Thursday, December 30, 2010

Coppicing the Privets

My grandparents had a beautiful 8 foot evergreen hedge of privets between their house and the neighboring yard. I noticed that the privet hedge grew profusely and had to be sheared frequently. Privet hedges are no longer popular. But, privets multiply rapidly in dense thickets and are now an invasive species.

Our mini-farm has thousands of wild privets. Left unattended they grow into a 15 foot multi-trunk tree. In early summer, wild privets are covered with bunches of white sweet smelling flowers. In the fall they bend low with loads of tiny blue berries. Wildlife, especially deer, love the berries and even the leaves. But, deer can’t reach the upper branches of the mature trees.

Coppicing is a medieval practice of periodically harvesting trees such as ash that grow back readily from their roots. The trees were cut on about 15 year intervals for firewood and charcoal production or when straight strong wood was needed. In America, redwood trees for lumber are coppiced, although on about a 150 year interval,

After clearing some privets on the banks of our pond, I cut the trunks into pieces for kindling. To our surprise, we discovered that seasoned privet burns like fatwood or resin soaked pine. Except, unlike pine, the privets leave a bed of hot coals. You can’t burn much privet at once, or the fire is too hot. But, short pieces make wonderful fire starters or mixed in with large pieces of oak make a beautiful blaze.

Therefore, we are now coppicing our privets. You usually don’t even need a chain saw. Heavy shears will do. And the privets grow back from the roots in only 4-5 years. Leaving the tops on the ground even helps to keep the deer out of our gardens. Privets are truly a renewable resource, a form of solar energy, plus wildlife friendly. I’m now experimenting with some free growth privet hedgerows on our property boundaries.

Family sustainability

“When they’re 25¢, call me to bring the truck.” I told Kit. The implication was that we’d buy a lot. Each year, our local Wal-Mart features sweet potatoes before Thanksgiving for only 25¢ a pound. This year they were only 10¢ a pound. We bought enough for the entire winter. They’ll keep in a cool dry place until early April. I eat them plain and cold in place of candy bars. Kit eats hers hot with butter. Every health book says that sweet potatoes are among the best vegetables for you.

This illustrates a principle we’ve learned about sustainability. In the past, I’ve raised sweet potatoes. Aside from keeping bunnies and deer from eating the leaves, they aren’t difficult. But, I can’t raise them for 25¢ a pound, let alone 10¢. And even on a mini-farm we always have plenty of other work to do. It makes no sense for me to spend many hours cultivating $20 of sweet potatoes, and then pay the plumber or mechanic $200 to fix something that I didn’t have time to do.

The principle is “Family sustainability comes first.” I read that the average “hobby farmer” has no debt and a guaranteed non-farm income of $70K a year. Maybe he can afford to raise a patch of wheat then harvest, thresh, and grind it into flour to make his own bread. He can keep a herd of alpacas, shear them, card and spin the fiber, then knit fully homemade clothes. While these sound fun, they aren’t truly sustainable for us or most families. For “family sustainability”, you must concentrate on the things that make the most sense in the family economy. Home gardening still makes sense. But, we’ll emphasize more expensive crops such as broccoli, tomatoes, and watermelons.

Drew’s Sweet Potato (yams to some) Recipe:

Put as many unpeeled potatoes as you can in the oven
Puncture each potato 2-3 times with a fork
Bake the potatoes at 325 degrees for 80 minutes
Turn the oven off. Let them cool inside.
Peel the potatoes and serve them hot or cold

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mining Garden Dirt

A principle that Kit and I live by is, "Take the gift that God gives you." To often we fail to realize a blessing within a disappointment.

In South Carolina we had spent 18 years building the soil in our raised bed garden. The soil became a perfect mix of clay, organic matter, and sand. We've written about our new raised bed garden. Because of a business trip we had to make in the spring, we only had time to build the enclosure and then turn the existing earth. Although for the first year the garden was a tremendous success, it can be much better after we can build the soil with compost and sand.

