My summer as a free mason

No, no, no…not a Freemason; just a free mason. After the anonymous destruction of our nearly new “indestructible” mailbox it was determined that we were not going to fork over another $500 to have it rebuilt. Instead I went to Home Depot and then came home with about $20 in mortar. Thankfully I already had some basic masonry tools from some repairs to our last house.

I had never done more than a little repair work on cracked mortar before and was a little apprehensive about tackling this project. However, I’m not often afraid of new challenges on the farm so I took this one up without flinching.

Right off the bat I realized this was going to be more challenging than I initially thought. It seemed to me that it would be as simple as putting a puzzle back together. Just take the fallen pieces and put them back where they had been. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Most of the mailbox was so completely shattered that I couldn’t figure out where the pieces had been. Because of this I couldn’t fit together the pieces that were still intact so I had to resort to a hammer and chisel in order to separate every block as well as remove all of the existing mortar. I was left with a pile of rocks that had to find their new home.

The challenge of finding pieces that fit together “just right” was hard enough, but add to that the searing Texas summer sun and I began to rethink my decision. I stuck with it though and layer by layer it began to “rise from the ashes.” I had hoped to build it up as high as I could, make it level and put the cap piece on that was still intact. Unfortunately I would have needed a small crane to pick up the top piece, so it too had to be disassembled and cleaned of old mortar.

The mailbox is back in business now although I think it looks a little more like a Fred Flintstone model rather than the tight, square beauty it once was, but the mail is being delivered again and after all, that was the end goal.

(I’ll add a picture of the finished product)

Destruction on the homestead

Coming home to the farm is (almost) always such a pleasure. I say almost because yesterday was not such a pleasure. As we took in the beauty along our road we approached our driveway and immediately something seemed wrong. Your eyes get used to familiar sights and when those sights are missing it can take a few moments to realize it. That’s just what we encountered.

20160720_173926~2The image stored in my mind of our front drive was missing something, then I realized what it was. Wait, where’s the big stone mailbox? It wasn’t there! As we pulled into our driveway we discovered the remnants of our once proud, stone postal pedestal. The pieces were strewn all across the drainage ditch and not a note of regret anywhere to be found.

There are, of course, a great many other catastrophes that can strike fear or anger into the heart of a homesteader, but this is not one I thought would be realistic. We know all-too-well the habits of bat-wielding fiends on a joyride to destroy mailboxes so we purposely had ours made from the same stone our home was built with. Surely nothing would be able to topple it.

That is of course unless you happen to live right across the street from another home being constructed. The large contractor vehicles that come in and out of that driveway already smashed down one side of our driveway culvert and now it appears they have managed to obliterate our mailbox.

Naturally nobody is assuming the credit for the calamity and the silly general contractor claims there was nobody working on the house that day. I say silly because it was noted by neighbors and even the sheriff deputy who drove by earlier saw workers on site.

I know I’ll get over it and we WILL rebuild. It strikes me as ironic though that we moved to the country for a little more peace and so far this construction site has be somewhat of a distraction from that goal. They’ve been building that house for much longer than it took ours to complete and as far as I know none of our contractors or sub-contractors caused damage to anyone else’s property. If they had I know our builder would have made it right, unlike this character who is covering for somebody.

Oh well, just another day in the country🙂

These are definitely the dog days of summer

It’s that time of year when I become particularly envious of YouTubers from more Northern climates out enjoying their gardens and the like. Here in Texas we are smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer with day after day of temperatures near or above 100 degrees.

20160630_191932To say nothing much is getting done outside is pretty much on target. I actually enjoy getting up at 5am when it is only 80 degrees. I can get the animals out to their pastures, clean out the barn, and make sure all the critters have plenty of water before the sun comes. I duck back inside and do very little outdoors until the heat begins to wain again in the evening.

20160616_185529I was pleased with June’s hay harvest. Due to all the Spring rain our 9 acre hay field yielded 19 large round bales. We don’t need or use nearly that much with our little flock, but the farmer who cuts and bales it (and reaps the harvest) was appreciative. I’m  surprised how beautiful the field is right now since we haven’t had a drop of rain in about 6 weeks.

