Enjoying the Night Sounds

The country has its own set of unique night sounds. Unlike the city, where the sounds of traffic and people talking in whispered tones are pretty much mundane and expected, country sounds vary night-by-night. In fact, the noise of scurrying, shrieking, chirping, and trilling all add to the appeal of a night in the country. Of course, everyone knows about the crickets, but I assure you that the country has much more to offer than that.

The night before last, we hear the songs of coyotes. Some people get this picture of Wile-E-Coyote, super genius, and that’s not even close to what a real coyote is like. Even though they have been known to kill farm animals, we’ve never actually had a problem with coyotes. It’s far more likely that a raccoon, fox, or weasel will kill our chickens. Coyotes yip, howl, and produce a sort of sing-song chaotic sound that’s interesting to hear. We can listen to the coyotes for hours and only become a bit concerned when they get near, which they seldom do.

Sometimes we hear a rabbit’s shriek when a raccoon, fox, or weasel manages to sneak up and get it. The first time you hear the shriek, you wonder what could make such a horrible sound—high-pitched and chilling to the bone. The sound is meant to be piercing and warns other rabbits in the area to get away. A smart predator gets the rabbit without allowing it to make a sound so that it can get other rabbits in the same evening. When we hear the shriek, we know that it’s an unlucky hunter, or perhaps a young one.

Last night, we heard an entirely new sound. Never before have we heard the mating calls of owls. Yes, we’ve heard the terror inducing scream of the screech owl or the harmonious hoot of a barn owl, but never a mating call. It took a while for me to realize what I was hearing. The male started things off with a quick repertoire of hoots that sounded more like Morse code than an owl—dot-dot-dot-dash (the number 4). As the sound got closer, I heard a female reply with a more standard (and less frantic) set of hoots. However, even the female provided hoots in sets, rather than singularly as is usual. The two kept hooting at each other until I could hear that the loudness of the hoots was the same, then the couple flew off to parts unknown.

Our woods are packed with wildlife, much of which comes out to play at dusk. The night sounds tell us that the woods that seem devoid of much life during the day really do have a considerable host occupying them. All these sounds of life keep us entertained and some make us wary. There are times when our dogs warn us of intrusions we must investigate carefully. The night is when our world comes alive with life of all sorts. What kinds of sounds do you hear in the night? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 4)

For many people, this time of the year is extremely depressing. There are all sorts of acronyms associated with this time of the year, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have no doubt that these disorders, diseases, and disabilities all exist and are quantifiable in some way. In fact, I imagine that there are tests to determine precisely which of them you have and to what extent you suffer from them. The bottom line is that the holidays are over, the weather is stormy, and the budget tight. Excitement is nowhere to be found—at least, not the sort of excitement that many people consider fun today.

It’s this time of year when Rebecca and I engage most strongly in crafting. Making things tends to take your mind off of all of the things that would make you SAD. For example, this is the time of year that I make knitted items most. A craft need not be expensive or require skills that most people lack. I’ve known more than a few families who have gathered pine cones in the fall, drizzled a bit of glue on them, dipped them in glitter, and added a bit of yarn to string the pine cones up. Not only do them make attractive Christmas ornaments, you can hang them up in a room as decoration. The cheerful colors and the occasional glint of the sun dancing off the glitter can dispel the gloom in any room. Stenciling and other forms of decorative art are helpful this time of the year as well. I got the idea for bright colors in a room from some of the displays in European Village at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Old world houses weren’t drabthey were colorful to keep things cheery during the winter months. This form of decoration improves your ability to withstand the drab winter months and could very well help keep SAD at bay.  The best part of all is that you can get the supplies for any of the crafts I’ve mentioned for less than $20.00 and some, like stenciling, can consume an inordinate amount of time that you’d otherwise spend feeling bad.

Of course, not everyone likes crafts and I wouldn’t want you to saddle yourself with something that you won’t ever enjoy (no matter how hard you try). This is also a good time of the year to take a winter walk. Wait for a nice day and go into the woods. The woods are amazing this time of the year and if you’re careful, you’ll see some interesting animals, such as a fox or weasel. You have to look extra hard in some cases. Some animals change color in the winter to better blend in with their environment. A white rabbit on white snow is incredibly hard to see.

So, you’re not into the outdoors and crafts have no interest. There are still things you can do to make this time of the year better. Some people live for sports. The Superbowl takes place in two weeks. Personally, I’m not much of a sports fan. In fact, I just barely know the names of our teams here in Wisconsin (much less the rest of the country). However, I do like action movies, so we have a Super Action Hero Bowl on Superbowl Sunday. Here are the steps for creating your own Super Action Hero Bowl:

 

  1. Create a list of the action heroes that appear in your movie collection (or that you know you can borrow free from somewhere like the library).
  2. Place the names in a hat and have someone draw four or five names.
  3. Create lists of the movies that you own for each action hero.
  4. Place the movies for a specific hero in the hat and draw out the name of a movie for that hero.
  5. Create movie lists and draw a movie name for each of the remaining heroes.
  6. Now that you have a list of names and movies, create a scorecard. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but each member of the family who participates in Super Action Hero Bowl should have a separate scorecard.
  7. Watch the first movie on the scorecard and mark that movie’s rank. Each movie should be ranked from 1 to 4 (or 5, depending on how many movies you choose). No two movies should receive the same score. (No peaking at your neighbor’s scorecard please!)
  8. Continue watching movies until you have completed them all.
  9. Tally the scores from each of the scorecards for each movie. The movie with the lowest score (the highest rank) wins.