Our part of Arkansas had a terrible drought in the late summer this year. There was almost no rain for 3 months while temperatures hit 107 in the shade. Many hot dry days had humidity in the 20% range. We spent the remaining summer just trying to keep our favorite plants and trees watered.

But, the dought brought a different gift from God. We have a small 1/10 acre pond separate from than the big pond where we raise the fish. The little pond is normally a 4-6 foot deep pool alongside the driveway. Frogs, racoons, deer, and other wildlife love the clear clean water it holds. But, during the drought this little pool went dry. To our surprise, in the deepest part there remained 10-18" of decayed leaves and other organic material that had accumulated for literally decades. I was able to muck out 7-8 cubic yards of the richest soil I've ever found in the South. It was exactly what our raised bed garden needed for years to come.

All we need now is just a little (2-3 cu yd) sand. Every winter our river brings us plenty of sand which piles up in the bends. Last year I used it to fill up some low spots. By next spring, we hope to have combined the winter's sand with the muck we took from the little pool. The soil isn't the gift we would have chosen for the summer. But, we're happy and grateful for the rich dirt.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mother Earth News Fair

Like a greeter, a woodchuck sat in the road blocking the entrance to the parking area. The delay seemed appropriate. We were attending the Mother Earth News Fair at a resort in Seven Springs, PA. Finally, while traffic lined up behind our car, the woodchuck ambled off on it’s own business.

Although the name “Mother Earth News” evokes an impression of wackiness, the magazine is actually rather practical at least for those seeking a simpler life. According to Wikipedia, “Mother Earth News embraced the revived interest in the back-to-the-land movement at the beginning of the 1970s, and combined this with an interest in the ecology movement and self-sufficiency. Unlike other magazines with ecological coverage, Mother Earth News concentrated on do-it-yourself and how-to articles, aimed at the growing number of people moving to the country.” Their national fair reflected this distinctive by providing information with dozens of “how-to” seminars and demonstrations. Kit and I, avid culture watchers, were also interested in observing the diverse and likeable group.

Where else could you see Amish at the same venue as a religious group wearing full length purple robes and dreadlocks?

A recruiter from the American Association for Nude Recreation distributed illustrated literature and guest passes for a nudest colony. She challenged us to, “Come check us out!”

One man was demonstrating clothes lines as a “green” energy saver. Could this be be a new idea to the younger attendees who grew up with electric dryers?

Someone brought two half grown pigs and penned them on the lawn. Nobody seemed to notice or care as the pigs joyfully rooted up the resort’s lush green grass. Their porker snouts can flip out hunks of sod as easily as I could do with a spade.

Three earnest young men tinkered with their invention, the “Bikerator”, to use static bicycles generating electricity. Finally, they got it working. It takes a lot of pedaling to power a single light bulb. We wondered if pedaling all day to read at night was worth it.

A crowing rooster kept interrupting the seminar leader on alpaca ranching. The alpaca expert insisted that the recession has made alpacas affordable for just $5,000 each or “in some cases for free.”

One seminar leader was an MIT graduate who dropped out of engineering at a young age to pursue carpentry. We wondered if he was still paying off his student loan.

Solar power was prominently featured. Unfortunately, solar electrical systems are still very expensive to setup with a marginal payoff, if any. Kit commented, “You need green, to be green.”

For me, two massive Belgian horses were the highlight of the fair. Their purpose is removing whole tree trunks from woods without disturbing the environment by heavy machinery The giant horses were as gentle and as friendly as labrador retrievers. They were very curious about the strangers petting them and offering apple treats. Beats hauling trees for sure.

You don’t have to leave America to experience other cultures and meet interesting people. The Mother Earth News Fair was charming. And the Pennsylvania countryside looked like a nostalgic fall painting with brown corn stalks, apple orchards, golden rod in bloom, and colorful maple trees. Post-employment is going to be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Who hasn’t winced when receiving a bill from a plumber or other service? Now, post-employment with no income, the bills that once made us wince could bring on heart palpitations. And we’ve discovered how hard it is to make money through home based enterprise. There’s lots of competition raising vegetables, making soap from goat milk, selling on the Internet, or writing articles for magazines.

