2015 Goals: Q1 check in

Just a brief check in on my goals and seeing how they’re going. The original post is here.

  • Quit my job. –>accomplished!
  • Eat healthier AND more seasonally. –>Doing well so far
  • Do more science and history in homeschooling. –>Needs work
  • Increase home food production. Stretch goal: acquire chickens. –>A bit early yet, but plans are in place to grow more food. Chickens have been pushed to 2016.
  • Increase muscle mass. –>going quite well
  • Bike an unsupported solo century (100 miles) –>haven’t had much time (or good weather) to do long training rides. So far only at 28 miles, which is below 2014’s max of 46.
  • Reduce waste and overall footprint. –>going well
  • Take at least one ‘fun’ vacation (e.g. not to visit family or friends). –>A camping trip is scheduled for later in the summer.
  • Learn how to car camp. Stretch goal: do an overnight backpacking or bike touring trip. –>Car camping is planned (see above). No idea if the other things will happen. I am thinking no at this point.
  • Keep writing fiction regularly. Add one more character serial. Stretch goal: get to a point with Einar’s story (or character #2) that I can revise it and package it as a polished e-book. –>Until this past week, this was definitely lacking, but I’m back at it and hopefully will have good things to report in Q2.
  • Buy no new clothes in 2015. –>On target.
  • Learn the basics of homebrewing beer and/or hard cider/fruit based fizzy adult beverages. –>Have not made any progress as yet.

Goblin Hoard Report Card – March 2015

I am changing the way I report things again, to fit with the way I’ve got YNAB currently organized. We ended the month exactly at our preferred buffer level going into April, but only because I raided savings I had budgeted into various sink funds last month. I expect us to be nearly flat again going into May, but May will bring a cash infusion (triple paycheck) and it is also when our grocery bills should drop considerably as the CSA and garden start to produce.

We are prioritizing rebuilding savings at first, with the following hierarchy: bulk food, transportation, housing, kids, travel. Once those sink funds are replenished, we’ll resume aggressive debt pre-payment. Maybe pre-payment will resume by the end of 2015, but I have a lot of ear-marking to do.

Income: $3,623

Total Outflows: $4,700 (oof)

Health and Wellness

  • Life Insurance: $89.11 <—double-billed for my old policy and my new one. Currently straightening that out.
  • Health: Maintenance: $390.19 <— dentist, partially covered by HSA. Increasing our HSA contributions to avoid having to use post-tax dollars in the future.
  • Health: Sickness: $0

Food Related

  • Master Category Trailing Average: $695.60
  • Groceries: $562
  • Bulk Food: $888 (Forward balance: $0)
  • Garden: $19 (Forward balance: $0)

General Spending

  • Discretionary: 77.16 (Forward balance: $0)
  • Kids/Education: $329 (Forward balance: $104)
  • Personal – Chief: $182.44 (Forward balance: -$132)
  • Personal – Alchemist: $94.90 (Forward balance: -$31)
  • Travel: $0 (Forward balance: $883)

House

  • Mortgage PITI: $1,061
  • Chief cell phone: $0 (trailing average: $9.44)
  • Internet: $59.13
  • Gas/Electric: $0 <— Moved bill to its actual due date instead of paying early, so there’s a one-month gap
  • Water: $0
  • Netflix: $9.49
  • House Savings: $229.13 (Forward balance: $380.99)

Transportation

  • Insurance: $56.50
  • Fuel: 112.05
  • Capital Fund: $136 (Forward balance: $328.43)

Student Loan Debt

  • Required Payments: $724
  • Extra Payments: $0

Church in the Wild

What’s a mob to a king?

What’s a king to a god?

What’s a god to a non-believer?

joan_of_arc_by_michael_c_hayes-d3669mj

Artist: Michael C. Hayes, via deviantart

I am not a fan of Kanye West, except for a brief love affair with the album that the song “No Church in the Wild” is on, but those particular lyrics have always stuck with me. They’re catchy, provocative, and get to a very central element of the human experience: what are we without articles of faith?

