milk or manure. Or guard services rendered by a dog who considers every person walking past the window to be a mortal threat. So far we have seen no correlation between the amount of scraps he consumes, and the amount of barking. He is over-zealous no matter what we feed him, and the only side effect to feeding him lots of scraps is that he dogs your heels any time you go to the kitchen.

Composting can also be done by tucking refuse under mulch in the garden. This is only necessary if you don’t have chickens though, and if the food is too far gone to be fit to feed anything living.

Dry organic debris, such as leaves, grass clippings, woodchips, sawdust, even plants pulled from the garden, are much better used as mulch, where they will compost layer by layer in place, and enrich the soil and save you the work of tilling.

So far I haven’t found anything that would be better off in a bin or pile. All I have found is that if you think that compost is something you have to “make”, then you are creating needless work for yourself, and depriving livestock of additional healthy food sources. Manure, and mulch are more useful for enriching the soil and saving on work!

The lightbulb moment for me was realizing that AVOIDING making compost was actually a more intelligent choice than thinking that if I was going to do it right, that someday I’d have to figure out a way to do it like the “professionals” recommend. The great realization that I DON’T NEED TO FEEL GUILTY for not making more work for myself! That the results were BETTER, and the workload LESS – a combination I am always striving for – when I let the animals and the layers in the garden do the work the way nature intended.

So no matter how nifty those compost tumblers look, and no matter how enthusiastic other gardeners are about teaching me how to “properly” prepare compost, I WON’T DO IT! I simply cannot see the need! I get better results without the hassle!

When Manure is the Highlight of Your Day

The neighbor has a pasture, which he faithfully mows with a lawnmower every week, and waters to keep it green. Seemed kind of silly to us, we’d stick some lambs or goats in there and let THEM do the job, if we were going to all that work to make the grass grow!

Come the end of summer though, we woke one morning to find that there were horses in the pasture. And where horses eat, horses leave piles of manure. Road apples. Hocky pucks…

We cornered the neighbor and asked if we could scavenge some of the manure. He said sure… take all we wanted!

When you grow mushrooms, manure is a treasure. Horse manure especially, because it has a high percentage of undigested organic matter, which is great for many types of mushrooms.

So, a few days later when the horses vacated (his son had brought them up for the weekend, so they could take the horses into the mountains here), we headed next door with a poop rake and a garbage bag (we had no buckets nor barrow). I held the top of the sack, and Kevin scooped the poop into the bag.

We hauled it back and put it on the back porch where we promptly forgot about it. We don’t use the back porch much.

A few months later, after the manure had composted some in the bag, I dug it out and put it on top of the containers for my wild Portobello, and my Wine Cap mushrooms. I’d meant to do it for several days, and finally got it done, so I felt a little satisfaction at the completion of the task.

I haven’t had a lot to blog about lately. I haven’t had much to FaceBook either. In a conversation with a friend, on the day I shoveled the horse manure onto the mushroom containers, I admitted that shoveling a little manure had been the highlight of my day – purely because it was an accomplishment that was a little out of the ordinary.

The day we gathered the manure it was also the singular accomplishment of the day. Yeah, we milked the goat, we answered customer emails, we worked on our websites, we made product, packed boxes, made labels, etc. But those things are routine, hum-drum, and rarely interrupted by anything worthy of commentary.

Shoveling manure isn’t worthy of commentary either. It isn’t the kind of thing you blog about and have your friends and family just waiting to read THAT.

Perhaps this is why the farmer has sunk so much in society’s estimation. After all, the day to day routine leaves little to blog about that the average person can relate to, or enjoy, unless you happen to be one of those people who sees humor in every corner and also possesses the rare gift of being able to relate it, in a way that people who DON’T see it, will understand!

Having been skipped over when that particular talent was handed out, I have to make do with relating more prosaic items of interest. Manure usually does not qualify.

Often the highlight of my day is mushrooms. Finding one I’ve been looking for, in the wild. Finding an edible I did not know existed. Figuring out how to grow one that is hard to grow, in a way that is easy. Not always sharable, since most of my acquaintances don’t share my enthusiasm for mycological discoveries.

Occasionally the highlight of my day is finishing a project that is significant. A new book finally ready to publish. A website completed enough to launch. A few articles done that have been waiting a while. But even those things are usually pretty low key, and appreciated only by a few of my associates.

The general tenor of the day means the most significant thing is that I got the wheat milled, or tried a new recipe, explored a new area of the region, or caught up on something I was behind in that is terribly boring. Kevin takes pictures of where we go and what we do, and sometimes posts them. I forget about the photographs, and try to paint the pictures with words instead. When I remember. And when it seems worth sharing.

But much of the time, the highlight of my day is like manure. Valuable, useful, but not something you really discuss with enthusiasm in public!

Sunday Morning on the Farm

Today began just like every other day. I got up, put on pants and a shirt, and went upstairs to grab a glass of juice. Then gathered up the carry sacks, which were loaded up with a jar of wash water, a washrag, a dry cloth, a stainless steel container, and a clean mason jar. Then I headed off to milk the goat.

