Year nine on the farm: Older, fatter, and furrier

October 2017 marks two milestones for our family; we have now been on the farm for nine years, and I turned forty.

Turning 4-Oh

Something about turning forty has changed me. With any luck, I hope to live another forty years. It would be a gift of another lifetime! With that, it got my little pea brain churning, thinking about:

  • The importance of living every day to the fullest
  • Celebrating every birthday, and that sending birthday cards to family/friends is no longer optional
  • Planning for a life we’d like to live after the kids have moved out
  • Becoming debt-free so we can work minimally and live to the max
  • Maintaining our health so we can enjoy life to the fullest

I also think about how I have already lived four years longer than my own grandfather did, and how every day is truly a blessing.

On a funnier note, I am trying to understand why, at forty:

  • My body has begun to cling to every single calorie like a person dangling from the side of a cliff
  • God decided that visible nose hairs are not optional just because you are a woman while simultaneously they become more prevalent/darker…yet at the same time, I am losing the hair on the top of my head
  • Any new hair I DO happen to grow on my head is either white and silky or a thick and extremely unruly black menace that sticks straight out
  • I can throw out my back by simply standing up and moving my leg half-inch in the ‘wrong’ direction

These are the things I ponder now.

 Year Nine on the Farm

With this year, we are still working on paying off our debt, maintaining the home and grounds, and now we are downsizing.

While I did keep some baby chicks hatched this year, the new goal is to continue to downsize the flock until we have a nice number of laying hens. Let’s face it: I do NOT get $100 worth of eggs a month that I’m paying for the feed at this point! We do have some older layers as well as several hens who are more like pets, but as usual, we also possess a disproportionately large number of roosters who are getting fat on my dollar.

Now for a review in photos!

October 2016:

That time that everyone got ticked off after playing Sorry:

November 2016:

The cold and wet beginning to our square foot beds:

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Our living room/library area after bringing in the ferns for the winter:

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Fall foliage:

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December 2016:

A beautiful winter sunset!

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From 65 degrees to 48 in 47 minutes!

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January 2017:

One day, as I was hanging laundry, I looked up to see this ‘mackerel sky’. I made myself pretty dizzy trying to take a good pic.

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This year marked the beginning of new beds and a new gardening method: Square Foot Gardening. I love it!!! Jason built the beds. The soil you see was just, well…crappy, but it’s all I had. Now it has much better soil.

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2017 was the Year of the Annoying Ladybug/Asian Ladybeetle invasion. Here is a group in our barn, but there were hundreds in the house. Yuck. Glad they do eat aphids, but it would be lovely if they would hibernate outdoors like REAL ladybugs!!!

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February:

Being sensitive to sodium nitrate (Read: gives me major migraines), I can only eat uncured meats. Let’s face it, when you live in the sticks, things can be difficult to find. Our local Wal-Mart decided to stop carrying ‘my’ bacon, so I was forced to drive thirty miles to find some. Jason came to the rescue with my Valentine’s gift!

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Ladybug invasion continues in the warm sun:

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A true ladybug! I found several Twice-Stabbed ladybeetles on our pear trees. Yaaaay!

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March:

Another ‘true’ ladybug, the Convergent Ladybeetle. I probably learned more about ladybugs this year than in my last 40 years!

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April:

April showers and all of that!

May:

May’s warmth brings out the reptiles! Anoles and rat snakes are in full force!

June:

A cicada emerges!

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Swedish strawberry cake:

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A new friend emerges from the woods! My first photos of Eleanor, the wild cat.

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July:

Happy Fourth!!!

We add another new family member. Meet Esther. Note: Esther is the one without the beard.

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August:

Esther enjoys robes and hiding in the mini pantry. This behavior was not endorsed by yours truly. No one likes cat hair in their cereal.

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September:

Another new family member! Meet Milo:

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2017, so far, has proved to be the Year of the Cat! I also have declared it the year of Returning to the Homestead since I have now deactivated my Facebook account and suddenly have hours and hours added to my day! Amazing, isn’t it? Hope you enjoyed this year’s re-cap.

