Be Relevant

Relearning everything we've forgotten.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Garden Log

Right now its about 62 F.  Cloudy outside from the marine layer that should burn off around noon. Just in time to give my back patio garden an hour of sunlight.  At noon it should get up to about 70 F.  Chance of rain is 10% with humidity of 90% dropping as the day goes on.  Winds are WNW 1 mph building up to a W 10 mph this evening.

The marine layer is putting a mildew on the cucumbers.  Plaga as Leslie likes to call it.  Spanish for plague. Its an all purpose word for any disease for any plant.  They don't like their leaves to be wet and damp this much.  They like it hot and dry.  If we were having the normal SD weather they'd be doing fine.  My plants just aren't healthy and I think it has to do with the shallow root system that the pots I have them in created.  Live and learn.

Not to mention the amount of light that they are finally getting was roughly 6.5 hrs.  Not a lot but a little more than the minimum 6 hrs.  Now its been cut to about an hour and that's only over half of them. This is one of those times where I wish I had my own place like a house with a yard.  It's times like these when I miss the east coast and its affordability.
I moved the one tomato plant that I have out front a bit to capitalize on the afternoon sun.  I'm going to play musical sun with it till the SD weather decides to be normal.

I came home and Mel had cut half a dozen of our sunflowers for the house.  Cut flowers seem like such a luxury.

One planter of green leaf lettuce I planted last Thursday has all ready started to sprout.  Its only been 5 days and they don't usually sprout for 7-12.  I must have done something right so I'll keep an eye on them.

Speaking of sprouts I just came across sprouting seeds in mason jars for such things like bean sprouts for salads.  Is this really as easy as it sounds?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A weekend full of no-till, pesto and pasta, and more basil - P.S. I need a good pasta recipe

Saturday Morning

First off I have to tell you how incredible La Milpa Organica is.  Just in case you don't know it is the farm I volunteer with on Saturdays and Sundays.  In exchange for labor they teach me how to garden organically.  Leslie is the co-founder of the farm and the one I work with the most.  She spent most of her professional career as a school teacher.  This is probably why I like learning from her.

One of the many reasons why Leslie, and La Milpa Organica, is incredible is because she is treating me like one of their apprentices.  We engage in discussions on soil type and marketing and many other things that are important to running a farm.  Last week I sent her an article on no-till gardening and asked what she thought and if we could experiment.  Low and behold on Saturday she turned over a used bed to me and let me experiment.

The bed had a thick woody stemmed vegetable that had long gone to seed.  I thought it was broccoli from an early spring harvest but I didn't ask.  I opted to pull those out by hand.  There was only half a dozen anyway.  The rest of the bed we covered with about a 3 inch layer of straw.  Straw is much better to use then hay as it has less of a chance of seeding on you.

Grace, another volunteer, spreading straw

After the layer of straw we added a couple of tractor loads of composted horse manure.

Yes, that's a camo hat

At this time we have a good 3 inches of composted soil in which we decided to plant.  The next step was to hook up the water.  We ran two drip irrigation strips which allows us to have 4 rows of radishes.  That's what we decided to put in there.  Three types to be exact:  Pink Beauty, French Breakfast, and Easter Egg. They grow fast so we'll know if our experiment worked sooner rather than later.

That's a great looking bed!
After seeding and setting the seeds we gave this bed a really good watering.  Went over it twice very slowly and allowed the water to soak in.  Finally, we covered the entire bed with a thin layer of straw to act as mulch.

This should help keep the weeds from coming up too bad and keep water evaporation down to a minimum.  Well we will find out in a week or so.

Saturday Evening

When I left the farm I grabbed a bunch of fresh cut basil.  I don't know what did it but I couldn't stop thinking about making pasta with fresh pesto.  I love pesto.  Plain and simple.  I could never get enough of it when I lived in Italy.  It's so easy to make and all you need is a food processor or a blender like I have.  The only problem with a blender is that it's blades are designed to create a vortex in liquid.  Meaning if you don't have liquid, or enough liquid, when you try to mix you'll get a couple good passes then everything is on the side and the blades are just spinning.  I just unplug it and use a wooden spoon to push it back down till I add the olive oil.  Good pesto is up to your taste buds so I think the only important measurement is at least 2 cups of fresh basil.  After that add everything else to taste.  But here's my recipe just in case.

