Monthly Archives: May 2011

Amish Hunting

When the kids were younger we used to go Amish Hunting. I miss Amish Hunting. It’s a very soothing and relaxing activity, good for the soul and refreshing to the spirit. We’d often go Amish Hunting after a trip to suburbia, a trip full of shopping and errands on a weekend day. Typically on those days, the kids would fall asleep in the back seat as we were headed home and being good parents who wanted to take advantage of those precious moments of quietness, we would go Amish Hunting.

There is a relatively large Amish community just south of us. When you are Amish Hunting you need to have good tracking skills, honed over many years and many miles driving through the country side with sleeping children in the back seat. Some clues that you are approaching a good Amish Hunting ground; lots of white barns, clothes lines full of men’s dark pants and blue work shirts and women’s dresses flowing in the breeze, plows being dragged through the earth by large work horses, beards and bonnets… and of course, the symbolic black horse-drawn buggies.

It takes some time to develop the necessary skills to recognize these signs, but once you learn them, you too can spend valuable time Amish Hunting. Just remember, when you are Amish Hunting, it’s okay to shoot the scenery, but it’s not okay the shoot the actual Amish… with your camera, that is. Amish people do not like to be photographed. Some claim the reason is that the Amish believe the photograph steals their souls. From what I gather this is just an urban legend and the proper reasoning is that the Bible tells them it is a sin and forbidden to have a Graven Image of oneself. I think it is okay to take a picture of an Amish person if he or she is not aware of the photo being taken and is not posing for the camera. Here’s my advice though; when you are Amish Hunting, just don’t take any pictures. Instead keep to yourself and spend your time basking in the scenery and the peace and quiet and solitude. If you need pictures of Amish people go to the mall and buy a book or a calendar, there are plenty of those to be had.

I’m not sure how we coined the phrase Amish Hunting but it’s a phrase that has stuck in my family’s lexicon. We have discovered a few interesting things during our Amish Hunting trips. There is a wonderful Amish owned store called Millers General Store which sells lots of great baking goods and other grocery items. There is no electricity in the store so it is lit with gas lamps and the refrigerators are powered that way as well. One day on a rare weekday Amish Hunting excursion, on a Tuesday afternoon, we drove past a large congregation of Amish people celebrating. After a little research later that day we discovered that Amish weddings are traditionally held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The kids swing set that graces our yard was purchased from an Amish fellow who hired a driver to deliver it to our property and assembled it for us. There used to be a great ice cream store we would stop at, since closed down, that was often frequented by Amish families with their children. Farther south, of course, is the wonderful city of Shipshewanna, part Amish community with its famous flea markets and tractor pulls and part tourist trap with its restaurants and t-shirt and souvenir shops.

Mostly though, Amish Hunting is just what it sounds like… driving around in a scenic, idyllic place, admiring the beauty of an area where time has seemingly stood still, where family and community and rural heritage are able to survive even though the materialistic temptations of the modern world slowly encroach. I’ve always felt a little strange staring and gawking at these people and wonder how they feel as their communities have become a draw for people trying to get a break from their usual suburban and urban landscapes. But these areas continues to enchant me… its part admiration, part curiosity and wonder, part fascination with a people who us regular folks in the modern world have trouble understanding. It’s Amish Hunting and I’d encourage you to try it some time.

Now that the kids are growing up, we don’t go Amish Hunting very often anymore. Their daily activities keep us occupied and there just isn’t much time these days for lazy afternoon drives. That’s okay… it’s the way life ebbs and flows and in due time there will be more opportunities available. For now, I’m pretty confident the Amish are not going anywhere.

Photos: courtesy of amishamerica.com

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The Lemonade Stand

So you want to open your own business.  You want to be able to work for yourself, set your own hours, be your own boss. Good for you… that’s tremendous. Your entrepreneurial spirit is to be commended!

I have put together a simple business plan to help you get started. We’ll use the classic Lemonade Stand as an example:

Financing:

Start by going to the bank and asking them to loan you a truckload of money.  Make sure you have a good solid business plan that explains to banker guy why you won’t be one of the 50% of new lemonade stands that fails during the first year and the roughly 90-95% of lemonade stands that fail to make it past five years.