On to 2018!!!

Life is funny.

Tuesday, 5:20 am:

We are both dead asleep.

Suddenly, there is this loud “WooooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOO” sound, somewhere between a kid trying to pretend to be a ghost and a toddler crying. Jason sits up and says, “What? WHAT?” I mumble, “Was that for real?” Then he is calling the kids names out loud. I’m trying to, unsuccessfully, swim out of my sleep and then I remember that the dog slept in our room. I somehow manage to make it to the end of my bed and onto the floor.

Francesca is lying on a pillow with a look on her face like, “What?”. Yes, apparently dogs can have nightmares, too. Who would have thought. Here’s your 5 am adrenaline alarm/wake-up call. Thanks for the semi-heart attack.

Thursday, 8 am:

I’m in bed, trying to decided whether or not to get up. Jason comes running back into the bedroom hollering, “Oh my GAWD! UGH!!!!!” Of course, I’m saying, “What? What? WHAAAT?”

Turns out, Nancy the dog rolled in a dead chicken carcass and has jumped all over his clean pants. Now he smells like rotten dead animal and has to take another shower, not to mention that the whole back half of the house stinks to high heaven. I go ahead and get up and try to locate the dead chicken who was slated for burial today. As I’m walking around the yard, I step/slide in Nancy’s fresh steaming pile of crap.

Have I mentioned that I am more than a little tired of having dogs? Okay, not Fran, because she doesn’t count. She’s the most un-doggy dog there is. I even bought her a stroller for our vacation. But anyway…

Life on the farm has been busy as always. We are further along in our plan to pay off debt and travel. We are now the proud owners of a beautiful 1 ton truck to pull our travel trailer that we don’t yet own.  I finally broke down and took Fran to get all her vaccines so she is ‘travel legal’. It’s time to plant fall veggies (even a bit late), but I can’t bring myself to plant in September when it is so God-awfully dry. I have been decluttering like mad and try to make progress every day. Been reading Getting Things Done by David Allen and implementing his productivity ideas in my own way. I bought a Pioneer Woman crock pot (LOVE) and have decided to rehome my 20 year old one with the sad broken lid that is taped together with packaging tape. The puppy I posted about last time is on his way to a rescue in Washington state (PTL!).

How is Life on your end?

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I am sorry.

I am sorry that your former ‘owners’ did not feel it necessary to provide you with the most basic of preventatives, resulting in at least a hundred fleas on your emaciated body, and so many hookworms that you became severely anemic. In fact, you were so anemic that the second day you woke up here, you fainted during your potty break and the vet said a blood transfusion would be the most optimal course of action. Your gums and skin were so pale, they were the color of milk. In all my days as a veterinary assistant, your coloring was one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

I am sorry that you probably had never really slept due to the parasites that ravaged your skin day and night. With twenty dollars, I have ensured that you will not have to worry about them for at least a month, and I will continue to provide you with this peace of mind as long as you are here with us.

I am sorry that, to try and find some kind of relief, you scratched and chewed away your skin until it was raw, scarred, and bloody. So much so that in several places you no longer have fur and the vet even tested you for scabies, “just to be sure”.

I would be lying if I told you that I did not lose sleep over this. I stayed up until the early hours of the morning wondering how someone could look at a dog in this condition every day and do nothing to correct it. And from that point, how could anyone ignore any animal or another human being without having the slightest bit of compassion?

I don’t believe in coincidence. God sent you to us because he knew we would help. Even though I cannot keep you permanently, I will continue to work on healing you until you are ready for your new home.

Can you pray with me? Can you pray that a wonderful home opens its doors to Charlie? One that will allow him to sleep inside, spoil him rotten, make sure he never has to go hungry or fight fleas and worms again?

Thank you.

Signed,

The Dogmother

 

 

 

No one listens to me

Me: Do NOT get up on the chair! No no no…ssssssssss! No ma’am! Stop! 

Cat:

The danger of visiting animal shelters

is that you may end up with a few more animals than before you walked in.