2 cups basil
1/4 cup pine nuts - toasted
blend together
3 cloves garlic minced
blend together
1/2 cup olive oil
blend together
1 cup parmigiana cheese
blend together

That seems to work for me.  Then chill it for an hour before you use it.  I got so excited from making the pesto I decided to make homemade pasta.  What could be easier then flour, salt, egg, water?  I used this recipe.  I made a double batch and taking the suggestions of the commenters I cut the salt in half and added 1 tsp. olive oil per batch.  Here's my complaint.  I had to use a lot more water than what the recipe called for.   Anytime that happens I just have this feeling that I screwed up on something.  So I had to work the dough a bit and in the end I think I over worked it.  After kneading it into a ball I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit for 15 minutes.  Lightly flour your counter and begin rolling it out.  

Rolling dough is an art form and an exercise in patience.  I usually play three rounds of roll and wait and my nerves are all the much better for it.  I roll till it starts to kick my butt and won't roll anymore.  I wait 15-20 minutes and come back and it usually rolls out to double its size.  I wait again and the final roll gets it smooth.  I skillfully cut the pasta with my pizza wheel.  Hey, this is low budget here.  Needless to say the pasta tasted great and was even better for lunch today.

Which brings me to this morning.  My first job of the day was to pinch the blossoms off the basil.  

This morning was chilly as the marine layer was just hanging on the coast line.  The leaves of the basil plants were cool to the touch.  The blossoms popped right off and left the air smelling of fresh basil.  By pinching off the blossoms and preventing the basil to go to seed, you will promote more leaf growth.  More leaves means more pesto!


Saturday, July 17, 2010


Inherently all volunteering is a selfish act.  We do it because it makes us feel good to help others and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  In fact, there is no way around it.

There are two organizations that I volunteer with on a weekly basis.  La Milpa Organica Farm, which is self explanatory, and Outdoor Outreach.  I volunteer with the farm mainly because I want to learn about organic farming.   I also enjoy it immensely.  Saturdays and sundays now have an even greater importance than just not having to go to work.  It's quite unusual to smile and be happy about going to work.  This is why I want to farm.   On the weekends I happily give them my labor and they teach me about hardening plants, how to market produce, watering systems, organic pest control, and on.  This relationship is truly skewed in my favor.  And deep down truly selfish.  But it's okay.  It's a win-win situation.  I get knowledge and they get physical labor.

Outdoor Outreach is an organization that works with underprivileged and at-risk youth from the cities who don't have access to the outdoors on a regular basis.  The program takes these children and lets them experience hiking, mt biking, camping, snorkeling, snow boarding, and surfing to name a few.  I can't do the organization justice in a few short paragraphs so please take a look at their website.  To say the least, volunteering with them is fun.  I get to do all the things that I love to do.  So again selfish.  But there is another reason that I volunteer with them.

I read "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle about a month ago.  In it he makes the comment (not verbatim) "when you feel like you are owed something by the world, your job, your spouse - try and give that something to who you feel owes it to you.  That is the other reason I volunteer.  I feel like the world owes me a break.  Where's my chance to make it big and change my life?  So I try and give someone else a break in this world.  I don't want to sound so pompous as to think I'm changing the world or making a great impact on these kids.  Yet it is nice to spend time with them and see how they are standoffish with you at first and, if you are lucky, by the end of your time together, they actually seem to enjoy hanging out with you.  When they first arrive no one wants to do anything - they just meander around.  You show them how to do things and you get the typical kid response "I know" or "I can do it".  As if letting you help them shows some weakness.  Sometimes they don't want to fully be engaged out of fear of failure - "I can't," or "I don't want to" is heard a lot.  So you stay engaged with them.  You let them figure it out and offer gentle guidance.  You basically give them a break and be supportive.

