Christmas

In a world where holiday lights and store displays go up even before Thanksgiving, our family tries to maintain a strong distinction between Advent and Christmas. We don’t play “Christmas” music in our home before December 25th, and all the decorations are strictly limited to Advent images. We don’t even buy a tree, let alone put it up, until very close to Christmas Day.

This was Mrs. Yeoman Farmer’s idea, and I’ve grown to really appreciate it. In my family, our tree and decorations typically went up in early December — and came down around New Year’s Day. It’s been wonderful to rediscover the meaning and definition of these different seasons, and to keep our Christmas displays up throughout the entire Christmas season.

This year was no different. Yesterday, Homeschooled Farm Girl and I finally shoveled our 4×4 truck out of its snow-bound prison, fired up the motor, and set out to find our tree. In recent years, we’ve grown accustomed to getting last minute trees for free — or for five bucks at the most. Why pay more for something you’re going to throw away anyhow?

Why? Well, this year we got the answer. The local grocery store had no trees, leaving few options. We could drive 10-12 miles either north or south, and try to find something. Or we could follow the signs to a local Christmas tree farm.

We chose the latter, even though it meant leaving the truck in 4×4 the entire time. The farm itself was a half-mile down a dirt driveway; we never could have reached it with a different vehicle. Once we arrived, we discovered sticker shock: after so many years of picking up cheap last-minute trees, I was amazed to learn that these trees cost upwards of $40. Or more.

The guy did have one tree that was already cut. It was a bit on the short side, but was well-shapen. And he said he’d let it go for twenty bucks. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time hunting for the perfect tree, so I agreed to take the short one.

But more than that, I had a larger reason for buying my tree there: I wanted to get it directly from the farmer, to support his family, and keep the money in our local community. Was $20 more than I was used to spending? Yes. But where was that $20 going? Directly into the pocket of a guy who had spent a lot of time and sweat building a beautiful Christmas tree farm. No middlemen. No brokers. Directly into the farmer’s pocket.

How do you put a pricetag on that? I certainly can’t. That’s why I happily paid the twenty bucks, took the tree home with Homeschooled Farm Girl, and will think about that farmer every time I look at the beautiful tree in our living room.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Say No to the Bailout

I’ve been wanting to comment on the financial crisis, and the proposed bailout, but have been far too swamped with work to organize my thoughts into a coherent post.

Rod Dreher over at the Crunchy Con blog has had some excellent commentary, and has summarized many of my own thoughts.

Donald Luskin is up with a piece today at NRO that really nails the critical reasons why this is a terrible idea. In part:

Even if you grant that this really is a “crisis,” and that it justifies an extraordinary intervention, there can be no doubt that the $700 billion authority being sought for the purchase of distressed mortgage-related securities is far too great an amount. Of the $1.26 trillion in non-prime mortgages — that is, “sub-prime” and “Alt-A” mortgages — $743 billion is already either owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, companies that were shored up by a government rescue earlier this month. That leaves $521 billion, which means the Treasury’s $700 billion would be more than enough to buy them all. And that’s even if the Treasury paid full value. In fact, the Treasury will get a steep discount, considering that many of the mortgages in question are in delinquency or default. Does the Treasury really have to buy every single non-prime mortgage — even the healthy ones — twice over?

And if the Treasury’s authority were scaled down to something more in proportion to the size of the asset market it claims to address — say $350 billion — must that authority be granted all those dollars at once? Couldn’t we start with $100 billion and see how it goes, and go back later for more if necessary?

In order to restore confidence in these shaky markets, there’s no doubt the administration would claim that its commitment must be both large and irrevocable. But considering the enormous powers being vested in the discretion of a single unelected official — the Treasury secretary — markets may also find solace in the idea that there will be an accountable process for learning from mistakes and making appropriate corrections.

I should note that Luskin goes on to discuss some mitigating reasons that could justify the bailout, and he does say that he’s currently leaning toward supporting it — just that he wishes it was smaller. I agree that some action needs to be taken to address liquidity in the financial markets, but the current proposal’s massive size and delegation of authority to the Treasury Secretary are deal-breakers for me.

I’ve written my congressman to express my opposition. Whatever your position, I encourage you to let your own representative know what you think. You can follow this link to do so.

How Did We Get Here?

Some time back, I was getting caught up with a friend from college. We’d both left Northwestern in 1991 with Masters degrees in political science, and hadn’t spoken to each other since.