Usually Kevin and I do this together. But he is gone for a few days, and will be back this afternoon. Usually he milks the goats, and I strip them out. He lets them in and out of the pen, and I get the feed ready and take care of the milk while he is putting the goats back in. We usually walk hand in hand from the house to the goat pen. A morning ritual that has been carried out for months.

Last week, there were two. Today there is one. The older goat died early last week. A combination of circumstances that her old body could no longer compensate for. We did all we could. But the choices weren’t all ours to make.

But this morning, I milked the goat alone. She was cooperative. Sometimes she isn’t. I milked her out, put the milk into the clean jar (we used to need more than one jar, but she is declining in production now). Then I put her back in her pen, stowed the feed bowl, and tossed hay in to the doe and the two younger kids that share the pen with her. I gathered up the equipment and stuck it back into the two bags that it goes in (made by my mother, for just this purpose), and headed back for the house.

The rag got rinsed and hung to dry (it gets laundered twice a week), and the dry cloth was also hung. The milk was strained into a clean jar, capped, and put in the fridge. This requires a complete rearranging of all the jars in the fridge – usually there are 3-4 jars of milk from the previous days, and the newest has to go at the back, oldest at the front. Then the milking container has to be rinsed, and the milk jar, and the strainer also.

Once these things are done, I am free to shower and dress for church. When we have chickens, rabbits, or other animals, the Sunday Morning chores are more. But for the moment, it is just the goat. Soon, it will also be quail, as we adjust our farming to our location, and to the ups and downs of life right now.

Sunday Morning is like every other morning – except that other mornings, I shower before I dress for the day, and I don’t need to change clothes.

The rest of the day is different. We do different things on Sunday. A lot of things we do not do. We do what is necessary in daily maintenance, and no more. We do not conduct business – though sometimes I slip and read a business email, because I am an impatient woman and always struggle with that.

But the animals must be cared for. A milking animal cannot wait just because it is Sunday. They still need milked and fed. The eggs still require gathering on Sunday, and the lambs, and calves, and kids, and chicks must be fed and tended.

The pens do not need cleaned, and the garden does not need to be weeded, the compost does not need turned, and the mushrooms do not need to be sown in. The hay does not need stacked, the feed does not need to be bought, and the cages do not need to be built today. These are chores for another day.

Sunday only starts like every other day. Then it becomes a day of rest. I used to puzzle over that. Especially since Mormons tend to fill Sunday pretty full, and sometimes it is anything BUT restful.

Then I realized that when you are sleeping, you are not doing nothing. You are recharging. Rest gives your body time to repair, and time to rebuild strength. And that is what we do on Sunday, though it is spiritual, not physical. We set aside all the daily demands that can be set aside, and give ourselves wholly to the work of the Lord for that one day.

It used to be a day when I COULD NOT. And now it is a day when I DO NOT HAVE TO. So rather than grumbling that I am behind in work for our business, and worrying that I cannot answer those emails or pack those boxes, I now relax and know that I don’t have to worry about being behind for this one day. I can ignore all the feeling of being overtaxed or behind or of never being enough, and today, on Sunday, I am enough, and all of that can wait until tomorrow.

I have learned that when I let it go for one day, trying my best to obey the law of the Sabbath, I am blessed. I catch up faster on what I was behind with. We have more orders on weeks where we get it right than we do on weeks when we give in and take care of things that could have waited. I have more energy, and more creative thought processes which lead to more productive writing and business management. When I give that one day to the Lord, He gives me back a better week.

The farm animals have no agency, and no conviction that would compel them to obey the same law of the Sabbath that we choose to obey. They have not the ability TO choose such a thing, and they cannot care for themselves. So they still require feeding and some tending. So Sunday morning seems just like every other day when it begins.

But everything else can wait. And the farm can rest, for just one day.

Sears, Sears… How the Mighty Have Fallen

The king of mail order. At one time they shipped entire HOUSES, and just about everything else you could order and have shipped to your home. The mighty giant that should have known how to make the transition to the internet better than any other company in the world.

Apparently they slipped a gear somewhere, because they are in serious trouble. After dealing with them to try to get the freezer my mother ordered, actually delivered, I can see why.

This is a rough sequence of events:

Ordered freezer online. Price agreed to when credit card info is entered, is $530. Price on receipt is $530. Delivery date listed as 4 days after order date.

Delivery date comes and goes. We look up the order online. Price billed is listed as $561 (and change). Tax was not calculated during checkout, but has been added later. NOT GOOD!

Delivery is listed as scheduled for the day before. Ummmm Yeah. Delivery is scheduled for YESTERDAY.

We call the number listed on the website for deliveries of online orders. They tell us the delivery is scheduled and will be received when scheduled. The foreign speaking rep assures us that there is nothing wrong, and that the delivery is on schedule. We point out that the date was YESTERDAY, and they grudgingly admit that they need to look into it, and assure us that someone will call back.