Although making new money is hard, the field is wide open for eliminating some of the heart stopping bills by learning new skills and Doing-It-Yourself. And we can add to the enjoyment and value of our home by DIY improvements. Here are a few of Drew’s DIY tips:

Most skills can be learned

I worked with an engineer who used to say, “If someone else can do it, then you can learn how as well.” Obviously, that doesn’t apply to ballet or professional football. But, most service skills are learnable. The library is full of illustrated “How to” books that explain nearly anything. I particularly like the Home Depot “1-2-3” DIY books, because you don’t waste a lot of time finding what’s needed. Home Depot sells every tool or material they specify.

Practice is necessary

The ability to read music and knowing where to find the keys does not make you a piano player. Likewise, many DIY skills require some practice. I had a bicycle flat and so had to hitchhike 20+ miles to home. Lots of cars and trucks passed me, although the cause of my need was evident. Then an undocumented Mexican worker stopped and took me home. Isn’t that a Good Samaritan story? Afterwards, I determined to learn how to replace a bicycle tube on the road. Even though I purchased the tools and parts, I just couldn’t get that tire over the tube, even after going to the bike shop to watch them. Then somehow I got one to fit. The next one was easier. Now I can change tubes quickly. I don’t even know what I’m doing differently. But, practice is necessary for many skills.

Try unusual things

Recently the windshield fluid squirter on our car failed. We found where something, likely an energetic rodent, had gnawed up the line from the pump to the nozzle. I’ll bet that the Toyoda dealer would have charged $150 just to find the problem. Then, if an assembly was required… I don’t want to guess the price. And what if later the rodent came back for another taste treat? So, we found a piece of plastic tubing at a hardware store and spliced the line with superglue for $2.23. It’s working fine.

Don’t be to proud to back off

Kit’s body waves seemed very expensive to me. “How hard can it be?” I thought. So, we bought a body wave in a box for several dollars. Using those curlers was more difficult than it looks, especially for my course male hands. Disaster was looming. We simply gave up before lasting damage was done. Sure, we lost a few dollars. But, we’ve recouped that many times through our successes.

Learning and applying new DIY skills is a sure bet money saver for post employment and can be very satisfying. You also can extend Christian love by helping others with your skills. We haven’t had time yet to start a helping ministry called, “An old man with tools.” I’ll bet it could keep us very busy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Days by Kit

Whoever wrote the lyrics to the song, “those lazy, hazy days of summer” didn’t have a garden. If he or she did the words of the song would have been closer to the “horribly hot in the kitchen, I can’t fill one more jar, who eats tomatoes anyway” days of summer.

As you can tell from the other articles on our blog my husband Drew is an avid gardener. He loves the promise of each seed he puts in the ground. And it is an amazing thing to see those seeds fulfill their promise in tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash of all sorts, okra, cantaloupe and watermelons. And new potatoes, but they of course don’t come from a seed. It is a wonder that never losses its ability to delight.

Each morning he walks the 50 yard path to gather the abundance of the garden and bring it into our kitchen. The first weeks of the harvest are always exciting but as the vegetables begin to take over all my counter space the excitement turns into anxiety. What am I going to do with all these vegetables?

After using every salad recipe I can find and giving away as much as I can, the vegetables stare at me as they begin rotting little by little, their full potential in jeopardy of being wasted. I hate to waste things.

So this year the canner came out. I canned years ago. But, I was younger then. I wondered if I remembered how. There are lots of things to know and the penalty for not doing it right is not only wasting the vegetables but possibly making people sick as well. But like riding a bike, (an activity that would be included in a lazy summer day) it did come back as I looked through my recipes, bought new canning supplies and took my own journey of promise with the bounty of the earth. The beautiful red jars of tomato sauce make me feel like I had honored both Drew and the seeds he put in the ground.

