July 21, 2016

Homesteading Plans

It is a blessed Thursday here in sunny and warm, Phoenix. The skies are blue again (sigh!) and the monsoon seems to have fizzled out. The forecast as of last night called for a drying-out period, which is a nice way to say "hot!" We have an excessive heat warning for our area for the next 5-7 days. Will this hot summer ever end? I am praying it is so. May it be so!

I slept well last night, really peacefully for most of the night. But, early this morning, I had a tornado dream. I haven't had one of "those" dreams for a long while. Sigh. Tornado dreams are not new to me, and whenever I dream about tornados, I am reminded that something in my life is "out of control." Whether this is true or not, my subconscious mind works very heard to help me "figure out" how to regain control or composure over some real element in my life by letting me dream about tornados! I guess it is just a childhood fear of mine, but tornados are my "go to" dream vision whenever my life seems to be chaotic or uncontrolled.

On reflection this morning, I am not sure what prompted that dream. I mean, my life seems to be very steady right now. There is nothing too out of control -- well -- nothing new or recent (just the same old stuff).  Hmm... In my dream early this morning, I remember being with a group of people in a hotel or tall building. Funny how that is, but most often when I dream about tornados I am in one of three places: a car, a home, or a building. Typically, I am somewhere unfamiliar, like a city or town in the midwest or plains. I recognize the landscape and even the infrastructure (like roads, malls, shops, etc.), but I don't really know where I am or recognize actual landmarks. Nonetheless, early this morning while I was dreaming, I remember looking out the window and seeing this massive tornado coming right toward the building I was in. For me, the tornado in my dream was one of those big scary things, the kind that have a massive center, and then have small embedded cyclones around the front and sides. It was like the ones you see on the Weather Channel -- you know -- the ones the storm chasers photograph during big tornado outbreaks. I digress.

Back on point... so in my dream, I was looking at the tornado as it approach the building. The interesting thing for me was that I wasn't afraid. This is so important because normally tornado dreams cause a rush of panic, a sense of fear, and I often wake up with my heart pounding and my skin clammy. This time, though, I wasn't worried about the tornado hitting the building at all. In fact, it was more like I was watching the storm pass by me. In the dream, I knew enough to take cover, but I wasn't frightened of this massive storm. I was as calm as could be as this massive storm raged outside the building. Then in one instance, I felt the tail of the tornado hit the roof, and instead of shearing it off, as it should have done so, the building gently rocked. It was like this massive storm barely hit me, just glanced me. I was safe. I was safe inside this building, and no matter how power the storm was outside, I was completely safe.

In another sequence of the same dream, I was in a home, and again, a tornado was coming toward me. This time, I was alone and I remember taking my cat and heading down to the basement for safety. Later, after that moment flashed before me, I had my cat in a carrier in the car, and as we were driving through the countryside, I saw that same tornado off in the distance. In this case, the tornado and the storm were off to the side of me, and while I was concerned about my close proximity, I wasn't afraid. I simply kept on moving, driving down the road to my destination.

These dreams seem to be a picture of my life or my soon to be life. In the entire sequence, which was fragmented and unclear, I saw this approaching storm, this dark -- almost black storm -- as it drew near to my vantage point. But, as I mentioned before, I wasn't frightened by the closeness or the intensity of it. It was like I was a spectator, standing on the sidelines and watching everything unfold before me. I knew I was safe. I knew that even though this storm was coming toward me, everything was going to be just fine. I was going to be safe. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Lord, for your gracious hand of protection over all aspects of my life! Amen, selah!

After that dream, I woke up to the sound of Ike pounding on my parent's bedroom door. I was already starting to wake up so I called to him to see if I could get him to stop. My son had gotten up about 30 minutes before to shower and then head out to work, so I was in this quasi-awake/quasi-dream state. Ike came as called, and after a short time of cuddling, I got up to feed him and Winston.

So here I am, bleary eyed, but awake. My first cup of coffee is helping to open my eyes, and frankly, I am surprised I can even type this early in the morning. LOL!

God is good, though. He is so very good to me!

