The Starbucks Resolution

One New Year’s Resolution kept.

Last January, I shared my short list of New Year’s Resolutions. Like most people who try to make and keep resolutions, I pretty much failed.

Say No to StarbucksOne resolution I kept, however, was the one swearing off Starbucks. I wasn’t necessarily swearing off Starbucks coffee — after all, it’s pretty common in many restaurants. Instead, I was swearing off Starbucks as a source for coffee (and anything else) — in other words, the Starbucks coffee shops.

They were everywhere. In town, at airports, in malls. In some cities — I’m looking at you, Seattle! — they were across the street from each other. You could walk up or drive through. It was the ultimate in ubiquitous convenience.

It was the supermarket shops that got me. How easy was it to grab a latte before rolling down the produce aisle with my cart? How much time did I waste standing on line? How much money did I throw away on mediocre coffee served by often snooty baristas?

So I swore off Starbucks and actually stuck with it for an entire year. Yes: I went a full year without buying anything at any of the hundreds of Starbucks coffee shops I passed in the course of my life.

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be — except when I went grocery shopping, of course. I really wanted that warm cup off coffee in my hand or in the cart’s cup holder while I shopped. But even that became easier over time. And as the year came to a close, I began to feel a real sense of achievement at meeting this silly goal.

Where did I get my coffee instead of Starbucks? Well, west coast states have drive-through coffee stands all over the place. In the Wenatchee area where I live, Dutch Brothers is big — there are numerous convenient locations — and they’re even big in California, where I go annually for my frost control work. Aut-to Mocha is a local chain with numerous locations in the area. Both of these have punch cards that give you a free drink when you buy 10. (I have punch cards in each of my vehicles.) I began frequenting those places instead of Starbucks. In most cases, I liked the coffee better. And when I was at SeaTac’s Terminal C, it was a real pleasure to wait behind two people instead of a dozen when I wanted coffee while waiting for a flight.

Oddly, just yesterday I found myself in an Albertson’s with a Starbucks coffee booth. My year was over; I’d achieved my resolution. Celebrate with a cup of Starbucks on a chilly, rainy morning? It was the worst cup of coffee I’d bought in a year — weak and bitter. Ick.

Maybe I’ll just extend that resolution for another year.

Night Stalkers

Caught in action!

Game Camera
Game cameras like this offer an affordable way to keep a record of visitors while you’re gone.

Last winter, I set one of my game cameras up on my unfinished deck. I’d found an animal turd on a piece of plywood outside my living room door and wanted to know where it had come from. So I set up the camera — and promptly forgot about it for six months.

Eventually, I got to work on the deck and the game camera was in the way. I brought it inside, where it languished on the windowsill beside my desk for a while and then brought it downstair to the big desk in my shop. I thought it had been turned off, but it hadn’t. It took pictures whenever it sensed movement until the batteries finally died.

Today, I pulled out both game cameras, put in new batteries, and prepared to set them out to see what they might capture while I’m not looking. I pulled both SD cards out of the cameras and had a look at their contents.

One camera included video shot inside the garage of my old Arizona house back in 2013. I’d set up the camera after I realized that someone — in all likelihood, my future wasband — had attempted to break in through the garage window beside the front door. Fortunately, we’d put a bar there years before that prevented the window from opening more than a few inches for ventilation. When I noticed it, the window was open and stuck hard half off its track. Since I did a lot of traveling that last season home in Arizona, I thought it might be a good idea to set up some kind of surveillance for while I was gone. Game cameras in the kitchen and garage were a good solution. Fortunately (for my wasband), the only activity they captured was me and my friends coming and going.

Dawn Cat
One of my two barn cats looks out over his domain just before dawn last March.

The other camera was the one I’d put out on the unfinished deck last year. It was set up for motion triggers images. And what it caught kind of surprised me: my barn cats hanging out on the supports for the deck. Keep in mind that the only way they could get up to the deck was to climb at least ten feet up one of the posts. There was no ladder, overhanging trees, and no staircase.

