If I Wanted to Save America

Many people, including me, complain that the leadership of our country is out of control and something needs to be done. As I mentioned recently in my School District Consolidation post over at The Smart Voter, you have to tackle large problems (eating an elephant) one small step at a time. We, as a nation, must take responsibility for ourselves. It is MY responsibility to self-govern ahead of any other entity. With that responsibility, I also have the authority to take actions to support myself – grow/raise/hunt my own food, make/save my own energy, improve my own land. The list of things we should each be doing for ourselves goes on and on, whether we are accustomed to thinking about it or not. Please take a few minutes to check out the video linked below. I will warn you up front that the language is PG-13. But that doesn’t have any affect on the effectiveness of the solutions presented. If you agree with it, please share it.


Political Quotient and a Brief Rant

See my post on The SmartVoter to find your “Politcal Quotient” and my rant that covers why we can’t get anything done, even when we’re just trying to measure where people land across the political spectrum. It makes me feel like this guy:


School Redistricting

Check out my brief discussion on school redistricting over at The Smart Voter.

AWOS – Absent Without Sleep

I want to apologize to those of you who were reading my series on the Constitution and the other posts I’ve put up, especially those who were actually waiting around/checking in to see if I had posted another update. I appreciate your support, sharing, retweeting, etc. I tried to keep up my content production throughout the outage I’m working, but I haven’t been able to manage it. For the six days a week I’m working, I have about an hour and a half between when I get home and when I go to bed. On my day off, it is more important for me to be a dad to my 3 awesome kids and a moderately useful husband to my even more awesome wife. All of them have been troopers through this whole thing and they have to come first.

I look forward to having some time this summer to continue writing about our nation and its governance. We should all become more involved in both the ongoing oversight of our government and the education of the citizenry so everyone understands what this country is supposed to be about and how we can help it get back to being that.

So I’ll get the gears turning again as soon as I can, as well as update you on the cool stuff we’re doing around our home to become better prepared and more self-sufficient.


Hugelkultur Bed I – Part II

My first hugelkultur bed has been filled with soil and planted. My wife loved it, the kids were excited about it, and now we are seeing the beginnings of what will be a summer full of work to keep up with all of the veggies that are sprouting out now. Below is the play-by-play update.

Hugelkultur: “Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource. Often employed in permaculture systems, hugelkultur allows gardeners and farmers to mimic the nutrient cycling found in a natural woodland to realize several benefits. Woody debris (and other detritus) that falls to the forest floor can readily become sponge like, soaking up rainfall and releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil, thus making this moisture available to nearby plants.”
From The Art and Science of Making a Hugelkultur Bed – Transforming Woody Debris into a Garden Resource from permaculture.org.au

After I built the raised bed with my dad 2 weeks ago, I stained it with a solid exterior stain to make it last longer than I could possibly need it to last. I planned to post some pictures of it stained before I loaded in the soil, but I’m impatient and couldn’t wait to play in the dirt.  Last week my mom came by with a truck bed/trailer full of Mrs Hutto’s bedding mix from Hutto’s in Jackson, MS. If you’re in the area, Hutto’s has a great selection of seed, plants, and all of the other gear you could want for your lawn/garden. I gravitate to the firearms section of sporting goods stores and get a knowing glance and a smirk from my wife. Well, Hutto’s is the place where I can return the glance. Not that she’s alone, I could blow a couple thousand dollars in there without even blinking if money was no object. Since it is an object, Hutto’s is definitely the best value bet for garden supplies in the area though it is less convenient than some of the higher-end stores near my house. The comparable products from the stores in Ridgeland/Flowood are 30-40% more expensive and not “on the way” between my Mom’s house and mine. Mom & I shoveled in the 2 cubic yards of soil and I gave the bed a good solid drink of water. When I say solid, I mean a whole heckuva lot of water. The older rotted wood beneath the bed is already like a sponge and the bedding mix has rice hulls mixed in so it was pretty thirsty. The soil also includes composted wood, leaves, manure, waste plant material, and egg shells. So it brings a ton of nutrients to the table and is as good as any compost I could make myself in the backyard. I could have used another yard of soil once it all settled into the nooks and crannies created by the wood, loose soil, and turned-under rye grass buried below. But as I mentioned above, I am impatient and mother nature isn’t exactly waiting around for my logistics challenges. No worries, though. The settled soil left a 4″ rim around the bed and it looks like I meant to do that. Woo!