Update on School and Weight-Loss

So, a brief update is in order. My class at OCU seems to be off to a good start. I have most of my students actively participating (today, I will check on them to make sure they all have posted) in class. The transition to this new system has been easy (hooray!), and overall, I think I am going to really like the class format -- a lot. In all, the Lord is so good to me. I am blessed with this teaching opportunity, and with the fact that the class seems to "run itself." I noted today that this format is strongly focused on independent student learning, which is such a relief to me. My on-campus classes are student-centered and require me to "teach." These online courses are mostly self-directed with group discussion activities embedded in the core content. Frankly, I am excited to be able to experience this type of learning from a facilitator's perspective. It broadens my horizon and helps me to see the various ways one can teach my subject (English). I see now, as an aside, why the Lord chose to have me teach FTF first, rather than to provide opportunities for me to teach online. In truth, teaching online is much easier and less intensive that teaching FTF. I needed to learn how to be a strong campus-based teacher so that I could 1) get over my fear of public speaking, and 2) learn how to present curriculum and content to students in a large setting (like a lecture-hall). I am so glad that I get to do both kinds of teaching. I think there is value in both, and as an educator, I need to experience these types of learning opportunities so I can be better prepared to teach as a career.

On other fronts, my temporary weight gain seems to be just that -- temporary weight gain. I weighed in yesterday morning and I was down .8 pounds from the previous day. This brings my total weight loss to 2.8 pounds in just 11 days on Weight Watchers Points. Today's check-in should continue that downward progression, but I will be okay should there be another set point or stall. After all, I remember when I lost the 35 pounds back in 2011. My weight loss was never as expected. I would lose some measure of pounds each week, but the number was not consistent at all. Over the entire 9 months, my loss averaged about 1 pound a week, but there were some weeks where I dropped a negligible amount and other weeks where I seemed to drop 2-3 pounds quite easily.

The hardest thing for me thus far has been dealing with misplaced expectations. I guess Atkins really set me up for faulty thinking. I mean, when I did Atkins in 2013, I dropped 6-8 pounds in that first 14 days. Likewise, when I used that program before my 2014 summer residency, I lost another 4-5 pounds in about 6 days. There is part of me that wants to lose this weight immediately. I know that it is better to lose it slowly, and over time, but still I would just like to see the 10 pounds I have put on since last year come off all at once. More so, I would like to be down to my "fighting" weight quickly. I mean, it has been almost 15 years since I was at a good weight for my height/body type. In hindsight, had I stayed with Weight Watcher's Points back then (after I lost the weight), I would have maintained my size despite the various trials and upheavals in my life. I would have managed my weight better, stuck with this routine of portion control, and kept the weight off all these years. Instead, I allowed my emotions to drive me to eat, and I tossed everything I learned and all the good habits I had created through hard work and discipline "out the window," so to speak. Yes, live and learn. Live and learn.

I now know that it is up to me to be in control of my weight. If I want to be healthy and to no longer have "weight issues," then I have to change my lifestyle to suit. I cannot eat out of control portions and think I will be a size 6. Nope, not going to happen. I have to eat in moderation, AND I have to exercise daily to keep my muscles strong and my bones healthy. I know better; I really do. It is time to grow up and to take control of my health and my well-being (Lord, providing of course!)

Homesteading Plans

So lately, I have been thinking more and more about owning and operating a small farm. I know, crazy! I have always wanted to own a farm, but not one of those big plantation type places. No, I would like a small "hobby" farm as they are called. I don't want to manage a lot of land, incur massive debt, or be tied to the land in such a way. I am thinking that a small farm, under 15 acres would satisfy my needs well. My goal in having some property is to produce a product. I want a sustainable product, and I don't plan on eating my farm produce (as in meat). No, I am thinking sustainable, renewable livestock. I just cannot butcher animals for meat. No matter how practical this sounds, I cannot do it. I will grow my own vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, etc., but I won't kill my animals. Enough said.

My Mom and I were discussing this plan yesterday. Well, not really, but part of the plan. I had received an email from the SSA regarding my "benefits" when I retire. I get regular updates from the SSA, so yesterday, I logged in to see my statement. My retirement age is 67, but if I put off retirement until 70, my payout is much higher (this is my plan). I don't see any reason to retire before age 70, and frankly, since I am coming to this work-game late in life, I need the time to build up secondary sources of income for my later years. My retirement payout, should SSA still be around then, will be about $1500 per month. My spousal benefits (weird to think I can claim these benefits, but I can), will add another $500 to that amount, so in theory, I could retire and live on the $2000 per month I would receive from the government. I certainly could do this so long as I lived in the midwest where it is easy to find inexpensive housing (this was the conversation I had with my Mom).