Barn Cats
Here’s a shot with both cats. The surface they’re on was approximately 3-1/2 inches wide 10 feet off the ground.

Glowing Eyes
The cats spent most of March 27 up on the deck. According to my calendar, I’d just come home from a trip to California the afternoon before.

I found about two dozen photos with one or both of the cats in them. In most instances, they were either walking right past the front of the camera’s lens or sitting on one of the 2 x 10 beams that support the deck.

Nowadays, I think I have just one barn cat: the black one. Although I saw Black Cat just last night on the pathway between his “safe place” in the shed and my front door, I haven’t seen Gray Cat for months. I’ll likely get one or two new barn cats in the spring. I got them to keep the rodent population down so the snakes wouldn’t have anything to eat and it worked like a charm — I didn’t see a single snake within 200 feet of my home or garden. This is, by far, the best way to control snakes and rodents. Best of all, since they’re not really “pets,” they don’t take much care. I can provide enough food and water in their shed to keep them satisfied for a month since they supplement cat food with rodents and their water with the chickens’ water.

As far as cameras and security goes — without revealing too much, let’s just say that I don’t rely on game cameras for security anymore. I have a far more sophisticated system with live cameras I can access from anywhere. Of course, none of that really matters when my house-sitter has a Doberman and knows where I keep my shotgun.

And I never did find out where that turd came from…

My Thanksgiving Cactus

An early blooming Christmas cactus is back in my life.

I’ve always been a plant lover. When I was a kid, the windowsills and shelves in my room were lined with plants. I even belonged to the Horticulture Club in my New Jersey high school.

My love of plants stuck with me throughout my life. I had plants in my various homes — especially in the early years of my life in Arizona. That house was so bright that there was plenty of light for plants — even the ones tucked up on top of shelves in my kitchen. I had a vegetable garden for a few years and did some minor landscaping work out in the yard.

The trouble with plants is that they need water. Watering the plants on the high shelves was a pain in the butt — too much of a pain in the butt for my wasband to deal with while I was away every summer in our later years together. So those plants died and I replaced them with silk plants that actually looked a lot better. (I have those plants now in my new home.)

Christmas Cactus Bloom
One of the blooms from my Christmas cactus.

One plant I always took care of, however, was my Christmas cactus. Started from a very small plant acquired not long after moving into my Arizona home, I repotted it multiple times, allowing it to grow into ever bigger pots. It lived on a handwoven Navajo mat in the middle of the kitchen table where it was handy enough to get water when it needed it. Christmas cacti are extremely drought tolerant and can take a lot of neglect. The plant survived my summers away — even my wasband didn’t find it too difficult to care for — and thrived.

In late October every year, the plant would produce buds. Then, by Thanksgiving, it would flower. It had two flower colors — likely because it was started from two different plants — fushia and pinkish white. Over a period of two or three weeks, the entire plant would be covered with flowers. It was spectacular.

In 2012, while I was away in Washington for the summer, things back home changed. For some reason, my wasband moved the Christmas cactus off the kitchen table — where it had always been — and put it in the much darker living room. He apparently wasn’t home very often so all the plants in the house left were neglected. When he did come home, he overwatered everything — which was quite apparent from the water damage on the living room floor near a tall potted tree there and water stains on the glass-topped living room tables.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this until I got home in September. That’s when I found the Christmas cactus looking half dead on the coffee table. I brought it back into the kitchen and began nursing it back to health.

As I said earlier, these plants can take a lot of neglect. Within a month or so, it was looking much better. But when late October rolled around, there wasn’t a single bud on it. There were no flowers that Thanksgiving.

All that autumn, I was under the mistaken impression that my future wasband would settle by Christmas and I’d have to leave the house, which he wanted to keep. (What an idiot; he could have saved at least $120K and kept the house if he had.) So not only did I spend much of my time at home packing up my belongings, but I also started giving away my things, including my plants.

For months, every time someone invited me to their house for dinner, I’d come with a potted plant. It became a bit of a joke.