Nobody does.

We call again. They go through the same routine. Nobody calls back.

We call again. They tell us that we have the wrong number for this kind of thing, and that we should have called somebody else. We tell them this is the number for online order deliveries that is posted on the website. They assure us it is not (it is), and then give us a different number to call. It is local. For a Sears store here.

We call, no answer. The Sears store is no longer in operation. There will never be an answer at that number.

We call customer service back. They tell us again it is the wrong number, but they have no other number to give us. Then they tell us they will look up the order, and that they do not know where the freezer is. The tell us they will call us back. We say no. Give us to a supervisor.

After some runaround, they do. Or at least, he says he is a supervisor. His English is a little more clear, not much. He tells us that the delivery is rescheduled, and that we will get a call the night before it is delivered.

We don’t. It does not come.

(At this point, we have informed them TWICE, that the store they keep telling us to call no longer exists. They are not interested in this information, and assure us they can fix whatever problem it is that is getting in the way, which they admit they cannot identify.)

We call back. The rep cannot speak English well enough to be understood. By this time, we have no patience with her. We tell her we cannot understand her. We KEEP telling her we cannot understand her, and that we need to speak with a supervisor. She keeps refusing, and keeps babbling on the other end of the phone. Finally she passes us to a supervisor.

He informs us that they are having trouble getting the freezer from the manufacturer, but it is scheduled to leave the factory on Wednesday night, and that they will call us when it does, and we will get it the next day.

Now, I’m no dummy. I know that there is no Kenmore factory anywhere near. Overnight deliveries DO NOT HAPPEN on appliances. NEVER. I inform him of this. He assures me I am wrong, and that it will happen just as he says, and gives us no other option but to take his word for it.

No call, no freezer.

We call back.

The rep tells us that the order has been put on hold. Then she says that she can schedule it for delivery the next day. The next day is Saturday. NOBODY DELIVERS APPLIANCES ON SATURDAY! We KNOW this! I tell her this. She says WELL if we do not want it on Saturday she can schedule it for another time! I try to tell her that she is incorrect, or that her order tracking system is incorrect, that it CANNOT be delivered on a Saturday because the stores and delivery companies do not deliver on Saturdays! She is not getting this. She is not even IN the US, so she has no clue what I am talking about. I ask for a Supervisor. She tells me she needs to check some more, and I tell her that it is obvious she cannot help me, and to pass me to a supervisor. She hangs up on me.

I call back. The next rep tells me the same thing. I ask for a supervisor, and she puts me off until I insist. Then she tells me there are no supervisors available and runs me around on the “it will be delivered tomorrow” (Saturday) thing. She does not know what happened to the order, she does not know who has the freezer, she does not know whether it is even in stock, yet she assures me that it will be delivered on a Saturday when Saturday deliveries do not happen! I ask for a supervisor again, and she hangs up on me.

I look up the local Sears store numbers and start calling, hoping SOMEBODY in the US can actually help us.

We are now waiting for a local store to call us back. At least they speak English.

This is why Sears is failing.

They did not outsource their Call Center.

They outsourced their Customer Service. They outsourced their reputation to someone who will say anything to avoid dealing with customers, and who will NEVER pass problems up the chain where they can be solved.

They outsourced their reputation to someone who does not guard it.

They deserve to fail.

Which is sad, because Kenmore appliances really are fairly good appliances.

If you can get them.

UPDATE: We finally know what happened to the freezer.

Online orders are assigned to the nearest Sears store for fulfillment. The local store near us closed, but apparently nobody in the delivery department has realized this (in spite of the fact that we informed them at least four times, and in spite of the fact that the two LOCAL stores KNEW that this IS AN ONGOING problem!).

The computers in one area don’t know what is happening in other areas, and customer service cannot see beyond their computers (and they do not want to, since that requires effort). So the delivery is scheduled, but there is no one on the other end of the delivery order to pick it up and ship it out. They promise it will be delivered, and it never is. Nobody in the Delivery department has the brains to actually look and see why, or to try to call the assigned store and see where the problem is, or to call the regional manager and see why the freezer is hung up.

This problem would have been SO EASY to solve… Not just temporarily for us, but permanently so it did not happen to anyone else! But horrendously incompetent customer service stopped that from happening, and is now perpetrating this kind of stupidity upon other hapless customers.

The left hand knoweth not that the right hand has been cut off.

SECOND UPDATE: So, here it is, three weeks and many phone calls later. For a few days it actually looked like there was hope of getting the freezer.

The Regional Center called us a week ago (after we left messages in two different local stores), and told us that the delivery was scheduled for the following Tuesday (Monday being a Holiday). Sure enough, Sunday night, the recorded call comes in, telling us the freezer will be delivered on Tuesday (the first time the call came in when promised).

Tuesday comes and goes – the freezer does not follow the call. We call back to the local store, they take a message and say they will contact the Regional manager and that he will call us back. He does not.