I’ve been thinking about faith on and off in this space. My family, and many of my friends, are people of very strong faith. I myself was a very strong believer, and a core inspiration for me has always been Joan of Arc, a woman literally clothed in faith. She was a peasant girl who somehow had the ability to out-fence contemporaries with far greater strength and reach. This is truly remarkable. In addition, a famously lecherous military companion of hers described her as stunningly beautiful, with “perfect breasts” (nudity in a military camp is unavoidable), yet he felt no trace of sexual desire towards her.* I used the word clothed by faith very intentionally in the sentence above.

She is a fascinating figure and at one time I believed I had her as a near-constant spiritual companion. Perhaps I did. I am very accepting of clouds of unknowing. I’ve been thinking a lot about her since the Alchemist shared the image I’ve put in this article. It’s been my background image, and while I almost never minimize windows to desktop, I’ve found myself compelled to meditate on this picture. It also makes me recall that, over Christmas, in a sacred place of almost incredible power**, I spotted this beautiful statue in the otherwise horrifying gift shop:

DSC_0030

I’m happy to have moved beyond my faith then, but finding myself attracted to her once more, I wonder – what part of my faith am I trying to recover?

In modern times, we’re well trained to be skeptical of religious callings. I have no church, nor ever wish to have one. The divine and the sacred can’t be contained in a human institution, especially not any that claim to have a monopoly on perfect truth. I have faith, but it’s a faith that’s more mystery than any positive experience. I have my lovely wife and kids. And I have Joan of Arc, the long-deceased woman who I once called my spiritual wife, seemingly finding a way to re-enter my life.

How am I called to be clothed in faith? I don’t think I will ever have a carved-in-stone-tablets answer. If I have a mission, it seems to me it’s to be a good father and husband. To create a place where the human being in my circle of influence can flourish. To work on my own flourishing. To leave the world a better place than I found it. This is no less than the calling of all humans, to my mind. It is the central article of faith so many of us are missing, and to which so much of the anti-consumerism of the ER community, but even more so the long-term vision of those in the permaculture movement really speaks.

What the words ‘flourishing’ and ‘better’ mean, of course, is part of the delicious mystery. Join me, fellow travelers.

*Regine Pernoud, Joan of Arc in Her Own Words, which is an edited and annotated version of her trial for heresy, and contains fascinating testimony from her and her contemporaries. Note: see also comment from Mindful Riot and my response below.

**The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Specifically the side chapels and lower church in the crypt level. I was almost bowled over with the power in this place and can’t wait to visit it again. A quiet, thrumming, sacred power.


March Hike – Honk If You Like Fungi

Last weekend we took a fun, though quite muddy, hike at our favorite local hiking spot – the Pike Lake Unit of Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest. We come here many, many times each year and find it very cool to see how different the same place looks as the seasons change. The only time we haven’t made it up here is in the middle of winter. I keep forgetting that winter hikes can be fun too, so hopefully we will rectify that next winter.

While walking around, many other hikers seemed surprised that we were stopping to take so many pictures, but the Alchemist and I were both like “seriously, do you not have eyes?” The hues of early spring may seem drab, but there are really cool finds to be had if you have the eyes – and the Alchemist’s are even better than mine when it comes to spotting interesting fungi, plant formations, and whatnot. Enjoy the gallery below.


Recipe – Four Grain Waffles

Last Edit: 3-27-15

Even lightly browned, these have a delicious crunch and freeze very well.

Even lightly browned, these have a delicious crunch and freeze very well.

Ever since we replaced our aged Cuisinart waffle iron before Christmas, waffles have been on the breakfast menu nearly every day. This recipe is my latest creation, which has more flavor, is a bit more toothsome, and satisfies both my goblins’ taste for sweetness and my taste for a more earthy, nutty flavor. The waffle iron we use is this one. I’ve been quite happy with it, and may write a review of it once it has passed enough time than I am confident in its long-term durability and performance (hence why I write very few reviews here).