A few weeks before Christmas, I decided to spend the holidays with my family in Florida. Although I wasn’t in any hurry to leave — I had nowhere else to go — I still clung to the hope that my future wasband would see the light and settle. That could mean I’d be out of the house soon, possibly by New Years Day. I might even spend the whole winter in Florida.

Budding Cactus
The first of many photos Rose Marie has sent me since I dropped my Christmas cactus off at her home.

At that point, the only plant left was my Christmas cactus. It had fully recovered and was just starting to show a few tiny buds. There was a good chance it would bloom, possibly soon. So I loaded it up into my car and took it to the home of two of my friends, Stan and Rose Marie. I was sort of sad to leave it there — it had become such a fixture in my everyday life.

I went to Florida and spent some quality time with my family. On December 17, Rose Marie sent me a text with a picture of the plant: “Starting to bud.”

A few weeks later, she sent another photo.

Christmas Cactus in Bloom
Fully recovered, my Christmas cactus bloomed right around Christmas time in its new home.

Since then, Rose Marie has sent me annual photos of the plant in bloom. It seems to bloom around Christmas time each year in her home. I’m not sure why it blooms a whole month later for her — it might have something to do with the amount of light it gets. But she seems to prefer it blooming around Christmas, so it’s all good.

Early this year I was back in Arizona for a few weeks and had dinner at Stan and Rose Marie’s house. It was February and the plant had finished blooming for the year. I got a sort of crazy idea: maybe I could take a few cuttings from it and try to root them at home? When I left that evening, I had three cuttings from various parts of the plant wrapped up in a piece of wet paper towel.

In the guest house I was staying in, I put the cuttings in a small glass of water. A week or two later, I packed them carefully in my carryon bag and took them home with me on the plane. They looked pretty ratty when I put them into water. Within a week, I’d moved them into some potting soil that I kept moist. I honestly didn’t have much hope for them — it was relatively dark back in my RV where I was living, parked inside my garage for the winter.

But they rooted. And they grew.

I repotted the cuttings into one of the nice painted terra-cotta pots I’d brought with me from Arizona. When I moved upstairs into my new home, which is even brighter during the summer than my Arizona home was, the plant thrived.

And on Thanksgiving day, the plant started to bloom.

New Christmas Cactus
Here’s the descendant, so to speak, of my old plant in its home on my new coffee table.

I just sent a photo to Stan and Rose Marie. Their response: “Good deal! You’re on a roll. Small but looks great. Obviously you have a green thumb.”

It’s a start. I hope to be able to share a much more impressive photo of my Thanksgiving cactus next year.

Winter Prep Shed Fix-Up

It’s all about keeping things organized.

My Little Shed
My shed in its original location. The bench was inside when I bought it. I subsequently painted the bench and set it up at Lookout Point.

About two years ago, not long after buying my property and moving my RV to it as temporary lodging while I built my new home, I bought a small, 6 x 8 shed. The shed was used but in excellent condition and remarkably cheap. I had it delivered to a spot on one side of my driveway and subsequently had it moved to a spot on the other side of my driveway. Months later, I brought electricity out to the shed and wired it with 20 amp and 30 amp (for an RV) power. There was a standard 110v outlet outside and another one inside, along with a light. That came in handy later that year when I put a heater in the shed for my new barn cats and had to plug in a heated water dish for my chickens.

At first, the shed was for convenience. I planned to spend that first winter in my RV on my property and simply didn’t have enough space in the RV to store the things I might need. The rest of my belongings were stored with my helicopter and other vehicles in a rented hangar at the airport and that was a 40-minute drive each way from my home. I installed shelves that I’d brought with me from my old Arizona home. Later, when my building was finished, storage space was no longer a problem — heck, my garage/shop area is 2,880 square feet — I decided to use the shed for gardening supplies and beekeeping equipment. The barn cats came around Christmas time; that’s when I put one of my electric heaters in there.