24 hours later, we call back, and are informed that the local Sears can do nothing, it has been too long since the order was placed, and the only people who can help us is the people who REFUSE to help us.

In fact, those are almost exactly the words of the associate who called us back with the message from the Regional Manager: “I’m sorry, but the Manager said that the only people who can help you is the people who won’t help you.”

Good call, Sears! Put the satisfaction of customers in the hands of an offshore company that does not give a rip whether your company sinks. Put it in the hands of people, whom, when there is a problem they do not understand, start hanging up on customers. Put it in the hands of people who will not actually even look to see that the system has broken down, or see where it is broke. You might as well hire your competitors to handle your customer service, because they are getting your business either way!

Today a dispute on the payment for the freezer is being filed. The payment cleared a day or two after the order was place, because their system was informed that the freezer was being delivered, even though it was not, and could not be, because those instructed to do so were laid off when the store was closed.

Sorry Sears. You had your chances… More than enough of them.

We shall mourn your passing when the company is belly up. With customer experiences like this, it is inevitable.

On the other hand, if you’d like to save your business, I offer business consulting services which could turn your ship around and head it back into the wind… Because when we consult with a company, we pay attention to the customer experience!

Summer Mushroom Adventures

It seems that once people know you are interested in mycology, they take an interest in sharing their finds with you. This has provided some interesting experiences in the last few weeks.

First, a Giant Puffball walked in the front door, in the hands of a little boy who had been in the Primary class I had substituted for a few Sundays previous. A mushroom that has been requested by my customers, so I was very pleased to receive it! It was set to cure in the basement, where it emitted an unpleasant odor for about a week before it finally stopped stinking. But it is curing well, so it was worth the smell.

Next, some Aspen Boletes made their way here, along with some lovely mature King Boletes. Easy to tell them apart – the Aspens bruise dark, and the spore tubes go dark gray with age, whereas the Kings do not bruise, and the tubes turn an olive green shade. Both were riddled with maggots, which is not a problem since they drop out as soon as we start to dry the mushrooms. Disappointing to me though, because the maggots drop out onto the drying trays (we have screens, over trays, so there is a catch pan under each screen), and we have no chickens right now to enjoy the benefits of those maggoty mushrooms!

Some Aspen Oysters wandered in one day, and were promptly set to dry for spawn, and some were used to sow a box of aspen shavings so we can grow more. Oyster mushrooms are easy to grow, and Aspen Oysters have the distinction of being able to grow on Alder.

A few days ago I was given two mushrooms that were old and degraded. They appeared to be a polypore of some kind – not that there was any spore surface left, but I’d seen a polypore before that had degraded in the same way, with the same kind of pattern on the underside when the spore surface had been eaten away by bugs. They were waterlogged, soggy, and maggoty (more so than the boletes). The stems were falling off, and the caps were hardly holding together. I chose NOT to bring them into the house!

The lady who gave them to me said as an afterthought, “They were growing from the same stem.”. I promptly forgot that she said that.

Later, when trying to ID them, I could see the texture and color of the caps, and combined with my assumption of a polypore was a good start. But I could not get an ID for anything, there are just too many stemmed polypores of similar color.

Finally went back outside to look at them again, and paid attention to the stems. I could see where they had broken apart, and they had a common base… and a ROOT! They had a sturdy black root that descended from one of the stems, that I had not noticed before.

I knew that was the identifying feature, because roots like that on mushrooms are uncommon. Turns out that there is only one rooted polypore, and it is known by that name.

If I had not had the stems, and had not seen that root, I could not have ID’d that mushroom. Having the root made the ID EASY because there is nothing else like it – orange cap, and black root, confirmed the polypore ID.

When you receive mushrooms from other people, they may or may not have the entire stem intact. It is always more helpful for identifying if you have the entire mushroom with the stem base, and a description of the habitat where it was growing, because those things can help to confirm an ID, and in some cases, they can be the ONLY clue to a certain ID.

A lot of people have been sending me photos of mushrooms to ID. 9 out of 10 of those images are Little Brown Mushrooms, and an ID is fairly hopeless. I generally only bother with edibles, if they are not edible, or medicinal in some cases, I could care less what they are called.

There is a rule about edible mushrooms. Generally they are the more substantial mushrooms. There are a few LBMs (Little Brown Mushrooms), or LWMs (Little White Mushrooms), or LGMs (Little Gray Mushrooms) which are edible and grow in troops, but overall, the good edibles will be large, and have distinctive features. The smaller ones are too difficult to differentiate, there are just too many like them, and they are generally not worth identifying anyway, since they would take too many to be worth the effort to pick. Consequently, many have never been identified, and most mushroom hunters ignore them because they are too tricky to get right, and not worth the bother anyway.