There isn’t much left in the garden now. The tomatoes and cucumbers are barely covering one small section of my counter space, the last gifts of the garden. Soon Drew will take down the plants and turn over the soil in preparation for next summer. The rush of all those vegetables taking over my kitchen is long over. Strangely when I opened a jar of the tomato sauce the other day I was humming a familiar tune……. “those lazy, hazy, days of summer.” How soon I forget…

My sister’s tomato sauce recipe – thanks Marnie

8 lbs. of tomatoes (I had to use a bathroom scale to get the right amount)
Peeled and quartered
½ cup salad oil
6 cups chopped onion (about 4 small)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 6 oz. cans tomato paste
4 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 TBSP. brown sugar

And I added about a cup or so of lemon juice to give it a bit of a kick

Heat the oil in a large non-aluminum kettle. Add everything and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Stir often.

Water bath as directed for tomatoes: 30 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts, makes 5-6 quarts

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Internet Conference

We received an invitation to a conference on Internet marketing. The conference was to be held at an upscale hotel downtown. Because Kit is trying an eBay business, we were interested. Besides that, they offered a free lunch.

Our fellow conference attendees were generally not the type likely to pickup “Internet for Dummies” from the library or Google up any of dozens of free website setup programs. Quite a few raised their hands to indicate “no computer experience”. Some of them looked mostly interested in the free lunch.

Turned out that the conference was a live infomercial for a set of products and services so that, “Anybody could make money on the internet.” The pitchman almost immediately dismissed eBay type of businesses. That let us out. Rather “drop shipping” was the way he advised to make money. To use “drop shipping”, you use various strategies to lure customers to your web site for products. Your computer automatically relays the orders to the manufacturer or a wholesaler who does the messy detail work of managing inventory, packing, and shipping. Profits are electronically routed to your bank account. You have no expensive overhead, or limit on products. This supposedly gives you an advantage over competitors such as WalMart.

The pitchman used every emotional trigger; family, security, even patriotism. Then success stories were shared. A single mother working three jobs had no computer experience. It took her six months to get her “drop shipping” business going. Now, she only works at home on her Internet site for about 15 hours a week and has money and time for her kids. An older couple, unemployed and without any income (like Kit and I), got started more quickly. Now they have plenty of money to travel and for their grandkids.

The initial information package was only $30 and the monthly service charge $24.95. The “invaluable set” of optional resources in which the customer luring strategies are explained would be $3,600. But, only the most qualified users would be given access to them.

By 2:00 PM the organizers were starting another session for those who had purchased the initial package. No free lunch was in sight. So, we drifted away. That’s probably what they expected. We’ll hit a lot of dead ends as we explore our new post employment life. This was one.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Free Range Organic Catfish

Our friends from Albania caught a nice catfish. Oak Meadows includes an acre of pond. Bass, bluegills, and catfish have been stocked. We are managing the pond carefully for sustainable fishing, especially for our guests. Olive green water with suspended algae has a healthy ecosystem and food chain. If you can see items 18 inches under the surface, the water needs nutrients. In the beginning we used chemical fertilizers. Now the fish and wild waterfowl fertilize the water organically.

The fish mostly feed themselves and each other in the food chain. But, we also supplement feeding. Catfish in particular are 3X more efficient than beef or pork at converting vegetable products into protein. Although catfish have an “eat anything” reputation, they are not garbage eaters. Mostly they catch and eat live fish. We also give our catfish soybean based products like dry dog food. The catfish are even wily and elusive. Catch one catfish and the others disappear.

Contrast catfish with the highly esteemed idiot fish called largemouth bass. We supplement their feed with chicken offal. I saw one of our greedy bass eat a little turtle. A small water snake on the pond doesn’t have a chance. Once I accidentally dropped a rock into the water. A bass aggressively swallowed it. And bass aren’t at all wily. They apparently don’t notice that their companion was yanked out of the water after grabbing that shiny object. We catch some of the stupid bass over and over. Bass aren’t elusive either. When I work in the pond, maybe repairing the bridge, bass hover nearby watching. Trying to decide if they can eat me, would be my guess.