Retail Space:

You will need to find a nice solid cardboard box where you can lease space for $10-$30 per square foot, depending on where you choose to locate your stand.  It’s best to have your box located in a high traffic area and be sure it’s a good, clean, quality box because you’ll likely have to pay for your own utilities, janitorial services and maintenance.

In addition you will need to purchase some signage so people driving past understand that your business is actually a family friendly lemonade stand as opposed to a liquor store.  As most areas have strict signage regulations, make sure to contact your local zoning commission and have your signage proposal approved.  Just some advice… a mammoth sized cardboard sign hanging with a piece of yarn that says LEMONADE – 50 CENTS!… that probably won’t pass as the square footage of the sign will most likely be larger than what is allowed based on the retail frontage you have available.

Employees:

You will need to keep your lemonade stand open at hours that are convenient to your customers and since it’s likely you won’t be able to cover all of those hours yourself, you will need to hire some friendly, courteous employees.  Be sure you are following all legal procedures when hiring, such as using an appropriate job application as well as being aware of anti-discrimination laws during interviews.  You are not allowed to ask questions about age, religious beliefs and favorite flavors of summertime drinks… even indirectly.  For example do not ask “so, do you enjoy lemonade when you are taking communion?” or “lemonade was very popular in the 1950’s, did you enjoy lemonade back then?”  Of the employees you hire, some will turn out to be wonderful.  Others will turn out to be completely dysfunctional losers.  Occasionally some will even steal your lemonade and your cups.  You will not be able to fire them, however, without spending inordinate amounts of money on attorney fees, as they will most likely be classified as “protected” employees.

You may want to consider paying a professional to write and assemble an employee manual that documents all the policies and procedures that your employees will need to follow as they are working in your lemonade stand.  This will help fend off future problems such as lateness, insubordination, taking too many lemonade breaks or arriving to work drunk on Vodka and Lemonade cocktails.  In case problems do arise, however, be sure you have documented disciplinary procedures that will be taken in the case of a transgression.

Professional Services:

There will be a lot of bookkeeping involved so it would be prudent to find yourself a qualified accountant to handle all the IRS requirements, the business taxes, the quarterly filings, the payroll taxes, the sales tax payments, the monthly profit and loss statements and the money embezzling schemes.  A good accountant will cost you a significant amount of money and traditionally will not take free lemonade as payment.

It will also be a good idea to call your insurance agent and buy enough insurance to cover your business when someone chokes on one of your ice cubes or slips on the lemonade you spilled on the floor.  In addition, be sure you buy a decent Workman’s Compensation policy to protect you from that one employee that is sure to get Lemonade Powder Respiratory Disease and who will then attempt to extort money from you.

Technology:

With money loaned from the bank you will need to purchase some computer equipment and Point-of-Sale Cash registers, because everything is done electronically these days and you will need to be able to have e-mail and a website to showcase your lemonade.  The cost of the maintenance contracts on this equipment will be extraordinarily high and inversely proportional to the levels of support you actually receive. In addition, as your customers rarely carry cash anymore, you will need to be able to process credit and debit cards.  Credit cards will take roughly 2% of every sale, debit cards are charged on a flat per transaction rate.

Benefits:

In order to find and retain good quality employees, you will need to offer a suitable benefits package, including health and dental insurance, a qualified Section 125 Flex spending plan, a fair and equitable amount of vacation time and paid holidays.  Once you have decided on an appropriate medical plan that will not bankrupt your lemonade stand, be prepared for your premiums to increase 20-40% per year, every year, until you are old enough to be on Medicaid or until you die or until you just decide to kill yourself because your medical plan is bankrupting your lemonade stand.

Excellent, the infrastructure for your lemonade stand is all in place!  How exciting!

Now you can finally start setting your own hours which will most likely include a seven day, ninety hour work week. Because you are the owner, however, you can put in those ninety hours whenever you want to, except for when you are constantly covering for one of your new employees that has decided not to show up for his shift. Then you can write payroll for your staff even though you personally won’t be able to take any salary for a couple of years because your lemonade stand is hemorrhaging cash-flow.  If you are committed and persistent, however, your lemonade stand will eventually begin to become profitable.

Then Wal-Mart will show up next door and put you out of business.