After they catch their first wave or make their first turn on the snowboard you can tell they know they can do it by the smile on their face.  They become fully engaged.

You know what?  Eckhart is right.  The idea that I am owed anything becomes trivial and trite.  I also realize that these kids are giving me a break.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Trying to get paid back while paying off your student loan

I woke up this morning and thought I was the most brilliant person.  My student loan has been with me for some time now and its at that pesky stage where it is almost paid off.  By August 15th to be exact if I stick to my budget.   Well ahead of it's payment schedule.

So how does this make me the most brilliant person?  Well I figured that since I was paying it off on August 15th anyway why not pay it off next week with my CC.  Thanks to my friend (also named Chris) I now have a USAA CC that pays me 1% on all my purchases.  Basically if I pay my balance monthly and never get hit with a finance charge I can effectively "earn" (as Chris puts it) 1% of whatever I spent that year.  Literally having the CC pay me for its use.  Plus saving the interest it earns over the next 30 days brings my grand savings up to almost $40.  By paying next week with the CC I will be well within my 30 day "grace" window and not earn a finance charge.  This is absolutely brilliant!

Except that Sallie Mae doesn't allow you to pay with a CC.  I could take the cash advance but then a grace period doesn't exist and there is a fee which negates any savings that I would have otherwise made.

I'm really frustrated at this point and usually I hang up on the surveys after the call but this time I left a disgruntled remark about how its unacceptable to not accept a CC payment.  I should of said its downright un-American to not accept CCs.  Come on perpetuate the cycle of debt.  In retrospect its probably best they don't allow a person to pay off debt with other debt.

They also won't allow you to pay off the loan in total online either.  If you want to pay off the loan you have to send in a check with 10 days of interest all ready calculated.  So if I wait till the 15th to get the pay off amount it will have another 10 days of interest added.

However, not wanting to be defeated I've concocted another plan.  Since August 15th is pay day and the day with which this plan all revolves around.  I'm going to make the payment for all but $1.00 online.  It should take 2-4 days to pay it and that's roughly .50 a day so my balance should be anywhere from $2-3.  Then for the next 15 days 4% on $3 is negligible.  I have an auto-pay on the 30th so if it takes it out it only gets $4 max.  A little less then if I sent them in a check because I cut the 10 days of interest down to 2-4 depending on how fast the payment is processed.  But the best part is that the woman on the phone said for balances below $5 the system won't even register a payment.  It may be written off.  I will then have cut the amount of interest I owe them for a pay off in half, saved an envelope, a check, a .39 stamp, and best of all stuck them with the last $5.

It's all about the small victories.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

If at first you don't succeed

I accomplished the ride into work this morning in 1 hr 10 min.  20 minutes faster than Google maps said I could do it.  I did it on the trusty old mountain bike.  Not to sound like a Johnny-come-lately- but biking to work is so enjoyable.  Yes you need to allot more time.  Yes it requires physical activity on your part.  But the enjoyment of leisurely going to work is unparalleled.  I hate going to work.  I'm sure there are a few of you that do to.  Yet this made the normal dreaded drive in much more palatable.  Also it doesn't have to be all or nothing.  There is a metro line that I could bike to and then ride that in most of the way.  Effectively cutting down the mileage I'm pedalling and the time my new commute takes.  Life is about give and take.

The road bike is sidelined until I can fix the back tire.  I refuse to drive to the bike shop to fix the tire so it may be a day or two.  I've also done some research and apparently I should always carry the following:

extra tubes
patch kit
tire levers
cash/ID - presumably for a cab

This entire experience has demonstrated an interesting characteristic.  One that I am sure I share with most people.  When I first thought about biking to work my first reactions were to justify getting a road bike.  I couldn't ride a mountain bike 12 miles to work.  It doesn't matter that I've ridden it 20 miles in a day on dirt paths.  It's a mountain bike - made for the mountains.  Though there is some truth in that statement the real fact is that I could ride it to work.  What I all ready had was good enough.  Now I was fortunate to have received a road bike for FREE on  But now I have a tire to fix and other accessories to acquire so I am not stranded when I undoubtedly get another flat. 