In order to enhance the fishing experience of our guests, we let our catfish grow to 15-20 pounds. Until we started supplying tackle, a lot of guests left with broken lines. But, catfish bigger than about 5 pounds aren’t the best for eating. We’ve tried a lot of ways to cook the large catfish. Baked or grilled catfish fillets are rubbery. The best ways to prepare large (or small) catfish follow:

Catfish fingers

Make a mixture of dry corn meal and flour.
Cut the fillets into finger sized pieces
Dry the pieces carefully with a paper towel.
(Drying prevents excessive coating that would absorb oil.)
Shake the pieces in a bag with the mixture.
Fry the pieces in canola oil until crisp.
Drain carefully on paper towels. (You’ll be surprised at how light and healthy this “fried” food is.)

Catfish chowder

Cut a pound of the fillets into grape sized pieces.
Saute the pieces lightly in butter or vegetable oil.
Add a cup of water
Add a can of canned clam strips including the stock
(The clams add flavor. Catfish makes the substance.)
Add a cup of cubed potatoes and ½ cup of carrots.
Add ¼ cup of diced pepperoni (or fried bacon)

Simmer until the potatoes and carrots are soft.
Then add a cup of milk (Half-and-half is even better.)
Season to taste with salt, pepper, thyme

Monday, July 12, 2010

Blackberries (The kind you eat.)

Summer doesn’t seem complete without some blackberries. As a boy, I picked and ate wild ones and collected them for my mother to make pies. On our mini-farm, we planted and cultivated a thorn less commercial variety. The berries were so fat and juicy that one berry could make a mouthful. You wouldn’t want a mouthful, though. They were as sour as lemons. The raccoons wouldn’t even steal them. The berry sourness didn’t seem to bother our resident deer herd. Of course, the deer were eating the plant leaves and stalks rather than the berries. I guess that’s why the wild plants have thorns. But, we weren’t that sorry to see our blackberry plants all eaten.

This year we noticed that wild blackberry plants had invaded a somewhat soggy area that we had left uncut for wildlife. They gave us a bumper crop of wild berries; smaller and seemingly half seed. But, they were sweet just like I remember. The problem was a snake. It was a poison pit viper common in Arkansas called a copperhead. I saw it slither into the brush near the blackberries. We expect that snakes are possible anywhere we work outside. That’s not the same as knowing one is hiding where you plan to go. I wanted the berries enough to wade in there with the snake, though. Kit suggested that the copperhead was just making up its mind whether or not to bite me. Maybe. But, I’ve always known snakes to be pretty decisive about fanging someone.

We got plenty of delicious “free range” berries. Cobblers are easier to make than pies. Here is Drew’s simple recipe:

1. Buy some canned crescent rolls at the grocery. (We got them on sale plus having a coupon.)
2. Collect enough blackberries to half fill your baking dish.
3. Sweeten the berries to your taste with sugar or artificial sweetener.
4. Add a couple of spoonfuls of oil and flour and mix together.
5. Bake the berries in the dish at 400 F for 15-20 minutes.
6. Remove the dish from the oven and open the crescent rolls.
7. Spread the dough flat over the hot berries.
8. Return the dish to the oven for about 10 minutes or until the crust is nice and brown.

For some scrumptious turnovers, lay a few crescent rolls flat on a pan or sheet of aluminum foil. Spoon a few of the cooked berries onto the dough. Cover the berries with the matching half from the roll and finger crimp the edges. Bake until golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

Final note: When collecting wild berries, always take a shower afterwards to remove any chiggers a tiny biting bug that lives in grass and weeds. They are likely in the berry bushes even if snakes aren’t.