20160715_223544So what do people around here do when it’s too hot to work outside during the day? There’s always work to be done inside since those chores tend to get neglected the rest of the busy year. I’ve also been organizing and downsizing some of my collections that sat in storage for two years while we waited to move onto the farm. We also celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary by taking our first date in a LONG time. We enjoyed a night out in the “big” city and found some time for some uncommon relaxation during a cool moonlight cruise on the lake in downtown Austin.

There’s about a month left to go before the mercury begins its gradual drop and I’m definitely looking forward to the projects we have in store for the Fall/Winter months here at the farm. We’ll finally be putting in our garden and getting some work done in the “dark forest.”

Warning: Homesteading could cause hearing loss

Until we moved onto our homestead I spent my life living in and around cities. We’ve now been on our land for three months and I can honestly say that one of the most incredible aspects is the silence. Well okay, not exactly silence, but the noises out here are more subdued and much more pleasant.

I haven’t heard a single siren in these three months, except when we go to the city of course. There’s no road noise caused by hundreds of cars speeding by outside. When there is a car on our road I can hear it from almost a mile away. That’s how quiet it is on our farm and this particular loss of hearing things is music to my ears.

We’ve had some family and friends out to the farm and they too are impressed with how quiet it is. I always tell them though that if they really want quiet they should stay overnight. The stars out here at night are something of wonder and one day I just know we’re going to have to get a good telescope. It really is magical to sit on our back patio in the dark silence. Sure there is the occasional pack of coyotes howling in the distance or an owl hunting for it’s midnight snack, but those sounds don’t grate at your ears like an emergency vehicle screaming by.

Father’s Day and Dodging a Bullet

Father’s Day and Dodging a Bullet

This past weekend I was blessed with a wonderful Father’s Day! It has been much more difficult to get the whole family together since most of them have grown, left the nest and started out on their own lives. This Sunday though it was an absolute pleasure to welcome four of the six home for a day of talking, laughing, playing games and a visit to our “petting zoo.”

There were a few moments when the kids were together laughing and talking and I just stood back to savor the precious sounds in our new home. Other times I couldn’t help but to butt in and join the fun. It was really fun to watch our littlest try to keep up with the activity and conversation of his bigger siblings.

For dinner each of us crafted our own pizza and enjoyed devouring the results.  We followed up our meal with some homemade chocolate cookies and a game of Apples To Apples. It was a great time to have such fun around our dining room table again.

Once the festivities died down I wanted to take advantage of the setting sun (and temperature) so I hopped on my tractor to do some quick mowing. I ran the tractor along the fence line when all of a sudden the tractor died abruptly. I got it started again, but could not get it to go forward with the mower engaged. A quick inspection revealed that I had apparently failed to clean up a small bundle of wire I had used the previous weekend while putting up some fence. The mower blade had sucked it up and wrapped it tight around the shaft. I took a few quick tugs, but it didn’t appear it was going to be an easy fix. I gave up for the night in order to get back to the kids who were preparing to leave.

I returned my attention to the mower last night with some measure of anxiety since I had learned that the blades on a brush hog are tightened to such a degree that I knew I would be unable to remove them with my limited tools. I was armed only with a hacksaw, wire cutters and some pliers. Thankfully it took just a few strokes with the hacksaw and the tight bundle released itself. The pliers made an easy job of removing the remaining wire and the blade was free and clear.

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They (don’t) call me the donkey whisperer

They (don’t) call me the donkey whisperer

Shortly after we moved onto our farm a new farmer friend donated a donkey to us. This was a “surplus” donkey they had no use for and had in all sense been running wild on his property for about two years. We really didn’t know what to expect from the donkey we named Ruth when she first arrived.

Over the past couple of months she has proven herself to be a valuable member of our farm family. She has bonded extremely well with the goats and is already showing sign of doing the same thing with the sheep. If a large donkey hanging around our other animals would help keep them safe that would be enough for the free gift. Thankfully though she has gone above and beyond mere livestock protection.

Ruth does a great job of keeping the animals together and has even served to herd them towards the barn in the evening. It is an amazing thing to watch her plod along behind the others encouraging them forward.