Meet the new farm cats, Eleanor and Esther! We have been working hard on the “cat room” over the past week. Today we got in the giant cat tree from Chewy.com and we love it! Whether the cats will enjoy it or not is another question. 

Here is Esther, who is 4 months old:

And here is Eleanor, eyeing the monster cat tree:

It’s a Polistes party!

If you know me well, you will know that me + wasps are not an equation with a happy solution. Usually, this equals me running away, losing a shirt, or pretty much shoving someone out of the way (a la George Costanza) to escape said wasp.

I know wasps have their place. They eat tons of caterpillars and garden pests. I get it. God made them for a good reason. Okay, fine. What I don’t get is why they have to single me out of a crowd to dive bomb me and make me look like I’ve lost my mind. Despite this fact, when a wasp decided to built its nest on one of our windows at eye level, I decided that this might be a good thing. After all, how often do you get the chance to study a wasp nest safely through glass?

So it’s been a few weeks now and the little nest had two new members. Honestly, I’d pretty much forgotten to check it out but I decided yesterday to snap some pictures. When I got back with my camera, I just so happened to hit the wasp watching jackpot! This was better than the Eagle Cam! (Okay…so maybe not.) There was some activity happening in one of the cells. Let’s tune into the Wasp Cam to see what the excitement was all about!


The nest was buzzing with excitement:

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Here’s a little biology review so you know what you’re seeing:

 

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The excitement builds!

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Could it be? Could it be someone’s…((gasp))…birthday?

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And after the birthday party for Carl, Cheryl had volunteered for the clean-up committee, so she meticulously removed the cell’s cap, balloons, banners, and hats, and put them in the proper recycling bins.

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Yes, Cheryl, Claire, and Carolyn got a new nest member, whom we shall call “Carl”. Carl is a male, as you can see from his curly antennae and yellow face. Now you know! Of course, I had to name the wasps. It somehow makes them slightly less disturbing if I know their names are Cheryl, Claire, Carolyn, and Carl.

I will admit to you that as I was working on my photos, I got a little nauseated. No, a lot. A lot nauseated. Wasps have that effect on me. I was sitting there, trying to put up cute little banners and balloons on the nest and I honestly wanted to throw up my hummus and chips all over this laptop and call it a day. But I suffered for YOU, readers! So that YOU might be able to join in the wasp party, too!

As I was working on this post, this went down:

Jason: “Hey, come here a sec!”

Me: “Hold on, I’m trying to photoshop birthday hats on some wasps!”

Jason: (dead silence), then, (chirping of crickets), then, (a lone wolf howls)


So, there is just a peek at life in our household. Hope you enjoyed the Wasp Cam 2017!!! I’m not sure if I can stomach another year of wasp watching.

Oh! And as for the title of this post, these wasps are Polistes metricus, or,  the metricus paper wasp. I always called them the Black-butted wasps, but what do I know? See, I learned something, too!

 

Flutterbys and more Buzzy things

Today I did something I don’t often do. I got up before 9am. I even made breakfast hash by 8. Yes, it was an amazing day. I also had the chance to plant some seeds and take some nice pictures for you before the wildflowers turn brown and crispy like someone hit them with a blowtorch. April and May are glorious in Texas. June is getting ‘meh’, and from July through September, the grass blades are so dry and crunchy that it’s like stepping on glass shards. It’s the time of year I am willing to move ANYWHERE that has rain. But since we still have flowers, I still have some pretty pictures for you!

First off is the very rare Maydelle Carpet butterfly.

Kidding.

Yes, my dogs peed on my entrance rug and apparently this poor, misguided butterfly enjoyed it. I would think nectar would be nicer, but what do I know? So while I was waiting to finish the rest of the laundry so I could wash a ‘dog’ load, this little critter decided to stop and sniff the dog rug. Whatever. This is called a Red Spotted Purple:

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Mmmmm, urine! (((shudder))) Okay, the rug had already dried out, so let’s just hope it was something else.

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In another disturbing butterfly pic, we have a Spicebush Swallowtail feeding on my compost pile. Gosh, you probably only thought they ate nectar! Sorry to spoil your beautiful butterfly images.

