Sunday, February 28, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Pursuit of Freedom

Greetings, all.

I've posted on Chicago Boyz and other blogs before, but it was a long time ago. Most of it was my work on the Clausewitz Roundtable. I've commented here and there, too. I'm happy to count Zen Pundit and Lexington Green as close blog-friends of many years.

I'm back. Some has changed, but not much. I'm still an active-duty US Marine Corps Officer. I'm a major now, not a captain. I've been to the sand box a few more times since I last posted an actual blog here. I've deployed more than most for my time in service, but less than some. I'm not complaining, just saying.

One thing did happen on my last deployment, in the end of 2014. Toward the end of deployments it's not uncommon for things to slow down--lots of waiting for things to happen. So you have time to think. In that thinking I started to really question what the hell it is that I'm doing. Why am I fighting? What is it for? I suppose it's connected to the fact that I was rounding out my fourth deployment to Afghanistan, and doing my small part to assist the Marine Corps with the turnover of Helmand Province to the Afghan National Army 215th Corps. I had deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, 2010, 2012-2013, and then 2014. Throw in an Iraq deployment, some time at sea with the Navy, and some other exercises, and you start to see the makings of a military career in early 21st century America. In any case, I was leading a unit and had a good amount of responsibility. But why? Why had the US come here, made the decisions it did, and why was it now trying to leave? And likewise, why was my Marine Corps doing the same thing? And me? Why was I a part of that?

I have no real regrets about the service rendered for my country. The cost has certainly been steep, personally, though. The family, with each deployment, goes through a great deal of stress, and after about three such deployments, they get harder, not easier, for the family and the soldier to handle. I've also lost more friends than I care to count (I can count them out for you, I just don't want to). There are other costs which are borne, too. But the remuneration has been decent, I suppose. We always managed to be somewhat comfortable. Maybe that was the problem...the comfort?

Part of the expression of gratitude the country has for its military is the pay. For an officer, especially, the pay is quite good. I'm not going to tell you the amount of pay and allowances--that's publicly available elsewhere. But suffice to say that the military has been quite shielded from the fears and losses of the great recession. Enlisted men and women do well, too, and can occasionally do very well when it comes times for reenlistment in specific occupational fields. Expenses have always been reasonably less than income, on average. There's been no pressure from the economic environment to really think about my family's financial situation today, let along 10 or 20 years from now. Yet something just wasn't right. I didn't feel out of control, but I didn't feel like I was in charge, either. I had a bit of a feeling of being adrift. The military side of things was very much in control of the situation--I always knew precisely how many people were under my charge, their individual strengths and weaknesses, their state of training and discipline, and their morale. I knew the capabilities of my equipment. I always strove to understand the mission, to lead with vigor, and to "own" my position. I was good at that. But personally and financially? I barely had a financial or a personal life. That had to change.

So I decided to get a handle on things. I started to track every penny--even the pennies I don't see because they're "pre-tax" and given to the government for safe keeping until I claim my share back at tax time. I located all of my accounts. I found all of the debts, the interest rates, the amount of interest I was paying. I started tracking expenses, and then cutting them. I'll be honest--the wife wasn't exactly thrilled by me looking at things with such magnification. I started to read up on personal finance, investing, and life-planning in general. I read blogs and books, listened to podcasts, and talked with others about how to really order finances these days. And I began to radically alter our financial course. We paid all our debts, we bought a house (so, in actuality, we have one mortgage now). We've rented out our basement to a tenant. And we now save about 40% of all our pre-tax income. We're not where I want to be yet, but we're getting there. I'm not leaving anything to chance any longer, unless it's a calculated chance intentionally taken. Every expense is now deliberately taken.

I also decided to look for some hobbies. Being a military man has a way of becoming an all-encompassing experience. Your friends are basically military colleagues. Your work is military work. Military people know about "mandatory fun"--those obligatory nights spent with comrades and often with superiors. Your wardrobe is decided for you. Where you live is decided. My task was to carve out a bit of this life and make it mine. I had to get new friends and do new things with different groups of people. That would add richness to my life. I've done that, and I'm still doing that.

I've been working on the above things--redirecting our financial life and reordering how I spend time--for a bit over a year now. The changes have been pretty dramatic. Looking back, I realize that up until I took command of my life I was living in a bit of a fog. With all of the turmoil of military life, the American people do much to make finances reasonably tranquil. This financial tranquility is both a blessing and a curse. You're never really forced to grapple with the default decisions the consumerist economy makes for you. Nor are you forced to grapple with the reality that politics is not really national. It's local. Your political power begins with you and those you immediately affect. You need to reclaim that power for yourself. Take charge of the fruits of your labor. Own your day to the extent you can. If you want to descend into the cesspool of national politics, fine--but do it intentionally. In fact, live your life intentionally. A life, intentionally lived, taken to the logical extreme, is the very definition of freedom. That is why I fight, happily, for my country.