Congratulations!  Now get the hell back to work at your real job.

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Sudden Death Overtime

This post is part of the Write On Project: Topic – Intentions vs. Goals.

Color Guy:  Well, here we go fans… this is it… it’s a nail biter here as we start this sudden death overtime period… still no goals scored in this one.  TEAM WARNER needs to get one here to stay in this series.  But TEAM HINDRANCE is putting on a phenomenal defensive performance… I think this one just may go down to the wire.  Here comes the faceoff… Let’s roll…

Play by Play:  TEAM WARNER wins the faceoff… WARNER’S got the puck and he’s skating down the ice… I think he might just be able to finally get that kid’s book written, he’s been trying to score that goal for several months now… he passes to THELOVINGWIFE… I think he might just be able to break free from his usual obligations… there he goes, he’s open down the side… he’s looking for a scoring opportunity…THELOVINGWIFE passes the puck back… looks like WARNER is going to take the shot… he fires… OH NO… it’s blocked by the defender… Boy, WARNER had good intentions on that one… but he just couldn’t pull it off this time…

Color Guy:  WOW, that TOOMANYKIDSACTIVITIES, he’s been quite a player for TEAM HINDRANCE… always finding a way to get in front of those shots on goal… he’s like a brick wall, just standing right there in the way… amazing defender that TOOMANYKIDSACTIVITIES…

Play by Play:  Yes, he is quite a player.  Back on the move…  TEAM HINDRANCE comes down the ice…

Color Guy:  Their passing game is something else tonight.  Amazing how they can keep the puck away from TEAM WARNER’S defense…

Play by Play:  WAIT… don’t speak too soon… WARNER steals the puck again, he’s moving down the right side… he’s got a wide open shot… I think he might just be able to find that new career… he’s been after that goal for some time now… looks like the timing might be just right this time… he shoots…. OHHH… MYYY… GOODNESS… right into the goalie’s glove, another great shot on goal… stopped right in its tracks… great intentions once again…

Color Guy:  Yeah, that was a great shot but holy smokes, what a save by CANTFINDANEWJOB… he definitely keeps TEAM HINDRANCE in these games… it’s amazing how fast his reflexes are… time after time, he can just jump right in and block those opportunities… he’s something else.

Play by Play:  Yes, he sure is a solid player…  here we go… CANTFINDANEWJOB fires the puck back out… TEAM HINDRANCE is on the move again… here they come down the ice…

Color Guy:  TEAM HINDRANCE looks good tonight… especially their defense… they’ve got TEAM WARNER back on their heels.

Play by Play:  Yes they do… and they’re moving the puck well… looks like they might have an open shot… look at that!!  Amazing… WARNER steals the puck again… he’s skating up the ice… wide open, he’s got plenty of space and lots of free time… it’s all in his hands… I think he might be able to finally get those house renovations finished… wait, he passes off to GETMOTIVATED… OHHH…NOOOO… GETMOTIVATED misses the pass…

Color Guy:  Unbelievable… that GETMOTIVATED… he just can’t seem to get it done like he used to…

Play by Play:  The puck’s off the wall… look at that… GETYOURASSOFFTHECOUCH… he’s got control of the puck for TEAM WARNER… he might just save this play… GETYOURASSOFFTHECOUCH fires it back to WARNER who’s wide open just outside the crease… he’s wide open… there’s the puck… it’s on his stick… WARNER’S gonna fire off a shot on goal… I think he’s got good intentions on this one… he shoots!  Whoa!  Did you see that?  Did you see that play by TOOFUCKINGLAZY… completely out of nowhere… out of nowhere, he just deflected that shot… where did he come from?

Color Guy:  Yeah, I did see that… unreal… it was like he wasn’t even there… then suddenly he was there… that’s how TOOFUCKINGLAZY works though… he just shows up out of nowhere… an incredible player that TOOFUCKINGLAZY!

Play by Play: This one is definitely coming down to the wire… time is quickly running out for TEAM WARNER…  here comes TEAM HINDRANCE down the ice for one last opportunity… WOW, look at that… an amazing defensive play by THELOVINGWIFE… TEAM WARNER has regained control of the puck. .. THELOVINGWIFE passes off to WARNER… they’re both on the move… this is it… they look strong… do you think they’ll finally be able to get the house cleaned up in these last few seconds of play?