I had also set my mind to the thought that I needed a road bike to make the commute.  It's so easy to confuse want and need.  Yes a road bike will increase my efficiency as I pedal.  It will make me go faster, eventually.  I read that 17 mph is the plateau.  As a beginner you build up your stamina and after awhile you'll start making 17 mph.  At that point it all starts to come down to nuances - pedals, clothing, chains, gears, tires, etc. to go faster than that.  I'm not shaving my legs just to get to work quicker.

My commute is only 12.4 miles.  The majority of that is city with red lights stopping me.  There is very few stretches were I could even build up 17 mph.  Plus don't get me started on the quality of the Bike Lane.  No wonder I got a flat yesterday.  No wonder more people don't bike to work.  That's a different rant.  The point is that the coveted road bike will eventually make my commute faster and once tweaked probably more comfortable.  But in the end what I wanted is more than what I needed.  What I all ready had was good enough.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not so much a failure as I didn't succeed

Where do I even begin?  12.5 miles each way to my house from work.  This route crosses over and under 5 major highway systems.  In Southern California which is mountainous.

I missed the first turn and went way into downtown.  I realized that I missed 28th street at about 5th street.  So I started to back track and found myself in San Francisco going up and down the hills.  Then whilst in a seedy part of town I was trying to read the road signs when, on a down hill speed trial, a ran into a piece of concrete road that was raised.  The bike hit hard and at first I was "Oh no, not a flat tire."  The back went about 3 feet and hissed.  Then I was like "It can't be a flat tire."  When I dismounted and the rear tire was flat I finally reached the point of "I have a flat tire."

White guy in spandex in seedy part of town looking distressed.  This is the making for a bad Enquirer article.  I hoofed it 5 blocks to a friend's house.

I'm knew to this road bike thing and well who knew you are supposed to carry spare tubes?  No one told me that.  Apparently there is more to this then I thought.  I'm going to re-try in the morning but this time on the mountain bike.  I know it won't get a flat.

So far today I have decreased the amount of money I spend on gas but my overall usage of gas is the same as I had a friend pick me up and bring me home.

The Maiden Voyage of the Next Year

On the eve of my 34th birthday I made a list of what I want to accomplish for year number 35 on this planet.  They are not in any particular order and are numbered for ease of creating a list.  Except of course for #1.

1. Show Mel how much I love her everyday
2. Be debt free
3. Put away $50k
4. Cut transport by 50% ~ cut gas allowance by 50%
5. Quit Drinking (I'm not a teetotaller just want get that 6 pack abs)
6. Quit Fast Food
7. Purchase 1/2 my groceries locally
8. Rough draft of a novel
9. Find an agent for said rough draft
10. Decrease my housing to around $1k a month here in SD
11. Write several articles for magazines
12. Have a 5 year plan for the farm ("But he has a 5 year plan!" No offense Hooters' girls)
13. Have a location for the farm and purchase the land
14. Have the skills to get us through the first 2 years
15. Have fun and enjoy life.

I'm sure there are more things that I could add to the list but as I was enjoying my final beer for the year this is what I came up with.  To date I haven't had anything to drink since last Friday nor fast food.  I have also bought some plums locally.  Other than that I'm moving quite slowly.  Perhaps I should add do not procrastinate.

Today that changes.  I'm taking the new road bike that I got for FREE off of for a spin.  I drove to work with the bike in the back of the truck and will ride it home this afternoon.  Then I will ride it in tomorrow morning.  Next week I'm going to increase the amount of days biking to work.