Today I felt impressed to go to an abandoned chicken coop that is on the property we are renting. It has rained daily for the last several days, so today was a good day to look for mushrooms. But I had not thought to look in there before – the roof leaks, and it has a good layer of old rotted sawdust and chicken manure in it. It occurred to me that something might come up in there because of the rains.

As soon as I came inside the door, I laughed. There was a mushroom, about 3″ across, right in the middle of the floor! Not just any mushroom…. Agaricus Bisporus. Brown Bisporus.

A few old nearly dried mushrooms lurked in the corners, and some new buttons peeked up here and there. Clearly the composting litter was well colonized with Agaricus Bisporus mycellium.

The MOST COMMON commercial mushroom. Nothing special. Nothing exotic.

But this is a fine thing for me, because I was unable to find a strain of Agaricus Bisporus with which I felt satisfied, because it has mostly been crossed with Agaricus Brunnescens, and the distinction has been lost with many commercial strains. I have a really excellent strain of true Brunnescens, but my strain of Bisporus was not as good as I wanted. This new find is a BETTER strain – it has the distinctive differences that set it apart from Brunnescens (slightly thinner cap, less reddening when cut or bruised, and gills that are less pink and turn brown sooner in the maturation process). So now I have a new strain of Bisporus… which I have named “Chicken Run”. What would otherwise be no big deal has been a delightful find for me!

The same people who gave me the old rotting mushroom to ID also gave me another unidentified mushroom which keys out as Albatrellus. I have been wanting a specimen of one of the edible Albatrellus species for many months, ever since I found an old, soggy, and stinky specimen in the woods one day. Completely inedible due to its age and condition, not even usable as spawn, but identifiable due to the stem position and  the fact that it is a large stemmed polypore and there are not many of those. So receiving an Albatrellus specimen was a real gift.

I am unsure of the species exactly – the genus of Albatrellus is certain, but there are a dozen or so species within the genus, many very alike. I only know it is edible because the family that gave it to us have been eating it. Narrows it to Ovinus, Confluens, or Citrinus (based on other features, but they are VERY similar). Started a box of it today, to see if I can get it to grow. I am going to have to find a way to purchase a microscope to be certain of the species though.

It has been a lot of fun having mushrooms walk in the door. I never know what is coming in next. The most amazing thing has been the number of mushrooms that I have on my “needed specimens” list that have been either handed to me personally, or shipped to me from somewhere in the US. Often the person sending them isn’t sure what they are, other times they know for certain. But in both cases, I have been brought some really amazing finds, which have added to our inventory, and are blessing our lives, and the lives of our customers.

I’ve been drawing mushroom images for our website, for the mushrooms that I do not have pics for. Some of them turned out well. Worth a look if that kind of thing interests you, they are on our Mushroom Store website – just click the link on the left for Mushrooms that can be grown indoors, and the other links below that one.

Don’t Waste Money On Commercial Potting Mix!

I wonder who it was that decided that people could make soil better than Mother Nature, who has been at it for thousands of years by Creationist reckoning, and millions of years by Evolutionist reckoning.

It is sort of like processed foods. All the good stuff is stripped out, and a few essential (though undigestible) nutrients are added back in, and a nice looking but nutritionally deficient and often outright harmful product is released to the public in the name of “good food”, and the manufacturer persuades millions that it is better than what they could cook themselves, mostly because it is convenient.

With potting mix though, it isn’t necessarily any more convenient than the alternative! And it is several times the cost! It is made from various forms of industrial waste, and a few synthetic manufactured items (made in China, principally from petroleum). Oh, and some of the “better” stuff has chemical fertilizers thrown in. A few “organic” types have a wee bit of sterilized manure or fish emulsion (ground up fish guts) thrown in. No wonder it is so difficult to get things to grow in it, and no wonder it is impossible to re-wet if it ever dries out completely!

No more convenient, WORSE performance, and MORE expensive. MORE harmful to the environment, and a pain in the neck to work with under less than ideal conditions. Wow… they’ve really managed to snooker the buying public!

The best thing to grow plants in is…

Drumroll, please, this is a major revelation…

DIRT!!!

Rich, nutrient filled, bacteria and fungus laden, water holding, DIRT!

Topsoil, to be exact.

With some compost on top.

Easy peasy.

Even in pots indoors, DIRT is the best thing to grow plants in. Seriously, folks, how hard a concept is this? The substance that plants EVOLVED to grow in (if you subscribe to that theory), or the substance that GOD PROVIDED for plants to grow in (if this is your belief) is the BEST thing for plants to grow in! (I am still astonished that I have to actually EXPLAIN this to people, and even more shocked that most will hear my instructions and promptly go out and buy another bag of potting mix because someone else told them to or because the picture on the bag was prettier, or worse, because the sales person told them it was better.)

You either have dirt where you want to grow things or you don’t.

If you don’t have dirt, why buy a mixture of industrial waste and manufactured synthetics to plant your plants in?

What you SHOULD buy, if you HAVE to buy some kind of potting medium or soil for your garden, is….

DIRT!

Topsoil to be exact.