I'll be blogging about my financial journey here, as well as on other things as I see fit.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.  I also maintain a ham radio blog at the N0PCL Radio Site.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fermenting Success!

So, I was wrong.

In my previous post I noted that my initial attempt at fermenting juice into alcohol goodness had been a failure.  It wasn't!  I succeeded.

I was originally moved to try this at one point by a post at Mr. Money Mustache detailing the simplicity of fermenting alcohol goodness.  I originally bookmarked that link about a year ago when I was doing my Mr. Money Mustache blog-reading binge, and it's sit on the back burner ever since.

Then I listened to one of Jack Spirko's podcasts where he again explained some of the alcohol goodness that can be fermented very simply, and I decided that the waiting would have to stop.  I was going to ferment alcohol.  And it would be good.

So I bought a carboy, a stopper, and airlock, and a bunch of yeast off of Amazon.  And I bought a gallon of 100% pure apple juice (no preservatives, as they inhibit fermentation by the yeast.)

The empty juice bottle (I used two of these).  And a packet of yeast from Amazon.  It's a Cuvee yeast.
I've read that you really only need a half teaspoon of this stuff.  I dumped in the whole thing.

Pasteurize the carboy by boiling some water and pouring it into the empty carboy.  Dump the water out.  Pour in the room temperature apple juice.  And pour in a yeast packet.

And now comes the hard part:  You wait.  Fermenting takes a couple weeks.  During the fermentation  you should see the airlock bubble as the fermentation releases the carbon dioxide.  After 10-14 days this should subside.  Sediments and the yeast should also be settling to the bottom of the carboy, too (this is called lees.)  Wait another couple days, when you can carefully pour the alcohol-apple goodness into some bottles and refrigerate it.  Try to pour slowly so the lees stays behind.  Others have success siphoning out the drink with a piece of plastic tubing in order to leave the lees behind.

It's important to keep the fermenting vessel at a comfortable room temperature.  I keep mine in the laundry room, which is slightly warmer than most areas of the house.

The color of the juice should lighten a bit.  Some people say it should clear up, but my juice remained fairly opaque, but was lighter.  Initially I thought my first fermentation had failed because of this opacity, but my wife said we should still try it.  So we did.  And it was tasty!

The alcohol content isn't terribly high--it's limited by the amount of sugar in the apple juice and/or by the fact that yeast naturally stop fermenting when the beverage becomes too alcoholic.  Since I was using just straight apple juice, it produced a drink with about 3-4% ABV.  Pretty weak, but a good start.

I have more apple juice to ferment, and soon I'll start experimenting with other juices.

I have since bought a couple more carboys and airlocks.  I'm fermenting some cider now that has been mixed with about 3/4 cup of brown sugar (in order to boost the alcohol content.)

More can be read about hard cider in America here and here.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 Goals

I'm posting my 2016 goals for myself here.  I prefer to avoid the term "New Years Resolution."  Goals seem a bit less emotionally-loaded than Resolutions.

Here they are:
  • Financial Goal:  Save $60000 for investments.
  • Personal Skill Goal:  Build backyard garden, grow vegetables, and eat them.
  • Personal Skill Goal:  Repeatedly and reliably figure out how to make fermented juices and ciders (I've already started on this.  It's hasn't worked yet).
  • Personal Skill Goal:  Brew my own beer.
  • I have some Ham Radio Goals posted here.
  • Professional Goal:  Earn qualification as a COR (Contract Officer Representative).
  • Professional Goal:  Complete academic coursework for DAWIA Level II Certification.
  • Professional Goal:  Continue my personal reading program.
  • Write 24 blog posts on this blog and 24 posts on my N0PCL Radio Site.
So far things are on track.  We saved $5658.99 for investing during the month of January, which can be annualized to almost $68k per year!  Which is fine.  I like not just succeeding at goals but outright destroying them.

My gardening goal will wait until spring and summer.

My fermented juice goal has already failed once.  I'm about to try again.  I'll write about that later.  Progress is sometimes uneven.

This should be a great year!  Lots of personal growth and making the tomorrow even better than the today.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A New Blog

So.  A new blog.

I've blogged before.  I maintained the Smitten Eagle blog for a couple years, but I've since deleted it.  There were some good thoughts there but my life took me elsewhere and the theme of that site didn't seem to fit.

But I'm back now.  I'm still trying to discover why I'm again attracted to laying my written thoughts out for others to see.  There's always a bit of a risk in that, but there's a reward, too.  Perhaps a tiny bit of recognition.  Maybe a little clarity of thought because you've forced yourself to digest the thoughts into words.  And maybe you learn to write a bit better, and also read better.  Perhaps most important is the increase in the scope and depth of the personal network.  All of those things are beneficial.  So, some combination of these things is compelling me to write.