My wife & I spent a few days between the bed construction and filling it with soil planning our planting layout. We basically set up the bed with the lowest tier reserved for herbs, echinacea (purple coneflower), and chamomile. We put in a couple of thyme plants and a small-leafed basil variety in addition to the sage that I relocated to this bed. We also started some oregano, sweet basil, and purple basil from seed. The layout of the middle and upper tiers was constrained by the number of pepper plants we wanted to fit into such a small space. All the peppers we grow (bell peppers, cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, habanero, ad infinitum) are individual species/cultivars of the capsicum genus and can potentially cross-pollinate. I want my bell peppers to not develop any pungency and I want my habaneros and cayennes to be kick-you-in-the-teeth hot.  Bottom line, I wanted to place the cayenne on one corner, the habanero in the middle, and the bell peppers in the end opposite corner of the bed to minimize any cross-pollination that may occur. That may or may not be a real concern in an annual planting, but I’ll treat it as a constraint anyway. Given this constraint, the middle tier has our tomatoes, crowder peas, snow peas, cayenne pepper, and greens  (mesclun mix, romaine, bib lettuce, & chard – spinach later this year). We planted 2 types of tomato plants and also started 2 types from seed. If I knew that I would have the bed in place in time for spring planting, I would have used my new soil cube to start the seeds earlier this year. Now that the bed is in, I will start some of my fall plants in the soil cube and write a review later this summer. The top tier has zucchini, bell peppers, habanero, carrots, & beets. We also planted a few marigolds and nasturtiums throughout these tiers to provide a little color and repel some pests. The kids absolutely loved planting the carrots, beets, and lettuce. I gave the bed another solid drink of water once I got all of the plants and seeds in. The rest of the week, mother nature came through in a big way with drenching rain. The strategy of placing the bed in the corner of my property where the entire yard runoff ends up seems so far to be working like a charm. The water pooled up around the bed and filled the inner hole where the wood is buried. A few days after the thunderstorms came through, the surrounding soil had dried but the soil in the bed is still moist.

After only a week, the plants we put in are happy and expanding. There are also solid signs of life from almost all of the seeds we planted. I haven’t seen any of the pepper plants or the echinacea crack the soil surface yet, but everything else has sprouted and looks to be off to the races. After another soaker yesterday, maybe the rest of the plants have poked through, but I wasn’t willing to walk down there to get muddy in the middle of a storm dropping hail and giving us quite the light show just for the sake of finding a few new sprouts.

My wife was really pleased with the way the bed turned out. So much so that she wants a ground-level bed in front of the raised bed to transition from yard to bed and provide more space to plant some oxygen production equipment. I tilled up the space “inside” the L and we’re planning to sow some wildflowers once I put in some more bedding soil and a gravel walkway around the beds. The wildflowers will provide a really pretty focal point and let the raised (primarily garden) bed become a transitional backdrop in the corner of the yard. Hopefully we will bring in some more butterflies and other “pretty pollinators” with the wildflowers and herbals.

I am really excited about all of the stuff we will be eating later this year. I’ll keep updating the progress of these beds, especially with regard to the amount of water I have to add (or not add as the case may be). I will also update this post once I get a chance during daylight to get some photos of the sprouting plants.