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After the “Finding Butterflies on Disgusting Things” session, I moved over to the flowers. Here we have a weird, green eyed buzzy thing. It had huuuge green eyes and looked bee-ish.

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Now we have a carpenter bee on some white arrowhead clover. This is very popular with the monarchs and some of the bees so I am glad that it reseeded so well.

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This little pollinator was super tiny and adorably coated in pollen.

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Now this pretty green ‘bee thing’ is, I believe, a sweat bee. It’s a terrible name for such a beautiful critter. Why not the Viridescent bee or the Emerald bee? Sweat bee? Seriously?

Yes, they are attracted to human sweat. He was either too interested in this flower to notice me, or maybe it was just that my sweat smells like bacon? I’m not sure. (YES I EAT A LOT OF BACON. JUST SAYING.)

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And now we come to our friend, the honeybee. You will see the orange things on her rear legs. This is called “pollen baskets” and the little bee stores the pollen she collects right there on her legs until she gets back to the hive. Pretty awesome, don’t you think? Scroll up and you will also notice that the sweat bee has them, too. I am always glad to see bees with full pollen baskets!

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I hope you enjoyed this week’s garden tour! Well, I’m off to eat a BLT, heavy on the mayo. But not before I wash my dog rugs!!!

Pond-ering

One of the main things that sold my husband on this property was that it had a pond. He had two requirements: a shop and a pond. Oh, and a house. So I guess that makes it three, although I feel that the house was third on the list. Shop, one. Pond, two, House…a distant three. That’s just the way men’s minds work.

The pond has been a long struggle for us, especially the first seven years. It would go almost completely dry every summer when animals needed it the most. The dam leaked and was situated in the wrong spot. There was no emergency spillway; instead, it had two metal culvert pipes to attempt to take the place of a spillway. Tip for those of you thinking about building a pond: Do not use metal culvert pipes in your dam. Just…no.

Things really started shaping up when Jason brought home his new girlfriend. I am not jealous. She weighs about 16,000 pounds. I suppose you could say she is blonde if you consider “construction yellow” to be blonde. I’ll give her this; she is a very hard worker and never complains. They spend many hours together, but he always comes home to me. Yes, the backhoe is really more of an ally to me than an adversary.

Now that we had a dirt-mover, the pond could be repaired. We found that most of our dam was not clay, but trash covered in clay. A stove, car batteries (!), glass bottles, tin….you name it, it was incorporated into the dam. Nice. Tip #2 for dam builders: Do not use trash to make your dam.

Now that Jason has removed Appliance World from the dam, water tends to stay in it. This year has been great for the fish. We have largemouth bass…big ones! They have spawned and make jillions of babies. We stocked with bluegill, ‘shellcrackers’, and fathead minnows. There is an abundance of life in our pond that I can’t even begin to document for you, but I will give you a little bit today!

Let’s start from the “less frightening” to “most fear inducing” critters. That is, at least for most of my readers. I don’t want to scare you off!


I caught this dragonfly in mid-molt. Did you know that they begin life as an aquatic creature? In fact, most of their life is in this larval form. They are only in this adult phase for two months or so. The shell you see at the top was the old exoskeleton that Mr. Dragonfly (or Mrs.) crawled out of, just like a cicada does.

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My daughter took this picture of a baby Red Eared slider. Now that the pond stays full, they have been breeding. I love sliders! They live a long time, reaching ages of 30+ years in the wild. They eat water plants, but also snails, insects, tadpoles, etc. and are considered omnivorous.

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Another photo by my daughter. This is another slider, but I am having a hard time deciding if it is a Yellow Belly or a Red Eared since I can’t see the red on the head. Either way, it’s a female. We call her Bertha. Bertha loves fishing corks and chases them when you go to fish. She will eat top floating fish food if you don’t spook her off first. You can tell a female from a male because male sliders are usually smaller and they have “Freddy Krueger” nails on the front. They are very long, whereas the female’s are short. And now you know!