Grower’s Market

Little Rock has a “Farmer’s Market.” Most of the produce sold there comes from California or Chile. Therefore a group of local farmers have formed a “Grower’s Market”. You must grow what you sell. You can sell value added products like blueberry muffins, if you grow the blueberries.

These aren’t your traditional corn and soybean farmers. You’re more likely to see the men wearing an earring than a John Deer hat. Some of the women wear long dresses. The growers have calloused and scratched hands with dirt under their fingernails and first quality produce. The market is a colorful collection of tents offering a charming mixture of organic vegetables, goat cheese, and free range chicken eggs. And the customers are a health conscience group that would patronize such a market. Everybody is friendly with interesting stories. It’s a community of which you’d like to feel a part.

The organizers welcomed us warmly when we inquired about joining them as vendors. As lifelong gardening enthusiasts, we know how to raise commercial quality fruits and vegetables, especially in raised beds. The customers are there and willing to pay higher prices than in the grocery store. The problem is raising enough produce to make it worthwhile. So far, we’ve eaten or given away all that we can raise. Expanding production will require some capitalization … that is buying a tractor. Do you know how many squash you’d have to raise and sell to pay for a $15,000 used tractor? Do you think the tractor would last long enough to pay for itself?

Kit would like to offer baked goods at the “Grower’s Market”. I could grow the seeds for her prize winning poppy seed bread. Maybe I’d rather not grow any poppy products. But, state law does require baking all goods for sale in a commercially licensed kitchen. Home kitchens are ineligible. We haven’t given up on joining the “Grower’s Market”, because we love growing and baking things. And we could use some income. Still there are some formidable challenges to selling local produce.

Christians and the Sustainability Movement

When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s there were no deer (or wild geese) in rural areas. Virtually all of the deer had been killed through unsustainable hunting. Today deer (and geese) are everywhere. In many places, including our mini-farm they can be pests. Hundreds of thousands of deer are harvested by sport hunters just in Arkansas each fall. What made the difference? Careful management by state agencies was the major factor. Hunters themselves contributed through the fees they pay and by adopting an attitude of sustainable hunting.

I’m not a deer hunter. But, I think that sustainable management of deer is something that Christians should support. First, many people benefit and not just the hunters. The sport also creates many thousands of jobs and valuable food resources. Many non-hunters, such as myself, never get tired of seeing the deer (or wild geese) even if they can be troublesome in the garden. Successes similar to deer can be told about wild turkeys, waterfowl, sport fish and many other renewable resources.

Secondly, Jesus said “… love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39). He also said for us to, “Do for others what you would want them to do for you” (Luke 6:31) Both scriptural imperatives for Christians should apply not just to the guy next door right now, but to all of humankind including future generations. Some may think these future generations are of little concern, because Jesus will return in this generation. That would be fine by me. Jesus can come right now. I’m ready. But, the first century Christians thought Jesus’ return was imminent when it wasn’t. I personally think that Jesus’ return will still be awhile. Regardless, because we don’t know when Jesus will return, we need to consider the welfare of those who may live after us.

Today there is a “sustainability movement” much wider than the management of wildlife. Christians who are generally conservative politically can be repelled by some of the more liberal proponents of sustainability and reject the concept. I believe that this is short sighted and even offends many whom Christians hope to win to faith. Conservation of natural resources and limiting damage to the environment should be a priority for Christians in order to consider the welfare of others. Sustainability does not require defaulting to dubious forms of solar energy or crippling the economy in response to global warming. But, the deer example shows that application of sustainability can give tremendous benefits. Energy resources, air, water, and especially our oceans need sustainable management. Sustainability can demonstrate Christian love.

Saving Money with Wood Heat

Who doesn’t love the warmth and charm of a big open fire in the wintertime? Plus, we save perhaps $800 in heating costs each winter using firewood. Wood stoves are certainly more efficient than an open fireplace. But, we enjoy the atmosphere an open fire gives. And the wood is free to us. Wood heat is even environmental, a renewable form of solar energy. How about the CO2 released? We never cut living trees for firewood. The CO2 would be released anyway, when the dead trees rotted.