Let’s Argue a Little More (Better)

We need to stop being distracted by the 10% of things on which we disagree to help solve the problems with the 90% of things on which we agree. If we can’t do that, we will never make any meaningful progress on any issue of importance.

via Paul Sloane at Lifehack

I have been told by a few people that some of the things I write here, on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks could make people mad who disagree with me on some issue or another angry. I try to write in such a way as to not offend anyone personally but to get my point across. I like to “argue”, or more accurately debate things that could have more than one answer. Blogging or tweeting is a bit of a one-way conversation unless people engage with comments. Often those moved enough to comment do so because they are either 100% aligned or are outraged by something you write. I am sometimes told “you think you are always right.” Well, yeah… if I hold a position it is because I believe it to be true. But I have often learned something that made what I thought to be true incorrect, leaving me with a new (and still-true from my perspective) understanding of the situation. So for all but the time frame between when I realized my position wasn’t accurate and I reestablished my position with the new facts, I was right the whole time (from my perspective) though obviously wrong in the larger sense of reality. :) So I am happy to say that sometimes I am wrong. So is everyone else. We need to debate/argue with each other to exercise our rights to free speech. Exercising that right means that we must respect that right from others as well, most importantly when we detest what another says. But we should debate each other to find solutions – surely they exist for many of our problems – else we will end up continuing to fight each other about the course we should set as the ship sinks around us.

It really bothers me that so many people in our country are on side A or side B of an issue and unwilling to listen to a set of facts presented by someone on the other side. If asked, I will give an opinion on just about every issue of significance. But when I say that my opinion is that the position on issue X is unimportant and regardless of how many people listened to me would make no difference, it makes people who need me to be on side A or B for their own sake (to feel like they can talk to me) very frustrated. Take climate change, abortion, gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, immigration, birth control, you name it… my position on those is almost the same – the government should stay out of the people’s business unless doing that business affects other people. Focusing on “well does that mean your’re on side A or B?” pulls people apart and prevents a meaningful discussion on the 90% of an issue on which most people can agree. If a small group of people were told that they could be given $900,000 in 30 days if they could vote unanimously to take it vice waiting 10 years to get $1,000,000, they would certainly have a very brief discussion on time value of money and vote quickly to take the money now. Why on earth can’t we do the same with our government and the policies it sets forth? I’ll call these issues the 90-percenters. We can all agree that using fewer resources and more efficiently employing the ones we do use is a good thing for the long-term sustainability of our way of life and in many cases is economically advantageous to boot. Why then, can’t two people on opposite sides of the climate change “debate” agree to those things first and then throw spitballs at each others about polar bear habitat, freakish weather, and whether or not the science is valid ’til their heart’s content? Similarly, we can almost all agree that we should reduce or eliminate funding for certain aspects of government bureaucracy and that we need to make changes to other aspects to keep the wheels on the bus. As a specific example, we all know social security is in long-term trouble, with many people my age expecting little or no benefit from the many thousands of dollars taken from each of us each year for that program. We let the talking heads and power brokers put us into a “you hate old people” or “you’re not concerned with the debt” camps to be forever separated from each other while the debt keeps on rising making the tribulations of “old people” in the future that much more difficult. Let’s agree we need to change the rules and change them. I’m willing to wait a few extra years to get benefits – many others are too. Let’s get that on the books and move on to the next problem instead of letting our “leaders” continue to let major problems fester because they make a good wedge.

I would like to say that the ability to have a good debate without someone going to ad hominem (personal) attacks or otherwise non-productive techniques is not a thing of the past. I certainly enjoy a good debate with people who have come from very different realms of the political spectrum. It is refreshing to get tongue-tied about an issue on which I thought I was well-grounded and to realize that the person who I am debating is equally perplexed by their prior understanding of an issue because… wait for it… we really agree in principle on most things but disagree on some of the paths to get there. Agreeing in principle allows two parties to compromise on details. One of my best friends is in name a “dyed in the wool Democrat”. As of today I’m a Neithercratican. He and I often argue… we both often win. We try to talk in terms of real data on an issue and understand why we hold the positions we do. It is a stark contrast from many discussions in which I find myself online where people are unwilling to agree about an issue because of subtle details.