It's time to walk the talk.  Or rather ride the talk.  I want to cut my dependence on gasoline and get healthy.  So wish me luck.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Out of Debt

I have to admit here that this is something that I have been working on since January of this year.  That's when I first realized that the debt I had was actually imprisoning me.  I didn't have credit card debt but I did have 2 car payments, school loans, two mortgages and two second mortgages.    I started off the year a little over $330K in debt.  As of today I have less than $10K in debt and the rest of that should be gone by the end of the year!

I'm not saying that to make myself seem great or to brag.  I'm saying it because if ME, I that is, can do it anyone can do it.  I "studied" biology in school not finances.  I'm also the first person to just buy something because its easier (I really am not a big fan of that quality.)

Each person's situation will be slightly different.  I was able to sell the houses and the BMW and in the end I came out a little ahead.  I say a little ahead because the complex math to figure out what I have paid in interest for those houses and that car is something I just don't want to do.  I don't want to get depressed. But consider that after 30 years of paying on a 30 year mortgage at 6% for $100K house you have paid  roughly 3X times what the asking price was.  That math was done by Jacob over at Early Retirement Extreme.  His suggestions are extreme (hence the name) but he's spot on.

So even though I could afford the payments I was living beyond my means.  Rather I was mortgaging my future on my current possessions.    Having debt doesn't just prevent you from buying something else that you want, it prevents you from being able to do what you want.  I used to say that not all debt is bad.  As long as it wasn't revolving debt its okay.  Besides, you need some debt to get good credit right?.

You know what?   That's a bunch of BS.  All debt is bad.  Your credit score is a number the darn credit agencies cooked up.  They've managed to work it so deep into everyday life that it seems integral to living. Man (the proverbial man) now needs good credit, water, food, and shelter in that order.  BS I tell you.

Is a realtor going to turn you away if you have no credit but can pay cash for the home?  How about a car salesman?  No way.  In fact that makes you an even stronger buyer.  You start holding all of the cards because you are offering tangible cash - guaranteed income to them.  Not numbers flying around the internet to be paid over X number of years.

All debt is bad.  You should only go into debt if the money you are borrowing is used to generate capital that can pay the debt off and you.  Did you catch the important part of that?  The capital generated needs to pay off the debt AND you.  Budgets are wonderful but its easy to trick yourself into saying you'll cut money here and cut money there and be bare bones here.  Reality is if you can't pay yourself you won't be paying your debt and that causes all sorts of problems.  Not having to owe someone money allows you to be more flexible and it creates breathing room.  Also, the house you are living in doesn't fall under that definition of allowable debt.  It doesn't matter how much your house might be worth, as long as you are living in it, it is a liability.  Besides when most people sell they upgrade so all the money you made goes into the next home.

Here's the catch though.  It means you have to wait to buy things.  You have to save up.  You may even have to downgrade to get out of debt.  More than likely you'll have to tighten the monthly budget to pay off things earlier.  It's worth it.  Over the last few months as I shed the debt I had, I found that money didn't bother me as much.  I had enough to cover my bills (which I am continually lowering and is whole other post.) I actually have increased my monthly income much faster than working for my company for the next 5 years because those payments are gone.

Bottom line all debt is bad.  Don't be fooled into thinking its part of doing business.  Debt is a big reason people don't follow their dreams.  Shed it and be free.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

What are you doing right now?

That is an important question.  Joel Salatin owns and operates Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley.  Those of you who live near him really should check his farm out.  It's about as close to organic farming as you can get and his mastery of integrating farming systems is incredible.  In his book "You Can Farm" he says he constantly gets asked by some one, "I want to start farming, how do you get started?"  His reply to them, "What are you doing right now."

You don't need land to farm.  This is a change in the paradox but its true.  If you have the space then farming is much easier.  But there are so many others with land that you could use.  It could mean renting the land or some other arrangement.  It could mean joining your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which is a great way to get your vegetables and in some areas your meat and dairy products.   You can join a community garden or even start one if your area has a ton of land.  (I actually talked to my housing complex and they weren't too thrilled about this.  If we weren't trying to move I would have pushed the issue.) Or you could volunteer your time on a farm.