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Last spring, we had a plague of bullfrog tadpoles. I do not know why Spring 2016 was the year for these, but we had so many it was a little scary. The pond was fairly BOILING with huge tadpoles. If you have ever seen adult bullfrogs, you know that they are huge and prehistoric-looking. Yes, they are slightly intimidating. I snapped this picture of one in our new secondary pond and when I went to check the photo, I was happy to see that it still had its tail. Pretty cool!

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Now, for everyone’s favorites! The snakes. Oh wait…you mean it’s just me? Oh well, I’m used to being the black sheep!

These were, again, snapped by my daughter. She calls this one “Camo”, because of its interesting pattern. We only have four venomous species of snakes in the US and they all live in Texas, which is no surprise to those of us who live here. We are one step away from living in Jurassic Park. If you don’t like scary, venomous, or poisonous things, I wouldn’t recommend moving to Texas. This brings me to a point: Poisonous and venomous are not the same. Don’t call snakes “poisonous” and all herpetologists and reptile enthusiasts will clap with glee and throw you a party. Just kidding! I mean, about the party thing. However, we might clap and give you a button or something. Poison must be inhaled, absorbed, or ingested to harm you. Venom is injected in some way. So when people say “poisonous snakes” it is technically incorrect. Sorry, but my inner nerd is now pleased and now you know the difference. Moving on…

Camo. Yes, “Camo” is a broad-banded water snake. We have quite a few in the pond and sometimes in late summer they will head up to my house at night to eat the baby toads and frogs. Many people mistake them for the moccasin AKA cottonmouth, but moccasins are not brightly colored like this. You can also see the round pupil here, as opposed to the ‘cat-eye’ slit pupil of the moccasin. They can grow up to three feet long and eat small fish and amphibians.

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This is a photo of a baby broad banded water snake that I almost stepped on. When I first saw it, it looked like a goldfish (from above…I could only see the eyes/head). I had just read that goldfish will tear up your pond and make it a muddy mess, so I scooped it up. Then I was like, crap! It’s a snake! But it did give me a great opportunity for a good close-up! We then released it and let it on its merry way. It stayed in the shallow plants.

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The next two pictures are of a Yellow Belly water snake. These are very often mistaken for a moccasin because of their drab coloring and the fact that when they are frightened or cornered, they will flatten out their head and body, which unfortunately even MORE resembles the venomous moccasin. So, a lot of them are shot for no reason. Again, in the second photo, you can see the round pupil and also that they have a bright yellow, non-banded tummy.

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So, life is good at the pond now! We see new baby animals and that means that adults are calling the pond their home, which is exactly what we wanted to happen.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour today!

Callapitters and buzzy things

***If you are a long-time reader of my blog, you will notice that I have changed formats. I wanted to put a larger emphasis on my photos. Let me know what you think in the comments! Thanks for reading! ***

No matter how long I live on this piece of property, I will never cease to be amazed at the sheer magnitude of the biodiversity that inhabits this fifteen acres. As a passionate learner of things, I have to tip my hat to a wondrous God who has knit all of these living creatures together into this planet that we call Earth.

Springtime in Texas offers some great opportunities to take beautiful pictures. Whether it’s the wildflowers, the landscape, or the critters that dwell within, you can get some nice photos if you are patient (and lucky) enough.

One of the critters that I have always loved are the caterpillars. When I was little, I would catch the ‘webworms’ (Eastern Tent caterpillars) that fell from the trees. To me, they looked like tiny, living Oriental rugs. As I grew up, I was sad to discover that they would happily defoliate my fruit trees. However, I still love to pick them up and marvel at those little living rainbows.

One of the caterpillars I see frequently are those of the White-Marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma). These remind me of the Chinese Lion dancers’ costumes with their lacquered red heads, fuzzy protuberances, and poofy backs.

I found this little guy on our tomato plants yesterday. Since I have sensitive skin, I don’t handle caterpillars bare-handed except for the tent caterpillars, which I know don’t affect me. Even caterpillars who don’t have poisonous or irritating spines can cause skin reactions in sensitive people (like ME). Still, it is noted that this caterpillar may cause allergic reactions in some people according to my guide book. So, gloves it is!