I intend to continue exercising my right to free speech. If you disagree with me, don’t spit at me; spit at the ideas and we can discuss solutions over our fresh pool of saliva. “Can’t we all just get along” doesn’t work until all of our problems are solved. We need lots of arguments to be had and to be resolved to move our country forward. I hope you will recall this the next time you start to argue a topic with someone with whom you disagree.

Rocket Mass Heaters

Rocket mass heaters are the epitome of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). They work on the concept of heat rising. Basically, a fire is built with a column on one side for heat to rise into and a suction hole is left for fresh air to be sucked into via the draft created by the rising heat. The resultant fire is extremely efficient and is as close to complete combustion as I have ever seen in a wood-burning application. Once the fire is going in a rocket mass heater, the fire leaves almost no ash and produces almost no smoke (various polyaromatic hydrocarbons for the chemistry nerds out there). You’re left with almost all water vapor and carbon oxides. Below are 2 videos of pretty significant rocket mass heaters being built/used. Both are from Paul Wheaton, a permaculture evangelist, who runs permies.com, a great resource for any permaculture questions.

Paul Wheaton from permies.com demonstrates multiple variations on the rocket mass heater.

Paul Wheaton videos while Ernie & Erica from permies.com build a rocket mass heater into a raised bed that will be covered by a greenhouse.

The system still works, though less efficiently, with a short column above the flame. The loss in efficiency is balanced by the increased portability of some rocket stoves. This technology was developed heavily by Ianto Evans, who was looking for a way to improve the lives of those who use wood-fired stoves as their livelihood. While creating a cob bench and decking out a house is not everyone’s cup of tea, keeping greenhouses warm overnight or having an easy to carry but highly effective camp stove broadens the horizon of those who might be interested. Check out some of the many other YouTube videos posted with the tags “rocket stove” or “rocket mass heater”. There are some pretty cool variations out there. If you’re interested, Evans’ book is available via Amazon at the link below:

Hugelkultur Bed I – Part 1


“Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource.

Often employed in permaculture systems, hugelkultur allows gardeners and farmers to mimic the nutrient cycling found in a natural woodland to realize several benefits. Woody debris (and other detritus) that falls to the forest floor can readily become sponge like, soaking up rainfall and releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil, thus making this moisture available to nearby plants.”

From The Art and Science of Making a Hugelkultur Bed – Transforming Woody Debris into a Garden Resource from permaculture.org.au

I have completed the frame for my 4 cubic yard hugelkultur bed as you can see above. I have also loaded in about 1 cubic yard of wood. I will be topping the wood off with another half yard of leaves before filling the bed with soil. The soil will be a mix of composted manure/mulch, rice hulls, and topsoil that should make this bed ready to plant after a few days of watering to begin saturating the bottom. I had an absolute blast building this bed – an opportunity to share a day of hard work with my dad and my sons. It was a great sense of accomplishment to finish and later realize I have muscles in my body I’d forgotten. My dad & I are both consummate perfectionists (and overkillers) when we build something. But we focused on doing this “good enough”, ending up less than an inch out of level across the entire structure. This was truly so easy 2 cavemen and a boy could do it. I borrowed the idea for the shape of the bed from a magazine my wife picked up at Lowe’s and modified it to suit my dimensions and scale. Next up will be getting the aforementioned soil into the box and staining the visible parts of the bed for aesthetics.  I’ll post updates as they happen. In the meantime, here are some other hugelkultur resources:

Raised Garden Beds – Hugelkultur Instead of Irrigation via Paul Wheaton at richsoil.com
Hugelkultur: Using Woody Waste in Composting via kerryg at HubPages


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US Constitution: Article 2

I have reviewed Article 2 and I think this part is going to be frustrating. I will really try over the next week or so to stay on topic. As evidenced by my inability to keep away from the executive branch in my discussions on Article I, it is obvious the presidential election and the performance of the people in the top seat worry me. So it shouldn’t be tough writing about the executive branch, but it WILL be tough to stay grounded and logical when I get fired up over the relatively poor adherence to the governing document. In my industry, we call that out of control. Stay tuned…