Color Guy:  I don’t know… YOURHOUSEISAPIGSTY has played one heck of a defensive game… and it looks like he’s, once again, in prime position to break up this play…

Play by Play:  I don’t know… TEAM WARNER is looking good… WARNER passes back to THELOVINGWIFE… she blows right past YOURHOUSEISAPIGSTY… she’s got an open shot… she pulls her stick back… shoots… Unbelievable!  What a play by THESEKIDSAREFREAKINGSLOBS… he just stopped that shot before it could even get started…

Color Guy:  Yes, that was some stop by THESEKIDSAREFREAKINGSLOBS… it’s stunning how he can derail even the most beautifully executed play… what a defensive performer… Amazing!

Play by Play:  Well, looks like time’s about to wrap up on this one… TEAM WARNER has missed another prime opportunity to score some goals on TEAM HINDRANCE… I don’t know… these TEAM WARNER players… they’ve got great intentions, they just can’t seem to get those goals in the net…

Color Guy:  You’re right… you know…maybe they need to look at the free agency market to see if there’s any top players they could acquire… I think I heard JUSTKEEPDRINKING is available…

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Don’t swear at your lawn mower

I swore a lot at my lawn mower yesterday.

I was trying to get the grass cut as it was quickly reaching Amazon Jungle heights with all the rain and cool weather we get this time of year.  When the grass is too long, especially in the spring, the wood ticks come out in force and start looking for some fresh blood to suck… on us or our dog or on our goats.  Plus I hadn’t had a chance to cut it yet and unfortunately my delusional dream that the two goats would keep the grass all nice and trimmed and tidy just isn’t panning out.  We have about three acres and apparently goats can only eat so much grass.  Who knew?  Maybe Jack will be able to help.

I was reminded of a story about an old friend of my family’s, long since deceased, who cut off all his fingers on one of his hands in a lawn mower accident.  Since he could no longer mow, he purchased a bunch of sheep and kept them in a portable penned in area, which was periodically moved around the property in order to keep his grass mowed.  Genius!

Anyway, my lawn mower is reaching the end of its life.  It’s having lots of health problems.  I won’t list all the details, just know that the list goes on and on.  I could probably fix it all, but when do you just say, enough is enough and pull the plug on the life support.  I bet Dr. Kevorkian doesn’t have any trouble replacing his lawn mower.

But it’s had a good life.  I bought it used for $600.00 from a guy about 12 years ago.  He had already been using it for about 10 years himself.  It’s one of those big commercial style landscaping mowers and I walk behind it.  I like to walk because it’s good exercise and helps keep me in shape.  It takes about four hours to cut the entire property and although as a younger, strapping guy I used to do it all at once, now I try to split it up into 2 hour shifts, a couple of times a week.  I figure this mower has been cutting grass for about 20,000+ hours over its workhorse life.  But now it reaching the end and I’m not sure its worth putting any more money into it.

So I swore at it a lot yesterday…

I used horrible, sickening, degrading words that are not repeatable in a nice, family friendly blog like Brown Road Chronicles.  I yelled and screamed and veins popped out of my head.  Then I called it several even more repulsive and vilifying words that are absolutely not repeatable in a nice family friendly blog like Brown Road Chronicles.

Then with the property only partially cut, I gave up and parked it back in the barn.  I went back into the house and was overcome with a massive wave of guilt.  This poor selfless machine which has given me so much over the years, was out there limping along, simply trying to cut the grass for me even though it’s poor, broken body was failing miserably under the weight of age and hard-physical work… and all I could do was swear at it. Nice going…

Anyhow, after cooling down, I got on Craiglist to see if anyone in the area had a lawn mower for sale.  I found this one listed for $650.00 from a guy that’s only about 1/2 hour away.

Isn’t it beautiful?  This is the exact same lawn mower as mine, except it’s newer.  It’s about 12 years old, roughly the same age mine was when I originally bought it.  Assuming it’s still available, I figure I can talk the guy down to $600.00 and get another 10-12 years out of this one.  As Yogi Berra said, “it’s like Deja Vu, all over again!”  I can keep the old mower and maybe use it for parts.

Then it won’t feel sad.

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