It’s a good way to spend a day in family fun. It’s inexpensive and the competition adds a certain appeal to the event. Of course, just like the Superbowl, you can grab some special foods from your larder and serve them during the course of the day.

Just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean you have to make things drab. Rebecca and i usually store some special goodies in the larder for this time of the year. When there is something to celebrate, we make an impromptu personal party using these items. We’ll play games, listen to special music, put puzzles together, or do other things to make the event special. Get a good report from the doctor? Why not have a party to celebrate it? It takes a little effort to avert the drudgery of this time of the year, but you can do it and it doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything at all).

How do you avoid the January blues? Do you like crafts, a bit of nature, some mild competitive fun, or a bit of a party? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Make sure you also view the other Fun is Where You Find It posts for other ideas.

 

Entering the New Year

Today is my first day back from vacation. I’ve been looking forward to telling you everything that has happened during my down time! In fact, unlike many people, I really look forward to getting back to work. Well, the crammed inbox is a bit of a pain, but even the e-mail surplus is a reminder to me that you’re finding the help in my books useful.

Vacation is a bit of a misnomer for me. Yes, I do unplug from the computer as described in my Learning to Unplug post, but there is plenty to do outside. One of the new experiences I had during vacation was working on a large tree. My uncle had an oak with a 44″ diameter trunk fall several years ago. It was time to cut it up this winter. I only have a 22″ bar on my chainsaw and a 22″ bar doesn’t quite reach 22″ into the trunk, so we had a bit of trouble getting the rounds cut from the trunk. Cutting as much as I could and then using wedges to do the rest worked fine. Moving pieces that large is also a problem because you can’t lift them (or barely budge them for that matter). I learned how to use a cant hook to move the large pieces of wood onto the splitter (my uncle has a hydraulic splitter attached to his tractor). I still use a 20 pound splitting maul and splitting wedge to hand split all of my wood. Most people use a lighter splitting maul, but the abundance of white and red elm, black locust, and hickory on my property makes a heavier maul a necessity. Lets just say that between helping my uncle and cutting a bit of my own wood, I didn’t lack for exercise during vacation .

This year we did get to spend quite a bit of time with family and friends, especially since the weather here is Wisconsin is unusually mild. We don’t have any snow on the ground to speak of at the moment and none is in the forecast. Of course, the lack of snow makes travel easy, but it’s also worrisome because our plants will miss the moisture come spring and we could experience problems due to the lack of cover. However, each winter is different and I’m sure we’ll get clobbered by a snowstorm or two before all is said and done.

Rebecca and I also spent time putting a puzzle together (a review will appear later this week) and we had some fun watching movies. Of course, the tea kettle received a workout as we spent time in front of the wood stove enjoying something good to read. Overall, a nice way to rest during vacation. We didn’t just stay at home though. The new Sherlock Holmes movie called to us, so we went to see it at our local theater. Of course, there were visits to Deli Bean (a local coffee shop) and Stone Hollow (our local restaurant), where we enjoyed some nice treats.

The mild weather also made it possible for me to walk in the woods. During one of my visits to the woods, I kept track of a fox. Cody (see Many Hands Make Light Work) and I had spotted a dead raccoon near a den in the woods, so I perched a distance from the den to see if anything came out. The den had a fox in it last winter and it appears that the same fox is there this winter. So, I sat on my stump for a while and watched. I find nature amazing. The woods provides us with food, heat, and entertainmentwhat more could anyone ask?

However, in addition to these activities, I also worked on some ideas for upcoming books, which is one of the focuses of this post. I’m planning to write some books on self-sufficiency. The books will have the same focus as my blog posts. I want to make things simple and to demonstrate ways you can also receive a financial benefit from your activities. Self-sufficiency is great because you help the environment, improve your health, and get a better product. For many people, these reasons look attractive until you start considering the financial element of self-sufficiency. Surprisingly, many people are unaware of the fact that self-sufficiency saves considerable money—enough that you really need to consider it as a source of income, rather than as a money sink. My new book will emphasize what you get in exchange for your efforts and how to optimize the benefits you receive. If you have some ideas on what you’d like to see in my book, please be sure to write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Vacation is a time for equipment maintenance as well. I was able to get a few necessary maintenance tasks done during vacation. Another week off would have been nice, but I did get the essentials done.

One of my favorite activities during vacation was baking cookies with Rebecca. She makes the most delightful cookies and it’s always a pleasure to give her a hand when I can. We made sugar cookies this time around, but next time we may do something a bit more exciting.

Today is the first in-office work day of the year for me. Please be patient if you’ve sent me an e-mail while I’ve been gone. I promise to answer every e-mail that I’ve received while I was gone, but with a little over 900 reader e-mails in my inbox, it takes a while to get the job done. In the meantime, I hope that you’ve had a great start to the new year and I’m looking forward to presenting you will all sorts of really neat posts this upcoming year on just about every topic imaginable!