This is the approach that I am taking.  La Milpa Organica Farm is about 30 minutes north of me near Escondido.  They actually have apprenticeships where you live there for at least 3 months and learn.  Since I all ready have job I can only volunteer my time.  So for the foreseeable future I will be there on Saturdays and Sundays.  I volunteer my labor and they teach me organic farming.  I persuaded Mel - actually since it was my birthday weekend she said whatever you wanted to do this weekend, I truly have the best woman in the world - to go with me today.  We were only there for about half the day but we all ready learned about low cost, low maintenance drip irrigation.  How to hook up and install it.  That's information totally worth some weeding and shoveling.

Plus it helps that they send the volunteers home with some fresh produce for their labor.  Mel won't stop snacking on olives canned in brine.  Such a buttery taste.

So when it comes to what you want out of life - what are you doing right now?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Plan

So the plan is very simple:

1.  Get out of debt
2.  Save enough to buy 20-25 acres debt free
3.  Buy the 20-25 acres and start a farm

That seems deceivingly simple.  Yet the duplicity is in that it is that simple.  I know there are a hundred steps in between - if not thousands.  But looking at them all at once makes the whole idea seem unattainable.

It seems that usually the biggest deterrent to realizing our dreams is our own psyche.  Rightfully so I might add.  We've had nothing but years of conditioning that tells us how to live our lives.  Even our education system pumps us out like assembly line parts.  Debt is part of the American Dream.  Our standard of living is measured by how much we can buy.  Poverty indicators are linked to the Consumer Price Index.  You have to hire a professional to do what you need done and it's easier to throw something out than to fix it.  Of course it has become easier to throw out our dreams than to go for them.

I'm not saying that it is going to be easy.  Far from it and I hope so.  The easier we obtain things the less they mean to us.  Plus I want to finally get away from focusing on the end.  We get so fixated on the return, the bottom line, that we miss so much living in between.

I want a home that means something, not just another rented apartment.  I want to wake up on land that takes care of me because I take care of it.  I feel so wasteful.  Wasting resources, wasting time, wasting relationships with people and the environment around me.

I remember an old adage that works here for me.  K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple Stupid.

So my plan is simple.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The beginning

I grew up on an orchard and a dairy farm with my grandparents.  When my mom and I finally moved out for the "city" I was about 8 years old.  At 13 I started spending my summers back on the orchard and dairy farm with my grandparents.  A couple of years later my great grandfather passed and the dairy farm was sold.  I continued to spend my summers on the orchard till I left for college.  While in college the orchard was sold.  

After college I went into the Navy and have been for about 10 years. Those 10 years have been fun (mostly) but something has always been missing.  I've tried traveling around the world to find it and in the end I was always left wanting.  I don't know how to explain it but one day I woke up and knew what I needed to do with my life.  

My life had become bogged down with labels and images.  I had the BMW, I had the stocks, and I had all the toys.  I was even in debt up to my neck with investment properties trying to be the next big thing.  I thought that because I could put away a little money each month for retirement, cover my debts, and buy whatever I wanted (within reason) that I had reached financial independence. 

Then one day I decided to get out of the military and realized that I couldn't.  Of course I could leave the service but to make the money I needed I would have to take a job with a defense contractor or something similar.  Like others I know I would simply do the same job in a different uniform.  I wasn't financially independent at all.  In fact I was an indentured servant paying for my passage to the promised land.  

Worst yet was the realization that I couldn't feed myself, clothe myself, or shelter myself.  My vary existence depended upon my job.  Granted the military shelters people more than the corporate world from lay-offs and such but that actually makes the scenario for getting out worse.  

So I woke up one morning and it all made sense.  I realized that I was missing a connection with myself.  I was missing a connection to all the life around me.  I don't want to sound anti-consumerist or new-age mystical here.  The stark reality is that I could not take care of a family if I didn't have the job I had.  I also couldn't leave that job with the current lifestyle that I was living - which wasn't making me happy anyway.  I had no freedom.

My solution?  Well I'm still working on it but I only have 938 days till I quit.