I explained that I’d gone to work for a political polling firm, conducting survey and focus group research for Republican candidates and conservative causes. I’d enjoyed that work very much, and the firm kept me on part time as a telecommuter when I’d decided to go back to school and finish my doctorate at UCLA. Along the way, I’d gotten married and had a couple of children—and then, with the dissertation in its final stages, moved from Los Angeles to a five acre farm in rural downstate Illinois.

“You did what?” he asked.

“You know,” I replied. “Moved to the country. Bought a hundred-year-old farm house. Started raising our own food. Homeschooling our kids. Started my own public opinion consulting practice. Trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, all the while working as a pollster and trying to get my candidates elected.”

After a pause, I added: “We’ve basically become Thomas Jefferson’s ‘yeoman farmer’.”

He burst into laughter and replied, “I was just thinking, ‘Jefferson would be very pleased.'”

Jefferson romanticized the small agrarian freeholders of his day as being the country’s “most valuable citizens,” but becoming “tied to our country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds” was far from my mind (and my wife’s mind) in 1999. We were living in a small house on a small subdivision lot in the High Desert of Southern California. I was telecommuting with a political polling firm based in Detroit as I worked on finishing my doctoral dissertation at UCLA.

Y2K was closing in, and speculation was rife as to what kinds of disruptions we’d be facing when the new year rolled over. We didn’t think the world would end, but my wife and I found ourselves thinking and talking a lot about the aspects of daily life we took for granted. Somewhere along the way, we asked ourselves, “Where does our food come from, anyway?”

It was a fateful question, because it led us to study the whole industry of modern food production. And the more we learned about how livestock are factory farmed in confinement, how fruits and vegetables have been bred for shelf life and shipping rather than flavor or nutritional content, and how commodity grains are processed to death after leaving the field, the more troubled we became.

1999 rolled over to 2000 without incident, but we were facing a different set of problems: everything our three year old son was eating seemed to be giving him rashes and making him break out in hives. We tried switching to outragously expensive organic produce, meats, and eggs, and that seemed to help. My wife was soon on a first name basis with the staff of the local organic grocery store, but something still seemed to be making our son sick. Only by eliminating all gluten from his diet did we finally fix it. We began buying rice and quinoa (the only grains we could find without gluten) in bulk, and grinding our own flour by hand for his meals.

As our daughter got older and began eating solid foods, we discovered she had the same food alergies. Puzzled, we kept reading about food and where it comes from. We also spent hours reading Carla Emery’s book, The Encyclopedia of Country Living. Sometime in early 2001, both of us — but especially my wife — had had enough of trying to survive at the margins of Big Food. We’d also had enough of being thousands of miles from family, and living in a subdivision surrounded by neighbors who played stereos at all hours of the day and night. We longed for independence, privacy, and community. As I was in the final stages of my dissertation, and my boss had long grown comfortable with my telecommuting, it no longer mattered where we lived. So we asked ourselves, “If we could live anywhere, where would it be?”

For a variety of reasons, we settled on rural downstate Illinois. It was reasonably close to family, a reasonable drive to Chicago and a short distance from Champaign-Urbana (where we already had friends), and Illinois has among the least restrictive homeschooling laws in the nation. We found an excellent real estate agent in the general location where we wanted to be, and began working with him long distance. He found several promising listings, and we flew out for a weekend in the spring of 2001.

After a day of driving around, we decided to make an offer on a 1600sf, two-story, hundred year old farmhouse with five acres and a few outbuildings. We flew back to Los Angeles, put our house on the market, and by late July I was driving a Ryder truck across the country with all of our worldly possessions. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were becoming what author Rod Dreher would term “Crunchy Cons.”

The house was far from perfect, but seemed like paradise after the High Desert. We started out knowing nothing—absolutely nothing— about gardening, raising livestock, building fences, planting trees, or anything else, when we first arrived. And, apart from the buildings, there was nothing on the property but a lawn. Over the last 5+ years, we’ve slowly shaped the property (and our lives) into what we dreamed of back in California.

This blog will share our experiences — especially the learning experiences, and our reflections on them. We’re still learning, and still making mistakes, but still having a lot of fun doing it. It’s hard to think of a better decision we’ve made than to move to the country, and to become “Jefferson’s Yeoman Farmer.”