Just buy a bag of topsoil instead. It is less than $2 for a bag of topsoil. Compare that to $5 for a comparable size bag of potting mix. You just made out like a bandit! Less than half the price and BETTER!

Buy a bag of compost also. That will cost you another $2 if you live in an area where things cost a lot.

Fill your pots with topsoil, or spread the topsoil over your garden. Then top it with about a 3″ layer of compost.

If you need it to hold water really well, DON’T get anything with those nasty silica beads in it! Avoid those! They cause the soil to LOSE water (they absorb the water, and then the water evaporates directly from them, the plants never get it from the silica, it will cause your soil to dry out FASTER – we’ve done side by side tests with this, it FAILS every time).

The key to getting your soil to hold water is MULCH. Try one of the following:

  • Grass Clippings
  • Leaf Litter
  • Wood Shavings
  • Sawdust
  • Woodchips
  • Straw (you will get some wheat grass sprouts)

You can purchase Aspen shavings, or even use Pine Bedding or Cypress Mulch from the pet section of your local store. Just don’t use Cedar.

A good layer of mulch on top will reduce the amount of water you need by 70%.

And it is EXACTLY how nature does it in the wild. She leaves the last year’s plant debris on the top of the soil to compost down and give you a layer of compost on top of your soil, and then a layer of coarse debris on top of that to protect the compost from washing off, and to keep the moisture in the soil.

You can do this in a container garden, with houseplants, and in the garden, in your landscaping, etc. Wherever you GROW things, you can create this three layer miracle of growth and productivity.

  • Topsoil
  • Compost
  • Mulch

It is that simple.

Potting mix does not come into it ANYWHERE. Mother Nature didn’t invent potting mix. She doesn’t like it! Plants don’t like it!

Get the good stuff. The REAL stuff.

It will save you money, and your plants will grow better.

Pornography – The Wildfire Outside Your Door

Burning trash was legal, and there was a burn pit in the yard, beside the house. So I carted the burnables out, and lit a fire. It burned for about an hour, while I watched it, going back and forth to the house to make sure nothing got out of the rock enclosure. I had been taught as a child to not leave a fire unattended unless I was sure of the safety of the enclosure.

A month later, I headed out to use the burn pit again. The ground was drier and it was a warmer day. I had a bit more trash this time, but not that much more. I tossed it in, and lit it. The performance seemed to be repeating itself, so I ran inside to do something quick indoors.

When I came back out, not more than a moment or two later, a small patch of grass was burning outside the pit. I ran over and started stomping, just in time to see another patch light up beside it. The slightly drier ground and the slightly hotter fire had heated the rocks, and the grass that was in the nooks and crannies around the rocks caught fire. I stomped out the first and ran frantically to the second one just as the first popped to life again, and a third began on the opposite side of the pit.

I still thought I could stop it myself, and ran for the kitchen to fill a bucket. When I came back, the fire was twice the size in each patch, and another little patch was sparking to life. The bucket of water squashed two patches! I was going to get this under control, and no one would know, and I’d be able to just go on and never have to confess my embarrassment.

I ran for another bucket. When I got back, the two bits I had squashed were burning merrily again, and the other two sections had grown again, and were spreading toward the houses – mine, and a neighbor. I realized at that point that it was not going to concede to my wishes of not involving anyone else.

I ran for the neighbors, who stuck their heads out and said, “Well, what do you want US to do?”. I ran for the bucket again, hollering, “Call the fire department! And grab a bucket!”. They grumbled, and wandered around outside, mumbling something about where to find a bucket. I tossed one at them and ran back inside. Two more neighbors came to help, while I called the fire department myself. We got a hose going, and managed to keep the fire away from the houses, but by the time the fire department arrived, it had consumed most of the yard, and was about 5 feet from our house on one side, had reached the road on another side, and was a few feet from the property line on the other. The firemen pulled out a hose, sprayed fire retardant on the flames, and they died a sizzling death as though on command.

They did in 5 minutes what I had been gasping with for far longer, and which I could not vanquish even with the help of several neighbors – of course, they had good protective gear, and the right equipment to fight it. The firemen stayed for a while to watch the ground to ensure that no sparks relit in areas that may not have been sufficiently quenched. I heard sizzling sounds in the lawn for many hours afterward, and kept looking out to see whisps of smoke trailing up from under this or that charred bush.

It occurs to me that Pornography is much like that fire. Only bigger. One little bit, nothing serious. But it spreads. And it pops up where you do not expect it to. The addiction can consume a home before someone is aware that it is the culprit, it may spread from one home to another. And neighbors may just be content to let your home burn – even the help of well-meaning friends may not be enough. Neighbors may even be content to let the fire go until it consumes their own home, oblivious to the danger even as it engulfs them! Once the right actions are taken, you need to be watchful to make sure it does not spark to life again.