As long as you have a good iron, making waffles is dead easy. Whisk the wet ingredients together. Plop the dry ingredients in, whisk again until moistened. You can whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl before adding or add the wet ingredients after the dry, but find this method is the easiest for me and delivers the same result. Note that no leavening agents are used – I’ve found them completely unnecessary here, unlike with pancakes.

Wet Ingredients

  • 3 eggs, ideally free range
  • 1 cup milk or water
  • 3 tbsp sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla (optional)
Dry Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (ideally freshly milled Kamut or Prairie Gold)
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour (ideally freshly milled)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup cornmeal (ideally freshly milled)
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats

Yield will depend on your waffle iron. With mine, we get about 8-9 square waffles. Because of the multiple grains used in the flour, it isn’t the easiest recipe to scale up or down, but I’d be happy to help design the proportions for a different size batch if you have difficulty.

I cool the leftovers on a wire rack. Once at ambient temperature, place them in a Ziploc bag and they freeze well without sticking. I then reheat them in a toaster (err on the side of low toasting temperature until you figure out what works for your particular toaster). So, depending on how hungry everyone is, I get a day off cooking breakfast every 2-3 days because there’s enough leftovers in the freezer.


Rethinking FI Possibility Spaces

In my previous net worth updates, I’ve had thresholds called ‘FI stage 1′ and ‘FI stage 2′. They were more or less modeled after our current urban lifestyle. Stage 1 was achievable if one or both of us had small jobs that generated a total of $15K per annum. Stage 2 would have funded our lifestyle indefinitely.

Based on our interest in homesteading, and a desire for more possibility spaces, I’ve been meaning to update these concepts and add a few more. I’m also attracted to the possibility of perhaps pursuing an ultra-barebones homestead FI to get us out of the city as fast as possible. We’re looking at possibly taking over a family farm. The details remain to be worked out, but if we’re able to negotiate the transfer in a favorable financial manner, it could see us leaving the city very quickly, because we wouldn’t have to buy land outright AND we could be more self-sufficient. Our first on-site visit will happen later this year, so look for a post or two in September about it.

Of course, all of these plans are subject to change. But I like having dreams, and I like having numbers attached to those dreams, which makes them measurable and attainable.

Here are the possibility spaces we’re thinking of currently:

  • Barebones homestead: free, or essentially free land; mostly self-sufficient in terms of food and heating; limited travel until farm income and/or dividend growth kicks in gear.
  • Middle-class homestead: free land; similar emphasis on self-sufficiency; more freedom for capital improvement on the land and more travel without waiting.
  • Deluxe homestead: land and/or house on land bought outright (hard to give a figure here, but 30 acres at ~$5K/acre plus $150K for a house seems reasonable, so $300K in assets just for this); capital improvement as needed; travel as desired. Still mostly self-sufficient in other terms.
  • Our current urban life, upgraded: paid-off house, some food self-sufficiency, lots of travel –> basically a comfier version of our current lifestyle.

The following numbers do not suppose any extra income, but I think the Alchemist may want to continue working in some capacity (PT hobby jobs or consulting in her field) indefinitely. This could offset quite a bit of each of these numbers. The family farm isn’t located in a tourist mecca, but we’d also consider doing some form of agritourism or permaculture workshops to generate income once the farm was up and running.

Another thing that could offset the homestead possibility spaces is having net farm income, but I know enough about farming that I’d rather not require income generation for the dream. I do, however, suppose enough gross income to at least offset property taxes (which is a black hole of planning anyway, not knowing any final locations). Needing net income would lead to much stress, and I’d rather have extra assets ending up in trust to keep the land in the family. If we end up taking over the family farm, it has almost crossed the century mark of family ownership already.

So what goes into all of these models? Details available in spreadsheet form here. Most of the numbers are educated guesses, but the cost of medical insurance is a massive black hole. It’s really hard to know what that will look like in 5 years. I’ve got a placeholder cost per annum based on extensive reading of FI blogs, though our real cost may be less given the extremely low income we will live on in all 4 scenarios.