Common wisdom says that an open fireplace sucks the heat out of a house. That would be true, if we used other heat and a fire at the same time. Instead, we cut off the other heat and let the house get cool. The power companies tell us “You’ll save money leaving the thermostat relatively constant.” That’s true for heat pumps that include electric strip heaters. Most strip heaters kick in when the thermostat setting is 3 degrees above the room temperature. You might as well build a fire with dollar bills. One winter our heat pump failed. We didn’t notice, because the strip heaters kicked in to keep the house warm. That is, we didn’t notice until we got a monthly electric bill for over $700 in today’s currency. Now we keep our strip heaters disconnected.

Without strip heaters, turning the heat pump on and off saves energy. (Drew was a mechanical engineer with a graduate degree in thermal science.) Using no strip heaters does take longer to heat up a space. Cutting off the house heat isn’t practical for some. But, for us, it’s fun to have a cool house and a cozy zone. Tell the kids that you’re camping indoors. Most will love it. You’ll need to monitor other room temperatures in the coldest weather though. One year we froze all of Kit’s houseplants in a room we had isolated.

Summertime is a great time to collect firewood. Wood makes better fires, if the logs have time to dry and season. Any type of tree can make good firewood. The heating value of various woods is totally dependent on their density. A pound of hickory makes the same heat as a pound of popular or a pound of grass clippings for that matter. We even burn seasoned pine. Our hot open fires don’t allow creosol to collect. However, if you use a slow burning wood stove, you should clean the pipe or chimney for creosol occasionally regardless of what wood you use.

We cut up dead trees on our own property. Cutting and splitting is such great exercise, that we collect more than we need and give truckloads away. But, we also pick up wood on the road. Storms blow down trees, which the road crews cut and leave on the side for people to take. Utility companies also leave wood. We ask the residents, if the wood is near a house. Usually people are glad to have you haul it away. Once a policeman stopped when I was loading wood alongside the road. I thought that I must be in trouble. Instead he asked me to follow him to his house. There he had a big pile of wood and asked if I’d like to clean it up too.

Wood and fires have added a lot of quality to our lives. Sometimes I think, “If I had all of the time back that I’ve spent messing with wood and fires … then I could do it all over again.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Selling on eBay

Our financial advisor (Fidelity’s Green Line) assured us that we could retire on returns from our stock market investments until we qualify for Social Security. You know how that’s going. Therefore, we are trying to make some money selling on eBay.

My mother who died in 2004 was an antique collector and dealer all of her life. Many of her favorite pieces are displayed in our home. Mom’s idea of selling antiques was to price everything sky high. She would sit in her shop for weeks without any sales. Then somebody would show up and be happy to pay $200 for an item Mom had gotten for 75¢ at a yard sale. That excitement made it all worthwhile for Mom. The inventory from her last shop now fills every nook and cranny of our home. That inventory is what we are selling on eBay.

Here are some things we’ve learned about selling on eBay:

1. My wife Kit is a genius at this. She got a pile of antique books as tall as herself from the library and researched every piece. She runs our whole eBay effort.
2. Selling on eBay is hard work. Every entry requires research, careful listing, answering questions from prospective buyers, collecting payment, packing and shipping. It is a full time job.
3. You don’t make much money, at least not with antiques. The open marketplace has forced prices down. We sold a plate valued at $60 for $23.
4. Don’t mail the goods until you receive payment. Our biggest order, which included several items, was never paid for.
5. Insure breakables. Need I tell you this sad story?

But, selling on eBay has brought some fun moments. We sold an incense burner to a Mr Hu in Shanghai. How many people do you know who have exported stuff to China? Then there was one item that I would have sold for a dollar, if we’d had a yard sale. Some guy paid $171 for it. Now wasn’t that exciting? Afterwards, he sent us a nice note expressing how pleased he was. That was even more rewarding. I guess I’m more like my Mom than I thought.