This was a small yard fire. The flames of Pornography are more like a wildfire, out of control, creating a wind and a roar, and sweeping everything in its path. Inviting it into your home is the equivalent of building a bonfire in your livingroom just because you got bored, and hoping that the fire you started with not do more than warm your toes or let you roast some marshmallows.

Pornography, like the fire in my yard, or like a forest fire, will grow if left unchecked, until it has consumed every life in its path. It will not get tired and just wear itself out in an individual. It will grow and grow until all the good in a person is destroyed. This is what it does. There are no exceptions. It always gets worse if it is not first stopped, and then held at bay.

The progression is inevitable – it is important that this is understood. It may progress slowly, or quickly, but it WILL progress, and it always ends with the same horrors. In earlier eras when it was harder to access and there was less social acceptance of it, the progression took far longer, but in this day when it is on every street corner, accessible in every private cubby, and considered by so many to be nothing shameful, it gallops through a person’s life at an astonishing speed. Generally the further the progression, the less likely a person is to recover, and the more damage they will do to other people around them. Pornography never stays confined to a single person, it spills over and pulls in young people who see the example of the addict, and poisons marriages, families, and friendships as the addict gives to the addiction what they should be giving to real people.

Porn may be assessed on a scale of 1-5 for severity. A person may progress from one phase to another in as little as six months (far less in certain environments), or they may take years – but in our day, it is uncommon for it to take more than two years to progress from one stage to the next.

Stage 1Bikini/Underwear shots progressing to nudity. At this stage, confession (to spouse, parents, and anyone harmed by the addict), and help from family (and clergy where available) may be sufficient to help an individual gain control, and revise the standards and behaviors in their life. The individual viewing porn will begin to detach from close relationships, and will generally become more irritable and prone to fault-finding, or temper tantrums.

Stage 2Porn involving Straight and Gay Sex (with or without a progression from one to the other), with progression from couples to groups. This stage may begin with straight sex only, but always ends with both categories, and the progression may follow one of several patterns. This stage may include either visual or auditory media, and text only books. If drug abuse is not already a factor, it generally begins well into this stage also (the link between drug addictions and pornography addictions is inseparable – generally the drug abuse does not actually involve the porn, rather it is used as a coping mechanism for a life that is going up in flames). At this stage outside help is more likely to be needed, and confession to someone outside the home is essential (clergy or a counselor who is supportive of recovery are most appropriate).  A 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program is recommended for recovery for this stage and all subsequent stages.

Recovery is dependent upon the support and aid of those close to them, especially the spouse [or parents for youth], AND upon the efforts of the addict [until they start to try, nothing is effective]. If the spouse is NOT supportive, recovery likelihood is LESS than 20% by the middle of Stage 2.

If the spouse (or parents) IS supportive and helpful, with a commitment and expression of love toward the addict, AND the addict makes a sincere effort, the likelihood of recovery is approximately 85% through the middle of stage 2.

Stage 3 Sex combined with Violence. This is one of the critical barriers – when a person crosses it, things begin to pick up speed. When sex alone ceases to provide a thrill, this is the next step. Porn encourages an individual to view sex as a purely selfish thing, and when that tendency is magnified, it grows into the intentional desire to harm, and not just the desire to selfishly exploit. The fire is OUT OF CONTROL – it CANNOT be handled quietly inside the privacy of a marriage, or by parents alone attempting to help a child. There may be legal concerns developing through this stage.

Somewhere in this stage, the chance that a person will ever rehabilitate drops to less than 1%, regardless of spousal support of the effort, abuse toward the spouse escalates dramatically, and physical abuse of children may begin if it was not previously present (sexual abuse of the children by the addict is still out of bounds for them – that barrier has not yet been eroded sufficiently).

Stage 4Sexual aberrations (Bestiality, Pedophilia, Extreme Drug Enhancement of sexual experience, extreme violence, torture, and other indescribable horrors). The addict has sated themselves, and is now desperate for any variation that will provide the fix.

At this point, a family is NOT safe with the person in the house – abuse further escalates, and typically children in the home WILL become sexual abuse victims.

Stage 5Sex combined with Murder (First they view, then they do.) This stage begins with Snuff films, and ends with acting them out. When asked how he came to be a mass murderer, Ted Bundy is reported to have said that he found a porn magazine in his stepfather’s closet as a child. Left unchecked, porn leads to murder, in a trail of progression that is known to every prison psychiatrist.

 

This is not an exaggeration, nor an attempt to scare people away from porn. It is just exactly this dangerous. I am calm, confident, and absolutely dead serious as I list these phases and the progression of porn. The harm simply cannot be overstated.

So now we know… DON’T IGNORE IT THINKING IT WILL JUST GO AWAY!

To survive in this modern environment where it Porn is EVERYWHERE, one must wear good protective gear, and build good firebreaks, just as one would in fighting a wildfire.

 

Protective Gear

Protective gear for Pornography is one way to keep it from consuming an individual. Eye protection is especially important, but ear protection can also really help!

So what kinds of protective gear can you don that will help you to keep the harm of Pornography out of yourself, as an individual?