Over the next year or so, I began accumulating garden tools — I’d only brought a few items from Arizona — and beekeeping equipment and irrigation parts. Often, after working in the garden, I’d just sort of toss tools and supplies in there. The shed turned into a mess. Last week, when I brought the heater back out for the cats — or cat; I’m not sure if I still have two — I realized that there was barely enough floor space to walk in. Clearly, the shed needed to be cleaned up.

I’d already begun moving the beekeeping supplies — mostly space-consuming hive boxes and frames — from the shed to some new shelves in the 12 x 48 “shop” area of my garage. I needed to move the rest of it out, vacuum the dust and dirt out, reorganize the shelves, and throw away the chicken feed bags and other garbage that had accumulated. (Chicken feed bags make excellent garbage bags for a place like the shed, but one is enough; I’d saved about ten.)

Shed Shelves
The shelves after tossing the garbage and organizing a bit. I do have some extra space. The wrapped items on the upper-left shelf are ceramic flowerpots from Arizona that I haven’t unpacked yet.

So that’s what I did yesterday afternoon when the sun was full on the shed, helping the heater keep it warm. I made many trips between the garage and shed and threw out a lot of stuff. I also mounted a 5-foot rack on the wall to store gardening tools. The result was amazing — not only did I regain all the floor space so I could set up the cats’ food, water, bed, and heater, but I also wound up with some empty space on the shelves.

Shed Tools
All my gardening tools fit on the rack I installed on the back wall. This keeps them off the floor so there’s room for the cat(s).

I also have a number of hooks I can use to hang larger tools from the walls or rafters. I have my leaf blower (from Arizona), hedge trimmer, weed wacker, and chainsaw hanging up there. Again, this keeps them off the floor so there’s more room for the cats. I even managed to fit my lawnmower in there, although it’s not in any of these photos.

Cat Home Cat Door
I had plenty of room to set up the cat food and water, along with a makeshift cat bed and the heater, which I leave turned down to low just to keep the chill out. The shed is not insulated — I might do that next year and put up interior walls with T111 plywood. The cats come and go through a cat door I installed last winter. The garbage pail holds dry cat food, which I buy cheap in very large bags. The cats don’t eat much of it.

In a way, this is sort of Shed 3.0; the third incarnation of my little storage shed. It’s a semi-permanent structure now; with electricity and water running right to/into it, it would be difficult to move. I certainly no longer need it for storage, but it’s a lot more convenient to have all those gardening tools under one roof close to the garden. It has become a sort of cornerstone for my garden, with a wildfire protection sprinkler and weather station on top. Next spring, I’ll spruce up the garden I planted on its north side and I might even paint it.

There’s always something to do here; never any reason to be bored. I think that’s one of the things that makes my new home so appealing to me.

On Being an Early Riser

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For a long time now, I’ve been an early riser. Sometimes, a very early riser.

While I clearly remember my college days when it was nearly impossible for me to wake up in time for an 8 AM class and my early professional career days when I dreaded hearing the alarm go off at 6:30 AM, I can’t remember when I made the switch from late riser to early riser. I suppose it was a gradual change as I aged, embraced my freelance lifestyle, and allowed my life to go off-schedule.

For the past 20 or more years, I haven’t had much of a need to set an alarm or wake up at a certain time. Every day is different. Although I do occasionally have early appointments or even earlier planes to catch — my favorite flight out of Wenatchee when I’m traveling leaves at 5:40 AM; yes, I do set an alarm for that — there usually isn’t any reason to get out of bed by a certain time.

I go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up naturally when my body is done sleeping. Or thinks it’s done sleeping. Yet these days, I’m invariably up before 6 AM, often before 5 AM, and occasionally before 4 AM. (If you read the blog post about my recent cruise, you learned that I was up most mornings by 4 AM.) I am naturally an early riser.

Some folks seem to think this is a problem. They have encouraged me to stay up later in an effort to shift my body’s clock forward a few hours so it’s more in line with everyone else’s. I’ve tried this. No matter what time I go to sleep, I’m awake before 6 AM — even if I stay up until a crazy time like 3 AM. And I don’t know about you, but I operate better on six hours of sleep than three. It’s fortunate that I apparently don’t need eight.