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Now, see if you don’t agree with me on the Chinese Lion thing!

Now for some more garden critter photos!

I took about twenty shots before I got this lazy honeybee to NOT stick her bee butt into the lens rather than her face. I like that I was able to get her feeding on the nectar. Patience pays off!

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Here is a photo that I’ve been waiting years to snap. This is a Grey Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus). They can be flighty little things, which is why I could never get a good shot. Again, patience won when I found these lazy guys on my standing cypress flowers:

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I hope you enjoyed your guided bug tour for today!

 

What if?

Warning: Soap box post ahead. In no way is this post intended to incite a riot among my readers; it is simply a post which will attempt to get you to think outside of the dreaded box.


 

When I was in fourth grade, I had a friend who would play the “What if” game. It would begin with me saying something very bland, such as: “I’m going to the lake this weekend.” He would then start in with the “what ifs”, such as:

What if it rains?

What if the lake is all dried up?

What if you run out of sunscreen and get so sunburned you have to go to the ER?

What if there is a rare freshwater shark that no one knows about and you get attacked?

What if  meteor falls in the lake while you’re swimming?

The What If game almost always ended in my demise or dismemberment and I would roll my eyes as far as I could and holler out a disgusted “AAAAUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH! SERIOUSLY!!!”


 

But today, let’s play the What If game with happier consequences.

  • What if you stopped caring what others thought of you? Perhaps, more truthfully, what if you stopping caring about what you think others are thinking about you?
  • What if you stepped outside of the box of social norms? The house, the cars, compulsory schooling, college right out of high school, “socially acceptable” job, etc.
  • What if you stopped comparing yourself to others?
  • What if you were happy with the way you looked?
  • What if you quit that job you hated and followed your passion?
  • What if you were totally debt free?
  • What if I told you that grades in school don’t matter in the long run?
  • What if I told you that you can be perfectly happy and successful without a college degree?
  • What if, every morning, you chose joy?
  • What if you were less selfish?
  • What if you forgave instead of harboring anger?
  • What if you truly lived by the Golden Rule? (Do to others as you would have them do to you)

 

Do some of these questions make you squeamish? Angry? Sad? Uncomfortable?

Again, my intent is to not anger, but to get you to think outside of the box. I wouldn’t ask any question of you that I have not asked of myself. I still struggle with some of the answers.

As much as I do not wish to be anywhere near what is considered “normal”, I also do not want to alienate my associates and my friends, so therefore I must temper my thoughts and my conversations with the knowledge that there will always be those who do not agree with me. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. I don’t know anyone who agrees upon every single issue with another person. I don’t even think that’s humanly possible. But it doesn’t mean that you are wrong or your friend is wrong because your thoughts are different. I have been seeing far too many hateful posts and comments on social media lately. It saddens me.


Several years ago, I read “The Last American” by Elizabeth Gilbert. There was a single passage that stuck with me about circles and boxes. So, here is the truth bomb for you: Life is a circle, not a box. So why are we so adamant about forcing the round peg into the square hole?


Passage from “The Last American”:

Eustace Conway left home at 17 to live on his own in the wilderness. Here he discusses two different worlds while speaking to elementary school children :

“‘I live, in nature, where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is its passage around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular teepee and I build my fire in a circle, and when my loved ones visit me, we sit in a circle and talk. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but we modern people have lost sight of that. I don’t live inside buildings, because buildings are dead places where life stops. I don’t want to live in a dead place. People say that I don’t live in the real world, but it’s modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they’ve stepped outside the natural circle of life.

‘I saw the circle of life most clearly when I was riding my horse across America and I came across the body of a coyote that had recently died. The animal was mummified from the desert heat, but all around it, in a lush circle, was a small band of fresh green grass. The earth was borrowing nutrients from the animal and regenerating itself. This wasn’t about death, I realized; this was about eternal life. I took the teeth from that coyote and made myself this necklace right here, which always circles my neck, so I’d never forget that lesson.

‘Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house box and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box. Does that sound like anybody you know?’”

Now, friends, I will ask you again, “What if?”

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