  • The company of like-minded people. Hang out with people who have the same goal of avoiding it. Befriend those with good ideals, who understand WHY you want to avoid it. Choose dates who get it, and respect the goals. Life sometimes requires you to be around people who will bring this into your world. You may not be able to escape them – but if you choose good companions when you DO have the choice, it is easier to be strong when you DON’T have the choice. Online, associate with good people, block those who would introduce this harm into your life.
  • Create a set of personal standards, and stick to it. This would include things like avoiding entertainment with nudity and sexual content, avoiding music and audio tracks that refer to the same, making sure you maintain good moral standards for yourself, being at home by a reasonable hour in the evening, and avoiding situations where you might be overly tempted to lower your standards. It also includes ACTING on intentions to make a hasty retreat, when things are occurring which are not in line with your standards. It is easy to say you will leave if the movie gets raunchy, but much harder to stand up in the middle of a group of people, and draw attention to yourself as you walk out. But every time you do it, it gets easier.
  • Engage in wholesome and uplifting activities. Every GOOD thing you do, from helping a neighbor to attending a clean alcohol-free party, increases your personal strength and helps you build good patterns for living. Every time you laugh at a clean joke, get chills from an absolutely amazing song, or view entertainment that leaves you feeling lifted up and wanting to be better, you build strength. Every time you do something unselfish, choose to do what is right even when it is hard, or bite your tongue and refrain from being cruel, you strengthen that part of yourself that has the power to resist Pornography – because porn is all about selfishness.
  • Increase the spiritual activities in your life. These are things that affect you positively, both by helping you WANT to be better, and by exposing you to the influence of Good, and it has far more power than the average person realizes. This is especially helpful for teens – it is perhaps the EASIEST way to become a kinder and morally stronger person. Just be there – where things are all about good, and let it work its magic on you.
  • Keep an emergency song on hand. Good and evil cannot exist in the same space at the same time. A song with good lyrics will drive bad thoughts or images out of your head. This strategy can be used to avoid temptation, to get disturbing images out of your head (after accidental exposure), and to keep your thoughts from drifting into areas where they would better not go.
  • Don’t go there. Not even once. Never let curiosity overcome your better judgment in this regard. Just once DOES HURT. Every addict started with “Just Once”.

 

Firebreaks

One of the time honored methods for stopping a wildfire is to create a firebreak. It is a barrier, such as a path of bare earth where there is no fuel for the fire, or a moat filled with water, or some other surface that the fire cannot cross. A firebreak must be sufficiently wide to stop the fire under the current circumstances – this means that when there is no wind, with a small fire, a small firebreak will do. When the fire is large and raging, and driven by a wind, the firebreak must be far wider.

In our day, the fire is monstrous, and raging with immense intensity. It is driven by hard winds and whipped up by ignorant people who stand on the sidelines encouraging you to feel the heat and look at the pretty flames.

To survive this, we must create firebreaks in our lives. They may need to be constructed at home, and at work or at school. They are one of the ways in which parents can help children avoid Pornography and teach them skills to choose to avoid it for themselves.

These firebreaks may involve changing our environment, or they may involve rules or standards for safety. Typically they involve groups of people or environments, and extend outside of the individual. They can include strategies such as:

  • A home where computers are only used in public rooms in the home, when other people are home.
  • Requiring children and teens to “check out” a computer or cell phone when needed, and check it back in either at night, or when the need has passed. For example, a phone might be checked out for an outing, and checked back in afterward. In either case, keeping computers and cell phones checked in at night helps ensure that kids are not online or texting inappropriately after parents are in bed (this is the number one time at home, when kids will access porn in a home where it is forbidden).
  • Eating dinner with the family each night, at the table. This is an immense tool for strengthening a family, and helps develop stronger parent-child relationships.
  • Engage in religious observances together with others in your home (family or otherwise). This helps all work together to create a harmonious environment. People who worship together are more likely to support one another in choosing good.
  • Strengthen your family in any way you can. This article on the LDS.org site, called The Family: A Proclamation to the World, gives great descriptions to help a family become stronger. It sets a VERY high standard. Don’t worry if you don’t meet the standard. Just pick a thing to work on and build strength in your family. And don’t worry if you are (for example) a single parent, or if other circumstances do not meet the ideal. Just work on what YOU can control. These are also the things a parent can do to help teens have the desire to make good choices – because teens with a strong family support network make better choices.

You may feel safe and think that this all has nothing to do with you. I promise you, you are wrong. It has everything to do with you, and it will sneak in and work its devastation upon some facet of your life at least once – whether it be the divorce of someone close to you, the abuse of someone you love, or the anger and storms of your own teenager, or within your own marriage.

No one is immune. The only ones who are to any degree safe from it are those who make it a thoughtful daily practice to be safe, and to stay safe.

For more resources for combatting pornography, you may visit overcomingpornography.org, or the PornographyHarms Group on FaceBook.

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.