  • Barebones homestead: $435,000
  • Middle-class homestead: $719,000
  • Deluxe homestead: $959,000
  • Current life, upgraded: $765,000

The barebones one is the most attractive, not solely because of the lowest number, but because it’s the main one we can feasibly achieve (with what I can assume about future income) while all three goblins are kids. I would really like to have them exposed to a truly rural lifestyle, both for their own benefit and my slightly self-serving desire to get at least one of the three hooked on farming so that they can be involved with us in managing the land.

I mentioned above that the Alchemist might want to continue working in some capacity to keep herself busy. If that happened, $18K per annum would cover our entire expenses. We could let the balance sheet compound for another decade or two and then be sitting pretty. With income above $18K, we would need even fewer assets to safely decamp from the city.

Our net worth is currently around $0. Without massive growth in income, based on our current savings rate (about $25-30K p.a.) it’s going to be a real challenge to hit the first possibility space in the next 10 years. 10 years would mean our oldest is already 18. So I want to figure out a way to accomplish it in less time. That’s what the next year of changes to food buying, gardening, and lifestyle changes is hoping to accomplish.


Garden Quest 2015 #004 – The Garden Plan of Insanity

Garden Map

Only beds #14-20 existed last year

Spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming! It is a balmy 55 degrees here, we have grass sighted, and the afternoon sun has been so warm the past few days that our house has gained several degrees from passive solar exposure.

While the kids played outside after school today, I paced around and made a much better map than my last few attempts. Scale is still a bit off at parts, but it’s good enough for government homestead work. I also paced off the entire lot for the first time. It is 62′ by 105′, so about 0.15 acre.

A lot of people were impressed with the garden at the end of last year, but the beds in those pictures only represent #14-20 on the map above. I thought I was doubling the space, but I think I’m closer to tripling the space. Here’s the plan for 2015 planting by bed number (this allows good record keeping for rotation and yield records). I’ll likely finetune this after referencing my companion planting books. And feel free to offer feedback!

Planting Plan:

  1. (west) cover crop; (east) green beans
  2. May not be usable because of tree present, but I will try.
  3. (early season) peas; (late season) green beans
  4. Unsure, maybe tetragonia
  5. Our peach and cherries will get planted here. Not pictured is where my pawpaw seedlings will go. Likely I will put them in the shade of the large maple pictured by the garage. At this stage, the trees still leave a lot of empty space, so I will likely plug in a few things around them.
  6. Spinach.
  7. Cover crop for future fruit plants.
  8. Beginning of our bramble hedge. Raspberries and gooseberries.
  9. Potatoes.
  10. Tomatoes/carrots
  11. Tomatoes/carrots
  12. Zucchini
  13. Rhubarb (new crowns); one existing plant currently in bed 19 (if it survived).
  14. Winter squash
  15. Tomatoes
  16. Winter squash
  17. Cover crop
  18. Strawberries (some strawberries will get interplanted with perennials against the house)
  19. Chard and kale
  20. Asparagus
  21. Mesclun
  22. Spinach
  23. Kale
  24. (early) peas; (late) green beans and tetragonia

Planning for the Future

  • Beds 1 and 15-17 will be 2016’s corn patch, hence my effort to keep some of it in cover crops.
  • Bed 7 will likely get some haskap and hardy kiwi. When it gets sun, it’s quite intense, but between the houses the sun period isn’t super long. Still not sure what the best use of this space is.
  • The large tree in the back yard is a Norway maple, which means it has an incredibly dense canopy, aggressive surface roots, and is basically useless other than as (not terribly useful because of how the sun shifts, and how we use the yard) shade. I am hoping to have it removed in 2016 or 2017, saving the logs for mushroom cultivation, and freeing up space for more plantings. I would do it myself, but power lines are involved – no thanks!
  • The main challenge in any urban garden is growing the variety you want, enough of it to be worth it, but also figuring out crop rotations to prevent disease and pest buildup. I’m still learning this site, and will probably still be learning new things by the time we leave.

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