The one thing we had not been able to accomplish with Ruth was a level of trust between herself and humans. She has been in need of a good brushing and there are a few areas that we would like to get close to and see better in order to make sure she is healthy. Unfortunately she is so wild that she won’t allow people to get closer than about 5 feet. That was until last night and it all happened by accident.

She is so closely bonded with one of our goats that in the evening they can be difficult to separate. Two nights ago was just such a night. It was getting late and all the animals were in the barn, but I could not get little Amelia (the goat) into her pen and she kept hiding under Ruth as been her practice if she doesn’t want to do something. I had to get them apart and the only thing within my reach was a small toy rake. I picked it up and gently touched Ruth’s back to let her know I was there and wanted her to stay there. At first she didn’t seem to happy about it, but she let me keep the rake on her.

Once I got Amelia into the pen I decided to try the rake again. I put it gently on her back and began to scratch her back. She remained nervous, but obviously enjoyed the sensation. We did this for about ten minutes and I let her be. The next night I tried it again and she was much more relaxed and really enjoyed it. I decided to be a little braver and got within a foot of her side and reached out my hand. Her muscles twitched the second I touched her, but she didn’t move. I put the rake away and approached her again and she let me put my hand on her again. It felt great to be able to finally make that connection with her!

This morning, just to see if it had been a fluke, I tried it again and she let me rub her back. I’m not sure if she will let me do so outside the confines of the barn, but it is a huge step forward for her and for us.

Spring on the homestead

Spring on the new homestead has been a very busy time trying to establish both the home and the farm. Much of the outdoor work over the past month has been hurried between rain storms and a busy calendar of activities. The rain has been mostly welcome at our place as we have not experienced the flooding of other areas. So far the only inconvenience has been the inability to cut the grass and make hay because the ground remains so soft. On the other hand, the ground that was so hard-baked last year and nearly impossible to dig has been a delight for me in my unending chore of putting up fences. Speaking of which, for the past few months my only option for pulling the fence tight was to attach the end to my tractor and pull forward slowly being careful not to pull the poles out of the soft earth. A couple weeks ago I finally gave in and bought myself a fence puller and am so very glad I did. The result is far more satisfactory.

Fence puller

 

 

 

 

Much of this fencing has been put up in preparation for the newest members of our farm family. I had (nearly) finished this task this past Sunday evening and was a bit frustrated because I knew our sheep would arrive the next day. Monday arrived and we headed out on our Texas hill country adventure. We took a short detour at the LBJ Ranch and enjoyed a short walk to the living history farm. It’s interesting how different the experience is now that we are trying to actually emulate some of the things they demonstrate.

Once we loaded back up in the truck we soon left the main highway and traveled deeper into the beautiful hills. We entered through the ranch gate and drove a few miles along dirt roads that wound through the hills and down through crystal clear water crossings. When we arrived at the rancher’s home I was in awe of the beautiful spot. The home is nestled in a small valley between two tall hills and a picture-perfect creek flowed just below the home and barns. Angora sheep gracefully bounded along the hillside above us. We were met by the wonderful owners who are the third generation to live on this true slice of heaven.

We were treated to a cold glass of ice-tea inside the cozy home and enjoyed getting to know the rancher and his family as well as some of the history of their operation and livestock. We felt we could have spent hours with them and enjoy every minute, but it was getting late and knew we had a more than three hour drive home so we headed out to meet our sheep.

The rancher rounded them up and gave us some great pointers then we loaded them up in the trailer and headed for home. As we crested a small hill and drove around a corner progress came to a stop because a large cow stood in the middle of the road. We noticed that we were now between her and her calf and she wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. We just sat there patiently until she decided to go back to her calf and made our way back to the highway.

Darkness came quickly as we drove home, but as we finally reached the street-lights of our hometown one of the trailer tires blew out. It was frustrating to be so close to home to deal with a flat tire, but it was a blessing that the tire had waited until we were back in civilization to give out. We pulled into a gas station and a friendly resident of our new town graciously offered his help. Before long we were back on the road and very relieved to enter through our own gate.

It was quite late so we weren’t able to spend much time welcoming the sheep to their new home. I backed the trailer up to the barn and unloaded them into their pen. We made sure they had what they needed for the night and hurried ourselves to our own beds.