I like being an early riser. I like getting up around dawn in the summer or in the darkness of a winter morning. I like the quiet and the solitude of those early hours before most people are awake. I like hearing the crickets in the dark as I brew my morning coffee and my rooster crowing almost precisely a half hour before dawn. I even like the sound of the sprayers in the orchards below my home during the summer months, and seeing the headlights of the tractors as they make their way between rows of trees in the dark.

Do you want a more detailed description of a summer sunrise at my home? Read “Sunrise from Lookout Point.”

I like watching each new day being born — the gradual brightening of the sky, the fading of the stars and city lights, the glow to the east, the golden hour sunlight light tentatively touching the mountaintops to the west and then slowly blanketing their slopes all the way down into the valley.

Morning View
I never get tired of the morning view out my windows.

I like the fact that I can experience all of this at my own home, at my own convenience. I like taking my morning coffee out onto the deck and looking out over the new day as cool air caresses my skin and hair and the aroma of a recent rain or my fresh cut lawn competes with the smell of what’s in my mug.

I’m a morning person and get most of my work done in the morning. That’s good and bad. It’s good because it leaves the rest of the day wide open. But it can be bad if I have a lot to do and I run out of steam by 2 PM. I try to manage this drawback by scheduling appointments in the afternoon whenever possible, leaving the morning open to accomplish the things I need to do.

My usual routine consists of morning coffee as soon as I get up — whenever that is — and quiet time to reflect and write in my journal. Then I sit down at my computer and do some writing or paperwork or both. “Paperwork” usually consists of bill paying and filing, website maintenance, correspondence, client communication, and marketing material creation for my businesses. That usually takes me to 10 or 11 AM. Then I switch into more active work around my home or in my garden. There’s always something that needs to be done, especially as I finish up construction work that includes the tedious task of trimming doors, etc.

If I have scheduled an appointment or have errands to run in town, I’ll clean up, dress appropriately, and head down into town with Penny. I always have a list of destinations on a Post-It note stuck to my windshield so I don’t forget anything — I live 10 miles from town and I don’t like to make the trip more than once a day if I don’t have to. I keep shopping lists on my smartphone for the same reason. I can get a lot done on one trip into town if I stay focused and organized.

By 6 PM — especially in the winter when it’s already dark — I’m pretty much physically and mentally done for the day. That’s the time I set aside for socializing with friends and relaxing. I even find it difficult to write during this time, although I’ve been trying hard lately to make that my blogging time, leaving the morning open for writing jobs that bring in revenue. If I went to town earlier in the day, I sometimes meet up with friends in the late afternoon or early evening: wine at Pybus Market, cocktails at the Sidecar Lounge, dinner at Tastebuds, or a movie at Liberty or Gateway Cinema. If I’m home, I sometimes try a new recipe — I’ve recently rediscovered my love of cooking — and read the news or waste time on social media while eating it.

I think I watch too much television these days — more than an hour a day when I’m home in the evening — and it bugs me; my wasband was a slave to the television, channel surfing for hours every evening when he could have been working to achieve one of the life goals he claimed to have. I worry I might end up like him: unproductive and stuck in a rut.

I love to read, but if I do it in bed, I’m usually asleep within minutes. So I try not to read in bed before 9 PM.

I’m usually asleep by 10 PM — unless I’m out with friends or entertaining.

I don’t think I can adequately express how happy I am to be single and have full control of my life and time. There’s no one trying to put me on his schedule or make me share his time-consuming responsibilities. I do the things I want or need to do when I want or need to do them. I don’t have to schedule my life around someone else’s.

Best of all, I can wake up any time I like and not have to tiptoe around my home because someone else is sleeping.

I admit that I’m very fortunate to have the flexible lifestyle I have. But it isn’t “luck.” I’m a firm believer in the notion that we make our own luck. I worked hard to get where I am today and having this lifestyle is the reward for all that work. I’m a morning person and I earned the right to enjoy my mornings.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.