As I thought more about the fact that I will have this "income" to bank on (in theory, not in actuality), I found such a sense of peace. I mean, I have been panicked over my retirement. Now, I feel better knowing that something may be there when I do get to age 70. Of course, I am not holding out for this to happen, but it is a comforting thought, nonetheless. My plan for retirement is rather straightforward. I hope to save between $24-36K a year between now and age 70. This will give me somewhere in the ball park of $600K set aside. I know that sounds impossible, but if you times $36K by 17 years, it is doable. Of course, with investments and such, that number should be much higher. My plan is to live on a farm, teach until I retire, save as much as I can, and then produce a self-sustaining crop whereby I can end my life in modest comfort. The key is to have my farm paid off, and to carry no debt into my later years. I feel relatively positive that I can do this with the Lord's help and His guidance.

Alpaca's are so ADORABLE!

I've thought a lot about livestock and produce, and for now, I am thinking that with a small farm, I could easily raise 6 Alpacas (one male, and five females). Alpacas are easy to raise, very easy to care for, and generally low-keep livestock. They are raised for their wool, which is what I would use them for primarily (to sell). They are not beasts of burden type animals, so they need less work than Llamas. Furthermore, as herd animals, they are grazers and they mostly eat grass. Pasture land is key, and a small herd, only requires about 2-acres of pasture land. They are not cheap, but they are not expensive either. Overall, I would need the pasture land and a barn to keep them in during the night and storms, etc. I would also need fenced land where they could graze freely. Plus, I need two acres for rotation so that they don't over graze.

Next, I thought about raising chickens for eggs. I need eggs for baking, but chickens just aren't my favorite poultry stock. I did some research last night on raising ducks instead of chickens. The benefits of raising ducks outweigh chickens in a snap. Not only do they produce better quality eggs, but they are hardier and less prone to illness. They also don't tear up your garden, and their poop is immediately usable as fertilizer. They don't roost, but they do need shelter and a pond. My hope would be to purchase a property that has a pond on it. If that is not possible, then I would make them a small pond as part of their duck-run. There are oodles of ideas on the Internet, and the cost of raising ducks is not intensive or expensive. Just materials to get started, some extra feed, and lots of grass for them to munch on. I am thinking I would need about 5 hens to produce eggs for my needs.

My other thought was to get a dog. I like dogs a lot, but I don't really care for their "neediness." I am a cat person, so dogs just don't appeal to me as much. I thought a dog would be necessary to keep on the property for safety, but now I am leaning toward geese. Yes, geese. Geese are superior guard animals and they are easy to keep. They could stay in the barn with the Alpacas and could share the pasture land, pond, etc. as needed. I would like 6 hens, which I think would be a nice gaggle size for my farm.

My two cats are inside cats, and I have no intention of letting them out of doors. However, every farm as varmints, so I am thinking I would need 1-2 feral cats (spayed/neutered, etc.) to live in the barn and keep the rodent population down. The local shelter should have feral cats that need a good home. Barn cats would be well cared for, loved on, but they would be working animals and not pets, per se. Well, I am guessing all my animals would be treated as pets. I simply would struggle to treat them any other way.

My mini-farm is complete, at the least, it is in my head. Now, I need to find the perfect property, relocate there, and get started. But, that is down the road. I have to finish my PhD first, find that second online teaching job, and then save up enough money to move.

All in His Time

I love to make plans, I really do. I have so many plans in my head right now, and all of them seem so worthwhile and good. However, the Word of the Lord says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11). The Lord has plans for my life, just as He has plans for His Church, the body of Jesus Christ. I would like to believe that the plans I have are His plans too, but until He leads, guides and provides for me toward this end, I will simply have to wait and see.

Right now, I have a lot on my plate, and with everything assigned to me, I have to make sure I don't lose my focus or become so enamored about going one way, that I miss His cue to go another. I am open to His will, seeking it, believing it, and hoping for it. But, until He moves me, literally moves me, I will remain where I am and as I am. He is good to me. He provides for me, keeps me safe, and is the keeper of my family. He helps me, gives me hope, and sustains me so that I can do the work He has called me to do. My goal is to be useable, really useable for His kingdom. I want to please Him, do this work well, and hear at the end of it all, "well done, my good and faithful servant." Yes, Lord, may my work today be pleasing to you. Selah!

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