Who am I?

Well, I'm a man, mid-30s, born in the American Midwest (Yankeedom, with some Midlands characteristics).  The longer I live the more I see a lot of those Midwestern values that were inculcated in me:  Thrift.  Hard work.  The idea that the older I get the smarter my dad gets.  A recognition I'm eminently replaceable in the bigger scheme of things but that I matter a great deal to my small family.  I believe in good common sense, local control of affairs, that good fences make better neighbors.

I'm also a United States Marine Corps officer.  A Major, to be exact, which I'm told is a pretty thankless rank.  But I've been fortunate in the assignments I've been given and, believe it or not, I'm well compensated for my work (both monetarily and otherwise.)  I've fought overseas a good amount--more than most but not as much as some.  It's changed me, and I'm better for it.  The personal cost to me an my family has been steep but, as she says, "We're doing it!"

I've read a great many books, but mostly in the areas I was professionally interested:  Military history & theory, strategy, tactics, organizational leadership, a little philosophy (Stoicism--probably the quintessential philosophy of the occidental soldier.)  A little political thought.  How to think about thinking.  These books also changed me.  They allowed me to bring a bit of creativity to the situations I've been in, particularly when I've been able to "take a knee" and just think for a moment about the situation I'm in.  Where am I in the wider story?  What are my real options?  What battles are worth fighting?  When have we planned enough?  What steps are really necessary?

After my last combat deployment, though, that I had a bit of an epiphany:  What Am I Doing?  Who Am I?  Where Am I Going?  I needed to better define myself, and not merely as a military officer.  I needed to branch out and really find out what I'm doing and why.

I resent the idea that military service is an inherently destructive enterprise.  Yes, the military destroys things and kills people using powers granted by political authorities, acting in defense of the Constitution, theoretically, and with the oversight of Congress, theoretically, acting on behalf of the American citizens.  So that's a bit destructive.  I will grant that.  But there's a creative act to it, too--making a plan, and with limited resources, accomplishing something in service to an enterprise greater than yourself.  Yes--the sense of mission is what lends the military life its creativity--the imperative to victory while fighting against the odds.

But, at another level, the military life can be dull.  There is the inescapable fact that, at a fundamental level, the officer uses the power of the state to make people do things, and in turn, others make you do things.  Yes--there is the moral component, the art & science component, the professional component.  But sometimes it can be a bit dissatisfying.  Then there is the aspect that I'm an officer with 13 years of service to my Corps--and the connected notion that my active military career is likely 50-65% complete.  Then there's the idea that many believe that most of the satisfaction of being a military officer occurs as a lieutenant and captain, which means many of my best days are behind me.  So, after all is said and done, what is next?

I didn't know.  But I did have options.  I could chose to contend with the situation, to think and contemplate, and to start doing something.  So I did.  I committed to get the financial situation in order (not that it was in bad shape, but it wasn't really a planned financial situation--it wasn't intentional or deliberate.)  I committed to start doing something with my hands--building things, making things, fixing things.  I committed to really examine who I am, how I relate to my family and the greater world.

So, today, I publish my first blog post on the Warrior in the Garden blog.  The name was of the blog was chosen very intentionally.  Originally I was leaning toward something relating to The Tree of Knowledge, drawing from the tragedy and the sense of anagnorisis from the Biblical story of sin entering the world, and with that sin, a sense of dichotomy (sin vs. righteousness, knowledge vs. ignorance).  It was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, after all.  You bite that fruit (an apple, in the Western tradition), and now you know who you are--a sinner.  And you're burdened and empowered with that knowledge of good and evil.  I was leaning toward that theme, basically connecting my anagnorisis of combat and the transformation I'm working through now to the Biblical story.

But no--I chose The Warrior in the Garden because of a short quote I heard on a podcast.  It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.  That is true.  And it is what I am--a commissioned Marine officer, a title I will hold forever.  But I am also trying to have a garden to live in--to tend it, to live off of it, to get some fulfillment from it.  I don't intend to lose who I am, but rather to more explore who I am in other ways.  This is less tragic, and it's more intentional and open about the future.

And so I started this blog.

Here I will explore many things.  I will probably touch on military theory, foreign policy, some domestic political concerns, perhaps a little small-l libertarianism and small-a anarchism, technology, perhaps some gardening, the completing of various projects, the life if building things, finance (personal and otherwise), what I do with my time, etc.  Themes will include self improvement, self-reliance, the relating of the person to the greater world, the obligations of one to other people and the greater society, the meaning of service, and the delta between the way things are and the way things should be.